Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 95: Build the Kirtland Temple By Michael J. Preece

Section 95: Build the Kirtland Temple

In Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which Joseph had received on December 27, 1832, the Lord commanded the saints to build a temple in Kirtland. They were specifically commanded to organize and “establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C 88:119). It appears that the saints did not take this command seriously. In May of 1833, as alluded to in the background material for section 94, the church leaders committed themselves to build a church office building and a printing shop. No definite plans, however, had been made to start a temple. Thus in section 95, received June 1, 1833, the Lord chastised the saints for their “very grievous sin” of neglecting to build the more important structure, and he commands them to get to work. (Much of the following on the period of building the Kirtland Temple will be quoted or paraphrased from Milton V. Backman, Jr.’s, The Heavens Resound, 42-61.)

The brethren took this chastisement seriously, and four days after this revelation was received, without knowing where the money was going to come from, they commenced work on the temple. Hyrum Smith and Reynolds Cahoon started digging by hand the trench for the foundation, and George A. Smith hauled the first wagon load of stone. Also, the building committee (Hyrum Smith, Reynolds Cahoon, and Jared Carter) issued a circular to the saints urging them to extend themselves and contribute to this vital project.

The commandment to build the Kirtland Temple presented major and almost overwhelming challenges. The saints needed architectural plans, construction materials, money to purchase land, and provisions and shelter for the laborers. The saints were so poor and so few in numbers early in 1833 (one hundred to one hundred fifty saints in Kirtland), that, according to Benjamin F. Johnson, when construction of the temple began, “there was not a scraper and hardly a plow that could be found among the saints” to dig the foundation (B. Johnson, My Life’s Review, 10-11). Joseph Smith observed: “Notwithstanding the Church was poor, yet our unity, harmony, and charity abounded to strengthen us to do the commandments of God” (HC, 1:349).

In April 1833, the Church had purchased 103 acres from Peter French, the Peter French farm, for five thousand dollars. It was eventually decided to locate the temple on the southeast corner of this property on a wooded plateau overlooking the beautiful Chagrin River valley.

When construction began on the temple, detailed architectural plans were not available. Lucy Mack Smith reported that Joseph asked the brethren to present their views concerning construction of the temple. Some favored a frame building and others suggested a log house. The Prophet reminded the men that they were not building a house for themselves, but for God. “Shall we, brethren, build a house for our God of logs? No, I have a better plan than that. I have a plan of the house of the Lord given by himself; and you will soon see by this, the difference between our calculations and his idea” (History of Joseph Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, 230). According to Truman O. Angell, one of the supervisors in the building of the temple, the Prophet informed his counselors in the First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, that the Lord would show them the plans of the house to be built. The three men knelt in prayer June 3 or 4, 1833, and the building appeared before them in vision. After completion of the temple, Frederick G. Williams, as he was standing in the completed temple, said that the hall where they were standing coincided precisely with the room he had beheld in the vision (Autobiography of Truman O. Angel, 4).

On July 23, 1833, six weeks after workers had started digging the foundation, twenty-four elders met on the temple site to lay the cornerstones. Throughout the summer and fall of 1833, nearly every able-bodied saint in Kirtland worked on the temple. Only those engaged in missionary service were excused, and many of the missionary elders assisted in this project when they were not preaching in the mission field. Joseph acted as foreman in the stone quarry and frequently worked on the construction project. “Come brethren,” he would say. “Let us go into the stone quarry and work for the Lord.” “Every Saturday,” Heber C. Kimball observed, “we brought out every team to draw stone to the temple.” Usually in one day they could haul sufficient rocks to keep the masons busy for a full week (JD, 10:165).

The women also assisted in the project. Emma Smith was in charge of sewing and cooking for the workers. A recent convert to the Church in Canada, Artemus Millet, a skilled mason, was recruited to help in the project.

Throughout the period of the building of the temple, the Church was in great financial distress, and since everyone was working on the temple, funds were sorely needed to sustain the workers. One of the first to contribute substantially to the project was Vienna Jaques (see D&C 90:28-31) who consecrated all of her material wealth to the Church. Another vital contributor was John Tanner, a wealthy farmer and businessman from Bolton, New York. Saints outside of Kirtland were petitioned to give top priority to contributing money to the project. Missionaries were even dispatched from Kirtland, not to preach the gospel, but to solicit contributions from among the saints. It is estimated that the final cost of the temple was somewhere between forty and sixty thousand dollars.

