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Prince’s Research Excerpts: Temples & Mormonism – Endowment Manuscript (Carmack)

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Gregory A. Prince

January, 1990


Among the unique doctrines of the Latter-day Saint religion is endowment.  From an early age, the Saints are taught its central role in their lives, and preparation to enter the Temples and receive the endowment is one of the highest goals of our youth.  Because it is a sacred event, however, and not to be discussed in detail outside the Temples, its origins are virtually unknown among the general membership of the Church.  Many assume that the endowment ceremony was received by Joseph Smith as a distinct revelation on a given day, the full text of which is presumed to exist somewhere within the archives of the Church.  In fact, that revelation did occur, but it occurred over the last thirteen years of Joseph Smith’s life.  Indeed, it has continued well past his death, albeit at a lessened pace.

Although the process occurred almost continually during Joseph’s life, four distinct phases of development are identifiable.  The first began during the New York period, only months after the organization of the Church, and ended in Kirtland several months later.  The second and third occurred during the Kirtland period, and the fourth after the Saints had settled in Nauvoo.

PHASE I:  January-June, 1831.

On the second day of January, 1831, a General Conference was held in the house where the Church had been organized nine months earlier.  Responding to the solicitations of Church members, Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord His will concerning the future of the small group of believers.  The resulting revelation, dictated by Joseph in their presence, and written by newly-baptized Sidney Rigdon, not only directed that they move west to Ohio, but also gave the Saints their first glimpse of a doctrine which eventually would become a cornerstone of the Latter-day Saint religion:

Wherefore, for this cause I gave unto you the commandment, that ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law & there you shall be endowed with power from on high, and from thence, whomsoever I will shall go forth among all nations, and it shall be told them what they shall do, for I have a great work laid up in store.

Three of the four elements which tie together each stage in the development of the doctrine of endowment during Joseph’s lifetime are found in this verse:  First, the endowment was to be preceded by a gathering; second, it would consist of divinely bestowed power; third, the purpose of the endowment would be to prepare missionaries to spread the gospel throughout the world.

A revelation given a month later reinforced the connection between missionary labor and endowment:

Again, I say hearken, ye elders of my church whom I have appointed: ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands, by the power of my spirit; and ye are to be taught from on high; sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power, that ye may give even as I have spoken.

A common misconception, reinforced by every commentator who has published on the Doctrine and Covenants, is that these two revelations refer to the Kirtland Temple, which was not completed until 1836.  The following lines of evidence suggest that the fulfillment of these promises actually occurred five years earlier:

1. Later in February, 1831, Joseph and Sidney received another revelation which appointed a conference to be held in Ohio in June of the same year, and which reiterated the promise that a divine outpouring would attend the conference:

The latter part of February I received the following revelation which caused the church to appoint a conference to be held on the 6th of June, ensuing:

Behold thus saith the Lord unto you my servants it is expedient in me that the elders of my church should be called together, from the east and from the west, and from the north and from the south, by letter or some other way.

And it shall come to pass, that inasmuch as they are faithful, and exercise faith in me, I will pour out my spirit upon them in the day that they assemble themselves together.  And it shall come to pass that they shall go forth into the regions round about, and preach repentance unto the people.

2. In May, Joseph received a revelation to Ezra Thayer, connecting “power from on high” with the June conference:

Let my servant Ezra humble himself and at the conference meeting he shall be ordained unto power from on high and he shall go from thence (if he be obedient unto my commandments) and proclaim my gospel unto the western regions.

(This revelation also foreshadowed the fourth common element in the development of the doctrine of endowment, namely, the performance of a formal ordinance.)

3. Such were the expectations of the Saints regarding the conference that they spread the word among their neighbors, who, in turn, published advance notice of the conference and the events to be associated with it:

We understand that a new arrival of Mormonites has taken place–some two hundred men, women and children having lately landed in Geauga county, their holy land, from New York.  It is said, they are an active, intelligent and enterprising sect of people. . . .

In June they are all to meet, and hold a kind of jubilee in this new “land of promise,” where they are to work divers miracles–among other that of raising the dead.  It is said there are soon to be miraculous births among them, and the number it is expected, will materially increase after the general meeting.

4. Many accounts were written of the June conference, most of them by eyewitnesses.  Several of these provide direct confirmation that the anticipated endowment took place at the conference (and thus not in 1836).  Due to the importance of the conference, it is treated below at length.

Beginning June 3rd, approximately fifty of the brethren met in a schoolhouse in Kirtland.  All in attendance were officers of the Church, either Elders, Priests or Teachers, the only offices then in existence.  On the second day of the conference a series of unusual events transpired.  The most concise account was written by John Corrill, the third Church Historian:

Previous to this there was a revelation received, requiring the prophet to call the elders together, that they might receive an endowment.  This was done, and the meeting took place some time in June.  About fifty elders met, which was about all the elders that then belonged to the church.  The meeting was conducted by Smith.  Some curious things took place.  The same visionary and marvellous spirits spoken of before, got hold of some of the elders; it threw one from his seat to the floor; it bound another, so that for some time he could not use his limbs nor speak; and some other curious effects were experienced, but, by a mighty exertion, in the name of the Lord, it was exposed and shown to be from an evil source.  The Melchizedek priesthood was then for the first time introduced, and conferred on several of the elders.  In this chiefly consisted the endowment–it being a new order–and bestowed authority.  However, some doubting took place among the elders, and considerable conversation was held on the subject.  The elders not fairly understanding the nature of the endowments, it took some time to reconcile all their feelings.

Several other witnesses left accounts of the conference, from which the following excerpts are gleaned:

Joseph Smith:

On the 6th [sic] of June, the elders from the various parts of the country where they were laboring came in, and the conference before appointed, convened, in Kirtland, and the Lord displayed his power in a manner that could not be mistaken.  The man of sin was revealed, and the authority of the Melchisedec priesthood was manifested, and conferred for the first time upon several of the elders. It was clearly evident that the Lord gave us power in proportion to the work to be done, and strength according to the race set before us; and grace and help as our needs required.  Great harmony prevailed; several were ordained; faith was strengthened; and humility, so necessary for the blessing of God to follow prayer, characterized the saints.

Parley P. Pratt:

Several were selected by revelation, through President Smith, and ordained to the High Priesthood after the order of the Son of God; which is the order of Melchizedek.  This was the first occasion in which this priesthood had been revealed and conferred upon the Elders in this dispensation, although the office of Elder is the same in a certain degree, but not in the fulness.

Levi Hancock:

We started [for Kirtland] the latter part of May got there by the Last of the month I Lerned that on the fourth of june there was to be an indowment of some Elders The fourth of june Came and we all met a little string of Buildings under the hill nere Isaac Morley in Kirtland . . . the elders was seated the meting was opened as usual Joseph began to speak he said that the kingdom that Christ spoke of that was like a grain of musterd seed was not before him and some should see it put forth its branches And the angel of heaven would some day come like Birds to its branches just as the Saviour said and some of you shall live to see it come with great glory some of you must die for the testimony of this work and Looked and Lyman Write [Wight] and said you shall see the Lord and me[e]t him nere the Corner of the house and laid his hands upon him and blessed him with the visions of heaven he then stepted out on the floor and said I now see God and Jesus Christ at his right hand let them kill me I should not feel death as I am now Joseph put his hands upon Harvey Whitlock and Ordained him to the high Priesthood he turned as black as Lyman was white his fingers was set like claws he went round the room and showed his hands and tryed to speak his eyes wer in the Shape of Ovil Oes Hyrum Smith said Joseph that is not God Joseph said do not speak against this I will not beleive said Hyrum unless you inquire of God and [He] owns it Joseph Bowed his head a short time and got up and Commanded Satan to leave Harvey laying his hands upon his head at the same time At that very instant an Old man said to way [sic] two hundread and fourteen pounds sitting in the window turned a complete summerset in the house and Came his back across a bench and lay helpless Joseph told Lyman to cast saten out he did the man’s name was Leamon Coply formaly a Shaker The evil spirit left him and as quick as lightning Harvy Green fell bound and screamed like a Panther then Satan was cast out of him but amediately entered so pheared [sic] in continued all day and the greatest part of the knight But to return to the meting said Joseph now if you elders have sined it will do you no good to preach if you have not repented Heamon Basset you sit still the Devil wants to sift you and then ordained jacob scot and some others to the high priesthood he come to Zebidee Coltrin and myself and told us that we had an other calling as high as any man in the house I was glad of that for I was so sacred I would not stir without his liberty for all the world for I knew the things I had seen was not made said Joseph John was to tarry untill Christ come he is now with the ten tribes a preaching and when we can git ready for them they will come Joseph Smith Called on Lyman White to Lay his hands on his head and say what God should tell him to say he did and the things was so large I Can not write them After this we went down to the house And hered Harvy Whitlook say when Hyram Smith said it was not God he disdained him in his hart and when the Devil was cast out he was convinced it was satan that was in him and he then new it I also hered Harvy Green say that he could not describe the Awful feelings he expearenced while in the hands of Satan.

Lyman Wight:

On the 4th of June 1831, a conference was held at Kirtland Ohio represented by all the above named branches; Joseph Smith our modern Prophet presided; and here I again saw the visible manifestations of the power of God as plain as could have been on the day of pentecost, and here for the first time I saw the Melchisidec priesthood introduced into the church of Jesus Christ as anciently; whereunto I was ordained under the hands of Joseph Smith and I then ordained Joseph and Sidney and sixteen others such as he chose unto the same priesthood.  The spirit of God was made manifest to the heeling [sic] of the sick, casting out devils, speaking in unknown tongues, discerning of spirits, and prophesying with mighty power.

Newel Knight:

I went to Kirtland to see Brother Joseph and to attend a conference which had been appointed to commence on the Sixth [sic] of June 1831.

Conference convened the elders from various parts of the country where they had been laboring Came in and the power of the Lord was displayed in a manner that could not be mistaken.  The authority of the Melchesidec preisthood was manifested and confered for the first time upon the elders.  It was evident that the Lord gave his people power in proportion to the work which was to be done and grace and help as our needs required.

Ezra Booth:

Many of them have been ordained to the High Priesthood, or the order of Melchisedec; and profess to be endowed with the same power as the ancient apostles were.  But they have been hitherto unsuccessful in finding the lame, the halt, and the blind, who had faith sufficient to become the subjects of their miracles: and it is now concluded that this work must be postponed until they get to Missouri; for the Lord will not show those signs to this wicked and adulterous generation.  In the commandment given to the churches in the State of New York, to remove to the State of Ohio, they were assured that these miracles should be wrought in the State of Ohio; but now they must be deferred until they are settled in Missouri.

From the time that Mormonism first made it [sic] appearance upon the stage, until the grand tour to the Missouri, an expectation universally pervaded the church, that the time was not far distant, when the deaf, the dumb, the maimed, the blind, &c. would become the subjects of the miraculous power of God, so that every defect in their systems would be entirely removed.

This expectation originated from, and was grounded upon a variety of premises, included in a number of commandments, or verbal revelations from Smith, or, as he is styled “the head of the church.”  As the 4th of June last was appointed for the sessions of the conference, it was ascertained, that that was the time specified, when the great and mighty work was to be commenced, and such was the confidence of some, that knowledge superceded their faith, and they did not hesitate to declare themselves perfectly assured that the work of miracles would commence at the ensuing conference.  With such strong assurances, and with the most elevated expectations, the conference assembled at the time appointed.  To give, if possible, energy to expectation, Smith, the day before the conference, professing to be filled with the spirit of prophecy, declared, that “not three days should pass away, before some should see their Savior, face to face.” . . . He then laid his hands on the head of Elder Wight, who had participated largely in the warm feeling of his leader, and ordained him to the High Priesthood.  He was set apart for the service of the Indians, and was ordained to the gift of tongues, healing the sick, casting out devils, and discerning spirits; and in like manner he ordained several others.

