Joseph Smith was a Mason – so what?


I address this subject as a courtesy to Barbara, a visitor to my blog who asked me to do so. Thank you Barbara, for the suggestion. I had forgotten that this is a problem for some people. Critics claim that Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from Freemasonry for the ceremony of the temple endowment. I’m not convinced that he didn’t, but it’s not a big deal.

A fraternal organization

Freemasonry is a fraternal organization, not a religious movement.
A fraternity is a men’s club, whose members emphasize their brotherhood. Similar organizations are Elks, Oddfellows, Lions, Kiwanis, and Rotary. It arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Masonry includes a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being. In other words, you can’t be an atheist and be a Mason.

Joseph Smith’s father was a Mason long before Joseph was and so was his brother Hyrum. It was common for men to join this organization as a means to improve their social standing in the community and to obtain business contacts. There are five million Masons today, and about two million in the United States. There have been and still are a lot of famous men who are Masons.

For example, many presidents of the United States were Masons including George Washington, Andrew Jackson, James Monroe, James Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Gerald Ford. Many kings of England were Masons. So were Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford, Mark Twain, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks and Jesse Jackson.

Joseph Smith and John C. Bennett

In 1840, at the start of the Nauvoo period, Joseph was encouraged to start a Masonic lodge by John C. Bennett, a recent convert and prominent physician. Bennett quickly rose to a position of power and influence in the church, becoming a Counselor in the First Presidency, mayor of the city of Nauvoo, General of the Nauvoo Legion, and the chancellor of the University of Nauvoo.

Bennett was a scoundrel, who was excommunicated from the church after it was revealed that he was teaching and practicing adultery, which he called “spiritual wifery,” claiming that it was authorized by Joseph Smith. Any seminary student who paid attention in class soon realized that he was one of the blackest characters in the early Nauvoo period of LDS Church history.

But for the two year period of time of 1840 to 1842, he was influential in introducing the young prophet to Masonry and instructing him in the rituals and symbolism of the fraternity. Joseph Smith became grand chaplain at the installation of the Nauvoo Lodge of Free Masons. Many of the LDS leaders and brethren of the church were also active Masons during this time.

The temple and Freemasonry

On May 4, 1842, the prophet instructed the priesthood “in the principles of and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments, and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so onto to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood….” (History of the Church, 5:1). This was the beginning of the temple endowment.

There are some obvious similarities between Mormon temple ritual and symbolism and the stories and symbols of Freemasonry. Mormon temple worship has similar symbols, signs, and clothing with the fraternal order. Is it a coincidence that these symbolisms were introduced and incorporated into the temple ceremony so soon after Joseph was instructed in Freemasonry?

The goals of Masonry and the LDS endowment are not the same. In the view of the LDS Church, both teach important truths, but the truths they teach are different. Masonry is not a religion. The temple endowment, on the other hand, teaches of man’s relationship to God in LDS Church belief, and Latter-day Saints consider it to be essential for exaltation in the world to come.

Endowment received by revelation

After Joseph had learned the details of the rituals and teachings of the fraternal order, he went to the Lord in prayer and received revelation in regards to the correct order and purpose of the endowment. What he presented to the Lord was what he had learned from John C. Bennett. What he received from the Lord was the restored endowment, evidence of his prophetic calling.

He then put together a makeshift temple in the upper room of his store so that it represented the interior of a temple as well as circumstances would permit. Joseph introduced the Nauvoo Endowment ceremony to nine men including his brother Hyrum, William Law, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, William Marks, Newel K. Whitney and two others.

Joseph wrote that the endowment was “to be received only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of Saints: therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple.”

Summary and conclusion

So was the endowment borrowed from Freemasonry? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. I contend that it was received by revelation. I figured that out way back in Seminary. I felt it was right at the time I was first exposed to it and have found no reason to change my opinion over the years. This was only confirmed when I studied the subject again in Institute classes.

I am convinced that I have had a major advantage in growing up in the church in that I got to attend seminary and institute classes where church history was taught as part of our study of the Doctrine and Covenants. I love our church history. It is exciting and wonderful to review. My approach to studying our history is to look for the hand of the Lord in how it came about.

You can read the story of how we got the endowment in a sinister light if you want. You can read all kinds of things into it that simply are not there, including what some who oppose the work of the church have written about it. It is wonderful that we are given the ability to read and study these things out and then take it to the Lord in prayer for a confirming witness of the truth.

