The Lord Speaks Again: Ancient Temple Patterns in D&C 124

William Weeks Nauvoo Temple architectural plan. (Click for larger view)

William Weeks Nauvoo Temple architectural plan. (Click for larger view)

It is my honor and pleasure to introduce a new guest blogger to, Matthew B. Brown.  Many of you may already be familiar with the great work of this historian, scholar, and author.  If you are not, I heartily recommend his work to you. One of my favorite books on the temple is by Br. Brown, The Gate of Heaven: Insights on the Doctrines and Symbols of the Temple.  A big thanks to Br. Brown for sharing his insights with us here on  -Bryce

Guest Blogger: Matthew B. Brown holds a degree in history from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He is the author of ten books and has published articles with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU (aka FARMS). Matthew serves as a volunteer researcher, editor, and respondent for The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) and has spoken at several of their annual conferences. He has also been featured on TV and radio programs as well as at a number of seminars and symposiums.

On 19 January 1841 the Lord issued an important revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith which is now known as Doctrine and Covenants section 124.1 There are many verses within this revelation where the Lord describes concepts associated with the Nauvoo temple. These concepts can be placed under five general categories so that they can be more easily evaluated: The Lord’s People, The Lord’s Commands, The Lord’s House, The Priesthood, and The Ordinances. This article is calculated to help students of the past more accurately understand what (and how much) the Lord revealed about the temple in Nauvoo, Illinois by the first month of the year in 1841. It is also designed to show intriguing connections between the Mormons who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century and what took place among the covenant people of the biblical period. 

The Lord’s People

In the temple-related material recorded in D&C 124 the Lord uses two different terms to identify the group to whom He is speaking. In verses 39 and 40 He calls them “my people” while in verses 25, 29, and 31 He describes them as “my saints.” In either case, the idea receiving emphasis is that they are the Lord’s possession—they belong to Him. This notion of belonging to the Lord is tied in the Old Testament to being in a covenant relationship with Him (see Ex. 19:5)2 and being a “holy people” (Deut. 14:2). Indeed, one word translated as “saint” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew qadosh (meaning ‘holy’)3 and another is hasid (meaning ‘godly’),4 while in the New Testament it is the Greek hagios (also meaning ‘holy’).5

It should be noted that the phrase “my people” was utilized in an ancient Hebrew formulary when a covenant relationship was being formed. It was said by Deity with regard to the participating parties, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezek. 37:27; emphasis added). Notice that in the rest of this passage from the book of Ezekiel the Lord states, “my tabernacle” or temple “shall be with them.” This should be compared to Revelation 21:3 where it is said, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them [cf. D&C 124:27; Ex. 25:8, 29:45], and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them [cf. D&C 124:28], and be their God.”

The Lord’s Commands

It is interesting to note that there are nine temple-related commands given to the Saints, by the Lord, in the 124th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. And it seems to be more than a mere coincidence that these directives are closely matched by what is said about the temple on the pages of the Old Testament.

  1. LDS: The Lord said, ‘send out messengers’ (see D&C 124:26). ISRAELITES: Solomon sent his servants to talk to king Hiram about the temple project (see 1 Kgs. 5:1–6).
  2. LDS: The Lord said, ‘gather the Saints’ (see D&C 124:25). ISRAELITES: there was a gathering in order to build the temple (see 1 Chr. 22:2).
  3. LDS: The Lord said, ‘assemble construction materials’ (see D&C 124:26–27). ISRAELITES: there was a divine command to take an offering of construction materials (see Ex. 25:1–7).
  4. LDS: The Lord said, ‘build a temple’ (see D&C 124:31). ISRAELITES: The Lord said, “let [the children of Israel] make me a sanctuary” (Ex. 25:8).
  5. LDS: The Lord said, ‘raise it to my name’ (see D&C 124:27, 40). ISRAELITES: The Lord said, “build the house unto my name” (1 Kgs. 8:19, 44, 48 and 1 Kgs. 5:5).
  6. LDS: The Lord said, ‘erect it in a particular place’ (see D&C 124:43). ISRAELITES: God commanded the building of a temple in a particular city (Ezra 1:2).
  7. LDS: The Lord said, ‘bestow ritual elements upon certain individuals’ (see D&C 124:95, 97)6. ISRAELITES: The Lord said, ‘bestow specific rituals on certain individuals’ (see Ex. 29:1).
  8. LDS: The Lord said, ‘assign priesthood officers’ (see D&C 124:144). ISRAELITES: The Lord assigned priesthood officers (Ex. 28:1).
  9. LDS: The Lord said, ‘construct rooms for priesthood officers inside of the temple’ (see D&C 124:145). ISRAELITES: Solomon’s temple included a courtyard for the priests (see 2 Chr. 4:9) and the revelatory temple design recorded in the book of Ezekiel had chambers for the priests (see Ezek. 40:45–46).

