Lesson 19: The Doctrine of Eternal Marriage and Family

Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Manual, 2015


The gospel of Jesus Christ emphasizes the doctrine that marriage and family are ordained of God. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that married couples can continue as husband and wife after the Resurrection. Revelation from the Lord explains that the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (D&C 131:2) is necessary in order to receive exaltation. This lesson will make clear to students that for a marriage to last for eternity, a couple must be sealed by one who holds priesthood keys and then live righteously.

Background Reading

  • Russell M. Nelson, “Celestial Marriage,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 92–95.

  • David A. Bednar, “Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan,” Ensign, June 2006, 82–87.

  • Joshua J. Perkey, “Why Temple Marriage?” New Era, Aug. 2013, 30–32.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 49:15–17; 131:1–4

“The new and everlasting covenant of marriage”

Note: As you teach this lesson, be aware that you may have students who have had a difficult home life or have experienced heartbreak or pain in connection with marriage and having children. Consider the needs of these students as you prepare and teach your lesson.

Tell students that in 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio, Leman Copley joined the Church. He had been a member of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly called Shakers because of their manner of worship, which involved shaking their bodies as they sang, danced, and clapped their hands to music. While Leman Copley believed the gospel, he still also believed in some of the Shaker teachings. He visited Joseph Smith, and as a result of the visit, the Lord gave Joseph the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 49 on May 7, 1831. (Section headings in earlier editions of the Doctrine and Covenants gave this date as March 1831. Historians have recently ascertained that a more accurate date is May 7, 1831.)

The Shakers rejected marriage and believed in living a life of total celibacy (abstaining from sexual relations). The Lord corrected this false doctrine in the revelation and also commanded Leman Copley and others to preach the gospel to the Shakers.

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 49:15–17, looking for what the Lord said about the importance of marriage and family. Ask:

  • According to these verses, what does the Lord teach about marriage? (Students should identify the following doctrine: Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.)

  • What do you think it means that marriage is ordained of God “that the earth might answer the end of its creation”? (Student responses could include the following truths: Husbands and wives are commanded to have children. The earth was created to provide a place where God’s children could live as families.)

  • How might an understanding of the truths taught in these verses help us explain the Church’s teachings about marriage?

Explain that years later, the Saints’ understanding of the importance of the doctrine of eternal marriage and family grew significantly. On May 16, 1843, Joseph Smith traveled to Ramus, Illinois. While staying at the home of Benjamin and Melissa Johnson, the Prophet taught them about eternal marriage. Some of the Prophet’s instructions given at Ramus are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4 aloud, and then ask:

  • What must we do in order to obtain the highest degree of the celestial kingdom? (Students should identify the following doctrine: In order to obtain the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, we must enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. Explain that the word new in this context means that this covenant was newly restored in our dispensation. The term everlasting means that this covenant has always existed and will endure through eternity. You may want to suggest that students write these definitions in the margin of their scriptures.)

  • In our day, how do a man and woman enter into this “new and everlasting covenant of marriage”?

Emphasize that men and women can enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage only inside holy temples. Individuals who are married outside of the temple might include terms such as “married for time and eternity” in their marriage vows, but God will not honor these marriages in eternity.

Display the following statement by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and invite a student to read it aloud. Encourage students to look for what Elder Nelson taught about why eternal marriage is so important:

Elder Russell M. Nelson

“The subject of marriage is debated across the world, where various arrangements exist for conjugal living. My purpose in speaking out on this topic is to declare, as an Apostle of the Lord, that marriage between a man and a woman is sacred—it is ordained of God. I also assert the virtue of a temple marriage. It is the highest and most enduring type of marriage that our Creator can offer to His children.

“While salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter. …

“… To qualify for eternal life, we must make an eternal and everlasting covenant with our Heavenly Father [see D&C 132:19]. This means that a temple marriage is not only between husband and wife; it embraces a partnership with God [see Matthew 19:6]” (“Celestial Marriage,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 92–93).

  • What do you think this sentence means: “While salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter”?

  • What does it mean to embrace “a partnership with God” in an eternal marriage? Why do you think having a partnership with God in marriage is important? (Only in marriage does an individual make a covenant with another person and with God. All other gospel covenants are made between an individual and God.)

  • How can the restored doctrine of eternal marriage and family elevate a person’s desire to build a loving and lasting marriage?

Elder Parley P. Pratt (1807–57) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the effect that the knowledge of this restored doctrine had on him. Invite a student to read the following:

Elder Parley P. Pratt

“It was from [Joseph Smith] that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity. … It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore. … I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. [1938], 297–98).

