On June 24th, 2001 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) announced that they would be building a temple here in San Antonio, TX. As the construction nears completion, many people are questioning what the large building in the Stone Oak area is and what it is about.
Temples were an important part of Judaism, and the New Testament mentions Christians being in temples, but an examination of the biblical role of the temple reveals some surprising facts when compared with the role of the LDS temple. In Mormonism, temples are not large meeting houses where Sunday services are held. In fact, most Mormons are not even allowed to enter the temple. Only “worthy” Mormons who have satisfactorily passed through a series of interviews have access to these buildings and the ceremonies performed therein.
In the Old Testament, God commanded Solomon to build a temple. When He did this, there were very specific details that God gave about what the purpose of the temple was, who could enter the various parts of the temple, what they were to wear, on what days they could enter, what was to take place in the temple, etc. The major activity of the temple was to offer various animal sacrifices to God for sins. Some of these offerings were from the fruit of their land, but great detail is given in Leviticus chapters one through nine about how different animals would be offered for different types of sins. When a Jew knew they had committed the sin of swearing, for instance, they would bring a lamb for the priest to sacrifice on their behalf to have the guilt of that sin covered (Leviticus 5:4-6). The whole reason they went to the temple was to obtain forgiveness of sins, not to prove their worthiness. They went because they knew there was a rift in their relationship with God and they needed to make the required sacrifice.
In LDS theology, temples serve an entirely different purpose. When an LDS temple is built, there is always a period of time before the temple is dedicated that it is open to the public for tours. The Mormon Church claims on their tour that their temple is a restoration of how Jews in the Old Testament built temples. They portray their temple as if it has many similarities to temples in the Old Testament. These claims are easily proven false.
- 1The major purpose of the Old Testament temple was to offer animal sacrifices, but no LDS temple does this.
- In Jewish theology, those who were going to the tem ple were going because they had sin that needed to be dealt with before God. In LDS theology, one must be deemed “worthy” to enter the temple. This term means that the LDS member has demonstrated in their life that they have met certain qualifications to be allowed access into the temple. Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie defined it this way, “Worthiness is determined solely on the basis of personal righteousness.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 851)
- In Jewish theology, there was only one high priest who could actually meet with God and this was only on one day a year. In LDS theology, both men and women are allowed in the temple and the office of “high priest” is bestowed upon thousands of LDS men all over the world. This system of priesthood in no way resembles the priesthood of the Old Testament.
- One of the major activities in LDS temples is proxy baptisms for the dead. Not only does the Bible strictly forbid any interaction with the dead (Deuteronomy 18:11-12), but there is never any mention of doing any kind of baptism in the temples of the Old Testament.
- Another major activity in LDS temples are marriages, which again, are glaringly absent in the Biblical record.
In the New Testament, there was a considerable change in the significance of the temple. The Temple is not mentioned as a place where people needed to attend as part of their worship. Paul and the other apostles did go to the temple, but it was to try and win converts from Judaism to Christianity. In fact, one of the most exciting events that happened regarding the temple was as a result of the death of Christ.
Mathew 27:50-51: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split,”
In Jewish theology, the temple veil was significant because it delineated a separation between God and man that could be traversed only once a year by the high priest. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the priest offered sacrifice on behalf of the entire Jewish nation. The people themselves were not free to go beyond the veil and have access to God. They needed an intercessor, the high priest, to go on their behalf. When Jesus died and the temple veil was torn, it signified that the way to God was now open through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and the people no longer needed a sacrifice, or temple for that matter, to have access to God. We are even told that now we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, to find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Another mention of temples in the New Testament is worth examining. Paul repeatedly mentions that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. (I Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19) II Cor. 6:16 states very explicitly that “we are the temple of the living God.” In the Old Testament, God dwelt among the Israelites and His actual presence resided in the temple built for His name. Since Christ has come, the need for a building to house God’s presence has been removed. The reason Paul calls believers in Christ “the temple of God” is to emphasize that once we have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for our sin, we have God’s Spirit as a permanent resident in us. (Eph. 1:13-14) There is no need to visit a building to make atonement for our sins and experience God’s presence, because our sins are forgiven and He lives in the believer permanently.
One last passage to consider is Luke 18:9-14. This passage offers a beautiful picture of the type of person that God is pleased with.
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.
When Jesus tells us in verse fourteen that the tax-gatherer was the one who went home justified, it is very clear that the proper way to view oneself in the temple is not to be concerned with “proving your worthiness.” This is exactly what the Pharisee was doing and Jesus condemned this kind of attitude. In contrast with the LDS temple patrons, the tax gatherer did not view himself as “worthy,” and certainly did not trust in his own righteousness. God is pleased with those who humble themselves and accept His righteousness. (Romans 10:3)