Return to About Mormons home

Masonry and the LDS Temple

Didn't Joseph Smith borrow from Masonry when he composed the LDS temple endowment ceremony?

How can the Mormon temple be inspired when it contains Masonic elements?

How can you explain the resemblances between Masonry and the LDS temple?

This page contains comments from the following authors:

W. John Walsh
Kenneth W. Godfrey

Michael T. Griffith


by W. John Walsh

Some critics of the LDS Church claim that our sacred temple ceremonies were not really revealed from Heaven, as claimed by the Prophet Joseph Smith, but were in fact stolen from the Freemasons.  These false claims are based upon a few common wordings between certain LDS ordinances and certain Masonic rites. 

The false claims of the critics are refuted by two points.  First, the Prophet Joseph Smith has added hundreds of pages of original scripture to the Christian cannon.  Therefore, he was not dependent upon the Masons for his ideas as the critics claim.  If he were truly a fraud, then it would have been just as easy for him to create a few unique ordinances as it was for him to create the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.  In fact, if he had truly been a fraud as the critics claim, then he would have undoubtedly created his own ordinances instead of "borrowing" from the Masons.  Keep in mind that many of the early Saints were also Masons and therefore immediately saw the few similarities that existed.  To me this seems to be a version of the old idiot/savant line of false logic.  On the one hand, the critcs claim the reason they can't prove that the Book of Mormon is false is because Joseph Smith was so diabolicly brilliant.   On the other hand, they say he was a complete idiot who was so stupid as to include Masonic remnants in the LDS ordinances, when he was fully aware that many of the Church members were Masons (and therefore would immediately recognize the similarities.)   Which is he?  After almost 170 years, I would think the critics could make up their minds.

Second, any similarities are immaterial and incidental.  For example, the LDS endowment ceremony lasts for approximately an hour and a half.  Yet, there are at the most about 5 minutes of similar material.  Therefore, about 95% of the LDS ordinance is completely distinct from Mason rites.  And even the few similarities that do exist are used in totally different contexts.


by Kenneth W. Godfrey

Students of both Mormonism and Freemasonry have pondered possible relationships between Masonic rites and the LDS temple ceremony. Although some argue that Joseph Smith borrowed elements of Freemasonry in developing the temple ceremony, the Endowment is more congruous with LDS scriptures (especially the book of Abraham and the Book of Moses) and ancient ritual than with Freemasonry. Latter-day Saints view the ordinances as a revealed restoration of ancient temple ceremony and only incidentally related to Freemasonry. The two are not antithetical, however, nor do they threaten each other, and neither institution discourages research regarding the ancient origins of their two ceremonies. (See Early Christian Temple Rites home page)

Many sacred ceremonies existed in the ancient world. Modified over centuries, these rituals existed in some form among ancient Egyptians, Coptic Christians, Israelites, and Masons, and in the Catholic and Protestant liturgies. Common elements include the wearing of special clothing, ritualistic speech, the dramatization of archetypal themes, instruction, and the use of symbolic gestures. One theme common to many—found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Egyptian pyramid texts, and Coptic prayer circles, for example—is man's journey through life and his quest, following death, to successfully pass the sentinels guarding the entrance to eternal bliss with the gods. Though these ceremonies vary greatly, significant common points raise the possibility of a common remote source.

The Egyptian pyramid texts, for example, feature six main themes: (1) emphasis on a primordial written document behind the rites; (2) purification (including anointing, lustration, and clothing); (3) the Creation (resurrection and awakening texts); (4) the garden (including tree and ritual meal motifs); (5) travel (protection, a ferryman, and Osirian texts); and (6) ascension (including victory, coronation, admission to heavenly company, and Horus texts). Like such ancient ceremonies, the LDS temple Endowment presents aspects of these themes in figurative terms. It, too, presents, not a picture of immediate reality, but a model setting forth the pattern of human life on earth and the divine plan of which it is part.

