The Theology of “Sealing” in Early Mormon Church History

Chris Heimerdinger

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

(Image Source: https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/exhibit/early-images-of-historic-nauvoo?lang=eng)

Questions are often asked with regard to Joseph Smith: How many wives? in an effort to understand his teachings regarding the doctrine of polygamy. However, to address this question one must first understand the Mormon concept of “sealing.” 

The doctrine of “sealing” became a cornerstone of the LDS faith in the 1840s. It’s difficult for some to grasp how “sealing” is actually very different from traditional marriage. In fact, “sealing” better refers to eternal bonds and unions for all human relationships–parents to children, siblings to sibling, husbands to wives, and even uniting friends and associates into eternal familial units that would endure beyond the veil of death. 

This article delves into the differences between sealing and traditional marriage in the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, demonstrating that often such sacred unions–even between men and women–frequently occurred (even between ostensibly a “man” and “wife”)–with no expectation of physical intimacy. Indeed, such doctrines evolved during the first generation of the LDS Church, eventually settling into the standardized patterns that Latter-day Saints still practice today. 

Theological Foundations of Sealing

To understand the significance of sealing, one must first grasp the theological underpinnings that distinguish it from traditional marriage. Traditional marriage–in particular for Christians–is viewed as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman, a reflection of Christ’s union with the Church. This sacred bond, officiated by a minister, is intended to last “until death do us part,” emphasizing monogamy, fidelity, and mutual support.

In contrast, the LDS Church introduced the concept of “sealing,” a covenant meant to endure beyond death into eternity. Joseph Smith, the Church’s founder, revealed that through the priesthood’s power, marriages performed in LDS temples could be “sealed” for time and all eternity. With regard to matrimony, this belief is enshrined in Doctrine and Covenants 132:19, which assures that a marriage sealed by proper authority “shall be of full force when they are out of the world.” However, those seeking to understand some kind of Joseph Smith polygamy timeline, must dig a little deeper into the way these principles were originally practiced. 

Sealing Practices in Early Mormonism

Sealing ceremonies began with Joseph Smith, who performed the first sealings in the early 1840s. Such ordinances were initially conducted in private, but eventually became central to the Church’s temple rituals. Beyond marital sealings, the early Church also practiced “adoptive sealings” or the “law of adoption,” binding individuals to Church leaders or other prominent members in a network of spiritual kinship believed to have eternal significance. This practice stemmed from a desire to create enduring spiritual relationships that transcended biological family lines.

Intimate vs. Non-Intimate Sealings

While many sealings anticipated a traditional marital relationship that would include intimacy, it’s crucial to understand that not all sealings carried such expectations. Early LDS leaders, including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, participated in numerous sealings to women with no expectation of intimacy. Such bonds had spiritual implications rather than physical.

A “standard” sealings typically united a man and a woman with an expectation of physical intimacy, much like a traditional wedding ceremony. Couples entered into such unions with the express understanding that they would live together, raise children, and create an eternal family. In the context of plural marriage, this might mean one man was sealed to multiple women, a practice rooted in revelations received by Joseph Smith and codified in Doctrine and Covenants Section 132

Non-intimate sealings did not anticipate physical intimacy. These sealings were often performed to create spiritual bonds between individuals and Church leaders or other significant figures. One notable example is the “law of adoption,” where individuals were sealed to leaders as spiritual “children” or “siblings,” forging a network of eternal kinship.

These non-intimate sealings were intended to provide spiritual support, forming a foundation for a community bound by sacred covenants for mortality and eternity. Early Church members saw these bonds as essential for achieving the highest blessings of salvation.

Examples of Non-Intimate Sealings

Prominent early Church leaders frequently engaged in non-intimate sealings. To understand such concepts as Joseph Smith polygamy it becomes necessary to point out that Joseph was sealed to multiple women–and also men!–in relationships that were spiritual with no intent to ever be physical. These sealings aimed to create an eternal kinship that transcended earthly ties.

Brigham Young, who led the Church westward, also participated in numerous non-intimate sealings. Young’s involvement in the law of adoption helped to create a spiritual network within the community. These relationships were not based on physical intimacy but on a shared commitment to the faith.

One illustrative example is Zina D. H. Young, sealed to Brigham Young for eternity but maintaining a non-intimate relationship with him. Zina was already married to Henry Jacobs, and her sealing to Young was intended to provide spiritual protection and exaltation, not to form a traditional marital union.

Women’s Role in Non-Intimate Sealings

Women in the early LDS Church played a significant role in non-intimate sealings. These sealings allowed women to be spiritually bound to prominent Church leaders. By being sealed to leaders like Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, women sought spiritual protection and the associated blessings.

For instance, women sealed to Joseph Smith often did so with the motive to secure their eternal salvation and to be part of the prophet’s spiritual family. These bonds were not based on physical intimacy, but on a deep spiritual connection and commitment to the faith.

Evolution of Sealing Practices

Sealing practices have evolved since the early days of the LDS Church. While the belief in eternal family relationships remains central, the specifics of the practice have changed. The law of adoption, involving non-intimate sealings to Church leaders, was discontinued in the late 19th century. The focus shifted to existing family relationships, emphasizing eternal bonds between spouses, parents, and children.

Today, sealing ceremonies are performed in LDS temples and concentrate on creating eternal family units. Couples are sealed in marriage, and children can be sealed to their parents, ensuring that these relationships endure beyond death. This practice underscores the importance of family in LDS doctrine, teaching that these eternal bonds are essential for achieving the highest degree of exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

Conclusion

The doctrine of sealing in the early Mormon Church encompassed both intimate and non-intimate relationships, reflecting the Church’s efforts to create eternal bonds that transcended traditional family lines. While intimate sealings involved marital relationships with physical intimacy, non-intimate sealings focused on spiritual kinship, forming a network of eternal connections.

These practices highlight the central importance of eternal relationships in Mormon theology. The early leaders of the LDS Church, through both intimate and non-intimate sealings, sought to build a spiritual community that would last into the eternities. Today, the focus on eternal family relationships remains a defining feature of the LDS Church, continuing the legacy of early teachings and practices. This enduring emphasis on family, both in this life and the next, shapes the lives and beliefs of millions of Latter-day Saints worldwide. 

For more information on the Joseph Smith Polygamy Timeline, visit mormonismexplained.org

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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Mormonism Explained is a resource that was designed to provide objective and factual information about Mormonism, its history, doctrines, and policies. Our team of researchers consults experts and primary sources to present factual information on a variety of topics relevant to the Mormon Church.

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