Is the temple canon?

This is not canon.

An interesting question just came up: is the temple liturgy canon?


  • It is not publicly available
  • It describes events with scriptural figures
  • It contains binding covenants
  • It is revised frequently and without bringing changes before the body of the Saints
  • It is used in our holiest of places
  • It was originally given by revelation to Joseph Smith, and amended over time by subsequent prophets
  • It cannot be cited or quoted without making people super squeamish
  • Canon, for purposes of this discussion, is a source of authoritative scripture. See, e.g., wikipedia.


    This is not canon.


  1. Since Mormonism does not use the term “canon” (it’s nowhere in the handbook, or anywhere else AFAIK), I think the question is irrelevant. Better questions might be, “Is the temple scripture?” or “Is the temple doctrine?”

  2. Answers: No. Yes.

  3. greg, do you mean that the term canon is not within our BODY OF AUTHORITATIVE DOCUMENTS????

  4. I can point to an official LDS source that says Mormonism does indeed have a “canon,” and it is synonymous with “standard works.”

  5. The terms “scripture” and “doctrine” are also pretty close to useless in Mormonism.
    One of my favorite things about the temple (as in, actually favorite, not ironically so) is that it is held so close culturally that one’s personal interpretation of the liturgy’s meaning is beyond debate or question. Because it is simply not up for discussion, nobody can ever tell me my personal beliefs about the temple are wrong. That’s a beautiful thing.

    Here’s another interesting issue: Since the temple liturgy changes from time to time, including the covenants made, and since the current and past liturgies are not officially published anywhere or available for review, and since people don’t generally disclose the substance of the liturgy they first participated in when going through for themselves, rather than as a proxy, I technically do not and cannot know exactly what the content of the liturgy and covenants were that any given person participated in. I received my endowment in 1991, just after the big change, so, other than rumors and poorly-sourced internet exposes, I have no way of knowing what covenants people made who went through in previous years. Heck of a thing, that.

  6. What have I done?

  7. On doctrine.

    Verdict: Non-canonical. Salvific.

  8. Is the Bible Dictionary part of the “standard works”?

  9. If it’s salvific, it must be canonical. God is a God of order!

  10. This is a really interesting question. The concept of canon only makes sense with reference to a community, and the temple is, as the OP points out, odd in this respect. While participation in temple rites is important as a marker of communal belonging (an idea with some theological import as well), the content of those rites seems bound up more in individual than communal experience. Because talking about the temple outside the temple makes people squeamish, the venues for working out what temple teachings mean are quite limited, with the result that these teachings in their details don’t register much in communal Mormon discussion. So, weirdly, their significance to our community is simultaneously very high and very low: very high because we strongly encourage temple worship (and therefore private engagement with temple teachings), but very low because we don’t let that private engagement bleed out into the community of ideas.

    FWIW, I kind of like this arrangement. I like that we privilege going to the temple while leaving the people who participate to ponder, Mary-like, in their hearts. This creates an opportunity for preserving and even encouraging some of the mystical religiosity that our tendencies toward hide-bound orthopraxy can squelch.

  11. Basically, I’m with sgnm, but I type slowly.

  12. Jason, sort of like the Handbook, huh?

  13. sgnm, I think you may have just saved my soul. Our relationship with our temple covenants is very personal, and no one should tell us what it’s supposed to mean to us. Thank you for your comment!

    I believe that the indisputable fact of major changes to the substance of the ceremony should make one hesitate before insisting that any particular part of it is eternal doctrine. And even in the Standard Works, interpretations come in and out of favor.

  14. Steve: Sort of, except I’ve sat in plenty of meetings where the Handbook was subjected to scriptural-type exegesis. Admittedly, this only happened in leadership meetings of various kinds, and never in, say, GD or HP (and certainly never in RS, which I don’t attend, but just sayin’), but it happened, whereas with the temple that sort of thing rarely if ever happens outside the celestial or sealing rooms. Access to the precise language of Handbook 1 is restricted, but we don’t treat the language as sacrosanct in the same way we do with the temple. A bishop could drop a reference to HB1 in a talk without anybody batting an eye, but if he started waxing exegetical about signs or tokens (or even temple-specific details of the A&E story), somebody in the congregation would probably have a heart attack.