For additional information

1. Jeff Lindsay – Questions About the LDS Temple Ceremony and Masonry

2. FAIR – Similarities between Masonic and Mormon Temple Ritual

3. SHIELDS – The Relationship of “Mormonism” and Freemasonry by Pres. Anthony W. Ivins

9 Responses

  1. Tim,I appreciate your even addressing the concerns that I put forth regarding the connection between Mormonism and Freemasonry. However, upon linking to your sources, I was discouraged, although I guess not surprised, that your research was limited to L.D.S. writers. You already have it in your mind, apparently since taking seminary in high school, that any perceived problems have been nicely answered, so any contrary information will be thrown out without further investigation. This is the problem. What do you expect them to say? To put it succinctly, Mormonism is on trial for its claim of being the only true church on earth, for its claim that all other churches are wrong, and for its claim Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. One of the topics that is discussed to disprove the church’s claims is its inclusion of Masonry into its temple ceremonies. To counter any negative claims, you cite L.D.S. writers. That’s like asking a defendant on the stand whether he committed a crime and then not putting any other witnesses on the stand. Of course, he’s going to say no and, without benefit of other imput, one could only come to the conclusion that the defendant is innocent even if he’s not.This is my last response in this dialogue because I don’t think you want to discuss the issue despite all your rhetoric to the contrary. I see nothing more than your bearing your Mormon testimony to other people’s explanations of the issue. I again ask that you spend a month or so, doing honest research, not two days copying and pasting L.D.S. articles, asking God to show you the truth. I will be praying for you in Jesus’ name.

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  2. Thank you for this brief overview of the connection between the Church and Masonry. I tend to follow the same view you do, that the endowment was given by revelation to Joseph Smith, perhaps as an inquiry after having participated in the rites of the Masons. I believe the Masons have a corrupted form of the endowment, and the Lord restored the true form in the temple today.

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  3. By the way, I once had a discussion about this at TempleStudy.com.

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  4. Tim,Sorry, I need to quickly clarify something. The debate on the table is not whether Smith was a Mason, even your writers acknowledge that but, rather, the explanations they give to support the claim that it was not only no big deal but something from God. The question that you need to answer in your research is, What is Masonry? Your writers give a lot of verbage and irrelevant inormation as they tap dance around the roots, beliefs, and practices of this society, which preceeded Mormonism. As I suggested, watch those videos, and I think you will get a different perspective.

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  5. Tim,You might want to rethink/rewrite this post as it leaves (for me, an active Mormon), more questions than answers.1) In the second paragraph you claim that Freemansonry is a fraternal organization and then in the 11th paragraph you claim that J.S. took the (corrupted) Masonry teachings to the Lord and He corrected them. This infers that Masonry contains the (corrupted) Truth and hence is religious.2) You never answer your own question in paragraph nine.3) I wouldn’t come down too hard on Bennett: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanny_Alger

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  6. Hi Barbara,Thanks for clarifying the proposed objective of the study, to discover what Masonry is. I guess I’m not too interested in really learning more about Freemasonry. Some claim that it qualifies as a secret society. I propose that the purposes of a secret society are to overthrow something, as in the Gadiantan robbers. I don’t see that as one of the goals of the Masons, especially since I know that someone out there is the head of the Salt Lake Masonoic lodge and is a very active and vocal Latter-day Saint. Good for him.Yes, you are correct. I did not view the videos you referenced. I know this is going to sound like a cop-out, but right now, I would rather spend my reading and viewing time on other things that I find more interesting and exciting. I don’t always know what that is until I read what is bothering others who visit my blog. So maybe I will view those videos within the next month or two. Thanks again for the links in your comments on my other post where this dialog started.I like what you said about Mormonism being on trial. For some reason, it reminds me of three old books from Robert and Rosemary Brown from back in the 80’s, They lie in wait to deceive. They were some of my favorites in my apologetic readings back then. They mentioned the idea of the church being on trial. Wasn’t there another book or video entitled, The trial of the stick of Joseph?Anyway, much love your way from me. I appreciate your visits to my blog. I can tell you are an intelligent woman and I really would like to read some of your writings. If your comments here are any indication, I’ll bet they were well thought out and well presented. Let me know if you ever decide get a blog. Maybe you could start with the three points you made about our claims for which we are on trial.Isn’t blogging great? I get to put my testimony out there as many times a day as I want for the whole world to read. If my stuff isn’t interesting, readers won’t come back. But it sure helps me to study the gospel. I am impressed that blogging is strengthening my testimony as I dig even more into the doctrines that I love so much.Yes, I love this church and I love the doctrines of the restored gospel. I’m sure I’m making some mistakes in the way I am presenting them to others. That’s why I always point to more authoritative sources. Please stop by and add your comments where I overstate my position or mis-state something. I can use all the critics I can get. Yes, I mean that. What good is sharing the gospel if you can’t explain it intelligently?Cheers!

