Changes to the temple endowment

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Changes to the Endowment ordinance

Summary: Important note: Members of FAIR take their temple covenants seriously. We consider the temple teachings to be sacred, and will not discuss their specifics in a public forum.

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Question: Why would the Church remove or alter elements of the temple ceremony if these ceremonies were revealed by God?

There is a difference between the ordinance of the endowment and the mechanism used in the presentation of the ordinance

Latter-day Saints believe that the Temple endowment is an eternal ordinance that Joseph Smith received by revelation from God. Why, then, have changes been made to it several times since it was first revealed?

People sometimes confuse the ordinance of the endowment with the presentation of the endowment. The presentation has undergone many changes since the time of Joseph Smith as it is adjusted to meet the needs of a modern and ever changing membership.

Joseph Smith restored the endowment ordinance, but the method of presentation of the ordinance is adapted to fit the needs of the times. There would be no point in having continuing revelation, a founding idea of our faith, if we are not permitted to advance and meet new needs. God’s directives and how He deals with His people may vary according to His people’s understanding and needs. God doesn’t tell everyone to build an ark and wait for a flood. Changes sometimes occur as a result of God dealing with His children according to their changing circumstances.

Question: Did ceremonies or practices ever change in the ancient Church?

Major changes in practices took place during Jesus Christ’s ministry

We know that major changes in practices took place during Jesus Christ’s ministry. Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses and practices associated with that law were no longer necessary. Changes also took place after Christ's earthly ministry. For example, Christ originally taught the gospel only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matt. 15:24) and forbade His apostles from going to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5–6). After Jesus' death Peter was commanded by an angel to take the gospel to all people (Acts 10, Acts 11; Matt 28:19). Following Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry the practice of circumcision also became unnecessary (Acts 15, Galatians 6:15). Changes in the Church are sometimes necessary. Such changes, however, must be done by inspiration or revelation from the head of the Church, who is Jesus Christ.

Relative truths can change, while absolute truths do not

There are absolute truths and relative truths. Absolute truths (such as: God lives and Jesus is the Christ) do not change. Relative truths or practices (such as: circumcision, plural marriage, and age of priesthood ordination) do change. Many relative truths deal with procedural issues, and how absolute truths are presented, rather than the absolute truths themselves. As additional truths are revealed, our understanding of previous revelation is modified to accommodate additional light.

That the temple ceremonies have undergone occasional changes, improvements, and refinements, should cause no concern since -- as Joseph Fielding Smith noted -- the “work of salvation for the dead came to the Prophet [Joseph Smith] like every other doctrine — piecemeal. It was not revealed all at once.”[1]

President Brigham Young gave a brief definition of the endowment and thereby identified some of its essential elements. He said,

"Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell."[2]

On 4 May 1842, after President Joseph Smith gave the first Nauvoo-era endowment to a small group of Latter-day Saints he told apostle Brigham Young that because of their limited spacial circumstances the overall experience was “not arranged perfectly” and he wanted Brigham to “organize and systematize” the ceremonies. This indicates there were some presentational modifications allowable in the rites while still preserving the core elements of the experience.

Question: Is it ever allowable to modify a religious ceremony?

The ceremony by which the endowment is administered is subject to modification, but the elements of the endowment are not

Harold B. Lee emphasized that the means by which the endowment and its message are presented are subject to modification

Now, you think for a moment—in the upper office over [Joseph Smith's] store, with no equipment like we have in our temples today, the endowment had to be given by lecture. The Prophet Joseph Smith through these, his counselors, and others as you heard their names, attended to the matters that we now have given in various ways. Sometimes our people who go through the temples are a bit startled because of the varied ways in which the endowment is presented. Perhaps, as under inspiration they studied the nature of the endowment, they thought to make it a little more meaningful to the patrons who would come: part by dramatization, part by question and answer, part by lecture, part by picturization on the walls of some of the temples. We have artists who have tried to put those who go through the temple in the mood of the lesson to be taught as they proceed through the temple.
....But it is the same message that was given by lecture by the Prophet Joseph Smith in his office over [his] store. Now, when we have that in mind, we will see why the Prophet, in the beginning of this dispensation, gave certain instructions to have the brethren stimulated in their thinking.[3]

Question: Was there an oath in a former version of the Mormon temple endowment that required vengeance upon the government of the United States?

