Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 4: Setting the Textual Stage

This is part 4 of a series of posts on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843 revelation on marriage. Parts 1, 2 and 3 are here, here and here respectively. Part 5 is here.

Currently, Doctrine and Covenants section 132 has the following introduction/summary:

Section 132
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant and the principle of plural marriage. Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, evidence indicates that some of the principles involved in this revelation were known by the Prophet as early as 1831. See Official Declaration 1.


The words “relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant and the principle of plural marriage.” are interesting and are at the center of an interesting interpretive discussion.

First, consider the current reading of D&C 131:2.

And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.]

The text of section 131 was extracted by Orson Pratt from the Millennial Star (see part 3) which in turn was an edition of the Deseret News text of the Manuscript History of the Church vol. 5 p. 1551. (in the image viewer, you’ll have to locate the image by a bit of trial and error at the bottom of the page).

The entry in the history is based on the William Clayton journal and differs only slightly in the portions it uses. Below is the Clayton report from his diary:

Tuesday [May] 16. Went to see Pres. J. who ordered me to prepare for Carthage I returned home & got ready & started about 11 oclock in the New Carriage with prest. J. George Miller, Eliza Partridge, Lydia Partridge & J.M. Smith Loran Walker drove. We called at Carthage & saw Styles, Backenstos & others. Tarried about 15 minutes & started again for Ramus where we arrived about 3 ½ oclock. We stayed at W. G. Perkins. Prest. J. & I went to B.F. Johnsons to sleep. Before we retired the Prest. gave bro Johnson & wife some instructions on the priesthood. He put his hand on my knee and says “your life is hid with Christ in God, and so is many others.” Addressing Benjamin says he “nothing but the unpardonable sin can prevent him (me) 32 from inheriting eternal glory for he is sealed up by the power of the priesthood unto eternal life having taken the step which is necessary for that purpose.”[1]

He said that except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity while in this probation by the power and authority of the Holy priesthood they will cease to increase when they die, but those who are married by the power & authority of the priesthood in this life & continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost will continue to increase & have children in the celestial glory.[2]

The unpardonable sin is to shed innocent blood or be accessory thereto. All other sins will be visited with judgement in the flesh and the spirit being delivered to the buffetings of satan untill the day of the Lord Jesus. I feel desirous to be united in an everlasting covenant to my wife and pray that it may soon be. Prest. J. said that the way he knew in whom to confide, God told him in whom he might place confidence. He also said that in the celestial glory was three heavens or degrees, and in order to obtain the highest a man must enter into this order of the priesthood and if he dont he cant obtain it. He may enter into the other but that is the end of his kingdom he cannot have increase.

There are several important points here, but I just want to focus on two: first, plural marriages for example, were pronounced by priesthood authority, but didn’t necessarily carry the imprimatur of eternal sealing even though participants probably understood polygamy as continuing in the afterlife. However, the words “time and eternity” were employed in at least some of these ceremonies.[3] Secondly, and more importantly here, is the lack of the phrase that occurs in the current Doctrine and Covenants section 131 [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.]

This phrase “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” was added by Orson Pratt who may have started using the phrase in 1873. (See for example his sermon of October 7).[4] It does not appear in any manuscript or imprint of the section 131 material until Pratt’s 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The phrase new and everlasting covenant is drawn from the text of section 132 (where it appears seven times) and is used as a reference to the sealing sacrament introduced by Joseph Smith in full in 1843.[5] However, it also appears in section 22 as a reference to the restored church and its attendant ordinances. Perhaps the most definite recent preaching here is that of Joseph Fielding Smith:

Men agree to keep the commandments and the Lord promises to reward them accordingly. The gospel itself is the new and everlasting covenant and embraces all of the agreements, promises, and rewards which the Lord offers to his people.[6]

However, as one may guess, it was his father, Joseph F. Smith, who advocated for this generalized reading of “new and everlasting covenant.” (Conference Report Oct. 1902, p.3.)

Early church members saw their baptisms as entry into the new and everlasting covenant. Oliver Cowdery signed letters “yours in the bonds of the new and everlasting covenant.” The presidency of the high priesthood signed their letter to Edward Partridge on consecration in Missouri, “We conclude our letter by the usual salutation, in token of the new and everlasting covenant.”