Since two of the commands above come from verse 26 in section 124 it is interesting to make note of specific Old Testament parallels associated with this passage. The Doctrine and Covenants verse reads: “And send ye swift messengers, yea, chosen messengers, and say unto them: Come ye, with all your gold and your silver, and your precious stones, and with all your antiquities; and with7 all who have knowledge of antiquities, that will come, may come, and bring the box-tree, and the fir-tree, and the pine-tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth.” Mention of ‘swift messengers’ being sent out to members of a scattered nation can be found in Isaiah 18:2. The invitation to ‘come’ together for the purpose of temple construction is matched by words found in Exodus 36:2. The building materials listed in D&C 124:26–27 (gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, stones) goes right along with what is said in Exodus 25:2–3, 5, 7 and 1 Chronicles 22:14. Even the same types of wood to be used in the construction process are repeated in Isaiah 60:13. Finally, there is the curious reference in D&C 124:26 to persons who have “knowledge of antiquities.” A match in wording can be found in Exodus 31:3 and Exodus 36:1–2 where the temple builders are said to be filled with “knowledge” of workmanship necessary for carrying out their task. By checking a popular English dictionary from the early nineteenth century one discovers that “antiquities” includes “edifices,”8 and so it may be that the Lord is indicating in verse 26 that it will be useful for the modern temple constructors in Nauvoo to possess knowledge about the ancient temples of the Bible.

The Lord’s House

In addition to what has already been demonstrated above, there are connections to be ascertained between the way the Nauvoo Temple is described in the Doctrine and Covenants and the descriptions of Israelites temples in the Old Testament. Consider the exacting parallels and the proposed links in the following five categories.






D&C 124 includes direct and indirect evidence for contemplated spacial divisions inside of the Nauvoo Temple and these divisions have counterparts within biblical sanctuaries. The “most holy” place9 mentioned in verse 39 of section 124 is an unmistakable reference to the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle built by Moses and the Temple constructed by king Solomon (see Ex 26:33–34; 1 Kgs. 6:16, 19). The reference to an “assembly” in D&C 124:39 may possibly be connected with the assembly that was commanded to meet at the door of the Tabernacle proper—which served as the entryway into the Holy Place of the temple (see Num. 10:1–3). Sacrifice is likewise mentioned in the 39th verse of section 124 and since sacrifice in the Israelite temple took place at the altar (see Isa. 56:7) which was situated out in the courtyard of the complex (see Ex. 40:33) verse 39 seems to make an allusion to both the outermost space and the central ritual object which was placed there.

The Priesthood

The Lord discusses the priesthood and related subjects in several verses of D&C 124. He provides a lengthy list of the officers of His priesthood (see vv. 123–144)10 and directs that rooms be built for them within His temple (see v. 145).11 The Lord also indicates that He is naming these priesthood holders and their respective offices so that they may “hold the keys thereof” and thereby legitimately engage in the work of governing and perfecting the Saints (vv. 123, 143). The Lord further reveals that “the keys of the holy priesthood” are “ordained”12 specifically for the temple (v. 34) and He will show the Prophet Joseph Smith “all things pertaining to . . . the priesthood” of His holy house (v. 42), even all things connected with “the fulness of the priesthood” (v. 28).13

In D&C 124:39 the Lord makes a connection between Latter-day Saints and the ancient “sons of Levi” or Israelite temple priests (see Deut. 21:5, 31:9). The Old Testament states that it was “the sons of Levi . . . [who] did the work for the service of the house of the Lord” (1 Chr. 23:24). More specifically, they made offerings unto the Lord (see Mal. 3:3) and “c[a]me near to the Lord to minister unto Him” (Ezek. 40:46). Because the ancient sons of Levi ministered within the temple precincts they were required to wear “holy garments”—the pattern of which was revealed by the Lord Himself (Ex. 28:1–4).

