Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Salt Lake Temple Towers Priesthood Symbolism

The Salt Lake Temple's towers symbolize the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods.  They do this many ways.  I have written on some of these before, but not organized quite this way.  Also I have some new insights.  Here are some of the ways that the priesthood is represented in The Salt Lake Temple's towers:
Salt Lake Temple (original photo)

Two sides of the temple
The Salt Lake Temple has two main sides - the east side and the west side.  Each end has 3 towers.  The west side represents the Aaronic Priesthood and the east side represents the Melchizedek Priesthood.  This two side pattern started with the Kirtland Temple which had 2 large rooms (one on the first floor and one on the second floor).  These rooms had pulpits at opposite ends that were designated for the Aaronic Priesthood on one end and the Melchizedek Priesthood on the opposite end.  The Salt Lake Temple started the practice of showing this two-ended priesthood symbolism on the exterior.  This pattern was copied for the Logan Utah and Manti Utah Temples, was brought back for the Washington D.C. Temple, and revived again for the 1980s six spire temples starting with the Boise Idaho Temple and ending with the Las Vegas Nevada Temple.  The San Diego California Temple is a unique version of a two ended temple with its two great towers.  Recently, two ended temples have returned starting with the Kansas City Missouri Temple, Brigham City Utah Temple, Rome Italy Temple, Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple, Fortaleza Brazil Temple and potentially with other temples in planning.

Three towers on each end of the temple
The west and east ends of the Salt Lake Temple each have 3 main towers.  These are used to represent the priesthood leadership.  The 3 Melchizedek Priesthood towers on the east end represent the First Presidency or a stake presidency - the leadership of the Melchizedek Priesthood.  On the east side the three Aaronic Priesthood towers represent the Presiding Bishopric or a local bishopric - the leadership of the Aaronic Priesthood.  Some other temples have kept the 6 tower symbolism.  The Logan and Manti Utah Temples each have smaller side towers that are often overlooked.  The Washington D.C. Temple and 1980's six spire temples also include 6 total towers.  The Brigham City Utah Temple has also included smaller side towers to keep the 6 tower symbolism intact.  A lot of the other two ended temples lack the 6 towers symbolism.

Twelve Pinnacles
You might notice little spires on the towers of the Salt Lake Temple.  On each tower of the temple there are 3 levels of 4 pinnacles.  This makes 12 pinnacles on each tower (in addition to the main point of the tower).  The pinnacles on the east end represent the 12 apostles.  The Bountiful Utah and Mount Timpanogos Utah Temples both have 12 circular windows at the top to represent the same thing (6 go into the celestial room and 6 into the chapel).  I have read that the 12 pinnacles on the west end of the Salt Lake Temple represent the high council, although I am unable to track down this explanation and am unsure how this relates the the Aaronic Priesthood.

Different Tower Heights
On the Salt Lake Temple, the east towers are 6 feet taller than the west towers.  This is to represent the Melchizedek Priesthood being above the Aaronic Priesthood.  This symbolism has also been done in the Logan Temple, Manti Temple, and many others.  The center towers on each side of the Salt Lake Temple are also taller than their side towers representing the President of the Church, stake president, Presiding Bishop, or bishop leading among their counselors.  The Washington D.C. Temple takes this symbolism even further by having all 6 towers at different heights which would show the relative position of a first counselor and a second counselor.

The windows on the Salt Lake Temple towers also contain symbolism.  The western towers have 4 levels of windows and the eastern towers have 5 levels of windows.  These represent the offices in the priesthoods.  The four Aaronic Priesthood offices are deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop.  The 5 Melchizedek Priesthood offices are elder, high priest, patriarch, seventy, and apostle.  Windows are a fitting symbol as they bring in light, as does priesthood and the revelations associated with it.  This window symbolism developed gradually - earlier temples lacked it and early plans for the Salt Lake Temple didn't include it.

So that is some of the priesthood symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple Towers.  Priesthood symbolism is important because the temple is very much about the priesthood and the 2 priesthoods are important to the ordinances of the temple.

Please comment with any insights you may have on this topic.

Here are some of my references: See additional teaching idea 1.


seth said...

I think that the three levels in each tower represent the 3 presidencies. (deacon, teachers and priests on the west, I'm not sure what the East would be. Maybe the first presidency, elder's quorum presidency, and high priests). It's pure speculation on my part, but it provides a nice parallel with the arrangement of the pulpits in the assembly hall.

Brian J said...

I have never understood the inclusion of Aaronic Priesthood symbolism on or inside temples. I don't understand Aaronic Priesthood towers or pulpits.

