Help! My Seminary kids have stumped me.

Every Thursday evening I get to be The Man. You know, the Seminary teacher who doesn’t teach Mormon kids about seer stones and polyandry, thus adding to their hopeless naivite.

In truth, it’s a great, great calling, and I have a really bright set of kids.

This week we talked about D&C 2 and the coming of Elijah. Said Moroni to Joseph Smith on Sep 23, 1823, quoting Malachi:

Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood [not in Malachi], by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming (JS-H 1:38-39; D&C 2).

According to Mormon lore, this prophecy was fulfilled on April 3, 1836, when Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and commited unto him “the keys of this dispensation” (D&C 110:13-16).

What were the “keys of this dispensation”? I told my class that it was the sealing power. I based this on my understanding of the mortal Elijah’s particular heaven-sealing mojo (1 Kings 17:1) and a vague recollection that this was the correct Mormon answer. (I think that’s what it said in the manual too.)

One of my students raised her hand and asked, “How do you know that this is the case? How do you know that the ‘keys of this dispensation’ represent the ‘sealing power’?”

I was stumped. There is no clear-cut indication from scripture that “keys of this dispensation” = “sealing power.” I said I would look into it. When I go to class on Thursday, I am now armed with this quote from TPJS:

The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelations, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth; and to receive, obtain, and perform all the ordinances belonging to the kingdom of God… What you seal on earth, by the keys of Elijah, is sealed in heaven; and this is the power of Elijah (TPJS, pp. 337-38).[1]

I think this will satisfy my student. Still, I have some questions:

  1. If dispensational keys = sealing power (and I’m happy for it to so mean, especially considering the peculiar power held by Elijah), why isn’t scripture more explicit? Why do we need a midrash from Joseph?
  2. Clearly, these keys are so much more than just sealing. Why concentrate on this?
  3. How exactly will the “earth be wasted” if the sealing power is not in operation? (I know the standard answers — they’re right in my CES teacher’s book — but they don’t make any sense to me.)

BCC readers, please save the youth of Zion from their idiot teacher. What the heck did Elijah give Joseph that Passover day in 1836?


1. The Parallel Joseph records Wilford Woodruff’s journal entry for March 10, 1844. There’s a tonne of stuff on Elijah. Here’s the source for the TPJS extract (itself extracted from the EOM; formatting mine):

Now for Elijah, the spirit power & calling of Elijah is that ye have power to hold the keys of the revelations ordinances, oracles powers & endowments of the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood & of the Kingdom of God on the Earth & to receive, obtain & perform all the ordinances belonging to the Kingdom of God even unto the sealing of the hearts of the fathers unto the children & the hearts of the children unto the fathers even those who are in heaven.

Malachi says I will send Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come & He shall turn the hearts of the Fathers to the Children and the hearts of the Children to the Fathers lest I come & smite the earth with a Curse, Now what I am after is the knowledge of God & I take my own Course to obtain it, what are we to understand by this in the last days, in the days of Noah God destroyed the world by a flood & has promised to destroy it by fire in the last days but before it took place Elijah should first come & turn the hearts of the Fathers to the Children &c

Now comes the point what is this office & work of Elijah, it is one of the greatest & most important subjects that God has revealed, He should send Elijah to seal the children to the fathers & fathers to the Children, Now was this merely confined to the living to settle difficulties with families on earth, by no means, it was a far greater work Elijah what would you do if you was here would you confine your work to the living alone. No I would refer you to the scriptures where the subject is manifest, i.e, without us they could not be made perfect, nor we without them, the fathers without the children nor the children without the fathers.

