Dr. Ogden is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.
A Jewish woman who has lived in Israel and now resides in Texas has investigated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for some time now. She asked me seven provocative questions:
1. Why has the Mormon Church more than 100 temples across the globe but the Jews recognize only ONE temple in Jerusalem?
2. The primary activity at the Jerusalem Temple was the sacrifice of animals as atonement for the sins of the people. Why are there no animal sacrifices or sin atonements in Mormon Temples?
3. Worshipers in ancient Israel went to the Temple with an attitude of unworthiness before an all-holy God. They approached His Temple with humility as they looked to have their sins covered. Why do Mormons enter their Temples with a positive sense of worthiness and a person cannot enter a Mormon Temple (after it is dedicated) unless he or she is considered “worthy”?
4. The priests officiating in the Jerusalem Temple had to be from the tribe of Levi. This was commanded in Numbers 3:6-10. Why does the Mormon Church ignore such commands and allows its “Temple-worthy” members who have no such background to officiate in its Temples?
5. Wedding ceremonies never occurred in the Jerusalem Temple, so why is this a common practice in LDS Temples?
6. Why is baptism for the dead a common activity in Mormon Temples when no such practice was ever performed in the Jerusalem Temple?
7. Why are Mormon families “sealed” for time and eternity in LDS Temples, when the Jerusalem Temple provided no such ordinance?
The answers to all these questions, from a Latter-day Saint point of view, presuppose a belief in continuous revelation—that the God of Heaven is not an absentee God, hiding His face and His words in some distant corner of the Universe from us, His children. He still cares about us and is involved with us. In fact, we need His revelatory intervention now more than ever. As the Old Testament prophet Amos affirmed, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
As His covenant people have expanded worldwide there is understandable need for additional light and knowledge, and even organizational, jurisdictional, and structural expansion of the leadership and governance of His earthly kingdom.
Question 1. Why has the Mormon Church more than one hundred temples across the globe but the Jews recognize only ONE temple in Jerusalem?
The ancient Israelites only needed one Temple in such a small land. The land of Israel was a geographically constricted area. You could fit twenty-five Israels inside the modern state of Texas! But now, with God’s people dispersed worldwide, the Lord has provided for Temples to meet the needs of those who care about His sacred ordinances in many lands.
Incidentally, there were other places of worship in ancient Israel besides the Jerusalem Temple, though worship generally was centralized in that Temple. “Other sanctuaries and holy places were apparently approved by the Lord and in use during the Israelite period, but the Temple at Jerusalem was to be the spiritual focal point and center of worship for God’s people. For example, Gideon’s shrine in the eastern Jezreel Valley (Judges 6:24–26); Solomon’s high place at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:2–5); and Elijah’s altar on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:30; cf. Judges 19:18). The only Israelite temple ever found in archaeological excavations was uncovered at Arad in the Negev. This temple has a strikingly similar layout to and was contemporary with Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem” (Jerusalem, The Eternal City by Galbraith, Ogden, and Skinner, Deseret Book, 1996 and 2008, pages 59, 70).
During the first millennium B.C. there was even a Jewish temple in Upper Egypt. “One group of [Jewish] refugees from the first dispersion fled to Egypt and during ensuing centuries established themselves as influential people in the economic and political life of Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. One military colony erected a Jewish temple to Jehovah on Elephantine Island (Yeb) at the first cataract of the Nile, at modern Aswan. See Shanks, Ancient Israel, 162–64; Thomas, Documents from Old Testament Times, 266–68; Porten, Archives from Elephantine” (Jerusalem, The Eternal City, 133).
In addition to that, the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius noted in his Wars of the Jews that Melchizedek likely had established a Temple in Salem (later, Jerusalem) a thousand years before Solomon built the House of God there: “[Melchizedek] the Righteous King, for such he really was; on which account he was [there] the first priest of God, and first built a temple, [there,]” (Josephus, Wars 6.10.1.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith asked a significant question, and promptly answered it: “What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world? . . . The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby he could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose” (History of the Church, 5:423).
There is, then, ostensible need for more than one Temple in God’s plan and purposes with His children throughout this earth.
Question 2. The primary activity at the Jerusalem Temple was the sacrifice of animals as atonement for the sins of the people. Why are there no animal sacrifices or sin atonements in Mormon Temples?
God provided for His ancient followers for four thousand years—from Adam and Eve through the coming of His Son—to offer up sacrifices as part of their worship of Deity. All those animal sacrifices were supposed to point the people to the sacrifice of the Anointed One who would make the great and last Sacrifice, offering up the ultimate Atonement.
“Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be . . . a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled . . . And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Book of Mormon, Alma 34:13-14).
The prophet Isaiah chastised his people, the Jews, who were going through the motions—offering sacrifices, but their heart wasn’t in it:
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts [making sacrificial offerings in the Temple]? Bring no more vain oblations” (Isaiah 1:11-13).
The prophet also lamented:
“Wherefore the Lord said, . . . this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isaiah 29:13).
Once the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, even the Jews stopped offering animal sacrifices, and substituted instead the study of Torah and good deeds.
Latter-day Saints believe the law of sacrifice is still very much in effect, but now, rather than shedding the blood of animals, God requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit:
“And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 9:19-20).
Even the Hebrew Bible reflects that same requirement for fulfillment of the law of sacrifice: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).
By the way, we do have altars in all our LDS Temples. When we see the altars as we participate in our worship service, we are reminded of the traditions of the faithful ancients, the great and atoning sacrifice of the Messianic Lamb, and our covenants today to be willing to sacrifice all we have and all we are to our God. All of this ties us to our fathers, and they to us.