The Ordinances

When the temple priests of ancient Israel received their sacral clothing during their induction into office they also participated in several rituals. Included among these rites were washing with water (see Ex. 29:4, 40:30–32) and anointing with oil (see Lev. 8:30). These very same ordinances were prescribed by the Lord for his modern temple ministers in the 124th section of the Doctrine and Covenants (see vv. 37, 39).

The “sacrifices” of section 124 verse 39 can certainly be classified as ordinances but the wording of verse 39 distinguishes them from their Old Testament counterparts. Whereas the ancient temple priests actually slew animals at an altar the Latter-day Saints were only going to offer “memorials” of those sacrifices. The word “memorial” was defined in Joseph Smith’s day as “that which preserves the memory of something; anything that serves to keep in memory.”14

Baptism for the dead receives a significant amount of attention in D&C 124 (see vv. 29–33, 35–36, 39). The Lord orders, in this revelation, that a font—instead of a natural body of water—be used for this ceremony (see v. 29) and gives divine sanction to the proxy method of salvation. This particular baptismal rite belongs to the temple (see v. 30, 33), was instituted as an ordinance before the foundation of the earth was established (see v. 33), and is meant to be performed in a place of refuge (see v. 36).15

The Lord teaches in section 124 that He will only accept certain ordinances if they are performed in a temple that has been built unto His name (see vv. 28–30, 33, and 37). Such a stipulation was laid down before the creation of the world (see v. 33). Indeed, The Lord says that this is the reason behind the construction of the wilderness Tabernacle and the Jerusalem Temple—a place was needed in which to reveal16 a set of ordinances17 (v. 38). And these ordinances were not new.18 The Lord had the Latter-day Saints build the Nauvoo Temple because He designed19 to “restore again” ceremonies which, over a period of time, had become lost (v. 28).20



1. An extract of D&C 124 was first published in the Times and Seasons, vol. 2, no. 15, 1 June 1841 (hereafter cited as T&S). A large portion of this revelation which is pertinent to the present study can be found on pages 425 and 426 of that source. A comparison of this early printed text with the current version of section 124 indicates that a word has been added in verse 39. The Times and Seasons document reads, “and your oracles in your most holy places” while the current printing says, “and for your oracles in your most holy places.” When the word “for” is removed the entire paragraph flows more naturally as a list of items. It should also be noted that in verse 26 of D&C 124 the Times and Seasons version and the modern printing agree in content. Both sources read: “and with all who have knowledge of antiquities.” The 1841 newspaper source may contain a scribal error, however. The phrase “with all” occurs three times in verse 26 but if the word “with” is removed from the third instance then the information associated with it makes more sense.

2. The Lord refers to “my people Israel”—meaning the covenant people—on several occasions in the texts of the Old Testament (see 2 Chr. 6:6; 1 Sam. 9:16; 2 Sam. 7:7–8, 10; Ps. 81:8; Jer. 12:14).

3. John R. Kohlenberger III and James A. Swanson, eds., The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 1448, word #6918.

4. Ibid., 1390, word #2623.

5. Ibid., 1475, word #40.

6. Elder Orson Pratt hinted at the identification of the D&C 124:95 and 97 “keys” in The Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons, 1891), 441, ftnts. 2o and 2p. Notice in Elder Pratt’s statements that the “keys” belong to an “order” which has been “ordained of God” (cf. JST Ex. 34:1–2 which speaks of the Lord’s “holy order, and the ordinances thereof”).