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  7. I wanted to make a response to Anonymous who posted at 9:33 AM:1) Masonry has a lot of religious overtones, even though it is a non-denominational organization. It is not a religion, but it is religious.2) You cite Tim’s question, “Is it a coincidence that these symbolisms were introduced and incorporated into the temple ceremony so soon after Joseph was instructed in Freemasonry?”My answer would be that Joseph Smith was highly influenced by many aspects of his environment, including Masonry. There is no such thing as a true Prophet who is not influenced by his environment.3) As to the reference to Fanny Alger, I would refer you to Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, p. 323-327. Bushman makes it very clear that there are few documented conclusions one can make.Joseph was a Prophet, NOT a substitute for Jesus. However, even Jesus was influenced by Judaism. Masonry is really just a footnote — a small footnote. It is FAR from the center of Mormonism, the gospel, Joseph, or much of anything else in the LDS world.

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  8. Thanks to S.Faux for excellent comments clarifying the points made by anonymous. I would also like to add a few additional clarifications. I would hope that what I write would never cause an active Mormon any difficulty or cause to question.A visit to the freemasonry web site linked to in my first paragraph, clearly indicates at the top what their organization claims to be:”Freemasonry is the oldest and largest world wide fraternity dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of a Supreme Being. Although of a religious nature, Freemasonry is not a religion. It urges its members, however, to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs.”S.Faux stated it clearly for me but I will add some additional opinion here. It is possible that Masonry did indeed contain some corrupted truth about the symbols, signs and clothing. Who really knows where they got them? Reading the writings of others regarding their history, one comes away with the impression that they were discovered from ancient Egyptian writings that referred to the Temple of Solomon.However, even the Masons today clearly acknowledge that their teachings are presented in an allegorical setting. Freemasonry uses tools and implements of the stonemason as metaphors for symbolically teaching moral and ethical lessons on the principles of “Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth” – all allegorically based on the building of King Solomon’s Temple. Perhaps someone who is a Mason can add more light on this.So yes, Masonry is of a religious nature, but not a religion. I’m not sure why the point is being made. I don’t see it as pertinent to the story here. The point I was trying to make with this essay is that Joseph was very probably influenced by what he learned in Freemasonry as a catalyst for receiving the revealed endowment.Let me be clear and certain. I fully and firmly believe that the LDS Temple Endowment was received as revelation by the Prophet Joseph Smith. And based on the Mormon principle of being a spiritual witness, I will say that I know that this is the case. Thirty-two years of participation in the LDS temple ceremonies have confirmed this to my soul over and over too many times to feel otherwise.As to your second point about my question in paragraph nine being unanswered, it was my intent that paragraph eleven would provide the answer. That paragraph is the heart of the essay. No, it is not a coincidence. I think it is clear that Joseph was influenced by his experience in Freemasonry just a few short months before the temple endowment was revealed. I refer you to Rough Stone Rolling, p 449:”The Nauvoo endowment was first bestowed just six weeks after Joseph’s induction [into Freemasonry]. The similarities were marked enough for Heber Kimball to quote Joseph saying that Freemasonry ‘was taken from priesthood but had become degenerated but many things were perfect.’ Joseph often requested revelation about things that caught his attention.”An finally, in regards to point three, S.Faux has already referred to pages 323-327 of Richard Bushman’s book, Rough Stone Rolling. On page 437 the story of plural marriage resumes with Bushman stating clearly that Joseph married Fanny Alger. If it wasn’t already clear in the earlier pages where the whole episode is discussed, this statement summarizes it for me. Joseph was married to Fanny. He did not commit adultery with her as she was not married before 1836.John C. Bennett, on the other hand, clearly took the revealed practice of plural marriage and twisted it to something that it was not intended to be – his concept of spiritual wifery. Perhaps we can continue this dialog after I write my post on the wives of Joseph Smith. This is a delicate subject that has bothered many people in and out of the church for a long, long time. It can wait a few days.In the meantime, I simply would not place what John C. Bennett did in the same category of Joseph’s stated purpose in entering into plural marriage – to fulfill the commandments of God as revealed to him while translating the Bible back in 1831. Joseph did not commit adultery. He clearly wanted Oliver to confirm that. Oliver knew better and was wrong to let anyone think he implied otherwise.I hope I have clarified a few things for you. As I stated in the beginning of this comment, I never want anything I write in my blog to give a believing, practicing Mormon any cause to doubt or question. Please let me know if I have left any of your questions unanswered. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting on this post about something that S.Faux has pointed out is NOT the central theme of the message of the restoration.