  15. Greg, since the Bible Dictionary includes a headnote in which it pretty much describes itself as incomplete, non-official, and non-doctrinal, AND distinguishes between itself and the standard works, I’m going with “not canonical.”

  16. All of our liturgies change similarly.

  17. If the BD is not canonical, then we can ignore its definition of canonical.

  18. It’s a fascinating question that gets to the heart of so many issues: the nature of scripture, the relationship of a body of worshippers to that scripture and through it to God, the nature of ritual, etc. etc. Kathleen Flake addressed it in her really really really really great article that played a part in my decision to pursue religious studies:

    “‘Not to be Riten’: The Mormon Temple Rite as Oral Canon,” Journal of Ritual Studies 9/2 (Summer 1995): 1–21.

    Google it. It’s really good.

  19. Which is more canonical: the temple, or the Handbook? I’m asking seriously.

  20. I think people need to get over the squeamish and that we should more openly discuss and reference the aspects of the temple that we are not under oath to not reveal.

    Beyond that if it is canon, what are the consequences? If it is not, what are the consequences?

    Right now we treat it as a sort of secret canon, that some of us take very literally and this causes problems as we cannot discuss it. I wonder if this creates a mechanism that reinforce Mormonism’s conservative leanings: a secret scripture that you listen to but basically never discuss.

  21. The temple is more canonical than the handbook, because it’s allegedly a “saving ordinance.” That said, I would draw a distinction between the “saving” nature of the ordinance itself and the liturgy that surrounds the ordinance. Lots of Mormons would certainly disagree with me on this, but I don’t think the liturgy is critical to the ordinance, which is part of why it can be changed without notice or even any mention of the change, reasons for it, or the process by which it is changed.

  22. Hmm…good question. My current opinion is that as a whole it is not canon, because like the OP said, all of the temple liturgy has never been canonized, or gone through the required canonization process. However, the specific parts of temple liturgy that DO appear in our canonized scriptures word for word ARE canon.

    Greg, the Bible Dictionary is not part of the standard works. It says so right in the Preface :)

  23. I’ve been thinking about the “saving” aspect lately. Because we don’t talk about the temple outside the temple, we have a tendency to treat temple ordinances as a formality (especially in our discussions of those who have not yet received them). As in: Ancestor X is languishing in spirit prison until all the boxes have been checked. Not talking about the temple prevents us from talking about how these ordinances can be “saving” in any meaningful way. [1] (Because a God who excludes people from heaven on the basis of formalities reminds me of the gatekeeper in Kafka’s “Before the Law,” and not in a good way.) [2]

    [1] “Meaningfulness” is conditioned by the formalism having necessary recourse to something outside itself. Basically, I’m unwilling to worship a wholly arbitrary God.

  24. Yeah, I don’t buy that the temple is a mandatory ordinance for salvation. What, Jesus didn’t mention it because that’s just how secret it is? Come on.

  25. I’m not really an intellectual, but I am definitely hard pressed to answer this question. The temple ceremony changes far more frequently than our scriptural canon, so that’s where I’m hedging a bit. We are more flexible about it than about the standard works. I’d probably split the difference and say that there is a core part of the temple that is canonical (well, and some of it originates in the POGP anyway which is). That’s the beauty of Mormonism, defining and redefining that core.

  26. You killed Angela C’s comment thread Steve.

  27. Great Basin says:

    I’m actually pretty amazed at how well Mormons keep the secret. I mean, we love to talk about our spiritual experiences in fast and testimony meeting and we love to show off our special advanced knowledge in gospel doctrine. That only on occasion have I noticed people around me squirming because of someone inadvertently quoting the temple over the pulpit is pretty astounding.

    I do think that the vagueness of our discussions of the temple has prevented us from coming to any kind of nuanced understanding of what exactly it is for.

    The Mormon conception of canon is markedly different from other Christian churches in practice. I think the most recent General Conference and the Book of Mormon tie for first place in the canon race in most people’s minds. The Old Testament is always comes in dead last, wheezing. The temple? I vote for not canon. You don’t and can’t know anything about it when you get baptized.

