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Insights From Margaret Barker's Temple Themes in Christian Worship

Insights From Margaret Barker's Temple Themes in Christian Worship

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Published by David J. Larsen
An analysis of Margaret Barker's book, which I posted on my blog a couple of years ago. In it, she connects the worship practices of early Christianity to the rituals of Solomon's Temple.
An analysis of Margaret Barker's book, which I posted on my blog a couple of years ago. In it, she connects the worship practices of early Christianity to the rituals of Solomon's Temple.

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Published by: David J. Larsen on Jan 17, 2011
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09/11/2014

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Insights from Margaret Barker¶s
Temple Themes in Christian Worship
1
 
By David LarsenThe Secret Temple Tradition
In this article, I hope to share some of the most exciting insights provided by biblical scholar Margaret Barker in her most recent book,
Temple Themes in Christian Worship
 
(T&T
Clark International, 2007). Margaret Barker has become well known and well respected in LDS circles because of her research into the
T
emple, the use of temple imagery and rituals among the earlyChristians, and other topics of great interest to LDS readers. I had the great privilege of meetingher at the 2007 Society of Biblical Literature conference in San Diego, where she spoke on thetopic of Melchizedek at the ³Latter-day Saints and the Bible´ session. LDS readers will findmany of her ideas similar to their own beliefs.You really should read this book, but until you have the opportunity, I hope to share withyou some of the points I found most inspiring.
T
o begin her study of ³temple themes in Christianworship,´ Barker begins by giving evidence that there was, in fact, a ³secret tradition´ of  beliefs/practices that had its roots in the ancient
T
emple of Solomon. Many of the early ChurchFathers knew of ³
authenticChristian traditions not recorded in the Bible
´
(
 p. 1).She cites St.Basil the Great, one of the influential Cappadocian Fathers, as saying:
³
O
f the dogma and kerygma which are preserved in the Church, we have
some fromteachings in writing
, and the others we have received
from the tradition of theapostles, handed down in a mystery
³
(
O
n the Holy Spirit 
66
)
(
1, emphasis mine).and also:³
T
he apostles and fathers who prescribed from the beginning the matters that concernedthe Church,
guarded in secret and unspoken
, the holy things of the mysteries«Awhole day would not be long enough from me to go through
all the unwrittenmysteries
of the Church´
(
O
n the Holy Spirit 
 
6
7)
(
1-2).
T
he Apostles had passed on teachings that Jesus shared with them in private -- the mysteries
(
Greek 
mysterion
) or ³secrets´ of the Kingdom of God
(
Mark 4:11). For Barker, the Kingdom of God is the place of God¶s
T
hrone, the Holy of Holies. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom, he wasspeaking of the
T
emple. Jesus had passed on to select disciples the true practices of the ancient
T
emple; practices not recorded in the Scriptures, nor written down by Jesus¶ disciples.
T
his
T
emple knowledge was to be passed on unwritten -- in secret.She notes that Josephus recorded a similar practice
(
of passing on secret traditions) among theEssenes. Entry into their community was very strict, and new members had to swear an oath³invoking the
living God
and calling to witness his almighty
right hand
, and the
Spirit of God
,the incomprehensible, and the Seraphim and Cherubim, who have insight into all, and the wholeheavenly host´
(
 J 
ewish War 
2:138 )
(5
).
T
he Essene swore that he would reveal none of thesect¶s secrets, even under torture.
1
O
riginally published as a series of posts on my blog,www.heavenlyascents.comin June, 2008.
 
 For the earliest Christians, knowledge of this secret
T
emple tradition was an important factor indistinguishing true believers from heretics
(
although this perspective seems to have beenreversed later on). Clement of Alexandria identified heretics as those who did not haveknowledge of the secret truths: ³
They do not enter in as we enter in, through the tradition of the Lord, by drawing aside the curtain
´
(M 
iscellanies
7:17)
(
1
5
).Barker astutely interprets the reference to ³the curtain´ as an allusion to the
T
emple veil, and thatknowledge gained beyond ³the curtain´ must have been the sacred truths of the Holy of Holies,reserved for the high priests. ³
T
his knowledge concerned the vision of God,´ she says, ³and had been transmitted by a few µhaving been imparted unwritten by the apostles¶
(
 M 
iscellanies
6
:7)´
(
1
5
).
T
he
O
ld
T
estament portrays the Holy of Holies as having been restricted to the high priestsalone. For Christians, Jesus was the great High Priest who had brought them the secrets of theHeavenly Holy of Holies. Besides the knowledge, it appears that Christ also passed on his high priesthood.
T
he early Christians knew John the Beloved to be both a prophet
and a highpriest
 
