Jeffrey M. Bradshaw cites Richard E. Turley, Jr. about some things being "adopted and adopted" from Freemasonry and the importance of looking at the differences "to see what the Lord revealed to Joseph."

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw

Bradshaw, Jeffrey M. Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances. Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2022, pp. 78–87.

Interpreter Foundation
Joe Steve Swick, III, Jacob (Son of Lehi), Richard E. Turley, Jr., Nephi, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw
Reading Public

[Caption for figure] 5-1: Joseph Brickey (1973–): Lehi Studying the Brass Plates, 2005.262 Jesus’ parable of the wise and benevolent householder finds application in the process by which modern temple ordinances came forth. As an “expert scribe”263 and a “good householder who makes suitable and varied provision for his household,”175 Joseph Smith restored ancient temple worship by bringing “out of his treasure things new and old”264— better translated as “things that are new and yet old.”265 In other words, as one New Testament scholar observed, the “secrets themselves are not really ‘new’; they are ‘things hidden since the foundation of the world,’266 and it is only their revelation which is new.”267

5. Something Old, Something New

Having surveyed the histories of Freemasonry and Latter-day Saint temple ordinances separately in previous chapters, let’s examine how these two threads come together. Richard E. Turley, Jr., former Assistant Church Historian, provides a useful starting point for our discussion:268

Over the years, many researchers have asked me about similarities between the endowment introduced by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Freemasonry, often pointing out similarities to me. I explain that Joseph adopted and adapted the then-popular pedagogical system of Freemasonry to teach eternal principles and that therefore they should look for the differences between the endowment and Masonic rituals if they want to find the essence of what the Lord revealed to Joseph.

Divine revelation and Joseph Smith’s exposure to Freemasonry are not competing explanations for the origins of temple ordinances. Rather they are, along with other influences such as the Bible, complementary and interwoven processes. The Prophet’s awareness of temple- and priesthood-related matters spurred his interest in learning more about certain aspects of Freemasonry269 and, in turn, his encounters with Freemasonry served as a catalyst to prayerful inquiries about some temple-related topics.270 Similarities between temple ordinances and Masonic ritual point our attention to areas of harmony with temple-related revelation. Areas of divergence from Masonry, the Bible, or other sources Joseph Smith is known to have encountered indicate where revealed knowledge took priority. In both cases, the results of prayerful inquiries were incorporated in the Nauvoo ordinances. And continuing revelation to living prophets continues to direct necessary modifications in the ordinances until the present day— retaining their essential elements while refining expressions of temple teachings and making procedural adjustments to meet the unique needs of succeeding generations.

Like other aspects of the Restoration, temple ordinances are developed through a combination of study, faith, and confirming revelation.271 An apt summary of the eclectic nature of temple ordinances was shared with me by Joe Steve Swick III, a longtime student of the history and ideas of Freemasonry and an endowed member of the Church. His formulation is a wordplay on the Victorian gift-giving custom wherein, for good luck, brides received “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”272 Varying the traditional wording, he suggested that modern temple ordinances are “something old, something new, something borrowed, but all true.”273

[Caption for figure 5-2]: Illustration of Jacob’s Ladder from John Scherer’s 1859 Gems of Masonry.275 The image contains allusions to Masonic teachings that often take their initial inspiration from the Bible. For example, the bottom rungs of the ladder represent Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. The symbols at the top represent the three principal rungs of Faith (Ephesians 6:16), Hope (Hebrews 6:19), and Charity (1 Corinthians 13:13). Significantly, Jacob lays his head not on a rough stone, but on a finished ashlar, a symbol of the perfect moral and spiritual life to which every Freemason aspires. Within the Lodge, a central, blazing star of glory is often depicted within a field of stars.

Teachings, symbols, and ritual restored from antiquity through revelation (the “old”), freshly revealed to meet the needs of modern Saints (the “new”),274 and adapted from the Bible, Masonry, and other sources known to Joseph Smith that served as catalysts for additional, elaborating and confirming revelation (the “borrowed”) can all come together in the House of the Lord under prophetic guidance and authority. Or, as Joseph Smith himself said it, “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from where it may. . . . If, as a skillful mechanic in taking a welding heat, I use a borax and aluminum, etc. and succeed in welding … all together, shall I not have attained a good object?”276

We will now illustrate how biblical, old, new, and borrowed themes were welded “all together” by the Prophet using the symbolism of Jacob’s “ladder”—most likely originally describing an ancient stairway or ramp.277 It should be noted that while this temple-themed story278 is mentioned in Masonic ritual, it is not directly mentioned in Latter-day Saint temple ordinances.

