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Interpreting Interpreter
Armed with Righteous Cloth

This post is a summary of the article ““‘Armed with Righteousness and with the Power of God’: Allusions to Priestly Clothing, Priesthood, and Temple in 1 Nephi 14:14” by Matthew L. Bowen in Volume 61 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Bowen argues that the phrase “armed with righteousness” in 1 Nephi 14:14 relies on the same Hebrew idiom as a similar phrase, “clothed with righteousness” that appears elsewhere in scripture. This shared idiom helps us better appreciate the power and purpose of temple ordinances that involve clothing or investiture, as they help us “put on” the priestly power of the Lord Jesus Christ.


The Summary

In this article, Matthew L. Bowen examines 1 Nephi 14:14, working to clarify the phrase “were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” Connecting it with the phrase “clothed with righteousness” in Psalm 132:9 (part of a temple hymn), Bowen explains how the two passages could be based on the same Hebrew idiom, and how the priestly vestments alluded to in Psalms help arm us with God’s power. He begins by exploring the imagery in the context of Nephi’s vision, which inverts descriptions of temple clothing to characterize the corrupt and materialistic priesthood of the great and spacious building. It also includes further temple imagery that shows how God’s covenant people can obtain a spiritual endowment (“the gift and power of the Holy Ghost”) by entering in at the gate (for Bowen, these represent temple gates or veils). The efforts of these spiritually endowed (i.e., “armed”) saints will result in the destruction of the great and spacious building, in a way that Bowen connects with the military destruction that caused the fall of Babylon.

The connection between “armed” and “clothing” is strengthened by how the Bible describes David’s encounter with Goliath, with Goliath “armed” with a coat of mail. This uses the Hebrew term lābûš, the root of which means “to clothe”, and at least some translations render it that way for Goliath. The desciption of Isaiah’s Divine Warrior uses the same root when he “put on” (wayyilbaš, clothed himself with) a breastplate of righteousness, inspiring the Paul’s metaphor of the armor of God. The Greek term for "put on" or "clothed" (endusēsthe) happens to have the same root as the English "endow", as used in the sermon on the Mount. A number of prophets have referenced this clothing—or robe—of righteousness, including Isaiah (yet again), Jacob, and Joseph Smith (in the Kirtland temple dedicatory prayer).

Those clothes of righteousness reference the priestly garments of Aaron, echoing "the primordial example of priestly clothing, when Adam and Eve are clothed in the Eden temple". The symbolism of these vestments has received thorough treatment by scholars, and connotes being clothed with immortality and putting on Christ and his holiness, among other symbols. In addition, the term "righteousness" (ṣedeq) could allude to Melchizedek ("King of Righteousness"), a connection made most strongly in Alma 13. A variety of scriptures suggest that the Melchizedek Priesthood is the key to establishing the rest and stability that God promises.

Being clothed with righteousness is equated with being clothed (or "endowed") with God’s power and glory (as symbolized by their white color). Bowen notes that receiving this power is connected with us taking on Christ’s name—the high priest of the ancient temple was literally clothed with the name of Christ on his forehead. As Bowen concludes:

“To be “armed with righteousness” means more than wielding the sword of justice or “sword of the Spirit” (compare Ephesians 6:17). For the “covenant people of the Lord” to be “armed with righteousness”( 1 Nephi 14:14) means their being “clothed with righteousness” like the priests described in Psalm 132:9, which suggests that “the power of God in great glory” is priestly (priesthood) power and authority… Nephi foresaw that “the covenant people of the Lord” would be “armed” or “clothed” with the power and authority of the Melchizedek priesthood, having the name of the Lord put on them in the latter-day temple… The Lord endows, arms, and clothes us with power that we might not only bear the burdens of mortal life, but also that we might have the protection and power to “withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13) and “withstand the evil day” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:15). We all need that power.”


The Reflection

Bowen makes a compelling case that the term “armed” as used by Nephi should be seen in connection with our own practices of clothing and investiture as part of the endowment and other temple ordinances. He also brought forward a few other temple allusions that I hadn’t realized, specifically the temple context of Nephi’s injunction to “knock” at the gate, and the fact that the term “endowment” is linguistically connected to being literally clothed—in this case, clothed with power and glory. It shows to me just how fruitful it is to view scriptures with an eye to the temple experience, both ancient and modern.

Scholars frequently reference the intertextuality of the Book of Mormon, but it strikes me how much that applies to our broader religious experience. When I first went through the temple, I can remember thinking “I’ve been living in a very different church than the one I thought I was in.” But that’s only because my 19-year-old self had no clue how saturated our ordinary church experience is with temple allusion and imagery. The temple should not be seen as a separate, disconnected part of what we do and how we worship—it’s the culmination of that worship. It takes many of the things God has been trying to teach us and wrapping them in concrete symbols—physical representations and actions which teach and communicate in a unique and powerful way.

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