The Wheat and Temple Connection

By Rick Brunson

“For behold the field is white already to harvest” (D&C 4:4).  This famous scripture has been memorized by tens of thousands of LDS missionaries over the years.  It is common knowledge in the Church that Section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants is all about missionary work.  However, because the majority of this generation have never had the opportunity to harvest wheat for themselves, some of the symbolism of Section 4 has unfortunately become lost over time.  The purpose of this paper is to bring back some of the gospel symbolism associated with harvesting wheat, and also to examine how harvesting wheat is connected to temple worship, both anciently and in modern times. 

The Field is White

If you served in a bitterly cold mission like I did, you might think that the phrase “the field is white” (D&C 4:4) refers to missionaries tracting door to door in a snow storm.  I still have vivid memories (nightmares?) as a missionary of trying to ride my bike home from the grocery store on one of my P-days, through a foot of snow, with groceries on both of my handle bars, just praying that by bike tires would not slip out from under me.  Thankfully, my groceries and I made it home safely that day.

While this might be an accurate interpretation for some, the phrase “the field is white” (D&C 4:4) actually refers to a field of wheat.  While wheat is normally gold in color, it can often have the appearance of pure white during those times when the light of the sun is reflecting upon it. 

As we all know, the field spoken of in Section 4 represents the world, and the wheat represents the people of the earth.  More specifically, the wheat represents those persons who are ready to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, it is important to remember that not everyone in the wheat field is labeled as wheat by the Lord.  There are some in the world who are not willing to learn of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Lord made this clear in the parable of the wheat and tares:

The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also (Matthew 13:24-26; emphasis added).

This means that the field of wheat that we as missionaries are asked to harvest is most likely not a field of pure wheat, as portrayed in the photograph above. Instead, it would probably look more like the field shown here, which is a field mixed with wheat and tares.

Field with Wheat and Tares

A field that contains both wheat and tares is much more difficult to harvest than a field of only wheat.  However, surprisingly, the most difficult part of harvesting a field mixed with wheat and tares is not separating the two crops from one another. Rather, it is telling the two crops apart. 

By their fruits ye shall know them

If the wheat and tares are fully mature (as shown in our Wheat and Tares photograph above) it is much easier to tell the two crops apart.  However, early on, when the wheat and tares are still in their infancy, it is nearly impossible to tell difference between the two.                         

If we compare these two crops to the people of the world, we learn that it is very difficult to judge a person based on their looks alone wheather they are followers of Christ or followers of Satan.  In fact there is only one true test that we can use to determine the wheat from the tares.  In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord taught:

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit…Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matthew 7:18-20).

In otherwords, the fruit produced by wheat is much different than the fruit produced by tares.  According to Organic Facts, wheat is one of the healthist foods you can eat: 

“Wheat is rich in catalytic elements, mineral salts, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, chlorine, arsenic, silicon, manganese, zinc, iodide, copper, vitamin B, and vitamin E.”[1]

On the contrast, “tares, if eaten will cause severe nausia, vomiting, severe headaches, and a host of other illnesses.”[2] 

Let Both Grow Together

Returning to the parable of the wheat and tares, when the sower learned the devastating news of tares growing in his wheat field, his servants said unto him, “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?” (Matthew 13:27).   

Although this seems like the natural thing to do under these circumstances, the sower responded otherwise, saying:

Nay, lest while ye gather up the tares ye root up also the wheat with them (Matthew 13:29).   

The reason why you cannot remove the tares from the wheat field too early in the maturation process is because the roots of the tares have a tendency to wrap themselves around the roots of the wheat, making it impossible to root out the tares only. 

This means that there are people in our wheat field (the world) who are acting as tares, trying to choke others from receiving the much needed nutrients that they need in order to grow and flourish.  But thankfully there is a benefit that comes from growing next to tares, which is the tares can actually strengthen the wheat.  In other words, when the roots of tares wrap themselves around the roots of wheat, the wheat roots are forced to dig down deeper in the earth in order to get to the water.  As a result, the wheat will grow taller and stronger than it otherwise would have had it not been surrounded by tares.

But the wheat is not to grow among the tares forever.  The Lord said that they are only to “grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:30; emphasis added).  When I was younger, I always assumed that the harvest in this parable was referring to the Second Coming.  But if we read Section 4 carefully, we learn that the harvest has already begun:

For behold the field is white already to harvest (D&C 4:4; emphasis added).

Sickle used for Cutting Down Wheat
This means that the time is now for the Lord to start separating the wheat from the tares.  
In other words, the wheat of the world has come into maturity, and its roots are now sufficiently strong enough to allow the sowers to pluck the wheat from the tares without actually harming the wheat.  Now is the time for missionary work.  In Section 4, this missionary work is done by cutting the wheat at the base with a sickle.  “And lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (D&C 4:4).

Threshing of Wheat

Once the wheat has been cut down, the next step is to remove the wheat kernels from the stalk.  But how? As you can imagine, removing each kernel of wheat by hand for an entire wheat field would take a very long time.  To solve this time problem anciently, the Israelites took the wheat through a process called threshing. 

There were several different ways to thresh wheat.  One way was to pound the wheat with a hammer, which caused the wheat kernels to separate themselves from the husks.  And since the wheat kernels were strong, this could be done without smashing the wheat kernels themselves. Once all of the wheat kernels had been separated from the stalks, the stalks were discarded.

Threshing Wheat with a Hammer

Another method of threshing wheat anciently (especially when done in larger quantities) was to have an animal such as an ox trample the grain (see Deut. 25:4). The ox would be yoked to a sleigh, which was weighed down by rocks, and underneath the sleigh would be teeth of stones which did the actual threshing of the wheat.  When the ox pulled the slay over the wheat, the stone teeth would cut the wheat and separate its kernels from the stalks.