It is likely that there was an oath that asked members to pray that God would avenge the blood of the prophets

Until 1927 the temple endowment very likely contained such an oath. The exact wording is not entirely clear, but it appears that it did not call on the Saints themselves to take vengeance on the United States, but that they would continue to pray that God himself might avenge the blood of the prophets.

Although the Oath of Vengeance contains no curses like those in the imprecatory psalms, like the psalmists, the Saints apparently had the wisdom to take directly to God their strong feelings in response to the injustices they had been dealt. By doing so, they turned over to Him the responsibility for both justice and healing.

In nearly every anti-Mormon discussion of the temple, critics raise the issue of the "oath of vengeance" that existed during the 19th century and very early 20th century. These critics often misstate the nature of the oath and try to use its presence in the early temple endowment as evidence that the LDS temple ceremonies are ungodly, violent, and immoral.

The leaders of the Church have modified the endowment from time to time. Prior to changes made in 1927, there was an oath to pray for the Lord's vengeance on those who murdered the prophets. In their sworn testimonies and temple exposes, apostates gave conflicting accounts on who was to do the actual avenging: the Lord or the Saints themselves.[4] Surveying Mormon history for teachings about of vengeance can add perspective and help evaluate which possibility is more likely.

During the Missouri conflict, the Saints were instructed through revelation to petition for governmental redress for the outrages they suffered

In 1833, the Mormons were driven out of Jackson County, Missouri, in part due to anti-slavery sentiments that differed from the more established settlers. Through revelation, the Saints were instructed to petition for governmental redress for the outrages they suffered. The Saints were expected to be pacifists, but only up to a point. D&C 98:23-31:

Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded; But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you. And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundredfold. And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four-fold; And these three testimonies shall stand against your enemy if he repent not, and shall not be blotted out. And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation. And then, if he shall come upon you or your children, or your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands; And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation. Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.

The use of violence was condoned only in cases of self-defense or after the Lord had delivered up a previously warned enemy in the Saints hands

Even then mercy towards enemies was encouraged and indications are that the Lord can fight his own battles (see v. 37) to extract his vengeance on the wicked. Note the repeated references to third and fourth generations of children that is added for rhetorical effect despite the impracticality of a single enemy being a menace for the encompassing time span.

The earliest known oath of vengeance in a Mormon temple appears to have been introduced by Joseph Smith in Kirtland

The earliest known oath of vengeance in a Mormon temple appears to have been introduced by Joseph Smith spontaneously at the Kirtland dedication on March 30, 1836:[5]

The seventies are at liberty to go to Zion if they please or go wheresoever they will and preach the gospel and let the redemption of Zion be our object, and strive to affect it by sending up all the strength of the Lords house whereever we find them, and I want to enter into the following covenant, that if any more of our brethren are slain or driven from their lands in Missouri by the mob that we will give ourselves no rest until we are avenged of our enimies to the uttermost, this covenant was sealed unanimously by a hosanna and Amen.

The Mormons used military force to defend themselves in Missouri, but eventually they were driven out after an exterminating order was issued against them by governor Boggs. Further petitions for redress in Missouri were met with rejection. Martin van Buren remarked "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you." Enemies in Missouri, including the next governor, conspired to kidnap Joseph in Illinois and bring him to Missouri to face trumped up charges.

