Should we find the Temple ordinances in the Old Testament? If so, should we see them presented as they are today? In short, yes to the first and no to the second.
In my experience, most people assume that the Endowment (meaning the portion after the Initiatory ordinances and before Sealing, as described by Elder Packer in The Holy Temple) must inherently be one whole cohesive ceremony, with all the elements presented together. After all, since that’s the way it is now, shouldn’t it always have been thus? That seems to be wide-spread thinking.
In 1978 for example, John K. Edmunds, who served as Salt Lake Temple President from 1972 to 1977, wrote of having â€œsearched the biblical record of the Tabernacle built by Moses and the Temple built in Jerusalem for some perceptible record of the holy endowment: but all in vain.â€ Through Temple Doors (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1979), 67.
If this is what we are looking for in the scriptures, neither we nor our Bible-based critics will find it. (For them, of course, the non-mention of a unified temple ceremony in the Bible makes it “non-biblical” and thus illegitimate.)
I don’t believe we should find record of one coherent ceremony, for one good reason. It’s probably not the one you’re thinking of, namely, “The Endowment is holy and sacred, and therefore we wouldn’t find anything about it in the scriptures.” Perhaps. Let’s set that aside so I can get on to my main point.
My one good reason- It is evident from several sources that the Endowment as we have it today is a collected edition, a compilation, a package. In other words, I don’t believe we should find one cohesive ceremony in the scriptures because before the present era, the covenants and blessings of the Endowment were not administered in one cohesive ceremony. Simple, no?
On what basis do I say this?
1) The ordinances were not given all at once to Adam and Eve.
Regardless of whether one understands them, as presented in the Temple, to be historical, ritual or mythical (in the classical sense), the Endowment does not portray Adam and Eve receiving their covenants and ordinances all at one time. Rather, after they are given and make a covenant, significant time (for evaluation?) passes before they are given another one. This is clear from the presentation itself as well as some of the dialogue (my second supporting point), which I obviously won’t go into.
3) Several Church Presidents and Apostles taught that the the Endowment naturally belonged in (at least) two parts, though it was acceptable as is.
Joseph Smith taught on several occasions that the temple ordinances included both Melchizedek AND Aaronic portions (see quotation here), and the Endowment explicitly points this out. Regarding these two portions of the Endowment, Brigham Young said,
when we give the brethren their endowments, we are obliged to confer upon them the Melchizedek Priesthood; but I expect to see the day when we shall be so situated that we can say to a company of brethren you can go and receive the ordinances pertaining to the Aaronic order of Priesthood, and then you can go into the world and preach the Gospel, or do something that will prove whether you will honor that Priesthood before you receive more. Now we pass them through the ordinances of both Priesthoods in one day, but this is not as it should be and would if we had a Temple wherein to administer these ordinances. But this is all right at present;
Discourses of Brigham Young, 396, quoting the Brigham Young’s speech of 11 June 1864, Journal of Discourses 10:309.
Brigham was not alone in thinking this. Later on, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Franklin D. Richards and others all expressed desire for the same thing. George Q. Cannon recorded that
our endowments are too easily obtained. Men and women go to the temples who do not understand the value of the precious blessings that are bestowed upon them, and I have felt for years that something should be done to change this so that instead of it being necessary for a man to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, he will first manifest his efficiency in the Aaronic Priesthood and show his capabilities and good desires before receiving the higher Priesthood. I firmly believe that this will be so some time and that men will not get the fullness of the endowment with the ease that they have done but will receive that part which belongs to the Aaronic Priesthood.
Gospel Truth, 178. (Elder Canon goes on to give a particularly harsh appraisal of how many of us go to the temple.)
I am unaware of any historical data on why this was not implented. (The most obvious response would be that God instructed them to keep it together, which would argue against my thesis but not completely undermine it.)
4) The Old Testament Patriarchs received what appear to be Temple ordinances at different times in their lives.
From my reading of the scriptures and Joseph Smith’s commentary thereon, I believe the patriarchs also received the covenants and blessings of the Temple at different times in their lives, not all at once, particularly with Jacob. That they are doing what appear to be Temple things strongly implies that they are, well, doing Temple things.
From these four things (ie. Adam and Eve, the Endowment dialogue, the expression of GA’s that the Endowment should be split into its logical halves, and Joseph’s commentary on the Old Testament), it is apparent to me that whereas in modernity all the elements of the Endowment are administered together, it was not so in the past. Therefore, we should not expect to find a coherent ceremony analogous to our own in the scriptures, though we may find elements of it.
Caveat lector- I am not saying that everywhere we see a Temple concept or element, someone is receiving ordinances. I do, however, firmly believe that Temple ordinances are much more rooted in the scriptures than is apparent on the surface, but we have to know what we are looking for.
(This is from a paper of mine I’ve had to shelve, but hope to get published after I’ve finished my exams.)