[Note: There is an Appendix of statements regarding temple confidentiality at the conclusion of this article.]
Hugh Nibley was a blessing to the Church. He was a fresh and creative and deep thinker about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He developed a unique way to discuss the Mormon Temple Endowment and that was by studying similar rituals, ceremonies, and liturgies in other cultures. He was almost never explicit about the Mormon Endowment; rather he would expound the ideas and meanings found in other ancient religious rituals and leave the comparisons up to the Saints. That legacy has positive and negative effects. As a result of the freedom with which he wrote, many others have taken up the pen to discuss in the Mormon community the Temple and its ordinances. The bibliography of such published works has burgeoned in the last 25 years. As may be expected the quality of this genre varies. Since the coming of the Internet, Mormons writing about the Temple have become fairly prevalent in the new medium–everyone is not only a newscaster because of the Internet, but every Mormon it seems, becomes a theologian, a number of them writing about the Endowment. I call them “Self-appointed Expounders of the Endowment.” Here too the quality varies.
2. Many are caught up with the meaning of the symbols they find in the Endowment, its doctrines and practices, in the clothing worn in the ceremony, and in the architecture on the outside and inside of the buildings. Accompanying this obsession is a compulsion to explain these things to others. However, often the meaning of the symbols does not come from what the scriptures (there is remarkably little scriptural explanation about the meaning of many symbols found in scripture) or the brethren teach, or from genuine research into the ancient meaning of such symbols as Hugh Nibley might engage in. Rather, many of these expounders simply declare their own interpretation of the symbolism. As an example, one website contains a discussion of the symbolism of the four compartments of the initiatory booths!
3. Latter-day Saints understand that the Temple ceremonies are often referred to as the “mysteries” of God. This stimulates some expounders to look for the truly mysterious and even mystical. I believe this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of the word mystery. Some mysteries nobody knows because God has not revealed them. Others only you or I do not know because of our personal ignorance, but others may know them. Baptism and marriage to the world are mysteries, but to the Saints they are plain to understand. In other words, a mystery does not inherently need to be either mysterious or complicated or difficult to apprehend. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
The word mystery, as used in scriptures, may refer to certain truths and doctrines. Instead of being complex or profound, though, as the word might sometimes connote, such truths are usually very simple. In fact they are so simple as to be rejected and scorned by some, which may be a reason for divine restraint in imparting them.(1)
If you could see things as they are, you would know that the whole plan of salvation, and all the revelations ever given to man on the earth are as plain as would be the remarks of an Elder, were he to stand here and talk about our every day business.... You may now be inclined to say, “O, this is too simple and child-like, we wish to hear the mysteries of the kingdoms of the Gods who have existed from eternity, and of all the kingdoms in which they will dwell; we desire to have these things portrayed to our understandings.” Allow me to inform you that you are in the midst of it all now.”(2)
I remind you of the absolute obligation to not discuss outside the temple that which occurs within the temple. Sacred matters deserve sacred consideration. We are under obligation, binding and serious, to not use temple language or speak of temple matters outside. I first went to the temple fifty-seven years ago. It was different from any other experience I had had in the Church. A young man of my association went about the same time. Thereafter, he was wont to use phrases from the language of the temple in a frivolous way. It was offensive. It was a betrayal of a sacred trust. I have watched him through the years. Once faithful, he had drifted from all Church activity and forsaken the faith of his fathers. I think that much of what has happened to him began with that small irreverential thing that he did in trivializing language which is not trivial.
Please, brethren, do not discuss outside of the temple that which occurs in the temple. While there, you are at liberty to do so. If you have questions, you may speak with the temple president or one of his counselors. But when you leave the doors of the house of the Lord, be true to a sacred trust to speak not of that which is holy and sanctified.
Said the Lord, “Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit” (D&C 63:64). And again, “Trifle not with sacred things” (D&C 6:12).(3)
I am well aware of the tradition and culture of the LDS church which leads and teaches individuals that they are not to discuss the matters of the temple outside its doors. I am also aware that these sentiments are shared and given by many of the general authorities of the church. However, it is my view that this is tradition and culture speaking and not doctrine or inspiration. Granted, there are very specific things that should not be discussed openly and those things are specifically mentioned in the covenants an individual makes during the ceremony of the endowment.