One more example should suffice:

We went home to his fathers and Martin with us. Martin stayed at his Fathers and slept in a Bed on the flor with me. Martin awoke me in the nite and asked me if I felt any thing on the Bed. I told him no. Says I, “Did you?” “Yes, I felt some thing as Big as a grat Dog Sprang upon my Brest.” Says I, “Was you not mistekened.” “No,” says he. “It was so.” I Sprang up and felt, But I Could see nor feal nothing. In the morning he got up and said he must have a Commandment to Joseph and went home. And along in the after part of the Day Joseph and Oliver Received a Commandmant which is in Book of Covenants Page 174 [1835 ed]. I stayd a few Days wating for some Books to Be Bound. Joseph said there must Be a Church Biltup. I had Ben there several Days. Old Mr Smith and Martin Harris Come forrod [forward] to Be Babtise[d] for the first. They found a place in a lot a small Stream ran thro and they ware Babtized in the Evening Because of Persecution. They went forward and was Babtized Being the first I saw Babtized in the new and everlasting Covenant. I had some thots to go forrod, But I had not re[a]d the Book of Mormon and I wanted to oxeman [examine] a little more I being a Restorationar and had not oxamined so much as I wanted to. But I should a felt Better if I had a gone forward. But I went home and was Babtised in June with my wife and familey. [Dean Jessee, ed., “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17/1.]

These broader meanings (there appears to be more than one) do not correspond with the usage in the revelation. More on this as I move into the text in a later part of the series.

Meanwhile, the 1981 edition of the revelation has the following heading:

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, as also plurality of wives. HC 5:501-507. Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.

Comparing this to the 2013 heading:

2013 1981
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant and the principle of plural marriage. Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, evidence indicates that some of the principles involved in this revelation were known by the Prophet as early as 1831. See Official Declaration 1. Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, as also plurality of wives. HC 5:501-507. Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.

An important difference here, the reference to OD1. Another important difference, not tying the revelation, or “principles” precisely to the date 1831. This is very important I think, given the way we Mormons often take these things.

The question of when Joseph Smith became familiar with ideas in the revelation is an interesting one and I’ll look more closely at this in the following post in the series, but beware: there is no sure footing here.

The 1981 heading replaced the often reprinted 1921 edition which reads,

REVELATION given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, as also the plurality of wives.

The heading is shorter than the 1981 heading and like the 2013 heading, has no reference to the History of the Church text. It varies somewhat from Pratt’s original 1876 heading: Revelation on the Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, Including Plurality of Wives. Given Through Joseph, the Seer, in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, July 12th, 1843.

Earlier headings may be found by exploring the links in part 3. The first imprint of the revelation simply announces it as

REVELATION
Given to Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, July 12th, 1843.

Orson Pratt, in his The Seer titled the revelation as


CELESTIAL MARRIAGE:
A Revelation on the Patriarchal Order of Matrimony, or Plurality of Wives. Given to Joseph Smith, the Seer, in Nauvoo, July 12th, 1843.

The article in the 1875 Star simply has “Revelation on Celestial Marriage.”

It is fairly clear that these early imprints were meant to establish the idea that the revelation’s purpose was to introduce and insure the practice of polygamy.

Pratt published the revelation in the Pearl of Great Price of 1878 and it appeared both there and in the Doctrine and Covenants for several editions. The Pearl of Great Price heading which is that of the 1876 Doctrine and Covenants:


Revelation on the Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, Including the Plurality of Wives. Given Through Joseph, The Seer, in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, July 12th, 1843.

Next time, I’ll look at a portion of the revelation itself.

————–
[1] This is a very curious statement, but it fits with the nature of the July 12 revelation: Clayton had taken the step of marrying a second wife. Joseph may also have seen this as a test of faith, even a hurdle of death (see part 5 to come). In any case, no sealings of civil marriages had been performed as yet. Thirty-year-old Almera Johnson, one of Joseph’s wives, lived in Ramus, Illinois with her brother Benjamin. Joseph was also married to Almera’s older sister, Delcena, who lived in Nauvoo with another of Joseph’s wives, Louisa Beaman. On Joseph’s May visit, Benjamin reported, “The Prophet again Came and at my house occupied the Same Room & Bed with my Sister that the month previous he had occupied with the Daughter of the Late Bishop Partridge.”

