Question: Since the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel, why is there no mention of temples or temple work?
, Professor of Ancient Scripture, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
To answer this question, we must first understand what is meant by “fulness of the gospel.” In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord stated three times that the fulness of the gospel was contained in the Book of Mormon (see D&C 20:9; D&C 27:5; D&C 42:12). And the angel Moroni declared to Joseph Smith that the Book of Mormon contained the fulness of the gospel:
“He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants” (JS—H 1:34; italics added).
In the past several years, I have asked many graduate students the meaning of the word “gospel.” The standard answer that I have received is “good news.” This answer comes from the meaning of the Greek word for gospel. This answer is correct, but my experience has shown that many Church members have never really thought out the meaning of “good news.” What is the good news presented in the gospel? The restored scriptures furnish a logical and thought-provoking answer to the question. The Doctrine and Covenants gives three definitions of the gospel.
“Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved” (italics added).
“And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me.
“And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom” (italics added).
“And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—
“That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;
“That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him;
“Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him” (italics added).
The Book of Mormon records, in the teachings of the Savior, a much more detailed definition but one that is consistent with those given in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
“And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
“And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
“And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.
“And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.
“And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Ne. 27:13–21; italics added).
In summary, the good news of the gospel is the plan of salvation or the principles and ordinances whereby we can return to the presence of our Father in Heaven.
A further clarification must be made before answering the original question regarding temples. The gospel as defined in the scriptures outlines the plan for mankind to return to the celestial kingdom. It does not specify how mankind receives exaltation within the celestial kingdom. To be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the ordinances and blessings of the temple are necessary (see D&C 131:1–4).
Although the Book of Mormon does not give us any details or teachings of the ordinances which were performed in the temples, it does verify that there were temples among the Nephites. It does record a miraculous writing appearing on the temple wall written by the finger of God (see Alma 10:2). This incident was referred to in the context of a man’s ancestry and does not shed any light on the temple itself.
We can get some indications of the function of temples among the Nephites from the Book of Mormon. It seems that the Nephites built temples whenever and wherever the population warranted. Following the split between the Nephites and Lamanites, Nephi recorded that his people built a temple “after the manner of the temple of Solomon” (2 Ne. 5:16). Jacob received his command to warn his people of pride and immorality in the temple (Jacob 1:17; Jacob 2:2, 11). King Benjamin had his people gather to the temple to be instructed (Mosiah 1:18; Mosiah 2:1; Mosiah 5–7). King Limhi had his people gathered to the temple to be instructed about Ammon and his brethren coming down from the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 7:17). This was probably the same temple which is mentioned several times in the record of his father, King Noah, and quite possibly was built by Noah’s father, King Zeniff, since it seems to have already been built when Noah became king (see Mosiah 11:10, Mosiah 12; Mosiah 19:5). As the Nephite people moved into the northland, they built temples there also (Hel. 3:9, Hel. 14). Following the destruction of the wicked at the time of the crucifixion of Christ, the people were gathered around the temple in the land of Bountiful when the Savior appeared to them (3 Ne. 11:1). The Book of Mormon also records that the Lamanites built temples (Alma 26:29). All of this evidence confirms the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings.
“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” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 307–8).
While there are no references to the specific ordinances performed in the temple, the Book of Mormon contains the same teachings as does the Bible concerning the basis of temple work. The Prophet Malachi foretold of the coming of Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord which coming would turn or bind the children to their fathers and the fathers to their children. This sealing power, also known as the patriarchal priesthood, was restored on April 3, 1836 to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple (see D&C 110:13–16). When the Savior ministered among the Nephites, following his resurrection, he told them that the Father had commanded him to give them the teachings of Malachi, and they are now recorded in 3 Nephi chapters 24–25. Chapter 25 contains the prophecy of Elijah. The Lord established the basic foundation for temple work in the Book of Mormon and left the specific teachings about exaltation within the celestial kingdom to the Doctrine and Covenants.
Another ordinance associated with temples was also left for enlargement in the Doctrine and Covenants. This is the marriage ceremony for time and all eternity. Although the Book of Mormon does not teach this important doctrine, there is an inference in the Book of Mormon that such marriages were performed.
“And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them” (4 Ne. 1:11).
While this is only an inference, there are traditions among the Lamanites that such ordinances were performed. Golden R. Buchanan, who served as the president of the Southwest [American] Indian Mission for many years, stated:
“The principle of eternal marriage is not new to many of the tribes. The Hopi [Indian] wedding, a beautiful ceremony, with the bride dressed in a lovely white garment woven by the hands of her fiancé, is a sacred affair, and is meant to last for the eternities. It is not until ‘death do you part’” (“Indian Traditions,” Improvement Era, April 1955, p. 286).
Thus, the knowledge and practice of eternal marriage was had among the Nephites, and the Lamanites carried on this practice even after the apostasy had set in. Again, Mormon, under the inspiration of the Lord, chose to leave this teaching to be revealed in the latter-days.
In summary, the reason that more is not revealed in the Book of Mormon about temples and other ordinances which will bring exaltation is probably explained in the nature of revelation. The scriptures may be termed “open revelation,” or revelation which is available for all who are interested to read. The temple, on the other hand may be termed “closed revelation,” or revelation which is reserved only for those who will prepare themselves to know and understand this type of sacred revelation. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, this has been reserved from the foundation of the world to be revealed unto the Lord’s people (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 308 and D&C 124:36–41). Our opportunity to receive of those ordinances as a part of the gospel is now here, and we should all avail ourselves of this opportunity.