Masonic ceremonies are also allegorical, depicting life's states—youth, manhood, and old age—each with its associated burdens and challenges, followed by death and hoped-for immortality. There is no universal agreement concerning when Freemasonry began. Some historians trace the order's origin to Solomon, Enoch, or even Adam. Others argue that while some Masonic symbolism may be ancient, as an institution it began in the Middle Ages or later.

Though in this dispensation the LDS Endowment dates from Kirtland and Nauvoo (see Kirtland Temple; Nauvoo Temple), Latter-day Saints believe that temple ordinances are as old as man and that the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including its necessary ritual and teachings, were first revealed to Adam. These saving principles and ordinances were subsequently revealed to Seth; Noah; Melchizedek; Abraham, and each prophet to whom the priesthood was given, including Peter. Latter-day Saints believe that the ordinances performed in LDS temples today replicate rituals that were part of God's teachings from the beginning.

The Prophet Joseph Smith suggested that the Endowment and Freemasonry in part emanated from the same ancient spring. Thus, some Nauvoo Masons thought of the Endowment as a restoration of a ritual only imperfectly preserved in Freemasonry and viewed Joseph Smith as a master of the underlying principles and allegorical symbolism (Heber C. Kimball to Parley P. Pratt, June 17, 1842, Church Archives). The philosophy and major tenets of Freemasonry are not fundamentally incompatible with the teaching, theology, and doctrines of the Latter-day Saints. Both emphasize morality, sacrifice, consecration, and service, and both condemn selfishness, sin, and greed. Furthermore, the aim of Masonic ritual is to instruct—to make truth available so that man can follow it.

Resemblances between the two rituals are limited to a small proportion of actions and words; indeed, some find that the LDS Endowment has more similarities with the Pyramid texts and the Coptic documents than with Freemasonry. Even where the two rituals share symbolism, the fabric of meanings is different. In addition to creation and life themes, one similarity is that both call for the participants to make covenants. Yet, the Endowment alone ties covenants to eternal blessings and to Jesus Christ. The Masonic ceremony does not emphasize priesthood or the need to be commissioned by God to represent him. The active participation of God in the world and in men's lives is a distinctly LDS temple motif. While Masons believe in an undefined, impersonal God, everything in the LDS Endowment emanates from, or is directed to, God who is a personage and man's eternal Father. The Endowment looks to the eternities and to eternal lives, but Freemasonry is earthbound, pervaded by human legend and hope for something better.

Freemasonry is a fraternal society, and in its ritual all promises, oaths, and agreements are made between members. In the temple Endowment all covenants are between the individual and God. In Freemasonry, testing, grading, penalizing, or sentencing accords with the rules of the fraternity or membership votes. In the Endowment, God alone is the judge. Within Freemasonry, rank and promotions are of great importance, while in the LDS temple rites there are no distinctions: all participants stand equal before God. The clash between good and evil, including Satan's role, is essential to, and vividly depicted in, the Endowment, but is largely absent from Masonic rites. Temple ceremonies emphasize salvation for the dead through vicarious ordinance work, such as baptism for the dead; nothing in Masonic ritual allows for proxies acting on behalf of the dead. Women participate in all aspects of LDS temple rites; though Freemasonry has women's auxiliaries, Masonic ritual excludes them. The Endowment's inclusion of females underscores perhaps the most fundamental difference between the two rites: LDS temple rites unite husbands and wives, and their children, in eternal families (see Eternal Lives; Marriage). Latter-day Saint sealings would be completely out of place in the context of Masonic ceremonies.

Thus, Latter-day Saints see their temple ordinances as fundamentally different from Masonic and other rituals and think of similarities as remnants from an ancient original.

Bibliography

Ivins, Anthony W. The Relationship of "Mormonism" and Freemasonry. Salt Lake City, 1934.

Madsen, Truman G., ed. The Temple in Antiquity. Provo, Utah, 1984.

