In previous videos in this series, I’ve gone over the principles behind each covenant that Latter-day Saints make in the temple endowment ceremony. In this video, I’ll be going over the relationships between all these covenants, how they each build upon each other, and how they fit into the New and Everlasting Covenant.
In addition to these principles, I’ll be going over the ancient roots of these temple covenants. The template for covenants that we find in the modern Latter-day Saint temple ceremony, has strong parallels to how covenants were made in the ancient world. These archetypal patterns of covenant making can help us better understand our new relationship with God when we covenant with Him.
Relationship Between the Covenants
The covenants in the temple endowment ceremony build upon each other progressively, and also iterate over each other. As I’ve mentioned in other videos, it’s not a bad thing for there to be overlap between the temple covenants, since living the same, basic but true gospel principles are the surest way to progression and happiness. There are a lot of ways to interpret and reflect on the temple covenants; this is just my perspective.
I think that the covenants do build upon each other successively. I believe that the covenants progress from introspection to extrospection. They progress from thinking more of ourselves and our own spiritual welfare, to thinking more of others and becoming increasingly selfless in our quest to become more like Jesus Christ. As I’ve alluded to in other videos, they go from focusing on the first great commandment—to love the Lord thy God with thy heart, might, mind, and strength—to focusing on the second great commandment—to love thy neighbor as thyself.
The Law of Obedience helps us strip ourselves of pride by submitting our wills to the will of the Father. We show God that we love Him by obeying His commandments. The Law of Sacrifice similarly focuses on devotion to God by promising to offer Him a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We again learn to submit our will to the Father and sacrifice other distractions. The Law of the Gospel encourages us to enter a higher state of holiness as a way to show loyalty and love to God. We are to abandon unholy and impure practices that would detract from our efforts to be true disciples.
The Law of the Gospel has an aspect that begins to look more outward in the exhortation to sustain the Lord’s anointed. While we ultimately swear loyalty to God, He works through His church, which is run by imperfect mortals. God has appointed certain individuals to lead His church, and in order for the work to go forward, it is imperative that we give our support to God’s chosen leaders.
The Law of Chastity focuses more on loving thy neighbor as thyself. The central focus of this covenant is on your behavior, but perhaps more importantly, the effect your behavior has on others. It prohibits you from hurting others outside the marriage relationship, and it encourages building a stronger relationship within marriage, through the means of sexual relations.
The Law of Consecration is geared towards building a Zion society and a covenant community through selfless giving of time, talents, and material means. The Law of Chastity centers on the relationship between you and a potential spouse. The Law of Consecration centers on the relationship between you and rest of the covenant community.
The New and Everlasting Covenant
In the temple endowment, we make five distinct covenants. All of these covenants fall under the umbrella of a macro-covenant that God made with Israel anciently and continues with his covenant people today. Through entering into this covenant, one promises to love and obey God, and to love and serve others. In return, God promises exaltation and eternal life.
This covenant began with Adam and Eve and continued with Noah. It was reestablished with Abraham as the Abrahamic Covenant. It iterated under Moses and the Mosaic Law. It continued under David and Solomon as the Davidic Covenant. In the meridian of time, Christ established a New Covenant or New Testament. In the Latter-days, the Lord declared “that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning” (D&C 22:1). The covenant has assumed different names over time, but they are all re-implementations of the same promise that God makes with His children: Serve God and others, and He will grant eternal life.
The Ancient Covenant Treaty Pattern
While today, covenants are most often used in religious contexts, they were a lot more common in antiquity. Covenants were a common way that two parties could make an agreement with each other, and they followed a predictable pattern. Remember in the first covenant video I did, I said that a covenant is “A ceremony, which outlines certain obligations, which results in a new relationship. In other words:
Covenant = Ceremony + Obligation + New Relationship”
That’s a religious covenant stripped down to its barest bones, and it’s true of ancient covenants and temple covenants. Covenants in the ancient world frequently included the following elements:
- Historical Prologue
- Formal Witness
- Blessings and Cursings
We can trace these elements of covenants in scripture, but also in the covenants we make in the temple. Identifying this pattern can help us understand why we make covenants so formally and ritually in the temple. It can also build our faith in Joseph Smith as a prophet of God who restored ancient covenants to our day. But first let me explain what all these steps mean.
Formal Steps in a Covenant
A preamble is just an introduction, like the preamble to the Constitution of the United States. It will often identify the parties by name or title, much like we do in legal contracts today.
The historical prologue provides some background between the parties. In a vassal treaty, it would describe what the King has done in the past for the subjects.
The stipulations are the meat of the covenant. They are the terms and conditions. They are the formal requirements of the covenant.
