Part 56: CES Letter Temples & Freemasonry Questions [Section B]

by Sarah Allen


Before picking back up with this week’s post, I just wanted to take a moment to thank Jeffrey Bradshaw and Brandon Cole for providing additional resources and information in the comments of last week’s posts, as well as Trevor Holyoak for pointing me toward a helpful eBook. It was very generous, and I learned a lot this week. I appreciate you guys.

I’m a lot less appreciative of Jeremy and the spin he puts on things. The word games he favors come out in full force in this section, where he conflates different concepts, makes broad assumptions, and gives dishonest readings of quotes. He seems like a smart guy with decent reading comprehension, so I have to believe that he’s doing it on purpose. An honest reading of these quotes in context more than answers his supposed questions, and yet, he avoids doing that on topic after topic.

Now, I’m not an expert on anything. I know a little bit about a lot of things, but there are many, many people who know more than I do about any given topic. I’m not stupid, either. Heavenly Father has blessed me with the ability to understand and retain a lot of information. And even so, I just can’t comprehend why anyone would want to stand in front of God at the Judgment Bar and have their legacy be that they destroyed the testimony of others by deliberate manipulation. Losing your testimony and leaving is one thing, even though it’s sad and difficult for your loved ones to deal with. But lying in order to lead as many others out with you as you can? Even if you believe that you’re saving their souls, do you really want to do that by methods God has condemned? I don’t think He’d be very pleased by that. I’ve said this many times before, but as followers of Christ we take His name upon us, and what we do with that name matters.

Due to the subject matter in this section, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering of covenants lately: how and why we make them, what we’re specifically promising, and what they mean for us now and in the eternities. I believe we’re bound by those covenants even if we end up rejecting them later in life. We will still have to answer to God for the way in which we lived up to those covenants. As we learn inside the temple, there are eternal penalties for turning away from them. Jeremy has made those covenants in the past. Whether he personally believes in them now or not, he is still bound by them. Whatever happens in the future is between him and Heavenly Father, but I hope he comes to realize the very serious nature of what he’s doing.

Anyway, picking up his third point in this section, the CES Letter says:

If Masonry had the original Temple ceremony but became distorted over time, why doesn’t the LDS ceremony more closely resemble an earlier form of Masonry, which would be more correct rather than the exact version that Joseph Smith was exposed to in his March 1842 Nauvoo, Illinois initiation?

This is starting from an incorrect premise. Nobody ever claimed that Masonry had the original temple ceremony. Jeremy’s second point, which we discussed in part last week, involved a quote from Heber C. Kimball that said, “We have the true Masonry. The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy which took place in the days of Solomon and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing.”

Heber said the Masons were already in apostasy during the days of Solomon and David, and that they had a few things that were similar to the temple ordinances, but that the Saints had the real ordinances. Because the people were already in apostasy, the Masons never had the real temple ordinances. There’s nothing to suggest that the oldest form of Masonry we know of was any more religiously correct than today’s organization. The Masons are a secular organization. Their rituals and ceremonies have nothing to do with exaltation.

Jeffrey Bradshaw explains:

… [A]lthough Freemasonry is not a religion and, in contrast to Latter-day Saint temple ordinances, does not claim saving power for its rites, threads relating to biblical themes of exaltation are evident in some Masonic rituals. For example, in the ceremonies of the Royal Arch degree of the York rite, candidates pass through a series of veils and eventually enter into the divine presence. In addition, Christian interpretations, like Salem Town’s description of the “eighth degree,” tell of how the righteous will “be admitted within the veil of God’s presence, where they will become kings and priests before the throne of his glory for ever and ever.” Such language echoes New Testament teachings. Thus, apart from specific ritual language, forms, and symbols, a more general form of resemblance between Mormon temple ritual and certain Masonic degrees might be seen in the views they share about the ultimate potential of humankind.

You’ll also note that, when referring to the temple, I’ve been specifically talking about “ordinances” and not “ceremonies.” That’s because they’re different things. There is a ceremony that does include ritualistic aspects for the endowment, but the ordinance is the covenants we make. The lessons that we’re meant to learn are taught to us through the ritual drama we participate in, but the lessons themselves, the covenants we make, and the symbols and tokens we’re meant to learn are the important parts. The ritual and ceremony are just the dressing.

