The Doctrine of Marriage

We can enjoy the blessing of family in mortality, and when certain covenants are made and are met we will live with our families for eternity.


By Bryson C. Cook, Zimbabwe Harare Mission President


Marriage and family are intuitive concepts. Even though a veil of forgetfulness was drawn across our minds when we entered mortality the importance of marriage and family is spiritually innate. They are just something we know and feel to be important. Through latter day revelation these feelings are validated and clarified and we are taught the doctrine of marriage.

Ancient and modern prophets teach us about our pre-mortal family. We learn that God is the Father of our spirits and that we are the spiritual offspring of God. We were spiritually begotten of heavenly parents and part of a family consisting of father, mother, brothers and sisters. Our spiritual family existed prior to mortal life. We can enjoy the blessing of family in mortality, and when certain covenants are made and are met we will live with our families for eternity. Modern prophets teach us that “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Liahona, Nov. 2010, 129).

Our Father in Heaven’s plan for our happiness and eternal progression included a mortal experience where we could, in partnership with Him in a probationary circumstance, live in our own families which are patterned after His. In this mortal condition we would have bodies patterned after His but not perfected, immortal, and glorified like His. We could have families similar to His but not exactly like His. We could experience the pro-creative power in similitude of the creative power that he possesses as our Father in Heaven.  Because all of our experience would be temporary and probationary, permanent family relationships require certain conditions to be met. According to His plan, if we prove worthy through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ,these relationships would be ours for eternity in a resurrected and immortal condition like the one we observed in the eternities prior to our mortal life. The scriptures teach that when we heard this plan we “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

As a result of the Fall of Adam and centuries of apostasy, marriage and its purposes have in some cases been altered or changed. Interestingly, for the most part the concept of the traditional nuclear family has remained intact, though its eternal purposes have been lost to the world. That being said there are millions of valentines sold each year with the expressions, “Forever mine!” and “Eternally yours.” This suggests that the concept of a forever marriage and family is innate.

To be sure that we enjoy happiness that is intended in marriage and family, a review of the doctrine of eternal marriage may be helpful.

The Marriage of Adam

Near the conclusion of the creative period, Adam was created in the image and likeness of God, after which the Lord pronounced His creations good. Then He rhetorically asked, “Is it good for man to be alone?”  His answer was to create woman in “Our” image and likeness, and then He pronounced His creations “very good.” He then gave Eve to Adam in marriage. The marriage was eternal. This was because the mortal condition had not yet come upon them. But more important, as an eternal being His acts are everlasting and eternal.  As a result Adam exclaimed, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh” (Abraham 5:18). The first commandment given to the newly married couple was to “multiply and replenish the earth” (Moses 2:28).

Christ validated the first marriage in the meridian of time saying: “From the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:6-9).

The word asunder means “into separate parts or pieces; apart from each other either in position or in direction.” Interestingly, many Christian marriages do just that. From the beginning of the marriage they announce the dissolution by proclaiming, “until death do you part.”

The pattern for marriage was established by God himself, and what the revelations call celestial marriage or the new and everlasting covenant of marriage was introduced to the human family by the marriage of Adam and Eve. Adam then tried to teach it to his children. This priesthood pattern was taught by the patriarchs to Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, and then to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When the sealing power was in operation on the earth, the doctrine of eternal marriage was taught and enjoyed by worthy Saints. As a result of apostasy, the Lord allowed marriage to accommodate divorce. The children of Israel, because of the hardness of their hearts, were allowed marriage dissolution within the law of Moses. This preparatory law allowed marriage, but eternal or celestial marriage was not generally had among the Israelites.

Early Christians Taught the Doctrine of Eternal Marriage

The ministry of Christ ushered in the dispensation of the meridian of time, and the blessing of eternal marriage was restored in conjunction with the necessary priesthood keys. The Apostle Paul gave counsel that included marriage principles to live by to the Corinthian Saints. He understood the doctrine of eternal marriage and clearly taught that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). This was because the power to bind or seal marriages on earth and heaven was given to the Apostles.

The Power to Bind Marriages for Eternity Lost as a Result of Apostasy

The apostolic authority to bind on earth and in heaven was taken from the earth with the death of the Apostles. There is a New Testament pattern for the apostleship to continue, but they prophesied that apostasy would result in a falling away. One of the major effects of the Apostasy was that ordinances were changed and everlasting covenants were broken.

The Law of Chastity                                 

The gospel was taught to Adam from the beginning. Included in gospel law is the requirement for the entire human race to live the law of chastity. The law of chastity simply means abstinence from sexual relations before marriage and fidelity after marriage. With respect to the law of chastity the prophet’s teach us that misusing procreative power is ranked next to murder in seriousness, and that chastity is “most dear and precious” (Moroni 9:9).  The clearest and most memorable declaration regarding fidelity in marriage is the seventh of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Modern prophets have reaffirmed this law and clearly teach that “God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World”). Marriage is “ordained of God unto man” (D&C 49:15), and a marriage recognized as legal by the laws of the land, although outside the holy temple, is also recognized by the Church. A legal marriage that is recognized by both the Church and the state is essential to living a chaste life.

