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Smith Jan 26, 2014 The bishopric has kindly allowed me to speak on any doctrine of my choosing. So I decided to speak on the temple, partly because it is my favorite subject, but also because it encompasses all the doctrines of our religion and is at the same time encompassed by them. What I mean by that is that the entire Gospel Plan of Salvation is encompassed by the temple and is the whole reason for the existence of the temple. That is what the temple is all about: The blessings of the Plan of Salvation for all of humanity are secured by temple work. That temple work begins with Baptism for the Dead by proxy – at the very base of every temple is a large baptismal font set on the backs of 12 oxen. You have all either seen it in person, or have seen photos of it. The design and construction of that font reminds us of the great Bronze Sea set on the backs of 12 oxen in the Temple of Solomon. Hyrum of Tyre in Phoenicia designed it. Hugh Nibley saw “cosmic symbolism” in the oxen underneath the Brazen Sea of the Temple, the 12 oxen being representative of “the circle of the year,” and the Sea itself as “the Gates of Salvation,”1 which we also read about in Psalm 24. That same Bronze Sea was set on the backs of 12 great lions in the Temple of Zerubbabel (built when the Jews returned from the Babylonian Captivity) – which was called the “Temple of Herod” in the time of Jesus, because King Herod the Great had completely rebuilt the whole edifice. In fact, if you visit Jerusalem itself today, you can see many of the massive Herodian stones which were used to shore up the Temple Mount – still in place. Each weighs from 2 to 5 metric tons, and one even weighs around 570 tons. On any given early morning at the Provo Temple, you will find the large waiting room or gallery facing the Baptismal Font filled with BYU students quietly waiting their turn to do several baptisms and confirmations before heading off to their classes. A beautiful sight. As some of you young people know (who have participated with special use recommends), the temple staff efficiently marshals these volunteers without skipping a beat. The Gospel principle at work there (for the dear departed) is baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, quickly followed by the laying on of hands for baptism by fire and the Holy

Nibley, “The Idea of the Temple in History,” Millennial Star, 120/8 (Aug 1958):232,236, citing Albright; cf. Encyclopaedia Judaica, 15:950, on oxen representing the four seasons; Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, 136, preferring to emphasize the seasonal fertility function of the oxen/bulls.


2 Ghost, also known as “confirmation” of membership in the Kingdom of God on Earth, the Church. The symbolism of performing baptism below ground, as it is done in our temples, is that that it should be “in the likeness of the resurrection of the dead in coming forth out of their graves,” i.e., “as a similitude of the grave” (D&C 128:12-13; cf. Rom 6:4, Col 2:12). Indeed, Deuteronomy 30:13 is quoted by Paul in Romans 10:7, where he changes “sea” to the “depths” (depths of the Underworld), so that he can speak of Christ being brought back from death in the depths of the Underworld – represented in our temples by a copy of that huge Brazen Sea = the cosmic watery abyss (cf. Jonah 2:3-7), or Hell. Elder John A. Widtsoe said of such temple symbolism: Naturally, the very essence of these fundamental truths is not known to man, nor indeed can be. We know things only so far as our senses permit. Whatever is known, is known through symbols. The letters on the written page are but symbols of mighty thoughts that are easily transferred from mind to mind by these symbols. Man lives under a great system of symbolism. Clearly, the mighty, eternal truths encompassing all that man is or may be, cannot be expressed literally, nor is there in the temple any attempt to do this. On the contrary, the great and wonderful temple service is one of mighty symbolism. By the use of symbols of speech, of action, of color, of form, the great truths connected with the story of man are made evident to the mind.2 Just to be abundantly clear about this, let me quote President David O. McKay, who was the Prophet when I was young: There are two things in every Temple: mechanics, to set forth certain ideals, and symbolism, what those mechanics symbolize. I saw only the mechanics when I first went through the Temple. I did not see the spiritual. I did not see the symbolism of spirituality. * * * I was blind to the great lesson of purity behind the mechanics. I did not hear the message of the Lord, . . . * * * How many of us young men saw that? We thought we were big enough and with intelligence sufficient to criticize the mechanics of it and we were blind to the symbolism, the message of the spirit. And then that great ordinance, the endowment. The whole

Widtsoe, A Rational Theology: As Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for Use by the Melchizedek Priesthood (SLC: General Priesthood Committee/Deseret News, 1915), 120, online at .


3 thing is simple in the mechanical part of it, but sublime and eternal in its significance.3 This is, after all, the Restoration, and about that the late, great Professor Frank Moore Cross of Harvard had to say: I am both interested and delighted to see so much of ancient religious tradition, particularly Biblical tradition, taken up into the religious structures and rituals of the Mormons.4 Professor Cross also said: Someone who does not know much about temples, and Mormons building temples, should be directed to the Bible.5 Our Church is well-known (even infamous) for this Baptism for the Dead, and we often refer investigators to Paul’s words in I Corinthians 15:29, Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? Paul is asking the rhetorical question: Why is there baptism for the dead, if there is no Resurrection? From which we conclude that, since there is a Resurrection to come, then baptism for the dead is essential in order to fulfill all righteousness. According to the late British scholar James Barr (a non-Mormon), what Paul was saying here was not a novel principle at all, and was based on the pre-Christian practice of proxy sacrifice for the dead conducted at the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem: Even using the same reasoning from an event in II Maccabees 12 (in the Apocrypha),6 in which some dead Jewish warriors were found to have pagan idols hidden in their clothing, apparently for good luck. Their comrades-in-arms were horrified and immediately took up a collection of 2,000 silver drachmas to pay for an

Quoted in Gregory Prince and William Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (SLC: University of Utah Press, 2005), 277, citing address at Mesa, Arizona, Temple, Dec 30, 1956. Frank Moore Cross, Professor, Harvard University, spoken in the LDS video, “Between Heaven and Earth” (Intellectual Reserve, 2002), online at 2009/04/blog-post_6193.html . Cross, “Between Heaven and Earth,” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, full-length DVD (Intellectual Reserve, 2002/2005), at 35:28.
6 5 4


James Barr, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism (Westminster, 1983), 40-43, n. 19.