7. See endnote #1 above for an explanation of this strikeout word.

8. “Antiquities comprehend all the remains of ancient times; all the monuments, coins, inscriptions, edifices, history and fragments of literature, offices, habiliments, weapons, manners, ceremonies; in short, whatever respects any of the ancient nations of the earth” (Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language [New York: S. Converse, 1828], s.v., “antiquity,” definition #5).

9. In D&C 124:39 the Lord indicates that His disciples are to receive “oracles” and “conversations” in some connection with the most holy place (cf. 1 Kgs. 6:16, 8:6; 2 Chr. 5:7; Ex. 26:33, Ex. 29:42). Oracles can be defined as “communications, revelations or messages delivered by God” (Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v., “oracle,” definition #4).

10. It seems to be relevant that within the list of priesthood officers provided by the Lord there is a distinguishable pattern. There are eight sets of presidencies named—First Presidency, Seven presidents of the Seventies, High Priests presidency, Elders presidency, Bishopric, Priests presidency, Teachers presidency, Deacons presidency. These presidencies were physically represented in the twenty-four Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood pulpits which were located on a lower floor of the Nauvoo Temple.

11. For an architectural diagram of the priesthood rooms built in the attic story of the nineteenth century Nauvoo Temple see Devery S. Anderson and Gary J. Bergera, eds., The Nauvoo Endowment Companies 1845–1846: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005), xvii.

12. The general meaning of the word ‘ordain’ is to ‘appoint’ (Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v., “ordain,” definition #2, #4, #5). In Numbers 28:1–6 it is recalled by the Lord that the activities of the temple priests had been “ordained” by Him.

13. In order for a person to be perfected in ‘the fulness of the priesthood,’ said Elder Parley P. Pratt, they needed to receive “holy washings, anointing, keys, ordinances, oracles, and instructions” inside of the temple (Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 3d ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1874], 92). Elder Orson Hyde taught that “the fulness of the priesthood includes the authority of both king and priest” (Millennial Star, vol. 9, no. 2, 15 January 1847, 23). Elder Brigham Young declared, “For any person to have the fullness of [the Melchizedek] priesthood, he must be a king and priest” (Brigham H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1909], 5:527).

14. Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “memorial,” noun, primary definition.

15. The idea of a city of refuge can be found in several Old Testament passages but Numbers 35:6 is especially interesting because it is indicated there that some such cities were connected with the Levites—the persons charged with the care of the temple.

16. Since there are some individuals who believe that Joseph Smith either made up or plagiarized the Nauvoo temple rites from non-Mormon sources it is crucial to point out three verses in D&C 124 where the Lord clearly indicates those ordinances were going to be revealed by Him (see vv. 38, 40, 41). Notice in D&C 124:40 that the Lord employs a possessive phrase for the Nauvoo Temple rituals, calling them “mine ordinances” (emphasis added). This precludes the idea that Joseph Smith borrowed those rites which were eventually practiced inside of the sanctuary at Nauvoo.

17. It appears that the “statutes and judgments” of D&C 124:39 fall under the category of ordinances in that the word ‘statute’ can be defined as “a positive law . . . . [which owes its] binding force to a positive command or declaration of the supreme power” (Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v., “statute,” definition #1) and the word ‘judgment’—from a scriptural perspective—refers to “the spirit of wisdom . . . enabling a person to discern . . . good and evil” (ibid., s.v., “judgment,” definition #7). Latter-day Saints who have experienced the temple ceremonies which were vouchsafed during the Nauvoo period should have no difficulty correlating how such things apply to their experience.

18. It is not uncommon for the casual reader of D&C 124 to consider the content of verse 41 in isolation. It says, “For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times” (emphasis added). The conclusion that is sometimes drawn from these words is that the Nauvoo Temple endowment was something new—only for the last dispensation of the gospel. But the content of verse 38 does not support such a view. It reads, “for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was” (emphasis added). In other words, the same restricted, confidential ceremonies that were once practiced in the Mosaic tabernacle and the Solomonic temple were revealed once again in the latter days. It is interesting to note that priests were initiated in the tabernacle build by Moses and kings were initiated in the temple constructed by Solomon.

