Hey guys, so if you’re familiar with Latter-day Saint temple practices, you’re probably aware that important temple ceremonies like the endowment have undergone various changes throughout the years. Considering our belief that the endowment was received by revelation from God, some people wonder if it’s OK that changes have been made. So, let’s talk about it.
So, the idea that the endowment ceremony should never change in any way because it was revealed by God exhibits a bit of a misunderstanding of what revelation is and how it is received.
Isaiah outlined an extremely important principle: “…the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept … line upon line; here a little, and there a little…” And we see this kind of revelation all over the place in scripture: The Jaredite barges, Peter’s revelation about missionary work, Nephi’s vision of the tree of life.
Joseph Smith received the temple endowment through a similar gradual, piece-by-piece process. That process implies a progression of changes, adjustments, and modifications. In fact, after the first endowment was administered in May 1842, Joseph told Brigham Young:
“Brother Brigham, this is not arranged right. But we have done the best [we] could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies…”
In other words, Joseph knew from the beginning that future changes would need to be made. He knew things weren’t exactly as they should be, and that was fine. That’s how a restoration works. It takes time, you do your best, and the Lord keeps you pointed in the right direction.
Sometimes I think we humans in many ways are like bowling balls, and God sort of acts as the bumpers as we seek to discover His will. Sometimes we wish we could just fly straight down the middle and nail that strike. But in reality, we often follow a jagged path, bouncing back and forth between the bumpers, until we finally end up somewhere acceptable to God.
And so, as time goes on the Church continues to make course corrections as needed. Most past adjustments have been quite minor. There’s a lot of instruction that goes on in the endowment, and as the culture of teaching and learning has changed over the decades, changes have been made to reflect that.
But there have also been more substantial changes made as we’ve come to a better understanding of the purpose of the covenants we make there. For example, for a long time, Saints would covenant to pray that God would avenge the blood of the prophets. It was added in a time when the Saints were heavily persecuted and, frankly, ready to fight back. I think this covenant reminded the Saints in a very sacred setting that vengeance belongs only to the Lord.
It was ultimately based on Revelation 6, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
Unfortunately, documentation of early temple ceremonies is scant. Some people say the oath of vengeance called for the Saints themselves to avenge the prophets, which is obviously contrary to everything the gospel is about. But because the ceremony wasn’t even written down until 1877, we don’t know, but it’s certainly possible that the wording of this covenant could have varied at different times, and/or there may have been some misunderstanding among the Saints.
Whatever the case may be, it was not a covenant essential to exaltation and was removed from the ceremony about a hundred years ago. Some elements of Freemasonry Joseph adopted for the endowment for various reasons were also dropped as Masonry as a teaching tool ran its course for our membership. For example, the Five Points of Fellowship were removed, as well as some symbolic penalties associated with breaking certain temple commitments.
The imagery of those penalties was quite graphic compared to the rest of the temple. You were essentially saying “I’d rather die than reveal certain things about the temple.” They were basically the equivalent of saying “cross my heart and hope to die.” Nobody actually dies for breaking those commitments, but those penalties were removed because they understandably made people uncomfortable and weren’t essential.
The First Presidency recently reminded us: “…details associated with temple work have been adjusted periodically …. Prophets have taught that there will be no end to such adjustments as directed by the Lord to His servants.”
Back in 2014, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave us another reminder: “Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes ‘all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things’ that ‘He will yet reveal.’”
Hopefully, that answers some of your questions! Make sure to check out the resources in the description, and have a great day.
- Lecture from Truman G. Madsen on this topic: https://bit.ly/332daC3
- From FairMormon: https://bit.ly/332Ln4h
- FairMormon on Oath of Vengeance: https://bit.ly/2Wsqltg
- BYU Review of “The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship”: https://bit.ly/2NqlTXV