Question 3. Worshippers in ancient Israel went to the Temple with an attitude of unworthiness before an all holy God. They approached His Temple with humility as they looked to have their sins covered. Why do Mormons enter their Temples with a positive sense of worthiness and a person cannot enter a Mormon Temple (after it is dedicated) unless he or she is considered “worthy”?
Worshippers anciently approached the worship of their God with an attitude of unworthiness in the sense of remembering their own nothingness, just as the Book of Mormon king, Benjamin, described in the 2nd century before Christ:
“I would that he should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily . . .” (Mosiah 4:11).
The people must humbly approach their God with “a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state” (Mosiah 4:5). On the other hand, the all-holy God wanted His people to elevate themselves and work on becoming as He is. The Levitical Handbook pointedly prescribed the efforts of all true worshippers: “ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44); “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2); “ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy” (Leviticus 20:26).
As you wrote, the people “approached His Temple with humility as they looked to have their sins covered.” The word “atonement” in Hebrew is kippur (as in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement). One meaning of the Hebrew verb is “to cover.” God atones for, or covers up, a multitude of sins of those who diligently seek Him.
But the worshippers did need to repent of their sins and cleanse themselves before God (Hebrew lashuv = to repent, to return [to God]), as Isaiah taught: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes” (Isaiah 1:16).
Isaiah also wrote, “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways” (Isaiah 2:3). And the psalmist recorded some ancient Temple recommend questions: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord [the har habayit, the mountain of the house (of God)]? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4).
There were, then, conditions of worthiness or qualification placed on those who would go up to present themselves before God in His Sanctuary. Even the old Abrahamic and Mosaic laws stipulated some preparation and worthiness to stand in His holy place:
“Jacob said unto his household . . . be clean, and change your garments: And let us arise, and go up to Beth-el [House of God]” (Genesis 35:2-3).
Aaron and his sons were required to be cleansed by washing with water and anointing with oil (Exodus 29:4, 7).
“And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office” (Exodus 40:12-14).
As the priests were required to make spiritual preparations, to be cleansed and qualified to officiate, so with all the men of Israel:
“Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose . . . and they shall not appear before the Lord empty” (Deuteronomy 16:16, emphasis added); in other words, all the men of Israel were expected to be spiritually prepared to participate in holy ordinances.
“Go ye out from thence [from worldliness], touch no unclean thing; . . . be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isaiah 52:11).
“The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple . . . and who shall stand when he appeareth? . . . he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:1-3).
A friend of mine adds: Worthiness to us is a process—a process of recognizing, confessing, forsaking and promising to do better each day. The Temple, for us, is the final step in showing our Father in Heaven our desire to repent, to strive to be more worthy and qualified, to symbolically remove ourselves from the world, to become unspotted both literally and figuratively from the sins of the world, and be in a place and a state of worship and meditation, and symbolically lay it all on the altar to our God.
Question 4. The priests officiating in the Jerusalem Temple had to be from the tribe of Levi. This was commanded in Numbers 3:6-10. Why does the Mormon Church ignore such commands and allows its “Temple-worthy” members who have no such background to officiate in its Temples?
In ancient days it is true that only one tribe carried out the priesthood functions in the single Temple for all the twelve tribes. That was the order of God for that time and place. Latter-day Saints believe that the Lord Jesus Christ organized His Church on earth and provided for a new order of priesthood leadership, including Jewish apostles, prophets, priests, and other officials and officiators, as well as Gentiles, who could be adopted into the covenant people, to become leaders and priesthood functionaries.
So in modern times God has restored His Church and priesthood organization to expand worldwide, to include all peoples. The Latter-day Saints, then, do not “ignore” former practices and procedures, but recognize that neither God Himself nor His divinely-directed priesthood organization is static, limiting His ability to provide for the needs of all His children in a much-expanded sphere of jurisdiction.
In fact, rather than acquire such “background to officiate” from theological seminaries, universities, yeshivas, and other such studies as many Christians and Jews do today, Latter-day Saints believe that a man must be “called of God, as was Aaron” (Hebrews 5:4).
Those officiating in holy Temples today are called of God by ordination and “setting apart” by those who have authority from God, as Moses did with Aaron.
Question 5. Wedding ceremonies never occurred in the Jerusalem Temple, so why is this a common practice in LDS Temples?
We do not know if wedding ceremonies were performed in the Temple of Jerusalem anciently. Our knowledge of the holiest priesthood ordinances is very limited—likely because back then, just as today, there are some things too sacred to publish to the world. Marriage ceremonies are a quintessential part of exalting ordinances in today’s Temple because God commanded it to be so (see Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-2 and 132:19).
Question 6. Why is baptism for the dead a common activity in Mormon Temples when no such practice was ever performed in the Jerusalem Temple?
Not only were baptisms for the dead not performed, but no ordinances for the dead were performed in the Temple of Jerusalem because Jehovah/Jesus had not organized that work (saving ordinances for the dead) until His visit to the spirit world between His death and resurrection (see 1 Peter 3:18-19 and Doctrine and Covenants 138, especially verse 58). Baptisms for the dead are first mentioned in the New Testament only after Jesus’ Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). There were probably none of those ordinances carried out in the Jerusalem Temple before its destruction in A.D. 70, because the Temple functions were controlled particularly by the Sadducees, and they had no knowledge of such ordinances, nor would they have granted Christians free access to the inner chambers of the Temple to perform them.
Question 7. Why are Mormon families “sealed” for time and eternity in LDS Temples, when the Jerusalem Temple provided no such ordinance?
Latter-day Saint families may be sealed for time (meaning this life) and for all eternity in the holy Temples of God. Again, there is no evidence of such higher ordinances being carried out during the thousand-year period when there was an authorized Temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—though it is possible that, at times, true prophets, who had the Melchizedek Priesthood keys for performing exalting ordinances, could have done so, for the living, in those sacred precincts (we just have no record of it).