Church History Help- Eternal Marriage and Adoption

August 13, 2011    By: Matt W. @ 8:26 am   Category: PH/RS Lessons

Tomorrow, I am teaching Elder’s Quorum lesson #38 “Eternal Families”- and have decided, after reading Jonathan Stapley’s incredible article this week, to review the history thereof. Sadly, I don’t have Sam Brown’s accompanying article, so am relying on Gordon Irving’s earlier work for that piece of it.

Anyway, here is my simple timeline for my lesson (emphasis on my trying to keep it simple). Can anyone with access to Sam’s article, or with direct knowledge, help me out and make sure I don’t have any outdated concepts in my history. (like no adoptions before 1845 or the role of the concept of polygamy)

1830– Joseph Smith founds the Church.

1832– The concept of salvation is revealed to include three degrees of glory, the highest requiring Baptism to be included in God’s family. It is revealed that Jesus preached to them that were dead. (D&C 76)

1836-Those who died without opportunity to receive the Gospel are eligible for the Celestial Kingdom. (HC 2:380-81)

1837– Those who are baptized are adopted into God’s family. (P. Pratt, A voice of warning)

1840– Joseph teaches that the saints can be baptized for and in behalf of those who are dead.

1842– Joseph teaches that baptism for the dead links generations together.

1843– The highest degree of salvation consists of family connections, the concept of being sealed for time and all eternity as a couple is introduced, and it is announced that when the temple is completed, children can be sealed to parents therein. Other ordinances, like endowment and sealing are performed in Smith’s upper room of the Red Brick Store. Those initiated into this include Emma and the Q12. This group forms a new quorum of the priesthood, including the women.

1844– Exaltation dependent on being part of the great family chain extending back to Adam and Eve. Children that are born in the covenant are a part of the great chain. When we are sealed together we are adopted into the great chain. (also referred to as the Patriarchal Chain or Patriarchal Priesthood) Joseph Smith dies before temple is completed.

1845– Temple Completed. Over 5k endowments performed, over 1k sealings, and ~100 adoptions. Adoption is a sealing of one man to another as a son to a father. Ex.- Wilford Woodruff sealed to Brigham Young. This is done, because at this time, no post-mortal ordaining to the priesthood. Similar to reasoning for polygamy, it is about connecting people to the great chain.

1847– Brigham Young, traveling west, is not sure he understands adoption. He is frustrated because adoption has become a social status symbol, with the more people adopted to you increasing your status, (this is because adoption is being treated as a social obligation to support the father in the adoptive relationship by the son). Brigham prays for revelation and has a vision of Joseph Smith who explains it as a method of organizing God’s family in the heavens.

1848-1877– Brigham preaches against those seeking to increase their stature via adoption, and holds it as an ordinance that can only be done in the temple (sealings and endowments were, at that time, allowed in other venues), and that it would not be fully realized until the millennium. In this time, there is much confusion about the ordinance and how the eternal family organization works.

1877– St. George Temple is dedicated. Ordinance of Adoption is performed therein. Practice becomes, over time, that adoption is the term used for any sealing of parent to child not born in the covenant, and further that a father who does not have the priesthood cannot be an adoptive father. It is general practice that general authorities are sealed back to Joseph Smith, and the other people are mainly sealed to general authorities. Brigham Young passes away.

1877-1894– Heber C. Kimball and John Taylor are on record wondering why they cannot be adopted to their own family lines. There is still concern about adoptive family size as a status symbol. John Taylor requires first presidency approval for any adoption ordinance.

1894– Wilford Woodruff, in general conference, calls for adoptions not to be done to general authorities, but to those who were our biological parents, and only when we got as far back as possible, would adoption to Joseph Smith be done. Genealogical Society of Utah formed, beginning modern family history as we know it. Adoption is better understood, not as a pyramid, but as all being adopted into God’s family as an interconnected network.

1918– Joseph F. Smith has a vision of Christ’s visit to the spirit world, recorded in D&C 138, which adds nuance to the importance of our work in the spirit world and of the greater eternal family.

