The Restoration of the Temple: A Concept from Modern Mormonism, and Early Christianity
by Jeff Lindsay
previously mentioned Margaret Barker, the Protestant scholar whose
exploration of the early days of Judaism has added significant
evidence for the authenticity of First Nephi in the Book of Mormon.
relationships between her findings and LDS religion go beyond the
Book of Mormon and also include such concepts as the Melchizedek
ancient knowledge of the Messiah as Son of God, and many aspects of
thing has become quite clear: the original gospel message was about
the temple, not the corrupted temple of Jesus’ own time, but
the original temple which had been destroyed some six hundred years
earlier. All that remained were memories, and the hope that one day
the true temple and all it represented would be restored.
was presented as the high priest from the first temple; Melchizedek
returned to his people. The restoration of the first temple was the
hope of the first Christians, and to set them, their writings and
their presentation of Jesus anywhere else than in the temple setting
distorts what they were preaching and misrepresents the original
Book of Revelation is the key to understanding early Christianity.
Because it is steeped in temple imagery, most people find it an
opaque and impossible text, but people who thought in this ‘temple’
manner also wrote and read the rest of the New Testament. If we read
it in any other way, we are reading our own meaning into the texts
and are not connecting with the original teachings of the Church.
• • •
earliest Christian writings assume a world view and a setting which
can only have come from a temple — and not the actual temple of
their own time. Since the Book of Revelation describes the heavenly
throne and the heavenly court of angels and elders, this must have
been a memory of the holy of holies in the older Jerusalem temple,
furnished with a great golden throne.
the Book of Revelation was written, the holy of holies had been empty
for centuries… When very similar material was identified in
the hymns found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, it became clear that
these were temple scenes with angel priests attending the heavenly
throne. People were still singing about a temple that had ceased to
exist, or rather, had ceased to have a physical existence in
• • •
was described and remembered as a great high priest (Heb.4.14), the
Melchizedek raised up by the power of an indestructible life
(Heb.7.16) who had offered the final atonement sacrifice to fulfil
and supersede the temple rites (Heb.9.1-14). Melchizedek’s
priesthood was more ancient than Aaron’s, and the Letter to the
Hebrews argues that the Melchizedek priesthood is superior to the
Aaron was the brother of Moses, but Melchizedek was priest in
Jerusalem in the time of Abraham. Melchizedek represented the
older faith. The Jerusalem kings had been priests in the manner
of Melchizedek (Ps.110), but there had been no place for an anointed
king, a Messiah, in the religion of Moses.
set strict limits on the role and powers of the king (Deut.17.14-20),
but these rules had been elaborated with the wisdom of hindsight, and
inserted after the demise of the monarchy. Paul knew where the roots
of Christianity lay; he argued that Christianity looked to the faith
of Abraham (and by implication Melchizedek), and so was rooted
earlier than the Law given to Moses (e.g. Rom.4).
the discovery of the Melchizedek text among the Dead Sea Scrolls
(11Q13), we can see the significance of this claim that Jesus was
Melchizedek. One damaged line of the text seems to describe teachers
who have been kept hidden and secret, and the whole text clearly
celebrates the return of the divine Melchizedek to rescue his own
people from the power of the Evil One.
was expected to appear exactly when Jesus began his public ministry,
and the description of the role of Melchizedek is exactly how Jesus
is presented in the gospels. Jesus as Melchizedek was formerly
thought to be peripheral to the understanding of his ministry,
something claimed by the early Christians because it was known that
Jesus had no family claim to the priesthood of Aaron.
as Melchizedek can now be seen as the key to the New Testament, and
the implication of this is that Melchizedek’s temple was the
world of the first Christians.
• • •
quest for the temple is also, in a sense, a quest for the underlying
or original meaning of some Old Testament texts. One of the curious
facts about this investigation is that a high proportion of the
relevant Hebrew texts is now either missing from the current Hebrew
even though it was known in the pre-Christian Dead Sea Scroll texts,
or unreadable in the current Hebrew and has to be reconstructed from
the Greek. This cannot be coincidence.
Christian writings quote a sequence of scriptural texts — as in
Hebrews 1 — we cannot assume that the ideas expressed
were a Christian innovation, that the texts were being used out of
context in order to dress new ideas decently in scripture…
is beyond doubt that the faith of the temple became Christianity.
Images and practices that most Christians take for granted such as
priesthood, the shape of a traditional church building, or the
imagery of sacrifice and atonement are all obviously derived from the
reconstructing the world of the older faith it can be shown that
Invocation of the divine Presence, Incarnation, Resurrection, Theosis
(the human becoming divine), the Mother of God and the self-offering
of the Son of God were also drawn from the temple.
gospel as it was first preached by Jesus, and as it was developed and
lived by the early Church, concerned the restoration of the true
explains how Christian doctrine was able to develop so quickly; it
was the expression of a long established set of beliefs in the light
of the life and work of Jesus…
of LDS religion may be especially interested in Barker's findings
regarding the ancient Melchizedek priesthood. Alma 13 and other
passages in the LDS scriptures are finding added support with modern
discoveries from ancient texts.
paper is "Who
was Melchizedek and who was his God?" presented for the Temple
in a November 2008 symposium on "Melchizedek in Scripture,
Tradition and Liturgy." Here are some of the passages
cited on the LDS Studies Blog, with references from the LDS
scriptures as added by Tim Barker:
was the centre of important claims about Christianity and its
relationship to Judaism, especially to the temple and its
priesthood. Priesthood was an important matter for the early
Church — something that is often overlooked. The
Christians claimed that Jesus was the Melchizedek priest, and in
first century CE, this would have entailed a claim to the original
temple in Jerusalem. Josephus who was presumably recording
contemporary belief, said that Melchizedek was a Canaanite who had
built the first temple in Jerusalem and was the first to serve there
as a priest (War 6.438).