[2] The present understanding of proxy ordinances, an understanding only fully fleshed out since 1894, seems to work against Joseph’s possible declaration that sealing must be performed while the subjects yet live: in this probation—-in this life. It is certain however, that this perspective, if that’s what it was, changed with later experience. 1894 saw a stronger and stronger emphasis on the interim between death and resurrection as part of the probationary state. On children of resurrected beings, see part 8 to come. Taken in isolation, this part of the entry suggests that mere sealing, not necessarily polygamy, is sufficient to gain the highest heaven. Parts of the revelation text however, and Clayton’s diary itself, point toward plurality as necessary. Since the time of Heber J. Grant however, the church has focused on sealing as the hurdle to heaven. 1890 signaled the (public) death of “plurality as exalting” narrative. Prior to that there was considerable fiery rhetoric at the expense of those who either avoided plurality or argued that it was merely a sideshow that could and should be left behind, a position many Mormon political allies put before John Taylor. Taylor, however became ever more hardened in his commitment to the practice, dictating several revelations on the subject and unceremoniously releasing from service any local leaders who failed to practice plurality. It was Taylor’s death that opened the way for the divorce of sealing and plurality, an idea that gained only very subtle textual traction between 1852 and 1888. Still, many saw the handwriting on the wall by 1889 and looked for an end-of-the-world moment to save the church. In a way, this happened. The 1890s began a tectonic shift in Mormon cosmology.

[3] It is true that “time and eternity” language was deployed by Joseph Smith in at least some of his marriages before 1843. M. Guy Bishop, “Eternal Marriage in Early Mormon Marital Beliefs,” Historian 53/1 (1990); Gary James Bergera, “The Earliest Eternal Sealings for Civilly Married Couples Living and Dead,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35 (Fall 2002), 41-66. Most such testimony was delivered long after the events however, with an interest in demonstrating such early language. Formal sealing in the mode of the revelation seems to wait for 1843. For example, Clayton was sealed to his first wife, Ruth Moon, July 22, 1843, Joseph and Emma were sealed in May along with a number of others. The revealed language of Sarah Ann Whitney’s July 27, 1842 marriage to Joseph Smith (read by her own father over the couple) is instructive, though not a universal pattern for other marriages:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto my servant N. K. Whitney, the thing that my servant Joseph Smith has made known unto you and your family and which you have agreed upon is right in mine eyes and shall be rewarded upon your heads with honor and immortality and eternal life to all your house, both old and young because of the lineage of my Priesthood, saith the Lord, it shall be upon you and upon your children after you from generation to generation, by virtue of the holy promise which I now make unto you, saith the Lord. These are the words which you shall pronounce upon my servant Joseph and your daughter S. A. Whitney. They shall take each other by the hand and you shall say, You both mutually agree, calling them by name, to be each other’s companion so long as you both shall live, preserving yourselves for each other and from all others and also throughout eternity, reserving only those rights which have been given to my servant Joseph by revelation and commandment and by legal authority in times passed. If you both agree to covenant and do this, I then give you, S. A. Whitney, my daughter, to Joseph Smith, to be his wife, to observe all the rights between you both that belong to that condition. I do it in my own name and in the name of my wife, your mother, and in the name of my holy progenitors, by the right of birth which is of priesthood, vested in me by revelation and commandment and promise of the living God, obtained by the Holy Melchisedeck Gethrow and others of the Holy Fathers, commanding in the name of the Lord all those powers to concentrate in you and through you to your posterity forever. All these things I do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that through this order he may be glorified and that through the power of anointing David may reign King over Israel, which shall hereafter be revealed. Let immortality and eternal life hereafter be sealed upon your heads forever and ever.[Revelations Collections, Box 1, folder 104, CHL. Apparently acknowledging that the revelation was Joseph Smith’s is a letter in his own hand dated August 18, 1842 (MS 155, Box 2, folder 5). Scroll to the right to get to the document.]