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  9. First of all, I want to say that I like your blog with its thoughtful input.As a missionary in Brazil, my mission President (a convert and the first black 2nd quorum of the 70), Helvecio Martins was a former Mason and this topic got kicked around alot back in the day. My wife and I have dug into this one, as well.For me it is very simple – and it is the same question that always comes up about our doctrine as the only church of a “restorationist” nature where we claim not to have “new wine put into old bottles” but to have “new bottles”, etc where others are either from the mainline religion that departed from the new testament church to the point that there is little resemblance to structure, doctrine and priesthood type and authority. The only other option is belonging to a group that protests the doctrines and beliefs of the main body. We claim that our church is the same as the church that existed when Christ was upon the earth and that the ancient church (other than sacrifice by the shedding of blood as a type and foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice) is the same basic organization that existed with the earlier peoples of the earth (house of Israel). In other words, the answer to the chicken and egg argument (in regards to the temple ceremony) is that it was always here and practiced by ancients (including those at Qumran) in the day when the original temple was built by Solomon by those of the “masonic” guild. In order to build the temple, they had to have the higher priesthood with its endowment given to them and thus were initiates to what every one who possessed the higher priesthood had. This knowledge, like everything was watered down through apostasy over hundreds of years and then was lost to history and then re-obtained when the Knights Templar escavated Jerusalem during a crusade to re-Christianize the Holy Land.Through a series of events, this was taken back to Europe and then spread to the U.S., etc. where Joseph Smith happened onto it and asked questions and was given the answer that we know as our modern temple endowment. I have studied just enough of the Masons (even got a Junior Achievement award and dinner in their ‘endowment room’ unbeknownst to me at the time) that I know that they have portions of the truth and that it definitely based off of the original ‘masons union’ that was given this sacred info in order to qualify in the building of the temple. Thus the name, the builder’s symbols, and the most striking is their two pillars Boaz and Joachim still used in their entry way to the building – same as the two bronze pillars of Solomon’s Temple. As always, the Church is accused of imitating something that already existed – when all I want to say is thank you very much for noting the obvious – and then asking the question, would you like to be part of the restored original, or would you like to continue with the cheap and mostly unrecognizable knockoff that you are currently part of? I prefer fresh earthenware myself, thank you very much. Hope I have not offended anyone – but I had to jump in here and throw my two cents in. Glenn Beck and many others attend our Sacrament Meetings and have felt something unusual and special and that has motivated them to make changes in their lives to be a part of that. I go to the Temple and that same Spirit is there – but ten fold. I have a deep and abiding knowledge that the Temple IS The House of the Lord because of that very Spirit that resides there. I will not even go into the spiritual experiences that I have had that further cement that witness. It is the ‘Lord’s University’ for those that prepare themselves spiritually. Many people have a spiritual “grade school” education and choose those who have seen the beauty of learning and seek higher education.Unfortunately, for many who choose to throw stones at things they know not of, they cannot even comprehend because they will not take the first step forward in faith. The gospel is truly line upon line and precept on precept until we all come to a full knowledge in Christ. I sometimes come across as arrogant in how I speak but I truly love all men and my only desire is that they find the truth that makes my life and joy full and gives it meaning and full purpose.I am not trying to be rude by not replying but my time is limited. I hope this reply sparks further study and learning.

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