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Do you use Satanic symbols in the temple?

by W. John Walsh

Do you use Satanic symbols in the temple?

Latter-day Saints don't discuss some aspects of the temple outside of its holy walls.  It's not because these aspects are secret, but because the teachings of the temple are sacred to us. (See Do Latter-day Saints Conceal Their Doctrine?; Why is a Temple Recommend Requited to Enter the Temple?)   Enemies of the Church often take advantage of us because they know we are somewhat limited in what we can say about the temple.  However, while I won't discuss the details of our temple teachings, I can make a few appropriate comments that should address this issue.

The question itself demonstrates a lack of knowledge concerning the use of symbolism itself.  Symbols have no power in and of themselves for either good or evil.   The power of a symbol comes from what it represents to the user.  This means there is no such thing as a good symbol or a bad symbol.  The goodness or badness comes from what the symbol represents to the user and how it influences his or her thoughts and actions.  All symbols used by Latter-day Saints are used to help us center our faith in Jesus Christ.  The Book of Mormon teaches:

"And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Nephi 25:26)

If other groups use the same symbols for other purposes, their practices do not change or nullify why we use the symbols that we do.  The Church denounces Satanism in the strongest of terms.   Let's use two examples to more clearly demonstrate how symbols can be used differently. 

The first symbol that we shall discuss is a serpent. If I were to ask someone what or who is represented by a serpent, the vast majority of Christians would say "Satan" and proceed to relate the story of the Garden of Eden and its portrayal of Satan as a serpent: 

"Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made." (Genesis 3:1)

It is certainly true that the Book of Genesis uses the serpent as a symbol of Satan.   Now, does this mean that anyone who uses a serpent symbol is always a devil-worshipper?  If Latter-day Saints were to hold up a serpent as a symbol of their God and place it upon our Church buildings, can there be any doubt that most our of detractors would immediately look upon such usage as a reverence for Satan?

Believe it or not, someone once did create a serpent and use it as a symbol of his God.   The man who did this was the prophet Moses and this story is related in the Bible. As punishment for their wickedness and to inspire them towards repentance, the Lord sent fiery serpents to bite and kill many of the ancient Israelites.  When the people did repent, then:

"....Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." (Numbers 21:9)

Now, was Moses a devil-worshipper because he used a serpent as a religious symbol? No.   In fact, in Numbers 21:8 it is clear that God was the one who told him to make a serpent symbol in the first place.  Instead, Moses used a serpent as a symbol of Jesus Christ and the power of his redemption.  The Book of Mormon gives further elaboration of this doctrine:

"But, behold, ye not only deny my words, but ye also deny all the words which have been spoken by our fathers, and also the words which were spoken by this man, Moses, who had such great power given unto him, yea, the words which he hath spoken concerning the coming of the Messiah.  Yea, did he not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.  And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal." (Helaman 8:13-15)

Now, just to ensure we are clear, almost all Christians recognize the serpent as a symbol of Jesus.  For example, a popular Evangelical Christian Bible commentary states:

"The bronze serpent is thus a symbol and type of Christ." (The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible edited by Walter A. Elwell, p. 99)

Therefore, the Bible gives a perfect example of how a symbol can be used to represent radically different things.  In Genesis, the serpent is a symbol of the devil.   In Numbers, the serpent is a symbol of Jesus.  To reiterate, a symbol has no power in and of itself.  No symbol is good or evil.   The goodness or badness comes from what the symbol represents to the user and how it influences his or her thoughts and actions.

Let's now discuss our second example:  the pentagram or five-pointed star.   The stonework of the Salt Lake Temple includes a number of different symbols, including an inverted five-point star.  Today, the pentagram has become associated with witchcraft, Satanism, and the occult. Many people openly display pentagrams to identify themselves with such groups just like many traditional Christians use crosses as a symbol of their religion. 

However, does the appearance of an inverted five-point star mean Latter-day Saints sponsor witchcraft?  Of course not.  So why is the symbol embedded in the Salt Lake temple? The inverted five-point star is an ancient symbol called the "morning star" and symbolizes the "Sons of the Morning."  It has ancient origins going back to Solomon's temple, and is richly documented in ancient Jewish literature.  (For more information, see Symbols in Stone by Matt Brown)

To summarize, to understand the meaning and purpose of a symbol, a person must ask the people actually using the symbol.  One cannot assume that because a symbol is used by one group it has the exact same means for all other groups using the same symbol.  In fact, as demonstrated by the serpent discussion above, the same symbol may have different meanings to the same people, depending upon the context.  All symbols used by Latter-day Saints are used to help us center our faith in Jesus Christ. 

(See Symbolism; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page; Teachings About Temples home page)

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