Bringhurst, Newell G. “Section 132 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants: Its Complex Contents and Controversial Legacy.”

Bringhurst, Newell G. “Section 132 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants: Its Complex Contents and Controversial Legacy.”  In The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster, 59-86.  Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010. [Mormon/Theology/Family/Sealings/Priesthood/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship]

This article tracks the general history of the publication and use of Section 132, especially since the public announcement of plural marriage in 1852.  It contains a review and some analysis of the major themes of doctrine in the section, following loosely my article about the three questions the section answers [see, Danel W. Bachman, “New Light on an Old Hypothesis: The Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage,” Journal of Mormon History, 5 (1978):  19-32.] In his summary, Bringhurst notes that 15 out of 66 verses were directed to Emma Smith and its treatment of the question of adultery with brief references to murder and the sin against the Holy Ghost.  Bringhurst misapprehended my point about the third question and sees it as dealing with those who died without being married in mortality, which it does not. (p. 66).  The heart of the revelation concerned with eternal marriage deals with secular and “celestial” marriage.  This becomes the foundation of what Richard Bushman refers to as Mormon “family theology.”  There follows a discussion of the status of women in the revelation as Bringhurst cites Melody Charles’ critique.  Finally he notes the emphasis on priesthood and law given in the revelation.

After the revelation was made public in 1852 it was published in various church venues and  Brigham Young sent four general authorities to various cities to establish newspapers to teach and defend the doctrine of plural marriage. From 1852 until 1890 or perhaps as late as 1904 at the time of the Second Manifesto, most leaders used Section 132 to teach the doctrine of plural marriage, equating it with celestial marriage and asserting that one must accept and practice it in order to be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom.  The revelation was canonized in 1876 and placed in the Doctrine and Covenants as Section 132.  Two years later it was also included in the Pearl of Great Price, making it, according to Bringhurst, the only revelation of the Restoration to be in two volumes of scripture concurrently; a further indication of its importance in establishing the principle and practice of plural marriage.

After the manifestos Church leaders began to de-emphasize plural marriage and use the Section to teach the importance of temple/eternal marriage.  James E. Talmage, John Henry Evans, B. H. Roberts and J. Reuben Clark, Jr., are all cited demonstrating this new emphasis.  Bringhurst makes a considerable point of this, implying it was something of an innovation or reinterpretation, and concludes by saying that the Fundamentalist use of the revelation is closer to the early Mormon use than the modern Mormon interpretation.

Bringhurst overlooks two important things in giving this idea what I see as undo prominence.  First, in regard to my point about the third question Joseph Smith asked the Lord and the answer he received, Bringhurst cites early in the paper a statement by Joseph Smith to the Nauvoo High Council when they were questioning him about the revelation, to the effect that it was concerned “with marriage in eternity and in biblical times,” but he does not refer back to this statement in his discussion of the modern interpretation–yet they contain the same emphasis.  This was also the point of what Joseph said he learned when he asked the Lord about the meaning of the New Testament story of the woman with seven husbands.  He was told Man in this life must marry in view of eternity, otherwise they must remain as angels, or be single in heaven,’ which was the doctrine of the revelation referred to ….” (HC 6:442, also the Nauvoo Neighbor, 19 June 1844, emphasis added.)   Thus, one of the four stipulations in 132:7 to make a marriage eternal was that it had to be done “for time and eternity” and Joseph referred to this idea on other occasions as well, none of which are cited by Bringhurst.  In May of 1843, Joseph taught, “We have no claim in our eternal comfort in relation to eternal things unless our actions and contracts and all things tend to this end.” [Ehat and Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 205.]  On 16 July 1843, just four days after D&C 132 was recorded, Joseph spoke in a similar vein.  Franklin D. Richards recorded him as teaching, “No man can obtain an eternal Blessing unless the contract or covenant be made in view of Eternity.  All contracts in view of this Life only terminate with this Life.”  He also “showed that a man must enter into an everlasting covenant with his wife in this world or he will have no claim on her in the next.”   [Ehat and Cook, Words, 232-33.]

Secondly, Bringhurst makes too much of the fact that early Mormon leaders equated polygamy with celestial marriage–which they did.  However, again Joseph Smith provides the key to understanding his own revelation.  Many authors cite the following statement from William Clayton’s journal to show that plural marriage was required for exaltation:

From him I learned that the doctrine of plural and celestial marriage is the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on the earth, and that without obedience to that principle no man can ever attain to the fulness of exaltation in celestial glory.  [Joseph Smith, cited by William Clayton, in George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991), p. 559; also in Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” The Historical Record, 6 (July 1887): 226, emphasis mine.]

However, most authors do not point out the word “and” in the phrase “plural and celestial marriage” which can suggest they are two different things.   Regardless of how one interprets this phrase, in fact there are several different “orders” of marriage that may be found within the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel as elucidated in Section 132.  In general there are two: civil and religious, one being a contract for mortality, the other an ordinance of the gospel, the highest form of which is for eternity.  Under the category of eternal marriages, there are two orders: 1) eternal monogamous marriage, and 2) eternal plural marriage.  It is appropriate to refer to these two orders of marriage as “celestial marriage” and this has been the case through the history of the Church as Bringhurst shows.  But to suggest that the early emphasis on plural marriage as “celestial” is correct and the later reference to monogamous eternal marriage as “celestial marriage” as a late innovation, is, based on a close reading of Section132 and the statements of Joseph Smith cited above, incorrect in my view.

Finally, I suggest that the post-1890 use of Section 132 to promote eternal marriage was not an innovation either.  All that really happened was when plural marriage was discontinued Church leaders took a closer look at Section 132 and discovered what was there all along and which Joseph Smith himself stressed–the eternity of marriage is the main point.  Section 132, consistent with Jacob 2:30 (23-35), shows that monogamy is the rule in the Church, polygamy an exception, and that instruction about the eternal nature of marriage and its blessings apply to both forms equally well.  So, when the exception no longer exists it is entirely appropriate to teach the same principles relative to monogamous eternal marriage.  The post-Manifesto brethren were not reinterpreting, innovating, or changing the doctrine.  Rather, they were applying the revelation to its appropriate situation, a principle also taught by Joseph Smith. [See TPJS, 256.]

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