With that said, covenants are between and individual and God.They are sacred and should be honored by those involved. It is not honorable or realistic for a third party to add upon meaning or rules to a covenant an individual has already made. For instance, I did not make a covenant to not speak of the ceremonies that occur in the temple. I did make a covenant to not divulge very specific things.I think even with a very careful and thorough reading of what I have written a person would not find evidence of me divulging those things.I have written with respect for my covenants as well as the covenants of those who choose to read this “article”. (My emphasis.)
1. “I heard [some authority like a seminary or institute teacher or local leader] say there are a lot more things we can talk about the temple than most people realize.” Some, like my source above, do not bother attributing the idea to some unnamed authority, they just declare it as their own opinion.
2. There are only a few specific things I have promised not to reveal, every thing else is fair game.
40) And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; 41) For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.(9)
There is a caution that I want to make about these ordinances in the temple. There is a difference between the revelations that the Lord has given to us-what we might call "open" revelations that might be discussed in the world, and private or "safeguarded" revelations. The teachings which are contained in the four standard Church works which are taught as a part of the temple endowment anyone is free to talk about-section 76, section 88, section 110, other things that pertain to priesthood-all of that which is in open revelations may be taught. But there are certain things that are reserved solely for teaching inside of the temple walls, not to be discussed outside.(10)
It is given to many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.(11)
The endowment is so richly symbolic that only a fool would attempt to describe it; it is so packed full of revelations to those who exercise their strength to seek and see, that no human words can explain or make clear the possibilities that reside in the temple service. The endowment which was given by revelation can best be understood by revelation; and to those who seek most vigorously, with pure hearts, will the revelation be greatest.(12)
...One man may explain or show a symbol to another, and this is a common, everyday practice, but no man can reveal to another the sublime, deep inner meaning of those symbols presented in the House of the Lord, for it is an individual matter, and every man must seek and obtain it for himself, and that alone, with God’s help only. Nor can one acquire this knowledge outside the House of the Lord, for there we must go to commune with him about these vital things. Going there once or twice can be of little value to us, comparatively, for what can we know about those things with so little thought and contact.... All must pay the same price–the brilliant mind the same as the simplest. No man, however intellectual, can know these things, but by the revelations of God, and that in temples only.(13)
The endowment you are so anxious about, you cannot comprehend now, nor could Gabriel explain it to the understanding of your dark minds; but strive to be prepared in your hearts, be faithful in all things, that when we meet in the solemn assembly, that is, when such as God shall name out of all the official members shall meet, we must be clean every whit. Let us be faithful and silent, brethren, and if God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourselves; be watchful and prayerful, and you shall have a prelude of those joys that God will pour out on that day.(14)
I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.(17)
If a person who has received such manifestations by dream, vison, or otherwise, feels impressed to relate it beyond his immediate family circle, he should present it to his bishop, but not beyond. The bishop, then, may decide upon its further use, if any, or may submit it to those of higher authority for action. The gift was a personal one, not for the Church as a whole, and the recipient is under obligation, in harmony with the established order, not to broadcast it over the Church.(21)
The scriptural injunction to secrecy (see Psalm 25:14; Amos 3:7; Proverbs 3:32) follows from the stringent necessity of keeping a discrete distance from the world. “Pearls before swine” is not an expression of contempt, but a commentary on the uselessness of giving things to people who place no value on them, have no use for them, and could only spoil them.(23)
To reveal sacred things is to hold their true value in contempt, to despise and throw away the endowment, the only plan ever offered mankind for eternal happiness.(24)
Actually, in revealing sacred things one gives away nothing but one’s own integrity, though that is everything.(25)On another occasion, Nibley explicitly argued that it was a matter of keeping the temple ordinances sacred to me personally, regardless of what others do. I commend a close reading of his remarks:
Why are these temple ordinances guarded with such secrecy when anyone who really wants to can find out what goes on? Even though everyone may discover what goes on in the temple, and many have already revealed it, the important thing is that I do not reveal these things; they must remain sacred to me. I must preserve a zone of sanctity which cannot be violated whether or not anyone else in the room has the remotest idea what the situation really is. For my covenants are all between me and my Heavenly Father, all others being present only as witnesses. ... On the other hand I can never share my understanding of them completely with anyone but the Lord. No matter what happens, it will, then, always remain secret:only I know exactly the weight and force of the covenants I have made–I and the Lord with whom I have made them–unless I choose to reveal them. If I do not, then they are secret and sacred no matter what others may say or do. Anyone who would reveal these things has not understood them, and therefore that person has not given them away. You cannot reveal what you do not know! The constant concern is to keep Israel out of contact with the profane things of the world; the reason given is not absolute secrecy, but to keep these sacred things from becoming halal, that is, vulgar, popular, the subject of everyday discussion, in a word, trivia. This is what is meant by blasphemy, which signifies not some awful and horrible commitment to evil but simply taking holy things lightly. And what is wrong with being halal? What is evil in innocent everyday conversation about the temple? Even at its most innocuous, the bringing up of such matters in public can only lead to their cheapening, but, worst of all, to all manner of misunderstanding, misrepresentation, disputation, contention, contamination, and corruption. This is exactly what has happened throughout history–the possession of God’s secrets was a cause for vanity and self-congratulation.(26)
I hope to help you refine your ability to discern what is sacred and to respond with reverence for all that is holy.The importance of having a sense of the sacred is simply this—if one does not appreciate holy things, he will lose them. Absent a feeling of reverence, he will grow increasingly casual in attitude and lax in conduct. He will drift from the moorings that his covenants with God could provide. His feeling of accountability to God will diminish and then be forgotten. Thereafter, he will care only about his own comfort and satisfying his uncontrolled appetites. Finally, he will come to despise sacred things, even God, and then he will despise himself. On the other hand, with a sense of the sacred, one grows in understanding and truth. The Holy Spirit becomes his frequent and then constant companion. More and more he will stand in holy places and be entrusted with holy things.
Always remember, however, as holiness grows within and you are entrusted with greater knowledge and understanding that you must treat these things with care. We read earlier the scripture affirming that that which comes from above is sacred and must be spoken with care and by constraint of the Spirit. The Lord also commanded, rather bluntly, that we must not cast pearls before swine or give that which is holy to dogs (see 3 Nephi 14:6; D&C 41:6), meaning sacred things should not be disclosed or discussed with those who are not prepared to appreciate their value and who may even attack rather than appreciate them.
Be wise with what the Lord gives you. It is a trust.(28)
We all wish to drink more deeply of the fountain. We are counseled over and over that this depends upon us, upon our own spiritual preparation, our own probing and pondering and praying. No one presumes to be our teacher. We are taught to seek divine teaching. Joseph Smith said, “The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it form books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.” [Truman G. Madsen, The Temple Where Heaven Meets Earth, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2008), p. 90, citing TPJS, 191.]
Church leaders tend not to explain much, leaving us the privilege of coming to our own conclusions. We are not always happy about this “privilege.” How often do we say to our leaders, as Israel said to Moses at Mt. Sinai, “You go talk to God and find out what he says, then teach us and we will listen. But don’t ask us to go up to that smoking mountain, lest we die” (paraphrasing Exodus 20:18-19; see Doctrine and Covenants 84:20-24). God invites each of us to the mountain of his house to claim for ourselves its healing and transforming potential and to find him for ourselves at its summit. He gives us the right to learn from him what the temple “means,” how its language works, and how we might embody its teachings. But we must climb the mountain.
As we make this private pilgrimage, God expects us to ask questions and search for answers in order to find our way. [Wendy Ulrich, The Temple Experience: Passage to Healing and Holiness (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2012), p. 21.]
