In the comments to a previous post about LDS garments at Mormanity, I’ve just been called out for an egregious blunder on my part. I am genuinely grateful to Alvin for this barbed and instructive comment:
Because of my dayjob, I can’t really check all the references used by apologists, and apparently neither can anyone else, including Mormanity. Brother Ostler’s paper “Clothed Upon” was written in 1982, before it became easy to find some of his sources on the internet. I spot checked this claim from the third paragraph: “In some accounts, one must be married in the Holy of Holies of the temple in order to obtain the highest of three degrees of glory.”
The reference he gives for this claim is the Gnostic Gospel of Philip. There’s a translation on the web by Wesley Isenberg. There’s no mention in the document of “three degrees of glory.” It most definitely does not say that people must be married in the Holy of Holies in order to obtain the highest. It does compare the Holy of Holies in the temple at Jerusalem (no longer extant at the time the gospel was written) to the “bridal chamber.” The bridal chamber is a place where marriages are consummated, not where the ceremony takes place, in case there’s any confusion. The meaning of the “bridal chamber” in gnostic Christianity is a subject of debate among scholars, but there is absolutely nothing in the Gospel of Philip to back up Ostler’s claim. If you’re looking for an example of how misleading apologetics can be, this is a great one, and Mormanity uncritically propagates it to defend the faith.
Sadly, I have to admit my guilt and sloppiness: I cited a paper from a journal without carefully checking the references. Because I trusted the author and the publisher, my guard was down and I felt comfortable pointing people to Blake Ostler’s 1982 paper, “Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity” in BYU Studies without taking the time required (maybe a day or two in the States, or maybe a week or more here in China with the slow and often blocked Internet) for basic checking of Ostler’s 79 footnotes. Mea culpa. I assure you, it won’t fail to happen again. (Yes, that’s a double negative.)
The controversy arises over a sentence from Ostler’s paper that refers to marriage. It’s the sentence in bold below (my emphasis):
The ritual action of putting on a sacred garment is properly termed an “endowment.” The word garment is, in fact, representative of ordinances found in ancient texts. The Greek word enduma [Ostler uses Greek terms instead of transliterations] that means “garment” or endumai “to clothe upon” was used to represent sacramental, baptismal, and sealing ordinances in the Clementine Recognitions, an extremely important and ancient Christian (Ebionite) work.  The Latin induere, meaning “to clothe,” and inducere, “to lead or initiate,” are the roots for our English word endowment. All connote temple ordinances. 
The endowment, the complex of ordinances associated with the donning of sacred vestments, contained in ancient Judeo-Christian texts, provides a framework for symbolic interpretation. The doctrine of the preexistence, for example, appears frequently in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the pseudepigrapha, and the Nag Hammadi texts.  The soul must journey to the earth in order to prove itself as part of God’s plan set down before the foundation of the world.  In order for the soul to return to the presence of God, certain ordinances are necessary. Among these ordinances are baptism, washings, anointings, special garments, and signs as seals and passwords to pass by the angels who guard the gate to God’s kingdom.  In some accounts, one must be married in the Holy of Holies of the temple in order to obtain the highest of the three degrees of glory.  Thus, the plurality of the heavens is among the most universal of ancient doctrines, with special glories represented by the moon, stars, and sun.  Those who could not receive all the necessary ordinances regarding the gnosis, or required knowledge in this life, could receive them beyond the grave.  The account of Christ’s descensus ad infernos, or his journey to the spirit world after his death to preach the gospel, is another doctrine common to many manuscripts.  Christ does not go to the wicked, however; he goes to his former prophets to organize an ecclesia….
When I read this, I was comfortable with the basis for most of these statements based on previous reading I have done, but the statement that raised my eyebrows the most was the sentence in question. I scanned the footnotes and noticed that the intriguing #6 did not seem easy to look at right away. Curious but lacking time, I finished my blog post, and now finally am checking up on this statement, urged on by Alvin’s pointed comment.
After some review, at the moment I would say that Ostler’s phrasing is too strongly slanted toward the LDS position, yet has a plausible basis. If he happens upon this post and has anything further to say, I would welcome that input.
So does Ostler’s footnote #6 support the statement that “In some accounts, one must be married in the Holy of Holies of the temple in order to obtain the highest of the three degrees of glory”? Here is the footnote:
6. Eric Segelberg, “The Coptic Gospel according to Philip and Its Sacramental System,” Numen 7 (1960): 198-199; “The Holy of Holy Ones Is the Bridal Chamber” (Gospel of Philip 117.24-5). “The Woman is united to her husband in the Bridal Chamber” (Gospel of Philip 119.17-29). Cf. Gospel of Philip. 4-8 and 124.6ff.