Such was the interest generated by the conference that two non-Mormon newspapers carried accounts.  One, the Painesville Telegraph, was a local paper with a decided anti-Mormon sentiment; while the other, Niles’ Weekly Register, was a national news weekly, the equivalent of Time magazine in its day:

MORMONISM ON THE WING.  After all the good followers of Jo Smith from York state had got fairly settled down in this vicinity, which Rigdon had declared to be their ‘eternal inheritance’, Jo must needs invent another ‘Command from God.’  At a meeting of the tribe on the 3rd inst. the fact was made known to them that 28 elders must be selected and ordained to start immediately for Missouri.  Jo accordingly asked the Lord in the assembly whom he should select, and the Lord named them over to him, as he made them believe.  The ceremony of endowing them with miraculous gifts, or supernatural power,, was then performed, and they were commanded to take up a line of march; preaching their gospel (Jo’s Bible) raising the dead, healing the sick, casting out devils, &c.  This squad comprised Jo himself, Ridgon, Martin Harris, Gilbert, Morley, Murdock, Partridge, and all the other leading and influential men among them.

Some of them affect a power even to raise the dead, and perchance, (such is the weakness of human nature), really believe that they can do it!

These extracts reflect a wide spectrum of first-hand and, in the case of the newspaper reports, second-hand accounts of this conference.  The first-hand witnesses included the head of the Church, two future Apostles (Parley P. Pratt and Lyman Wight), one future member of the First Council of the Seventy (Levi Hancock), one future Church Historian (John Corrill), one lay member who remained active in the Church for the rest of his life (Newel Knight), and one apostate (Ezra Booth).  It is remarkable that, despite the variety of authors, the accounts coincide in each of the four major characteristics of the “endowment”:

1. There would be a gathering in Kirtland prior to the endowment, and Elders (and other male officers) throughout the land were to be notified to go to Kirtland for that purpose.

2. The endowment would consist of “power from on high,” a tangible, here-and-now power over devils, adversaries, sickness and even death.  

3. The purpose of the endowment would be to enable the Elders to preach the gospel throughout the land.

4. Associated with the endowment was an ordinance, the conferral of the “high priesthood.”

That the effect of the conference was tangible is reflected in three accounts written shortly thereafter, one by a participant and the others by newspapers as widely separated as Missouri and Vermont.  First, the account of Jared Carter:

I also saw another manifestation of the healing power of God at Kirtland {early in June 1831}; it took place through the instrumentality of my natural brother Simeon Carter.  A woman had on a certain occasion fallen from a wagon on her way to the meeting.  To all appearance she was mortally wounded and was not expected to live.  She was so badly bruised that she could not even move a toe, and her pain was intense.  In my conversation with her, I told her that she need not have any more pain, and also mentioned my Brother Simeon who was endowed with great power from on high, and that she might be healed, if she had faith.  Brother Simeon also conversed with her, and after awhile took her by the hand, saying, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to arise and walk.’  And she arose and walked from room to room.

The significance of this account is twofold:  First, there was the visible manifestation of power–in this case, to heal–which was obtained as a result of the endowment.  Second, although Jared Carter had been ordained an Elder prior to the conference, he was not ordained to the High Priesthood at the conference; however, his brother, Simeon, was ordained to the High Priesthood.  In deference to what he understood to be greater power than he, himself held (as an Elder without the High Priesthood), Jared relied upon his brother to heal the woman.

Next, two newspaper accounts:

They [the Mormons] still persist in their power to work miracles.  They say they have often seen them done–the sick are healed and the lame walk, devils are cast out–and these assertions are made by men heretofore considered rational men, and men of truth.

It is said they [the Mormons] believe their leader to be the real Jesus, and that both he and his disciples have infinite power to work miracles, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils.

Upon examining the context of the 1831 endowment, we see it as part of a “restoration of all things,” with the resurrected Christ’s charge to his Apostles serving as its ancient antecedent:

[Jesus] said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:

And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

And ye are witnesses of these things.

And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

Although we have no record of a direct reference to this scripture in association with the 1831 endowment, several lines of evidence suggest its priority:

1. The earliest revelation to Joseph Smith on the subject uses the exact wording of Luke, “endowed with power from on high” (see Footnote #1).

2. The context of the endowment, preparation of missionaries to go forth and preach the gospel, mirrors that of Luke.

3. The earliest recorded account of the conference, written by Ezra Booth only three months later, stated that the recipients of the High Priesthood professed “to be endowed with the same power as the ancient apostles were” (see Footnote #12).

4. Lyman Wight likened the endowment to the day of Pentecost described in the Book of Acts, the time of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise of an endowment to his apostles.

5. In later references to subsequent endowments in Kirtland and Nauvoo, direct references to the passage in Luke confirm its priority (see below).

Although the 1831 endowment had a clear effect on the recipients, better preparing them to pursue their proselyting missions, there was no repeat of the endowment for subsequent missionaries; neither was it explained why those missionaries were considered no less qualified for the ministry in spite of lacking the endowment.  For example, Orson Hyde and Samuel H. Smith were missionary companions in 1832.  Smith had received the endowment, Hyde had not, yet Hyde, in his missionary diary, never mentioned Smith’s endowment, never mentioned that he, himself, had not received it, and nowhere indicated that his position as a missionary was subordinate to Smith’s by virtue of Smith having a higher authority.

The linkage between priesthood and endowment, established at the June conference, was reinforced at the next General Conference, in October of the same year:

Br. Joseph Smith jr. said that the order of the High-priesthood is that they have power given them to seal up the Saints unto eternal life.  And said it was the privilege of every Elder present to be ordained to the Highpriesthood.

This was an important theological advance, the first recorded association of endowment (specifically, the exercise of High Priesthood), and afterlife.  Although the convergence of doctrine (endowment) and edifice (temples) lay years in the future, this conference represented the beginning of the development of salvation theology as taught and practiced in Latter-day Saint temples today.

Although the exact meaning of the phrase “seal up the Saints unto eternal life” was not made clear, within a month of this conference the Elders were exercising this new authority, as indicated in the diary of Reynolds Cahoon:

tuesday came to shalersville held a meting in the Evning with the Br and after labaring with them Some length of time Br David seeled them up unto Eternal life. . . .

Thurs 17 Nov held a meting att Br Gates in the evening Saturday evening held a meting at Br Smiths . . . Broke bread with them sealed up the Church unto Eternal life . . .

Satuerday Evening held a Met_ [sic] with the Brth at Mr Reevs & Blest the Children in the name of the lord & sealed the Church unto eternal life.

This practice of sealing entire congregations to eternal life does not appear to have been common after this initial burst of enthusiasm.  Only three other references are known to refer to it, none later than 1833:

The next year in 1832 he [Joseph Smith] Came again to Missouri and set things in order and Cald the Colesvill Church to gather and seald them up to Eternal Life.  And this made some little feeling among others But I think he [k]new Best.

In the forenoon the church at Charleston, [Vermont] with some other brethren from other towns, met together and called upon the Lord, and the Lord heard their prayers and moved upon his servant, Lyman [Johnson], by the power of the Holy Ghost, to seal them up unto eternal life, and after this the Brethren arose one by one and said that they knew that their names were sealed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and they all did bear this glorious testimony save two or three.

Being the Sabbath we held a meeting in the forenoon also one in the afternoon, and Brother Lyman [Johnson] ordained Brother Horace Cowen, an elder, and laid hands upon the little children and blessed them in the name of the Lord, and administered the sacrament, and sealed up the Church unto eternal life.

PHASE II:  December, 1832 to January, 1833.

Near the end of 1832, when several missionaries had returned from their travels, Joseph Smith received a revelation.  This revelation is complex because it was received on at least four different days, and because it refers to some events which were to take place within the month (the beginning of the School of the Prophets), and to others which would not take place for another three years (the Solemn Assembly in the Kirtland Temple).  However, by comparing the revelation with the known accounts of the opening of the School of the Prophets, it becomes clear that this event marked a distinct second phase in the development of the doctrine of endowment.

According to the revelation, priority was to be given to the “first laborers” (also called “first Elders”), who were to tarry at Kirtland in order to prepare themselves for further missionary work.  Although it was not specified who these “first Elders” were to be, it appears that they included the participants in the opening of the School of the Prophets.  No complete list is known to exist of those participants; however, the Smith family was included (Joseph Sr., Hyrum, Joseph Jr., Samuel, Don Carlos and William), as were Frederick G. Williams and Zebedee Coltrin.

The opening of the School occurred on 23 and 24 January:

Meet agreeable to adjournment.  Conference opened with Prayer by the President and after much speaking praying and singing, all done in Tongues proceded to washing hands faces & feet in the name of the Lord as commanded of God each one washing his own after which the president [girded?] himself with a towel and again washed the feet of all the Elders wiping them with the towel, his father presenting himself the President asked of him a blessing before he would wash his feet which he obtained by the laying on of his fathers hands; pronouncing upon his head that he should continue in his Priests office untill Christ come.  at the close of which scene Br F G Williams being moved upon by the Holy Ghost washed the feet of the President as a token of his fixed determination to be with him in suffering or in rejoicing, in life or in death and to be continually on his right hand in which thing he was accepted.  The President said after he had washed the feet of the Elders, as I have done so do ye wash ye therefore one anothers feet pronouncing at the same time through the power of the Holy Ghost that the Elders were all clean from the blood of this generation but that those among them who should sin wilfully after they were thus cleansed and sealed up unto eternal life should be given over unto the buffettings of Satan until the day of redemption  Having continued all day in fasting & prayer before the Lord at the close they partook of the Lords supper which was blessed by the president in the name of the Lord all eat and drank and were filled then sang an hymn and went out.

The school of the prophets commenced on the 24 day of January 1833 agreeable to the commandment of the Lord which said the first Elders should be called in and receive learning by study and by faith and prepare themselves to go forth for the last time to bind up the law and seal up the testamony the school was organized by assembling together and the washing of the deciples feet which was done by brother Joseph girding himself with a towel and washing each ones feet and pronouncing at the same time that they were clean from the blood of this generation, and then Bro. Joseph administered the bread and wine after which the meeting was dismissed by uplifted hand to the most high in token of the everlasting covenant in which covenant we received each other into fellowship in a determination to share in each others burdens whether in prosperity or adversity and during the time of the school there was many powerful manifestation of the holy spirit and many counsel held at which times much useful instruction was obtained by the gift and power of the holy spirit and also the gift of tongues and the interpretation thereof.

Soon after Joseph returned from the eastern country he had arrangements made for establishing a schooll for the Elders and sent for them to come in it was at this time that a revelation was given that my children who were absent should return–and the school of prophets was organized which is spoken of in the Book of Covenants and which was held in an upper room of the house that Joseph occupied when my sons returned and had rested their selves Joseph took them with all of the males Mr. Smith and Carlos as well as those who had been away on missions into the room where the school of the prophets was kept and girding himself administered to them the ordinance of washing of feet according to the direction of the Savior who said If I wash your feet ye ough also to wash one anothers feet.  When the ceremony was over the spirit of the Lord fell upon them and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied as on the day of penticost and the brethren gathered together to wittness the manifestation of the power of God.  I was on the farm a short distance from the place where the meeting was held but my children who could not bear that Mother should loose anything dispatched a messenger in great haste for me.  I was putting some loaves [of] bread into the oven but the brother who came for me would not wait till I had set my bread to baking.  I went and shared with the rest one of the most glorious outporings of the spirit of God that had ever been witnessed in the church at that time.  This produced great joy and satisfaction among the Brethren and sisters and we felt as though we had about gained the victory over the adver[s]ary and truly it was as the poet says

We could not believe,

That we ever should grieve

Or ever should sorrow again.