The reason for the Church’s refusal to go beyond the scriptures and the few statements of the General Authorities in interpreting the temple ceremony for us is that each of us is entitled to a personal revelation from God, bringing as much of its meaning to us as God intends for us to receive. What knowledge we do receive, therefore, must result from our own spiritual exertion. The Church will not interfere with that sacred process. In other words, the Church does not wish to stand between the participant and his Heavenly Father who he has supplicated for knowledge. If it does, it would be doing for him what he must do for himself (see 2 Ne. 25:23).
Each individual can do a great deal through is own efforts to enlarge his understanding through prayer, meditation, and studying the materials that are available to him, scriptural and otherwise. Non-interference by the Church in this sacred process is based on a wise policy and is consistent with its overall view that each child of God is entitled to his own revelation on matters which concern him personally (see D&C 6:5-7, 15; 9:8; 46:28; Matt. 7:7-8). [David S. King, Come to the House of the Lord, (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2000), pp. 16-17.]
The Spirit of the Holy Ghost is the teacher in the temple. He teaches principles of eternal significance. It is during these instructions that we see the relationship between the earthly and the eternal. We must remember that the Spirit teaches only those who are teachable. If we enter the temple seeking added light and knowledge, we can learn and understand something new during the temple experience. The Savior promised: “That which is of God is light; and he that ...continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24). [L. Lionel Kendrick, “Enhancing Our Temple Experience,” Ensign, (May 2001), p. 79.]
We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same.” [Joseph Smith, in Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1967), p. 51.]
By the way, it is not as if there is nothing to study if we do not have the self-appointed expounders on the Internet. I have compiled a bibliography of over 9,000 items about ancient and modern temples. There is plenty to read and study. I have been at it since 2005 and I have read about 10%. The bibliography is available online here:
26. Hugh W. Nibley, Temple and Cosmos, Beyond This Ignorant Present, TCWHN 12, (Salt Lake City and Provo,UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), pp. 64-65.
Must Remain Sacred to Us Personally; Open Discussion Leads to Misunderstanding, Misrepresentation, Disputation, Contention and Contamination
Why are these temple ordinances guarded with such secrecy when anyone who really wants to can find out what goes on? Even though everyone may discover what goes on in the temple, and many have already revealed it, the important thing is that I do not reveal these things; they must remain sacred to me. I must preserve a zone of sanctity which cannot be violated whether or not anyone else in the room has the remotest idea what the situation really is. For my covenants are all between me and my Heavenly Father, all others being present only as witnesses. ... On the other hand I can never share my understanding of them completely with anyone by the Lord. No matter what happens, it will, then, always remain secret:only I know exactly the weight and force of the covenants I have made–I and the Lord with whom I have made them–unless I choose to reveal them. If I do not, then they are secret and sacred no matter what others may say or do. Anyone who would reveal these things has not understood them, and therefore that person has not given them away. You cannot reveal what you do not know! The constant concern is to keep Israel out of contact with the profane things of the world; the reason given is not absolute secrecy, but to keep these sacred things from becoming halal, that is, vulgar, popular, the subject of everyday discussion, in a word, trivia. This is what is meant by blasphemy, which signifies not some awful and horrible commitment to evil but simply taking holy things lightly. And what is wrong with being halal? What is evil in innocent everyday conversation about the temple? Even at its most innocuous, the bringing up of such matters in public can only lead to their cheapening, but, worst of all, to all manner of misunderstanding, misrepresentation, disputation, contention, contamination, and corruption. This is exactly what has happened throughout history–the possession of God’s secrets was a cause for vanity and self-congratulation.
Hugh W. Nibley, Temple and Cosmos, Beyond This Ignorant Present, TCWHN 12, (Salt Lake City and Provo,UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), pp. 64-65.
Every initiation has its esoteric and exoteric parts. As years have passed, I have realized that some things can be told and others not. Telling diminishes what is told. Only what has been integrated by the human aspect of ourselves can be shared with others. I have also come to believe that things stay alive proportionally to how much silence there is around them. Meaning does not need words to exist.4