Steven Harper says:

It requires a logical leap to bridge the evidentiary gap between similarity, which was obvious to those who knew both Masonry and the endowment, and dependence, which is assumed—not known. Some people reason that Joseph Smith initiated men and women into the endowment ordinances after he was initiated into Freemasonry; therefore, the temple rituals derived from Masonry. One problem in this theory is that Freemasonry itself borrowed much of its ritual and ceremony from elements preserved since antiquity. There is ample similarity and difference not only between Freemasonry and LDS temple ordinances, but in many other ancient and more modern stories and rituals as well. Disentangling the complex relationships between them is not possible and should not be oversimplified. 

It is possible to discern differences in the functions (however similar in form) of Masonic and LDS temple ordinances. Masonic rituals use aprons, door-knockings, and unusual handshakes to foster brotherhood. Bonds are made between men, not between people and God. LDS temple ordinances endow believers with power to regain the presence of God as they make and keep covenants with him. The ritual is not the endowment of power itself. It may be that some ritual forms were adapted from Masonic traditions, but the endowment teaches a divine plan of creation, Fall, and redemption through Christ—promising those who covenant to keep God’s laws that they will gain power over the effects of the Fall. As Heber Kimball was perfectly positioned to know, the endowment did not simply mimic Masonry.

The temple covenants themselves have ancient origins that greatly predate the Freemasons. So do many of the symbols and tokens we learn inside the temple.

Brian Hales states, “Christians with antiquarian interests incorporated and developed selected aspects of ancient rituals as early Freemasonry took shape. Though Old Testament themes are pervasive in Masonic ritual, it seems clear that they come by way of Christian tradition.”

We traced some of that history last week. We know that Joseph was aware that he was restoring something far more ancient than Freemasonry when he restored the endowment, and that much of his knowledge came prior to his induction into the organization. Jeffrey Bradshaw and K-Lynn Paul went through a lot of the early history prior to 1836 in this fantastic paper written for the Interpreter.

So, despite Jeremy’s assertion here, the claims were not that Joseph was restoring Freemasonry to its original state or that the Masons had the original endowment. It was that the Masons, even if you actually could trace their history back to the days of Solomon’s temple, had a corrupted version of the endowment right from the beginning. Whether it was more, less, or equally corrupt in Joseph’s day as in Solomon and David’s day is anybody’s guess.

Jeremy continues:

Freemasonry has zero links to Solomon’s Temple.

That’s a claim that’s impossible to back up. In an update to his Interpreter article, Jeffrey Bradshaw repeatedly says that we can’t know that with any certainty. Its history can only be traced back to about the 1300s, but that doesn’t mean Freemasonry didn’t exist in some form or another prior to then, or that other links don’t exist that weren’t explicitly recorded.

What is true that many of their rituals and concepts sprang from early Christianity. In footnote 14 to that Interpreter article, Bradshaw elaborates on this:

The history of Masonry as an institution is not currently documented before the late 1300s (A. Prescott, Old Charges; J. A. M. Snoek et al., History of Freemasonry, p. 14) and (notwithstanding the fantastic claims of best-sellers) the first suggestion of a link between chivalry and Freemasonry does not occur until 1723 (P. Mollier, Freemasonry and Templarism, pp. 83–84).

That said, few scholars would disagree that many of Freemasonry’s ideas and ritual components drew on ideas from ancient sources, especially early Christianity (see, e.g., M. B. Brown, Exploring, pp. 45–55). Indeed in 1766, in one of the earliest exposés of Masonry, Bérage, Les Plus Secrets Mystères, p. ix went so far as to say: “the mysteries of Masonry … are nothing more than those of the Christian religion.”

Though Old Testament themes are pervasive in Masonic ritual, it seems clear that they come by way of Christian tradition. As R. J. Van Pelt, Freemasonry and Judaism, pp. 189-190 observes: “There is no evidence that the most important Old Testament stories, themes and symbols that found their way into Freemasonry were directly derived from the Tanakh [= the Hebrew Bible]. … In fact, they are clearly derived from the King James translation of the Bible. Therefore these are all examples of a Christian legacy.”