Nauvoo Developments: Wilford Woodruff later situated the temple instruction in praying for the Lord's biblical vengeance of blood of the prophets

Perhaps anticipating his death, Joseph met often with apostles and other close associates to restore the temple endowment prior to the completion of the Nauvoo temple. Wilford Woodruff, later situated the temple instruction in praying for the Lord's biblical vengeance of blood of the prophets as follows:[6]

I have already said that there is nothing [antagonistic to the government in the Mormon endowments] of that kind in any part or phase of Mormonism. I ought to know about that as I am one of the oldest members of the church. A good deal is being made of a form of prayer based upon two verses in the sixth chapter of the revelations of St. John as contained in the New Testament. It relates to praying that God might avenge the blood of the prophets. An attempt has, I see, been made to connect this with avenging the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and to have reference to this nation. It can have no such application as the endowments were given long before the death of Joseph and Hyrum and have not been changed. This nation and government has never been charged by the Mormon people with the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. As it is well known the murder was the act of the local mob disguised.

Recent generations of Latter-day Saints, who haven't experienced mob violence, may be surprised at or uncomfortable with such oaths

Recent generations of Latter-day Saints, who haven't experienced mob violence, kidnapping attempts, and death threats, may be surprised at or uncomfortable with the feelings of many earlier saints who were praying for justice instead of praying for their enemies. But we live in kinder, gentler times; and nineteenth-century Mormons—especially those who came out of Nauvoo—saw the hand of God whenever their persecutors suffered misfortune, a feeling common to most powerless, persecuted minority groups.

After Joseph Smith's death, his closest friends continued to meet after his death.[7] This group met to test revelation ("try all things"), pray for the healing of sick members, pray for the success of church projects, and pray for deliverance from their enemies. Heber C. Kimball recalled that after Joseph's death the prayer circle met and prayed for God's vengeance.[8]

Summarizing Willard Richards' activities immediately after the martyrdom, historian Claire Noall wrote:

True, in this [1850] speech Richards finally denounced the actual murderers; but when notifying the Church of Joseph Smith's death at Carthage jail, he wrote to Nauvoo that the people of Carthage expected the Mormons to rise, but he had "promised them no." The next day from the steps of the Prophet's home, he reminded his people that he had pledged his word and his honor for their peaceful conduct. And when writing the news of Smith's death to Brigham Young then near Boston, Willard Richards said the blood of martyrs does not cry from the ground for vengeance; vengeance is the Lord's.[9]

Temple work in general and, more specifically, prayers that God, rather than Mormon members, would avenge Joseph Smith is what was the salvation of the church in Nauvoo. Instead of giving vent to passionate desires for revenge using the impressively-sized Nauvoo Legion, the brethren were able to get members to channel their frustration and anger into petitions to the Almighty for justice. Their actual energy was concentrated on the things of heaven through temple building and service. Temple prayer became a way of ritually memorializing Joseph Smith's martyrdom.

Conflict in Utah: To pray the Father to avenge the blood of the prophets and righteous men that has been shed

After the exodus to Utah, ordinances usually reserved for the temple were performed in the Endowment House, while temple construction was in progress. In a late recollection, David H. Cannon described the instruction at the Endowment House in regards to vengeance:

To pray the Father to avenge the blood of the prophets and righteous men that has been shed, etc. In the endowment house this was given but as persons went there only once, it was not so strongly impressed upon their minds, but in the setting in order [of] the endowments for the dead it was given as it is written in 9 Chapter of Revelations [sic] and in that language we importune our Father, not that we may, but that He, our Father, will avenge the blood of martyrs shed for the testimony of Jesus.[10]

Although the religious stress was on letting God perform the actual vengeance, individuals sometimes imagined they might be called upon to take a more active role. This phenomenon reached a low point after the rhetorical hyperbole of Mormon Reformation[11] and the war time hysteria created by President James Buchanan sending troops against Utah. From the pulpit, many Church leaders held the United States as a nation responsible for letting mobocracy get out of control. As tensions mounted, vengeance motifs surfaced in the apocalyptic language of some patriarchal blessings. The Saints were prepared to fight in a just war.

