Theologian gives insight on ancient temple

Credit: Richard Radstone
Richard Radstone


Those who entered the Holy of Holies in the ancient temple in Jerusalem not only received holiness, but were said to be transformed into angels, holy ones (saints), or sons of God, declared Margaret Barker, noted British theologian, Methodist minister and prolific author.

Speaking at the Los Angeles Temple Visitors’ Center on Nov. 3 as part of her appearance in the U.S. at the University of Southern California’s “Sacred Space, Sacred Thread” global conference, the Rev. Barker shared decades of study and research into the First Temple period in her talk “Entering Sacred Space: Beholding the Wonders of Temple Theology.”

John W. “Jack” Welch who introduced her called the Rev. Barker “the chief spokesperson for a new field of research called Temple Studies. As a person of faith she has worked with and is highly regarded by His Holiness Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Orthodox Christian Patriarch. She has been honored by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and is proud to count herself as a kindred spirit of Hugh Nibley.” The Rev. Barker is the author of 17 books on temple theology.

She pointed out that in Genesis, God said the creative process began on “Day One” — meaning something different from the “First Day.” This is significant , according to the Rev. Barker, because God referred to other creative stages as the second day, third day, fourth day, etc., and thus Day One “wasn’t part of a time sequence … it was outside time and beyond matter. It indicated the Oneness, the Unity of the Glory of God that underlies all creation and is not affected by time and matter.”

The Rev. Barker said she believes the floor plan of the temple captured these same subtle, but important distinctions. “Outside the veil was the world of matter, the visible world of time and change. Within the veil there was no matter and no time. Those who looked out from beyond the veil saw all creation and all history as one pattern, woven together like the veil itself.”

Traditional Christian art reflects these same temple transformations with depictions of angels and saints “shown with halos, because their presence brings the light of the Glory into our world.”

Within the Holy of Holies was the great cherub throne with the ark as its footstool, representing God’s power and presence, said the Rev. Barker. Entering the Holy of Holies also meant “seeing the face or presence of the One enthroned there, and becoming part of His ‘work’ of making all things one, in other words His work of healing and restoring.”

All the temple furnishings “represented an element of temple teaching, much of which is secret, according to the Rev. Barker. Even in the wilderness, the high priests had to wrap all the items before the lesser servants of the Tabernacle, the Levites, were allowed to carry them. Quoting a passage from St. Dionysius who was writing to his pupil Timothy, “‘See to it that you do not betray the holy of holies. Let your respect for the things of the hidden God be shown in knowledge that comes from the intellect and is unseen. Keep these things of God unshared and undefiled by the uninitiated.’”

In her hour-long address, the Rev. Barker shared insights about the tree of life, and the river of the water of life. She also explained how the practices in the original temple in Israel were corrupted and that when Jesus was on the earth, His teachings harmonized with those First Temple practices, which she said Jesus imparted to His apostles. After Christ’s death, Christians became the new or restored “high priests” to carry out God’s work.

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