Psalm 110 shows that the Davidic kings in Jerusalem retained the
Melchizedek priesthood, which was rooted in the phase of Hebrew
history represented by Abraham rather than by Moses. (p. 2)
can only speculate how the two priesthoods related to each other;
that of Aaron and that of Melchizedek. It was clearly a
problem, as later developments in the tradition imply. (p. 2) [see
was depicted as one enthroned in the presence of God and named as
God and King. (p. 2) [see
both the Jewish and the Enochic traditions are saying is that the
Melchizedek priesthood was the priesthood of Enoch and the
generation before the flood. The Book of Jubilees claims that
many of the prescriptions of the Torah were far older than Moses,
and had been given to Noah by his ancestors, the ancient priests
(Jub. 7.34-9; 10.13). We cannot just dismiss this as fiction.
These are all claims to a
more ancient religion than that of Moses, an ancient religion
represented in the biblical texts by the figure of Melchizedek.
The link to Enoch
tradition has to be important, not least because the oldest
'history' of Jerusalem in 1 Enoch has no place for Moses. (pp.
4-5) [see JST Genesis 9:21-25; JST Genesis 14:25-40]
Hebrew of Psalm 110 is notoriously difficult to translate,
especially verse 3, where Yahweh makes someone a Melchizedek priest,
but the process and the setting are obscured. The Greek text
is a little clearer than the Hebrew: 'In the glory of the holy
ones...I have begotten you.' To this translator, and so to the early
Christians who used the Greek text, becoming the Melchizedek priest
meant being born as the Son of the angels. In temple terms,
this implies a ritual in the holy of holies, the place of the
angels, in which the human became divine. The holy of holies
represented the state of being that was both beyond and before the
material creation, and this was where the Melchizedek priest was
'born.' The rest of Psalm 110.3 has become opaque in the
Hebrew, and we have to ask why this might have happened. I
suggest it was because this verse described the making of the
ancient Melchizedek priests who were described as Sons of God. (p.
other words, Yahweh was a Son of the Most High, and he was appointed
as the Guardian Angel of Jacob. I suggest that the opacities and
variants in the Hebrew text here are due to a dispute over the
nature of Yahweh: the older texts knew that Yahweh was a Son of the
Most High, what Christians would call the Second Person. Psalm
110.3, a key text for Christians, describes the process by which the
Davidic king became the Son, the process by which a human became
Yahweh. Becoming divine was described as birth, but the Hebrew
is ambiguous, and is usually rendered in English as ‘your
youth’. The Greek translator, and thus too the early
Christians, read the letters differently and understood it to mean
‘I have begotten you’, exegénnesá
se. The place of this
birth is also unclear in the Hebrew: was it ‘in glorious
array’, or was it ‘on the holy mountains.’ ...The
Greek and Latin, which reflect the Christian understanding of the
verse, understood that the birth took place in the glory of the holy
ones, that is, amidst the angel host in the holy of holies. (p. 6)
in Psalm 110 we have to envisage Yahweh and the human king becoming
One, such that Yawheh was present in the king: Immanuel.
Sonship meant unity, not separation. 'A priest like Melchizedek' was
the transformed human figure, an angel. (p. 6) [see
John 17 and Romans 8:17]
consecrated one was the high priest, consecrated in the holy of
holies that represented heaven, and then sent out into the world.
to John 10:36] Using
arguments that must have been acceptable to his Jewish critics,
Jesus said that the
consecrated one was the Son. (p.
mysterious 'dew' in Psalm 110, apparently part of the birth process,
does not appear in either the Greek or the Latin versions.
It could have been the anointing oil, which is described elsewhere
as 'like dew' (Ps. 133.3). (p. 7)
Melchizedek verse in Psalm 110, I suggest, became obscure because of
its importance for Christian claims about Jesus and about
themselves. The Christians were...collectively the restored
Melchizedek priesthood: one with Jesus, and their unity with Him was
both the sign of their true identity as sons of God (John 1.13;
Romans 8.14) and also of Jesus' divine origin. Melchizedek,
then, was a priesthood of many people, not of just one individual.
is much in Barker's work that will be refreshing and intriguing to
Latter-day Saints, who should appreciate the yearnings of our early
Christian peers for the restoration of ancient temple truths and
ancient priesthood authority. In spite of its modern trappings, the
core of the LDS temple involves restoration of ancient covenants,
teachings, symbols, and practices to bring us into the presence of
Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his
LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on
the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton,
Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra.
He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.
He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent
Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.
Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering
Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US
patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications.
Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.