The Temple Threshold

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A threshold forms a boundary. Together with the posts, lintel and door, it separates what lies outside from what lies within. In ancient times, a home’s threshold was considered sacred and highly symbolic. One who crossed over a threshold was entitled to the hospitality and protection of those who were within the house while they remained.

In the case of a very special guest, or when welcoming a new bride or groom to the family, a sacrifice was offered at the threshold. While the guest (or bride) was still outside, the host would lay a sheep or goat upon the threshold of the house and offer it there as a sacrifice. The bride (or honored guest) would then step over the blood across the threshold and by this act become adopted as a recognized member of the family in a Threshold Covenant (see H. Clay Trumbull, The Threshold Covenant, Impact Christian Books, Kirkwood: MO 2000, page 4. This book is referenced hereafter in this post by TC and a page #.)

In this manner thresholds also served as a primitive family altar (TC 3). “The threshold, as the family altar on which the sacrificial blood of a covenant welcome is poured out, is counted sacred, and is not to be stepped upon, or passed over lightly, but it is to be crossed over reverently” (TC 9). To step over the blood on the door-sill was to accept the proffered covenant. To step upon it showed great contempt for those in the household (TC 9). A remnant of this formal welcome and stepping across this boundary may still remain in our day when a groom traditionally lifts and carries his new bride across the threshold into their new home.

Once a threshold covenant was made, the door posts and lintel were sometimes marked with the blood from the sacrifice as proof of the covenant (TC 60). In other cases, covenant words or other tokens were inscribed directly on the door posts. These types of practices are found in ancient cultures from China and Japan to Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and even in Central and South America (TC 60-88). Throughout the world various engravings, charms, shrines, or other markings were used to name and invoke the protection of the Gods over the household and the members thereof. Even Israel was commanded to write God’s words upon their door posts and gates (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21).

These notions were so deeply engrained that out of respect and reverence for the threshold, a thief would not enter a house by the door (even if it were left open) but would only enter through a window or by digging in from behind (TC 231). It was unthinkable to cross a threshold with evil intent toward the household. Something similar to this idea may have been behind Christ’s observation that “He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep” (John 10:1-2).

Additionally, one could make an appeal for justice or hospitality by appearing at the gate or threshold of a home. Even an enemy could appeal for protection or for reconciliation in this manner (TC 52). It was likely no accident that Christ placed the beggar Lazarus at the rich man’s gate in His parable rather than having the rich man encounter the beggar in the marketplace or some other location (see Luke 16:19-31). The rich man’s obligation to care for and his condemnation for neglecting were both made greater by Lazarus’ appearance at his gate, which should have compelled the rich man to act, bringing Lazarus inside the gate threshold and ministering to his suffering. Following their deaths, the rich man finds the roles reversed, and he is now the one on the outside of a threshold or barrier, pleading for relief. Abraham informs him that this threshold is a great gulf and that Lazarus cannot pass over (Luke 16:26).

In cases where the threshold was formed by a stone it was often laid first and considered the foundation stone of the house (TC 42). “’Threshold’ and ‘foundation’ are terms that are used interchangeably in primitive life. The sacredness of the threshold-stone of a building pivots on its position as a foundation stone, a beginning stone, a boundary stone” (TC 20). This idea was later transferred to the cornerstone. For the walls of a building to stand permanently some primitive peoples believed that the foundation needed to be laid in blood. Consequently a sacrifice was often made at the location (TC 44-50). Perversions of this idea even led to human sacrifices in some cases.

Understanding this ancient tradition sheds new light on the Passover night of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. “In dealing with his chosen people, God did not invent a new rite…but he took a rite with which they were already familiar, and gave to it a new and deeper significance…Long before that day, a covenant welcome was given to a guest who was to become as one of the family, or to a bride or bridegroom in marriage, by the outpouring of blood on the threshold of the door, and by staining the doorway itself with the blood of the covenant” (TC 185).