While the Utah War was nearly a bloodless conflict, tragedy struck some caught in the crossfire. A recent work has examined the way conspiring, local Mormon leaders manipulated others to become complicit in the Mountain Meadows Massacre in part by exploiting their desires for vengeance.[12] However, in their approach to explain how basically good people could commit such an atrocity, the authors found elements in common with vigilantism and mass killings perpetrated everywhere. They agree that these southern Utah Mormons were acting against the principles of their religion.[13] Their oaths of taught them to channel their righteous indignation into petitioning God for justice while they worked constructively to build and defend Zion.

The Reed Smoot Hearings brought to light that the Saints were covenanting to ask God to avenge the blood of Joseph Smith on the nation

Most accounts of the temple oath of vengeance stressed that God, rather than man, would do the actual punishing. For example, August Lundstrom, an apostate Mormon, testified at the Reed Smoot hearings in December 1904:

Mr. [Robert W.] Tayler [counsel for the protestants]: Can you give us the obligation of retribution?
Mr. Lundstrom: I can.
Mr. Tayler: You may give that.
Mr. Lundstrom: "We and each of us solemnly covenant and promise that we shall ask God to avenge the blood of Joseph Smith upon this nation." There is something more added, but that is all I can remember verbatim. That is the essential part.
Mr. Tayler: What was there left of it? What else?
Mr. Lundstrom: It was in regard to teaching our children and children's children to the last generation to the same effect.[14]

One could object that Lundstrom, as an apostate, fabricated the existence of such an oath or, intentionally or unintentionally, distorted its wording. However, others who spoke publicly (such as David H. Cannon above) had similar recollections.

Biblical Perspective: justice is a responsibility reserved for God

The Oath of Vengeance is a vivid reminder that the Saints understood the writings of the Apostle Paul -- that justice is a responsibility reserved for God.

Romans 12:19

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Question: Does the Oath of Vengeance have any biblical precedent?

Christians who take comfort in the Book of Psalms find additional biblical precedent for turning their vengeance over to the Lord

The imprecatory or “cursing” psalms provide a parallel, although the graphic explicitness of them is not present in the Oath of Vengeance. The cursing psalms are nothing less than prayers for extreme forms of Divine vengeance. Examples include:

Psalms 109:8-19 prays:

8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office.

9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.

10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.

11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.

12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.

13 Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.

14 Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the LORD; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.

15 Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.

16 Because that he remembered not to shew mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart.

17 As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.

18 As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones.

19 Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually.

Psalms 69:22-25 prays:

22 Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap.

23 Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake.

24 Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them.

25 Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.

Psalms 58:6-8 prays:

6 Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O LORD.

7 Let them melt away as waters which run continually: when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces.

8 As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.

Psalms 83:13-17 prays:

13 O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.

14 As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;

15 So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.

16 Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD.

17 Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:

Questions are begged concerning whether such wishes/prayers are appropriate from us today considering that we live under a New Testament forgiveness paradigm

Note that Psalm 69 was invoked by both Peter and Paul in the New Testament (Acts 1:15-20, Romans 11:9-10). The scriptures also provide examples of the Lord's vengeance subsequent to the atonement of Christ (Luke 11:49-51, Revelation 16:4-7). Examples are also present in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 9:5-11). Philip Yancey, author of "The Bible Jesus Read" explores the paradox and concludes that the seemingly diabolical language uttered in the cursing psalms is a form of "spiritual therapy", still appropriate for us to observe/practice today. He reasons:

If a person wrongs me unjustly, I have several options. I can seek personal revenge, a response condemned by the Bible. I can deny or suppress my feelings of hurt and anger. Or I can take those feelings to God, entrusting God with the task of ‘retributive justice’. The cursing psalms are vivid examples of that last option. ‘It is mine to avenge: I will repay,’ says the Lord – prayers like the cursing psalms place vengeance in the proper hands. Significantly, the cursing psalms express their outrage to God, not to the enemy.

Yancey continues:

What is a vengeful curse when spoken about someone is a plea of helpless dependence when spoken directly to God.