Not only did financial woes plague the project, but the saints also had to deal with constant persecution. During the fall and winter of 1833-34, mobs threatened to tear down the walls of the temple, and men were posted to protect the walls. Heber C. Kimball reported that for weeks some men did not remove their working clothes and slept with rifles in their arms (The Orson Pratt Journals, 26).

In the fall and winter of 1833, work on the temple was delayed also by the immediate need to build a building to house the printing press. This latter building was also to house the School of the Prophets. This project thus was given high priority, and construction of both this building and the temple were carried on concurrently. It should be noted that this was not the building commanded in section 94 to be built to house a print shop. Rather, this was a small, temporary building on the northwest corner of the temple site. In the attic of this building the first washings were done. It was later burned down, supposedly by faithful members of the Church to keep the apostates from using the printing press against the Church.

During the summer of 1834, the work on the temple practically stopped as Kirtland members raised an army (Zion’s Camp) and collected money to assist the beleaguered saints in Missouri. Since most able-bodied men in Kirtland participated in the Zion’s Camp march to Missouri between May and September 1834, few laborers were available to work on the temple (see commentary for Section 103).

Since the temple walls were two feet thick and more than sixty feet high, an enormous amount of stone was needed. The exterior was plastered with stucco made of crushed limestone mixed with clay and bluish river sand. Crushed glass was added so that the bluish tinted walls glistened in the light of the sun.

The building consisted of two large auditoriums built one above the other. The third or attic floor was divided into five rooms. Four tiers of pulpits, arranged like a flight of stairs, were built on the east and west ends of the two main auditoriums. A small hall was constructed across the front of the temple with steep winding stairs on the north and south sides of the vestibule. There was no baptismal font in the Kirtland temple, for that ordinance had not yet been revealed. On the front of the temple was placed the inscription: “House of the Lord. Built by the Church of Christ in 1834.”

Under the direction of Brigham Young, a skilled painter, workers began putting finishing touches on the building early in 1836. By March 27, 1836, the building was sufficiently finished to be dedicated. Thus, less than three years after construction began, the saints prepared to dedicate the first temple in this dispensation.

Even though the saints knew that their stay in Kirtland was only temporary, there were several reasons why a temple would be needed there. A sacred temple would be necessary in order for additional priesthood keys and instruction to be transmitted to the prophet Joseph and his associates. Once those keys had been received, a temple would also be necessary for performing some of the ordinances associated with them. Without these further keys, instructions, and ordinances, it would not be possible to organized and train a quorum of Twelve Apostles (see verse 4), and the Church would be hindered or eventually even stopped in its progress. Moreover, without the benefit of a holy temple, individual members could not receive the fulfillment of certain promises made to them in earlier revelations (for example, D&C 76:116-118; 88:68; 93:19-20; see also 97:16).

Scripture Mastery

D&C 95 Build the Kirtland Temple

D&C 95:1 Whom I love I also chasten.

D&C 95:5-6 But behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many who have been ordained among you, whom I have called but few of them are chosen. They who are not chosen have sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day.

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you—

verse 1 “whom I love I also chasten” “Chasten” should be understood less to mean to correct by punishment, but rather “to purify from errors or faults.” The emphasis here is not on any punishment the saints are to receive, but on their intended correction and their purification from error. There are times when the path to being more like God leads us, of necessity, through suffering for our mistakes, yet God’s primary concern is not that we be punished, but that we be corrected. The primary goal of bringing about repentance is often assisted by chastening which God administers to those whom he loves.

2 Wherefore, ye must needs be chastened and stand rebuked before my face; 3 For ye have sinned against me a very grievous sin, in that ye have not considered the great commandment in all things, that I have given unto you concerning the building of mine house;

verses 1-3 “the great commandment” This phrase refers to the commandment to build a temple in Kirtland. The saints are here rebuked for failure to start construction on the temple. Almost six months had passed from December 27, 1832, to June 1, 1833, and nothing had been done. Four days after this rebuke, the saints started construction! The Lord chastens those he loves, which chastening prepares a way for their deliverance from temptation and sin.

