Monday, January 5, 2009

LDS Temple and the Ancient Temple

People often ask me questions about the temple. I have been asked things as simple as "What do you do in there?" and as complicated as "Why do you think we need temples today?" I've also been told that I need to quit "wasting" so much time by going so often. In the end, though, the temple is a special place that I only talk about with those who truly seem interested.

Then Saturday I was listening to a great conversation with
Margaret Barker, a Methodist minister. I hadn't looked at her site in a while, and she mentioned her upcoming book so I went to look. Something drew me to look at her papers, and I ran across one entitled "Belonging in the Temple" which talks about how central the temple once was to Jews and early Christians. The first passage that really drew my eye was this one:

The most famous of the wise men was Moses, and he received this vision of the cosmos on Sinai. After being given the ten commandments, Moses was on the mountain for six days, and then entered the cloud of the divine glory for a further 40 days and nights (Exodus 24. 15-18). Moses was entrusted with detailed instructions for building a place of worship, initially the tabernacle, but later the temple. It was to replicate what Moses had seen on the mountain (Exodus 25.9, 40), and what he had seen was a six day vision of the process of creation. This is why the Books of Moses begin with an account of the six days of creation. Genesis 1 is Moses’ vision. The creation was itself the real temple of the Creator, and worship in the temple maintained the creation.
The sanctuary of the temple, the holy of holies, corresponded to Day One, the source and origin of all things, the presence of God. The second day was the firmament that screened the presence of God from human eyes, the veil of the temple, and the outer hall of the temple represented the material creation, the third to sixth days. Since the temple represented the creation, any sin in creation or human society was a pollution of the temple, and so when the temple was purified, the whole of creation and human society was renewed and restored. This purity entailed not only observing the moral and cultic laws; it also embraced what we should nowadays call national customs. The Israelite believed he was one of the chosen people, and to be cast off, to lose this status, was the worst situation he could envisage. Thus the prophet Isaiah gave words of comfort to his people in exile: ‘I have chosen you and not cast you off, says the Lord; fear not, I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God…’(Isa.41.9-10).

I don't talk a lot about the temple, like I said, but that passage positively made my hair stand up on the back of my neck. To anyone who has been to the temple, that is an amazing passage to read from a source who has nothing to do with our church at all. I won't go into greater detail as to exactly why, but just know that the passage deals very clearly and directly with what our temple deals with, and I can say with a near surety that Joseph Smith knew nothing of the texts that Margaret Barker used to derive that information when the temple ceremony was implemented.
Then I read a little further, and this passage stood out to me also:

Any breach of the divinely given commandments damaged the bonds of the covenant. It did not matter that it was an inadvertent breach; the bonds were still damaged or even broken. The priests therefore had two roles; they had to give the correct teaching, and exclude anyone who broke a bond of the covenant; and they also had to provide a way back into the community for the penitent person who had not only recognised the fault, but had also done everything possible to restore the damage. Then the Lord forgave what had been done and the sinner was readmitted to the community. Forgiveness and acceptance were dependent on repentance and conformity.
Any breach of the covenant bond was, by definition, a sin, and the result of sin was ‘iniquity’, ‘awon, a word that literally means distortion. Such distortion polluted the creation and had to be corrected. This was done by the Lord absorbing the pollution, and in so doing, cleansing and restoring the creation and human society. It was ritualised as the Day of Atonement, the autumn festival for the new year.
Atonement was the blood ritual that restored the cosmos. The blood of a goat was taken into the holy of holies by the high priest, and then brought out again, sprinkled and smeared in various parts of the temple to ‘cleanse and consecrate’ the temple and the creation it represented. The high priest than transferred the sins to the head of a second identical goat - the scapegoat - which was driven away into the desert. This ritual is the key to understanding the world view of the temple.
First, the high priest was the visible presence of the God of Israel. He was the incarnation of the Lord. The goat he offered as sacrifice represented the Lord, and so was, in effect, a substitute for himself. And blood, in this instance, represented life (Lev.17.11). The Day of Atonement was the Lord himself offering his own life to renew the creation and to restore human society. Plague and punishment were averted because the broken bonds of the covenant were repaired and the protection restored.