He adds:

Sometimes I find that in the process of expression, I grow in compassion. God’s Spirit speaks to me of my own selfishness, my judgmental spirit, my own flaws that others have treated with grace and forgiveness, my pridefully limited viewpoint.

He concludes that in praying so emotively:

I may well find that my vindictive feelings need God’s correction—but only by taking those feelings to God will I have the opportunity for correction and healing.[15]

Question: Why were "penalties" removed from the Endowment?

A former version of the endowment (prior to 1990) used to contain mention of various "penalties" associated with the breaking of the temple covenants

A former version of the endowment (prior to 1990) used to contain mention of various "penalties" associated with the breaking of the temple covenants. Some people use this fact to claim that the temple encouraged violence or vengeance against those who violated its covenants, or that the Church sought to use fear to motivate members to keep their covenants. One critic of the Church even proposes asking the following question of Mormon politicians as a religious test for those who are running for office,

"Before 1990, the endowment ceremony required members to take an oath of secrecy not to reveal anything that happened in the temple under penalty of death. Did you take that oath?"

Temple penalties involved promising to resist even extreme efforts to cause us to break temple covenants: They never contemplated or advocated inflicting such penalties on others

Temple penalties involved promising to resist even extreme efforts to cause us to break temple covenants. They never contemplated or advocated inflicting such penalties on others, or the threat of having them inflicted upon us. Only the wicked would inflict such penalties; the endowed member simply covenanted to resist all such efforts.

It is easy for people to misrepresent this part of the temple ceremony, since only members endowed prior to April 1990 will have had direct experience with the penalties mentioned.

The ceremony said nothing about what would happen to people if they revealed that which they had covenanted to keep secret

Contrary to this representation, the ceremony said nothing about what would happen to people if they revealed that which they had covenanted to keep secret. Nor did the ceremony encourage anyone to inflict penalties on another.

Rather, the person making the covenant indicated what they would be willing to have done to themselves rather than reveal sacred things. (The penalties also had symbolic implications that are rooted in the Old Testament, which are beyond the scope of this article). So, the temple ceremony did not involve descriptions of what God (or others) would do to someone if they failed to keep their covenants, but instead illustrated the seriousness with which the participant should make the temple covenants.

The penalties served, among other things, to teach us how determined we should be to resist those who would encourage us to violate covenants

The penalties served, among other things, to teach us how determined we should be to resist those who would encourage us to violate covenants. The endowment said nothing about the consequences of violating covenants save that one would be judged by God for doing so. Such judgment of necessity remains always in the hands of God alone. (The Church might, of course, discipline a member for violation of covenants via excommunication, but this is the extent of the penalty which the Church can apply; see D&C 134:10.)

This important distinction was sometimes not well understood by some members, and this is likely one reason that penalties were removed from the current ceremony. The penalties confused people more than it helped them, in our era, and the presentation of the endowment has changed (and will likely continue to change) when necessary to administer the ordinances and associated doctrinal teaching in the most effective way.

Our common vernacular is laced with mentions of penalties: Solemn claims are often followed with, for instance, "cross my heart, hope to die" or "may Heaven strike me dead"

Still today, our common vernacular is laced with mentions of penalties. Solemn claims are often followed with, for instance, "cross my heart, hope to die" or "may Heaven strike me dead". Obviously, such penalties are not to be taken literally (the person saying them does not literally want to die, or ask someone to kill them, or commit suicide), but rather to convey the veracity of a claim or the seriousness with which claims are made.

This kind of language or approach was not foreign to the early Christians' rituals either

This kind of language or approach was not foreign to the early Christians' rituals either. Hugh Nibley wrote:

The Ritual Enactment of Curses

The ritual performance of a curse was anciently an imitation sacrifice. The priest shed his own blood either for the king, whom he originally represented, or for the people, whom the king also represented (see 1 Samuel 13:8–14). But as he can represent them by proxy, so he too may shed his blood by proxy by the sacrificial beast. All of this, of course, is "a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten" (Moses 5:7), which atoned for the sins of all, and thus redeems or saves from death....

