Guidance for Talking About Tokens in the Latter-day Saint Temple
Hey guys, today we are talking about the highly-anticipated topic of tokens in the Latter-day Saint temple endowment. Now before anyone gets concerned, we are going to be very careful, and very respectful as we delicately thread this needle. As always we are going to be sticking very closely to Elder Bednar’s guidance in his 2019 General Conference talk:
Guideline #1: Because we love the Lord, we always should speak about His holy house with reverence. We should not disclose or describe the special symbols associated with the covenants we receive in sacred temple ceremonies. Neither should we discuss the holy information that we specifically promise in the temple not to reveal.
Guideline #2: The temple is the house of the Lord. Everything in the temple points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ. We may discuss the basic purposes of and the doctrine and principles associated with temple ordinances and covenants.
In that spirit we will not be describing or disclosing anything that would violate our sacred covenants with God. But we will be talking about basic principles, and we will be talking about Jesus Christ.
The Purpose of Covenant Tokens
In the Temple Endowment Ceremony, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make sacred covenants with God to live virtuous and Christ-centered lives. In a previous video, I covered the ancient pattern that these covenants follow. Part of covenant making in the ancient world involved a deposition, or a way to memorialize and remember the covenant. Latter-day Saints memorialize and certify their covenants with God through sacred symbols that we do not discuss outside the temple.
Brigham Young explained that,
Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.
Their purpose of these sacred symbols are two-fold as I’ve already alluded to: First, they help us to memorialize and remember our covenants in sacred ways. Second, Brigham Young made it clear that part of their purpose is to enable us to walk back into God’s presence and gain eternal life. They serve as identifiers and authenticators.
What Is a Symbol or Token?
Symbols and tokens are any object or action that can represent a broader concept. A stop sign is a symbol that represents how any car approaching it must come to a full and complete stop on the road before moving forward. To set up a new phone, or log into your email, or sign into a lot of apps today, you have to go through a two-step authentication process. When you enter your password, the app will text or email you a special number or code that you need to input as well. This confirmation code is a token to ensure that you are the right person trying to sign into the account.
The English word for “symbol” comes from an ancient Greek reference to knucklebones. The Greek word sumbolon (σύμβολον) could mean two halves of an object such as a knucklebone from a goat or sheep. Each contracting party would keep one half of the knucklebone, and when the two halves of the knucklebone were brought together by the two people, it would certify each other’s identity.
For example, a sumbolon could be used for a guest in a home. The host might gift the guest half of a token, so that they could recognize each other if they were to meet again in the future. In Euripides’ Medea, the protagonist Jason offered to send “tokens” to his friends on behalf of Medea, so that when she arrived, she would be identified, recognized, and welcomed as a guest and friend of Jason.
In 1832, Joseph Smith revealed section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Lord gave instructions for how members of the School of the Prophets should address and identify each other:
Let him offer himself in prayer upon his knees before God, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant.
And when any shall come in after him, let the teacher arise, and, with uplifted hands to heaven, yea, even directly, salute his brother or brethren with these words:
Art thou a brother or brethren? I salute you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant, in which covenant I receive you to fellowship, in a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, to be your friend and brother through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever. Amen. (D&C 88:131–133)
The Token of Lamb’s Blood in the Passover
In the book of Exodus, God instituted the Passover as a way to memorialize how God’s final plague passed over the Israelites who painted their lintels and doorposts with blood. Exodus 12 tells us that this action was a token or sign of God’s promise:
And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13; cf. Exodus 12:23)
The blood on the doorposts was a way for the destroying angel to identify God’s people, as opposed to the Egyptians. Blood is a pretty gruesome token, but the Book of Moses teaches us that blood sacrifices can be likened to Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
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. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore. (Moses 5:7–8)
The atonement of Jesus Christ should always be at the center of our worship, so symbols of Christ’s atonement can be a means for us to focus our thoughts and channel our worship in church and in the temple.
Tokens of Christ Throughout the Scriptures
After His resurrection, Jesus Christ used the nail prints in his hands and feet as tokens of identification for his disciples in both the Old World and the New World.
In the Gospel of John, Thomas Didymus said that he would not believe Christ was truly resurrected unless he could see and feel the prints of the nails in Jesus’s hands. Jesus Christ subsequently appeared and allowed Thomas to see, touch, and feel the nail marks in his hands.
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. (John 20:26–27)
It was after this touching exchange, that in full recognition Thomas could identify Him: “Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
In the Book of Mormon when Christ appeared to the Nephites, He presented the prints of the nails in His hands as a way for the Nephites to identify Him as the prophesied Jesus Christ:
Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come. (3 Nephi 11:14–15)
It was again after this touching exchange that the Nephites recognized, identified, and truly came to know the Savior:
And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him. (3 Nephi 11:16–17)
There are many other examples of tokens being used in the scriptures in connection with covenants or identification, and you can find these at the end of this post in the Appendix.
Christ’s Atonement in Church and Temple Worship
Each week in Church, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints partake of bread and water in the Sacrament service as a token that they will remember and recognize Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Moroni recorded,
We ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. (Moroni 4:3; 5:2).