  28. I say it is an oral canon, similar to the Upanishads, before they were published., and like the Holy Quran before it was written down, and other religion’s sacred texts that are not written for general consumption, but are written for the priests, etc. In that way the Temple is a Sacred Text, and canonical. It is also similar in sacredness, and hence secretiveness as the mystery cults and other similar texts throughout religious history.

  29. C’mon Steve, “canon” appears nowhere in the Mormon “canon”, so there isn’t a Mormon canon!

  30. Are Catholitc rites themselves — the Sacraments — considered to be part of the canon itself?

  31. This poll is the “it’s complicated” Facebook relationship status of testimonies.

  32. Book IV, Part I of the code of canon law treats the sacraments–but this may be to introduce a further meaning of “canon.” Or it may simply be to say that the Catholics formalize their canon in ways that we do not, which is why BKP can talk about “the unwritten order of things.”

  33. Although I suppose that handles methods of administration more than the content itself–but the content is prescribed and published.

  34. Looking for Answers says:

    What is the hierarchy of “authority” in the LDS Church, and what authority establishes that hierarchy of authority? For example, how would one rank: (1) Bible; (2) Statements by the Church President (not voted upon); (3) Statements by the First Presidency (not voted upon); (4) Statements by President / First Presidency Voted Upon (5) Book of Mormon; (6) D&C; (7) Pearl of Great Price; (8) Handbook; (9) Statements by apostles (not voted upon)?

    And if scriptures in the Book of Mormon and/or Bible are clearly contradicted by current teachings in the Church, do we just jettison the scripture? Or jettison the teachings? Where is our ultimate allegiance?

  35. My humble apologies, greg, for mistaking your cleverness for naïvete. Excellent point excellently made.

  36. Here’s the mass in English, as published on the Vatican website. There is (it goes without saying) no analogous treatment of the temple liturgy at

    Looking for Answers: the sort of principle you’re looking for is what Augustine called “the rule of faith.” He defined it as the plain places of scripture and the authority of the church. Protestants jettisoned the authority of the church, in principle if not in practice. Mormons are probably more like the Catholics on this one, although our concept of magisterium (the teaching authority of the church) isn’t defined as clearly. We’re a young religion yet: if we track the early church year-for-year (not saying we do…), our Augustine is still at least a century away from being born.

    (Yeah, Tertullian had a rule of faith, but it was kind of vague. Maybe Christofferson’s talk from a couple of conferences back is the analogue.)

  37. I said no, but I am really hard pressed to understand what it really is, outside of ordinances and covenants made in a specific and sacred space. What I have come to terms with is that the whole endowment ceremony as presented does not depict much in the way of events that happened at all in the way described. It is still a great place, mostly for sacred nature of the place, and the ordinances performed, but beyond that, I am not sure what it really is.

    Oh, and The Handbook is NOT canonical, from my perspective.

  38. Grant Hardy says:

    Whether we use the term or not, the words used in temple ceremonies have canonical status within Mormonism. Readers might be interested in an article I wrote for Meridian several months ago in which I argue that the Endowment is actually our fifth standard work, although it takes the form of oral scripture rather than written scripture (and that makes it rather interesting from the perspective of religious studies).

  39. Prequel trilogy: canonical, non-salvific.

  40. Grant, thanks for linking to that piece at Meridian (shame on you for printing it there, though). The concept of oral scripture is a tricky one indeed, especially since it is in flux. Don’t you think, though, that we need to distinguish between the rites themselves and the presentation/drama?

    PS Grant — are there any other contemporary religions who use oral scriptures?

    PPS — I’d argue that the endowment isn’t oral scripture, as it is written down and quite firmly established in its words. It is subject to revision like an oral tradition but it is extremely rigorous in its implementation.

  41. it's a series of tubes says:

    I think people need to get over the squeamish and that we should more openly discuss and reference the aspects of the temple that we are not under oath to not reveal.

    John, I agree. The scope of what is discussed in Packer’s The Holy Temple goes far beyond what the average member thinks they can talk about.