Before continuing with the lesson, it might be wise to briefly discuss the following:

“Some members of the Church remain single through no fault of their own, even though they want to marry. If you find yourself in this situation, be assured that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God’ (Romans 8:28). As you remain worthy, you will someday, in this life or the next, be given all the blessings of an eternal family relationship” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 99).

Doctrine and Covenants 132:1–21

Celestial marriage is essential for exaltation

Explain that about two months after Joseph Smith provided the instruction recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131, he dictated the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 132. Ask a student to read the section heading for Doctrine and Covenants 132 aloud. Explain that the practice of plural marriage will be addressed in the next lesson. Invite another student to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:3–6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify words and phrases that suggest the importance of entering into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. Discuss the following questions:

  • What words and phrases in these verses clarify the importance of eternal marriage?

  • What are the consequences of rejecting this doctrine? (You may want to explain that the word damned means that a person is stopped in his or her eternal progression.)

Note: Take a few minutes to point out to students the important scripture study skill of noticing key words and phrases, the skill they have just used with Doctrine and Covenants 132:3–6. It is important to notice and understand words and phrases when studying the scriptures. With verses 3–6, the following phrases are important to understand: “receive and obey,” “must obey,” “if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned,” “no one can reject,” “must and shall.” Some of these phrases are also examples of connections between ideas in the scriptures. Connections show a relationship or link between ideas. For example, verse 3 shows the connections between the ideas of preparing, receiving, and obeying.

Invite students to silently read Doctrine and Covenants 132:7–8, looking for the conditions of the Lord’s law that make it possible for a husband and wife to live as a married couple after this life.

  • According to these verses, what conditions are necessary for a marriage to endure eternally? (As the students respond, write the following truth on the board: When a covenant is made through the proper priesthood authority and sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, it will last forever.)

Share the following definition of the Holy Spirit of Promise: “The Holy Ghost is the Holy Spirit of Promise (Acts 2:33). He confirms as acceptable to God the righteous acts, ordinances, and covenants of men. The Holy Spirit of Promise witnesses to the Father that the saving ordinances have been performed properly and that the covenants associated with them have been kept” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Holy Spirit of Promise,” scriptures.lds.org).

To help students further understand this principle, consider displaying the following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie

“To seal is to ratify, to justify, or to approve. Thus an act which is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise is one which is ratified by the Holy Ghost; it is one which is approved by the Lord; and the person who has taken the obligation upon himself is justified by the Spirit in the thing he has done. The ratifying seal of approval is put upon an act only if those entering the contract are worthy as a result of personal righteousness to receive the divine approbation” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 361–62).

The Lord continued to outline the necessary conditions for and blessings of eternal marriage, as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132:19–21. Assign students to work in pairs to study this passage. Ask the pairs to make two lists: (1) conditions for a marriage to be eternal, and (2) blessings received when these conditions are met. When completed, lists might include the following:

Conditions for a marriage to be eternal

  • The marriage must be performed according to the Lord’s law and “the new and everlasting covenant.”

  • The marriage must be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.

  • The marriage must be performed by one who holds the keys of the priesthood.

  • The married couple must abide in God’s covenant.

Blessings that will be received

  • The married couple will come forth in the First Resurrection.

  • The married couple will inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, powers, dominions, and all heights and depths.

  • The marriage will be of full force after physical death.

  • The married couple will pass by the angels.

  • The married couple will be exalted and will have glory in all things.

  • The married couple will have a “continuation of the seeds forever” (their family and posterity will continue throughout eternity; they will have eternal increase).

  • The married couple will be gods and have no end.

  • The married couple will be above all things and have all power, and all things will be subject to them.

Discuss the following questions to help students further understand the necessary conditions and promised blessings of eternal marriage:

  • What do you think it means to “abide” in the marriage covenant? (You may want to explain that one meaning of the word abide is to remain or continue. It also means to live in accordance with the covenant.)

  • Why is being sealed in the temple on its own not sufficient to achieve an eternal marriage?

  • What thoughts and feelings do you have as you consider what Heavenly Father is promising to you?

Display the following statement by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Russell M. Nelson

“Celestial marriage is a pivotal part of preparation for eternal life. It requires one to be married to the right person, in the right place, by the right authority, and to obey that sacred covenant faithfully. Then one may be assured of exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God” (“Celestial Marriage,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 94).

  • How would you explain to someone who is not a Church member the importance of being married “in the right place, by the right authority”?

  • Given the importance of the doctrine of eternal marriage and family, what can you do now to prepare for an eternal marriage and build strong relationships?

Invite students to consider what they may need to change in their lives to be better prepared for a temple sealing or to keep the covenants associated with that sealing. Share your testimony that seeking an eternal marriage is worth our sacrifice and effort.

Student Readings