Elder John A. Widtsoe, Whence Came the Temple Endowments?

Whence Came the Temple Endowments?

Elder John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1960): 111-113.

This section is apparently not found in all versions of his book. The LDS Infobase Library has it,  the GospeLink version does not.

It was inevitable that those who have sought to destroy the truth of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s message would misinterpret the temple endowment. They have set up the theory that Joseph Smith merely adapted the temple conception and ritual from the rituals of fraternal, secret organizations.

The charge that the temple endowment is so derived is not confirmed by the evidence at hand.

First, almost from the organization of the Church, Joseph promised the people a higher endowment a continuation of that received in baptism. It was to be a gift bestowed upon those who had attained a greater maturity in gospel life.

To this end the Kirtland Temple was hurried to completion in 1836, though amidst much toil and sacrifice. Then, at the dedication, some ordinances were given preparatory to the fuller endowment to come. There was nothing new about temple work when it came in its greater completeness. It was expected.

Second, on January 19, 1841, when Joseph Smith had not yet belonged to a fraternal organization, he recorded a revelation which explains in general outline the temple ritual. It says:

“For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood. . . .

“Therefore verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.

“For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.

“And I will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house, and the priesthood thereof and the place whereon it shall be built.” From the pulpit the Prophet announced thenceforth the building of the temple and the work to be done therein for the living and the dead.

On May 4, 1842, he administered the temple endowment in rooms in the upper story of his brick store, improvised for the purpose.” All the while, before and after, he gave instructions concerning the temple to be built and the endowment therein to be given.

Third, many of the men who joined the Church were brethren in fraternal circles, such as Hyrum Smith, the Prophet’s brother, Heber C. Kimball, Newel K. Whitney, George Miller, Austin Cowles, John Smith, Elijah Fordham, and others. Nowhere can a word be found from these many men indicating that the, placed temple work in a class with the ritual of the fraternal orders to which they belonged. Had there been such, some of these men would have mentioned it, for not all remained true to the Church.

Fourth, that there are similarities in the services of the temple and some secret organizations may be true. These similarities, however, do not deal with basic matters but rather with the mechanism of the ritual. Moreover, they are not peculiar to any fraternity. They are used and have been used by people throughout the centuries. They belong to the common heritage of mankind. Joseph Smith had the right to employ such commonly used methods and symbols without being charged with plagiarizing from any particular group. The Prophet taught baptism by immersion; but none so far has held that he purloined that type of baptism from the Baptists. Immersion comes down the ages from the days of Jesus Christ and before. The beginnings of such practices are lost in the mists of antiquity.

The temple ritual is essentially symbolic. Its ordinances are not only ancient but also represent profound truths. They may be widely used by others than Latter-day Saints, but they do not have the same meaning in all organizations.

Fifth, women as well as men receive the temple ritual. Only a man and a woman together can receive the highest blessings of the temple. Usually, perhaps always, men only receive the rituals of the many man-made secret societies. The women form auxiliary organizations.

Sixth, there is a great difference between the objective of temple work and those of the many secret organizations though they no doubt have high ideals of living.

In the temple endowment the final ideal is that by obedience to God’s law man may be in association with God. The endowment has the promise of eternal growth, of endless blessings. This is not the ordinary objective of a man-made secret society.

Seventh, finally it may be said that the temple endowment is not secret. All who meet the requirements for entrance to the temple may enjoy it. Since it is sacred it is not bandied about the streets or in gossiping parlors. It is, in outline: the story of man’s eternal journey; instructions to make the endless journey increasing and progressive; covenants that we will so live as to make the journey an upward one; a warning that sometime we shall be called upon to show whether we have kept our covenants; and, the great reward that comes to the faithful and the righteous.

Every member of another organization will know whether this is like his fraternity ritual.

Many members of secret societies have joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have been faithful to their covenants. But as they have come to the temple of the Lord, they have said, in the words of one former member, “Secret societies have nothing to teach the Latter-day Saints.”

Carefully and intelligently studied, the proposition that the Mormon endowment was built upon secret fraternal rituals cannot be accepted by any thoughtful person.

Joseph Smith received the temple endowment and its ritual, as all else that he promulgated, by revelation from God.

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