Although the word “endowment” is not used in reference to this event, all of the criteria associated with the 1831 endowment, as well as with the later endowments associated with the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples, are seen:

1. There was a gathering of Elders:  “Tarry ye, tarry ye in this place, and call a solemn assembly, even of those who are the first laborers in this last kingdom.”

2. Associated with the gathering was a bestowal of divine power, likened to a Pentecost:  “When the ceremony was over the spirit of the Lord fell upon them and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied as on the day of penticost and the brethren gathered together to wittness the manifestation of the power of God.”

3. The purpose of the gathering was to prepare the Elders for further missionary work:  “That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.”

4. Associated with the endowment was an ordinance.  Whereas in 1831 it had been ordination to the High Priesthood, this time it was the washing of feet, an ordinance which was later incorporated into both the Kirtland and Nauvoo endowments.

This phase shared yet another characteristic with the 1831 endowment, in that both were one-time occurrences.  Whereas men continued to be ordained to the High Priesthood following the 1831 conference, the term “endowment” was never again used in connection with their ordination, nor were the elements of gathering, Pentecostal outpouring and missionary preparation.  Similarly, men continued to be admitted to the School of the Prophets, but there is no further record that the ordinance of washing of feet was required for admission, subsequent students included adolescents who were not being trained for missionary labors, and no accounts describe further Pentecostal experiences associated with later entries into the School.  Connecting both of these phases with the subsequent endowments associated with the Temples, however, were the four common strands (gathering, Pentecost, missionary work and preparatory ordinances), and the fact that both preparatory ordinances were included in the final stage of development at Nauvoo, namely ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood for men (since by 1835 the “High Priesthood” had become “Melchizedek Priesthood”), and ceremonial washing of feet.

PHASE III:  December, 1832-March, 1836.

The same revelation (D&C 88) which resulted in Phase II served also as the catalyst for the development, over a period exceeding three years, of Phase III, or what is now commonly called the “Kirtland endowment.”  As with the earlier phases, the primary concern of Phase III was missionary work.  The Elders were gather in Kirtland, there to learn of things both religious and secular, “that ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again, to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.  Behold I sent you out to testify and warn the people.”  At the time this revelation was given, two other elements of Phase III were implied: first, at least one ordinance was likely to be associated with it (“cleanse your hands and your feet before me”); second, a house was to be set apart (“establish a house”).  By the culmination of Phase III in early 1836, six fundamental elements had been interwoven to form the Kirtland endowment:  1) missionary work; 2) sacred space (in which the gathering would occur); 3) preparatory ordinances; 4) an expanded understanding of the doctrine of “endowment”; 5) supernatural events; and 6) the redemption of Zion (Missouri).  Each of these elements underwent significant development over the 39 months between the reception of the revelation in December, 1832, and the events surrounding the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in March, 1836.


While the revelation was directed at missionary work in general, it singled out a group of missionaries for special attention, calling them the “first laborers” or “first elders.” Initially this seemed to describe the small group of Elders brought together for the January, 1833 opening of the School of the Prophets (Phase II).  However, during the march of Zion’s Camp in June, 1834, it became apparent that another group was now contemplated:

Verily I say unto you, it is expedient in me that the first elders of my church should receive their endowment from on high, in my house, which I have commanded to be built unto my name in the land of Kirtland.

The following day, 23 June, 1834, several men were singled out as “First Elders”, including Edward Partridge, W. W. Phelps, Isaac Morley, John Corrill, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Algernon S. Gilbert, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Simeon Carter, Newel Knight, Parley P. Pratt, Christian Whitmer, Solomon Hancock, Thomas B. Marsh and Lyman Wight.  There is no apparent common denominator connecting these men.  Although the “Fishing River Revelation”, which resulted in their selection, came in the context of Zion’s Camp, only two of the designated men, Parley P. Pratt and Lyman Wight, were part of the Camp.

Two months later, in a letter to the High Council in Missouri, Joseph Smith allowed for expansion of the group:

I shall now procede to give you such council as the spirit of the Lord may dictate you will reccollect that your business must be done by your high council:  you will reccollect that the first elders are to receive their endowment in Kirtland before the redemption of Zion you will reccollect that your high council will have power to say who of the first Elders among the Children of Zion are accounted worthy.

No list of additional “First Elders” chosen by this High Council is known to exist.  By the time of the dedication of the Kirtland House of the Lord, and the subsequent solemn assembly, none of the First Elders selected in 1834 was shown priority in participating in the new endowment.  By then the Quorum of the Twelve had been called, and it became apparent that, while others were not excluded from the endowment, the Twelve were central figures.

The priority of the Twelve was foreshadowed in May, 1834, in a letter written by Oliver Cowdery which, apparently for the first time, linked the endowment with the responsibility to carry the gospel to all nations (it not having been taken beyond North America at this time):

We want you to understand that the Lord has not promised to endow his servants from on high only on the condition that they build him a house; and if the house is not built the Elders will not be endowed with power, and if they are not they can never go to the nations with the everlasting gospel.

When the Twelve were called in February, 1835, Oliver Cowdery gave them their charge, central to which was the carrying of the Gospel to all nations.  This, however, they would not be authorized to do until they had received the endowment.  Although they embarked on a mission later that year, it was limited to the Eastern States, not extending to foreign lands.  Reinforcing the primary responsibility of the Twelve in carrying the Gospel to other nations, and the necessity of their first receiving the endowment, was a revelation received by Joseph Smith in November, 1835:

Thus came the word of the Lord unto me concerning the Twelve saying . . . they must all humble themselves before me, before they will be accounted worthy to receive an endowment to go forth in my name unto all nations.

By January, 1836, ordinances were initiated to prepare the brethren for the endowment.  On 6 February, Joseph met with the brethren to seal their anointings.  During this meeting, Joseph’s younger brother, William, described a vision of the gospel being spread to Europe:

Pres. Wm Smith one of the twelve saw a vision of the Twelve & seven in council together in old England & prophecied that a great work would be done by them in the old co[u]ntries & God was already beginning to work in the hearts of the p[e]ople.

A second account of the meeting reinforces the idea that a pivotal event had occurred that day, which would enable the Gospel to spread throughout the world:

He [Joseph Smith] prophesied saying this night the key is turned to the nations, and the angel John is about commencing his mission to prophesy before kings, and rulers, nations tongues and people.

Finally, on the 30th of March, 1836, the long-awaited solemn assembly occurred (to be described in more detail later).  Joseph told the assembled Elders at that time:

I then observed to the quorums that I had now completed the organization of the church and we had passed through all the necessary ceremonies, that I had given them all the instruction they needed and that they now were at liberty after obtaining their lisences to go forth and build up the kingdom of God.

Although missionary work was always central to Phase III, three crucial developments occurred between 1832 and 1836 to define how that work was to progress:

1. Whereas the 1832 revelation had described a priority role for “first elders,” the definition of that group was vague.  Those men participating in the opening of the School of the Prophets in early 1833 held a claim to the title, as did the brethren selected by revelation at Fishing River in 1834.  It was not until 1835, however, with the calling of the Quorum of the Twelve, that it became apparent that this group was to play the key role in missionary work (as it has ever since).

2. Whereas the 1832 revelation spoke of testifying and warning the people, no mention was made of foreign lands.  By the time of the Kirtland endowment, the taking of the Gospel to foreign lands had become the major concern.

3. Whereas the 1832 revelation spoke of the Elders preparing themselves “in all things” to resume their missionary labors, that revelation spoke of no special “endowment”.  By 1834 it had become apparent that the Gospel could not go to foreign lands until the endowment was received.


Although D&C 88 seems to call for the construction of the Kirtland Temple, a prospective reading of it and subsequent records indicates otherwise.  The revelation calls for the establishment of a house, but gives no details.  Four months later, a conference of High Priests assembled in Kirtland, at which Jared Carter proposed the construction of a school house “for the purpose of accomodating the Elders who should come in to receive their education for the ministry.”  At the same conference, in a gesture reminiscent of the later creation of the Relief Society, Joseph Smith said “the Lord would not except [sic] it, and gave a command to build a Temple.”  Two days later Joseph received a revelation commanding the construction of a house for the work of the Presidency, including the receipt of revelations.  The following month, another revelation gave additional details of what would become the Kirtland House of the Lord, in which the new endowment would occur.  Within days construction on the new building began.  In November, 1835, Joseph reinforced the concept of “sacred space” for the endowment, that is, a place set apart from the rest of the world, wherein things could occur which could not happen elsewhere:  “We must have a place prepared, that we may attend to this ordinance [the washing of feet] aside from the world.”

It should be noted here that the word “temple” was never associated with the Kirtland building until several years after its dedication.  The idea of a “temple,” of course, had been present for some time, dating at least to October, 1830, when Oliver Cowdery, in leaving on his mission to the Lamanites, wrote that it would be there that “the temple of God shall be built.”  Following the June, 1831 General Conference, Joseph Smith and several of the brethren traveled to Independence and dedicated the site for that temple, which was intended to be something quite different from the Kirtland edifice, consisting of twenty-four separate buildings.  Through 1836, there was no indication that any other temple would be built.  Indeed, Orson Hyde and Hyrum Smith wrote, in January, 1833, that “Zion is the place where the temple will be built, and the people gathered.”  A year later, while Zion’s Camp was still in Missouri, J. C. Chauncey, a non-Mormon describing the Saints encamped only a mile from his home, wrote:

The ministers on the part of the Mormons state as they can never surrender their lands, as God directed them there and there alone to build up his holy temple for the gathering of the scattered tribes of Israel.

Although many accounts exist describing the Kirtland building, no account written by a Mormon prior to 1839 refers to the building as a temple.  Rather, they call it the House of the Lord.


Although Phases I, II and III were all associated with preparatory ordinances, in no instance was the nature of the ordinance well-defined in advance.  In Phase I, the May, 1831 revelation concerning Ezra Thayer spoke of an “ordination,” but said nothing of it being to the High Priesthood.  The revelation which served as the basis for Phase II (D&C 88) said only “cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean,” and although there was the washing of feet, there was no concurrent ceremonial washing of hands, as the revelation seems to have suggested.

Although details of the Kirtland endowment began to emerge by January, 1833 (see the following section for a description), nothing was said about preparatory ordinances–not even a reiteration of the washing of feet which had already been performed on a limited scale–until October, 1835, at which time the only ordinance mentioned was the washing of feet.  One month later, Joseph explained to the Twelve the necessity of this ordinance:

You want to know many things that are before you, that you may know how to prepare yourselves for the great things that God is about to bring to pass.  But there is one great deficiency or obstruction in the way, that deprives us of the greater blessings; and in order to make the foundation of this Church complete and permanent, we must remove this obstruction, which is, to attend to certain duties that we have not as yet attended to. . . . The item to which I wish the more particularly to call your attention to-night, is the ordinance of washing of feet.  This we have not done as yet, but it is necessary now, as much as it was in the days of the Savior; and we must have a place prepared, that we may attend to this ordinance aside from the world.

It is not clear exactly what Joseph meant by this statement.  He appears to have said that this ordinance had not yet been instituted at all, yet less than three years earlier he had administered it at the opening of the School of the Prophets.  It is unlikely that he would have forgotten having practiced it earlier; perhaps he placed this statement in the context of the Twelve and the other Elders, few of whom had participated in the 1833 ordinance.

On 16 January, 1836, a second preparatory ordinance began to take form.  With no apparent prior announcement, four men participated in a ceremony which soon thereafter became the first stage of formal preparation for the Kirtland endowment:

Met in the evening with bro. Joseph Smith, jr. at his house, in company with bro. John Corrill, and after pure water was prepared, called upon the Lord and proceeded to wash each other’s bodies, and bathe the same with whiskey, perfuned with cinnamon.  This we did that we might be clearn [sic] before the Lord for the Sabbath, confessing our sins and covenanting to be faithful to God.  while performing this washing unto the Lord with solemnity, our minds were filled with many reflections upon the propriety of the same, and how the priests anciently used to wash always before ministering before the Lord.  As we had nearly finished this purification, bro. Martin Harris came in and was also washed.