19. In the current LDS edition of the Doctrine and Covenants verse 41 reads, “I deign to reveal unto my Church” whereas the first known printing of this text said, “I design to reveal unto my Church” (T&S, vol. 2, no. 15, 1 June 1841, 426). In the Prophet’s era the word ‘deign’ meant “to condescend to give to” (Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v., “deign,” second listing).

20. In verse 28 of D&C 124 the Lord states: “there is not a place found on earth that [the Most High] may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which He hath taken away” (emphasis added). By consulting the Joseph Smith Translation of Exodus 34 the meaning behind this becomes clearer. In verses 1 and 2 of that source (written in late July 1832) it is said by the Lord with regard to what happened at Mount Sinai: “hew thee two other table[t]s of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also the words of the law . . . but it shall not be according to the first [set of tablets], for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order and the ordinances thereof shall not go before them . . . . they shall not enter into my presence” (Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds., Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts [Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2004], 701; emphasis added).


  1. Jennifer O.
    Posted September 27, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Brother Brown, I echo Bryce’s sentiments about your books – they are well-worn, oft-quoted, and among the most cherished on my bookshelves. Always well researched and extremely insightful, your writings have opened my eyes in so many areas on so many levels. Similarly, I found this post brilliant, adding yet another layer of understanding for me on this important topic.

    I truly appreciate your scholarship and willingness to share your talents with us. Thank you!!!

  2. Posted September 27, 2009 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    I said it once and I’ll say it again. Matthew B. Brown’s books are worth their weight in gold. They are prima sources to turn to on a number of issues and Brother Brown is, without question, one of my favorite LDS authors.

    Kudos to both of you for this fine blog post!

  3. Matthew B. Brown
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Jennifer O.,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. Let me assure you that I am just a regular member of the Church who enjoys learning and sharing what I find with others. It is great to hear from people like you who benefit from reading the notes from my adventure in the process of discovery.

  4. Matthew B. Brown
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Steve Smoot,

    It is what you are about to accomplish on your mission that is worth its weight in gold.

    “You have chosen . . . wisely.”

  5. ChrisS
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Brother Brown, thank you so much for this post. Especially the part about “the Lord’s people” – it really brought some aha moments for me. It also brought about a thought. In regards to the sacred garments we wear, I’ve always heard they represent “an outward sign of an inward covenant”. Unfortunately in my gospel path, that’s where I’ve always left it, but when reading your thoughts today, it made me wonder if there would be any credence to them (the garment) being a sign of ours becoming His people, God’s (the Father’s) people? Sort of like at baptism we take the Savior’s name upon us and become a member of his church and become “His”… in the temple, with those ordinances and covenants, we are heading back to the Father, becoming gods, priests and kings (as you mentioned) even the “sons of God”. Any thoughts you have (or other readers of course) are appreciated. Thank you for your continued seeking after truth and willingness to share.

  6. Matthew B. Brown
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink


    Thank you very much for your comments and your question.

    In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism it is stated that Latter-day Saints wear the white ceremonial temple garment “partially to remind them of the sacred covenants they have made with God.” The rewarding part of Restoration research is figuring out what else that sacred piece of clothing, and its associated elements, mean. Paragraph #5 of the encyclopedia article mentions that Adam was the “firstborn” and, of course, Adam was the first king on this earth (see Genesis 1:26) and was given a garment by God (see Genesis 3:21) and “firstborn” was the divinely-appointed title given to the Israelite kings when they ascended the throne (see Psalms 89:27).

    When each member of the house of Israel entered into the covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at Mount Sinai they became God’s possession (see Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 14:2) and they were instructed to keep God’s commandments (see Deuteronomy 26:18). In order to point them toward this obligation at all times God instructed them to wear a piece of fabric with symbols attached to it. These symbols would not only remind them to keep God’s commandments but also remind them that since God was ‘holy’ they needed to be ‘holy’ too (Numbers 15:38–40; Leviticus 11:44–45).

    There is much more that could be said about this important topic but I hope that these words and hints will suffice and encourage further study.

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