Nibley, Hugh W. The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment. Salt Lake City, 1975.

Packer, Boyd K. The Holy Temple. Salt Lake City, 1980.

Shepherd, Silas H.; Lionel Vibert; and Roscoe Pound, eds. Little Masonic Library, 5 vols. Richmond, Va., 1977, esp. Mervin B. Hogan, "Mormonism and Freemasonry: The Illinois Episode," Vol. 2, pp. 267-326.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Freemasonry and the Temple

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


by Michael T. Griffith

Numerous anti-Mormon books and pamphlets have been written which document parallels between Masonry and the Mormon temple. These parallels consist of two general types: similarities between Masonic ritual and LDS temple ceremonies (especially the endowment ceremony), and parallels between Masonic symbols and Mormon temple symbolism.

In addition, anti-Mormons point to the 1990 introduction of a new version of the temple endowment as evidence against the ceremony, asserting that it does not contain some of the Masonic elements and other items from the previous version. They insist that if the endowment were inspired, no changes could be made in it.

What do the Masonic parallels and changes in the endowment ceremony prove? According to the critics, the parallels supposedly prove that LDS temple ceremonies and symbolism are occultic and Satanic, and were for the most part plagiarized from Masonry, while the changes supposedly show the endowment to be a man-made product subject to the opinions and whims of the Mormon leadership.

Anti-LDS critics believe their case on the Masonic parallels is strengthened by the fact that Joseph Smith and several other early Mormon officials became Masons during the Nauvoo period.

Borrowing from Masonry

I am perfectly willing to grant that Joseph Smith borrowed from Masonry in preparing the symbolism and ordinances of the temple. However, I do not accept the anti-Mormon conclusion that this borrowing summarily invalidates the temple and its ceremonies. Logically and historically speaking, the temple's symbolism and ordinances are not automatically discredited because Joseph employed some Masonic elements to express the sacred rites and concepts that the Lord revealed to him.

There is evidence that Masonic ritual is derived from earlier sources that contained remnants of true temple worship. This evidence includes similarities between elements of Masonic ritual and certain early Christian initiation rites. Anti-Mormons avoid any discussion in this area.

Critics also tend to ignore the fact that Joseph Smith assigned new meanings to virtually all of the Masonic elements he used and placed them in Christ-centered contexts far removed from their original setting.

In doing so, Joseph Smith was not alone. In similar fashion, the ancient Hebrews employed many pagan religious designs and texts, and assigned new meanings and contexts to them. For example, scholars have pointed out that the very design of Solomon's temple was "characteristically Phoenician" and "somewhat reminiscent of Babylonian shrines "(Harrison 206-208). In addition, many of the symbols in Solomon's temple "show a marked indebtedness to Phoenician religious theory and practice "(Harrison 207).

Moreover, the Mosaic tabernacle was "very close in most essentials" to various pagan Egyptian portable structures, including the Egyptian "Tent of Purification "(Kitchen 9-13; Reisner and Smith 13-17; McDowell 110-111). And yet, according to Exodus 25-30, it was Yahweh Himself who instructed the Israelites on how to build the tabernacle.

As is well known, there are numerous striking similarities between the Law of Moses and various earlier pagan legal codes, such as the Code of Eshnunna, the Code of Lipit-Ishtar, and the Code of Hammurabi (Harrison 59-61; Pritchard 162-169). Even the literary format of the Law, as it is presented in the book of Exodus, parallels the format used in earlier pagan codes of the ancient Near East (Achtemeier 1985:549). Virtually all Bible scholars have noted that the Law of Moses seems to have been patterned after pagan codes. Does this mean the Law was not inspired? If we were to follow anti-Mormon reasoning, we could very well answer in the affirmative. But many scholars disagree and note that there are also differences between the Mosaic law and the pagan codes.

