While the Endowment is a subject that I find comforting and fascinating to study, I will admit upfront that I’ve been feeling some trepidation regarding this section. In his Letter, Faulk actually describes and shows images of many of the temple signs, symbols, and tokens, and those are not things I’m comfortable discussing in a public setting. I take our temple covenants very seriously, and I don’t want to put myself or FAIR or any of the readers here in the position of potentially breaking those covenants. Because of that, there will be a large section of this topic that will just be skimmed over without the usual level of detail and documentation I try to provide.
And frankly, I’m actually appalled that Faulk would post that information for everyone to read and look at. I don’t believe in mocking someone else’s sincerely held religious beliefs, even when I find those beliefs strange or off-putting. Unfortunately, that’s what Faulk’s Letter leads to deeper in this section. While I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that wasn’t his intent, he does air these things publicly where they can and will be mocked by those who belittle them.
This week, however, we’ll be focusing most of our attention on the idea that the Endowment was copied from Freemasonry. There is some truth and a lot of untruth behind that charge.
Before diving in, I’d like to again thank Jeffrey Bradshaw, Brandon Cole, Trevor Holyoak, and Ryan Mercer, who all offered me assistance on this topic. Some gave it this week, while others passed along information as I was working on the response to the CES Letter with similar accusations. I’ll be drawing on a lot of that same information again, so I appreciate their input and the resources they provided.
Was the temple endowment really a revelation from God or could it have another origin? This chapter covers the origin of Freemasonry, founders of the Church and their Masonic membership, and similarities between Masonic temple ceremonies and the LDS temple endowment.
There are absolutely links between the ritual, symbols, and tokens of the Endowment and those of Freemasonry. That’s not really in dispute. It’s also indisputable that the covenants and teachings of the Endowment are far, far more ancient than that and were revealed, at least in part, to Joseph well before he ever became a Mason, or even moved to Nauvoo, for that matter.
Before we go into some of the details, it’s important to recognize that there are different parts to the Endowment ceremony. There’s the Endowment ordinance itself, with the covenants and the endowment of Priesthood power, and then there’s the ritual, which is full of symbolism. It’s the method used to teach the Endowment, not the Endowment itself.
This separation has been described in various ways by Latter-day Saints. For example, Greg Kearney, a Latter-day Saint and a Mason, refers to it as “The Message and the Messenger.” David O. McKay has referred to it as the “mechanics” of the temple vs the “symbolism.”
The analogy I personally used to describe this before was that of a birthday gift. You have the present itself, which is the covenants and ordinances, and the Priesthood power we’re endowed with, and then you have the wrapping paper. The gift wrapping is the outer covering, something that we put time and effort into making. We want it to look beautiful and enticing, but ultimately, it’s just the disguise the gift hides in. This is much like the ritual that the teachings, ordinances, and covenants of the Endowment are housed in. We learn those teachings through rituals and repetition, through symbols and tokens. Those things are not the Endowment; they’re just the packaging the Endowment comes in.
However we describe it, it’s important to know that those are separate things. When you purchase a package off Amazon, it often comes in a cardboard box. The box is part of the package, but it’s not the important part. The important part is what’s in the box.
And to further explain some of the terminology we’ll be using over the next few weeks, here are a few other examples. First, think of an elder raising his arm to the square when he baptizes someone. That’s a sign of the ordinance he’s performing. Second, the rainbow is a symbol representing God’s covenant with Noah to never again flood the Earth and destroy the people. And third, a wedding ring is a token, a physical reminder of the vows you made to your spouse when you got married.
These are all immediately recognizable to us because we’re familiar with them. But when we first go to the temple, the signs, symbols, and tokens we find there are brand new to us, and it can throw us off. It takes time to learn to understand them and what they represent.
So, with all of that said, let’s dive into the LFMW and see what Thomas Faulk has to say:
- Origin of Freemasonry
“The earliest Masonic texts each contain some sort of a history of the craft, or mystery, of masonry. The oldest known work of this type, The Halliwell Manuscript, dating from between 1390 and 1425.” (Grand Lodge of British Columbia, The Halliwell Manuscript. http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/texts/regius.html)
“Some are also told that King Solomon ruled over Masonic lodges as grand master. The stories they weave around the building of the temple are obviously not literal or historical facts but a dramatic means of explaining the principles of Freemasonry. Freemasonry neither originated nor existed in Solomon’s time. The general agreement amongst serious Masonic historians and researchers is that Freemasonry has arisen, either directly or indirectly, from the medieval stonemasons who built great cathedrals and castles. Those who favor the direct descent from operative masonry say there were three stages to the evolution of Freemasonry. The stonemasons gathered in huts (lodges) to rest and eat. These lodges gradually became not the hut but the grouping together of stonemasons to regulate their craft. In time, and in common with other trades, they developed primitive initiation ceremonies for new apprentices.”
