Clothing in the Temple Garment During the Initiatory

Today we are discussing the clothing portion of the initiatory ordinance in temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The initiatory consists of 4 main components:

  • Washing
  • Anointing
  • Clothing
  • Naming.

After the participant is symbolically washed, anointed, and bestowed blessings of vitality, they are then clothed in the holy temple garment. This garment reminds us of our glorious, godly destiny, it can represent the Atonement of Jesus Christ, a spiritual rebirth, our inner purity, it serves as a protection from physical and spiritual harm. We’ll be discussing what happens in the ceremony, some of its history, and some of the majestic meaning we can draw from it.

The Temple Garment

Many faithful Latter-day Saints wear a garment under their clothing that has deep religious significance. This modest underclothing comes in two pieces and is usually referred to as the “temple garment.” Many religions contain special clothing to symbolize deep convictions of the heart. These include the priest’s cassock, the nun’s habit, the Buddhist monk’s saffron robes.[1]

Temple garments are worn by adult members of the Church who have made sacred promises in the temple to keep God’s commandments and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To Church members, the modest temple garment worn under normal clothing…represent a sacred and personal aspect of their relationship with God and their commitment to live good, honorable lives.

Some people incorrectly refer to temple garments as magical or as “magic underwear.” These words are not only inaccurate, but also offensive to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is nothing magical or mystical about temple garments, and Church members ask for the same degree of respect and sensitivity that would be afforded to any other faith by people of goodwill.[2]

In the temple, we are promised that if we are faithful, the garment may protect us. While there are many inspiring stories, and our God is a God of miracles, the primary purpose of the garment is not to mystically protect from physical harm, but rather to remind us of our spiritual covenants, protecting us from spiritual threats.

The Temple Garment Clothing Ceremony

The ceremony itself is pretty straightforward. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the initiatory is accomplished in a room sectioned off into 4 partitions by veils. The participant progresses through each portion—washing, anointing, clothing, and naming—passing through the veils each time.

When you enter this section of the room, an officiator will tell you that you are now formally authorized to wear the temple garment. That’s it. The officiator will also give instructions about taking care of it, and the blessings associated with wearing the temple garment.

In the temple today, you go into the initiatory already wearing the temple garment and your full clothing. There is no longer a ritual clothing. Instead, you are simply informed that your wearing of the garment is now authorized.

Ritual Meaning Behind the Temple Garment Clothing Ceremony

Let’s talk about some of the possible meanings behind the temple garment. Just like all the other ceremonies, there’s no one right answer. But here are some beautiful meanings I have drawn from this ceremony as I’ve studied the temple ceremonies, church history, and the ancient world.

High Priestly Vestment

One way to approach the temple garment, is by viewing it as a high priestly vestment. After priests were washed an anointed, they were clothed.

And thou shalt take the garments, and put upon Aaron. (Exodus 29:5)

We’re perhaps familiar with the High Priest being regaled in full, elaborate vestments. But they also had designated underclothing with its own significance. Priests wore both breeches and a linen coat as their first layer of clothing.

And thou shalt embroider the coat of fine linen. (Exodus 28:39)

And thou shalt make them [the priests] linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach. (Exodus 28:42)

Some saw these first undergarments as symbolizing purity and restraint. They were a first, preparatory vestment for the other, more glorious vestments to come.

Symbolic Nakedness

Another way to approach the garment clothing ceremony, is to view yourself as beginning your heavenly journey symbolically naked before the Lord. When an officiator authorizes you to wear the temple garment, it is your first step in a sequence of clothing rituals, which symbolically reflect your progression towards entering into the presence of the Lord. Throughout the temple ceremonies, you slowly and sequentially begin to don more and more layers of clothing until you obtain the knowledge, status, and glory necessary to enter into the presence of God.

It’s important to know that historically, participants began without clothing, except for a fabric shield.[3] In the clothing ceremony, the officiator would assist the participant in ritually putting on the temple garment for the first time. Now, in today’s temple ceremonies, we are 100% modest during this part of the ceremony. But I think there’s symbolic value in recognizing our intent to be naked before the Lord before ascending to greater glory.

The Meaning of Nakedness

So let’s talk about nakedness and what it means to people today, versus in antiquity, because nakedness can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, different times, places, and cultures. Obviously, today nakedness is really strongly connected with sexuality. It can be seen as liberating, progressive, and empowering to flaunt one’s sexuality through nakedness or through little clothing. On the other hand, modesty today is often demeaned as oppressive, patriarchal, prudish, victimized, sexist, and old fashioned. However, the opposite was true in the ancient world.[4]

In antiquity, nakedness meant a lot of different things, including sexuality. But one of the things it symbolized was a lower social status. Slaves and day laborers were naked or wore little clothing. It could be associated with shame or guilt. In the New Testament, when Jesus Christ was stripped of his clothing, it was a marker of his shame and capital punishment.[5] On the other end, fine textiles and fabrics were a mark of nobility, royalty, wealth, and power. The greater and finer the clothing, the more glorious.