I wish you to understand this subject for it is important & if you will receive it this is the spirit of Elijah that we redeem our dead & connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven & seal up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection & here we want the power of Elijah to seal those who dwell on earth to those which dwell in heaven this is the power of Elijah & the keys of the Kingdom of Jehovah. Let us suppose a case; suppose the great God who dwells in heaven should reveal himself to Father Cutler here by the opening heavens and tell him I offer up a decree that whatsoever you seal on earth with your decree I will seal it in heaven, you have power then, can it be taken off No, Then what you seal on earth by the Keys of Elijah is sealed in heaven, & this is the power of Elijah, & this is the difference between the spirit & power of Elias and Elijah.


  1. (Just an aside:

    I’ve noticed how Joseph is always very reticent to detail his own experiences in his sermons. So, he doesn’t say here, “the power of Elijah is the sealing power, and we have this power because Elijah visited me in 1836”; nor, “the prophecy in Malachi, as delivered to me in 1823 by Moroni, is…”

    Curious, especially as by 1844, all these stories were in the public domain. Or were they? Moroni/Malachi certainly as it was published in the Church periodicals. D&C 110 was not canonised until 1876, although the event was recorded in the Prophet’s journal shortly after it occurred and in the Manuscript History. The history dweebs will have to tell me how well MHC was known, especially those bits that weren’t published by the periodicals.)

  2. The non-Mormon interpretation of the Malachi Elijah prophecy is less esoteric.

    Fascinated by the translated, immortal Elijah, Jews expected Elijah to return as a herald of the Day of the Lord. His mission is to “turn the heart[s] of [the] fathers to [the] sons, and the heart[s] of [the] sons to their fathers.”

    Elijah will thus bring about the reconciliation of conflicts within Jewish families that had arisen in the postexilic community. In Mal 2:10, these conflicts are mentioned:

    Do we not all have one father? Did not one God create us? Why do we betray one another, in this way making light of the covenant of our ancestors?

    A reconciled Jewish community is one that qualifies for salvation and restoration, and thus does not fall prey to the covenant curse.

    Joseph’s vision seems to follow a similar theme, but is much grander. Elijah will reconcile the different factions of humanity under the banner of the Gospel, thus qualifying all for salvation and restoration. This is heady stuff; still, what exactly is affected by “sealing” in such a scenario remains elusive to me, or at least suggests that “sealing” was much more than “families can be together forever.”

    Brother Joseph, what was on your mind?

  3. The material found in section 110 wasn’t known to the Church until 1852 when it was published in the Deseret News. It’s interesting that Joseph Smith would have such a marvelous experience and be content to simply record it in his journal and then not mention it in any public sermon.

    As I understand it, the “keys” that Joseph and Oliver received from Elijah, Moses and others on that day were keys of knowledge. They already had received from Peter, James and John the Melchizedec priesthood, but they didn’t know how to use the priesthood without keys of instruction. They need to know how to seal, TO gather Israel, how to ask and receive an answer (TPJS 226).

    While these dispensational keys had varied applications, the key to keep the world from being “utterly wasted” was that of sealing because God’s work of bringing to pass the eternal life of man cannot be accomplished without the welding link of husbands to wives and parents to children. We can’t be made perfect without them nor they without us. Exaltation — meaning eternal increase cannot take place without the fulcrum of the temple and its sealing ordinances.

  4. ED and Alma,
    Thanks for your exegeses. Very helpful.

    As I’m flicking around the D&C, I’ve noticed that the mission of Elijah is directly explicated in scripture (D&C 128:17-18). (Again, no mention of the visitation.) Here, the “welding link” made possible by Elijah is provided by baptism for the dead. Interesting. In this context, the sealing power allows a baptism to be be performed on earth and “sealed” in heaven. But there’s nothing here (1842) about sealing in the context of marriage and eternal increase.

    I might just add, as I play with my beautiful little daughter this morning, that there is nothing I am more convinced about in Mormonism than the idea that family life is the crucible of godhood.

  5. 3. How exactly will the “earth be wasted” if the sealing power is not in operation? (I know the standard answers — they’re right in my CES teacher’s book — but they don’t make any sense to me.)