While it is not certain whether Joseph had intended this to become part of the preparatory ritual, and engaged in this small scale washing in anticipation of its expanded role; or whether these men engaged in the ritual for other reasons, and in the process were led to include it as part of the endowment preparation, five days later the ritual washing of all the Elders began, apparently employing the same format which these four men had used.  An additional ordinance, the anointing of the head with oil, was introduced at the same time.  Washings and anointings continued throughout the next two months, often on a daily basis.

A third preparatory ordinance, the “sealing” of the anointing, was added on 28 January:

I proceeded with the quorem of the presedincy to instruct them & also the seven presidents of the seventy Elders to call upon God with uplifted hands to seal the blessings which had been promised to them by the holy anointing  As I organized this quorem with the presedincy in this room, Pres. Sylvester Smith saw a piller of fire rest down & abide upon the heads of the quorem as we stood in the midst of the Twelve.

When the Twelve & the seven were through with their sealing prayers I called upon Pres. S. Rigdon to seal them with uplifted hands & when he he had done this & cried hossannah that all [the] congregation should join him & shout hosannah to God & the Lamb & glory to God in the highest.

The fourth and final preparatory ordinance, the washing of feet, was administered to a congregation of about 300 priesthood holders assembled in the House of the Lord two days following its dedication.  The ordinance began on 29 March and continued the next day, the brethren having remained in the building throughout the night of the 29th.

As was the case with other elements of Phase III, there was a marked development in the nature of preparatory ordinances between December, 1832, when the only foreshadowing of such ordinances was the vague reference to “cleanse your hands and your feet”; and March, 1836, with four well-defined ordinances required of all who would participate in the solemn assembly.


Unlike Phase I, whose earliest mention was linked to the word “endowment,” the revelation initiating Phase III (D&C 88) made no such reference.  Not until five months later was a revelation received which connected the concepts of missionary work and sacred space with that of endowment:

I design to prepare mine apostles to prune my vineyard for the last time, that I may bring to pass my strange act, that I may pour out my Spirit upon all flesh–

But behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many who have been ordained among you, whom I have called but few of them are chosen.

They who are not chosen have sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day.

And for this cause I gave unto you a commandment that you should call your solemn assembly, that your fastings and your mourning might come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, which is by interpretation, the creator of the first day, the beginning and the end.

Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high;

For this is the promise of the Father unto you; therefore I command you to tarry, even as mine apostles at Jerusalem.

There are two significant elements to this revelation:

1. The term “apostle” was used to refer to the missionaries, apparently in a generic sense, since the School of the Prophets had already begun, and would proceed over the next two years, whereas the Quorum of the Twelve would not be chosen until February, 1835.

2. The modern apostles were equated with the ancient apostles, and the modern endowment was equated with that of the ancient apostles, as promised in the Gospel of Luke, and fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

Within weeks, both in private and in public, emphasis was placed on preparing the brethren for the endowment, and explaining in greater detail its nature.  In August, Edward Partridge published an article on the ancient endowment, demonstrating its necessity prior to the spread of the gospel to the ancient nations, and showing the relationship between the endowment and the Holy Ghost:

Luke 24:44, 50 reads thus, ‘Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, thus it is written, and thus it behoveth Christ to suffer, and rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, and ye are witnesses of these things, and behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in Jerusalem, until ye be endowed with power from on high.’  Hence we discover that they were to preach repentance and remission of sins, and he that believed their testimony and was baptized should be saved.  But they were to tarry at Jerusalem until they were endowed with power from on high.

Acts first chapt. and eight first verses, corroborates the foregoing.  Christ, ‘Being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.  For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.’  And further, ‘Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’  The power spoken of above, we find explained in the 20th chapt. of John’s testimony, 22nd and 23rd verses in these words:  ‘And when he had said this, he {Christ} breathed on them, and saith unto them Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.[‘]  Thus we see that besides the signs that were to follow them that believed, they {the apostles} had this power granted to them also, even the power to remit and to retain sins, upon such conditions as the Holy Ghost should direct, when they should receive it.  Agreeably to the instructions of their Lord, the disciples waited at Jerusalem; and as is recorded in the 2nd chapt. of Acts on the ‘day of pentecost they were all with one accord in one place,’ when, as was promised, the Holy Ghost was poured out upon them, and they began to speak with new tongues–and then they began their ministry, according to the directions given them.  It may be proper before going further to notice, that the kingdom of God was now to be preached to all nations.

The linkage of the Holy Ghost and the new endowment marked a new development in the doctrine of endowment, for although Phases I and II involved a divinely bestowed power, neither invoked the Holy Ghost as the mediator of that power.

With the failure of Zion’s Camp to reclaim Missouri, another dimension of the endowment was unfurled (to be discussed in more detail later):

It is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion . . . and this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high.

The importance of the endowment, and of preparing oneself for it, continued to be emphasized on a frequent basis, but no new insights into its nature were given until November, 1835, when Joseph gave instructions to the Twelve:

1. The endowment could not yet be comprehended by them, and would be unlike anything yet received by this generation.

2. It would enable them “to overcome all things.”

3. It would enable them to heal the sick, the lame, the deaf and the blind.  (A non-Mormon newspaper report claimed that the Mormons also believed they would gain power to raise the dead, reminiscent of their hopes associated with the 1831 endowment.)

4. Although it would occur at the solemn assembly, only those among the congregation who were adequately prepared would receive it.

5. As a crowning blessing, those among the congregation who were sufficiently prepared would see the Savior during the solemn assembly.

As the washings and anointings began in January, 1836, it became apparent that ordination to the priesthood was a prerequisite, but that the endowment was not to be restricted to bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood (as it is now among the brethren), for Priests, Teachers and Deacons were all included in the preparatory ordinances, as well as in the solemn assembly.

A final dimension was added during the dedicatory prayer of the House of the Lord, just three days prior to the solemn assembly:

And we ask, holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house, armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them, and from this place they may bear exceeding great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth.

Described only in vague terms at first, the endowment gained new dimensions over a period of three years.  By the time of its bestowal, in March, 1836, it encompassed not only the basis of the 1831 endowment (power over things here and now, such as sickness and death), but also power to carry the gospel to all nations, power to overcome present enemies (i.e., the redemption of Zion/Missouri), and the presence of angels to watch over the recipients in their labors.  In further departures from the 1831 endowment, this one was described as coming directly through the Holy Ghost, and was contingent upon personal preparation and worthiness (whereas the 1831 endowment carried no such stipulation).


An important element of Phases I and II was the outpouring of the Spirit, as had occurred at the ancient Pentecost.  Although no such outpouring was anticipated in D&C 88, less than a month later Joseph promised that the Lord himself would visit the building which would house the School of the Prophets.  A subsequent description of the anticipated outpouring included the encircling of the people “with fire more gloriously and marvelously than at Pentecost, because the work to be performed in the last days is greater than was in that day.”

The fulfillment of expectations of supernatural events began just before the washings and anointings in January, 1836.  In a meeting of the First Presidency and the Twelve, “the gift of toungs [sic] came upon us also like the rushing of a mighty wind.”  On the day the washings and anointings began, 21 January, several participants saw magnificent visions, the most dramatic being the Vision of the Celestial Kingdom (now D&C 137).  Others present at the meeting who saw visions were described by Joseph:

My Scribe also recieved his anointing with us and saw in a vision the armies of heaven protecting the Saints in their return to Zion–& many things that I saw.

The Bishop of Kirtland with his counsellors and the Bishop of Zion with his counsellors, were present with us, and received their annointing under the hands of father Smith and confirmed by the presidency and the glories of heaven was unfolded to them also– . . .

The president of each quorum then annointed the heads of his colleagues, each in his turn beginning, at the eldest.

The vision of heaven was opened to these also, some of them saw the face of the Saviour, and others were ministered unto by holy angels, and the spirit of prop[h]esy and revelation was poured out in mighty power.

Further outpourings occurred in association with anointings on the following day, 22 January; and sealings of anointings on 28 January and 6 February.  On 27 March the House of the Lord was dedicated.  During the dedicatory service Frederick G. Williams and David Whitmer testified to seeing angels present in the room.  Later that same evening, during a meeting of the brethren in the same building, a Pentecostal-type experience occurred, as described by Joseph Smith:

Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like a sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation.  The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place.  This continued until the meeting closed at eleven p.m.

On 29 March, the brethren assembled for the long-awaited solemn assembly, at which time the ordinance of washing of feet was administered.  The meeting lasted for two days, non-stop.  During the first day there was much prophesying and speaking in tongues.  On the second day, following a period of fasting by the brethren, the anticipated Pentecost occurred:

The brethren continued exhorting, prophesying and speaking in tongues until 5 o clock in the morning–the Saviour made his appearance to some, while angels minestered unto others, and it was a penticost and enduement indeed, long to be remembered for the sound shall go forth from this place into all the world, and the occurrences of this day shall be hande[d] down upon the pages of sacred history to all generations, as the day of Pentecost, so shall this day be numbered and celebrated as a year of Jubilee and time of rejoicing to the saints of the most high God.


The final element of Phase III did not begin to materialize until the failure of Zion’s Camp to redeem the Saints’ lands in Missouri.  In the Fishing River Revelation, received as the Saints began to make their way back to Kirtland, the reason for the failure, and the expectation of eventual success were explained:

Therefore, in consequence of the transgression of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion, that they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience and know more perfectly, concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands; and this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high: for behold, I have prepared a great endowment and blessing to be poured out upon them, inasmuch as they are faithful, and continue in humility before me: therefore, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season, for the redemption of Zion.

Two months later Joseph Smith reminded the Missouri brethren of the linkage between the endowment and the redemption of Zion:

You will reccollect [sic] that the first elders are to receive their endowment in Kirtland before the redemption of Zion.

This was not a prominent theme, and no further mention of it appears to have been made in public until the solemn assembly:

At 11 o’clock A.M. Presidents Joseph Smith, Jun, Frederick G. Williams, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery met in the Most Holy Place in the Lord’s House and sought for a revelation from Him to teach us concerning our going to Zion and other important matter[s].  After uniting in prayer, the voice of the Spirit was that we should come into this place three times, and also call the other Presidents, the two Bishops and their councils (each to stand in his place) and fast through the day and also the night and that during this, if we would humble ourselves, we should receive further communication from Him.

The following day, after the washing of the feet of the Twelve, “the brethren began to prophesy upon each others heads, and cursings upon the enimies of Christ who inhabit Jackson county Missouri.”  After this, the matter of the redemption of Zion virtually disappeared, making it the only one of the six elements of Phase III which apparently was not fulfilled according to the Saints’ expectations.

Phase III was a complex series of expectations, instructions and events, which began in December, 1832 with the receipt of D&C 88, and culminated in the solemn assembly following the dedication of the Kirtland House of the Lord in March, 1836.  It shared the same four common elements which had connected Phases I and II (and would also characterize Phase IV in Nauvoo):  1) a gathering; 2) a bestowal of power of divine origin, likened to a Pentecost; 3) a focal point of missionary work (and, since only men served missions, no women were included in Phases I, II or III); and 4) ordinances of preparation.

It differed from Phases I and II, however, in several important aspects:

1. Although missionary work had been the focus of both earlier phases, it was markedly expanded and refined in Phase III, now to include all nations, domestic and foreign.  The Quorum of the Twelve, which had not existed prior to 1835, was given primary responsibility for carrying the message throughout the world, a responsibility which has not changed through the present time.  Although the preeminence of the Twelve as a presiding quorum would not become complete until 1844, following the death of Joseph, their role as leaders of the missionary effort was the first major step in that direction.