“As stonemasons could easily travel all over the country from one building site to another, and as there were also no trade union cards or certificates of apprenticeship they began to adopt a private word which a traveling stonemason could use when he arrived at a new site, to prove that he was properly trained and had been a member of a lodge. It was, after all, easier to communicate a special word to prove that you knew what you were doing and were entitled to the wages it deserved that to spend hours carving a block of stone to demonstrate your skills.”
“We know that in the early 1600s these operative lodges began to admit men who had no connection with the trade – accepted or gentlemen masons. Why this was done and what form of ceremony was used is not known. As the 1600s drew to a close more and more gentlemen began to join the lodges, gradually taking them over and turning them into lodges of free and accepted or speculative masons, no longer having any connection with the stonemasons’ craft. This is based on evidence from Scotland. In England, the first evidence of a lodge completely made up of non-operative masons is found. English evidence through the 1600s points to Freemasonry existing apart from any actual or supposed organization of operative stonemasons. This was a period of great religious and political turmoil and intolerance. Men were unable to meet together without differences of political and religious opinion leading to arguments. Opposing views split families and the English civil war of 1642-6 was the ultimate outcome. As their central idea was one of building a better society they borrowed their forms and symbols from the operative builders craft and took their central allegory from the Bible, the common source book known to all, in which the only building described in any detail is King Solomon’s Temple. Stonemasons tools also provided them with a multiplicity of emblems to illustrate the principles they were putting forward. The formation of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 had been followed, around 1725, by the Grand Lodge of Ireland and, in 1736; the Grand Lodge of Scotland. These three Grand Lodges did much to spread Freemasonry throughout the world, to the extent that all regular Grand Lodges throughout the world, whatever the immediate means of their formation, ultimately trace their origins back to one, or a combination, of the Grand Lodges within the British Isles.” (http://www.mastermason.com/jjcrowder/ history/history.html)
That’s a pretty good overview of the history of Masonry. I don’t really have much to add. It used to be taught that the Masons began with the stonemasons working on Solomon’s Temple, but history has not born that out. We can only trace it back as far as the late 1300s. Could it be somewhat older than that? Sure, yeah. Does it date back thousands of years? That’s highly doubtful.
However, that doesn’t mean that certain elements of Freemasonry can’t stretch back that far into the past. Certain signs and symbols could predate the Freemasons by quite some time.
Church leaders claim that the connection between Masons and Mormons date back to the stonemasons who built Solomon’s temple in the Old Testament.
That’s not exactly true. Certainly no contemporary leaders are making any such claims. Additionally, Faulk reads more into their statements than they actually said.
“Modern Masonry is a fragmentary presentation of the ancient order established by King Solomon. From whom it is said to have been handed down through the centuries. …that he was not sorry there was such a similarity, because of the fact that the ordinances and rites revealed to Joseph Smith constituted a reintroduction upon the earth of the divine plan inaugurated in the Temple of Solomon in ancient days. Masonry is an apostasy from the ancient early order, just as so-called Christianity is an apostasy from the true Church of Christ” (Elder Melvin J. Ballard, The Salt Lake Herald, December 29, 1919)
This citation is impossible to corroborate online. Some of this information was found by me, and some by my friend, Reddit user WooperSlim. The long and short of it is, the Salt Lake Herald may or may not have existed in 1919. It was founded in 1870 and lasted until 1909, when it merged with the Inter-Mountain Republican to form the Salt Lake Herald Republican. That combined paper only lasted until 1918. It appears as though it potentially reverted back to the Salt Lake Herald from July of 1918 to July of 1920, but this is the only source I can find stating this and those archives are not online anywhere that I can find. Neither Newspapers.com nor Utah Digital Newspapers has the relevant dates. And the existing archives for the Salt Lake Herald show that in 1909, the paper ended in August, not December, so it’s not just a tiny typo in the year, either.
When googling the quote, every single citation I can find is copied from a book called Mormonism and Masonry: Origins, Connections and Coincidences Between Mason and Mormon Temple/Templar Ritual by S.H. Goodwin. No one has the primary source documents available. The archives may be available on microfilm somewhere, but again, this can’t be corroborated by any other source than the one cited above.