The ear has a significance in ancient Israel. When a servant in Israel, out of pure love, wished to be sealed to a master for the rest of his life, even though free to go his own way, his bond was made sure by fixing his ear to the door with a nail driven through it (see Deuteronomy 15:16–17). It was a relatively painless operation, since there are only three nerves in the lobe of the ear. But it would be hard to find a more convincing symbol of anything fixed in a sure place (Isaiah 22:23).

One penalty is particularly interesting, because of a very early Christian writing known as the Discourse on Abbatôn [a Satan figure], which goes back to Apostolic times in Jerusalem. It was discovered in a chest preserved from the earliest days of the Church in the house of John Mark's mother. Timothy, the Bishop of Alexandria, while attending a conference at Jerusalem, persuaded the aged keeper of the old Church archives to show him the book. It tells how, when the council was held at the foundation of the world and Adam was chosen to preside over the project, Satan refused to recognize him, saying, "It is meet that this man Adam should come and worship me, for I existed before he came into being. And when my father [it is the Lord speaking to the apostles] saw his great pride and that his wickedness and evil doing had reached a fullness, he commanded the armies of heaven, saying remove the token [mark, document, authorization] which is in his right hand, remove his panoply [protective armor] and cast him down to earth, for his time has come." With him go all his followers, for "he is the head over them and their names are written in his hand." The angels were reluctant to demote so great a one "and they did not wish to remove the writing from his hand. And my father commanded them to bring a sharp sickle and cut him at breast level from shoulder to shoulder, on this side and on that, right through his body to the vertebra of his shoulders." This cost him a third of his strength and rendered him forever incapable of prevailing by force. Henceforth, he gains his ends by deception and trickery, which makes him all the more dangerous.[16]

Question: Was the "Adam-God" theory ever taught as part of the temple endowment ceremony as something called "the lecture at the veil"?

Brigham Young attempted to introduce the concept of Adam-God into the endowment, as far as it had been revealed to him and he was able to interpret it

The endowment was and is a ceremony that can be adapted to the needs of its audience. Brigham Young attempted to introduce the concept of Adam-God into the endowment, as far as it had been revealed to him and he was able to interpret it. He was not able to fully resolve the teaching and integrate it into LDS doctrine. After his death, Adam-God was not continued by his successors in the Presidency, and the idea was dropped from the endowment ceremony and from LDS doctrine. If there is anything true in that doctrine, one would expect that truth to be in harmony with what is already revealed. Only further revelation from the Lord's anointed can clear up the matter.

The full meaning of Brigham Young's teachings on Adam-God is not well understood, and the endowment ceremony was not written down until the late nineteenth century

Two points need to be made prior to any discussion of this subject:

  1. The full meaning of Brigham Young's teachings on Adam-God is not well understood. What he taught appears to have been a failed attempt to establish a new doctrinal belief. He did not live to reconcile it with LDS scripture, and later prophets did not continue his teaching. (See the main article on Adam-God.)
  2. The endowment ceremony was not written down until the late nineteenth century. Before and since that time, it was and has been modified occasionally by Church leaders to clarify and refine the presentation. (See the main article on temple endowment changes.)

How the endowment came to be written, and how Adam-God become part of it

The following is probably the best description of how the temple endowment came to be written, and what part Adam-God played in it:

Shortly after the dedication of the lower portion of the temple, Young decided it was necessary to commit the endowment ceremony to written form. On 14 January 1877 he "requested Brigham jr & W Woodruff to write out the Ceremony of the Endowments from Beginning to End," assisted by John D. T. McAllister and L. John Nuttall. Daily drafts were submitted for Young's review and approval. The project took approximately two months to complete. On 21 March 1877 Woodruff recorded in his journal: "President Young has been laboring all winter to get up a perfect form of Endowments as far as possible. They having been perfected I read them to the Company today." [17]

The St. George endowment included a revised thirty-minute "lecture at the veil" first delivered by Young. This summarized important theological concepts taught in the endowment and contained references to Young's Adam-God doctrine. In 1892 L. John Nuttall, one of those who transcribed Young's lecture, recalled how it came about:

In January 1877, shortly after the lower portion of the St. George Temple was dedicated, President Young, in following up in the Endowments, became convinced that it was necessary to have the formula of the Endowments written, and he gave directions to have the same put in writing.