Basic Biblical Story of Jacob’s Ladder

Throughout the rest of this chapter (and in succeeding chapters), I’ll use a table like the one above to highlight significant connections in the Bible, ancient sources, and Freemasonry to the teachings and revelations of Joseph Smith. Row A in the table above indicates that the Bible, other ancient sources, Freemasonry, and the teachings, revelations, and translations of Joseph Smith agree generally about the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder. As a result of Jacob’s dream of a “ladder” that “reached to heaven” (Genesis 28:12), Beth-el became a holy place for Jacob, a place of instruction and covenant-making.279

Something Borrowed

Rows B and C in the table show how Freemasonry enhanced the basic biblical story by adding the idea of progression upward on the ladder through personal development. For instance, the Masonic illustration of the biblical incident shown at left highlights280

the clouded canopy of heaven, decorated with starry and planetary systems, to which every good mason frequently directs his eye, as being the veil, which conceals from his sight the future and glorious residence of his soul; the object of his wishes and the palace of his almighty king. At this home he expects to arrive by the aid of that ladder which constitutes the way bythe door into the sheepfold.

The three most important virtues are shown at the top of the ladder. The symbols on these “three principal rounds” of the ladder represent “Faith, Hope, and Charity,”281 qualities discussed in the first Masonic degree. Masonic scholar Albert Mackey wrote that these biblical virtues “present us with the means of advancing from earth to heaven, from death to life—from the mortal to immortality,”282 through the heavenly veil.

On 21 May 1843, Joseph Smith used similar language as he spoke to the Saints about the “three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder.” As part of his discourse, he equated these three rounds with “the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms.”283 Analogously, Freemasonry correlates these rounds with three different states of being,284 beginning with the physical world and ending with the Heavens.285 These levels culminate in a fourth level, associated with “Divinity.”286

[Caption for figure] 5-3: Nicholas Dipre (active ca. 1495–1532): Le Songe de Jacob (Jacob’s Dream).287 Consistent with a common medieval understanding of the biblical event as an instance of heavenly ascent, God, wearing a priestly robe, awaits the ascending angels at the top of the ladder. He gestures with an upraised right arm and a cupped left hand that holds an orb symbolizing his kingly rule over the whole earth.288 Scholars Endre Tóth and Kåroly Szelényi have observed that the garments and emblems of European kings originally resembled those of the Israelite high priest until the fashion of military dress eventually became the style.289 Though kings and queens are often pictured with an orb in their cupped left hand, Tóth and Szelényi have also concluded that “no such ensign as an orb existed until the 11th century.”290 Earlier depictions of this symbolism in the ancient world were entirely “symbolic”—that is, the gestures were made with an empty, cupped hand.291

[Caption for figure] 5-4: The Ladder of Virtues of St. John Climacus, north façade, Sucevita Monastery, Romania, 1602–1604.292 The words listed above each rung of the ladder refer to Christian virtues. Angels hold a crown above the head of the each of the ascending individuals in anticipation of their being crowned as kings. The individual at the top of the ladder has already received his crown. The Lord greets him with a firm clasp of the wrist while displaying a parchment with writing in Old Slavonic that reads: “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden.”293

Something Old

The table above shows that some of the additions to the Genesis story of Jacob’s ladder that appear in the Bible and elsewhere in ancient sources were similar to those of Freemasonry, while others were not. While Joseph Smith’s 1843 statement about Jacob’s ladder drew directly on Masonic phraseology, Freemasonry itself was, especially at its beginning, largely “grounded on Judeo-Christian foundations.”296 Thus, it is not surprising to find that Freemasonry’s symbolism about the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder drew in part from earlier traditions in the Bible and elsewhere.