2. While Phases I and II each had one preparatory ordinance (ordination to the High Priesthood for Phase I, the washing of feet for Phase II), Phase III borrowed from both, and added three new ordinances.  The sequence became:  1) ordination to an office in the priesthood (not necessarily the High Priesthood), which generally had taken place prior to the preparations for the endowment, and thus would be considered a preparatory ordinance only in a technical sense; 2) washing of the body; 3) anointing of the head; 4) sealing of the anointing; and 5) washing of feet.  While the preparatory ordinances of Phases I and II had taken place the same day as the endowment, the ordinances of Phase III began two months prior to the solemn assembly.

3. Phases I and II required a gathering (both times in Kirtland), but not within a specified building.  By contrast, Phase III anticipated from the beginning (i.e., with the receipt of D&C 88) a building specially constructed and set apart from the rest of the world, a “sacred space.”  Although the Kirtland House of the Lord was not yet called a Temple, it was the first building constructed by the Latter-day Saints which was set apart as sacred, and it set the pattern, both architecturally and functionally, for all temples for the rest of the century.

4. While the endowments of Phases I and II could be pinpointed to a specific date (4 June, 1831 for Phase I; 23-24 January, 1833 for Phase II), Phase III occurred over a period of weeks, and might best be termed “process” rather than “event.”  If a starting date were to be postulated, it would likely be 17 January, 1836, just prior to the start of washings and anointings.  Preparatory ordinances proceeded for two months, and marvelous spiritual outpourings occurred frequently during that time.  It appears that not even the participants understood completely the time frame of the endowment, for on 30 March, 1836, the final day of the solemn assembly, Joseph Smith said, “the time that we were required to tarry in Kirtland to be endued would be fulfilled in a few days.”  Yet, in the same discourse, he also said he “had given them all the instruction they needed and that they now were at liberty after obtaining their lisences to go forth and build up the kingdom of God.”

5. For the first time, individual preparation and worthiness became a prerequisite for the endowment.  While perhaps these had been assumed in Phases I and II, they had never been specified, whereas considerable emphasis was placed upon them in Phase III.  This may explain why, in the face of so many accounts of a pentecostal experience, some participants later denied the occurrence of anything extraordinary.  These “anti-witnesses” included one of the Three Witnesses, David Whitmer; and one of the Quorum of the Twelve, William McLellin, both of whom registered their dissatisfaction subsequent to their excommunication from the Church.

6. The redemption of Zion was not an issue when Phases I and II occurred, since the real troubles in Missouri had not yet begun.  After they began, and after the failure of Zion’s Camp to resolve them, it became apparent that the Saints would not be able to reclaim their Promised Land until they obtained greater power.  They anticipated that power in conjunction with the solemn assembly, and while they did receive the promised endowment, they were disappointed in their expectation of an imminent redemption of Zion.

Although the climax of Phase III was in March, 1836, both the preparatory ordinances and the endowment continued, albeit on a much smaller scale (as the intent had been to endow as many as possible at the time of the first solemn assembly).  Less than a week after the solemn assembly, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had a vision in the Kirtland House of the Lord (now D&C 110), in which further endowments in that building were foreshadowed:

Yea the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have already been endowed and shall hereafter be endowed.

Indeed, on the same day this vision occurred, washings and anointings began for those who had not already received them, in preparation for a second, smaller solemn assembly on 6 April.  A week later, Charles C. Rich, who had arrived in Kirtland on 12 April, received the washings and anointings, and on 16 April, in the company of “some of my Brethren . . . I was filled with the spirit of prophesy and I was endued with power from on high.”

A year later, another solemn assembly was announced, for the brethren who had missed those of 1836.  Wilford Woodruff participated, and left the most detailed account, which he prefaced:

April 3rd  The day had now arived for preperations for the solumn assembly the Annointing & the endowment of the Elders of Israel or at least for those that were not endowed in Kirtland the strong hold of the daught[ers] of Zion in the spring of 1836 & as I was absent at that time my day is now come & my time at hand for those blessings & I shall record the events of each day of the endowment for the benefit of the generation to come.

Although isolated washings and anointings continued in Kirtland as late as 1839, the forced departure of most of the Saints in 1837 effectively postponed the giving of the endowment until the settling of Nauvoo.

PHASE IV:  July, 1840-June, 1844.

Upon departing Kirtland, Joseph and the majority of the Saints traveled to Missouri, where they met with almost continual persecution resulting in the infamous 1838 “Extermination Order” of Governor Boggs, and the lengthy imprisonment of Joseph and several other key leaders in the Liberty Jail.  Perhaps it is not surprising that no significant developments in endowment theology occurred during this troubled period.

On 19 July, 1840, Joseph Smith gave a discourse in Nauvoo in which he unveiled his remarkable plans for a new building:

Now from this hour bring every thing you can bring and build a Temple unto the Lord, a house unto the mighty God of Jacob.  We will build upon the top of this Temple a great observatory, a great and high watch tower and in the top thereof we will Suspend a tremendous bell that when it is rung shall rouse the inhabitants of Madison, wake up the people of Warsaw, and sound in the ears of men [in] Carthage.  Then comes the ancient records yea all of them.  Dig them; yes bring them forth speedily.

Then shall the poor be fed by the curious who shall come from all parts of the world to see this wonderful temple.  Yea I prophecy that pleasure parties shall come from England to see the Mamoth and like the Queen of Sheba shall say the half never was told them.  School houses shall be built here and High schools shall be established and the great men of the [earth] shall send their sons here to board while they are receiving their education among us.  And even Noblemen shall crave the priviledge of educating their children with us and these poor saints shall chink in their pockets the money of these proud men received from such as come and dwell with us.

Now brethren I obligate myself to build as great a temple as ever Solomon did, if the church will back me up.  Moreover, it shall not impovrish any man but enrich thousands.  And I prophecy that the time shall be when these saints shall ride proudly over the mountains of Missouri and no Gentile dog nor Missouri dog shall dare lift a tongue against them but will lick up the dust from beneath their feet.  And I pray the Father that many here may realize this and see it with their eyes.  And if it should be (stretching his hand towards the place and in a melancholly tone that made all hearts tremble) [the] will of God that I might live to behold that temple completed and finished from the foundation to the top stone I will say, Oh Lord it is enough Lord let thy servant depart in peace, which is my ernest prayer in the name of the L[ord] Jesus Amen.”  (Joseph Smith, 19 Jul., 1840, Martha Jane Knowlton transcript; in BYU Studies 19(3):393-394.  See accompanying introduction by Dean Jessee.)

There are three significant elements to this discourse:

1. In the first public reference to the new building, Joseph refers to it as a Temple, a marked contrast to the Kirtland House of the Lord.  As was already pointed out, the groundbreaking ceremony at Far West also included the use of the word Temple; thus, Nauvoo represented a continuation of a new tradition, the roots of which are not clear.

2. In sharp contrast with Kirtland, the new Temple would serve primarily as a showplace of Mormonism, attracting the rich and famous throughout the world, and serving as a source of tremendous financial gain, sufficient to “enrich thousands.”  Joseph made no reference to any sacred function connected with the Temple.

3. Having failed twice to redeem Missouri, the Saints nonetheless refused to abandon the belief that, ultimately, that chosen land would still be theirs.  In juxtaposing the announcement of the new Temple with his prophecy that the Saints would yet emerge victorious in Missouri, Joseph seemed to echo the hope associated with the 1836 Kirtland endowment that God would yet give the Saints power sufficient to redeem Zion.  This would be the only reference to the redemption of Zion associated with Nauvoo, its Temple, or the Nauvoo endowment.

Although the First Presidency, in an address the following month, indicated that sacred functions similar to those of Kirtland would also be part of the Nauvoo Temple, the idea that the new building would be a showplace was prominent throughout the following year.  In writing to the Twelve in England, Joseph said the new Temple would “be considerably larger than the one in Kirtland, and on a more magnificent scale, and which will undoubtedly attract the attention of the great men of the earth.”  In November, the Twelve wrote an epistle echoing this sentiment, and endorsing the construction of the Nauvoo House to accommodate the visitors:

The set time to favor the stakes of Zion is at hand, & soon the Kings and the Queens, the princes and the nobles, the rich and the honorable of the earth, will come up hither to visit the Temple of our God and to enquire concerning his strange work; and as Kings are to become nursing fathers, and Queens nursing mothers in the habitations of the righteous, it is right to render honor to whom honor is due; & therefore expedient that such, as well as the saints, should have a comfortable house for boarding and lodging when they come hither, and it is according to the revelations that such a house should be built.

Even after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, at a time when it was increasingly likely that the Saints would have to abandon Nauvoo, Parley P. Pratt was able to write:  “Think it not strange if kings, princes, nobles and great men come there with their rich presents in the name of the Lord.”

As had been the case with Phases I, II and III, gathering was an important part of Phase IV.  In introducing the concept of the new Temple, Joseph inferred that the Saints should come to Nauvoo:  “Now from this hour bring every thing you can bring and build a Temple.”  The concept was formalized in the founding revelation of the Temple, “Let all my saints come from afar,” and frequently reiterated thereafter.

Five primary elements must be considered in attempting to understand the Nauvoo endowment:  1) the nature of the building and the purposes for which it became intended; 2) the expectation of supernatural events connected with the Temple and the endowment; 3) the continuing relationship between endowment and missionary work; 4) the endowment ceremony itself; and 5) the developing doctrine of salvation for the dead, and its relationship to temple ordinances.


Public announcement of the proposed Temple was made in the October, 1840 General Conference.  In the months which followed, it gradually became clear that four types of sacred functions would be associated with the Temple:  1) ordinances; 2) worship; 3) revelations; 4) God’s habitation.

a. Ordinances

In the August, 1840 address of the First Presidency to the Church, it was stated that the Temple would be a place “where the ordinances can be attended to agreeably to His divine will.”  What those ordinances would be was not specified.  Two months later, Joseph said that “every ordinance belonging to the priesthood” would be performed in the Temple, but mentioned only one, animal sacrifice (which apparently was never practiced in any Latter-day Saint Temple).  In January, 1841, it was reiterated that “all the functions of the Priesthood” would be exercised in the Temple, but again no specific ordinances were mentioned.  Four days later a revelation was received (now D&C 124) in which the Saints were instructed that baptisms for the dead (which had begun the previous year), washings and anointings would be performed in the Temple, as would further unspecified ordinances, “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.”  Although it later became clear that this referred to the endowment, this term was not used in connection with the Temple until six months later, when it was stated that “the Elders of Israel, who have not yet received their endowment,” would receive it in the Temple.  An epistle of the Twelve in October, 1841, reiterated baptisms for the dead and endowment, hinted at another ordinance which later became quite common among the Latter-day Saints, baptism for the healing of the sick, and repeated the promise that “all the ordinances” would be made manifest there.  The final ordinances associated with the Nauvoo Temple would be the sealing of husband to wife, first performed in May, 1843, and the “second anointing” (also termed “fullness of the priesthood”), in September of the same year.

b. Worship.

One of the first public works projects following the Saints’ entry into the Salt Lake Valley was a bowery in which public meetings could be held.  No such structure existed in Nauvoo, and prior to the construction of the Temple, meetings involving large congregations had to be held out of doors.  In an August, 1840 address, the First Presidency, in language reminiscent of the Kirtland House of the Lord, called for the construction of “a house of prayer, a house of order, a house for the worship of our God.”  A year later, the Twelve announced that no more General Conferences would be held by the Church until they could be held in the Temple.  Although the construction of the Temple would not be completed and dedicated until 1846, following the exodus of the majority of the Saints from Nauvoo, it was sufficiently advanced that by April, 1843, the General Conference was held in the building.  However, the forced exodus of the Saints prior to the completion of the Temple prevented regular, weekly congregational meetings.

c. Revelations.