The witness might be the formal oath-swearing. It is when the parties formalize the relationship by agreeing to its terms. The witness might also include a list of other parties witnessing the covenant, such as heaven and earth, God, angels, or other people present.
Covenants also included a series of blessings or cursings. This is a declaration of fortune or consequences for obedience or disobedience to the terms of the covenant. While the idea of cursings may sound harsh, you’re probably already familiar with them. If you ever made a pinky promise on the playground as a kid, you may have accompanied it with something like, “cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” As a kid, you’re not taking those cursings literally, but you are trying to impress upon your playground friend just how seriously you’re taking that pinky promise.
The deposition is a statement detailing the writing down and preserving of the text of the treaty or covenant. It’s documenting how the content of the covenant will be deposited. If there is not a physical writing-down of the covenant like a monument or a scroll, the deposition may include a clause to remember or memorialize the covenant with an oral reciting or a festival celebration.
The Covenant Treaty Pattern in Exodus
To give an example of how this plays out in real life, we can trace this covenant-making pattern throughout scripture, such as in Genesis 12–17, Exodus 20–24, Joshua 24, and the whole book of Deuteronomy. Even the Book of Mormon features this pattern, when King Benjamin establishes a new covenant with the Nephites in Mosiah 1–6.
A short example to see this pattern at work can be found in the first few verses of Exodus 19:
3 And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; 4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. 5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. 7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. 8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. (Exodus 19:3–8)
|Covenant Element||Exodus 19|
|Preamble||And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; (v. 3)|
|Historical Prologue||Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. (v. 4)|
|Stipulations||Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: (v. 5)|
|Formal Witness||And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. (v. 8)|
|Blessings and Cursings||And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. (v. 6)|
|Deposition||And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. (v. 7)|
In verse 3, the Lord introduces the covenant by identifying the parties of the children of Israel and the Lord. In verse 4, the Lord mentions what he had previously done for Israel, by delivering them from Egypt. In verse 5, the Lord stipulates that the Israelites need to obey His voice and keep His commandments in order for them to become a peculiar treasure unto the Lord. There is some overlap between the stipulations and blessings and cursings, which in this case include the Israelites becoming a kingdom of priests. The Israelites formally swear to abide by this covenant when they respond to Moses that they will do everything the Lord has said. The Deposition is alluded to in verse 7 when Moses recites this covenant to the elders for them to keep.
We even see this covenant pattern turn up in modern ceremonies, such as at a Presidential Inauguration, a wedding ceremony, a royal coronation, or the swearing in of a Supreme Court Justice:
|Covenant Element||Presidential Inauguration|
|Historical Prologue||National Anthem, Opening Remarks|
|Terms of the Covenant||“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”|
|Formal Witness||Right hand to the square, hand on Bible|
|Blessings and Cursings||n/a|
Covenant Treat Pattern in the Temple Covenants
In the temple, we likewise utilize this ancient, scriptural covenant pattern when we make each covenant in the temple endowment.
|Covenant Element||Temple Endowment|
|Preamble||You represent Adam and Eve respectively|
|Historical Prologue||Narrative of the Fall|
|Stipulations||[definition of covenant]|
|Formal Witness||Each person responds with a sacred gesture We make the covenant before God and other witnesses|
|Blessings and Cursings||Endowment introduction outlining blessings for faithfulness Penalties at the end (pre-1990)|
|Deposition||Symbols to memorialize the covenant|
All the patrons are reminded that they should view themselves respectively as Adam and Eve. This declaration forms the preamble since it identifies the parties that are participating in the covenant. Adam and Eve symbolize each person that enters into the New and Everlasting covenant that started with the Fall and continues today.
As we’ve discussed in previous videos, the temple endowment ceremony includes a presentation of the Plan of Salvation, telling the story of Creation, Fall, and Atonement. This serves as the historical prologue to each person entering into this ancient and eternal covenant.
The stipulations or terms of each covenant are outlined in the endowment ceremony. I’ve also done previous videos detailing each covenant made in the temple and what they entail.
The formal witness occurs when each individual verbally and ritually agrees to the covenant. The officiator will also remind the patrons of the heavenly witnesses that also attend to the covenant.
The series of blessings and cursings is more lightly alluded to in the modern endowment ceremony. However, the script of the introduction to the endowment ceremony denotes the blessings that will be granted to those who are faithful to their covenants. The scriptures make it clear that God’s whole purpose in this endeavor is to bless us with exaltation and eternal life (Moses 1:39).
In an earlier version of the endowment ceremony, each covenant was also accompanied by a declaration of consequences for disobeying the covenant. These were called penalties and are similar to what we find other covenant texts from the ancient world. These were removed from the ceremony, but each individual should still understand that sacred covenants also come with consequences for disobedience. As Alma the Younger taught, “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).