As in Freemasonry, faith, hope, and charity—what eventually came to be known as the three theological virtues—were associated in the writings of early Christian teachers such as John Climacus, Saint Augustine, and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux with the three principal rungs on Jacob’s ladder. In formulations that were roughly analogous to Freemasonry, the ladder was a symbol of the general process of spiritual progression by which the disciple, enabled by the grace of God, climbs to perfection. Depictions such as the one in figure 5-4 also showed the fate of those who failed to hold firmly to the ladder as they continued their ascent. As in Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, some, “after they had tasted of the fruit … fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”297

Both the ladder of Freemasonry and the ladder of the Church Fathers take one to heaven.298 But the imagery of the earlier Christian traditions is typically more concrete and specific in some ways than Masonic tradition. For example, in contrast to the Masonic illustration of Jacob’s ladder in figure 5-2, medieval depictions typically featured a divine personage, often the Lord Himself, making a sacred gesture at the top of the ladder. Thus, in figure 5-3, God, wearing a priestly robe, awaits the ascending angels at the top of the ladder with an upraised right arm and a cupped left hand holding an orb. In a variation on the same theme shown in figure 5-4, the Lord greets each person who has been crowned at the summit of the ladder with a firm clasp of the wrist. This recalls the word picture of Hebrews 6:18–20 that speaks of “grasping the hope set before us. That hope we hold. It is like an anchor for our lives, an anchor safe and sure. It enters in through the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as a forerunner.”299

Figure 5-5 illustrates how graphical depictions of the three principal rungs of the ladder in medieval times correspond to textual illustrations in the New Testament and in modern scripture. The table demonstrates that scriptural catalogs of virtues, far from being a randomly assembled laundry list, were usually deliberately structured to form an ordered progression leading to a culminating point.300 In Greek, Jewish, and Christian literature, this rhetorical device is called sorites, climax, or gradatio.301 Bible scholar Harold Attridge has explained the incremental, ladder-like property of the personal qualities given in such lists:302

In this “ladder” of virtues, each virtue is the means of producing the next (this sense of the Greek is lost in translation). All the virtues grow out of faith, and all culminate in love.

Though some elements of the four lists differ,303 the qualities of faith, hope (or its equivalent, “patience”), and charity are always present, forming, as Joseph Neyrey puts it, “the determining framework in which other virtues are inserted.”304 The idea of three key virtues embedded within a varying list of secondary attributes appears to be very old. Although the biblical triad of faith, hope, and charity is, strictly speaking, a New Testament construct, older Old Testament analogues have also been proposed.305

In each of the instances shown in figure 5-5, the promised reward is the same: personal fellowship with Deity—as also symbolized in the illustrations shown in figures 5-3 and 5-4. Specifically, in Romans 5:2 disciples are told that they will “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” This means they can look forward with glad confidence, knowing they “will be able to share in the revelation of God—in other words, that [they] will come to know Him as He is.”306

Similarly, in 2 Peter 1:4, 8, 10, disciples are promised that they will become “partakers of the divine nature” and that they will ultimately be fruitful “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”—thus, in Joseph Smith’s reading, making their “calling and election sure.”307 This is similar to the promise given in 2 Nephi 31:19–20, a passage we will discuss in more detail later below.

Finally, the promise given to faithful Saints in Doctrine and Covenants 4:7 echoes the words of Jesus that outline requirements for entrance into the kingdom of heaven: “Ask, and it shall be given you. Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”308—a threefold promise that Matthew L. Bowen correlates to faith, hope, and charity.309

Note that, as discussed in more detail elsewhere,310 there are exactly ten virtues in the list and that, exceptionally, the last item is not charity.

[Caption from figure] 5-5: Table illustrating how faith, hope, and charity—usually listed in this order—form the determining framework in which other personal qualities are inserted within longer lists of scriptural virtues.

Why should we care about these “old things”? Before continuing further, let’s pause to consider a general question about the examples we have just discussed: Given the earlier conclusion that Joseph Smith’s 1843 statement about Jacob’s ladder “borrowed” from expressions used in Freemasonry rather than being inspired directly from exposure to ancient sources, why should we care about older examples?

For one thing, as we have already seen in this chapter, the study of temple-related symbolism from the Bible and elsewhere in antiquity can enrich or complement whatever useful information we might glean from the study of Freemasonry itself.

