Editor’s Note: In his book 175 Temple Symbols and Their Meanings (Deseret Book, 2020), Donald W. Parry deals with thirty different correspondences between ancient temples and those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, showing that the Prophet Joseph Smith was the restorer of ancient temples.

175 Temple Symbols and Their Meanings

Over many years of teaching a class at Brigham Young University on temples in view of the Bible and also the ancient Near East, I have heard individuals express something like this, “I knew Joseph Smith revealed the temple and its ordinances, but I did not realize that it was a restoration of ancient temples!” As a matter of fact, as part of the “whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations” (D&C 128:18), the Prophet Joseph Smith restored the ancient truths, doctrines, and ordinances regarding God’s ancient temples.[1] These truths are manifest in numerous ways in our modern temples, as I will show below.

For example, the Prophet restored the temple as a Jesus Christ–focused institution, the importance and significance of sacred space, the concept of gradational sacred space, a large receptacle of water situated on the backs of twelve oxen, the temple as the Lord’s “house,” moral qualities for temple entrance, gestures of approach, and much more. President Russell M. Nelson taught: “Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah, Lehi and Sariah, and all other devoted disciples of Jesus Christ—since the world was created—have made the same covenants with God. They have received the same ordinances that we as members of the Lord’s restored Church today have made: those covenants that we receive at baptism and in the temple.”[2]

Anciently, a large receptacle of water rested on the backs of twelve oxen in Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs. 7:23; 2 Chr. 4:2, 6); this receptacle, together with the twelve oxen, resembles the baptismal fonts that exist in our temples. Image courtesy of Brian Olson.

Altogether, the great abundance of the restored truths of temples and temple worship forms a remarkable witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s seership. As Elder John A. Widtsoe has written, “It may be that the temple endowment and the other temple ordinances form the strongest available evidence of the divine inspiration of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”[3]

There are, of course, notable differences between ancient and modern temples. Here is a chief example—work for the dead did not exist in the ancient temples because such sacred work startedafter Jesus’s death and Resurrection. This means that work on behalf of the dead was not conducted in the tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, or any other temple before the death of Jesus Christ. Several authorities have discussed this matter, including President Joseph Fielding Smith, who stated, “Until the Son of God had finished his preparations for the salvation of man and to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, there could be no ordinance or labor of any kind pertaining to the resurrection and redemption of mankind that could be performed for the dead.”[4]

Another important difference between ancient and modern temples pertains to the sacrifice of animals. In ancient days, the Lord required the ceremonial slaughter of an animal by His covenant people, but such a sacred practice is no longer required in the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

How did Joseph Smith know to restore these ancient truths, doctrines, and ordinances? It was not from academic learning in a school or university, or from studying various books on the subject. Hugh Nibley asks, “Did the Prophet Joseph Smith reinvent all this by reassembling the fragments—Jewish, Orthodox, Masonic, Gnostic, Hindu, Egyptian, and so forth? In fact, few of the fragments were available in his day, and those poor fragments do not come together of themselves to make a whole. Latter-day Saints see in the completeness and perfection of Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding the temple a sure indication of divine revelation.”[5]

No, Joseph Smith did not learn about the temple through formal educational training. Rather, God, angels, and spirits revealed the doctrines of the temple to Joseph over a period of time: “Who instructed [Joseph Smith] in . . . baptisms for the dead . . . ? Angels and spirits from the eternal worlds.”[6] Furthermore, Joseph Smith acknowledges God’s hand in all great things, “If there was anything great or good in the World it came from God. The construction of the first vessel was given to Noah, by revelation. . . . The architectural designs of the temple at Jerusalem, together with its ornament and beauty, were given of God.”[7]

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s restoration of the temple and its ordinances corresponds with many components of ancient temples, such as the Tabernacle of Moses (full size Tabernacle of Moses replica). Photo courtesy of Daniel Smith.

As we study the matter at hand—Joseph Smith’s restoration of ancient temples and their components—we find that there are several correspondences between ancient and modern temples. Some truths about temples, of course, are too sacred to relate outside of the walls of the temples. For those correspondences that are appropriate to share outside of our temples, please see the list below. Note that these correspondences are representative and not comprehensive. For a brief discussion of each of these entries, please go to the respective entry in 175 Symbols of the Temple and Their Meanings (Deseret Book, 2020).