    Ronan, I think it helps if you read Malachi 3 and 4 as if they are one chapter, one revelation. I was surprised to find that in the Hebrew Bible, Malachi 3 and 4 have no division at all – they are fused into a single chapter 3.

    Why does that point matter to the question you are asking? I think in that form, the revelation is much clearer about the meaning of the earth being wasted and the significance of the keys being returned.

    The last verse of chapter 3 (in our Bible reads):

    18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

    While the chapter seems to end there, if one continues to read this revelation into the verses that follow in Chapter 4, one learns very quickly how the righteous will “discern between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”

    1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

    3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.

    So I think what is being said in these chapters is that if Elijah does not return “the keys of this dispensation”, every one would be burned up in the conflagration.

  6. So I think what is being said in these chapters is that if Elijah does not return “the keys of this dispensation”, every one would be burned up in the conflagration.


  7. if i may humbly recommend my recent dialogue piece, i argue (and extend the argument this Nov at AAR) that JSJ was proclaiming that integration into the heavenly family via sealing represented the one true defense against death. it was (three horizontal lines here, for the mathematicians) heaven. only in heaven was one protected from death, which can be conveniently portrayed as the dissolving fires of hell/gehenna/etc.

  8. Sam,
    I shall look forward to your AAR talk, as long as it does not clash with my unbelievably exciting presentation on Babylonian slavery at SBL.

  9. If you look at the source accounts it is quite certain that the “spirit and power of Elijah” is the ability to seal people up into eternal life. The “Fullness of the Priesthood” was Joseph’s term for the fullness of the Temple ordinances. It was the capacity to administer in the all of the Temple ordinances that secured the Twelve’s assention to govern the Church. Basically, all the keys of the dispensation.

    As to why the world might be wasted without these keys – well, if the purpose of the world was to make people into Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses, then without the fullness of the priesthood, that ultimate goal would be frustrated.

  10. Here is also a short piece on the evoltion of the “Spirit of Elijah” as used by Joseph.

  11. Ronan,
    The unique thing about our dispensation is that our mission involves all generations past, present, and future. We are sealed as families in the present, future generations are born in the covenant and the ordinances of salvation are performed for the dead in work that will continue through the millenium.

    This is the dispensation when God will provide the opportunity for all mankind to enter into the gospel by covenant. You are right. It is more than sealing of families. It is the baptism of water and of fire, washing, anointing, endowment or power from on high, and the new and everlasting covenant of marriage as described necessary for obtaining the highest kingdom of glory in the D & C section 132.

    Through our generation and those that follow through the millenium, the blessings associated with these covenants, redeeming us from death and hell, are available to all the Human family. We become united, one with Christ and he is one with the Father. We become Celestial (eventually, anyway.)

    Our duty is to provide this series of covenants and sacraments to the entire human family as they accept it. We proclaim the gospel, perfect the saints and redeem the dead. This begs the question why will the Earth be wasted at his coming if it will take through the end of the millenium to finish it. My answer to that would be it seems that the restoration of all things and a body of saints authorized to do the work seem a prerequisite for his coming.

  12. So, what should I tell my Seminary kids, Stapers? :)

  13. I also think “sealing power” is much more than the ordinance sealers perform in the temple. I think it’s simply the power to make things “stick”: people to their loved ones (eg fathers and children), people to God. Perhaps even the power to make people stick to their covenants and their faith. If I think of sealing power this way, then it makes sense why the earth would be wasted without it.

  14. Ronan,

    Maybe I’m taking the term “wasted” literally. That’s the image I get from the verses talking about ashes underneath feet.

  15. So, what should I tell my Seminary kids, Stapers?

    :) Well, I think an appropriately correlated answer is to say that the “keys of this dispensation” are the power and authority to administer all the ordinances of the Temple.