1918-2011– Members are often reminded that no member suffers for being unable to be sealed to a spouse in this life. (Lorenzo Snow, Boyd K. Packer, Spencer W. Kimball) Members are taught that children with parents that leave the church do not lose their “Born in the Covenant” Status. (Ezra Taft Benson)


  1. Matt ~ I would very much like to attend your Elders Quorum lesson. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Comment by aquinas — August 13, 2011 @ 9:24 am

  2. Great summary of the events surrounding the law of adoption. It sounds like it will be a great uplifting lesson.

    I would suggest one correction – when you state that “members are often reminded that no member suffers for being unable to be sealed to a spouse in this life”. It should read “women are often reminded…”. The teachings of the Church have never included men in that reminder, only women.

    Comment by Michael — August 13, 2011 @ 9:49 am

  3. Michael, that is actually not true.

    See for example:

    Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) taught, “If

      a young man or a young woman

    has no opportunity of getting married, and they live faithful lives up to the time of their death, they will have all the blessings, exaltation, and glory that any man or woman will have who had this opportunity and improved it.”

    The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 138

    Or as the Gospel Principles Manually currently says:

    “As needed, help class members or family members know that

      all Heavenly Father’s children

    who are faithful to their covenants in this life will have the opportunity to receive all the blessings of the gospel in the eternities, including the opportunity to have an eternal family”

    Thanks aquinas, I am trying to take your advice and be complete…

    Comment by Matt W. — August 13, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  4. “Members are taught that children with parents that leave the church do not lose their “Born in the Covenant” Status. (Ezra Taft Benson)”

    I’m sorry that I don’t have the exact quote, but BY taught the corollary to this: when children stray from the Church, if the parents remain faithful, “by and by” the children will live with the parents eternally.

    Comment by larryco_ — August 13, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  5. Found it.

    President Brigham Young

    “Let the father and mother, who are members of this Church and Kingdom, take a righteous course, and strive with all their might never to do a wrong, but to do good all their lives; if they have one child or one hundred children, if they conduct themselves towards them as they should, binding them to the Lord by their faith and prayers, I care not where those children go, they are bound up to their parents by an everlasting tie, and no power of earth or hell can separate them from their parents in eternity; they will return again to the fountain from whence they sprang” (in Discourses of Brigham Young, 208).

    Comment by larryco_ — August 13, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

  6. Thanks for the nod, Matt.

    Adoption is present in the Doctrine and Covenants with the earliest revelations, but Pratt is the most explicitly sacramental and systematic.

    I wish I would have had you read it before publication so I could have caught some areas where I needed to be more clear. A few additional thoughts and corrections:

    1842-1843 – endowment first delivered in 1842 (sealings technically are performed before this). The complete Temple liturgy not delivered until the fall of 1843, when Emma joins.

    1844 – proxy ordinations are done, throughout the nineteenth century as part of the proxy endowment ritual. Even then, adoptive parents were constrained to those who had lived as faithful members. Nauvoo adoption practice was, I believe, much more about demonstrating that the Young family and the families of other Church leaders were equal to the task of creating the heavenly network in place of the Smiths.

    1845-46 – 211 adoptions performed (more than biological child-to-parent sealings performed).

    1877 – others are sealed to JS as well (his is the most adopted father).

    1877-1894 – John Taylor is complicated in his feelings on adoption, but FP approval for all sealings is required generally before and after him.

    I hope you let us know how your lesson goes. It sounds fun (but I am biased)!

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 13, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

  7. Sorry about not releasing it on SSRN, but there are copyright issues since it’s part of my book. Aside from encouraging a subscription to JMH I can email you a non-circulating PDF of the galleys if you send me your address. My piece focuses much more on the theory, concepts, and contexts. Best of luck in your lesson.

    Comment by smb — August 13, 2011 @ 6:17 pm

  8. I’m not sure I’m seeing this ancillary adoption history stuff in the manual…

    Comment by Riley — August 13, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

  9. I just sent you an email, smb. I actually thought it was a brilliant ploy to sell more subscriptions of JMH. I’ve been meaning to subscribe since J. published his article on healing, but have to confess to not yet getting around to it.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 13, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

  10. Riley- Eternal Marriage, Eternal Families, Ancillary Adoption… In my mind it all falls under where the maunal says As needed, help class members or family members know

    Comment by Matt W. — August 13, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

  11. J.- re- 1845- So do you think Young was intentionally redefining adoption to suit his purposes, or do you think it just worked out that way. Now I need to go reread your paper. My understanding from it was that Young was actualizing Smith’s will, but without Emma, the great chain stopped at Young rather than Smith. Also, I thought this issue with the Martineau scenario was that Martineau’s father did not hold the priesthood. So was it more of a matter of their being some difference between mortal ordination and proxy ordination?