In addition, when a given element of Latter-day Saint temple ordinances agrees with biblical and other ancient ideas that are also part of Freemasonry, it supports the belief of Joseph Smith and early Saints “that the endowment and Freemasonry in part emanated from the same ancient spring” and that at least some similarities could be thought of “as remnants from an ancient original.”312 This idea was not exclusive to Joseph Smith and his associates. For example in 1766, one of the earliest exposes of Masonry claimed that "the mysteries of Masonry... are nothing more than those of the Christian religion."313 Although this is an exaggeration, since Masonry also drew from more modern sources such as Enlightenment philosophy (see chapter 1), it is true that Christianity was an important influence in the development of Freemasonry. In addition, Old Testament themes are pervasive in Masonic ritual and most scholars believe that they came by way of Christian teachings,314 accompanied by mystery traditions from outside the Bible.315

Finally, when a given element of the temple ordinances agrees with ancient traditions but differs from sources the Prophet could have known directly, it provides evidence for statements by Joseph Smith and his successors 316 that temple ordinances are ancient and restored rather than simply adopted as-is from his nineteenth-century milieu. In direct support of the Prophet's beliefs that the temple ordinances are of primordial origin, he made the following statement in 1835;317

The order of the house of God has been, and ever will be, the same, even after Christ comes; and after the termination of the thousand years it will be the same; and we shall finally enter into the celestial kingdom of God, and enjoy it forever.

Something Old and New

Joseph Smith's prophetic gifts enabled him to reveal things that were both old (that is, rooted in antiquity) and new (that is, newly revealed) (see figures 5-1). As one of many examples of such revelations, we will now examine 2 Nephi 31-32, where Nephi provides "a few words... concerning the doctrine of Christ."318 2 Nephi 31-32 is part of a set of significant scriptural passages in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon that describes the intimate relationship of the doctrine of Christ to the virtues of faith, hope, charity (expressed, in this case, using the word "love"). These chapters and related passages are discussed more extensively elsewhere.319

In 2 Nephi 31-32, the relationship between the doctrine of Christ and faith, hope, and love is defined as a progression that successively highlights the different areas of the temple in which the ordinances and covenants relating to the three virtues are introduced: faith leads to justification through repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost in the temple courtyard; hope leads to sanctification,320 symbolized by, among other things, the illumination of the menorah in the Holy Place; and love qualifies the disciple for the presence of God in the Holy of Holies and, eventually, exaltation. Note that faith, hope, and love are similarly highlighted in an exhortation to disciples to approach the temple veil in the book of Hebrews.321

To fully grasp Nephi's teachings, we need to understand that the course taken by the Israelite high priest through the temple symbolized the journey of the Fall of Adam and Eve in reverse (see figure 5-6). Specifically, as BYU professor Donald W. Parry has observed, just as the route of Adam and Eve's departure from Eden led them eastward pas the cherubim with the flaming swords and out of the sacred garden into the mortal world, so in ancient times the high priest would return westward, that is, from the mortal world, past the consuming fire, the cleansing water, the woven images of cherubim on the temple veils, and, finally, back into the presence of God.322 "Thus," according to Parry, the Israelite high priest has returned "to the original point of creation, where he ours out the atoning blood of the sacrifice, reestablishing the covenant relationship with God."323

Importantly, the invariant sequence in which different ordinances were performed in Israelite temples was generally similar to the stages of the modern endowment that take place after the narrative of the Fall. As we read in the Latter-day Saint Bible Dictionary.324

It is noteworthy that when the three offerings were offered together, the sin always preceded the burnt, and the burnt the peace offerings. Thus, the order of the symbolizing sacrifices was the order of atonement [justification], sanctification [culminating in complete consecration], and fellowship with the Lord [exaltation].

Differences in Nephite Temple Rites

Some Book of Mormon scholars believe that Nephite temple activities would have not only included the Aaronic priesthood ordinances of sacrifice just described, but also rites originally associated with Israelite royal priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek."325 The Melchizedek priesthood rites seem to have differed in at least three respects.

1. Two-Way vs. One-Way Temple Journey. In line with Parry's proposal that Israelite high priest's westward journey of atonement represents a reversal of the Fall of Adam and Eve is evidence from elsewhere in antiquity that a story of Creation and of the victory of the god over primordial adversaries (an analogue to the story of the Fall) were standard elements of temple ritual.326

Consistent with this idea, both Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint scholars have proposed that the creation account of Genesis 1 may have been used within Israelite temple ceremonies.330 Going further, Louis Ginzberg has reconstructed ancient Jewish sources to argue that the results of each day of Creation are symbolically reflected in temple furnishings (see figure 13-4)331. From this perspective, when God finished the Creation, what came of it was an earthly temple that was laid out and furnished in symbolic likeness to the heavenly temple. That earthly temple, the result of Creation, was none other than "Eden." Its Holies was the celestial top of the figurative mountain of God, and its Holy Place was a Garden of terrestrial glory located on its "eastern" slope.

