Saturday, October 08, 2005

Development of the Theology of Eternal Marriage

I read time and again how Joseph Smith received revelation on the New and Everlasting Covenant in 1831. In the naive view of church history, people seem to suppose that the 14-year-old Joseph understood every principle and doctrine from his vision in the grove in 1823.

I posit that Joseph didn't understand what God was asking him to do in a sufficient way until near the end of his life. Joseph's great legacy is the binding of the entire family of mankind together through temple covenants. This is the work foretold since the time of Adam, and specifically mentioned by Malachi 4:5,6. (The parable of the olive grove which touches on this from Jacob 5 is clearly known to Paul per his discussion in Romans 11:16-24).

Recall that Joseph didn't even understand and preach baptism by proxy on behalf of the deceased until August 1840. I put forward that he did not comprehend the proxy sealing of deceased spouses into the covenant until fall 1842.

I'll grant that Joseph knew in 1831 that this work must be accomplished - somewhat the way a young child comprehends that they must someday learn a profession, marry and become a responsible citizen or in the way Lewis and Clark understood there were mountains and large bears while the were still living in the east, before their cross-continental journey.

Joseph saw a vision in the Kirtland temple in 1836 where he saw his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom. This was clearly a vision of some future time, since he also saw his parents in the vision, and they had not yet died. If you read the account of that vision (D&C 137), there is no mention of proxy baptism on behalf of the dead. There is merely a confirmation that those who died without being baptized in this life can still somehow attain celestial glory.

In 1840 the apostles were, for the most part, in Europe. In August of that year, Joseph preached at the funeral of one of the saints and proclaimed the doctrine of baptism for the dead, a doctrine Paul incidentally alluded to in his defense of the literal resurrection of the dead in 1 Cor 15 (see verse 29). Most modern saints think of Nauvoo prior to Joseph's death as a peaceful haven, mosquitos and malarial fever notwithstanding. But in August 1840 the saints in Illinois were attacked. Of particular interst to this discussion is the destruction and burning of several homes to the south of the Nauvoo business district during a savage rain storm.

Jonathan Harriman Holmes, a shoemaker and dear friend of Joseph (wasn't every saint so regarded?) returned home to find his wife, Marietta, and children, Sarah (3) and newborn Mary Emma, being sheltered by neighbors. The Holmes dwelling had been burned to the ground. Marietta and Mary Emma died a few days later.

When Joseph learned of the tragedy, he invited his friend, Jonathan, to live in the Smith home - a two-story log cabin. Jonathan took on additional duties as one of Joseph's bodyguards. Little Sarah did her part as well by running to the prophet when she spied a stranger approaching, as would all the children of the household. In addition to Joseph's own parents, wife, and children, the household included a variety of individuals Joseph and Emma had taken on or taken in. Two such were Elvira Annie Cowles, the children's nanny, and Jane Manning, the cook. Elvira was 26 and the daughter of Austin Cowles, a counselor in the Nauvoo stake presidency. Jane Manning was a black teenager who had walked to Nauvoo from Connecticut after joining the church.

Direction to construct a temple in Navuoo temple was revealed in January 1841, "For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times." [D&C 124: 41] It seems highly probable that the first person Joseph would have talked to about the New and Everlasting Covenant would be his own wife, Emma. But there is no extant documentation of how persuasive his teaching was on what was probably the first instance in words. Certainly Emma did not accept the New and Everlasting Covenant before 1843. It was in the spring of 1841 that Joseph taught Louisa Beaman about the New and Everlasting Covenant and invited her to accept the covenant.

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Mother, Physicist, Manager, Author, Genealogist