As a result of several factors, Masonry later moved away to a degree from its explicitly Christian roots and welcomed all believers in a higher power. However, in Joseph Smith’s time its rituals remained highly Christian in their character.

Jeremy’s fourth point goes on from here:

Although more a Church folklore, with origins from comments made by early Mormon Masons such as Heber C. Kimball, than being Church doctrine, it’s a myth that the endowment ceremony has its origins from Solomon’s Temple or that Freemasonry passed down parts of the endowment over the centuries from Solomon’s Temple. Solomon’s Temple was all about animal sacrifice. Freemasonry has its origins to stone tradesmen in medieval Europe – not in 950 BC Jerusalem.

Again, Jeremy is making claims he doesn’t back up. It’s not a myth that the endowment is ancient. In fact, both Joseph Smith and the Lord Himself stated that it was older than the foundations of the world, far older even than Solomon’s temple.

It’s also not a myth that Freemasonry uses tokens and symbols that were revealed to Joseph before he ever became a Mason, indicating that yes, they do indeed have parts of the endowment passed down over the centuries. Whether that came from the days of Solomon’s temple or the early Christians who apparently did have the endowment given to them, we aren’t sure.

I’ve seen it theorized in various places that the things revealed to the Apostles during the 40 days Christ taught them after His resurrection contained temple ordinances, including the endowment. For example, Hugh Nibley wrote an article once heavily hinting at the idea.

Also, Solomon’s temple was not “all about animal sacrifice.” As Brian Hales explains:

Much more went on in Solomon’s temple than animal sacrifice. For example, the overall structure and many of the details of kingship rites in Israel can be found in the Bible, and analogous rituals were practiced elsewhere in the ancient Near East and in Egyptian tradition. Moreover, Jewish sources allude to relevant aspects of Solomon’s Temple that were no longer present in the Second Temple.

Modern revelation teaches that ancient prophets and kings such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and Moses received ordinances of exaltation relating to the royal priesthood in their day (D&C 132:37-39).

In times of apostasy, authorization to perform temple ordinances associated with the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood was almost totally withdrawn from the earth. Some later prophets and kings, however, did continue to receive the highest ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood in later Old Testament times (J. F. Smith, Jr., Answers, 1:117–118, 2:45; J. Smith, Jr., Teachings, 5 January 1841, p. 181). 

Jeremy’s point #4 continues:

FairMormon admits these facts:

Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence to support a continuous functioning line from Solomon’s Temple to the present. We know what went on in Solomon’s Temple; it’s the ritualistic slaughter of animals.” — The Message and the Messenger: Latter-day Saints and Freemasonry

I’ve linked to this citation both last week and this week. It’s a great presentation by Greg Kearney. He’s saying a few things here that Jeremy distorted. First, he says that there’s no evidence supporting “a continuous functioning line from Solomon’s Temple to the present.” We already know that—there have been multiple periods of apostasy in the history of the church, including the Great Apostasy, during which the Freemasons formally organized. But that’s not the same thing as saying there are no links between the two. We know there are links between the ordinances performed in Solomon’s temple and the ones being performed in our temples today. I’ve cited several different sources expounding on that point.

Second, yes, there was ritualistic sacrifice of animals, but that isn’t everything that happened inside the temple. The main point of Kearney’s presentation here is that there’s the message of the endowment (the ordinances, the doctrine, the covenants) and then there’s the messenger (the ritual drama, or the way the message is taught). Animal sacrifice under the Law of Moses was meant to symbolically point toward Christ. It was a ritual aspect of their temple worship. But the ritual is the part that changes over time. The message/ordinance is the part that doesn’t change. Both of those things, the ritual and the ordinance, were being performed in Solomon’s temple.

Since Freemasonry is a secular organization, albeit one with roots in early Christianity, their rituals don’t include ordinances. They have other ceremonial rites they perform, but they do not make covenants with God during those ceremonies. What Kearney was saying here is that we know that Masonic rituals aren’t the same as those performed in Hebrew temples under the Law of Moses because they’re completely different rituals. That does not mean that some of the signs and tokens passed down over the centuries aren’t similar, or that the Masonic tokens don’t predate early Christianity even if the organization itself does not. There’s plenty of evidence that they do.