Carrying this idea forward to a later time, Exodus 40:33 describes how Moses completed the Tabernacle. The Hebrew text exactly parallels the account of how God finished creation.332 Genesis Rabbah comments on the significance of this parallel: "It is as if, on that day [that is, the day the Tabernacle was raised in the wilderness], I actually created the world."333 With this idea in mind, Hugh Nibley famously called the temple "a scale-model of the universe,"334 a place for taking bearing on the cosmos and finding one's place within it.

The idea that the process of creation provides a model for subsequent temple building and ritual335 is found elsewhere in the ancient Near East. For example, this is made explicit in Nibley's reading of the first, second, and sixth lines of the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish: "At once above when the heavens had not yet received their name and the earth below was not yet named... The most inner sanctuary of the temple... had not yet been built."336 Consistent with this reading, the account goes on to tell how the god Ea founded his sanctuary (1:77),337 after having "established his dwelling" (1:71, an analogue to the Creation account), "vanquished and trodden down his foes" (1:73, an analogue to God's victory over the devilish serpent after the Fall of Adam and Eve338), and "rested" in his "sacred chamber" (1:75, an analogue to the Sabbath).

In the modern endowment-- as also, it seems, in Nephite and early Christian equivalents of the temple ordinances- an explicit retelling of the Fall of Adam and Eve was the natural follow-on to the narrative of Creation. (Note that the Adam and Eve story will be discussed in more detail in chapter 9.) One purpose of relating the events of the Fall in modern temple ordinances is to make clear the absolute necessity of the later rites of atonement and investiture that are part of the bestowal of the fulness of the Melchizedek priesthood. However, even in the truncated Aaronic-priestood version of the Israelite temple rites, the story of Adam and Eve seems to have implicitly informed the understanding of temple worshipers in ancient Israel.

For example, agreeing with Donald Parry's proposal that Israelite temple rites were a reflection and reversal of the Fall, Leviticus scholar L. Michael Morales sees the Day of Atonement as an event that, for the children of Israel, "called upon both memory and faith: memory, a looking back to the first Adam's falure and expulsion from divine Presence in Eden; faith, a looking back to the first Adam's failure and expulsion from divine Presence in Eden; faith , a looking forward to the remedy for that expulsion."339

In summary, while the Old Testament description of the Day of Atonement depicts a one-way journey by priests into the temple, the (older) text of the Book of Mormon hints that the Melchizedek priesthood ordinances of the Nephites could have mirrored in a general way the two-way journey of modern temple worshippers. Figure 5-8 shows how a "two-way" temple journey in Nephite temples-- outward-bound followed by inward-bound-- could have been accommodated without requiring a doubling of sacred spaces. In trying to imagine such a scenario, Latter-day Saint scholar David Calabro has argued, speculatively, that specific narrative features of Moses 2-6 could have been linked to architectural features of Solomon's temple (or, for that matter, Nephite temples) in ways that reflect its relevance to the outward-bound sequence of the endowment.343 In this conception, something like an earlier version of Moses 2-4, a narrative relating the Creation and the Fall, would have been dramatized as part of an outward-bound progression within the temple. Likewise, something like an earlier version of Moses 5 could have been staged near the alter of sacrifice, and Moses 6 near the laver. Going further, although Calabro did not explicitly discuss the possibility, it could be easily imagine that an older text roughly analogous to Moses 7 could have been used after that point to accompany the culminating inward-bound endowment sequence.344

The journey of the inward-bound sequence would have begun with faith and repentance (symbolized at the alter of sacrifice) and baptism (symbolized by the laver). This prepared worshippers who had been thus justified to enter the temple through its first curtain or "gate." As they approached the veil by traversing the Holy Place, they would have encountered symbols of sanctification in the light of the lampstand, the temple shewbread, and the incense alter. Finally, having consecrated their all and called upon the Lord in prayer, worshippers would have been prepared to figuratively enter the presence of the Lord and continue their ritual preparations for exaltation.