So, I can’t verify this quote at all, nor do I know what was removed by that ellipsis. I don’t even know for sure who that “he” was who was supposedly not sorry for any similarities. If anyone can locate the primary source document that this quote came from, please let us know.
As far as Masonry being a fragmentary part of the ancient order established King Solomon in the temple, the Lord did confirm ancient Hebrew origins of the Endowment rites and rituals. As Matthew B. Brown explains in his book, Exploring the Connections Between Mormons and Masons:
The nature of the Nauvoo Temple ordinances was plainly spelled out by the Lord before they were introduced among the Saints and before Joseph Smith was received into the Masonic fraternity. At the beginning of 1841, the Lord said that Nauvoo Temple activities would be a restoration of rituals once practiced in the Tabernacle built by the prophet Moses and the temple constructed by King Solomon (see D&C 124:37–39). In other words, they would be Hebrew in their basis and content, not Masonic. And this points to another historical fact that needs to be remembered. The Kirtland Temple rituals were a precursor of the Nauvoo Temple ordinances. The Kirtland washing and anointing ceremonies predated Joseph Smith’s Masonic membership by six years and four months, and they were specifically, and contemporaneously, linked—by the Saints themselves—to the initiation rites experienced by the priests of ancient Israel. Again, the basis and content of these ceremonies was Hebrew, not Masonic.
And if you follow that link to the scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord explains that those ordinances are “from before the world was.” So, the ordinance—the endowment and covenants and teachings—is older than the foundations of the world. But the rites and rituals may not be that old. At the very least, they have some origins in ancient Israel, but we don’t know exactly when they were created or what those elements were that are taken from those old rituals.
“We have the true Masonry. The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy which took place in the days of Solomon, and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing.” (Heber C. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball and Family, The Nauvoo Years. Brigham Young University Studies. 1975, p.458)
This is a quote I can verify, because this is a great paper that I have cited many times myself.
As we can see from these words, Heber C. Kimball believed—as was common in his day—that Masonry was handed down from the days of Solomon. He believed that our Endowment ceremony was the perfected version, while the Masons had a corrupted version. We know now that he was wrong, at least in the belief that Masonry is that ancient.
However, at no point did Kimball ever say that the connections between the Mormons and the Masons extended back to the days of Solomon. He believed, as we all do, that this Church was restored to the Earth after a long absence. He also believed that apostate groups had been around since the days when the real temple rites were being performed in Solomon’s Temple, and that those apostates handed down those rites and rituals over the centuries. During that time, those rituals became just as corrupted as the rest of the doctrines of the true and living Church of Christ had become. In short, he believed that those connections between true temple rites and apostate ones were severed back in the days of Solomon and not restored until the days of Joseph Smith.
We don’t know when those temple rituals were last performed with true authority. We can’t trace them from the beginning of recorded history down until today. We don’t know where the Masons really learned them. There are ancient Christian practices that are similar to Masonic ceremonies, such as some signs and symbols of the Catholic liturgy. There is some evidence that early Christians had the Endowment. And Masonic tradition was rooted in early Christianity before becoming a completely secular organization.
But if Christ did teach true temple ordinances to the early Christians (and they did worship in temples for decades after the Resurrection, until the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem), there’s still a gap of about 1200 years where we don’t know for sure how those signs and symbols were passed down. Aside from the ones that are similar to Catholic tradition, of course.
The thing we need to take away from Kimball’s comments, however, is that long before he became a Mason, Joseph Smith knew that he was being allowed to restore very, very ancient ordinances, going back to the days of Adam. Even more than that, the Lord Himself declared that those ordinances, and the way in which they are performed, have existed since “before the foundation of the world.”
We don’t know which elements of the temple ceremony are ancient and which are purely Masonic inventions. But we do know that Joseph received knowledge of the temple ordinances well before he ever became a Mason. As Brian Hales explains, “Freemasonry in Nauvoo offers too little, too late to serve as the starting point and principal source of inspiration for the major doctrines and teachings relating to priesthood and temple ordinances. … Given Joseph Smith’s reluctance to share the details of the most sacred events and doctrines publicly, it is certainly possible he received specific knowledge about some temple matters even earlier than can be now documented. These matters include: 1) the narrative backbone, clothing, and covenants of the modern temple endowment, especially as described in the book of Moses (1830-1831); 2) the sequence of blessings of the oath and covenant of the priesthood described in D&C 84 (1832); and 3) priesthood keys and symbols expressed in keywords, names, signs, and tokens (from 1829).”
