The other article that impressed me from the latest Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 16/2 (2007), was Donald W. Parry’s “Service and Temple in King Benjamin’s Speech.” Why did it impress me? Because it related subjects in the Book of Mormon to the temple, something that we haven’t seen a lot of yet, but is becoming more common in recent days. Some of our detractors like to criticize the fact that the Book of Mormon appears to have little content related to the temple, while on the other hand the Church emphasizes the importance of the temple and the ordinances that occur therein. It is articles such as this one in the JBMS that clearly show otherwise. The temple plays a central role in the gospel, even in the text of the Book of Mormon, but we must be willing to look for it, and search a little deeper. I can attest that once you have this focus, the temple appears everywhere in this book of scripture as it does in all scripture.
In his article Dr. Parry writes of many allusions to the temple in the setting of and the address of King Benjamin’s speech, mostly from Mosiah 2. The most direct and obvious connection is that King Benjamin gave the address from a tower which was built just in front of the temple in the city of Zarahemla (Mosiah 2:7). The people came in a “sacred pilgrimage to a holy sanctuary—ascending or going up to a holy place”1. The temple is mentioned five times in the first seven verses of the chapter. Such repetition gives the temple a dominant place and emphasis in this text, one that we might not casually see. The people literally gathered “round about the temple” and faced their tents “towards the temple” to hear the words of King Benjamin (Mosiah 2:6). The symbolism here could not be more clear—the people were coming to the temple to be taught from on High. The temple is a source and place of learning, but only a singular type of learning happens here—it is the teaching from God.
Parry continues by pointing out that before the king gave his speech, there were temple ordinances performed:
…there is a pointed statement about the temple’s sacrificial system: “They also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses” (Mosiah 2:3). Some of these offerings were likely thanksgiving offerings (see Mosiah 2:4, “that they might give thanks to the Lord their God”).2
The most interesting connection Parry cites between King Benjamin’s speech and the temple is service:
…Benjamin invited his people to the setting of the temple, a holy place of sacred service, so that he could more effectively teach regarding service to God and service to one’s fellow beings.3
Dr. Parry shows that the words servants, serve, served, and service (all used heavily by King Benjamin) are tied to the ancient Mosaic sacrificial system expounded in the Bible, particularly by those who participated in the rites at the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. Even these very words were used to refer to the temple:
In fact, some Hebrew scholars and lexicographers disclose that the verb ‘avad, often translated “to work” or “to serve,” also means “to worship” or “to perform a (cultic) rite,” referring specifically to temple worship.4
He also shows that the sprinkling of the sacrifice’s blood onto the altar shows up when Benjamin refers to blood on his garments (Mosiah 2:27–28):
One may speculate that prior to speaking to the people Benjamin offered sacrifices himself and had blood on his garments that he was unable to remove before his speech.5
The subjects of garments, human blood, and the removal of that blood appear in King Benjamin’s speech, as well as several other passages in the Book of Mormon, and all have a direct connection to the offering of sacrifices upon the altar according to the law of Moses. These passages are compared to others which place us, fallen sons and daughters of God, as symbolic of the stained garments, and Christ’s atoning blood as the power to cleanse those garments from sin. As Dr. Parry well says:
King Benjamin’s discourse on service in its temple setting—where sacrifices were made under the law of Moses—ultimately points to the supreme and final service: Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice.6
This article is an excellent example of looking deeper into the text of the Book of Mormon and seeing things that we might easily pass over in casual reading. Indeed, here we see the temple, and the sacrifices and offerings to God performed within, as prominent as ever.