“Prophecies of Joseph Smith,” Church History Topics
“Prophecies of Joseph Smith”
Latter-day Saints believe that God has restored to the earth the power given to the ancient Apostle Peter to bind, or seal, on earth and in heaven. This sealing power is exercised in temples to solemnize marriages and to seal together families across generations. Early Latter-day Saints used the word seal in several different but related ways. Seals were used to make contracts or agreements official. Seals of ink, wax, or embossed stamps validated the signatures on a contract.1 Many Bible readers interpreted passages mentioning the term seal as meaning something was rendered official in the eyes of God. Early Latter-day Saints often spoke of sealing in this way, referring to prayers, testimonies, blessings, anointings, ordinances, and marriages solemnized by the priesthood as being sealed, or marked by divine authority, and thereby efficacious in heaven.2 Several early revelations given to Joseph Smith further taught that restored authority, ordinances, and covenants could seal individuals up unto eternal life.3
Acting on further revelation he received, Joseph Smith introduced new teachings and ordinances in Nauvoo, Illinois, that expanded upon and gave more precision to the Saints’ understanding of sealing. He taught that “the spirit and power of Elijah” consists of the power to place “the seals of the Melchizedek priesthood upon the house of Israel.” He also taught that he had been authorized to invoke this sealing power on behalf of his loved ones and all Latter-day Saints through the ordinances of the temple.4
These references to Elijah’s power to seal evidently stemmed from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s 1836 vision of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple. Though Joseph did not speak publicly about the experience, the account of the vision in Joseph’s journal records that Elijah came to “turn the hearts of the Fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.” The ancient prophet told Joseph, “The Keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands.”5
When Joseph Smith began to introduce temple ordinances in Nauvoo, he spoke of their power to bind, or seal, together people across generations. In letters to the Church containing inspired teachings on baptisms for the dead, Joseph spoke of proxy baptisms as an ordinance that forged a “welding link” between the generations by extending salvation to the dead. He further noted that, in one sense, the ordinance had a “sealing and binding power.”6 As the Saints entered the waters of baptism for their deceased family members, they bound together generations within an extended covenant family.
A revelation to Joseph, first recorded in 1843, explained the marriage sealing ordinance. “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations or expectations,” the Lord declared, “that are not made and entered into and Sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise of him who is anointed … are of no efficacy, virtue or force in and after the resurrection from the dead.” The sealing power could make marriages binding for eternity, and sealing ordinances could only be performed by the “medium of mine anointed,” meaning the Prophet Joseph Smith.7 The revelation stated that “never but one on the earth at a time” would hold the keys of this power. Thus, each of Joseph Smith’s successors as President of the Church has received the keys and authority to govern the performance of sealing ordinances.
About one month after the revelation on marriage sealings, Joseph taught that this same power could seal children to their parents. “When a seal is put upon the father and mother,” he taught, “it secures their posterity so that they cannot be lost but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father.”8 Brigham Young affirmed that Joseph instructed him to perform such sealings once the Nauvoo Temple was ready.9
After Joseph Smith’s death, the Saints completed the Nauvoo Temple so they could receive endowments and be sealed. Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles officiated thousands of sealings. They sealed couples together in marriage and sealed children to parents when the parents were sealed after their children were born. At the time, however, Latter-day Saints were not yet sealed to their deceased parents who had not joined the Church in this life. Rather, some Saints participated in “adoption” sealings that bound them to other adult Latter-day Saints, nearly always prominent Church leaders. These sealings connected them to others whom they knew had accepted the restored gospel covenants. For the next 50 years, many complex adoption networks grew out of temple sealings, connecting friends and peers as if they were expanded families.
This practice continued until 1894, when President Wilford Woodruff received a revelation that limited adoptive sealings and instead focused on sealing marriages and parent-child relationships. President Woodruff exhorted the Saints to search their genealogies “as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers.” He urged the Saints to be sealed to deceased spouses and parents, even those who had not been members of the Church, promising that “there will be very few, if any, who will not accept the Gospel.”10
After Joseph Smith’s death, Brigham Young and other members of the Twelve performed temple sealings in Nauvoo and later in Salt Lake City. In 1877 the president of the newly dedicated St. George Temple, Wilford Woodruff, requested permission of Church President Brigham Young to set apart others to perform sealings. Young authorized Woodruff to set apart as many as necessary, and soon temple sealers regularly officiated sealings for both the living and the dead. By the early 20th century, the First Presidency standardized procedures for temple presidencies in calling and setting apart sealers.11These sealers continue to act with delegated authority and under the direction of the President of the Church.