First off, no, we do not perform the ceremony with the goat in our temple today. Christ himself became that sacrifice when he was crucified, as all Christians know. I just don't know that all Christians realize that he was actually performing a ritual that had been done symbolically up until that time in a way so much like his actual sacrifice - he took upon himself the sins and died with them. I read the passage to my wife, and her eyes immediately showed recognition as she listened. I had also read her the passage about the temple and she was pretty amazed by it, but this time I could tell her mind was turning. She got up and found her copy of Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles. She then turned to page 171 and showed me
this passage:

(25-1) John 17:1. The Significance of the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus
With a perfect understanding of his mission and that the time of his atonement was “at hand,” Jesus concluded the teaching portion of his ministry with a prayer—a prayer which has sometimes been referred to as the high-priestly or great intercessory prayer. (See
John 17.) These designations are not inappropriate, for, as we shall see, Jesus, our Great High Priest, first offered himself as an offering; then, as Mediator, he interceded on behalf of worthy members of his kingdom. The pattern for this had been established in ancient Israel.
Once each year, the presiding high priest in ancient Israel entered into the holy of holies, the most sacred place within the tabernacle. There he would perform certain rites in connection with the Day of Atonement, a day set aside for national humiliation and contrition. Having bathed himself and dressed in white linen, he would present before the Lord a young bullock and two young goats as sin offerings, and a ram as a burnt offering in behalf of his sins and those of the people. The high priest’s role was that of a mediator, or one who interceded with the Lord in behalf of the people. His role, of course, was but a type of the great mediating role of the Savior in our behalf. Thus, when Jesus pleaded to the Father for all those who believed on him, he did so as our Intercessor, or Great High Priest.
The prayer he offered on this occasion had three distinct parts:
In the first part (see
John 17:1–3), Jesus offered himself as the great sacrifice. His hour had come.
The next part of the prayer (see
John 17:4–19) was a reverent report to the Father of his mortal mission.
In the last part (see
John 17:20–26) of his prayer, Jesus interceded not only for the eleven apostles present, but for all who shall believe on Jesus “through their word,” in order that all would come to a perfect unity, which unity invested Christ in them as Christ is in the Father. Thus all would be perfect in unity, and the world would believe that the Father had sent his Son.

It is amazing to me how much people mock the LDS Church as un-Christian. Here I sit and read an article about the temple by a Methodist seminary teacher, drawing on sources unconnected to the LDS Church (at least, she didn't come to us to find them), and I see not only similarity, but almost exact agreement. The part describing the role of the high priest is almost exactly the same in both sources. I don't need these materials to feel firm in my faith, nor do I need anyone else to look at them and say "Wow, he's right!" I just enjoy sharing things that fascinate me, and things that confirm what I already know tend to fascinate me. They at least make my head nod and my mouth form a smile as I think, "I knew it, but wow, this is cool."
I can't articulate my thoughts more clearly on this matter. I just really enjoyed checking these materials out, and the conversation my wife and I shared over them. Building faith together as a couple is always fun for me. I hope someone else finds the materials just as interesting.
-- Robert
P.S.: I used the bolding to offset my writing from the cited writing. If I had a better way to distinguish them, I would have. My apologies if it makes the post look strange.


Anonymous said...

Robert, I must tell you that you've struck a nerve here. If the truth be known, however, you have barely skimmed the surface of this subject on a theological level. Do I dare write a discourse here, now, and share with you what I have been teaching my students for the last two a half years at church? Do I dare share with you the twenty pages of my exegesis of John 1:1-5 from the Koine Greek? Time certainly does not allow. But let me assure you that you're onto something that the Lord has been showing me for the last two years. Let me encourage you to take your insights to the next level and allow your eschatological views to be shaped by your understanding of the temple. Once you go there just give up on living in a human world. God will open your mind to a mystery that will no doubt blow you away. Volumes could be written on this subject.


Robert said...

I'm unclear as to whether you feel I am misguided in what I see with this post, or whether you very much agree. The tone suggests to me that you think I'm at the tip of the iceberg of something you agree with. Glad to hear it, if that's the case. And I can assure you, my view of the end times is very much shaped by my understanding of the temple. That's why I wanted to share these writings about the temple here for people who are constantly wondering what the temple is for and about.

Anonymous said...

Robert, I am agreeing with a Mormon more than I have ever agreed with a Mormon before. This subject rocks my world. Now, if you would, keep this between you and me and your other ten million readers before the Baptist church gets wind of this and revokes my card that entitles me to be a self-rghteous Fundamentalist. Peace.

Robert said...

Glad to hear it, Tim. To use that great term the kiddies use today, I'll keep it on the down-low. Besides, things written on my blog sometimes seems to be a great secret anyway, based on the number of comments I get.

I may just have to post another stream of YouTube videos I was watching about the Book of Mormon here to see people's reactions. Or, you know, the lack thereof...

le35 said...

I did like the post you posted, and I think it's beautiful. I'm glad that people seeking the truth are able to find it.

Robert said...

I just thought it was cool conversation we got to share, and the information in both sources was amazing - and doubly so to see it in both places in such agreement. That whole article by Barker was a great read for me.