Thirty Correspondences—Ancient and Modern Temples

Theme/ConceptTabernacle of Moses/Temple of Solomon and Our Temples
Moral Qualities for Temple EntrancePsalms 15 & 24 (cf. Ezek. 44:9) set forth moral qualities of those who wish to enter the temple. Modern: “To hold a temple recommend is a priceless privilege” (Russell M. Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” 33).
Dedicatory PrayerFor Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs. 8); for Kirtland Temple (D&C 109).
Sacred Gestures of ApproachThese include washings, anointings, investiture of sacred vestments, plus others (Exodus; D&C 124:37, 39).
Built after a Divine PatternThe Lord revealed the pattern of the Tabernacle to Moses (Ex. 25:8–9); Solomon’s temple to King David (1 Chr. 28:11–13, 19); Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples to Joseph Smith (D&C 95:14–15; HC 6:197).
Jesus ChristGod’s temples, ancient and modern, are Jesus Christ–focused institutions.
Receptacle of Water and Twelve OxenA receptacle of water rested on the backs of 12 oxen in Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs. 7:23; 2 Chr. 4:2, 6); resembles baptismal fonts in our temples.
“Holiness to the Lord”Written (in Hebrew) on high priest’s crown (Ex. 39:30); placed prominently on the exterior of our temples, generally on east side.
Gradations of HolinessAncient and modern temples possess gradations of holiness—from profane and corruptible space, to holy, more holy, and most holy.
PriesthoodPriesthood members minister(ed) in ancient and modern temples and managed the affairs therein: “I will show unto my servant Joseph [Smith] all things pertaining to this house, and the priesthood” (D&C 124:42).
Temple and ZionIn the scriptures, the concepts of temple and Zion are collocated (Ps. 20:2; 48; 76; 84; Isa. 2:3; D&C 4:32; 119:2; 124:36, 39; 133:12–13).
Atonement and the TempleThe Old Testament attests the Hebrew kpr (translated “atonement,” etc.) about 80 times in association with the Tabernacle & Temple (Exodus 10x, Leviticus 49x, Numbers 18x, & Deuteronomy 3x). “Temple ordinances and covenants teach of the redeeming power of the Atonement.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Prepare for Blessings of the Temple,” 22).
The Temple as “House of the Lord”Ancient temples were denominated “the house of the Lord” (Isa. 56:7; Matt. 21:13); modern temples are named the Lord’s house (D&C 109:8–9).
Temple as a Place to Worship GodBoth ancient (Ps. 99:1–9; 116:17–19; 132:1–18) and modern temples (D&C 109:14, 24; 115:8) are quintessential places for humankind to worship God.
Gatekeepers/GuardsFor ancient temple gatekeepers, see 1 Chr. 9:23, 27; Num. 1:53; etc. For modern, “Bishops and stake presidents are sentinels to guard the temples” (Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, 99).
Temple as a Place of PrayerTwice Isaiah twice called the temple a “house of prayer” (Isa. 56:7; see also Ps. 27:4). Each of our temples is “a house of prayer” (D&C 109:8–9, 16–19).
Directional PrayerPraying toward the temple (1 Kgs. 8:29-30, 35; Ps. 5:7; 138:2; Wilford Woodruff, Salt Lake Temple dedicatory prayer).
Holy of HoliesThe Tabernacle, Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs. 6:23–32), and Salt Lake Temple.
Temple Is HolyAncient temples (Lev. 16:33; Pss. 5:7; 65:4) and our temples (D&C 109:12–13).
Sacred VestmentsAncient (Exodus 28, 39) and modern (see churchofjesuschrist.org).
Temple Is a Place of Divine RevelationThe Tabernacle (Lev. 1:1; Ex. 25:21–22; 29:42–43; 30:6, 36; Num. 17:4), Solomon’s temple (Ps. 27:4), and our temples (D&C 97:15–16; 110:7–8; 124:39).
AltarBoth ancient and modern temples feature a holy altar.
Temple & PowerPower is collocated with temple in several scriptural passages (Ps. 63:2; 150:1; Rev. 15:8; D&C 84:20–21; 109:13, 22, 35; 132:7).
The Temple as Center PlaceBoth ancient and modern sources disclose that the temple was (symbolically) the center place of the temple-worshipping community.
Trumpets and trumpet symbolismTrumpets announced important events in ancient temples (Lev. 23:23-25; Num. 29:1-6); cf. Moroni and his trumpet, modern temples.
Kingship/QueenshipSee Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:10; 20:6).
Law of SacrificeAnciently (Lev. 1-7, etc.) and modern, see President Gordon B. Hinckley on the “law of sacrifice” in the temple, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 146-47.
Architectural SafeguardsIncludes boundaries, thresholds, horizontal zones, vertical features, walls, gates, doors, veils, etc., to protect the holiness of God’s temples, ancient and modern.
“Covenants, signs, and tokens”“In the temple [God] uses covenants, signs, and tokens. The same pattern is evident in holy writ.” (Russell M. Nelson, Teachings of Russell M. Nelson, 368-69.
Symbolic Elements“Each temple is a house of learning. There we are taught in the master’s way. His way differs from modes of others. His way is ancient and rich with symbolism. We can learn much by pondering the reality for which each symbol stands.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” 33).

[1] For a review of the restoration of the temple in this dispensation, see Richard O. Cowan, “Joseph Smith and the Restoration of Temple Service,” In Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal Restoration: The 34th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 109–22.

[2] Russell M. Nelson, “Come, Follow Me,” Ensign (May 2019), 89; emph. in orig.

[3] John A. Widtsoe, “Temple Worship,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 12 (April

1921), 59.

[4] Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions. 5 vols. (Salt Lake City:

Deseret Book, 1963), 5:94–95.

[5] Hugh W. Nibley, “Meanings and Functions of Temples,” In Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, 4:1458–63. 5 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 4:1462.

[6] Parley P. Pratt, “Spiritual Communication,” JD 2:44.

[7] “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 Addenda,” p. 34, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 25, 2019, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838–1856-volume-c-1-addenda/34