[4] Compare John Taylor’s sermon of November 14, 1877 for example.

[5] See Ehat for example (link in part 3 of the series). Jacob Scott, later part of the RLDS movement, knew of the July 12 revelation and wrote to his daughter from Nauvoo: “Several revelations of great utility and common interest have been lately communicated to Joseph and the church. One is that all marriage contracts or covenants are to be everlasting.” See Richard P. Howard, “The Changing RLDS Response to Mormon Polygamy: A Preliminary Analysis,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 3 (1983).

[6] LDS General Conference priesthood session, October 3, 1970. Smith’s sermon is probably an attempt to harmonize the use of the phrase in some way, since it reflects New Testament language as well in reference to the ministry and work of Jesus and the apostles.

Comments

  1. Don Bradley has done a lot of research and has historical documents relating to each of the hypotheticals listed in 132 as instigated by actual incidents. Would be great if you could expound on those.

  2. The phenomenon of the weight on the chest in sleep and the terror that accompanies it is discussed in Oliver Sacks’ “Hallucinations.”

  3. jpv, I’ll make a few remarks about various parts of the revelation as we go on, but the medium doesn’t allow for too much depth.

    Charly, are you sure you’re at the right blog?

  4. A few questions that I had reading this as a non-historian. First, the unpardonable sin was referred to as murder here but is now considered the more nebulous “denying the holy ghost.” In fact, I have always been taught murder is pardonable if not in this life. The next observation I had was how different the marriage vow was that is listed in the footnotes from the one that now exists in the temple. This one sounds pretty equal, kind of a “pledge my troth” thing. The one currently in the temple is very difficult as a woman because it is unequal between the sexes.

  5. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    Angela,
    Funny, as I read the marriage vow quoted above, it seemed pretty lopsided to me. I kept thinking how much more equitable the ceremony seems today.

  6. J. Stapley says:

    Angela, liturgically, in the revelations, and a few other Nauvoo sources it is the shedding of innocent blood.

  7. Angela, the unpardonable sin has an interesting history. The revelation follows Clayton’s May 16 text above. Sermons of JS suggest that unpardonable sin = “sin against the Holy Ghost.” Murder is a separate category. Both worked to *permanently* damage exaltation apparently, but murder is to be pardoned eventually, while the other is not. Complications ensue. I get into this more when the relevant verses come up. I think the discussion/claims about the status and nature of “unpardonable” may be environmentally driven, at least in part. As far as the ceremony goes, a large part of it seems devoted to Sarah.

  8. it's a series of tubes says:

    This series continues to deliver. Thanks much, and looking forward to the next installment.

  9. We do our best, tubes!

  10. “Since the time of Heber J. Grant however, the church has focused on sealing as the hurdle to heaven.”
    Because he was the last Prophet of our dispensation to have practiced polygamy? Just curious as to the timing of the shift in focus, and this would make sense.
    “Gethrow”
    I assume this is a reference to Jethro, father in-law of Moses. I don’t know that I have ever heard him referred to as one of the ” Holy Fathers”. Did he figure prominently as a historical spiritual figure in the early Church? Again, just curious.

  11. Talon, on Grant, I mean it was his administration that finally got over the angst of church prosecution of new polygamists. The bulk of church leaders were now beyond an origin in the era of struggle to *live* polygamy and could, with less dissonance, call out those who were arguing for its continuance.

    Jethro’s appearance echoes his pivotal role in D&C 84, the first revelation on priesthood architecture.

  12. “These are the words which you shall pronounce upon my servant Joseph and your daughter S. A. Whitney……… preserving yourselves for each other and FROM all others ”
    How can this happen in their polygamist marriage?

  13. “These are the words which you shall pronounce upon my servant Joseph and your daughter S. A. Whitney…. preserving yourselves for each other and from all others and also throughout eternity”

    How can this even work with polygamy?

  14. oops! thought it didn’t post!

  15. katerp, keep reading: “reserving only those rights which have been given to my servant Joseph by revelation and commandment and by legal authority in times passed.” Room for the other wives, and Emma (legal authority in times passed).

  16. WVS, I saw that, but wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. Thanks.

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