“Enter into Thy Closet”

Brant Gardner

The closet is the small interior space where food was typically kept, typically a pantry with a door, but no windows. Thus, the “closet” symbolizes privacy, in contrast to public gatherings or activities in the more public areas of the house. Jesus is not suggesting that dark and isolated rooms are the only or best locales for prayer; rather, he is heightening the contrasts in his example. Possibly the Septuagint version of Isaiah 26:20 refers to this same room as a place of refuge: “Go, my people, enter into thy closets, shut thy door, hide thyself for a little season, until the anger of the Lord have passed away.”

This passages uses two antitheses: (1) streets and synagogues versus a private interior room; (2) God sees in secret versus rewards openly. These antitheses continue the motifs of inside/outside, reward-of-men/reward-of-God begun in the section on alms. Prayer is another expected devotion, but true prayer is done before God, not before men.

Book of Mormon Context: Archaeologists have been able to provide considerable information about Mesoamerican dwellings. The wealthy lived in compounds whose buildings were constructed of permanent materials like stone or cement. Farmers lived in wooden dwellings with thatched roofs like those still commonly seen in rural Mesoamerica. There was an opening for a doorway, but no windows. Israelite homes were typically built of bricks with windows and physical doors. It would typically have three or four interior rooms. Mesoamerican dwellings of this period, particularly those of the common people, had no windows and never any interior room. They suspended from roof beams food and other personal items. There was nothing that might be similar to an Israelite “closet.” Thus, this verse’s terminology is culture-bound to the Old World.

However, the distinction between public and private devotion made this passage relevant, while the Zoramite heresy underscores the need for praying with proper intent (Alma 31:13–18).

Comparison: There are no changes from the Matthean text.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5