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Mormon Temples

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Mormon Temples

The Bottom-Line Guide to Mormonism, Part 14
Robert M. Bowman Jr.

The word temple literally denotes a man-made building dedicated as a place for meeting God through the performance of special religious rites. Temples are an essential—one might almost say the essential—element of the religion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Nothing is more important to LDS religion or sets it apart from historic, biblical Christianity more clearly than its temples. According to Joseph Smith, “the main object” of the gathering of God’s people in every age has been “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). He also taught that temple ordinances—specifically baptisms for the dead—were “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 356). Brigham Young taught that “the building of temples, places in which the ordinances of salvation are administered, is necessary to carry out the plan of redemption” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 125). Joseph Fielding Smith asserted that the LDS Church’s temples and ordinances “prove” that it is “the true Church of Jesus Christ” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:235-36). Despite these LDS prophets’ claims, there is a complete disconnect between LDS temples and what the Bible teaches about the temple. 

LDS Teaching about Temples

Biblical Teaching about Temples

Numerous temples throughout the world

Only one temple (at most) approved

Temples are a necessary part of the Christian religion

The temple was part of the old covenant that became outmoded after Christ’s coming

Temples and their ordinances were lost in the Great Apostasy

The temple was destroyed as part of God’s judgment on the Jewish religious system

Temples and their ordinances are necessary to receive eternal life with God the Father

Believers are saved through genuine faith in Christ alone

LDS temples serve the same purpose today as in biblical times

Biblical temples included none of the distinctive rites of the LDS temples

Consider the temple in Jerusalem. Solomon dedicated Jerusalem’s first temple about 960 BC. After the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s temple in 587/586 bc, the Jews rebuilt it under the direction of Zerubbabel in about 516 bc. This temple was reconstructed in a massive project initiated by Herod the Great in 20 bc, though work continued on the surrounding Temple Mount long after Herod’s death (see John 2:20). The Romans utterly destroyed this temple in ad 70 in fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction no more than forty years earlier (Mark 13:1-2, 30). 

The Jerusalem temple is the only temple recognized or authorized anywhere in the Bible. The few references in the Bible to “temples” in the plural refer to temples of Israel’s pagan neighbors (Jer. 43:12-13; Joel 3:5; see also Acts 17:24; 19:37). The Bible does not even mention the Jewish temple in Heliopolis, Egypt, which the priest Onias IV built about 160 bc as a rival temple (not recognized by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem) when he failed in his bid to become high priest in Jerusalem. Right away we see a significant difference between the biblical and LDS view of temples: Mormons believe in having many temples whereas the Bible consistently recognizes at most only one temple. 

As LDS scholars generally acknowledge, the distinctive functions of the Jerusalem temple (that is, the functions that were associated exclusively with the temple) were not the same as those of LDS temples. The Jerusalem temple was the authorized place for sacrificial worship, including burnt offerings and the solemn sacrificial rituals of the Day of Atonement. Mormons agree that such sacrifices became obsolete following the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Mormons also admit that the Jews did not perform baptisms for the dead (in the temple or elsewhere) or other proxy ordinances. Yet such ordinances for the dead easily account for more than 99 percent of the ordinances performed in LDS temples. 

In the New Testament, Jesus’ prophetic predictions of the temple’s destruction fit into a larger story of the passing of the old, Mosaic covenant, with its sacrifices, priests, and temple, and the inauguration of the new covenant that the Mosaic covenant prefigured (see Gal. 3:23-25; 4:21-31; Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 8:1-13; 12:18-24). In this new covenant, Christ is at once the final sacrifice (Matt. 27:50-51; 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 7:27; 9:11-14, 24-28; 10:8-22; 1 Peter 1:2, 18-19), the eternal high priest (Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:10; 6:20; 7:11-28; 8:1-3; 9:11, 25), and the ultimate temple (Matt. 12:6; John 1:14; 2:19-22; Rev. 21:22). Instead of going to a temple to have a priest serve as one’s intermediary in offering a sacrifice on one’s behalf, every Christian believer is figuratively speaking part of the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6) and is expected to behave as a living and sacred sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). Every believer is like a “living stone” in the spiritual “temple” of the church (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16-18; Eph. 2:18-22; 1 Peter 2:4-10). 

Except for Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, Christians in New Testament times had no access to any temple of God. Yet the New Testament expresses no concern about the lack of such access for Gentile Christians and in fact consistently treats the temple as part of a religious system that was outmoded at best and under God’s judgment at worst. The Mormon doctrine of salvation contradicts the Bible by claiming that temples are an essential means to individual salvation and eternal life with our Heavenly Father, and that the lack of such temples throughout most of church history is a mark of the Great Apostasy. According to New Testament doctrine, salvation and eternal life are gifts of God received simply by faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-18; Acts 16:31; Rom. 3:21-26; 6:23; Titus 3:4-7; 1 Peter 1:3-7; 1 John 5:11-13). Since the Christian religion never had nor needed temples, they are not something that Christianity could “lose” in a supposed Great Apostasy. 

Indeed, the passing of the temple was a sign that something much better had come. In response to the Samaritan woman’s comment about their rival centers of worship—the Samaritan temple at Gerizim and the Jewish temple at Jerusalem—Jesus told her, “an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” Instead, “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:20-23). The temple worship of the old religion merely foreshadowed the spiritual worship of the new covenant in Christ. The LDS religion, in seeking to “restore” temples, negates an essential element of the Christian faith.