Shortly afterwards he explained what the Lecture at the Veil should portray, and for this purpose appointed a day when he would personally deliver the Lecture at the Veil. Elders J. D. T. McAllister and L. John Nuttall prepared writing materials, and as the President spoke they took down his words. Elder Nuttall put the same into form and the writing was submitted to President Young on the same evening at his office in residence at St. George. He there made such changes as he deemed proper, and when he finally passed upon it [he] said: This is the Lecture at the Veil to be observed in the Temple.

A copy of the Lecture is kept at the St. George Temple, in which President Young refers to Adam in his creation and etc.

On 1 February 1877, when Young's lecture was first given, Woodruff wrote in his journal: "W Woodruff Presided and Officiated as El[ohim]. I dressed in pure white Doe skin from head to foot to officiate in the Priest Office, white pants vest & C[oat?] the first Example in any Temple of the Lord in this last dispensation. Sister Lucy B Young also dressed in white in officiating as Eve. Pr[e]sident [Young] was present and deliverd a lecture at the veil some 30 Minuts." The copy of the veil lecture which Nuttall describes is not presently available. But on 7 February Nuttall summarized in his diary additions to the lecture which Young made at his residence in Nuttall's presence:

In the creation the Gods entered into an agreement about forming this earth, and putting Michael or Adam upon it. These things of which I have been speaking are what are termed the mysteries of godliness but they will enable you to understand the expression of Jesus, made while in jerusalem, "This is life eternal that they might know thee, the ony true God and jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." We were once acquainted with the Gods and lived with them, but we had the privilege of taking upon us flesh that the spirit might have a house to dwell in. We did so and forgot all, and came into the world not recollecting anything of which we had previously learned. We have heard a great deal about Adam and Eve, how they were formed and etc. Some think he was made like an adobe and the Lord breathed into him the breath of life, for we read "from dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return." Well he was made of the dust of the earth but not of this earth. He was made just the same way you and I are made but on another earth. Adam was an immortal being when he came on this earth; He had lived on an earth similar to ours; he had received the Priesthood and the keys thereof, and had been faithful in all things and gained his resurrection and his exaltation, and was crowned with glory, immortality and eternal lives, and was numbered with the Gods for such he became through his faithfulness, and had begotten all the spirit that was to come to this earth. And Eve our common mother who is the mother of all living bore those spirits in the celestial world. And when this earth was organized by Elohim, Jehovah and Michael, who is Adam our common father, Adam and Eve had the privilege to continue the work of progression, consequently came to this earth and commenced the great work of forming tabernacles for those spirits to dwell in, and when Adam and those that assisted him had completed this kingdom our earth[,] he came to it, and slept and forgot all and became like an infant child. It is said by Moses the historian that the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam and took from his side a rib and formed the woman that Adam called Eve—This should be interpreted that the Man Adam like all other men had the seed within him to propagate his species, but not the Woman; she conceives the seed but she does not produce it; consequently she was taken from the side or bowels of her father. This explains the mystery of Moses' dark sayings in regard to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve when they were placed on this earth were immortal beings with flesh, bones and sinews. But upon partaking of the fruits of the earth while in the garden and cultivating the ground their bodies became changed from immortal to mortal beings with the blood coursing through their veins as the action of life—Adam was not under transgression until after he partook of the forbidden fruit; this was necessary that they might be together, that man might be. The woman was found in transgression not the man—Now in the law of Sacrifice we have the promise of a Savior and Man had the privilege and showed forth his obedience by offering of the first fruits of the earth and the firstlings of the flocks; this as a showing that Jesus would come and shed his blood.... Father Adam's oldest son (Jesus the Saviour) who is the heir of the family, is father Adam's first begotten in the spirit world, who according to the flesh is the only begotten as it is written. (In his divinity he having gone back into the spirit world, and came in the spirit to Mary and she conceived, for when Adam and Eve got through with their work in this earth, they did not lay their bodies down in the dust, but returned to the spirit world from whence they came.)

