When Will We Be “Done” With Temple Work?

There must be this chain in the holy Priesthood; it must be welded together from the latest generation that lives on the earth back to Father Adam, to bring back all that can be saved and placed where they can receive salvation and a glory in some kingdom. This Priesthood has to do it; this Priesthood is for this purpose.

-Brigham Young

According to casual Latter-day Saint folk theology the millennium will be a time of massive temple work. Less casually, a lot of relatively authoritative general authority midrash has suggested that the hypothetical end point for temple work is the complete sealing and temple work for all humans who have ever lived. So of course I’ve been curious about how much temple work that is. The specific numbers aren’t as important here as much as the general sense of scale and scope. 

According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, some estimates suggest that about 100 billion humans have ever lived. Of course, for our purposes how big this number is depends on when we crossed the developmental threshold as a species to become “as the Gods, knowing good and evil” and became subject to the demands of accountability and its attendant ordinances. 

Still, for our purposes let’s assume the nice round 100 billion number. The temple department has reported that as of 1988 about 100 million endowments have been performed, which probably means that about 1-3 out of every thousand people who have ever lived have had their work done for them (ignoring possible redundancies and inadvertent repeats). We obviously still have a ways to go, with dozens of millenia before we finish “the list” (which is constantly growing) at the current rate.

How much effort would that take? Let’s assume that:

  • One combined baptism/confirmation for the dead takes about half a minute for each person.  


  • One complete set of sealings (parent to child and spouse to spouse) per person takes about one minute.


  • A full endowment/washings/anointings session takes about 1.5 hours per person.

Of course, the time for the latter has varied quite dramatically across Church history, as different elements have been added and taken away (mostly taken away), but it has inclined towards more and more brevity.  

Brother Brigham this is not arranged right but we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies with the signs, tokens, penalties and key words.’ I did so, and each time I got something more, so that when we went through the temple at Nauvoo I understood and knew how to place them there. We had our ceremonies pretty correct. 

Organizing it correctly has been a 150-year old long endeavor. Oftentimes the things dropped were the things most patently masonic as the superstructure that the ordinance was layered over became less necessary. But here I assume that the final, definitive, endowment-type ritual and washings and anointings is 1.5 hours. Maybe some of our ancestors get “credit” for their culture-specific sacrifices, washes and anointings, and Elysian type or Osiris-rite type endowments (on this topic I am very much a Nibleyite), but I assume this group is negligible (but who knows, maybe God had an endowment among the early East African hunter gatherers). 

My understanding is that there used to be 2nd-anointings-for-the-dead, but for these calculations I’m only including the current categorical sets of temple rites. 

If we assume the millennium conjecture, where Christ comes down and almost everybody becomes a member and is involved in temple work, let’s say we have 1 billion active, temple-working members. Of course there’s a gendered component here if women have not received the priesthood by then, so each of the 500 million men are responsible for performing 200 baptisms/confirmations and being baptized/confirmed for 100 people, while each of the women are responsible for being baptized/confirmed for 100 people. So assuming 30 seconds per baptism/confirmation that means 2.5 hours work for each man and 50 minutes for each woman until every human who has ever existed will be baptized by proxy. (Of course, whether they accept is a different issue). Since sealings are twice as much per person in our model (with the same gendered component with sealers), we’ll just double that for sealing with 5 hours of work per man and 1 hour and 40 minutes of work per woman. 

Endowments/washings/anointings are much, much more time obviously. Even with 1 billion temple attenders, each person would be responsible for 100 names, which would take several months if they performed one endowment a day. At this point the number of temples would have to be along the lines of the number of schools or polling places to accommodate all the temple work.

In terms of the general topline, “completing” temple work is doable if we assume the existence of a one-billion phalanx of temple attenders (and the comprehensive genealogy chart from the sky), but if we simply extrapolate out our current rate of temple productivity it will take dozens of thousands of years. On a more this-worldly note, in theory we could run out of names if we’re limiting ourselves to those that are retrievable through earthly genealogical means, but I haven’t the foggiest how many people that is, so I wouldn’t even know where to begin speculating. 

Of course, maybe after the Second Coming God will just wave His hand and deem everybody “baptized” and “endowed”; I’m open to that possibility, but given my take on the patterns in the scriptures that sort of dues ex machina is quite rare, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the concreteness and distinctiveness of individually-performed ordinances will still be required.

14 comments for “When Will We Be “Done” With Temple Work?

  1. These stats would seem to justify less work for the dead now. Wait the millennium. Maybe concentrate on helping your neighbor (anyone in the world) more. Love your neighbor. Highlighting the 4th mission of the Church: help the poor.

  2. Not necessarily, since the gains from temple work are discrete and incremental. Presumably the benefit for person n is the same whether they are the first or last person for whom work is done for.

    “The old man replied, ‘But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.’ The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, ‘It made a difference to that one!'”

    Helping the poor has the same dynamic, the benefit to poor person n is the same wherever they fall in the ordering of who is getting the benefits. In other words, the poor and un-endowed dead will always be with us until the millennium.

  3. Interesting…I had always pictured temple work being one of the major activities of the millennium, but I’d never done the math. You’ve convinced me that with any reasonable assumptions it can all be done in short order, or spread out such that people do it only occasionally. (I suspect that in the millennium temple work will be done when the person it’s being done for wants it, so it’s on their schedule instead of ours.)