2. Melchizedek Priesthood Investiture and "Second-Sacrifice" at the Alter of Incense. While the initial blessing of justification comes exclusively by means of a substitutionary offering on the alter of sacrifice in the temple courtyard-- "relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save"345 -- the culminating step of the process of sanctification in Melchizedek priesthood temple rites. can be viewed as a joint effort,346 symbolized by a "second sacrifice"347 made on the alter of incense that stands before the veil. While that second sacrifice is no less dependent on the "merits, and mercy, and grace"348 of Christ and the ongoing endowment of His strengthening power, it requires in addition that individuals grow in their capacity to meet the stringent measure of self-sacrifice349 enjoined by the law of consecration as exemplified by Nephi and his companions in their soul-saving labor on behalf of their "children" and "brethren" -- "for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."350

3. Meeting the Lord at the Veil. In Hugh Nibley's interpretation of the Septuagint version of Exodus 29:42, the Lord promises that at the tent of meeting: "I shall make myself known to you that I might converse with you."351 However, as part of the general withdrawal of the Melchizedek priesthood ordinances from Israelite temples that is documented in ancient sources and modern revelation,352 there was a loss of narrative signs, and tokens relating to the higher priesthood that included the final atoning rites at the veil. According to Nibley, "the loss of the old ceremonies occurred shortly after Lehi left Jerusalem" and "the ordinances of atonement were, after Lehi's day, supplanted by allegory."353 By way of contrast, in describing the temples that the Nephites built "after the manner of the temple of Solomon,"354 Nibley wrote:355

Let us recall that Lehi and his people who left Jerusalem in the very last days of Solomon's temple were zealous in erecting the alters of sacrifice and building temples of their own. It has often been claimed that the Book of Mormon cannot contain the "fulness of the gospel since it does not have temple ordinances. As a matter of fact, they are everywhere in the book if we know where to look for them, and the dozen or so discourses on the Atonement in the Book of Mormon are replete with temple imagery. From all the meanings of kaphar and kippurim356 [Hebrew words relating to the atonement in Israelite temples] we concluded that the literal meaning of kaphar and kippurim is a close and intimate embrace, which took place at the kapporeth or the front voer or flap of the Tabernacle or tent ["later the veil of the temple"357] The Book of Mormon instances are quite clear, for example, "Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you."359 "But behold the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled eternally in the arms of his love."360 To be redeemed is to be atoned. From this it should be clear what kind of oneness is meant by the Atonement-- it is being received in a close embrace of the prodigal son, expressing not only forgiveness but oneness of heart and mind that amounts to identity.

Taken together, the scant, allusive, but suggestive evidence in the Book of Mormon361 and the book of Hebrews362 seems to confirm Nibley's description of the older culminating of rites of the Melchizedek Priesthood at the veil symbolized sanctification through the once-and-for-all atonement of Jesus Christ rather than through the annual Day of Atonement rites of the Aaronic priesthood that were preformed at the mercy seat. Similar ordinances constitute the ultimate symbolism of atonement we encounter in the culminating rites of the modern temple endowment as well as in some ancient Near East kingship ceremonies that go back four millennia.364

Here, then are two irrevocable acts... to give powerful encouragement to us, who have claimed his protection by grasping the hope set before us. That hope we hold. It is like an anchor for our lives, an anchor safe and sure. It enters in through the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as a forerunner, having become a higher priest forever and after the order of Melchizedek.

The terse prose of this verse bears some unpacking, in which we will draw largely on commentary from non-Latter-day Saint scholars. Anticipating the blessings described in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood,365 the author of Hebrews assures the Saints of the firmness and unchangeableness of God's promises. The "two irrevocable acts" mentioned are "God's promise and the oath by which He guarantees that promise,"366 the latter constituting the means by which one's calling and election is made "sure" (see chapter 12). In reading verses 18-20, we are meant to understand that so long as we hold fast to the Redeemer, who has entered "through the veil on our behalf... as a forerunner," we will remain firmly anchored to our heavenly home, and the eventual realization of the promise "that where I am, there ye may be also."367 Undoubtedly, there is also the sense that "Jesus, the high priest, [stands] behind the veil in the Holy of Holies to assist those who [pass] through."368 "The anchor would thus constitute the link that 'extends' or 'reaches' to the safe harbor of the divine realms... providing a means of access by its entry into God's presence."369 As Jesus was "exalted" ... above the entire created order-- to the heavenly throne at God's right hand," so "humanity will be elevated to the pinnacle of the created order"370 as sons and daughters of God.371 And as the Son received "all the glory of Adam,"372 so "his followers will also inherit this promise if they endure... testing."373

Nephi's description of the inbound temple journey.