In the earliest years of Mormonism, revelations tended to occur out of doors–in a grove, on a hill, on the banks of a river–or in someone’s home.  With the construction of the Kirtland House of the Lord, the Saints finally had a defined sacred space.  Within a week of the building’s dedication, one of the most important of Latter-day Saint revelations occurred within it (now D&C 110).  However, the incessant problems of the Saints in Kirtland, culminating in their forced departure a short time later, did not allow for the full development of the House as a place of revelation.

Within weeks of the public announcement of the Nauvoo Temple, an Elder in Nauvoo wrote to the Saints in England that when the Temple was completed, “the glory of the Lord shall be seen–he shall teach his people of his ways.”  In January, 1841, the First Presidency said the Temple would be a place “where instructions from the Most High will be received, and from this place go forth to distant lands.”  Two weeks later, Elias Higbee, a member of the Temple Building Committee, wrote, “Then can the oracles of God be daily received if necessary for the salvation of the people.”

As Joseph did not live to see the Temple completed, neither did he see the fulfillment of the promise of a house wherein revelations might regularly be received.  Not until the administration of Wilford Woodruff, and the completion of the Salt Lake Temple, was this promise fulfilled.  Ever since that time the Salt Lake Temple has been the place wherein the First Presidency and the Twelve meet regularly to learn the will of the Lord.

d. God’s habitation.

The Elders in Kirtland were promised a visitation by the Lord at the time of the endowment, if they were worthy.  A similar promise was made to the Saints in Nauvoo, who were told they would “behold the Lord to come to his temple.”  The revelation of 19 January, 1841 (now D&C 124) promised more, that God would dwell in the Temple, not merely visit it.  One of the dedicatory prayers at the laying of the Temple cornerstones went further, calling it a place where “the Son of Man [may] lay his head,” and an epistle of the Twelve shortly thereafter called it Jehovah’s “resting place on earth.”

There is no record that any of these promises and expectations were fulfilled, perhaps not surprising in light of Joseph and Hyrum’s premature deaths, and the fact that the Temple, though eventually dedicated (after most of the Saints had already fled Nauvoo), was never completed and used as contemplated.


Details of expected supernatural events were chronicled during the first year following the announcement of the Temple.  They included the covering of the Temple by a cloud, and the appearance of the Lord; the manifestation of God’s power and glory; and the glory and presence of the Lord to attend the dedication of the Temple, as anciently.  After 1841, the only mention of similar events was the expressed hope, voiced only a week following the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, that at the time of the endowment, “we might meet our beloved Prophets.”  That this referred to Joseph and Hyrum, and that it was a widely held hope is suggested by subsequent newspaper reports stating that Joseph already had risen from the dead, and that the Mormons believed Joseph would appear to dedicate the Temple.

Although supernatural events were promised in connection with the Nauvoo Temple, as they had been in Kirtland, there were two important differences.  First, the reference to a Pentecost, so central to the Kirtland endowment, was absent from Nauvoo.  Second, the fulfillment of the promises and expectations, such a dramatic part of the unfolding of the Kirtland endowment, did not occur in Nauvoo.  Unlike the Kirtland building, however, the Nauvoo Temple was never really completed, and the dedicatory service, rather than being a massive event in anticipation of continued use of the building, was conducted by only a handful of leaders, and occurred after most of the Saints had already been driven from Nauvoo, knowing they would not be returning.


Although missionary work (and the endowment of the missionaries) was the basis for the construction of the Kirtland House of the Lord, it was not mentioned in the context of the Nauvoo Temple until a year after the subject of the Temple was introduced.  In a July, 1841 progress report, both missionary work and endowment were, for the first time, linked to the new Temple:

The Elders of Israel, who have not yet received their endowment, must indeed look forward to the completion of the building with feelings of no ordinary kind.

Although the connection with missionary work may not be immediately apparent, it should be remembered that the Elders receiving the Kirtland endowment did so in the immediate context of going forth to proclaim the Gospel.  Thus, this statement anticipates both a new wave of missionary activity, and a resumption of endowment of Elders.  It also appears (this will be discussed at greater length below) that at this time the Nauvoo endowment was expected to be the same as the Kirtland endowment, since only those Elders who had not received it in Kirtland would now be receiving it.  An epistle from the Twelve three months later unambiguously linked missionary work and endowment to the Temple, calling it a place “where his law shall be revealed, and his servants be endued from on high, to bring together the honest in heart from the four winds.”  As had been the case in Kirtland, the latter-day missionaries were likened to the ancient Apostles, and the modern endowment to the endowment of “power from on high” promised those men by the Savior.

With the inclusion of women into the endowment ritual in 1843, missionaries were no longer the sole focus of the endowment.  However, the linkage between missionary work and endowment was still fundamental.  Only weeks before his death, Joseph added a new dimension to missionary work (and the need for the endowment by missionaries) when he proclaimed that “Zion,” which earlier had referred only to Independence, Missouri, now would include all of North and South America:

The Elders are to go through all America & build up Churches untill all Zion is built up, but not to commence this untill the Temple is built up here and the Elders endowed then go forth & accomplish the work & build up stakes in all North and South America.

While reinforcing the association of missionary work and endowment, this discourse represented a significant change in theology, and in the geographical focus of missionary work.  Theologically, it represented a transitional phase between the early doctrine of Zion as a local entity (Independence, Missouri), and the current doctrine of Zion being “the pure in heart,” wherever they may live.  Geographically, it reversed, albeit temporarily, an earlier emphasis upon European (i.e., British Isles) proselytizing.


The first use of the term “endowment” did not occur for a year following Joseph’s announcement of the new Temple, although earlier references to “ordinances” and “all the functions of the Priesthood” seem to foreshadow the endowment.  As late as April, 1842 (just one month prior to the first presentation of the Nauvoo endowment), Hyrum Smith seemed to state that the new endowment would be the same as the Kirtland endowment, and that those Elders who participated in Kirtland need not participate again:

Pres’t. H. Smith spoke concerning the elders who went forth to preach from Kirtland, and were afterwards called in for the washing and anointing at the dedication of the House, and those who go now will be called in also, when this Temple is about to be dedicated, and will then be endowed to go forth with mighty power having the same anointing, that all may go forth and have the same power, the first, second, and so on, of the seventies and all those formerly ordained.

While Hyrum appears not to have anticipated change, however, elements which later were incorporated into the endowment were being spoken of well before his speech.  These included:

1. A restoration of “lost things,” and “hidden things.”

2. “Grand key words” and “writing that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.”

3. “Certain key words and signs.”

Since none of these was part of the Kirtland endowment, and since Hyrum’s statement suggests strongly that there were not, as yet, differences between the Kirtland and anticipated Nauvoo endowments, it seems likely that the format of the new endowment had not yet crystallized in Joseph’s mind by April, even though he knew of several of the elements many months earlier.

Although Joseph delivered several speeches in March, April and May, 1842 which alluded to things later contained in the endowment, we have no record that he gave public notice that the endowment ceremony was about to be given.  Clearly, it would have been necessary for him to inform the recipients beforehand, but it is not known how long before, nor by what means, they were notified.  On 3 May, 1842, Joseph enlisted the assistance of five or six men to prepare the room over his Red Brick Store for the endowment, though none of these men participated in the ceremony the following day.  On 4 May, Joseph and nine other men–James Adams, Heber C. Kimball, William Law, William Marks, George Miller, Willard Richards, Hyrum Smith, Newel K. Whitney and Brigham Young–met above the store, and Joseph conferred upon them the new endowment.  The men apparently shared but three characteristics:  1) all were Church members; 2) all where men whom Joseph trusted (this coming on the heels of the defection of John C. Bennett); and 3) all were Masons.

Because the endowment ceremony was never written down by the Church leaders until 1877, and because published exposes, beginning in 1846, reflected a later stage of development of the ceremony, it is not possible to describe in definite terms what transpired on 4 May.  First-hand accounts were written or dictated by Heber C. Kimball, Brigham Young, George Miller and Willard Richards.  In comparing these accounts, it appears that the following were part (though perhaps not all) of the ceremony:

1. The ceremony began in a side room, with initiatory ordinances similar to those practiced in Kirtland.  These included washing, anointing and sealing of anointing.  In a further development since Kirtland, the men were, as part of the washing and anointing, pronounced “Kings and Priests to God, and over the House of Israel.”  (The final preparatory ordinance of Kirtland, the washing of feet, apparently was not part of the Nauvoo endowment, but later became part of the “second anointing.”)  Following the washing, anointing and sealing, a garment was placed on the initiate, and a new name was given.

2. The initiates then moved to the larger room, where they participated in a ritual which included a creation narrative, Joseph’s instructions concerning “the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days,” and movement “from one department to another.”

3. As part of the ritual, “key words, signs, tokens, and penalties” were given.  Some of these pertained to the Aaronic Priesthood, others to the Melchizedek Priesthood.

4. A veil, which Joseph marked in the presence of the intiates, formed part of the ceremony; presumably, they passed through it.

5. They were instructed that the ceremony was to be held in confidence.

Joseph made it clear to the initiates that the ceremony they had passed through was incomplete:

After we had got through, Brother Joseph turned to me and said, ‘Brother Brigham, this is not arranged right, but we have done the best we can under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand organize and systematize all these ceremonies with the signs, tokens, penalties and key words.’  I did so, and each time got something more.  So that when we went through the Temple at Nauvoo I understood and knew how to place them there.  We had our ceremonies pretty correct.

One may only speculate why Joseph chose to give an incomplete endowment at this time.  The notion that he may have sensed his own passing from the scene, and wanted to establish the endowment as quickly as possible, seems misplaced, for such premonitions did not occur until 1844, and the recipients of all instructions and keys at that time were the Twelve, only three of whom were included in the 1842 endowment.  More likely is the need Joseph felt to surround himself with a few close associates to whom he could communicate his innermost thoughts without fear of betrayal.  He was still smarting from the defection of John C. Bennett, who had risen rapidly to the highest echelon of leadership in the Church prior to his defection, and who was writing a major expose of Mormonism at the very time Joseph gave the endowment, by which he hoped to destroy the Church.  Against this backdrop, Heber C. Kimball’s letter to Parley P. Pratt, written the month following the endowment, is particularly revealing:

Brother Joseph feels as well as I Ever see him.  one reason is he has got a Small company.  that he feels safe in thare ha[n]ds.  and that is not all he can open his bosom to and feel him Self safe I wish you was here so as to feel and hear for your Self.

It is not clear if Joseph indicated at this time that the endowment was essential to one’s salvation.  Such had not been the case in Kirtland, where the primary focus of the endowment was to prepare missionaries.  By October, 1842, however, the connection between endowment and salvation had been expressed:

But leaving duty and interest out of the question, if we wish to receive great blessings from the hands of Jehovah, if we wish to receive our anointing, if we wish the glory of the priesthood to be more fully developed, if we wish to do the will of God and to secure the blessings of the most high God, in fact if we wish to secure our present, our temporal and eternal salvation, we shall build that house.

While no details are known to exist of endowments given between May, 1842 and December, 1845, three lines of evidence suggest that the ceremony continued to develop during this time:

1. Brigham Young’s statement, quoted earlier, said that each time they performed the ceremony, they “got something more . . . so that when we went through the Temple at Nauvoo I understood and knew how to place them there.”  This was corroborated by Joseph Fielding, who, with his wife, was re-endowed in the Temple:

On Friday, the 12th [December, 1845] I and my Wife received our Endowment having formerly received it in the Days of Joseph and Hyram but it is now given in a more perfect Manner because of better Convenience, the 12 are very strict in attending to the true and proper form.