4 For the preparation wherewith I design to prepare mine apostles to prune my vineyard for the last time, that I may bring to pass my strange act, that I may pour out my Spirit upon all flesh—

verse 4 “For the preparation wherewith I design to prepare mine apostles”

Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

The Kirtland Temple was necessary before the apostles (who had not yet been called), and other elders of the Church could receive the endowment which the Lord had in store for them. The elders had been out preaching the Gospel and crying repentance ever since the Church was organized and many great men had heard and embraced the truth, nevertheless the elders could not go forth in the power and authority which the Lord intended them to possess until this Temple was built where he could restore keys and powers essential to the more complete preaching of the Gospel and the administering in its ordinances (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:406).

“to prune my vineyard for the last time” In this final dispensation the Lord’s missionaries are going forth to gather scattered Israel before the appointed day of burning when the vineyard will be purified of corruption. The imagery in this passage is similar to that used in the allegory of the olive tree. Pruning is the cutting off of evil individuals and preserving the righteous for spiritual instruction.

“my strange act” The term “strange act” refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is strange to those outside the Church who view the Church from the perspective of worldly wisdom. Without the spirit, those outside the Church might well regard the gospel as strange. In Isaiah 28:21, the Lord refers to both his immediate and his long-term intentions as “strange” as judged by the worldly leaders of Judah in that day (see Isaiah 28:15-21). From our modern perspective, both the restoration and the second coming of the Lord would be examples of the strange works of the Lord.

5 But behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many who have been ordained among you, whom I have called but few of them are chosen.

verse 5 “many . . . whom I have called but few of them are chosen” To be “called” is to have been foreordained in the premortal existence to keep the Lord’s commandments and labor in his earthly kingdom. To be chosen is to have performed one’s stewardship so faithfully that the individual is eventually sealed up to their exaltation in the celestial kingdom. This verse also leaves us with the warning that some of the saints, though they may have been “called,” may not, in fact be “chosen” (see also D&C 121:34-37).

6 They who are not chosen have sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day.

verse 6 “walking in darkness at noon-day” To sin wilfully against God’s light after we already know the truth is not an act of ignorance but an act of rebellion. Those who rebel against what they already know, choose to walk in darkness, even though there may be light all around them, and sinning in rebellion against the light is more “grievous” than sinning in ignorance.

7 And for this cause I gave unto you a commandment that you should call your solemn assembly, that your fastings and your mourning might come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, which is by interpretation, the creator of the first day, the beginning and the end.

verse 7 “call your solemn assembly” The solemn assembly is a meeting that must be held in the temple. The prophet Joseph taught the Twelve, “We must have all things prepared, and call our solemn assembly as the Lord has commanded us, that we may be able to accomplish his great work, and it must be done in God’s own way. The house of the Lord must be prepared, and the solemn assembly called and organized in it, according to the order of the house of God; and in it we must attend to the ordinance of washing of feet. . . . The endowment you are so anxious about, you cannot comprehend now. . . . You need an endowment, brethren, in order that you may be prepared and able to overcome all things. . . . All who are prepared, and are sufficiently pure to abide the presence of the Savior will see him in the solemn assembly” (HC, 2:308-310).

“the Lord of Sabaoth” Ordinarily, sabaoth in the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew sabaot, meaning “hosts” or “armies” (see D&C 87:7 and its commentary). Here, however, it would come from the very similar root sh-b-t, the plural of which could be understood in New Testament times as “the first day of the week” (see references in Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon, 739).

8 Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high;

verse 8 “I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house” This phrase refers to the Lord’s prior commandments to build a temple in Kirtland (D&C 88:119; 90:7-9).

