Ancient Israelite temple ceremonial clothing

Ancient Israelite temple ceremonial clothing worn in the Mosaic Tabernacle, and succeeding Israelite temples of Solomon, Herod, et al.

I’m very pleased to welcome another guest post by Matthew B. Brown.  Some of his writings, particularly his book The Gate of Heaven, are what inspired me to study the temple more in depth.  He offers a wealth of insight and learning for the Latter-day Saints. ~Bryce

Matthew B. Brown holds a degree in history from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He is the author of ten books and has published articles with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU (aka FARMS). Matthew has served as a volunteer researcher, editor, and respondent for The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) and has spoken at several of their annual conferences. He is one of the directors of the upcoming EXPOUND symposium on May 14, 2011, and will also be a presenter (


It is publicly acknowledged that Latter-day Saints who participate in the central temple rites of their faith dress in several layers of ceremonial clothing, consisting of a "white undergarment" (which is worn as part of everyday life) and "other priestly robes" (which are only worn during times of temple service).1 The undergarment is properly referred to as the "garment of the holy priesthood"2 and the robes are likewise referred to as the "robes of the holy priesthood."3 A proclamation written on 6 April 1845 by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo, Illinois clarified that these are the "garments and royal robes of the high priesthood."4 The garment bears "several simple marks of orientation toward the gospel principles of obedience, truth, life and discipleship in Christ."5 The First Presidency of the LDS Church stated in a 1988 administrative letter that one of the functions of the garment is to serve as "a reminder of the sacred covenants [which temple patrons] have made with the Lord" and another is to serve as "a protection against temptation and evil." Yet, these Church leaders emphasize that such protection is conditional in nature.6 The temple garment is bestowed by an officiator prior to the commencement of the main temple ceremonies (in connection with washing and anointing rituals7) and is to be worn for the remainder of the recipient's mortal life.8 A proclamation circulated by President Joseph F. Smith on 28 June 1906 stated that "the pattern of endowment garments was revealed from heaven."9

The priests of ancient Israel were invested (see Lev. 8:7) with layers of "holy," white linen clothing (some of which included other colors) in order to qualify them for service in the tabernacle precincts (Ex. 28:2, 4, 39-40). It is known that the Israelite kings donned similar vestments (see 1 Chron. 15:27). This clothing was bestowed in connection with purification by water and anointing with perfumed oil (see Ex. 40:12-13). All of the priests were commanded by the Lord to wear the white undergarment while serving within temple space so that they would be protected from lethal harm (see Ex. 28:42-43) and the high priest was instructed to put on an additional piece of clothing for the very same reason (see Ex. 28:31-35). The wearing of the priestly undergarment was "a statute forever" for temple ministrants (Ex. 28:42-43). All of the Israelites--whether priestly or not--were required to have four prominent markings upon their clothing in order to remind them to be a "holy" people: to seek not after their own eyes and hearts but to stay within the limits established by the Lord's commandments (Num. 15:38-40; Deut. 22:12). In one respect, these symbols were meant to help the wearer "to bridle the passions."10 A prominent scholar of biblical texts has taught that the marks on the ancient Israelite garments were constructed in such a way so as to make each one of them "a symbol of both priesthood and royalty, thereby epitomizing the divine imperative that Israel become 'a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'"11

In the New Testament book of Revelation the Lord Jesus Christ promises that His disciples who overcome will be "clothed in white raiment" (Rev. 3:5). In this same biblical volume it is specified that "white raiment" is given to people in the heavenly realm who hold the status of "kings and priests" (Rev. 4:4; Rev. 5:8-10). The apostle John says at the beginning of his Apocalypse that the mortal disciples of the Savior achieved an identical status--"kings and priests" (Rev. 1:6)--implying that sometime previously they had been invested with the ritual clothing connected with those two offices.

From all of the information that has been presented in this short paper's main text and endnotes it is possible to summarize the points of similarity between the temple clothing of the Latter-day Saints and that of the Covenant People of the Bible.

  • Pattern revealed by God
  • Bestowed in God's temple
  • Bestowed during initiation rituals
  • Bestowed by an authority figure
  • Associated with priesthood
  • Associated with royalty
  • Associated with Primeval Man
  • Connected with holiness
  • White in color
  • Constructed of linen fabric
  • Worn on a perpetual basis
  • Associated with protection
  • Consisting of multiple layers
  • Markings displayed upon it
  • Markings serve a reminding function
  • Markings associated with specific principles

There is much more that could be said with regard to the connection between these two sets of sacred vestments but this list should suffice to demonstrate that what Joseph Smith gave to the Latter-day Saints in 1842 has clear correspondences with ancient patterns which are preserved in the Old and New Testaments. As noted in D&C 124, the Lord restored through His Prophet "that which was lost" (D&C 124:28)--things pertaining to the tabernacle constructed by Moses and the temple built by Solomon (see D&C 124:37-38).



1. Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:534.

2. Ensign, August 1997, 20. On 8 August 1966 Assistant to the Twelve Theodore M. Burton made the following remarks: "Adam was given a garment of the Holy Priesthood as a sign of [an] endowment of power which he received from God [see Gen. 3:21]. Eve, his wife . . . . also was clothed in a garment of power" (BYU Speeches of the Year [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press], 4). One Jewish midrashim calls Adam's God-given clothing "the garments of the high priesthood" and a commentator on this and related documents points out that "while no single text explicitly says so, the tradition seems to have been that the holy garment [of Adam] went from Jacob to Joseph, to the Israelites who left Egypt, and eventually to the priests of the tribe of Levi" (The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 90, no. 2, April 1997, 172).

3. Ensign, November 1979, 43.

4. James R. Clark., comp., Messages of the First Presidency (Salty Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965), 1:260. In this official text the vestments are described as being "fine linen . . . glorious and beautiful," which is directly parallel to Exodus 28 verses 2 and 39 (Ex. 28:2, 39) where the temple clothing of ancient Israel is said to be made of "fine linen" and is designed to provide the wearer with "glory and . . . beauty." A connection between Hebrew and Mormon sanctuary raiment is thus unmistakable.

5. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:534.

6. First Presidency Letter, 10 October 1988, cited in Ensign, August 1997, 22. "The blessings that are related to this sacred privilege [of wearing the temple garment] depend on your worthiness and your faithfulness in keeping temple covenants. . . . When you wear it properly, [the garment] provides protection against temptation and evil" (First Presidency, True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004], 173). Elder Robert D. Hales: "In the temple . . . sacred covenants are made. These covenants, together with the wearing of sacred temple garments, strengthen and protect the endowed person against the powers of the adversary" (Ensign, November 1995, 34).

7. Ensign, October 2007, 20. "A commemorative garment is given with [the] ordinances" of washing and anointing (Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4:1444).

8. First Presidency, True to the Faith, 173.

9. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency, 5:110.

10. Jacob Blumenthal and Janet L. Liss, eds., Etz-Hayim: Study Companion (New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2005), 268. There is at least one Jewish, Midrashic tradition--in tractate Bavli-Menachot 43a--stating that the temple priests and Levites were obligated to wear these marks on their garments as well as all the other Israelites, including women (see Judith Z. Abrams, Torah and Company [Teaneck, NJ: Ben Yehuda Press, 2006], 74).

11. Blumenthal and Liss, eds., Etz-Hayim: Study Companion, 268-70.

Sanctuary Vesture: A Brief Overview and Comparison

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