For the Hebrew Passover the chosen sacrifice was to be a lamb. Its blood was smeared on the door posts and lintel as a welcome to Jehovah (see Exodus 12:22) and as a declaration that He was the God of that household. The promise was that “when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over [cross over or through] the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23). The Passover wasn’t a sign to have Jehovah pass by the home, but it was a welcome for Him to enter as part of the family and to protect it. In this manner Jehovah did not merely spare his people the judgment He visited on the Egyptians, but He renewed his covenant with them.

“Obviously the figure here employed is of a sovereign accompanied by his executioner, a familiar figure in the ancient East. When he comes to a house marked by tokens of the welcoming covenant, the sovereign will covenant-cross that threshold, and enter the home as a guest, or as a member of the family; but where no such preparation has been made for him, his executioner will enter on his mission of judgment” (TC 188). Where no such welcome is offered, He must count the household as an enemy.

So how might these ideas relate to our modern temples?

While we may have lost sight of the significance of the threshold the Lord has not. In the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland temple which was given by revelation, He states: “And that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou has sanctified it, and that it is a place of thy holiness” (D&C 109:13; emphasis added). The temple is a place set apart from the outside world. Its threshold separates the within from the world without.

We, like Lazarus, come to the temple’s threshold as beggars appealing for reconciliation, protection and relief. Unlike the rich man, the Lord, whose house it is, does not turn us away but welcomes us openly. Within temple walls He freely ministers to our needs.

As with ancient buildings, the foundation of our temples is likewise laid in the blood of sacrifice. Rather than an animal, our temples stand symbolically in the blood of the Lamb’s sacrifice. Without Him our temples would be meaningless and the work therein would not stand. Holiness to the Lord is inscribed on the outer walls, identifying to all who pass by the God whom we serve.

Ultimately it is Christ himself who is the door. He testified “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9). Recognize then as you approach the temple door that it is one of the first symbols of Christ you encounter in the temple. Consider what it means to pass over the temple threshold and enter within its walls as a guest. Can you approach reverently and sense the Lord’s power and influence and holiness there?

The doors of the Mount Timpanogos temple are covered with eight panels as shown below:

 

mount-timpanogos-mormon-temple108

Eight is a number frequently associated with Christ. It symbolizes re-birth, renewal, starting over, the beginning of a new cycle and resurrection. It is also associated with mediation between earth and heaven (see www.ldssymbols.com). Eight is found throughout scripture. For example, Christ was resurrected on the morning of the 8th day. The covenant of circumcision was to be performed on the 8th day after birth (Leviticus 12:3). And we are baptized at the age of eight (see D&C 68:27). It is no coincidence that there are likewise 8 panels on this temple door.

Each panel contains a large flower, which I have been told represents a lotus blossom. Assuming that is true, the lotus flower is another apt symbol of Christ. The blossom begins life submerged in a pond and emerges slowly over a three day period from this watery grave to bloom in the morning sun of the third day. This flower is also associated with purity, spiritual awakening and faithfulness (see www.lotusflowermeaning.net). Furthermore, each of these flowers is comprised of 18 petals. 8 flowers X 18 petals = 144. The number twelve is associated with priesthood. Squaring this number amplifies the meaning, so the number 144 suggests a fullness of the priesthood, which we find in Christ (see Alonzo Gaskill, The Lost Language of Symbolism, 136). So again the flowers and petals point our minds to Christ.

Finally, the brass or copper color of the door is symbolic of judgment (see Gaskill, 91). This is also appropriate as a symbol of Christ since the “Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). And, “the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name” (2 Nephi 9:41).

So here in the door of the Mount Timpanogos temple we encounter symbols that testify of and should point our minds to Christ. We approach the temple threshold reverently recognizing the great gulf between us. In passing over, we leave the outside world behind and enter as His guest.

I close this post with a word of caution. These kinds of symbols are found throughout the temple. They are interesting and can add depth and richness to our experience, but don’t let them distract or frustrate you. The most important parts of the temple are plain and precious and easy to grasp. For example, it is far more important to come to understand and live the covenants we make than it is to understand the symbolism of the temple threshold and door.

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