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July 19, 2014
The Restoration of the Temple: A Concept from Modern Mormonism, and Early Christianity
by Jeff Lindsay

I've 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.

The relationships between her findings and LDS religion go beyond the Book of Mormon and also include such concepts as the Melchizedek priesthood, theosis, ancient knowledge of the Messiah as Son of God, and many aspects of the temple.

One detail from her work that I find interesting is the concept of the restoration of the temple as an important aspect of early Christianity. She discusses this on her website in an excerpt from her book, Temple Theology:

One 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.

Jesus 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 gospel.

The 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.

• • •

The 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.

When 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 Jerusalem.

• • •

Jesus 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 Aaronic (Heb.7.11-19).

Now 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.

Deuteronomy 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).

Since 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.

Melchizedek 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.

Jesus 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.

• • •

The 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.

Where 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…

It 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 temple.

By 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.

The 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 temple.

This 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…

Students 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.

Margaret Barker wrote a fascinating paper on Melchizedek that is excerpted and discussed by Tim Barker at the LDS Studies blog. The blog has a dead link to the original paper, which can now be found at

The paper is "Who was Melchizedek and who was his God?" presented for the Temple Studies Group 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:

There 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 God.

Related resource: LDSFAQ on the LDS Temple

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