Sleigh used for Threshing Wheat

Threshing Wheat with Oxen

Tried even as Abraham

If we compare this threshing of wheat with Section 4, we learn that being harvested is just the beginning for those who are converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In other words, the wheat that is currently being harvested by missionary work will still need to be threshed by the Lord.  And from what we can gather based on the above methods of threshing, this does not sound like a very pleasant process for anyone.  After all, it implies that we must be pounded with a hammer, and/or trampled by oxen.  Why would the Lord put members of his Church through this process? The answer is simple. That is the only way to get to the wheat:

Therefore, [ye] must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham…. For all those who will not endure chastening…cannot be sanctified (D&C 101:4-5).

According to this scripture, we are thrashed by being “tried, even as Abraham.” However, as a result, we become “sanctified.”  Joseph Smith said it this way:

“God will feel after you, he will take hold of you and wrench your very heartstrings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Kingdom of God.”[3]

The purpose of being threshed spiritually is explained in the 
History of the Church, which reads:

“The wheat and tares must grow together till the harvest, at the harvest the wheat is gathered together into the threshing floor; so with the Saints… Here they will be threshed with all sorts of difficulties, trials, afflictions and everything to mar their peace which they can imagine…but he that endures the threshing till all the chaff, superstition, folly and unbelief are pounded out of him, and does not suffer himself to be blown away as chaff but endures faithfully to the end, shall be saved.”[4]


After the wheat has been threshed, there is still one last step that the sower needs to go through before they can retrieve the wheat, which is a process called winnowing.  While the hammer or oxen are able to remove the wheat kernels from the stalk, threshing also has a tendency to leave behind unwanted chaff alongside the wheat.  To solve this problem anciently, wheat farmers would toss the remaining pile high up into the air using an instrument such as a pitch fork.  Because wheat kernels are heavier than chaff, the wind was able to blow away the unwanted chaff, while the wheat fell safely back to the ground. 

Scripturally, the wheat belongs to the Lord, and the chaff belongs to Satan.  The Lord warned us in the Doctrine and Covenants to “beware, for Satan desireth to sift [us] as chaff” (D&C 52:12).[5] Similarly, Mormon taught:

For behold, the Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their fathers; and they are without Christ and God in the world; and they are driven about as chaff before the wind. (Mormon 5:16)

The Threshing Floor

Anciently, wheat was often threshed on the top of a hill or mountain because that was where the wind was the strongest.  These spots became to be known as threshing floors, and in the words of Old Testament scholar Augsburg Fortress,

“In ancient Israel threshing floors were not only agricultural spaces but were regarded as sacred spaces.”[6]

The Threshing Floor
These threshing floors were considered sacred to the Israelites because wheat was a main food source for the Israelites, and since they recognized that all of their food came from the hand of the Lord, they put these threshing floors under the Lord’s divine control.[7]

For example, in 2 Samuel, the Lord commanded David to build an altar and offer sacrifices unto him.  However, the Lord did not want this altar built just anywhere.  Instead he commanded David to purchase the threshing floor of a man named Ornan (also referred to as Araunah) and then the Lord commanded David to build his altar right in the middle of this threshing floor (see 2 Samuel 24:18-24).  This location famously became know as the threshing floor of Ornan, and shows us that the Lord considered these threshing floors to be sacred spaces.  In fact, this particular threshing floor was so sacred that the Lord eventually commanded David’s son Solomon to build the Temple of Solomon upon this very spot:

Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah…in the place that David had prepared in the threshingfloor of Ornan (2 Chron. 3:1).

This tells us that there is a strong connection between the ancient threshing floors and the temple.  It was meant to teach us that if we want to be harvested as wheat rather than as tares or chaff, then we need to go through the temple. 

Wheat and LDS Temples

This wheat and temple connection is not just found among the ancient Israelites.  In fact, this theme of wheat can also be found on the walls of many of our modern-day temples as well.[8]  For example, both the San Antonio Texas and the Rexburg Idaho temples are decorated with stained glass windows that feature images of wheat as their centerpiece.  Furthermore, the Seattle Washington temple has tall stalks of wheat etched in stone, that cover the entire front of the building.

Wheat Motif on a Stain Glass Window of the Rexburg, ID Temple

Stalks of Wheat on the exterior of the Seattle, WA Temple

This goes to show us the strong connection between harvesting wheat and the harvesting of souls that is done at the temple.

Gather ye the wheat into my barn

According to the Lord, once the wheat had been separated from the chaff, it is then to be stored safely in the barn:

In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the wheat into my barn (JST Matthew 13:30; emphasis added).  

This barn may very well represent the city Zion which will be built by the Saints at Jackson County, Missouri prior to the Second Coming.  One of the purposes of building Zion is to have protection from the destructions that the Lord will soon pour out upon the wicked:

And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain (Isaiah 4:5-6).

With the Saints safely in the barn, we are told that the Lord will proceed to burn the wicked (chaff) with fire at his Second Coming:

[The Lord] will thoroughly purge his [threshing] floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but in the fullness of his own time will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:39).

The Bread of Life

Of course, the main purpose of harvesting wheat anciently was to make bread.  This is significant because it will be at the Second Coming when we will be reunited with Christ, who is “the bread of life” (John 6:35).  And, according to the New Testament, “when [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).  In other words, it is only after this process of being harvested, threshed, winnowed, and stored in a barn that we too can be transformed into bread.  These are the steps we must take to become like Christ.

How To Harvest Wheat

To get a better idea of how wheat was harvested, threshed and winnowed, please reference the below video.


[3] Journal of Discourses, 24:197.
[4] History of the Church, 4:451-452.
[5] See also Psalm 1:4.
[8] The Trumpet Stone, “Wheat as a Temple Symbol.”