The Aaronic Priesthood is not permitted to officiate in any temple ordinance. So why is the lower priesthood so prominently symbolized outside and given pulpits in at least one assembly hall? Speculative answers are appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Both priesthoods are important to the temple and the Aaronic Priesthood plays a prominent role in the temple. From your comment I am guessing you haven't been through the temple endowment. When you do it should be much clearer. That's all I am willing to say outside the temple.

Brian J said...

I have been through the endowment - which required the higher priesthood. I do not discount the significance of the lower priesthood; I just question the symbolism in a place where the lower priesthood may not officiate.

I also wonder - inasmuch as the Aaronic Priesthood may not officiate in temple ordinances, are the Aaronic Priesthood pulpits in the Salt Lake Temple Assembly Hall ever used? But that is probably a discussion for another thread.

Cliff P said...

Another great post. I really enjoy reading your blog.

Brett Stirling said...
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Brett Stirling said...

I think that the high council is a reflection of that function at a local level as opposed to the Churchwide function of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. I think it is a seperate layer of symbolism from that of the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthood arrangement. I may be wrong though, this is just speculation and should not be taken as gospel.

Brett Stirling said...

Correction, I think there used to be a high council of the Church or at least there was a meeting room for them in the temple. I will investigate further.

Scott said...

There is a high council room. I think it was used by local high councils but am unsure.

Scott said...

The Aaronic Priesthood does officiate in the temple. True, those Aaronic Priesthood holders also have the Melchizedek Priesthood, but they officiate in the ordinances of the Aaronic Priesthood. Baptism is performed by one's Aaronic Priesthood, even when you also hold the higher priesthood. The same goes for the sacrament which is given in the temple during solemn assemblies and other special meetings. Outside the temple you may notice that Bishops, who are always Melchizedek Priesthood high priests, are nonetheless given the Aaronic priesthood office of bishop and perform that office using their Aaronic Priesthood.
Another reason to emphasize both priesthoods is because they have different responsibilities. The Aaronic Priesthood deals with repentance, angelic ministration, baptism and the sacrament and primarily is to look after the physical needs of the saints (home teaching, for example). The Melchizedek Priesthood is primarily to look after the spiritual needs of the church. They preside, give blessings, confirm, etc. Highlighting both priesthoods in temple architecture emphasizes the need to look after the whole individual, physical and spiritual.
Listen closely to the endowment ceremony and I think you will realize that the Aaronic Priesthood is very much involved and officiating in the temple.

Matthew Taylor said...
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Matthew Taylor said...
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Anonymous said...

symbols are teaching points; not administrative necessities. they are there for your personal instruction and therefore it is a matter of "what is this trying to teach me?" not "what's the point?"

further, brigham young wrestled in his mind having the endowment split into two sections: one for aaronic priesthood and another for melchizedek. also, on the west side during solemn assemblies, the presiding bishopric sits at the pulpits to represent the aaronic priesthood during those times. the aaronic priesthood plays a vital role in one's preparation and as such, as we travel back to the tree of life (which is eastward), we first pass through the stages of the aaronic priesthood.

Ryan James said...

An interesting insight I heard the other day is that the outside is a representation of the solemn assembly hall, 3 towers with four sections on either side. You may have mentioned that and I just missed it.

Anonymous said...

Just a slight clarification, to Scott's April 7 comment: baptisms for the living may be done only by a Priest holding the Aaronic priesthood, not any Aaronic priesthood holder. And, more importantly, all baptisms for the dead, performed in the temples, are done under the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood held by the one performing the ordinance, not their Aaronic priesthood authority as the ordinance is FOR the dead, requiring Melchizedek authority. All ordinances of the Temple are under the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood...follow the keys.

Ben Hunt said...

The Aaronic Priesthood administers the temporal work of the church. At a church-wide level, the temporal matters of the church, including the building of temples, are overseen by the Presiding Bishopric under the direction of the Prophet. Therefore, the role of the Aaronic Priesthood in temple building can't be overlooked.

The size of each quorum of the church, except for the 1st Presidency and a 70s quorum is a multiple of 12. There are 12 apostles. There are 12 deacons to a quorum. When I was a deacon, we had to split our quorum because we had 24 deacons in our ward. There are 24 teachers in the teachers quorum. There are 48 priests in the priests quorum. There are 96 Elders in the Elder's quorum. I was once in a YSA ward where the Elder's quorum was split once there were 192 Elders in the ward.

The 12 smaller spires on each of the towers of the Salt Lake Temple represent the members of the quorum.