Does the Gospel of Philip, a document dating perhaps to the 3rd century with obvious gnostic influences, really say that you have to be married in the temple to obtain the highest of three degrees of glory? I would like to say, “See for yourself!” by simply pointing you to a translation of the Gospel of Philip such as the one of Wesley Isenberg mentioned by Alvin, found at http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html, but without some explanation, you might have the same reaction as Alvin.
First let me say that the Gospel of Philip strikes me as a text somewhat like a typical modern statement from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. When you first read it or hear it, it is puzzling and doesn’t seem to say much of anything meaningful. But those with ears to hear can pick it apart, using the proper lens to elucidate its rich meaning so that they can respond appropriately, usually by panicking.
As I understand it, when the Gospel of Philip was written, the temple was long gone. But sacred rituals and teachings
rooted in the temple continued among some parts of Judaism and
Christianity. Temple imagery in the Gospel of Philip should not be taken
as a literal description of what happened in the non-existent temple of that day.
It might be better to take it as a collection of doctrines in one branch
of Christianity rooted in temple lore and mysticism. Perhaps the
sacraments were done in that day in imitation of or in memory of the old ways of the temple, perhaps using churches or private rooms in the absence of the temple they longed for.
Some of the Gospel of Philip’s discussion
is clearly symbolic or allegorical. But references to the rituals and to places like the Holy of Holies are not necessarily merely allegorical, in spite of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Matthew Brown points out the potential for real ordinances with temple themes persisting among the early Christians. In his 2008 presentation, “The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians,” Brown states:
[W]e can now turn to a large collection of early
Christian initiation texts that was updated in 2003 by Dr. Maxwell
Johnson of Notre Dame University. This collection is called Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy.
Throughout these texts are references to temple terms such as laver,
altar, sacrifice, incense, priest, Levite, and high priest. There are
even statements in these documents that initiates are going to enter
into the temple of God to receive certain ordinances and also enter into
the Holy of Holies (the Liturgy of Jerusalem—from about 350 A.D.—uses
both of these terms—temple and Holy of Holies—to describe the building
where the liturgy takes place).
But however literal or symbolic its temple elements are, I suggest that the Gospel of Philip is a valuable text showing what some ancient Christians believed regarding marriage and other vital sacraments.
If you scan the text of the Gospel of Philip at Gnosis.org looking for statements related to marriage, you might find these passages:
Great is the mystery of marriage! For without it, the world would not exist….
Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images. The world will not receive truth in any other way. There is a rebirth and an image of rebirth. It is certainly necessary to be born again through the image. Which one? Resurrection. The image must rise again through the image. The bridal chamber and the image must enter through the image into the truth: this is the restoration. Not only must those who produce the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, do so, but have produced them for you. If one does not acquire them, the name (“Christian”) will also be taken from him. But one receives the unction of the […] of the power of the cross. This power the apostles called “the right and the left.” For this person is no longer a Christian but a Christ.
The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber. […] he said, “I came to make the things below like the things above, and the things outside like those inside. I came to unite them in the place.” […] here through types […]and images. …
A bridal chamber is not for the animals, nor is it for the slaves, nor for defiled women; but it is for free men and virgins.
Through the Holy Spirit we are indeed begotten again, but we are begotten through Christ in the two. We are anointed through the Spirit. When we were begotten, we were united. None can see himself either in water or in a mirror without light. Nor again can you see in light without mirror or water. For this reason, it is fitting to baptize in the two, in the light and the water. Now the light is the chrism.
There were three buildings specifically for sacrifice in Jerusalem. The one facing the west was called “The Holy”. Another, facing south, was called “The Holy of the Holy”. The third, facing east, was called “The Holy of the Holies”, the place where only the high priest enters. Baptism is “the Holy” building. Redemption is the “Holy of the Holy”. “The Holy of the Holies” is the bridal chamber. Baptism includes the resurrection and the redemption; the redemption (takes place) in the bridal chamber. But the bridal chamber is in that which is superior to […] you will not find […] are those who pray […] Jerusalem who […] Jerusalem, […] those called the “Holy of the Holies” […] the veil was rent, […] bridal chamber except the image […] above. Because of this, its veil was rent from top to bottom. For it was fitting for some from below to go upward.