(
Eusebius,
Church History
3:31). Likewise, James was a high priest of the Jerusalemchurch, and is known to have shared a ³secret teaching´ that was revealed to him and Peter bythe Lord
(
13).Furthermore, the Christians, as a group, were ³
the new royal high priesthood
,´ according to
O
rigen, and thus worthy to see the Word of God and receive the mysteries of the
T
emple
(
Homily
5
,
O
n Numbers
)
(
12). Elsewhere in the book, Barker specifically refers to this priesthood as a restoration of ³
the older priesthood of 
 M 
elchizedek´
(5
7, emphasis in original).Jesus brought a
restoration
of the ancient temple practices that had existed in the First
T
emple.
T
emple themes and practices pervaded early Christian beliefs and rituals. Although the originalforms and meanings were obscured over time, many themes from these
T
emple roots can befound in early Christian writings, liturgies, rituals, and architecture. While the early Christianswere preserving the ancient
T
emple tradition, the contemporary Jews were establishing anidentity that emphasized ³a tradition that had no place for the temple and priesthood´
(
14).Margaret Barker¶s research in temple traditions gives ample evidence that there was a tradition inearly Christianity of a secret teaching that was handed down unwritten from the time of Jesusand the Apostles. It was believed to be the authentic ancient temple tradition, along with its priesthood, restored.
Christians: Heirs of the True Temple
T
his next section of my analysis of Margaret Barker¶s
Temple Themes in Christian Worship
 
istaken from both chapters 2 and 3: ³
T
emple and Synagogue,´ and ³Sons and Heirs.´ In thesechapters, Barker continues with her theme of the secret temple tradition and its importance toChristianity. She looks at the importance of temple themes for the study of Christian origins,what this tradition meant for Israel¶s Messianic expectations, and also what it meant for theChristian understanding of their own identity.
T
here is so much great information in thesechapters that I can only present a brief overview here. I highly encourage you to get a copy of 
 
this book and read it for yourself.
T
here are many details I couldn¶t mention here that are of interest to Latter-day Saints.First of all, Barker further establishes the need to look to the First
T
emple
(
Solomon¶s) whenattempting a study of the origin of Christian worship. She notes, with dismay, how
mostscholars
 
try to locate these origins in the tradition of the synagogue rather than the temple
.Because details regarding temple worship in this formative period are hard to come by, scholarshave a tendency to seek similarities between Christian worship and the worship that took place inthe synagogue. According to Barker, however, Christian self-identification sounds more like the
T
emple than the synagogue.
Any investigation of the origin of Christian worship must take into account the factthat Jesus was proclaimed as the Great High Priest (e.g.Heb. 4.14), and the highpriest did not function in a synagogue; that the central message of Christianity wasthe atonement, a ritual at the heart of temple worship; that the hope for the Messiahwas grounded in the royal high priesthood of the original temple; and that theChristians thought of themselves as a kingdom of priests (1 Pet. 2.9). The great highpriest and his royal priests would have been out of place in a synagogue, and a largenumber of priests joined the church in Jerusalem (Acts 6.7)
 
(
 p. 20).Jesus, and his disciples after him, went to the
T
emple frequently, and its themes pervaded their language and traditions.
T
he Book of Revelation, that apocalyptic expression of Christianworship, has as its setting the Heavenly
T
emple and is replete with temple imagery. Barker doesan excellent job of presenting the temple themes present in Christian tradition that clearly did nothave their roots in the worship of the synagogue.Although the temple was so important to the early Christians, Barker explains how, ironically, itis possible that Christians were soon barred from visiting the
T
emple. Although Christ and theApostles were quite at home in the
T
emple, there came a time when Christians were no longer welcome. Barker cites evidence that besides being expelled from the synagogues, they werealso ³cut off´ from the
T
emple±declared
anathema
or ³cursed´
(
see pgs. 3
6
-37).How, then, did Christian worship involve the
T
emple if they had no access to it?
T
his is the topicthat occupies much of the last part of chapter 2 and then chapter 3.
T
he first obvious answer isthat they carried on the temple
tradition
without the temple walls. Christians claimed to be ³thetrue heirs to the temple tradition´
(
 p. 38).
T
hey did not necessarily need to be in the
T
emple tocarry on its rituals, beliefs, and doctrines.
T
hey were ³the living stones of the spiritual temple´
(
1Pet 2:
5
), built on the foundation of prophets and apostles
(
Eph 2:19±22). Like the authors of ³
T
he Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice´ at Qumran, Christians could carry on a living templeliturgy without having a literal temple building to perform it in
(
see pg. 39).
 Latter-day Saintscan perhaps compare this to
 J 
oseph Smith performing endowments and other ordinances beforethe Nauvoo Temple was built.
 Although the idea of the spiritual and heavenly reality of the
T
emple was important for Christians, they did expect that they would one day have a true, physical temple to worship in.Justin, in his debates with
T
rypho, assured him that:

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