2. On 26 May, 1843, Joseph reconvened the group which had received the endowment one year earlier (William Marks and George Miller being absent), and “gave them their endowments and also instructions in the priesthood on the new and everlasting covenant.”  The only logical explanation for endowing these men again would have been that Joseph had, in the interim, received additional enlightenment, and wanted to bring them “up-to-date.”  Similarly, in April, 1844, Joseph met repeatedly with the Twelve, at which time he had a premonition that something would happen to him:

Says Brother Joseph in one of those councils there is something going to happen; I don’t know what it is, but the Lord bids me to hasten and give you your endowment before the temple is finished.  He conducted us through every ordinance of the holy priesthood, and when we had gone through with all the ordinances he rejoiced very much.

Since all the Twelve were involved in the endowment at that time, it meant that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, in spite of having received the Kirtland endowment, and the Nauvoo endowment twice already, received it again–apparently reflecting the need on Joseph’s part to give them something more than they had received earlier.

3. The descriptions of the endowment, as given within the still uncompleted Nauvoo Temple beginning in December, 1845, show a ceremony developed since the May, 1842 ritual.  Although it is possible that the Twelve had made changes after Joseph’s death, and incorporated them into the 1845 ceremony, the fact that no endowments were given between the time of Joseph’s death and December, 1845 suggests that changes seen in the latter version had already been incorporated before Joseph died.  These included:

a. Women began to participate in the endowment in late 1843, at the same time a new ordinance, the second anointing, was introduced.

b. Actors participated in specified roles in the endowment narrative.  These included Eloheim, Jehovah, Michael, and the serpent.

c. In addition to rooms for initiatory ordinances, five rooms, symbolic of the creation, the Garden of Eden, the world (or Telestial Kingdom), the Terrestrial Kingdom, and the Celestial Kingdom, formed the physical framework for the ceremony.

d. Covenants were part of the ceremony.

The connection between the endowment and Freemasonry has long been a matter of concern to many Latter-day Saints.  One need only look at the text of the Masonic ritual to see that there are many similarities in the two ceremonies (often word-for-word), which cannot be merely coincidental.

Joseph Smith’s relationship with Freemasonry preceded his induction into it by as much as two decades, for his brother, Hyrum, was a Senior Warden and Worshipful Master, and had been a Mason at least since 1821.  His family resided in Palmyra at the time of the alleged abduction and murder of William Morgan, author of the first American expose of Freemasonry (who also was living in the “Finger Lakes” district of New York, close to Palmyra, at the time of his disappearance), an event which touched off a nationwide storm of anti-Masonic sentiment, and led to the first Third Party in the United States, the Anti-Masonic Party.  According to Andrew Jenson, Assistant Church Historian, Morgan’s widow, Lucinda, became one of Joseph’s earliest plural wives, perhaps as early as 1838.

While it is not certain what led Joseph to embrace Freemasonry, the evidence suggests strongly a reaction to the betrayal of Joseph by John C. Bennett.  Bennett joined the Church in 1840, and was an extremely influential figure in Nauvoo.  Among other things, he persuaded the Illinois State Legislature to authorize the Nauvoo Charter, an unprecedented document which essentially made Nauvoo an independent city-state with broad powers to protect its citizens–particularly Joseph Smith.  Within months of his baptism, he rose to the position of Assistant President of the Church.  In mid-1841, however, he and Joseph began to have a falling out.  Joseph was attempting at the time to introduce plural marriage to a small circle of his closest associates, among whom was Bennett, and Bennett appeared to take advantage of his ecclesiastical position to enter into illicit relations with local women, under the guise of divine sanction.  When Joseph confronted Bennett on the matter, a gulf developed between them, and Bennett eventually left the Church.  But he didn’t leave quietly.  Eventually publishing a scathing denunciation and expose of Mormonism, The History of the Saints, he began his anti-Mormon agitations before the end of 1841.  Not content to do battle alone, he attempted to enlist the assistance of Sidney Rigdon and Orson Pratt, both of whom also had somewhat strained relationships with Joseph at this time.  In a letter to the two men dated 10 January, 1842, Bennett wrote:

We shall try Smith on the Boggs case when we get him into Missouri.  The war goes bravely on, and although Smith thinks he is now safe, the enemy is near, even at the door.  He has awoke the wrong passenger.  The Governor will relinquish Joe up at once on the new requisition–there is but one opinion in the case, and that is nothing can save Joe on a new requisition and demand predicated on the old charges, on the institution of new suits.  He must go to Missouri, but he shall not be harmed, if he is not guilty: but he is a murderer and must suffer the penalty of the law.

Since Bennett had acted at the highest echelon of Church leadership, and had been privy to most of the inner workings of the Church (including plural marriage, the most closely guarded of all the inner workings), he was in a position to do a great deal of harm to the Church, and to Joseph personally, if he chose to pervert the truth to his own purposes.  It soon became apparent to Joseph that this was exactly what he chose.

In this context, Joseph’s statement of 19 December, 1841, appears to be a reaction to Bennett:

The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us is because we do not keep them but reveal them, we do not keep our own secrets but reveal our difficulties to the world even to our enemies then how would we keep the secrets of the Lord Joseph says I can keep a secret till dooms day.

Joseph knew that a fundamental characteristic of the Masonic fraternity was its ability to keep secret its ceremonies.  (He would later say: “The secrets of Masonry is to keep a secret.”)  It thus seems likely that, stinging from the defection of Bennett, he sought out Freemasonry–and surrounded himself with an inner circle of men who were Masons and who knew how to keep secrets–in an attempt to ensure that there would be no further betrayals.  Less than two weeks after his denunciation of those who couldn’t keep secrets, he petitioned to become a Mason.

Having made the decision to enter Freemasonry, Joseph would have had easy access both to men who were conversant about Freemasonry, and to Masonic exposes.  By March, 1842, the first parallel to Freemasonry appeared in the Church periodical, Times and Seasons, where Joseph published Facsimilie #2 from the Book of Abraham:

Fig. 3,  Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing, also, the grand Key words of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchisedek, Abraham and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed. . . .

Fig. 7,  Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing, through the heavens, the grand Key words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove.

Fig. 8,  Contains writing that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.

The same day Facsimilie #2 was published, Joseph was inducted into the first degree of Freemasonry, Entered Apprentice.  On the following day, he was advanced to the second and third degrees, Fellow Craft and Master Mason.  He never advanced to further degrees, and it is significant to note that the only parallels between the Masonic ceremony and the endowment are contained in the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees.

Within days of his induction, Joseph spoke of “certain key words & signs belonging to the priesthood which must be observed in order to obtaine the Blessings.”  This was the first time he had ever employed the term “key words & signs,” a central concept in the Masonic ritual.  When he gave the Nauvoo endowment, less than two months later, “key words, signs, tokens and penalties” were an integral part of the ceremony.  As was stated earlier, all nine men receiving the endowment at that time were Masons.  One of them, Heber C. Kimball (who had been a Mason since 1823), wrote several weeks later:

Thare is a similarity of preast hood in masonary.  Br Joseph Ses Masonary was taken from preasthood but has become degenrated.  but menny things are perfect.

In the same letter, Kimball confirmed that Joseph had succeeded, at least for the present, in redefining his inner circle, including in it men whom he felt confident would not betray him:

Brother Joseph feels as well as I Ever see him.  one reason is he has got a Small company.  that he feels safe in thare ha[n]ds.  and that is not all he can open his bosom to and feel him Self safe I wish you was here so as to feel and hear for your Self.

It appears that the winter and spring of 1842 was a period in which the Nauvoo endowment was slowly being formulated within Joseph’s mind.  Not only Masonry, but the many other characteristics which differentiated the Nauvoo endowment from the Kirtland endowment (described earlier) were being considered by Joseph, but apparently not being discussed with others.  Even Hyrum, arguably his closest confidant at this time, seemed not to be aware that the new endowment would be substantially changed from the Kirtland ceremony, for he stated on 7 April (less than a month before the new endowment was introduced, and after Joseph had begun to use Masonic phrases in public, but had not yet linked them to the forthcoming endowment):

Those [missionaries] who go now will be called in also, when this Temple is about to be dedicated, and will then be endowed to go forth with mighty power having the same anointing, that all may go forth and have the same power, the first, second, and so on, of the seventies and all those formerly ordained.

Why did Joseph include parts of Masonic ritual in the endowment?  The standard answer among Latter-day Saints is that Freemasonry is a corrupted form of the ancient endowment ceremony.  Indeed, Joseph himself said this:

He [Joseph Smith] told me Freemasonry, as at present, was the apostate endowments, as sectarian religion was the apostate religion.

This concept was reinforced by institutional Freemasonry, which at that time taught its members that its origins were connected with the building of Solomon’s temple nearly three thousand years earlier.  Every history of Freemasonry published through the time of Joseph’s death was of the “mythical or imaginative school,” which relied upon tradition, rather than verifiable fact.  It was not until 1847 that the first work of the “authentic or verified school” of Masonic history was published, which first cast doubt upon the alleged ancient origins of the institution.

If Freemasonry was NOT of ancient origin, Latter-day Saints have the dilemma of trying to understand why Joseph said it was ancient, assumed it was a corrupted form of an ancient endowment, and thus included parts of it in the Nauvoo endowment ceremony. Two approaches may be used to test the “ancient origin model.”  First, one may study the history of Freemasonry to see if adequate data exist to define the period in which it originated.  Since the rise of the “authentic or verified school” over a century ago, the consensus among scholars is that “Speculative Freemasonry” (the technical term referring to the form of Freemasonry practiced now–and in Joseph Smith’s time–as a fraternal order) had its origins late in the 17th century (A.D.), and emerged as an offshoot of trade guilds (stonemasons) which began in Europe in the Middle Ages.  In developing a system of code words and signs (the Middle Ages equivalent of “union cards”) to protect guild members from competition by non-guild masons, an ancient motif was adopted, employing a legendary Hiram Abiff and other stonemasons who built Solomon’s temple.

Second, one may attempt to trace changes in the Masonic ceremony over time, to see if any trend can be identified.  If, as Joseph and other Latter-day Saints believed, current Freemasonry is a corruption of the ancient endowment, then the earlier the Masonic ceremony, the CLOSER it will be to the endowment (a process of “devolution”).  Two characteristics of the Masonic ceremony lend themselves to this type of analysis:

1. All of the similarities between the endowment and the Masonic ceremony are contained within the first three degrees of Freemasonry (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason).  However, these degrees appear to have arisen no earlier than 1723.

2. One aspect of the Masonic ceremony pre-dates the origin of the first three degrees (though subsequently it became part of them), the “five points of fellowship.”  This occured in Masonic catechisms as early as 1696.  Over a period of a century and a half, there remained “five points,” but the identity of the points changed.  (See Table #1.)  Not until the 19th century did the identities of the five points coincide with those of the Latter-day Saint endowment.  Thus, the Masonic ceremony is seen to be EVOLVING during this period, rather than DEVOLVING, which would be expected if it were a corruption of an ancient endowment.

If, as may appear to be the case, Freemasonry was not of ancient origin, and thus does not represent a vestige of an endowment ceremony dating to Solomon’s temple, how does one account for Joseph’s explanation?  The answer requires a lengthier explanation than can be provided in this monograph, but deals with what may be called “models of revelation,” that is, the actual manner by which Joseph received revelation.  Many Latter-day Saints subscribe to a model, technically termed “propositional revelation,” which states that a prophet is a passive instrument, through which God’s words (literally) flow unchanged.  As one examines Joseph’s ministry carefully, however, it becomes apparent that little, if any of it fits this model.  Rather, Joseph is seen as an ACTIVE instrument, whose contribution to the process of revelation is both essential and identifiable.  (Well-known phrases such as “study it out,” “line upon line,” “in your own language” are crucial to understanding this model of revelation.)  The actual revelations seemed most often to come in the form of intuition, feelings, suggestions; the concrete form in which they were expressed seemed to be left largely to Joseph to determine.  When he adopted Freemasonry, he saw symbols (signs, tokens, etc.) which expressed what he already had experienced inwardly (i.e., the SUBSTANCE of the revelation), so he used those symbols, which had for years shown their utility within Freemasonry, to express what he already had experienced (i.e., the FORM of the revelation).  In doing so, he most often borrowed merely the outward symbol, then gave it new, different meaning.  (The symbols borrowed from Freemasonry had nothing to do with Aaronic Priesthood, Melchizedek Priesthood, eternal progression, degrees of glory.)  This model of revelation, involving the active participation of the prophet, and best described as “process” rather than “event,” appears to explain not only the development of the endowment, but most of the major revelatory themes of Joseph’s ministry.