The theory that Joseph Smith took ritual elements from the Freemasons in order to create the LDS temple ceremony is principally founded upon the concept of time. Supporters of this theory argue that since the Prophet joined the Masonic fraternity shortly before he introduced the Nauvoo endowment among the Saints—and because there are similarities between the two sets of ceremonies—the leader of the Mormons must have been guilty of unacknowledged borrowing from the Masons….
In the years 1829 and 1830, Joseph Smith produced two scriptural texts containing numerous ritual elements that would become familiar to recipients of the Nauvoo endowment. Chapters 2–6 in the book of Mosiah, chapters 11–18 in the book of 3 Nephi, and chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Ether should all be compared with each other in order to see the relevant repeating pattern in the Book of Mormon. Then this same pattern should be sought for in chapter 1 of the book of Moses while chapters 2–6 of the same volume can be examined for other patterns that were employed in Nauvoo. In 1834 some portions of the book of Moses that were later incorporated into the Nauvoo-era temple liturgy were interwoven into Lecture on Faith #2 (cf. D&C 29:34–45)….
In mid March 1839, the Prophet wrote in a letter, “I never have had [the] opportunity to give [the Saints] the plan that God has revealed to me,” and later that year he taught one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “many great and glorious principles concerning God and the heavenly order of eternity,” including the concepts of the “eternal union” of marriage and “eternal family organization.”
In September 1840, the First Presidency of the Church issued an epistle wherein they declared that the dispensation of the fullness of times would be an era when “all things” would be restored and the promises made to the fathers would be fulfilled. They said that they had been “given the pattern and design” for upbuilding God’s kingdom on the earth and announced that the time had arrived for “establishing the Priesthood in their fullness and glory.” They also indicated that it was time to build a temple in Nauvoo, and it would serve as a house of worship, prayer, and divinely established “ordinances.” At the October 1840 general conference of the Church, the Prophet discoursed on baptism for the dead one day and on the “plan of ordinances” that had been revealed to Adam or the “Ancient of Days” or “Michael” the next day. Some of the themes of this second sermon included premortal time, the creation, the Garden of Eden, and the Fall; the “keys” and “covenants” and power and glory with which God blessed Adam; the instructions, revelations, and commandments that the Lord gave to the first man; “the priesthood [being] restored with all its authority, power, and blessings” (i.e., in all its fullness) in the dispensation of the fullness of times, “every ordinance belonging to the priesthood” in “ancient days” being practiced within the Nauvoo Temple; priesthood “keys” that have been kept hidden; the mysteries of godliness; and certain kinds of sacrifice being made at an altar by latter-day sons of Levi (i.e., temple officiators) but after a pre-Mosaic or Melchizedekian type. All of this, said the Prophet, was “the order from the beginning” or the “order which [God] established … whereby He sent forth power, revelations, and glory.”
Jeffrey Bradshaw and K-Lynn Paul trace much of that early history prior to 1836 in this fantastic paper for the Interpreter Foundation. From their research, it’s pretty clear that Joseph had a wealth of knowledge about temple ordinances before the Kirtland Temple was finished, well before he became a Mason in Nauvoo in March of 1842.
Moreover, the temple covenants themselves have ancient origins that greatly predate the Masons, and so do many of the symbols and tokens we learn inside the temple. LDS Living also mentioned a few symbols that were described before Joseph became a Mason. Additionally, Greg Kearney gave a list of apparent similarities between Latter-day Saints and Masons, and explained why they aren’t as striking as they might seem.
So, in my mind, there’s not really much here backing up Thomas Faulk’s assertions.
Unfortunately for the Church, Freemason historians cite its origins to the late 14th to early 15th century in Scotland as a trade guild, not 950 BC in Jerusalem.
That’s not “[unfortunate] for the Church.” The Church doesn’t base any of its history, doctrines, or temple ordinances off of the history of Freemasonry.
President Kimball and Elder Ballard appear to be mistaken about the origins of masonry and thus the Church’s historical connection for the endowment ceremony.
No. Heber C. Kimball was mistaken about the origins of masonry, that’s true. But he wasn’t wrong about the Church’s “historical connection for the Endowment ceremony.” Knowledge of the Endowment and of everlasting marriage were both known to Joseph, who was teaching the principles of at least some of those ordinances to the people well before 1842. We don’t know exactly when it was all unfolded to him, but he was learning portions of the doctrine at least as far back as 1829.