Brigham Young died August 29, 1877, shortly after introducing this version of the veil lecture. The evidence is indeterminate as to whether the St. George lecture with its Adam-God teaching was included in all temples or that it continued to the turn of the twentieth century. Buerger writes:

It is not clear, in fact, what did become of the lecture. The apparent ignorance of the subject matter implied by Abraham Cannon's [1888] account—despite his having been a General Authority for six years—suggest it was not routinely presented in the temple. Similar ignorance among some missionaries [in 1897] and their president ... who also presumably had been through the temple prior to their missions supports this conclusion. Although exposes of the temple ceremonies published about this time do not include any reference to this lecture, "fundamentalist" authors have asserted without serious attempt at documentation that Brigham's lecture was an integral part of the temple ceremony until about 1902-1905. In support of this has been placed the testimony of one individual who in 1959 distinctly remembered hearing during his endowment in the temple in 1902 that "Adam was our God." On returning from his mission in 1904 he noted that these teachings had been removed. While one would expect more extensive evidence than this were it true that the lecture was regularly given for twenty-five years, it ... should also be recalled that other "discredited" notions were still being promulgated in some temples by a few individuals during the early years of the twentieth century—such as the continued legitimacy of plural marriage, also a cherished fundamentalist tradition. [18]

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


  1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 168.
  2. Brigham Young, "Necessity of Building Temples—The Endowment," (April 6, 1853) Journal of Discourses 2:31.
  3. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 578.
  4. Van Hale, "The Alleged Oath of Vengeance," recorded 1 July 2007 during the Mormon Miscellaneous Worldwide Talk Show, off-site
  5. See 30 March 1836 Jesse Hitchcock record in "MS Joseph Smith Journal, 1835-36," 193 pp., Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives cited in Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002).
  6. Wilford Woodruff interview, Deseret News 22 November 1889
  7. For a history of prayer circles, see D. Michael Quinn, "Latter-day Saint Prayer Circles," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 1 (Fall 1978), 79–105. PDF link
  8. See his 21 December 1845 diary entry in The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845–1846: A Documentary History, Richard Van Wagoner, Devery Scott Anderson, and Gary James Bergera, eds. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005).
  9. Claire Noall, "The Plains of Warsaw," Utah Historical Quarterly 25/1 (January 1957): 47–51.
  10. David John Buerger, "The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 34 no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2001), 103.
  11. Paul H. Peterson, "The Mormon Reformation of 1856–1857: The Rhetoric and the Reality," Journal of Mormon History 15/1 (1989): 59–88.
  12. Richard Turley, Ron Walker and Glen Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Oxford University Press, 2008), 13–14,92,135,181,286n48.
  13. Turley, Walker and Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, xiii–xiv.
  14. Testimony of August W. Lundstrom, Proceedings before the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the United States Senate in the Matter of the Protests Against the Right of Hon. Reed Smoot, a Senator from the State of Utah, to Hold His Seat (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 2:153. PDF link
  15. Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1999), 133–139.
  16. Hugh W. Nibley, "On the Sacred and the Symbolic," in Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, edited by Donald W. Parry (Deseret Book Co. and FARMS, 1994).
  17. David John Buerger, The Mysteries of Godliness (Smith Research Associates, 1994), pp. 110–13.
  18. David John Buerger, "The Adam-God Doctrine," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 1 (Spring 82), 14–58.