The next quote is as follows:

Masonry, while claiming a root in antiquity, can only be reliably traced to medieval stone tradesmen.” — Similarities Between Masonic and Mormon Temple Ritual

Again, this is Greg Kearney, and again, saying that Masonry can only be reliably traced to medieval times does not mean there aren’t older roots that we aren’t able to trace. It does not mean that various elements of the temple ordinances weren’t passed down through different apostate groups over the centuries and that some of those elements eventually found their way into Masonry. It’s likely that yes, the Masons formed in the 1300s, but we know that some of the elements of their organization are far older than that.

It is clear that Freemasonry and its traditions played a role in the development of the endowment ritual…” — Similarities Between Masonic and Mormon Temple Ritual

Same Greg Kearney presentation, different quote. And as we’ve seen over and over again, the full quote gives an entirely different spin on the words:

It is clear that Freemasonry and its traditions played a role in the development of the endowment ritual but not the degree that Mr. [Mike] Norton would like to suggest. Further he also brings up only similarities, not the differences between the two. For example, the central story in the endowment is the allegory of Adam and Eve. In Masonry it is the story of the master builder of Solomon’s temple Hiram Abiff. Whole vast sections of the Masonic ritual are not and have never been found in the temple endowment.

The simple fact is that no one ever received their endowment in a Masonic lodge and no one has ever been made a Mason in an LDS temple. As a LDS Freemason I find the similarities reassuring rather than disturbing.

The point Jeremy’s trying to make with this quote is the one that this entire section revolves around. He’s saying that Joseph ripped off the Masonic rituals to create the endowment. His next line reinforces this:

If there’s no connection to Solomon’s Temple, what’s so divine about a man-made medieval European secret fraternity and its rituals?

Again, no one but Jeremy ever said that Masonic rituals or the organization itself were divine. The endowment is divine, but the endowment and Masonic rituals are not the same thing. They have different intents, different meanings, different aspects, different phrasing, etc. Greg Kearney even says as much in the full quote in which Jeremy conveniently cuts off halfway through the first sentence.

In a wonderful, detailed FAIR presentation, Scott Gordon expounds on this:

There are some short word phrases and actions used in the temple ceremony that are similar to word phrases and actions used in masonry, but the masonic word phrases and actions are not related to the themes, teachings, or covenants made in the temple. Even those places where actions are similar, they have completely different meanings. Joseph seems to have taken some of the actions and completely repurposed them. It is also interesting to note that the similar short phrases that are currently used are not critical phrases in the endowment ceremony. When the endowment ceremony was first performed in Nauvoo, it was much longer. As it has been shortened over the years, the Masonic-like phrases have been almost entirely removed.

At this point we have to stop and talk about the nature of revelation. Brigham Young said “When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. …Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to rewrite the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be rewritten, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation.”

Revelation comes from God, but comes through men. Too often we think that whatever comes out of the mouth of an apostle or prophet must be exactly what God said, word for word. But, if that were true, we wouldn’t have so many wonderful airplane analogies coming out in General Conference. Our language becomes filtered by our experience. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and many members of the Church in Nauvoo were familiar with the language of Masonry. So one would be very surprised if it didn’t crop up in their writings and teachings.

Catholic scholar Massimo Introvigene writes “Anti-Mormons … often read too much into [similarities between the endowment and Masonic ritual].” He goes on to say, “Smith had used the Masonic language of the rituals for the purpose of confirming his followers familiar with Freemasonry into a doctrine which had no ‘similarities’ with anything they had heard in the masonic lodges.”

That quote from Brigham Young is, I think, key to what we’re talking about. God speaks to us in ways we’ll understand. Sometimes, that’s done through adapting things we’re already familiar with to teach us divine concepts. That’s precisely what He did with Joseph’s seer stones, after all.

Is it really that surprising that He might inspire Joseph to do the same thing when trying to teach the endowment to the Saints? Because it seems like Joseph was using those Masonic elements to teach eternal principles to the Saints who were already familiar with those ceremonies.

Jeffrey Bradshaw explains:

Evidence suggests that Joseph Smith encouraged Nauvoo Masonry at least in part to help those who would later receive temple ordinances. For instance, Joseph Fielding, an endowed member of the Church who joined Freemasonry in Nauvoo, said: “Many have joined the Masonic institution. This seems to have been a stepping stone or preparation for something else, the true origin of Masonry” — i.e., in ancient priesthood ordinances.