The Descent of Ishtar

There’s an ancient story that illustrates this principle very well. The Descent of Ishtar is an ancient Akkadian story about the goddess Ishtar (or Enanna of love and fertility), and her descent to the underworld.[6] Some texts speak of Ishtar, a goddess of the Great Above, opening her ear to the Great Below, or the Underworld. In order to complete her knowledge and complete herself, Ishtar sought to know the underworld. In order to approach the goddess of the netherworld, Ereshkigal, she needed to pass by the netherworld’s seven gates. At each gate, she is required by the guardians to remove an article of clothing or adornment.

  • First, her crown is taken off her head.
  • At the second gate, her earrings were removed.
  • At the third, her necklace.
  • At the fourth, the ornaments of her breast.
  • At the fifth, her girdle.
  • At the sixth, her spangles.
  • At the seventh, her loincloth.

Once Ishtar reached the underworld, the goddess Ereshkigal imprisoned Ishtar and would not let her return to the surface, for nothing escapes the underworld. The great head-god Ea, formed a man to descend to the underworld to take her place as a ransom. When this substitute was brought, Ishtar was brought forth to the surface. But in order to go back to the surface, she had to re-pass by those seven gates, and at each gate she received back layers of her previous clothing and glory:

  • She passed by the seventh gate and received again her loincloth.
  • At the sixth gate she received again her spangles.
  • At the fifth gate she received again her girle.
  • At the fourth, her ornaments.
  • At the third, her necklace.
  • At the second, her earrings.
  • And finally, at the first gate, she received again her crown.

As she rises through the levels of the underworld, she is progressively endowed with additional pieces of her clothing until her full glory and goddesshood is restored.

This story illustrates how in antiquity, nakedness was sometimes seen as a state of humility and shame, while clothing brought nobility, glory, and even divinity. Through the ransom of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are saved from the nakedness of the underworld, and we are reborn, progressively accruing more glory and power through sacred temple ordinances until we can return to the presence of our great Father in Heaven.[7] So in the Initiatory, we begin our sacred journey naked before the Lord, we are washing, anointed, blessed, and now given our first item of clothing, the temple garment.

Rebirth

As an alternative interpretation, nakedness can represent rebirth, just as infants are born from the womb naked. The initiatory marks our rebirth as covenant keepers in God’s kingdom and grants us renewed life.

Innocence in the Garden of Eden

Nakedness can represent a state of innocence, like Adam and Eve before the Fall. BYU Professor Daniel Belnap says,

[In the garden] we are confronted with a unique situation as Adam and Eve were naked yet not experiencing shame. In fact, this is the only place in the scriptures where nakedness does not bring about negative social consequences; this situation therefore demonstrates that the early social network is flawed or incomplete.[8]

Basically, what he’s saying is that Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden, and they were not ashamed. They were innocent, but in their non-shameful nakedness, their progression was halted. Children and babies are naked without shame, but to stay in that state of innocence forever would be a waste of the purpose of man. Thus, Adam and Eve’s shame of their nakedness demonstrates their maturation into intelligible beings worthy of exaltation—a net gain, not a loss.[9]

They attempt to clothe themselves first with fig leaves. This may be an imperfect investiture, but it signals Adam and Eve’s recognition of the need for clothing, and their understanding of their new relationship with God. Where before they walked with God, the fig leaves were an attempt to camouflage and hide from him. The fig leaves marked their social distance from God because of their shame.[10]

This stage makes their SECOND clothing by God all the more sweet. When God finds them, he shows them mercy and renews his relationship with them. He clothes them a second time, this time with skins made through a holy sacrifice. This clothing is a reminder that we can always have God with us, even when he is physically distant.

Stephen D. Ricks explained, “The vestments given to Adam symbolize the dignity of fallen man and the possibility of restoring to him the glory of God that he had originally enjoyed.”[11] We discover the origin of the temple garment in the Book of Moses and Genesis. Moses 4 says,

Unto Adam, and also unto his wife, did I, the Lord God, make coats of skins, and clothed them. (Moses 4:27)

Where would the Lord have had to get clothes of skin? According to the narrative, up to this point death had not entered into the world. So in order to make coats of skins for Adam and Eve, God would have had to kill an innocent animal. He would have had to make the first sacrifice to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. Later on, Adam and Eve are commanded to offer sacrifice themselves upon an altar. An angel comes and explains this to them in Moses 5. It reads,

And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. (Moses 5:7)

As Adam and Eve sacrifice an animal, they’re repeating what Jesus Christ already did for them—sacrifice an animal—which is also a similitude of what Jesus Christ is going to ultimately do for them: the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It’s kind of meta, but it’s also strikingly poignant.