What it appears that Joseph did do, since we’re pretty far into this post and it hasn’t come up naturally yet, is adapt portions of a Masonic ritual he was familiar with into an aide for teaching the Endowment to the Saints.
Joseph was tasked by God to write the Endowment ceremony, apparently without much instruction on how to write it or teach the concepts and principles, and include the signs and tokens and symbols he needed to include. He seems to have used the ritual drama he saw in Masonic ceremonies as a jumping-off point to tell the narrative of eternal progression during the Endowment ceremony. They are not identical, and they are used in completely different ways to teach completely different things. That’s important to understand. But it does appear that he saw the ritual drama and believed he could alter and repurpose it to fit what he needed to achieve for the Endowment:
There are some short word phrases and actions used in the temple ceremony that are similar to word phrases and actions used in masonry, but the masonic word phrases and actions are not related to the themes, teachings, or covenants made in the temple. Even those places where actions are similar, they have completely different meanings. Joseph seems to have taken some of the actions and completely repurposed them. It is also interesting to note that the similar short phrases that are currently used are not critical phrases in the endowment ceremony. When the endowment ceremony was first performed in Nauvoo, it was much longer. As it has been shortened over the years, the Masonic-like phrases have been almost entirely removed.
At this point we have to stop and talk about the nature of revelation. Brigham Young said “When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. …Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to rewrite the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be rewritten, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation.”
Revelation comes from God, but comes through men. Too often we think that whatever comes out of the mouth of an apostle or prophet must be exactly what God said, word for word. But, if that were true, we wouldn’t have so many wonderful airplane analogies coming out in General Conference. Our language becomes filtered by our experience. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and many members of the Church in Nauvoo were familiar with the language of Masonry. So one would be very surprised if it didn’t crop up in their writings and teachings.
Those ritual aspects of the Endowment can and do change fairly often. There was a change earlier this year, even. That ritual is not the important, ancient part that’s been around since before the foundations of the world. The ritual is just the wrapping paper, and you can unwrap your gift and rewrap it in a variety of different wrappings without changing the gift, i.e., the ordinance/covenant/endowment of power.
So, to me, it doesn’t really matter what Joseph was inspired by when he was creating the ritual, because the ritual is just the teaching method. It’s just the packaging. It was his way of using a familiar vehicle that many of the Saints were accustomed to as a means for introducing the concepts found in the Endowment.
Joseph seems to have used Masonry as a point of departure, a beginning rather than an end in itself. Several scholars of differing degrees of belief in Joseph Smith’s teachings have analyzed the evidence and arrived at this conclusion. Michael Homer argued that “the rituals of Freemasonry provided a starting point for the Mormon prophet’s revelation of ‘true Masonry.’” David Buerger argued that the pattern of resemblances was too great and the content of the endowment too unique to explain simply. “Thus,” he concluded, “the temple ceremony cannot be explained as wholesale borrowing from Masonry; neither can it be explained as completely unrelated to Freemasonry.” Allen Roberts concluded that “Joseph’s Masonry was not a conventional one. He attempted to restore it in much the same way the gospel was restored. That is, he saw Masonry like Christianity, as possessing some important truths which could be beneficially extracted from what was otherwise an apostate institution.”
So, here’s what it all really boils down to: yes, there are some elements of Masonic ceremony in the endowment. But those elements link back at least to early Christianity, and some are far older than that. Additionally, those elements are small things, like signs, tokens, symbols, minor phrasing, and the fact that there’s a ritual drama to teach us important lessons. They do not include the lessons themselves or the ordinances and covenants.
Joseph had been receiving revelations concerning the endowment since at least 1829 and parts of it were instituted in Kirtland, well before his arrival in Nauvoo. He said back in 1839 that he’d never had the chance to teach the Saints all that had been revealed to him. It seems to me as though the endowment had been revealed to him, but that the time was not ready to reveal it to the Saints at large until they were in Nauvoo. Once there, he didn’t know how to teach it to them until he attended some Mason meetings and realized what a valuable teaching method it could be. He adapted some elements and used others he recognized were of ancient origin, and an early form of our modern endowment was created.
God speaks to each of us in ways we’ll understand. Sometimes, that’s done through adapting things we’re already familiar with to teach us divine concepts. That’s precisely what He did with Joseph’s seer stones—He used something Joseph was familiar with to teach him how to receive revelation.
Is it really so surprising that Joseph would then adopt that same method to teach the eternal principles of the Endowment to the Saints by using Masonic elements they were already familiar with?
Sarah Allen is relatively new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. An avid reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her friends lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises. That’s when she began sharing what she’d learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.