The powers do not see those who are clothed in the perfect light, and consequently are not able to detain them. One will clothe himself in this light sacramentally in the union.
If the woman had not separated from the man, she should not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this, Christ came to repair the separation, which was from the beginning, and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation, and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated. Thus Eve separated from Adam because it was not in the bridal chamber that she united with him….
In this world, the slaves serve the free. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the free will minister to the slaves: the children of the bridal chamber will minister to the children of the marriage. The children of the bridal chamber have just one name: rest. Altogether, they need take no other form, because they have contemplation, […]. They are numerous […] in the things […] the glories […].
I was uneasy after reading this, especially the part about the slaves serving the free, but before I panicked I remembered that this was NOT a Federal Reserve statement. Just an ancient Christian document. Whew.
First note that Ostler does cite two sentences from the Gospel of Philip which are actually there in the text: “The Holy of Holy Ones Is the Bridal Chamber” and “The Woman is united to her husband in the Bridal Chamber.” In Isenberg’s translation these become “‘The Holy of the Holies’ is the bridal chamber” and “But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber.” Close enough for me.
So what these two sentences and the associated passages appear to be saying is that one of the essential sacraments for salvation, perhaps the highest one of all, is sacrament of marriage, and that this union of man and woman takes place in the Holy of Holies (also called the bridal chamber, which, earlier in the text, is said to be mirrored, which is also intriguing). This sacrament appears to be essential for the full blessings of the Gospel in the Kingdom of Heaven. However, the concept of the three degrees of glory does not appear to be present in these passages, and that is the primary basis of the complaint posted at Mormanity. Did Ostler overreach or casually conflate the Gospel of Philip with other early Christian references that do more clearly speak of three degrees of glory?
Let’s look at the first citation given in footnote 6, the Segelberg reference from the journal Numen. Initial searching took me to its JSTOR publisher, where I was planning to buy a copy of the article but could not because of a server problem at JSTOR. Later I found a Scribd version of the Numen volume where I could read the entire Segelberg reference. Segelberg gives special emphasis to the sentence translated above as “The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber.” He sees this as a list of 5 sacraments, including nymphon (involving the bridal chamber).
The number of sacraments in the Gnostic system reflected in EP should then be five. They appear to be mentioned in their order of importance in the sacramental system. Baptism is of least importance…; the bride-chamber, finally, is the fulfillment which perhaps forms, as it were the conclusion of the rites of death. (p. 198)
Segelberg then addresses the three chambers of the temple which “should be thought as representing baptism, chrism, and nymphon [pertaining to the bride-chamber] in this order. ‘Baptism contains the resurrection and the redemption, in order to flee into the bride-chamber’. The bride chamber is superior to the baptism and the chrism.” (p. 199)
So perhaps if the progress from the first through the last of the three chambers of the temple is taken to represent the three heavens or three degrees of glory, then one could infer that the highest of the sacraments, associated with the highest and holiest of the three chambers of the temple mentioned in the Gospel of Philip, is essential for reaching the highest of the three degrees of glory. But Segelberg does not make that point expressly.
In other words, I assume that Ostler, in the context of other Christian sources (not the least of which is 1 Cor. 15:40-42 and Paul’s reference to a third heaven), saw the Gospel of Philip’s treatment of the three chambers of the temple, clearly symbolic of entering the presence of God, as a symbolic reference to three heavens. The most vital sacrament, marriage, is associated with the highest degree of holiness in those three chambers. But neither Segelberg nor the Gospel of Philip expressly refer to “three degrees of glory” for humans in heaven. (Interestingly, another scholar, Avril DeConick, uses the term “degree of holiness” to describe what each of the three chambers represent in the Gospel of Philip. I discuss her work in final section of this post.)
From an LDS perspective, it’s possible to connect the dots and paraphrase the Gospel of Philip as Ostler did, but I think his one-sentence statement could have been expressed without directly invoking LDS terminology about the three degrees of glory. More explanation in that sentence would have been helpful. However, Ostler’s whole passage is a telegraphic delivery of rather sensational but supported highlights from early Christianity that are relevant to the LDS temple tradition, briefly mentioned as background leading to the core of his discussion on the issue of sacred vestments. The wording in the sentence mentioning the degrees of glory could have been toned down or the footnote amplified with further references (see below), but this is a minor gap. There is actually serious content worth considering behind Ostler’s brief statement and useful footnote.