The garments placed upon us are a symbolic representation of that first sacrifice of innocent blood. It symbolizes how our shame, our nakedness, our sins are covered by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Indeed, are garments are washed white in the blood of the lamb. 3 Nephi teaches, “No unclean thing can enter into [the Father’s] kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood” (3 Nephi 27:19). So while we no longer sacrifice animals to cover our skin, we wear the garment of the Holy Priesthood as a constant reminder.

In fact, the word in Hebrew for Atonement is kippur (כפר), which in a basic sense means “to cover.” Adam and Eve received garments of animal skin to cover their nakedness, just as Jesus Christ laid down his life to cover our sins. As we are washed in the blood of the lamb, anointed, blessed, and covered in the holy temple garment, we are now ready to receive a new identity.

Jesus Christ was stripped naked and divested of all dignity to atone for our sins. By donning the sacred temple garment, we are no longer naked with our shame. Our shame is covered by Christ who suffered shame for all.

The poignant irony of associating Christ with clothing is that throughout the atonement that made it possible for us to be clothed in immortality and eternal life, he himself was experiencing the utter humiliation of nakedness. At least three times over the course of the atonement, Christ was stripped of his clothing…Thus Christ was completely naked as he performed the exalting sacrifice for all individuals while at the same time fulfilling the supernal promise given to Adam and Eve at their investiture—that Christ would make it possible for all to be clothed, transformed into beings who know they are worthy of salvation and exaltation.[12]

Conclusion

So let’s review some of the rich symbolism behind the clothing ritual:

  • It can remind us of the priestly vestments in the Old Testament
  • It’s symbolic of our nakedness before the Lord before ascending to greater glory
  • It can be a godly vestment just like the goddess Ishtar
  • It can symbolize rebirth and innocence and
  • It can also represent the Atonement of Jesus Christ

if you’re an endowed member of the church of jesus christ it can be easy to take the temple garment for granted as a mundane piece of underglowing but i hope that every once in a while you do remember its sanctity as we call ourselves in the temple garment each morning we are reminded of our sacred temple covenants of our spiritual rebirth of our priestly destiny and of the atonement of jesus christ

If you are endowed member of the Church of Jesus Christ, it can be easy to take the temple garment for granted as a mundane piece of underclothing. But I hope that every once in a while, you’ll remember its sanctity. As we clothe ourselves each day, we are reminded of our temple covenants, of our spiritual rebirth, of our priestly destiny, and of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.


[1] See Sacred Temple Clothing,” by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, available online at

[2]Sacred Temple Clothing.”

[3] In the earliest iterations of the Initiatory ceremony, participants did not wear a fabric shield. The fabric shield was introduced into the initiatory ordinance in the 20th century. By 2005, participants would wear the temple garment into the initiatory room, with the fabric shield for additional modesty. The fabric shield and ritual clothing were removed in 2016. Today, participants enter the initiatory fully dressed in both the temple garment, and their normal temple clothes (dresses for women, shirt and slacks for men).

[4] I speak here in generalities. Of course, there are always exceptions to these rules and they should not be seen as inviolable. The symbols of the ancient world were just as complex and nuanced as ours today.

[5] See Matthew 27:28, 35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23–24.

[6] See Stephanie Dalley, “The Descent of Ishtar,” in The Context of Scripture, 3 vols., ed. William W. Hallo (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 1:381–384; E. A. Speiser, “Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 106–109; William J. Fulco, “Ishtar,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols., ed. David Noel Freedman, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, John David Pleins, and Astrid B. Beck (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992), 3:521–522. Translation available to read online at https://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/ishtar.htm. For a discussion on this story’s influence on the Book of Mormon, see Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does Isaiah Prophesy of the Daughter of Zion? (2 Nephi 13:16–17),” KnoWhy 550 (February 18, 2020).

[7] I am likening this Akkadian tale to my own understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is in no way how the ancient Mesopotamians would have seen this story, so should not be taken as an exegetical interpretation.

[8] Daniel Belnap, “Clothed with Salvation: The Garden, the Veil, Tabitha, and Christ,” Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 4 (2013): 49.

[9] Belnap, “Clothed with Salvation,” 54–55.

[10] Belnap, “Clothed with Salvation,” 56–57.

[11] Stephen D. Ricks, “The Garment of Adam in Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Tradition,” in Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1994), 721.

[12] Belnap, “Clothed with Salvation,” 66–67.

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