In the temple, we are also given means to memorialize the covenant we have made, as part of the deposition. We are taught sacred symbols to help us remember and honor the covenants we make. And I’ll be going over covenant symbols in a future video.
Knowing the technicalities of ancient covenant structures may sound tedious or unnecessary, but I think they help us put the temple endowment into context a little better. The way we do things in the temple is highly ritual and highly symbolic. It is very different from how we interact in the mundane world, but it’s important to know that this ritual format is both ancient and sacred. God covenanted with Abraham in the same structure that He covenants with you today. By covenanting with God in the temple we enter into a new relationship with Him as His sons and daughters. Using this covenant format helps us acknowledge the antiquity of these promises and formalize our worship.
So to summarize, each covenant we make in the temple builds upon each other to help us progress from sincere disciples to selfless members of a covenant community. Each covenant we make in the temple inducts us into the larger New and Everlasting Covenant, which describes the relationship God forged with mankind throughout different periods of history. Each individual endowment covenant follows an ancient pattern that connects us with the primeval company of Saints that came before us, back to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Adam.
Stephen D. Ricks, “Oaths and Oath Taking in the Old Testament,” in The Temple in Time and Eternity, ed. Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999).
Ricks, Stephen D. “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6.” In King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom”, edited by John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, 233-275. Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998.
Ricks, Stephen D. “The Treaty/Covenant Pattern in King Benjamin’s Address (Mosiah 1–6),” BYU Studies Quarterly 24, no. 2 (1984): 151–162.
John M. Lundquist, “Temple, Covenant, and Law in the Ancient East and in the Old Testament,” in Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, ed. Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1994), 272–294.
Daniel Belnap, “A Comparison of the Communal Lament Psalms and the Treaty-Covenant Formula,” Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 1 (2009): 1–34.
 See Stephen D. Ricks, “Oaths and Oath Taking in the Old Testament,” in The Temple in Time and Eternity, ed. Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999); John M. Lundquist, “Temple, Covenant, and Law in the Ancient East and in the Old Testament,” in Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, ed. Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1994), 272–294.
 Ricks, Stephen D. “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6.” In King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom”, edited by John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, 233-275. Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998; Ricks, Stephen D. “The Treaty/Covenant Pattern in King Benjamin’s Address (Mosiah 1–6),” BYU Studies Quarterly 24, no. 2 (1984): 151–162.
3 thoughts on “Ancient Temple Covenants in the New and Everlasting Covenant | Covenants in the Latter-day Saint Temple Endowment”
“The central focus of this covenant is on your behavior, but perhaps more importantly, the effect your behavior has on others. It prohibits you from hurting others outside the marriage relationship, and it encourages building a stronger relationship within marriage, through the means of sexual relations.”
I’m not sure this is completely correct. I think the actual central focus of the law of Chastity is Loyalty. I see this law as applying to the relationship to God and myself as well as to my spouse and myself. To be chaste I must be loyal to my spouse and love them above any other person. Likewise, to be chaste I must be loyal to God and have no other gods before Him. I must know Him (the knowledge of godliness) and love Him with all of my heart, might, mind, and strength.
The tabernacle was a tent. Much like when a man would marry a woman and then bring her into his tent. God symbolically has married us (that is, the covenant community or the church – who is the bride) and brought us into his tent/tabernacle. The table of shewbread held 12 loaves of bread which are the 12 tribes of Isreal. The 12 tribes were symbolically perpetually in Jehovah’s tent, just before the veil of His presence.
I see the gate of the courtyard of obedience (because of our faith we come to the courtyard to offer sacrifice in obedience to the commandments). I see the altar of burnt offerings as representing sacrifice and repentance. I see the laver of water as representing the aaronic priesthood gospel ordinance of baptism. I see the door of the tabernacle as representing other gospel charges (those who enter should not be light minded, etc.) I see the lampstand as representing the melchizedek priesthood gospel ordinance of the gift of the holy ghost (the oil representing the spirit, the light representing the word of God that comes through revelation from the Holy Ghost that lights our way along the covenant path, the fire representing the purifying influence of the spirit and the burning of the bosom, etc.). I see the table of shewbread representing chastity and the need for the bride (the 12 tribes of israel, the covenant community, etc.) that has been brought into her husband’s tent to be loyal to him continually – to have no other bridegrooms/gods before her. I see the altar of incense as representing consecration. The term used for consecrate of the priests means to fill the hand. There are a number of examples of incense spoons in the shape of a cupped hand. The hand of the spoon would be filled with incense. The altar of incense was continually just before the veil into the Holy of Holies, with the prayers of the righteous continually ascending to heaven, representing the priests who has been consecrated or set apart to be continually represented as standing before the veil waiting to serve.