  16. J. (#16), presently those powers are expressed by ordinances and used only in temples. But before there were temples, they were used in temporary structures (the Endowment House) or, anecdotally, on nearby hills. Early baptisms for the dead in Nauvoo were performed down by the river. And Elijah himself used his “heaven-sealing mojo” right out in the open, as general Mormon priesthood is exercised today (we don’t do the heaven-sealing thing anymore … although California has had a lot of droughts lately).

    So I think tying Elijah powers (whatever they may be) too closely to the temple makes them seem too esoteric.

  17. smb,

    I just had another look at your article. I don’t think you mentioned Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son at Nain as a deliberate allusion to Elijah’s carbon-copy miracle (1 Kings 17).

    (The widow’s son? Knock, knock, knock.)

  18. “…what exactly is affected by “sealing” in such a scenario remains elusive to me, or at least suggests that “sealing” was much more than “families can be together forever.”…”

    My instant cross-reference for sealing is Jesus’ prayer in John 17. In becoming one with Father and Jesus, I believe he is describing sealing, starting with our immediate family and extending to God’s entire family. It is the work and glory of God to bring this about. Nothing is more central to the purposes of the earth, which would be wasted without it.

  19. Interesting point, Dave. But I think esotericism is basically inherent in the nature of the power. It was those who recieved the all the temple ordinances that wielded the power in our dispensation. Even if it was expected that those who did recieve them may have had the power to administer in more public manifestations of it.

    I will definately agree that the ordinances weren’t limited to the temple. The fullness was revealed in the Red Brick Store and ordinances along the trail west, in the council house and, as you mentioned, the Endowment House (or Temple pro tem). In many ways, the sealing of couples was practiced outside of temples for the majority of a century. I think it is incongruous with modern views, but baptism for the dead and the sealing of couples were the base temple ordinances for years. There were certain ordinances that were not performed in the Endowment House.

  20. This is awesome. Thanks everyone. Clair, the notion of sealing to Christ, sealing to God, sealing to family, sealing to humanity — a work that if not fulfilled makes the earth a “waste” — is most delicious to the taste. I feel like we only have 10% of the vision of it though, and I curse that infernal mob of June 27, 1844.

  21. A side question here– do these kids only have seminary one night a week? Or is there another teacher that teams with you? How many hours of seminary a week? Do they also do YM/YW in the evening?

  22. Paula,
    Home Study. They meet me once a week. Early morning seminary violates the Scientology Rule, IMHO. :)

  23. Mark Butler says:

    “Were it not so” applies not so much to the restoration of the keys themselves, but the turning of the hearts of the children to the fathers and vice versa, particularly as manifest in the sealing ordinances.

    It seems that no one could have children in the first estate – there may have been couples and congrations and so on, but prior to the Fall, there were no families of the sort we have now.

    And the new and everlasting covenant includes preserving those family relationships into the eternities. We are told we come to this earth to get a father and a mother, brothers and sisters, and to meet and marry an eternal companion.

    Now if we do not seal everyone together (or at least make a very good start) into one great family, it seems that a major purpose of this estate will have been wasted, and our tenure here a considerable failure. That order of the priesthood, the patriarchal or family order, seems to be very important.

    That is how I read that scripture.

  24. LOL Ronan.

    I have fun memories of early morning seminary. Don’t knock it too much. It’s all about people showing up in their pajamas and donuts on Fridays.

  25. Ronan, I am in complete agreement with on the scientology rule and early AM seminary. That’s why I was curious. My friends in Scotland report that their seminary meets twice– some on Sunday, and then one early AM. That isn’t home study, just regular seminary, but I think it’s a bit longer than an hour, on Sunday. We aren’t allowed to do home study here because we have early AM available.