    So how many temples would be needed? Let’s assume millennial temples average 150 total seats in ordinance rooms. Next assume each seat can be used for 6 sessions per day (I’m thinking 12 hour days with 2 hours per session with time to get people in and out). Such a temple could do 900 endowments per day (temple workers, feel free to improve that number). If it operates 300 days/year for 1,000 years, that’s 270 million endowments per temple. With 100 billion endowments to do, about 370 temples are needed. Tweak the assumptions as makes sense to you (if some temples are built after the millennium starts then more will be needed, for example) but that should be in the ballpark–and it’s not a crazy number. Of course that’s assuming the work is spread out over the course of the millennium. If you want to get it done in a matter of months then you are in the realm of temples as common as schools.

    @rogerdhansen, the big question is whether it matters *when* temple work is done, or if it only matters that it’s all done before the end. I don’t know the answer to that question. But I and many others have felt strongly that there was rejoicing on the other side of the veil when someone’s temple work was done, at least raising the possibility that something about their lot had improved right then. If that’s the case, then suggesting that temple work can wait until the millennium because it will all be done then is roughly equivalent to saying that helping the poor can wait until the millennium because it will all be done then.

  4. If we live forever, then waiting for the Millennium is no big deal. The poor need our help now. Half of Church members live in developing countries. They need our help now, so do their neighbors. There are plenty of temples in my neighborhood, let’s get going on the real problems: poverty, refugees, etc.

  5. I think becoming a sanctified people might change the game a bit. If, during the Millennium, we’re pretty much on the same spiritual plain as the saints in paradise then we might find ourselves collaborating “face to face” with folks from the other side. My sense is their operation is not only much larger than ours is but much more organized as well. And so I can imagine *them* giving *us* the vital information we need to do their work; they know who’s who and what work remains to be done for them.

    Of course, we’ve got a ways to go before we become a sanctified people. Even so, we’ll get there if we keep our collective on the temple and its meaning and purposes. That being said, I believe this is the primary purpose of the church’s major undertaking to make temples more accessible to the saints all around the globe–that is, to sanctify the saints.

  6. My father, a well-read and thoughtful Latter-day Saint, also believed that the Millennium will be the grand period of temple work, joining together all generations back to Adam. Temples would operate non-stop, 24/7. Data humans now have no access to or knowledge of will be made available. Errors and mistakes, which based on our family lines alone are legion, will be corrected. (Just a few examples: children from two completely different, non-related families merged into one on FamilySearch–my father talked to someone in SLC about why this happened and how to correct it and the response, much to his annoyance, was basically “oh, well”; a male wrongly identified as female; the son of a woman’s first husband, who she quickly divorced, having his birthdate altered to appear as if he were the biological child of the second husband, whose name he took and who raised him.) As I read the comments above, though, I was struck by this thought: will temples in the Millennium even look like our concept of temples today? Will what we term “temple work” even need to be done inside buildings with four walls and a roof? Isn’t it possible that our human ideas are extremely limited compared to God’s vision? if this is true, it really doesn’t matter how many “temples” (as we define them) exist, will it? And, if all those people who join us from the other side participate fully (as Jack suggested), this work could move amazingly quickly. But I also agree with rogerdhansen–our main focus here and now should be on fulfilling Christ’s assignments in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25). Family history and temple work is only ONE aspect of the Church’s mission, and I fear that under President Nelson it has been overemphasized to a harmful, stressful and, honestly, ridiculous point. After all, when the angels appeared to the women at the garden tomb, they said, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). A true Christian life requires a balance among all things, but Christ absolutely emphasized love and compassion for those who are here, with us, now.

  7. I can’t understand how we could ever “run out of names”. 62.5 (or more) million people die per year. I don’t think that we could do more than 5 million names/year these days. So every year the list of possible names grows by approximately 55 million. It would take us a decade to take care of one year’s worth of dying.

  8. serious question that I am sure someone here can help me with. Why do we do temple work for the dead when JS was taught this;

    D&C 137
    7 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;

    8 Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;


  9. REC911,

    I think that’s a great question–though I’m not sure I have a great answer. Even so, my sense is that those who would rule in the Eternal Kingdom must fulfill all righteousness–as did the Savior when he submitted himself to be baptized. It’s not enough to be cleansed from all unrighteousness in order to rule as a priest or a priestess in the Kingdom. We must condescend–as did the Savior–personally fulfilling everything that will be required of those over whom we will have stewardship.

    What I’m suggesting here may seem like a small thing–sort of like dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. But if it were left undone the results would be catastrophic–theoretically speaking–as one of the primary building blocks of the Kingdom is perfect empathy–without which it (the Kingdom) would not be eternally sustainable.

  10. @REC911, the short answer would be “Because JS also taught D&C 127 and 128.”

    But to go a level deeper, like I think you’re asking, I’d say that temple work for the dead makes D&C 137 possible. For reasons I don’t pretend to understand–though Jack’s answer is certainly part of it–ordinances are necessary for exaltation (see John 3:5 for just one example). So as part of the Father’s merciful plan, he made it possible for the living to perform ordinances on behalf of the dead so everyone will have the opportunity to receive them. Then the dead can be heirs of the celestial kingdom like Joseph Smith was promised.

    If someone doesn’t believe ordinances are essential for exaltation, or just doesn’t believe in life after death, then of course this makes no sense to them and they’ll think we should focus our time and resources on helping the living. I get it, and I don’t blame them (as Joseph Smith said, “It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of”). But I hope they can understand that we believe serving the living and serving the dead are both serving, and are both important.

  11. It catches my attention that Stephen C. had to turn to a 35-year-old Church News article as the most recent tally available to the public of temple ordinances in the latter days. The last time the church announced in General Conference the number of endowments performed the previous year as April 1985; 54,554 for the living and 4,857,052 for the dead in 1984.

  12. Jack and RLD – thanks for taking the time to respond. Jesus seems to be pretty clear in section 137 to me at least.

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