  42. Looking for Answers — this post explores the theories around your question:
    In case you were curious, this is how I’d rank those:
    First Tier: (1) Bible (“translated correctly”) = (5) Book of Mormon = (6) D&C = (7) Pearl of Great Price = (4) Statements of 1P Voted Upon (these are what I’d say most people would consider canon or standard works)
    Second Tier: (3) Official Statements by the First Presidency (not voted upon)
    Third Tier: (2) Statements by the Church President (not voted upon)
    Fourth Tier: (9) Statements by apostles (not voted upon)
    Fifth Tier: (8) Handbook

    I’m going with the definition of canon as “an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture” so I can comfortably say that the temple liturgy is not canon. Like others have said, most of the teachings in the temple are taken from established canon, so they are definitely doctrinal. Whether they should be viewed as more or less authoritative than living prophets and/or established scripture seems more to be the core of the question, and the above-referenced post explores just how murky those waters are.

  43. Yes, but Packer is allowed to talk about whatever he wants because whether from Packer’s mouth or God’s it is the same. And are you really going to tell God he’s not allowed to talk about stuff that the temple never actually says you’re not supposed to talk about? I didn’t think so.

  44. Good question. I get what you mean by canon vs. non-canon. I’ve actually debated this a lot recently with my husband, because there are places where the open discourse of the church and the infrequently discussed language of the temple are at odds with each other. For example (as my husband contends) many, many Church leaders have stated that men and women ARE equal. Whereas (as I contend) the language of the temple suggests that men and women are NOT equal. Who is right? I tend to think the temple trumps all else, but I’m also having to get away from believing that the temple language was given by revelation, since it’s been changed so many times over the years. And I suspect that the truth is somewhere in between (though on the question of gender equality, they would appear to be mutually exclusive).

  45. I’m not a fan of the 14 Fundamentals, but those who accept them fully would have to say that what current leaders are saying (for example, about spouses being equal) trumps the temple (implying spouses are not equal) – since what is in the temple came from previous leaders.

  46. FWIW, when I worked as a receptionist in the Los Angeles Temple back in the 1990s, Boyd K. Packer spoke at a special fireside for temple workers and volunteers and said in so many words that we can and should be discussing things that go on in the temple with the only exception being those things that are explicitly forbidden to repeat or reveal (which isn’t very many things). He said of course we shouldn’t be treating it lightly or telling just anyone, but we should feel free to talk about our covenants, the symbolism, etc., especially with youth and people who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time.

  47. It’s certainly scripture but (all respect to Grant Hardy), it doesn’t qualify as canon by technicality. It’s non-canonized scripture, a very very large category.

  48. Ben, how are you defining canon for your purposes here?

  49. Canon? We don’ need no steenking canon. That might loosely be defined in each of our hearts and spirits as it is in D&C 68:4

    Ben, I think your comment (and by extension, your definition of “canon”) hinge on the extent to which we believe that the wording, structure, and execution of the endowment are given by direct revelation as opposed to being a collection of ideas from the OT and POGP, interspersed with Masonic ritual touches and occasionally revised by committee. Granted, that might (with the exception of the Masonry) describe big parts of the Standard Works, especially the OT, but still – is the endowment a “thus sayeth the Lord” coherent whole?

  50. Perhaps it would here be more relevant to wonder whether Steve Evans is canon.

  51. Canon ≈ Standard Works.
    D&C 68:3-4 defines “scripture” as anything spoken by the spirit, a very broad category without objective boundaries. A sermon, a blessing, a SM talk, a prayer, a song, all could be inspired or revealed, and therefore scripture. But clearly, by that definition what’s between the covers of my quad, my scriptures, do not include all scripture, only that subset that has been written and canonized, formally accepted as binding by the community.

    So, scripture > canon, and canon is that subset of inspiration/revelation/things spoken by the holy ghost that has been canonized.
    Put in recent context, is four chapters all God said to Amos? Or is the Book of Amos merely a subset? Given the dominance of orality in Biblical times, that writing was only a secondary mode, most of what Biblical prophets preached was not written down, is not extent, and therefore has not been canonized.