The ancient Christians likewise employed pagan symbols and motifs and applied new meanings and contexts to them. One of the most popular symbolic types of the resurrection among the early Christians was the phoenix bird, a pagan symbol. I quote Robin Lane Fox:

Among pagan men of letters, the phoenix had long exerted a particular influence. It created itself from its own ashes and united the mystery of a home in Egypt with the inauguration of a new age. Christians had been quick to use the bird as a type of their own Resurrection .... (639)

References to the phoenix are widespread in early Christian literature (Fox 639-641; Roberts and Donaldson 1:12, 3:554, 7:324, 441).

In fact, the early church used several representations that were either used by pagans or acceptable to them. Christians of all persuasions might be interested to know that the image of the Good Shepherd carrying his sheep was a pagan symbol, as were other images that the ancient church employed. I quote Henry Chadwick:

. . . before the end of the second century Christians were freely expressing their faith in artistic terms. Tertullian mentions cups on which there were representations of the Good Shepherd carrying his sheep. Clement of Alexandria gives instruction about the picture appropriate for a Christian's signet ring .... Clement recommends that Christians should use seals with representations that, without being specifically Christian, are readily capable of a Christian interpretation, such as a dove, a fish, a ship, a lyre, or an anchor .... It is noteworthy that Clement's suggestions for appropriate seals were all types that a pagan might use; that is, they are neutral from a religious or moral point of view, and either pagans or Christians could happily use them. Likewise, the Good Shepherd carrying his sheep was a conventional pagan symbol of humanitarian concern, philanthropia. The Christians were taking a common type and investing it with a new meaning .... (277-278)

Another conventional pagan symbol which the Christians adopted was the Orante (also called Orans), a veiled female figure with her hands uplifted in prayer (Chadwick 278; Snyder 19-20). The Orante had long been used as a pagan cultural symbol, and it appeared on Roman coins and in sepulchral art.

The point is that the ancient saints used pagan symbols that could be given new, Christian meanings. I again quote Chadwick:

Early Christian paintings first appear not in churches but as funerary decoration in the Roman catacombs. The style of painting is not dissimilar to that found on many ordinary pagan houses at Pompeii .... Catacomb art is full of old motifs and, since the technique and style are popular, no large aesthetic claims can be made for it. The content, however, is of much greater interest than the form. The motifs of pagan convention which the Christians used were symbols which were capable of Christian reinterpretation. (278, emphasis added)

So what does all of this mean? Do we therefore reject Solomon's temple? Do we repudiate the Mosaic tabernacle? Do we spurn the Law of Moses? Do we denounce the early Christians? After all, surely God would not allow true prophets to use such repugnant pagan stuff to build sacred structures or to express His sacred truths? Right? Of course not. The plain fact of the matter is that prophets of God have frequently drawn on the symbols and literature of their cultural environment to express sacred truth.

The Changes in the Temple Endowment

The anti-Mormon view of the changes in the endowment is based primarily on a fundamentalist understanding of scripture and of how God interacts with His prophets. Anti-Mormons perceive it as scandalous that modern LDS prophets would claim the authority to alter a ceremony which was allegedly revealed by God to the Prophet Joseph Smith.

However, the anti-Mormon position is unreasonable in light of the fact that Bible prophets exercised similar authority with regard to scripture and to certain revealed ceremonies.

If anti-LDS critics are disturbed by the changes in the endowment, are they equally upset over the wen-known fact that Mark and Luke deliberately downplayed Pilate' s role in Jesus' execution in order to avoid offending their Roman audience? To this day, Jewish critics assail Mark and Luke on this point (Levine 26-27; Cohn 164-190).

Are anti-Mormons shocked that the authors of the New Testament Gospels took the liberty of omitting or correcting items from each other's writings that might have seemed offensive or inconsistent to their readers? Some Bible commentators consider this to be proof that the Gospels aren't inspired, while other scholars more correctly see this as clear evidence that the ancient Christians simply did not have a fundamentalist view of scripture (Levine 25-28, 65-93; Wilson 32-50, 137-139; Cohn; Achtemeier 1980:57-75; Barr 1-50, 98-147; Davis; Abraham).