Now let's return to Nephi's teaching. For brevity's sake we'll focus only on two verses from the longer passage: 2 Nephi 31:19-20. In prior verses, Nephi has already exhorted his readers to "follow the Son, with full purpose of heart"374 and to enter the gate of "repentance and baptism by water."375 The alter of sacrifice and the laver that sit in the courtyard, outside the temple door, evoke these two themes. Nephi teaches that baptism, in turn, perpares his readers to receive "a remission of sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost."376 Then, Nephi weaves the single mention of faith, hope, and love within these chapters into a masterful description of the culminating sequence of the pathway to eternal life that leads through the ancient temple (please refer to the numbered annotations in figure 5-9):

1. Nephi begins with a description of the "gate of baptism" that most of his readers have probably already entered. They have "come thus far" through "unshaken faith" in Christ, being justified through "relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save." The gate of baptism (1), the last requirement governing entrance through the temple door, brings us out of the telestial world377 and into the terrestrial glory that fills the Holy Place of the temple.

2. Nephi says that we must "press forward" (2) -- which evidently means that we are to advance steadfastly along the high priestly way of the Holy Place toward greater light and knowledge.

3. The lamp in the Holy Place symbolized our quest to attain a "perfect brightness of hope" (3).

4. Faithfulness to the last and most difficult law of consecration, symbolized by the incense offering at the alter in front of the second veil, 385 requires the development of charity, "a love of God and of all men" (4).

5. The complete sanctification that is required of all who would enter the kingdom of heaven requires "feasting upon the word of Christ" and is symbolized by the temple shewbread (5).

6. In scripture, "the end" (6) usually refers to the end of one's probation, the moment when Saints will have been prepared to meet God at the veil.386

7. In a divine, face-to-face encounter at the heavenly veil, those who have endured faithfully to the end of their probation will receive the sure oath of the Father: "Ye shall have eternal life" (7). An essay analyzing Joseph Smith's 21 May 1843 discourse on 2 Peter 1-- the context in which the Prophet's mention of the three principal rounds of Jacob's ladder appeared-- identifies the oath described in 2 Nephi 31:20 ("Ye shall have eternal life"; compare Psalm 110:4 387) as the "more sure word of prophecy" (defined in the discourse as being "the voice of Jesus saying my beloved thou shalt have eternal life"; see also chapter 12).388 By equating these concepts, the teachings of Joseph Smith confirm that not only sacred gestures (such as those shown in figures 5-3 and 5-4 and also described in Hebrews 6:18-20 389) but also sacred words are exchanged at the top of the ladder of exaltation. Thus, the Prophet endowed ritual teachings of temple ordinances with literal significance in the context of actual heavenly ascent (see figure 5-10).390 With the ritual atonement being symbolically represented at the veil rather than in the Holy of Holies, the symbolism of the celestial room of modern temples is transformed from the solemn, solitary locus of annually repeated atoning ritual described in the Old Testament into a joyful meeting place that represents eternal "following with the Lord."391

Summary and Conclusions

From an examination of the table above, the following observations can be made:

- Joseph Smith's teachings not only accepted the gist of the biblical story of Jacob's ladder but also incorporated additional details found elsewhere in the Bible and other ancient sources. On at least one occasion in 1843, the Prophet directly borrowed from Masonic phraseology when speaking to an audience that included many Freemasons.

- Joseph Smith's teachings excluded some of the imagery and phraseology from Freemasonry that is not currently known to be rooted in biblical or other ancient sources (for example, Jacob's pillow as a finished ashlar; Masonic expressions about "the clouded canopy of heaven, decorated with starry and planetary systems"392; the standing of the ladder between the Two Parallel Lines on the pavement that originally represented the paired opposites of the mid-summer and mid-winter days of the the Saints John393).

- Joseph Smith's teachings included symbolism that is found in several ancient sources but is not explicitly mentioned in Masonic ritual descriptions of Jacob's ladder. For example, Christian imagery and scriptural passages represent the crowning rites of faithful Saints as being performed literally in heaven, through gesture and speech, between a divinely "anthropomorphic" God and transformed, "theomorphic" humans.

BHR Staff Commentary

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw has given permission to BHR to use any or all pages from this book in the BHR primary sources archive.

Citations in Mormonr Qnas
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