Alvin, the commenter at Mormanity who complained about my endorsement of Ostler’s work, may actually be right: “If you’re looking for an example of how misleading apologetics can be, this is a great one.” Agreed, but I hope it’s an example that won’t just make you fume, but might make you ponder as well. There’s often much more to LDS claims than just smoke and mirrored bridal chambers.
Yes, LDS apologists do make mistakes. If you feel Ostler made a mistake with inadequate documentation and overreaching, let me help correct that by filling in some blanks. For starters, take a look at Barry Bickmore’s book, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity, especially the chapter “Salvation History and Requirements” which has a section on the three degrees of glory and connections to early Christian teachings. That section was the basis for FairMormon.org’s page on the three degrees of glory, which lists a variety of ancient Christian sources giving support for that concept.
Whoops! Never mind. I just noticed that there are numerous footnotes on that web page and especially in Barry’s book, and unfortunately, I haven’t checked them all yet. Sigh. That’s why I also can’t mention, by way of further interesting background, John A. Tvedtnes’ 1999 presentation, “Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices.” Another 50 footnotes? Forget it. Ditto for Matthew Brown’s presentation, “The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians” with 47 mostly unchecked footnotes. Someday I’ll be able to mention it in good faith, but not today.
Do you have some favorite temple-related sources whose footnotes you’ve carefully checked that we can share here?
For those interested in better understanding how the controversial gnostic document, the Gospel of Philip, links LDS concepts with some early Christian threads (mingled with questionable content, of course), there’s another scholarly article I found helpful. It comes several decades after Segelberg’s initial examination of the Gospel of Philip and challenges part of Segelberg’s interpretation. I refer to April D. DeConick, “The True Mysteries: Sacramentalism in the ‘Gospel of Philip,'” Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 55, No. 3 (2001), pp. 225-261,
DeConick challenges Segelberg’s view that the five sacraments listed in the Gospel of Philip are limited to five specific rituals, and raises that possibility that some sacraments transcend rites but, like marriage itself, involve life extensive experiences that bring us closer to God. I see that as a valuable perspective on marriage and sacraments that need not do away with the importance of the rites that launch those life experiences.
DeConick opens with an important review of Jewish traditions about the ascent into the presence of God, wherein temple rituals were to be transformative, providing secret knowledge of the ways of God and bringing one into God’s presence. This again puts the LDS temple concept on solid ancient ground. She then speaks of the three temple shrines in the Gospel of Philip. She sees the Gospel of Philip as having a “celestial Temple tradition” that parallels the Jewish temple tradition.
It is plausible that these sacraments are understood on the spiritual level to represent the three rooms of the previously destroyed Temple: the ulam or vestibule, the hekhal or central room, and the devir or inner sanctum. Just as each of these rooms represents a greater degree of holiness within the Temple, so does each sacrament in Philip. Each stage in the ascent through the rooms of the heavenly Temple bring the believer closer to the devir, the Holy of Holies where the Presence of God dwells, seated upon the merkavah. As the believer moves through each Temple shrine, he is progressively transformed. For the Christian Gnostic, this ascent culminates in an eschatological experience at the much-anticipated End, where the believer is finally able to enter the Holy of Holies and gaze upon the Father, fully transformed. (pp. 230-231)
There is much more in DeConick’s article that readers may find intriguing, such as “the association of baptism and chrism with the priesthood and admittance to the heavenly Temple” (p. 235), the important role of sacred garments mentioned in several places, anointing with oil, the significance of the sacrament and its link to the temple, and the powerful link between marriage and the Holy of Holies. On the latter point, DeConick observes that Hebrew words for marriage, consecration, temple and Holy of Holies are related (p. 246). Thus,
It seems then that the expression “Bridal Chamber” is really equivalent to the “Holy of Holies” when one understands how these words functioned in Hebrew!
So it should not be surprising to find that, in the Gospel of Philip, marriage is associated with the third shrine of the heavenly Temple, the Holy of Holies. On one level, Philip talks about marriage as a sacrament in terms of its human institution. On another level, it is understood to be the great eschatological event, the Bridal Chamber, when the cleansed and transformed spirit finally enters the Holy of Holies, marries his angel, and is granted to see the Father face to face. (p. 246)
Some of that certainly resonates with LDS concepts. Though parts of it confuse me, I agree with the Gospel of Philip on several points, including this one: “Great is the mystery of marriage!” I am also grateful to have married my sweet angel, and look forward to the future blessings the Gospel can bring.