    Comment by Matt W. — August 13, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

  12. You should also come to MHA which is a great party. BY’s interpretation of JSJ was natural (and inspired, in the eyes of most LDS) but a little more than trivial. I don’t think we need to espy petty machinations though–JSJ had a multivalent legacy, and BY was true to the sacerdotal threads, in all their complexity.

    Comment by smb — August 13, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

  13. “You have a sarcasm sign!?” – Dr. Sheldon Cooper

    Comment by Riley — August 13, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

  14. I think you got it, Matt; and Sam is right on. I think proxy rituals were not viewed as a sure thing (people still had their agency, as we say), so they were not viewed as reliable links in the priesthood chain.

    Hope it went well.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 14, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  15. Alright, it went over like a lead balloon. Mentioning polygamy basically terrifies people at church. The only comments I got were one person asking me to explain Proxy Baptism for any new members (We did have a 6 month old member in the room) and one question of whether there would be animals in heaven. I did go through the whole outline above and handed it out as a hand out. I was told afterward that it was good by two people, one saying I was wise to not allow for too many comments, and the other saying I always made him feel ignorant.

    It was fun to teach though, even if it didn’t bring in a new era of sun shine and happiness.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 14, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

  16. I happen to think that the change around Wilford Woodruff’s time was inspired. I can’t imagine any reason to seal people to Joseph Smith except in consideration of his status as dispensation head.

    The problem is that it leaves nearly everyone before him in the lurch – either they are not eligible, which more or less contradicts D&C 137 and 1 Pet 4:6, or they have to be sealed to some prior dispensation head, which creates quite a rift between present and past generations.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 18, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

  17. It seems to me your lesson would have been very interesting. As I no longer have a current priesthood manual I haven’t looked at the lesson notes. ::Thank you, but no. I know how to get one if so needed – Grin:: Questions if I may:

    Was anything mentioned concerning the thought we might have had a hand in choosing our families in the pre-existence? My family and extended family have several adopted kids, including myself. A question that often comes up is, “If I supposedly choose my parents prior to being born, to which family did I end up with?” Were the biological parents the chosen ones or were the parents I call ma and pa? Is free agency a factor in that the biological parent(s) having messed up by their own actions resulted in a random assignment? Does it even matter? as the procedure for keeping the new family together is all set up.

    How about the human factor? My daughter has two adopted kids, a boy and girl, both about three now. There is no question those two kids belongs to, and were meant to be with, my daughter and her husband. One child came from the 15yo daughter of an LDS family, the other had become a ward of the state after being abandoned at 2 weeks along with her 15yo sister and 10yo brother. Is this, Pre-planning prior to their lives beginning here? Accident/luck? Or did some angel working in the Earthly Assignments Section of the Heavenly Operations Center (HOC) have to jump through some hoops to find a new family for the kids and make the reassignment?

    For what its worth, I’m glad you enjoyed preparing and giving this lesson. :-)

    Comment by Pog Warden — August 29, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  18. Pog:

    if it helps, everything I’ve ever read leads me to believe that ““…I supposedly choose my parents prior to being born…” is absolutely false doctrine. I think McConkie spoke out against this idea, saying something to the effect that it may be true in some circumstances, but for the most part is false.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 29, 2011 @ 11:53 am

  19. Yup, I would agree. Still, the mechanics of placing the pre-born spirits gots to be a buzy section. Thanks

    Comment by Pog Warden — August 29, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  20. Matt W,

    The merit of the idea aside, do you believe that it is false, that it is not a doctrine, or both?

    Off the top of my head, I don’t know any way to conclude that it is false. However, it is certainly not a doctrine of the Church.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 31, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

  21. Mark D.- I guess if we wanted to go deep, we could not conclude anything at all is false. I can however believe it is false, based on induction. But I am not interested in going that deep, and judging by your request to leave the merit of the idea aside, neither are you. I am looking for the reference, but I think this has been actively taught against by the church. Of course, one could argue that many things I do believe in have actively been taught against by the church (evolution, etc.) and so I accept my hypocrisy on this, but there you go.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 1, 2011 @ 6:58 am