One aspect of this preparation apparently had to do with the general idea of respecting covenants of confidentiality. For example, Joseph Smith once told the Saints that “the reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us is because we do not keep them.” But as he later observed, ‘“The secret of Masonry is to keep a secret.” Joseph may have seen the secret-keeping of Masonry as a tool to prepare the Saints to respect their temple covenants.

In addition, the rituals of the Lodge enabled Mormon Masons to become familiar with symbols and forms they would later encounter in the Nauvoo temple. These included specific ritual terms, language, handclasps, and gestures as well as larger patterns such as those involving repetition and the use of questions and answers as an aid to teaching. Joseph Smith’s own exposure to Masonry no doubt led him to seek further revelation as he prepared to introduce the divine ordinances of Nauvoo temple worship.

… Endowed members saw the Nauvoo temple ordinances as something more than what they had experienced as part of Masonic ritual. Hyrum Smith, a longtime Mason, expressed the typical view of the Saints about the superlative nature of the temple blessings when he said: “I cannot make a comparison between the house of God and anything now in existence. Great things are to grow out of that house; there is a great and mighty power to grow out of it; there is an endowment; knowledge is power, we want knowledge.”

In summary, Freemasonry in Nauvoo was both a stepping-stone to the endowment and a blessing to the Saints in its own right. Its philosophies were preached from the pulpit and helped to promote ideals based on the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man that were dear to Joseph Smith. Its influence could be felt in diverse areas ranging from art and architecture to social and institutional practices. Importantly, Joseph Smith’s exposure to Masonic ritual was no doubt a spur to further revelation as the Nauvoo temple ordinances took shape under his prophetic authority. But whatever suggestions may have come to Joseph Smith through his experience with Masonry, what he did with those suggestions through his prophetic gifts was seen by the Saints as transformative, not merely derivative.

And Steven Harper adds:

Joseph seems to have used Masonry as a point of departure, a beginning rather than an end in itself. Several scholars of differing degrees of belief in Joseph Smith’s teachings have analyzed the evidence and arrived at this conclusion. Michael Homer argued that “the rituals of Freemasonry provided a starting point for the Mormon prophet’s revelation of ‘true Masonry.’” David Buerger argued that the pattern of resemblances was too great and the content of the endowment too unique to explain simply. “Thus,” he concluded, “the temple ceremony cannot be explained as wholesale borrowing from Masonry; neither can it be explained as completely unrelated to Freemasonry.” Allen Roberts concluded that “Joseph’s Masonry was not a conventional one. He attempted to restore it in much the same way the gospel was restored. That is, he saw Masonry like Christianity, as possessing some important truths which could be beneficially extracted from what was otherwise an apostate institution.” 

So, here’s what it all really boils down to: yes, there are some elements of Masonic ceremony in the endowment. But those elements link back at least to early Christianity, and some are far older than that. Additionally, those elements are small things, like signs, tokens, symbols, minor phrasing, and the fact that there’s a ritual drama to teach us important lessons. They do not include the lessons themselves or the ordinances and covenants.

Joseph had been receiving revelations concerning the endowment since at least 1829 and parts of it were instituted in Kirtland, well before his arrival in Nauvoo. He said back in 1839 that he’d never had the chance to teach the Saints all that had been revealed to him. It seems to me as though the endowment had been revealed to him, but that the time was not ready to reveal it to the Saints at large until they were in Nauvoo. Once there, he didn’t know how to teach it to them until he attended some Mason meetings and realized what a valuable teaching method it could be. He adapted some elements and used others he recognized were of ancient origin, and an early form of our modern endowment was created.

Next week, we’ll cover some of Jeremy’s more blunt statements, and maybe I’ll find a way to work in some things I’ve learned that haven’t had a natural fit yet. In closing, I just wanted to say that there is a lot of information out there on this topic, and a lot of evidence that shows just how ancient some of the endowment elements really are. There is also a lot of evidence that Joseph was aware of some of those elements and of the endowment itself far earlier than its institution in Nauvoo. Jeremy’s spin on this topic is just that: spin. Don’t allow him to crack your testimony over something like this, especially when there’s so much evidence proving him wrong.


Sources in this entry:


Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.

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