If anti-LDS critics see the changes in the endowment as evidence against the temple, do they similarly call into question the ancient Hebrew faith because of the changes in Hebrew worship which Ezekiel was obliged to make as a result of the Babylonian captivity ? Because of these changes, the Hebrews ceased to observe certain "eternal" rites which Jehovah had previously commanded them to observe (Harrison 267-268; Achtemeier 1985:80, 305-306, 1014, and the scriptural passages cited therein).

Joseph Smith's View of Masonry, and the Differences Between Masonry and the Endowment

Two relevant topics that rarely if ever receive serious consideration in anti-Mormon literature are (1) Joseph Smith's view of Masonry, and (2) the many differences between the endowment and Masonic ritual. Anti-LDS critics often avoid the fact that Joseph Smith saw Masonic ritual as a corrupt form of a true original. And anti-Mormons are virtually silent on the numerous differences between Masonry and LDS temple rites. I think it would be useful at this point to quote what some other LDS writers have said on these subjects. Eugene Seaich:

The relationship between Freemasonry and the LDS temple Endowment has long been a matter of speculation among students of Mormon history. Joseph Smith was of the opinion that Masonic ritual was a corrupt form of the original Priesthood; but since the Masons themselves make no claim to have existed prior to the time of the great cathedral builders, anti-Mormons have argued that similarities between the two must be the result of deliberate plagiarism on the part of the Church. Very seldom, however, do they think to ask whether Masonic ritual itself might be derived from earlier sources, particularly traditions surviving from the Primitive Church. If this were to prove to be the case, then it might have been Providence rather than deception that led Joseph Smith to become a Third Degree Mason in 1842, perhaps as part of his divine education in the rudiments of the Restored Gospel.

More remarkable still is that the Prophet not only claimed to recognize in Masonry survivals of ancient temple practice, but that he dared to correct what he found, offering in its place what he said was the uncorrupt prototype. Thus, while Mormon temple ritual indeed bears some resemblance to Freemasonry, it also differs in significant points, showing that Joseph Smith had his own ideas about the proper form of the original. Today it is becoming possible to compare his insights with newly recovered material dealing at first hand with early temple traditions. (1984:1)

If the Freemasons happened to pick up surviving fragments of . . . [the] ancient temple scheme, it is only proof that such worship actually existed on the earth at one time. The famous Mystery Plays of the Middle Ages also preserved elements of the temple scheme, with their cycles of didactic [instructional] OT stories repeated on major holy days for the edification and instruction of the masses. "Every man," for example, was but another "Adam" or "Israel" performing his ritual "pilgrimage" through the wilderness," a theme which reappeared also in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.

We have no idea how many different ways God may employ to inspire men to the work he intends them to perform; but it is undoubtedly providential that Joseph Smith came into contact with both the Book of Abraham facsimiles and Freemasonry at a time when he was required to restore the original temple scheme in all its detail .... Joseph Smith knew far more than the Masons, whose rites are but scattered clues to a larger, more perfect picture. (1983:75)

Ian Barber:

As revealed to the prophet, the endowment ordinance, as Mormons have realized from the beginning, was at least partially influenced by the ritual language of Masonry with which Joseph was intimately familiar. Recent analysis confirms that the effect on Joseph Smith and the early Mormons of Freemasonry as an important culture contributor is undeniable ....