The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage

While the early Apostles knew that apostasy was imminent, they also knew that in the latter days or in the “dispensation of the fullness of times” all things in Christ would be gathered in one. Peter referred to this as the times of the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21). The Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith included a restoration of the true doctrine of eternal marriage. Included in this restoration was sealing power to bind marriages on earth and in heaven for eternity. One of the most important aspects of the restored doctrine of eternal marriage was the importance of marriage relative to exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God and eternal marriage as a prerequisite for eternal life. The two are clearly linked, both validating and clarifying Paul’s teaching that men and woman need each other to be united with the Lord.

Eternal Lives

The doctrine of eternal marriage also increases our gratitude for the Resurrection and appreciation for the degrees of glory associated with resurrection and eternal reward. Couples who keep the covenants associated with eternal marriage qualify to come forth in the First Resurrection. This is a great blessing because there is to be a fullness of joy when the spirit and the body are inseparably connected as a result of being resurrected.  This has a deeper meaning when we relate that to the joy we have in marriage and in our own posterity. The binding and sealing of husbands and wives also relates to and includes children. Those who enter the new and everlasting covenant of marriage will be sealed to their earthly children for both time and eternity. Perhaps the greatest blessing of all will be the ability to have children in the eternities. This is what the scriptures refer to as “eternal increase” and fulfils the promises given to Abraham that he would have an innumerable posterity (see D&C 132:30).

Joseph Smith taught: 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; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection. But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory” (History of the Church, 5:391).

Marriage and Culture

In our day we are witnesses to the strong headwinds faced by those who desire to marry. There are secular, cultural, and demographic trends that create barriers for those who desire to marry. Materialism is at the forefront considering that many marriages are delayed until educational and professional objectives are met. Many couples live as though they are married and postpone marriage until they decide to have children. Some Latter-day Saints are so focused on finding and marrying their “eternal one and only” that they pass on many excellent opportunities out of fear of missing something better or being stuck for eternity. Some men don’t date. Some women are critical if men date too much. All of these things can contribute to the delay of marriage. Marriage does not require money, education, or lobola. To marry requires only faith.

When we embrace the gospel, we are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). As such we accept the culture of the restored gospel and forsake false traditions and culture that is contrary to the revealed light of the Lord. Relative to marriage, modern prophets have taught: “Some practices exist that compete with the Lord’s revealed plan for the family. For example, traditions such as lobola or ‘bride price’ . . . take attention from the eternal perspective of devoted Latter-day Saints.  Any such custom that unnecessarily delays a marriage . . . is contrary to the will of the Lord” (First Presidency letter, January 17, 2003). It is also important to note that the Church accepts for ecclesiastical purposes monogamous marriages that are recognized by the countries in which the couple reside. In the case of customary marriages that are not recognized by the state, the Church would require a legal marriage prior to the performance of an ordinance such as baptism or the temple endowment.


Modern prophets teach clearly that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. In the Book of Mormon the prophets teach us to “hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife” (Jacob 2:27).  As part of the “restitution of all things” the Prophet Joseph Smith was commanded to reinstitute the practice of Old Testament polygamy as a religious principle in 1831. The Lord revoked that commandment in 1890. Today Church members honour and respect the sacrifices made by those who lived this commandment in the early days of the Restoration. However, the practice is banned in the Church today, and no person can practice plural marriage and remain a member. The Church only baptizes couples who live in monogamous and legally recognized marriages. There is also a doctrinal principal of the Lord associated with plural marriage that the Lord employed to test His children relative to obedience and giving heed to the teachings of the prophets and apostles. From the revelations we learn, “Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord” (D&C 56:4).

The Blessing of Eternal Life

Exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God is eternal life. God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (see Moses 1:39). Eternal life is sometimes confused with or considered the same thing as immortality or salvation. Eternal life is not just everlasting or immortal life. It is the quality of life that God lives. It is to know God. It is exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. It is to be a joint heir with Jesus Christ. Eternal life is to live with God the Father and Jesus Christ and live the life that They live.  It is to receive all that the Father has, thrones, dominions, kingdoms, and worlds without end. It includes eternal lives.

The Atonement makes provisions for all of God’s children to be saved from two conditions. They are often referred to as death and hell. Salvation from death and the grave is an unconditional gift of the Atonement. Salvation from hell and sin is a conditional gift based on faith, repentance, and accepting the Atonement through the covenant of baptism. Salvation in the kingdom of God is only possible to those who make baptismal covenants. Exaltation in the celestial kingdom, or what we call eternal life, is only possible to those who make and keep the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. It is the blessing we desired prior to our mortal experience. It is the blessing we aspire to in our mortal condition. It is the blessing that awaits those who comply with laws and requirements given to us by the Lord through revelations to His prophets. We are promised the blessings when we obey. But we are warned that only those who abide the celestial law in mortality can abide the celestial glory in the eternities.

Elder Russell M. Nelsen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles teaches: “Marriage and family are ordained of God. The family is the most important social unit in time and in eternity. Under God’s great plan of happiness, families can be sealed in temples and be prepared to return to dwell in His holy presence forever. That is eternal life! It fulfils the deepest longings of the human soul—the natural yearning for endless association with beloved members of one’s family” (“Thanks Be to God,” Ensign, May 2012, 77).

For those who value marriage and family there can be no greater promise or blessing. “The family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” It is also central to His love for us and our present and eternal happiness. Family and marriage can be forever!