  26. Ronan–i had forgotten Jesus’ recapitulation of Elijah’s power over death. i am grateful for your bringing that to my attention and pray this does not make me your slave in babylonian practice. (elias=baptist for elijah=christ is interesting idea as well) i’m still trying to get a copy of the MHA 2006 talk on raising the dead in early mormonism, where i suspect more delightful tidbits were unearthed.

    re: aar/sbl, when is your talk? bc of work scheduling i have to fly in fri afternoon and leave sun am–my session is 3 or 4pm Sat.
    ps the knocking is a masonic reference? sorry to be obtuse.

    re: 17,20, i side with 20 that 17 is a misreading of JSJ’s elijah doctrine, which was radically esoteric in its implementation even if the problem that it addressed (the persistence of human relationships after death) is a nearly univeral one. Provisional temples, like the Hebrew tabernacle, should not make us discount the potency of the temple for JSJ.

  27. Early morning seminary doesn’t seem as strange if you compare it to the cultural/linguistic/religious activities of other groups. Jewish kids I knew went to “Hebrew school” and had special lessons to prepare for bar mitzvah ceremonies. The Catholic kids I knew also had special religious lessons for confirmation that they went to.

    I suppose one can quickly point out that classes for a bar mitzvah or confirmation is a much more short-term proposition. Just the same, I don’t think it’s crazy at all that we have early morning seminary for high schoolers.

    I just hope that as a result more kids who go on missions have cracked their scriptures and aren’t reading the Book of Mormon for the first time in their lives.

  28. as to the world wasting away. one thought I have often had has to deal with sealing us to our ancestors in conjunction with the teaching that only beings who have lived here on earth or will can administer to us.

    I can imagine the more sealing and temple work that is done the more administring angels adminster unto us and the world. without which the evil influence of the world and 1/3 would be too much

    just a thought

  29. I’ve always wondered whether Malachi’s promise could be fulfilled by Elijah’s appearance to Christ on the mount of transfiguration. Is this a standard non-LDS view on the scripture?

  30. Danithew,
    Daily religious instruction for youth is, as you say, good and kosher, but when early morning Seminary entails getting up at 5am it violates 1) the Scientology Rule (if Scientology kids get up at 5am for daily religious instruction it sounds ultra-cultish), and b) the Ronan Enjoys His Bed Rule (in other words, I ain’t getting up at 5 to truck my kids to Seminary when they’re older!)

  31. Ronan, I’d have to agree that 5am is very early to be getting up. I seem to remember 6:30am being a time I associated with seminary. Maybe it was the time we had to be there.

    Maybe Bryce I. would remember better than I do how it worked for us … I just remember that the Scarsdale kids seemed to have a slightly larger window of time … so they could roll out of bed and come to seminary in pajamas if they wanted to. I usually went straight from early morning seminary to school … so that wasn’t an option.

  32. Probably you had to be to seminary by 6:30. Here it’s 6:30, but it was 6:00 a few years ago, when my oldest son attended. I never woke him for seminary or forced him to go. He went because he wanted to, but it was very hard on him. I think he was crankier because he was constantly tired. He would get up earlier and earlier as the year went on, because he was too tired to get ready quickly. A lot of kids just slept in class. My son went to a “school of choice” in our district, and most of the LDS kids went to the regular high school. Probably about 100 kids went to the regular school, 25 to the one my son attended. The regular school was further away, and started earlier, so my son could walk to school, and then wait there for 45 minutes before the first class. We live far enough away that it didn’t make sense to bring him home, then take him back. I know that the teachers who saw those kids there that early all the time thought it was cultish. We parents asked to have one class for the kids at that school, starting later, so they weren’t on campus so early, but were told that the kids who had to come to the early class would be upset by that. But they were out an hour earlier than the other school, and could go home and nap. And many of them had time to get home, and put on makeup, etc, before school,so I could never understand why it had to start at 6, rather than 6:15. It was that insistance that everyone had to come very early that seemed cultish to me. Now the district has another school of choice, which my other son attends, and it’s turned out that seminary won’t work with the bus system, and we’ve been told that we can’t do home study, since early AM is available in our area.