The final development in the endowment during Joseph Smith’s life was the extension of this ordinance to the dead.  Apparently Joseph spoke of this with key Church leaders as early as December, 1843, for late in that month, Brigham Young said:

When the Temple is done I expect we shall be baptized, washed anointed ordained, & offer up the keys & signs of the priesthood for our dead that they may have a full salvation & we shall be a saviors on mount Zion according to the Scriptures.

The following month, Joseph gave his first recorded discourse on the subject:

The Bible says ‘I will send you Elijah before the great & dredful day of the Lord Come that he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the Children & the hearts of the Children to their fathers lest I Come & smite the whole earth with a Ckurse,’ Now the word turn here should be translated (bind or seal) But what is the object of this important mission or how is it to be fulfilled, The keys are to be deliverd the spirit of Elijah is to Come, The gospel to be esstablished the Saints of God gatherd Zion built up, & the Saints to Come up as Saviors on mount Zion but how are they to become Saviors on Mount Zion  by building their temples erecting their Baptismal fonts & going forth & receiving all the ordinances, Baptisms, confirmations, washings anointings ordinations & sealing powers upon our heads in behalf of all our Progenitors who are dead & redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection & be exalted to thrones of glory with us, & herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children & the children to the Fathers which fulfills the mission of Elijah . . . The question is frequently asked Can we not be saved without going through with all thes ordinances &c I would answer No not the fulness of Salvation.

On at least three occasions during the remaining five months of his life, Joseph emphasized the necessity of performing all ordinances of salvation, including the endowment, in behalf of the dead.  Although endowments for the dead were not performed until the completion of the St. George Temple in 1877, Joseph clearly established the need well before his death.

In order to understand endowments for the dead, it is necessary to examine the development within the Latter-day Saint faith of the doctrine of salvation for the dead.

The foundational document of the Church, the Book of Mormon, is silent on the subject of salvation for the dead, speaking only of the reality of a bodily resurrection, but saying nothing of the relative status of beings in the afterlife.  There is no record of the subject even being discussed prior to the revelation of 16 February, 1832 (for many years termed “The Vision,” and now D&C 76).  A careful reading of that revelation (i.e., without imposing current LDS doctrine retrospectively) will show that it places into the Celestial Kingdom those who accepted the gospel, and were baptized in this life.  By contrast, those who were otherwise good people, but who “died without the law,” and received the testimony of Jesus after death, but who were not baptized while living, would inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom (see vv. 72-74).  No provision was made within this revelation for those who died before the restoration of the gospel to enter the Celestial Kingdom, regardless of the merits of their lives.

There is no record of any discussion within the Church over the next four years as to the implications of this revelation, but it became clear, in a vision of the Celestial Kingdom in January, 1836 (now D&C 137), that Joseph had accepted those implications, which included the fact that his older brother, Alvin, who had died in 1823, would be heir only to the Terrestrial Kingdom:

I saw father Adam, and Abraham and Michael and my father and mother, my brother Alvin that has long since slept, and marvled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that [i.e., the Celestial] Kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life, before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time and had not been baptised for the remission of sins–Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me saying all who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it, if they had been permited to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial Kingdom of God–also all that shall die henseforth, without a knowledge of it, who would have received it, with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that Kingdom, for I the Lord will judge all men according to their works according to the desires of their hearts.

This vision substantially altered the doctrine first expounded in D&C 76, yet it gave no hint that anything must be done, on the part of the living, to allow the dead entrance into the Celestial Kingdom.  Rather, the dead would be judged according to desire, and those deemed willing to receive the Gospel (without reference to any ordinances, including baptism) would become heirs of that Kingdom.

In a blessing pronounced upon Wilford Woodruff in January, 1837, it became clear that the Saints had embraced the new doctrine:

President Z. Coltrin ordained me as a member of the first Seventy & Pronounced great blessings upon my head by the Spirit of Prophecy & Revelation. . . . Also that I should visit COLUB & Preach to the spirits in Prision & that I shouild bring all of my friends or relatives forth from the Terrestrial Kingdom (who had died) by the Power of the gospel.

This statement confirmed two important concepts:  first, those who had died without the Gospel automatically were assigned to the Terrestrial Kingdom, where presumably they would remain unless someone intervened in their behalf; second, the necessary intervention involved a visit to them, and the preaching of the Gospel to them–which, if they accepted it, would allow them passage to the higher Kingdom.  As was the case with the vision a year earlier, no mention was made of any ordinance to be performed in their behalf.

Later the same year, Warren Cowdery, brother of Oliver Cowdery and editor of the Church publication, Messenger and Advocate, wrote a lengthy article in that paper on the subject of redemption of the dead.  Echoing Wilford Woodruff’s insight, Cowdery wrote that the dead could, indeed, inherit the Celestial Kingdom, on the condition that the Gospel were preached to them (citing I Peter 4:6 to establish the validity of preaching to the dead), and they accepted it.  Again, there was no mention of any ordinances being performed, either directly on the dead, or indirectly by intervention of living proxies.

A year later, Joseph Smith addressed the same question in print:

Question 16th.  If the Mormon doctrine is true what has become of all those who have died since the days of the apostles.

[Answer] All those who have not had an opportunity of hearing the Gospel, and being administered unto by an inspired man in the flesh, must have it hereafter, before they can be finally judged.

While it may be claimed that Joseph, in writing the words “being administered unto by an inspired man,” was actually referring to performing baptism and other ordinances in their behalf, nothing else in the historical record for this period supports this interpretation.  Indeed, Apostle Parley P. Pratt, writing two years later in the Church periodical in the British Isles, addresses the same question, and gives a less ambiguous answer, acknowledging the possibility of salvation without baptism:

Q.–Was not the thief on the cross saved without baptism?

A.–If he was, it was because he had no opportunity to obey; and, therefore, was not saved through a Gospel ministration, but was included in the same mercy as the heathens, who have never had the offer of the Gospel, and therefore, are under no condemnation for not obeying it.

Later that same year, Joseph received further insight into the matter (which, with the benefit of hindsight, we might say should have been obvious to him at the time of the 1836 Vision of the Celestial Kingdom), and announced during a funeral sermon that the Saints could now participate in the redemption of dead friends and relatives by being baptized in their behalf.

A year later, in commenting on the construction of the Nauvoo Temple, Joseph Fielding confirmed that, prior to August, 1840, the idea of baptism for the dead had never been part of Latter-day Saint theology:

The object of the Baptismal Font is also truly interesting to me, and I have no doubt to all the saints: for some time I had thought much on the subject of the redemption of those who died under the broken covenant, it is plain they could not come forth in the kingdom of God, as they had not been adopted, legally [i.e., by baptism] into it, neither could they be while there was no priesthood, they had not been born of water and the spirit, and if they should come into the kingdom without this it would falsify the plain word of Jesus Christ, yet how would those who died martyrs and all those who have lived up to the best light they have had, and would no doubt have rejoiced in the fulness of the gospel had they had it, be denied this privilege?  I thought, perhaps those who receive the priesthood in these last days would baptize them at the coming of the Savior, and this would fulfil the words of the Savior; many shall come from the east and from the west &c., and shall sit down in the kingdom of God,–but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out, as foolish virgins, but a touch of the light of revelation has at once dispelled the darkness and scattered the doubts which once perplexed my mind and I behold the means which God hath devised that his banished ones may be brought back again; every step I take in surveying the plan of heaven, and the wisdom and goodness of God, my heart feels glad, but when I have listened to the teachings of the servants of God under the new covenant and the principle of Baptism for the Dead the feelings of my soul were such as I cannot describe.

Up to this time, baptism was the only ordinance said to be necessary for the salvation of the dead.  That the endowment was not yet considered essential is no surprise, inasmuch as the Kirtland endowment (for the living) had never been considered an ordinance essential to salvation.  In October, 1842, it was first taught that the endowment was essential for the salvation of the living, but later the same month an article in the same publication, while reaffirming the necessity of baptism for the dead, spoke of no other ordinance essential to their coming forth in the first resurrection (i.e., Celestial Kingdom).  Not until another year had passed would it first be taught that all of the ordinances essential to the salvation of the living would also need to be performed in behalf of the dead.

The Nauvoo endowment was both a continuation of, and a departure from Phases I, II and III.  As with its predecessors, it involved the four basic principles of gathering, divinely bestowed power, missionary work and preparatory ordinances, though not with the same relative emphasis on each.  While incorporating nearly all aspects of its antecedents, it contained several completely new ones:

1. A narrative backdrop, which portrayed symbolically humankinds origin and progress through and beyond this life, employing actors, dialogue, scenery and physical passage through several departments.

2. A sacred garment, to be worn beneath one’s outer clothing.

3. An obligation of secrecy, reinforced by powerful symbols borrowed from Masonic ritual.

4. The inclusion of women.

5. A select society (referred to as the “Nauvoo Holy Order,” or simply the “Quorum”), set apart from the remainder of the Latter-day Saint community.  (For example, British Saints, when introduced to new missionaries from the United States, were told: “Our brethren have been privileged above the Saints here by receiving an endowment in the Temple of the Lord, and consequently have received additional power and blessings.”)

6. A redefinition of salvation theology, by which ordinances in addition to baptism were now taught to be essential to the exaltation of the living, and ultimately of the dead.


While Latter-day Saints accept the concept of God revealing His will to humankind “line upon line,” they often balk at the implication of that concept: that revelation tends to come as process rather than event.  In examining the doctrine of endowment, one sees this process extending from the early months of the Church’s existence until the death of the Prophet, with nearly each year of that period bringing forth more “lines.”  Each of the four major phases of development began with a formal revelation (D&C 38 for Phase I, D&C 88 for Phases II and III, D&C 124 for Phase IV), but the process did not end with these written revelations, and by the conclusion of each phase the actual endowment exceeded the description provided by the initiatory revelation.

By the time of Joseph’s death, according to Brigham Young, “We had our ceremonies pretty correct.”  However, the process of revelation continued.  Changes to the endowment were made within days of the first ceremonies within the Nauvoo Temple, and major changes followed in 1877 (when the ceremony was first committed to paper by Church leaders), and in the early 1920’s (when the entire ceremony was rewritten by George F. Richards, under the direction of the First Presidency).  Minor changes continue to be made, and there is no reason to assume we have yet received the final “line” of revelation relating to the endowment.


The Five Points of Fellowship in Freemasonry, 1696-1831

Foot  Knee  Heart  Hand  Ear  Breast  Cheek  Hand  Mouth

  to   to     to    to    to    to      to    to    to 

Date Foot  Knee  Heart  Hand  Ear  Breast  Cheek  Back   Ear

1696   X     X      X     X     X

1700     X     X      X     X     X

1714   X     X      X     X     X

1723   X     X      X     X     X

1725       X     X      X     X     X

1725     X     X                        X       X     X

1726     X     X                        X       X     X

1726     X     X                        X       X     X

1827     X     X                        X             X     X

1829     X     X                        X             X     X

1831     X     X                        X             X     X