There may be symbols of Christ’s sacrifice in our church and temple worship that certify our identity as covenant children of God. Through reverencing symbols of Christ’s sacrifice, we can continually remember Him and learn to become like Him. At the end of our lives, we will all come face to face with our Savior Jesus Christ. Through His grace and through our efforts, we hope that when we see Him, He will recognize us as His. The epistle of John reads,
Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
I believe that atonement of Jesus Christ covers our sins and enables us to become more like God. The more we reverence the symbols of Christ’s atonement, the more we can value our relationship with Him. As we come to know Jesus Christ in new and personal ways, we’ll begin to emulate and resemble Him. As Alma taught, may we receive Christ’s image in our countenances (Alma 5:14), in our hands, and in our hearts, and in all we do.
Gaye Strathern, “Christ’s Crucifixion: Reclamation of the Cross,” in With Healing in His Wings, ed. Camille Fronk Olson and Thomas A. Wayment (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013), 55–79.
David Calabro, “The Divine Handclasp in the Hebrew Bible and in Ancient Near Eastern Iconography,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 45 (2021): 37–52
Stephen D. Ricks, “The Sacred Embrace and the Sacred Handclasp in Ancient Mediterranean Religions,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 37 (2020): 319–330.
Book of Mormon Central, “What Makes 3 Nephi the Holy of Holies of the Book of Mormon? (3 Nephi 14:13-14),” KnoWhy 206 (October 11, 2016).
John W. Welch, “Seeing Third Nephi as the Holy of Holies of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 19/1 (2010): 36–55; also published in Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture, ed. Andrew C. Skinner and Gaye Strathearn (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2012), 1–33.
Appendix: Scriptures Referring to “Tokens”
Genesis 9:12–17 The Rainbow After the Flood
12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:
15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.
17 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.
Genesis 17:11–12 Circumcision in the Abrahamic Covenant
11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
Exodus 3:12 The Plagues of Egypt at the Burning Bush
12 And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.
Exodus 13:14–16 The Blood of the Passover
14 ¶ And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage:
15 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.
16 And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt.
Numbers 17:10 Aaron’s Rod
10 ¶ And the Lord said unto Moses, Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.
Deuteronomy 22:12–21 Tokens of Virginity
12 ¶ Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.
13 ¶ If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,
14 And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:
15 Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:
16 And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;
17 And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
18 And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;
19 And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
20 But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:
21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
Joshua 2:12,18 Rahab in Jericho
12 Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token:…18 Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household, home unto thee.
Psalms 135:8–9 The Plagues of Egypt
8 Who smote the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast.
9 Who sent tokens and wonders into the midst of thee, O Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his servants.
Mark 14:43–45 Judas’s Kiss of Betrayal
43 ¶ And immediately, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.
44 And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely.
45 And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed him.
2 Thessalonians 1:4–5
4 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
5 Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
Alma 46:21 Nephites Renting their Clothes
21 And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments.
Alma 47:23–24 Amalickiah Murders the King of the Lamanites
23 And it came to pass that the king put forth his hand to raise them, as was the custom with the Lamanites, as a token of peace, which custom they had taken from the Nephites.
24 And it came to pass that when he had raised the first from the ground, behold he stabbed the king to the heart; and he fell to the earth.
Moroni 9:10 The Depravity of the Nephites
10 And after they had done this thing, they did murder them in a most cruel manner, torturing their bodies even unto death; and after they have done this, they devour their flesh like unto wild beasts, because of the hardness of their hearts; and they do it for a token of bravery.
Doctrine and Covenants 88:131–136 The School of the Prophets
131 Let him offer himself in prayer upon his knees before God, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant.
132 And when any shall come in after him, let the teacher arise, and, with uplifted hands to heaven, yea, even directly, salute his brother or brethren with these words:
133 Art thou a brother or brethren? I salute you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant, in which covenant I receive you to fellowship, in a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, to be your friend and brother through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever. Amen.
134 And he that is found unworthy of this salutation shall not have place among you; for ye shall not suffer that mine house shall be polluted by him.
135 And he that cometh in and is faithful before me, and is a brother, or if they be brethren, they shall salute the president or teacher with uplifted hands to heaven, with this same prayer and covenant, or by saying Amen, in token of the same.
136 Behold, verily, I say unto you, this is an ensample unto you for a salutation to one another in the house of God, in the school of the prophets.
 David A. Bednar, “Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” General Conference April 2019.
 Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941, p. 416.
 The LSJ defines σύμβολον as “each of two halves or corresponding pieces of an astragalos or other object, which…two contracting parties broke between them, each party keeping one piece, in order to have proof of the identity of the presenter of the other.” See Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry Stuart Jones, “σύμβολον,” in A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1843). A similar concept in the Roman world was that of tesserae hospitals, which denoted “a tally, token, which was divided between two friends, in order that, by means of it, they or their descendants might always recognize each other (the Greek σύμβολα).” See Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, “tessera,” in A Latin Dictionary (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1879).
 See Euripides, Medea, 613.
 For example, Paul spoke of how in the early church, suffering persecution was as a token to God of their faithfulness. At God’s judgment, the Lord would recognize them as faithful servants because they were willing to suffer tribulations for His name’s sake (2 Thessalonians 1:4–5).