W. Smith explains the evolution of the meaning of "celestial marriage."

William Victor Smith

William Victor Smith, Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2018), 23-25

Greg Kofford Books
William Victor Smith
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The first imprint (1852) of the plural marriage revelation merely provided the place and the date that the revelation was received and dictated:


Given to Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, July 12th, 1843.

Orson Pratt’s 1853 printing of the revelation in his Washington DC The Seer carried the preamble:


A Revelation on the Patriarchal Order of Matrimony, or Plurality of Wives.

Given to Joseph Smith, the Seer, in Nauvoo, July 12th, 1843.

The term Celestial Marriage was almost universally synonymous with polygamy in Mormonism until 1890, after which it gradually came to refer exclusively to sealing. Pratt makes no separate mention of sealing, and his use of “Patriarchal Order of Matrimony” is a reference to the Abrahamic context of the revelation. That term also would be repurposed after the end of plural marriage, and would lose its contextual sense.

The 1875 Star imprint echoed Pratt’s heading, and introduced the revelation simply as the following:

Revelation on Celestial Marriage.

In both the 1876 Doctrine and Covenants and his 1878 edition of the Pearl of Great Price, Orson Pratt prefaced the revelation with this heading:

Revelation on the Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, Including Plurality of Wives. Given Through Joseph, the Seer, in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, July 12th, 1843.

From these headings it is clear that for the first several decades of its existence, the revelation’s purpose was understood to be both an introduction to and insurer of the practice of polygamy, and that polygamy is one and the same with “Celestial Marriage.” However, Pratt’s 1876 Doctrine and Covenants and 1878 Pearl of Great Price headings suggest a separate emphasis on sealing, with plurality as a secondary aspect of the revelation. This separation corresponded naturally with the Mormon marriage ritual practice from the early 1850s, when sealings were performed for both first marriages and plural unions.

A major revision in format and liminal text for the Doctrine and Covenants appeared well after the death of plurality in Mormonism, beginning with the heading for the 1921 edition:

REVELATION given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, as also the plurality of wives.

Here, the “new and everlasting covenant” appears as an umbrella term that encompassed both sealing and polygamy, with the latter having a reduced status. This heading remained with the revelation until 1981 when the LDS Church produced comprehensive new editions of its English scriptures with new headings and annotations.

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