I trust that.. . the reader is well aware of the plausibility--in fact, the necessity--of God using a local and familiar cultural medium through which to reveal truth. As Elizabethan English (personally comfortable to Joseph and to his contemporaries as "scriptural language") provided the medium for the new revelations, so Masonry provided an organizational model on which a divine and holy ritual (the endowment) could be readily assimilated and understood. That there are resemblances . . . only validates the scripturally sound principle that God's commandments are given after the manner of the "weakness of men".. .. Thus Heber C. Kimball wrote to Parley P. Pratt in England, "There is a similarity of priesthood in Masonry. Brother Joseph says Masonry was taken from the priesthood but has become degenerated, but many things are perfect" (letter dated 17 June 1842, Church Archives). Joseph Fielding wrote in his Nauvoo journal for December 22, 1843, "many have joined the Masonic institution. This seems to have been a stepping stone or preparation for something else, the true Origin of Masonry .... "It is significant that these men intimately familiar with the ordinances of masonry in the 19th Century cultural setting, did not see the endowment as plagiarized masonry--rather, the [Masonic] craft provided only a "stepping stone" on which a greater fullness of truth could be revealed.

To those who know both the endowment and the masonic order, it is quite apparent that the latter provides only certain superficial aspects of the form of the LDS temple rite, and certainly little of the deep and intricate theological truths .... (G/4-H/1)

Early Christian Evidence

The striking resemblance between the temple endowment and the early Christian rite of initiation is strong evidence that Joseph Smith did indeed restore the original ancient temple scheme.

The ancient Christian initiation rite appears to have been a conflation of the temple endowment with the ordinance of baptism. Non-members were not permitted to view the rite, and in most cases it was not administered to a person until he or she had been a believer for at least one year. The rite was sometimes referred to as "the mystery;' and the things involved therein were on occasion called "the mysteries."

During the rite of initiation, the candidate could be taught certain "higher teachings" which were reserved only for members who were deemed ready and worthy to receive them. Extra-scriptural higher teachings are mentioned by several early Christian bishops and apologists. For example, Clement of Alexandria (A . D. 150-215), a prominent theologian in the early church and head of the Christian academy in Alexandria, stated that these higher teachings were not included in Christ's public preaching but were transmitted unwritten by the apostles and were given only to church members who were qualified to receive them (MaGill 47). Clement declared that these sacred teachings were the key to entering into the "highest sphere" of heaven (MaGill 47).

The rite of initiation also included the administering of sacred signs and tokens, Garden-of-Eden scenes in the background, the rebuking of Sam with upraised arm, the wearing of sacred white clothing (some of which had markings identical to those on LDS temple garments), and the anointing of various parts of the body with oil.

Of course, the sacred nature of the Mormon temple prevents me from explaining the significance of these items in relation to the endowment. However, suffice it to say that any Latter-day Saint who has been to the temple will immediately see the significance of these things.

For those who would like to learn more about the early Christian rite of initiation and the extra-scriptural higher teachings which accompanied it, I would suggest they consult the research that has been done on this subject by Seaich (1983:56-75; 1984), Stephen E. Robinson (96-103), Hugh Nibley, Blake Ostler, William Hamblin, Roger J. Adams, and Darrick Evenson (71-101).

Conclusion

When discussing Mormonism and Masonry, anti-LDS critics fail to deal with evidence which qualifies or disproves their arguments. Many of the criticisms they advance against the temple can also be made against ancient Hebrew and early Christian worship.

Anti-Mormons have yet to explain the impressive parallels between the LDS endowment ceremony and the early Christian rite of initiation. The early church's initiation rite provides evidence for the divine origin of the LDS temple endowment.

Joseph Smith saw in Masonry remnants of the original temple scheme. He therefore thought it appropriate and helpful to employ some Masonic elements to express the true original as it had been revealed to him by the Lord. This in no way detracts from the beauty and inspiration of the temple.

In employing Masonic elements, the Prophet Joseph assigned new meanings to almost all of them and placed them in theological contexts far removed from their original setting.

Although there are some similarities between Masonry and the Mormon temple, there are also many differences. Furthermore, Masonic ritual does not possess the intricate theological depth that is present in LDS temple ceremonies.


(See Why Did Joseph Smith Become a Mason?; Teachings About the Temple home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page)

All About Mormons

http://www.mormons.org