4 atonement sacrifice at the Temple on their behalf. Or, as the King James translation of verses 43-45 put it: “He sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well, and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection. (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain, to pray for the dead.) . . . whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.” The Greek word for “reconciliation” here (exilasmos) is the same word translated “atonement” elsewhere in the Bible. The late Krister Stendahl (former Dean of Harvard Divinity School, as well as Lutheran Bishop and head of the State Church of Sweden), speaking on LDS baptism for the dead: In a world where we finally have learned what I call the “holy envy,” it’s a beautiful thing. I could think of myself as taking part in such an act, extending the blessings that have come to me in and through Jesus Christ. That’s generous. That’s beautiful. And it should not be ridiculed or spoken badly of.7 Some of you are familiar with the other ordinances which one performs on behalf of both living and dead as one moves up through the temple to the Celestial level. There, finally in the Celestial Room, one can reflect quietly on all that one has experienced that day, and take any special concerns to God in prayer. Some of you have been in Celestial Rooms and know how breathtakingly beautiful and restful they are, others of you have seen them in color photographs. What else goes on in the temple? Much of it is so sacred that we may not discuss it here. However, all of you know that people are sealed to each other there for time and eternity – that includes eternal marriage and the sealing of entire families, both the living and the dead, as a prelude to exaltation after this life. The outward activities conducted at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem were quite different from those we conduct today, but the symbolism and meaning is the same. As the late Lutheran Bishop Krister Stendahl said:

“Between Heaven and Earth,” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints full-length DVD (Intellectual Reserve, 2002/2005), at 28:40.


5 In antiquity, . . . the Jerusalem Temple was a place where you went to carry out holy acts, sacrifices and the like. I feel that the Mormon experience of the Temple has sort of restored that meaning to the word Temple.8 Elder Widtsoe clarifies this for us: The earthly ordinances of the Gospel are themselves only reflections of heavenly ordinances. For instance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost and temple work are merely earthly symbols of realities that prevail throughout the universe; but, they are symbols of truths that must be recognized if the Great Plan is to be fulfilled. The acceptance of these earthly symbols is part and parcel of correct earth life, but being earthly symbols they are distinctly of the earth, and cannot be accepted elsewhere than on earth.9 We go there especially to receive our endowments. As said in D&C 43:16, ". . . ye are to be taught from on high. Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power” What kind of “power” are we to be “endowed with”? Spiritual and priesthood power, of course. For, by that power, “whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (D&C 128:8), etc. What of all the esoteric symbols inside and outside our temples? What are sunstones and moonstones doing on the Nauvoo Temple? What of the Big Dipper and Polaris on the center of the west towers of the Salt Lake Temple? Along with stars, sunstones, saturn, and moon on the crenellated and buttressed pillars of heaven there also? The Dipper & Polaris represent the unwearying circumpolar stars of God in Isaiah 14:13 (= II Nephi 24:13), and the late William F. Albright said that they symbolize eternity there, as well as in Phoenicia and ancient Egypt.10 Inside the Temple, key portions of the endowment are to be taken as figurative, as suggested by both President Spencer Kimball,11 and Elder Bruce R. McConkie12 (both commenting on the Creation account in Moses 3). The ancient Jewish historian Josephus noted that the veil of the

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Stendahl, interview played in the LDS video, “Between Heaven and Earth,” 2002/2005.

John A. Widtsoe, 1915 Melchizedek Priesthood Manual (“Work for the Dead,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 6:33).
10 11

Albright, YGC, 201-202 n. 69.

Kimball, “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,” Ensign, 6/3 (Mar 1976), 70, saying that “The story of the rib, of course, is figurative.” He said that “the account is speaking figuratively” -- McConkie, “Christ and Creation,” Ensign, 12/6 (June 1982), online at .

6 Temple in Jerusalem was covered with celestial symbols, just like the priestly Hebrew ephod,13 so that we should not be surprised to find the Mormons following suit. Who can go to the temple? Any member who is worthy can obtain a temple recommend through his bishop and stake president. Or (as Jessie Evans Smith used to sing at temple dedications and even at the dedication of this very chapel many years ago), “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; Who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, Nor sworn deceitfully.” (Ps 24:3-4) That is from Psalm 24, a temple entrance hymn such as sung by the Levites at Jewish temples. The Book of Psalms was their liturgy and song book. The temple is often on my mind because I serve as a worker there every Thursday morning, and I find that experience very satisfying. I encourage any of you who are so moved to see the bishop about serving in the temple. If you don’t have a current recommend, please get one. We are definitely going to need some of you. Because, with the dedication of the large Payson Temple next year maybe, we will lose over half the workers currently at the Provo Temple. Yet Provo Temple will still be very busy, and we will still have all those hundreds of missionaries coming to the Provo Temple from the MTC. We will remain extraordinarily busy. So we really need your help.

Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, 200-203; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, III, 7, 5 (§§162-171); III, 7, 7 (§§183-186).