“I design to endow those whom I have chosen” See the commentary for D&C 38:32 for “endow.” Many of the brethren had been ordained to the priesthood but not all of them were at that time worthy to receive the ordinances that would be made available in the Kirtland Temple. In D&C 105:33-35, the Lord would instruct the Prophet that the time had come for those who had been ordained, and who were also judged worthy, to receive an endowment of power in the Kirtland Temple. The Far West Record for June 23, 1834, lists those high priests chosen to receive the blessings of the Kirtland Temple. It is important to remember that the complete endowment as we know it today was not revealed to the saints in the Kirtland Temple. Those who were chosen at that time received only preparatory ordinances. The full endowment would eventually be revealed to the saints in the Nauvoo Temple a decade later.

For a discussion of the endowment, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 18, The Temple.

9 For this is the promise of the Father unto you; therefore I command you to tarry, even as mine apostles at Jerusalem.

verse 9 “tarry, even as mine apostles at Jerusalem” The resurrected Lord said to his apostles, “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” Luke later recalled this same promise of the Lord to his apostles: “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me” (Acts 1:4). The Lord desired that they tarry until they could receive the endowment.

10 Nevertheless, my servants sinned a very grievous sin; and contentions arose in the school of the prophets; which was very grievous unto me, saith your Lord; therefore I sent them forth to be chastened.

verse 10 “my servants sinned a very grievous sin” The tardiness of the saints in building the temple and the contentions that arose in the School of the Prophets are characterized as sins grievous enough to require the chastening of the Lord.

After reading verse 10, I became concerned that I did not recall any previous reference to contentions in the school of the prophets. The footnotes in our scriptures are not helpful. I consulted my friend Robert J. Woodford whose PhD. dissertation was “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants” (Brigham Young University, 1974). He told me that in covering this matter he was unable to find any extant document that shed light on this episode of contention. The Joseph Smith Papers edition on this period is due to be released in November of 2014. Perhaps we will learn more then.

11 Verily I say unto you, it is my will that you should build a house. If you keep my commandments you shall have power to build it.

verse 11 This verse doubtless gave the faithful saints much courage as they endeavored to build the temple.

12 If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness.

verse 12 “the love of the Father shall not continue” Not that the Father will ever stop loving you, regardless of your eternal reward, but for those who are disobedient and not exalted, that glorious opportunity to dwell in person with the Father and bask in his love eternally will be gone forever.

13 Now here is wisdom, and the mind of the Lord—let the house be built, not after the manner of the world, for I give not unto you that ye shall live after the manner of the world;

14 Therefore, let it be built after the manner which I shall show unto three of you, whom ye shall appoint and ordain unto this power.

verses 13-14 “let the house be built” The temple will be built according to a plan revealed by the Lord.

15 And the size thereof shall be fifty and five feet in width, and let it be sixty-five feet in length, in the inner court thereof.

verse 15 The size of the temple is specified. It will be 55 feet by 65 feet. Actually, these are the dimensions of the “inner court” or the chapel area. When the foyer is included, the outside dimensions of the Kirtland Temple are much greater.

16 And let the lower part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for your sacrament offering, and for your preaching, and your fasting, and your praying, and the offering up of your most holy desires unto me, saith your Lord.

verse 16 “lower part . . . for your sacrament offering” The ground floor of the Kirtland Temple was to serve as a common meetinghouse for the Kirtland saints much like a ward or branch meetinghouse of today. It will be used for the sacrament and other spiritual functions.

17 And let the higher part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for the school of mine apostles, saith Son Ahman; or, in other words, Alphus; or, in other words, Omegus; even Jesus Christ your Lord. Amen.

verse 17 “higher part . . . for the school of mine apostles” The upstairs level will be used for the School of the Prophets. It should be noted that the Kirtland Temple was not built to be an ordinance temple. The Nauvoo temple and all temples built subsequently have been ordinance temples. The Kirtland Temple was more a place of contact with God—a sort of glorified stake center. There were no endowments, baptisms, or sealings done in the Kirtland Temple.

“Son Ahman” See the commentary for D&C 78:20.

“Alphus . . . Omegus” A new term for Christ is used—“Alphus and Omegus.” The “-us” ending is Latin masculine whereas the usual Greek ending “-a” is invariably used for the Greek letters “Alpha and Omega”. There seems to be no precedent for the use of these Latin endings, and their use is puzzling.

- Michael J. Preece