Question: I can’t keep up with my Church responsibilities. Goals and priorities don’t work—I’ve got too many number-one priorities. What should I do?
, stake president of the Afton Wyoming Stake and vice-president of a retail marketing company.
It certainly can be overwhelming to contemplate all that we must do. But that should not be too surprising. After all, we want to be engaged in helping our Father in Heaven with his work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (See Moses 1:39.) And that is quite an overwhelming task from our mortal perspective. If we are to succeed, we must keep our eyes steadily focused on that one central task, evaluating all our time commitments and obligations in its light.
But this suggestion is perhaps too general to be helpful. Fortunately, President Kimball has identified three very basic responsibilities that define the mission of the Church. Simply stated, they are to (1) preach the gospel to the entire world, (2) do the temple work for those who have died, and (3) work to see that those who have found the gospel take advantage of its blessings. (See April 1981 General Conference report.)
These three responsibilities are the work of the Lord’s church, and are our work when we accept the responsibilities of Church membership. We can be confident that the Lord’s plans will be accomplished. But, if we are not to be overwhelmed by the grandness of his program, we need to see where we fit into this great plan. In other words, how much of all this is up to me? Here is a checklist of truly number-one priorities:
First, I have a responsibility to discover for myself that God lives and Jesus is the Christ and that they lead us through a living prophet today, and then to live accordingly.
Next, I must help my family discover that same gospel knowledge, and live accordingly.
Third, I must attend to my specific callings in the kingdom, as well as my duty to share the gospel and save the dead.
In other words, it is within the sphere of my personal life, my family life, and my life of service to others that I am expected to do the Lord’s work. Practically speaking, then, how can I be effective in my own small sphere?
Suppose that you’ve been called as a Sunday School teacher. That calling will enable you to make an important contribution in several basic responsibilities. But it could consume too much time if you let it. You probably won’t need to spend eight hours per lesson preparing visual aids, and you probably don’t need a super handout each time. The Lord has made it simpler than that—and harder. The scripture says, “If ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.) The Spirit can help you set priorities for that lesson; and, yes, you may be guided to spend eight hours on visual aids once in a while. Or you may instead be inspired to spend that eight hours on an outing with your children.
Suppose you’ve been called as a bishop. Certainly this calling is directly related to several basic responsibilities. But that doesn’t always mean you must spend three nights every week at the ward meetinghouse. You have other responsibilities. You may decide through prayer and inspiration that three nights is appropriate one week—and the next week you may decide through the same process that your family needs you to be home.
Suppose you’re a mother of four young children; you also have two Church callings to magnify, a garden to care for, canning and sewing to do, personal scripture study and prayer to make part of each day, a desire to help and strengthen a lonely neighbor, a desire to share the gospel with another neighbor, a need to do genealogical research and attend the temple regularly, and on and on. What do you do? A prayerful search may let you know that some responsibilities need to be temporarily limited when children are small.
But when we really desire to serve God, we will find a way. A busy student might use a weekly visit to the laundromat for journal writing. A weekly bus ride might be a focal point for the missionary efforts of an older person whose contacts with others are limited.
Recognize that feeling guilty and overwhelmed can consume as much of our energy as doing something to relieve those feelings. We must seek the direction of the Spirit in deciding how much we reasonably can do to fulfill each of our basic responsibilities, then do those things. After that, we can let go of our guilt feelings, which make us miserable and also less effective. Remember, we are not expected to do everything, only to do as much as we can.
A good exercise may be to write down your checklist of truly number-one responsibilities. You may want to elaborate a little under some of the points, but keep your comments simple. Then, in another column, list your current activities and commitments. Now evaluate that list in light of your checklist. Decide which activities you ought to drop, which you ought to devote less time to.
This process is not easy. I’ve learned that without the Spirit, we may well feel overwhelmed. Only with the help of the Spirit can we hope to make the scores of decisions that face us every day. But I believe it is a truly remarkable blessing to have so much to do in the kingdom that we must humble ourselves before God in order to be successful.
The Lord has promised that he will help us as we work in his kingdom, and that eventually we will have the joy of success. As he tells us in section 6 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Then shall ye have joy in the fruit of your labors. …
“Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.
“Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
“Behold, I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you.
“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
“Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” (D&C 6: 31–37.)
These reassuring words from the Savior make me confident that even I can do good. To reinforce this great promise in our hearts, the Lord gave many of these same assurances at other times during the Restoration. One of my favorites is in Doctrine and Covenants section 78:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
“And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.
“And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.
“Wherefore, do the things which I have commanded you, saith your Redeemer. …
The Lord here promised he will lead us along. In return, we must “receive all things with thankfulness”—including the important priorities he gives us—and do as he bids.
Things can sometimes be difficult. Even prophets have times of discouragement. I love to read 2 Nephi chapter 4, and Doctrine and Covenants sections 121 and 122. Nephi and Joseph Smith were great men, but they had real challenges. In response, the Lord lifted them up, reminding them that they had trusted in him and that he would be with them forever and ever.
Remembering my testimony and the times I have enjoyed the Spirit motivates me to seek the Spirit’s guidance as I set priorities. I want to always remember that, when I have trusted in him, when I have not hesitated or been afraid to move ahead as he has counseled through his prophets, I have felt him leading me along—and I have had joy in the fruits of my labors.