  52. Iconoclast- I don’t see that it hinges on that at all. “Direct revelation” vs… less direct revelation (?) is a common trope in Mormon discussions, but really doesn’t hold up too well. In any case, “direct revelation” or “thus sayeth the Lord” doesn’t preclude diachronic change, “borrowing,” or cultural adaption.

  53. (FWIW, I spend several chapters in my book talking about the nature of revelation -> prophets-> scripture-> interpretation. It’s necessary groundwork to the main event.)

  54. Joe Gritz: No, I’d say that Steve is more like the dean, with the rest of the permas being like canons. We don’t elect bishops of course, but everything else is the same.

    OTOH, in extreme cases a cannon can be substituted for the usual bannination stick. It’s written in the unofficial BCC canon law.

  55. We can say all we want about Amos, but there can be no debate: his cookies are pretty great.

  56. Next poll: George Q. Cannon–cannonical or non-Q.-cannonical?

  57. And this is a great thread, by the way. I particularly liked the contributions of sgnm (pbuh), who always has interesting thoughts on this stuff.

  58. Iconoclast: do you mean philosophies of men, mingled with scripture?

  59. Why is there so much focus in the blogernacle over what is canon/doctrine instead of what is true? This same discussion has been had over the Proclamation, conference talks, the Handbook, etc. I don’t particularly care whether is it canonical. For example, Section 134 is canonical, but I seriously question whether it was inspired.

  60. Is Bowzer sha-na-nanical?

  61. Wow.

  62. Whoa whoa! Canon ≠ doctrine nor is the opposite necessarily true!

  63. Stacy: I think that’s a really interesting question. I believe the church determines what is “officially” true by canonizing it. So asking if something is canonical is asking whether the church thinks it’s true I suppose.

  64. I just voted on the poll issue. I’m pretty sure my vote was transmitted directly to the SCMC.

  65. Angela- That’s mostly true. But in practice, we can see the The Church thinks that a lot of things are true which are not in the canon. The temple being a prime example.

    There’s of course the argument that canon represents the floor not the ceiling on truth, and perhaps that is the proper way to think about it.

  66. “There’s of course the argument that canon represents the floor not the ceiling on truth, and perhaps that is the proper way to think about it.”

    I like that, but there are cases where some of it might be said to represent the basement that holds things that no longer are believed to be part of a proper floor.

    I really like the concept of being able to put things in the basement once we’re able to receive greater light and knowledge/understanding and build a new floor – and that includes canonized statements as well as former aspects of the temple ceremonies. It’s what gives me hope that more things will be put in the basement from both sources in the course of my lifetime.

  67. It doesn’t matter

  68. well duh, Fred. That’s why we’re blogging about it.

  69. Speaking of canon representing “the basement that holds things that no longer are believed to be part of a proper floor,” I wonder why we don’t get rid of those things. Like D&C 132? Why not just remove that section altogether since practicing it would represent apostasy? Why’s it still hanging around irritating people?

  70. MOQT, history, I suspect.

    The temple teaches me that God does not want a relationship with me, and I find this troubling. The idea that it might not be canon, or at best “it’s complicated” is welcome relief.

  71. it's a series of tubes says:

    Yes, but Packer is allowed to talk about whatever he wants because whether from Packer’s mouth or God’s it is the same.

    sgnm, I don’t think this is an accurate statement regarding the implications of D&C 1:38. Look a little more closely at what is singular and what is plural in that verse.

    Also, Steve – this thread has one of the best BCC caption photos of all time. Nicely done.

  72. Tubes, which photo?

  73. it's a series of tubes says:

    Sorry, the first one – though I realize some would say the second is superior.

  74. My goal is to please the one person out of a hundred who would get that sort of reference

  75. Can I just say that I like the idea of cannon and wish we used it more, and more systematically? I feel as if it protects me from what fundamentalists insist I have to believe because some GA somewhere said it once. And don’t bring up multiple witnesses–often that’s just uncritical parroting.

  76. I don’t think it’s canon.

  77. gst has lost the power. Grant Hardy for perma.

  78. I’d say the temple narrative is doctrinal but is not a part of the LDS scriptural canon.

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