  33. Paula,

    You and I can start a group, MAAMS: Mormons Against AM Seminary. Actually, I’m only against mega-early Seminary. When my dad taught it, they split up all the kids from each school so they could meet close to their own school. This meant that he held class at 7.30, an entirely reasonable time. 6am is a Xenu-esque monstrosity.

  34. Hey, I’m in, and I know a few others who would join, including my friend who’s the past president of the national sleep researchers association (I forget the actual name). It’s the idea that we have to have seminary really early,without a good reason for it being so early that bugs me. Well, that and the fact that at least around here,they are pretty inflexible if a kid has some difficulty. My friend’s son was having some school problems, and needed to retake a couple of classes, and couldn’t fit them in, unless he took a zero period class. (This means the class starts at 6:30 at the high school.) He was told by the seminary folks that he couldn’t do homestudy seminary, but should continue with early AM, and either graduate late, or take the class at the community college.

  35. JA Benson says:

    This year we started the second go round of early morning seminary at 6 AM. I have to say as a graduate of released time seminary; I am not a fan of Early Morning Seminary. I have a headache from August to May. I would so love to only meet a couple of times a week.
    My son arrives at school a half an hour early and this is OK as hehas time to ask a teacher for help with any homeowner that he was stumped on. Also arising at 5 AM makes him nauseous; so he eats breakfast in the cafeteria at the normal hour of 7 AM.
    In order to survive Early Morning Seminary; I do think that it is crazy that we budget as part of his weekly food money Coke so thathe can survive the afternoon on a rush of caffeine.

  36. JA Benson says:

    whoops.. homeowner–homework. This is what sleep deprivation does to a person:)

  37. JA Benson, I’m assuming that “homeowner” slip comes from sleep deprivation. We’re not lucky enough to have breakfast available at our schools, so our son had to eat at 5:30, and then go till lunch at noon, but I think he probably found a chance to snack along the way.

    I think we should use the 2nd and 3rd block of the 3 hour block for seminary. Since seminary boils down to perhaps 40 productive minutes each day, and Friday was often a goof off day, they really don’t need to replace that full time slot. They could have one other meeting one evening, or even early morning, a week, and that would do it. You wouldn’t have to do the opening and closing prayer and song and devotional five times a week, just once or twice and that would save time too. Yes, they wouldn’t have the regular SS lessons, and YW/Ym, but I think those could be incorporated in the seminary lessons easily. The last time I taught the 14 year olds in SS, the lesson actually presented in the manual could be done in a few minutes.

    My friend, the sleep researcher, says that there are some very good reasons that teenagers should be allowed to sleep later. When they are deprived of sleep their judgment is much worse– so they are much more likely to engage in risky behavior. Teenagers as a group naturally have a harder time getting up early in the morning, and “come alive” at night. If you’ve had a few in the house, you realize that this is a real phenomenon, not a cultural thing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to fight it. Maybe we could have late night seminary.

  38. JA Benson says:

    I am in total agreement with you. There are a bunch of loopy-slap-happy-sleep-deprived-kids (along with their parents) in our Church. I am a big believer in “quality not quantity”. I think that the excessive amount of time our teenagers are expected to do at church was invented “back in the day” when kids didn’t have a lot of homework, extra curricular actives, jobs etc… to keep them out of trouble.

    A better use of the youths’ time would result in better preparation on their part. I think that a lot of kids are not participating in some of the programs because it is so much that it is overwhelming to them. I say this as a mom whose boys are/did in scouting (one Eagle and one Life), passing off their Duty to God, and attending Seminary. A lot of their Church peers are not. It is not because they aren’t good kids, they are overwhelmed. I think that it damages our youth’s Church self-esteem when they don’t think that they are not good enough if they don’t do it all.

    Sorry for the thread-jack Ronan, I enjoyed your post. I as usual have nothing intelligent to add :) Oh, btw Thanks for being a Seminary Teacher.