Dr. Ogden is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.
A Jewish woman who has lived in Israel and now resides in Texas has investigated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for some time now. She asked me seven provocative questions:
1. Why has the Mormon Church more than 100 temples across the globe but the Jews recognize only ONE temple in Jerusalem?
2. The primary activity at the Jerusalem Temple was the sacrifice of animals as atonement for the sins of the people. Why are there no animal sacrifices or sin atonements in Mormon Temples?
3. Worshipers in ancient Israel went to the Temple with an attitude of unworthiness before an all-holy God. They approached His Temple with humility as they looked to have their sins covered. Why do Mormons enter their Temples with a positive sense of worthiness and a person cannot enter a Mormon Temple (after it is dedicated) unless he or she is considered “worthy”?
4. The priests officiating in the Jerusalem Temple had to be from the tribe of Levi. This was commanded in Numbers 3:6-10. Why does the Mormon Church ignore such commands and allows its “Temple-worthy” members who have no such background to officiate in its Temples?
5. Wedding ceremonies never occurred in the Jerusalem Temple, so why is this a common practice in LDS Temples?
6. Why is baptism for the dead a common activity in Mormon Temples when no such practice was ever performed in the Jerusalem Temple?
7. Why are Mormon families “sealed” for time and eternity in LDS Temples, when the Jerusalem Temple provided no such ordinance?
The answers to all these questions, from a Latter-day Saint point of view, presuppose a belief in continuous revelation—that the God of Heaven is not an absentee God, hiding His face and His words in some distant corner of the Universe from us, His children. He still cares about us and is involved with us. In fact, we need His revelatory intervention now more than ever. As the Old Testament prophet Amos affirmed, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
As His covenant people have expanded worldwide there is understandable need for additional light and knowledge, and even organizational, jurisdictional, and structural expansion of the leadership and governance of His earthly kingdom.
Question 1. Why has the Mormon Church more than one hundred temples across the globe but the Jews recognize only ONE temple in Jerusalem?
The ancient Israelites only needed one Temple in such a small land. The land of Israel was a geographically constricted area. You could fit twenty-five Israels inside the modern state of Texas! But now, with God’s people dispersed worldwide, the Lord has provided for Temples to meet the needs of those who care about His sacred ordinances in many lands.
Incidentally, there were other places of worship in ancient Israel besides the Jerusalem Temple, though worship generally was centralized in that Temple. “Other sanctuaries and holy places were apparently approved by the Lord and in use during the Israelite period, but the Temple at Jerusalem was to be the spiritual focal point and center of worship for God’s people. For example, Gideon’s shrine in the eastern Jezreel Valley (Judges 6:24–26); Solomon’s high place at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:2–5); and Elijah’s altar on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:30; cf. Judges 19:18). The only Israelite temple ever found in archaeological excavations was uncovered at Arad in the Negev. This temple has a strikingly similar layout to and was contemporary with Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem” (Jerusalem, The Eternal City by Galbraith, Ogden, and Skinner, Deseret Book, 1996 and 2008, pages 59, 70).
During the first millennium B.C. there was even a Jewish temple in Upper Egypt. “One group of [Jewish] refugees from the first dispersion fled to Egypt and during ensuing centuries established themselves as influential people in the economic and political life of Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. One military colony erected a Jewish temple to Jehovah on Elephantine Island (Yeb) at the first cataract of the Nile, at modern Aswan. See Shanks, Ancient Israel, 162–64; Thomas, Documents from Old Testament Times, 266–68; Porten, Archives from Elephantine” (Jerusalem, The Eternal City, 133).
In addition to that, the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius noted in his Wars of the Jews that Melchizedek likely had established a Temple in Salem (later, Jerusalem) a thousand years before Solomon built the House of God there: “[Melchizedek] the Righteous King, for such he really was; on which account he was [there] the first priest of God, and first built a temple, [there,]” (Josephus, Wars 6.10.1.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith asked a significant question, and promptly answered it: “What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world? . . . The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby he could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose” (History of the Church, 5:423).
There is, then, ostensible need for more than one Temple in God’s plan and purposes with His children throughout this earth.
Question 2. The primary activity at the Jerusalem Temple was the sacrifice of animals as atonement for the sins of the people. Why are there no animal sacrifices or sin atonements in Mormon Temples?
God provided for His ancient followers for four thousand years—from Adam and Eve through the coming of His Son—to offer up sacrifices as part of their worship of Deity. All those animal sacrifices were supposed to point the people to the sacrifice of the Anointed One who would make the great and last Sacrifice, offering up the ultimate Atonement.
“Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be . . . a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled . . . And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Book of Mormon, Alma 34:13-14).
The prophet Isaiah chastised his people, the Jews, who were going through the motions—offering sacrifices, but their heart wasn’t in it:
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts [making sacrificial offerings in the Temple]? Bring no more vain oblations” (Isaiah 1:11-13).
The prophet also lamented:
“Wherefore the Lord said, . . . this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isaiah 29:13).
Once the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, even the Jews stopped offering animal sacrifices, and substituted instead the study of Torah and good deeds.