Can the Temple “change”? (Under Revision)

Some people have asserted that Joseph Smith believed and taught that the Temple ordinances always had been and always would be done exactly as he presented them. In other words, they believe the Temple ordinances should be eternally unchangeable in every aspect. They attempt to support this idea in several ways.

First, they frequently cite Joseph Smith.

Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. (TPJS, 308)

I believe that in context and properly understood, this and other such references do not support the idea of one single ceremony which must be performed in exactly the same manner from Adam on down.

Rather, the full quotation teaches that God does not change what is required of us, in terms of covenantal ordinances. Note especially the last sentence in the complete quotation, which I’ve emphasized.

It was the design of the councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and laws of the priesthood should be predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world. Jesus did everything to gather the people, and they would not be gathered, and He therefore poured out curses upon them. Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles. (TPJS, 308)

In other words, baptism and other ordinances can’t be a salvational requirement for some but not for others. Other teachings of Joseph Smith and the early brethren support this interpretation.Every individual who is prepared for the celestial kingdom must go through the same things.

  1. Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 395.

    Every individual who is prepared for the celestial kingdom must go through the same things.

  2. TPJS, 308.

    If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.

  3. TPJS, 331.

    The question is frequently asked, ‘Can we not be saved without going through with all those ordinances?’ I would answer, No, not the fulness of salvation…. any person who is exalted to the highest mansion has to abide a celestial law, and the whole law too.

  4. TPJS, 59.

    We all admit that the Gospel has ordinances, and if so, had it not always ordinances, and were not its ordinances always the same?…all that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much before the coming of Christ as since; if not, God has had different plans in operation (if we may so express it), to bring men back to dwell with Himself; and this we cannot believe.

  5. From The Essential Brigham Young, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992):89.(This one is longer, so I’ve underlined key points.)

    I wish to speak a few words about the Bible as I have hinted at it. The Ordinances of the Kingdom of God on the Earth are the same to the children of Adam from the commencement to the end of his posterity pertaining to the carnal state on this Earth, and the winding up scene of this mortality. With regard to the Bible we frequently say, we believe the Bible, but circumstances alter cases, for what is now required for the people may not be required of a people that may live a hundred years hence. But I wish you to understand, with regard to the Ordinances of God’s House to save the people in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, there is no change from the days of Adam to the present time, neither will there be until the last of his posterity is gathered into the Kingdom of God.Those who are not acquainted with our doctrine are astonished, and say, “That is strange indeed; we thought no such thing as preaching faith, repentance, and baptism was practiced in ancient, or Old Testament times.” I can tell you that no man from the days of Adam, no woman from the days of Eve to this day, who have lived, and who are now living upon the Earth will go into the Kingdom of their Father and God, to be crowned with Jesus Christ, without passing through the same Ordinances of the House of God, you and I have obeyed. I wish you distinctly to understand that.There are many duties, and callings spoken of in the scriptures, and there are many not written, those for instance which are handed out to you by your President as circumstances require. Those imposed by the President of the Church of God, or by the president of any portion of it, are duties as necessary to be observed as though they were written in the Bible; but these requirements, duties, callings etc. change with the circumstances that surround the people of God. But when you speak of the system of Salvation to bring back the children of Adam and Eve into the presence of our Father and God, it is the same in all ages, among all people, and under all circumstances worlds without end[.] Amen.

Clearly, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught that the same ordinances, beginning with baptism and up to the ordinances of the temple, will accompany the preaching of the Gospel in a dispensation, and are required for all people regardless of the time period they lived in. They are not teaching that every detail must be the same from Adam on down.

Another reason some have assumed nothing Temple related may change is based on a scripture. They derive this idea from an interpretation of Heb. 13:8, which reads “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever.” They interpret this to mean that God and his commands are unchangeable in every respect, and thus the temple ordinances have always been presented in exactly the same way. However, there is good reason to question this interpretation.

What does this phrase really mean? As BYU Philosophy professor Jim Faulconer notes, the phrase in Hebrews 13:8 appears “in the context of giving direction for right conduct… We also find it in latter-day revelation: 1 Nephi 10:18, 2 Nephi 2:4, 2 Nephi 27:23, 2 Nephi 29:9, Alma 31:7, Mormon 9:9, Moroni 10:19, and D&C 20:12. In each of these cases, with one possible exception, the writer is writing about trusting God or about the gifts of God. 2 Nephi 29:9 stands out because it is, at first glance about neither of these, but it is about miracles: we must work by faith because the Lord continues to work through miracles. That seems to me to make it a scripture that uses the term in speaking of the fact that we can trust God.”

Let’s ignore the context laid out above for sake of argument. Do the scriptures support the idea that because God “is the same yesterday today and forever,” His commands never change? Does God never change His mind?

Let’s consider some examples.

God changing his mind.

1) scriptures. a)nicham. “This shall not happen” O lord he is so small! . c) bargaining with Abraham. d) Psa. 110:4.

(Note that though God may change His mind, once He has promised or covenanted something, he is bound to it. His promises are reliable.)

2) Commandments changing. a) Circumcision

Some thoughts about temple changes in modern and ancient context.

We receive our temple ordinances in English, a language not around until the middle ages. Did Adam or Moses or Peter receive their ordinances in English? Though a silly question, we tend to make the assumption that how we do things today is the way they have always been done.

In Old Testament times, details of the Tabernacle and Temple and how the prescribed ordinances and sacrifices were carried out also underwent changes. For example, the molten sea on the back of 12 oxen which was used for ritual washings (2 Chr. 4:6) did not exist in the Tabernacle. How would they have carried it around? A smaller washbasin (or laver) was made, according to Exo. 30:18. The large bronze “sea” seven feet high and roughly 14 feet across, was made by Solomon for his temple (see 1 Kings 7:23). Solomon also constructed 10 smaller washbasins (1Ki 7:38 /2Chr. 4:6)

Later on, King Ahaz (one in a series of less-than-righteous kings of the southern kingdom of Judah) removed the “sea” from the backs of the oxen and placed it on a stone foundation (2 Kings 16:7). When the Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 586/87, it was broken up and hauled off to Babylon (Jeremiah 52:17 and 2 Kings 25:13) No mention is made of the molten sea after this time, and it was presumably not rebuilt, but replaced by smaller water holders that performed the same function.

Clearly, the Lord may alter and adapt such things as necessary for the culture and time the ordinances are in. Language (Hebrew, English, Adamic?), location (on a mountain, in a garden, in a dedicated temple), manner of presentation (live or film, with decorations, murals and props or not), or other things that President McKay referred to as “mechanics” etc.

As Brigham Young said above, circumstances alter cases and as long as the ordinances themselves are the same ones required of each person in each dispensation, the ceremony, the packaging, the mechanics or wording may change. Let us not confuse the message with the messenger, or the realities and symbols with the mechanics through which they are presented.

“Now do not any of you apostatize because it will have six towers, and Joseph only built one.” JD 1:133 Brigham Young, April 6, 1853.

On a related note, see this blog post entitled, “Should We Expect to Find the Temple Ordinances as One Coherent Whole in the Scriptures?”

See also the list of relevant articles on the Temple index page. ©

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