D&C 132 | Background & Context
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Date Recorded: 12 July 1843

Place: Nauvoo, Illinois

Steven C. Harper (LDS Scholar)

Doctrine and Covenants 132 was not written until July 1843, but parts of it were certainly revealed long before then. It answers two questions Joseph had about the Bible, one from the Old Testament, the other from the New. Joseph frequently asked the Lord questions as he revised the Bible, and it seems likely that Joseph had years earlier received some of section 132 in answer to the question the Lord restates in verse 1 about His rationale for the seemingly adulterous yet biblical practice of polygyny—simultaneously having more than one wife—by His servants Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. The New Testament question comes from Matthew 22:30, Jesus' teaching that "in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven."

The answer to the New Testament question was wonderful news. But the answer to the Old Testament question was potentially scandalous. It was more than Joseph had anticipated. Though he began to obey it within a few years, he did not write the revelation on eternal marriage, including the practice of plural marriage, until events in the summer of 1843 persuaded him to do so.

The Book of Mormon forbade plural marriage unless the Lord commanded otherwise (Jacob 2:27–30). The revelations Joseph had received declared adultery an abomination and promised punishment. "With these prohibitions emblazoned in his own revelations, Joseph was torn by the command to take plural wives. What about the curses and the destruction promised adulterers? What about the heart of his tender wife?" It tells us something about Joseph's certainty of the command that he acted on the revealed instructions. Joseph Smith entered a plural marriage in the 1830s, though it did not last. Then, between early 1841 and the fall of 1843, Joseph was sealed to approximately thirty women. As historian Richard Bushman observed, "What drove [Joseph Smith] to a practice that put his life and his work in jeopardy, not to mention his relationship with Emma?"

Joseph's critics assume they know the answers to these questions. But their assumptions do not match up well with the historical Joseph. He acted on the Lord's commands to him, inviting opposition, ostracism, persecution, beatings, mockery in the press, imprisonment, extradition, and finally murder. The one commandment Joseph did not throw himself headlong into obeying was taking plural wives. Uncharacteristically reluctant, Joseph resisted for years and then waited several more years before trying again. The Lord evidently gave Joseph an ultimatum he had no doubts about. The revelation of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage required an Abrahamic test, which for Joseph and Emma and other members of the Church was plural marriage....

Joseph's wife Emma understandably vacillated between accepting and resenting the practice. She and Joseph spent many hours discussing and struggling with the issues leading up to the July 12, 1843, writing of section 132. In those weeks Joseph had the undesirable task of convincing the two people closest to him—Emma and Hyrum, his brother—of the legitimacy of the revelation. Hyrum did not believe the first rumors he heard about the practice. He publicly spoke out against the idea of plural marriage but decided that he "needed to see Joseph about it, and if Joseph had a revelation on the subject, he would believe it." Hyrum's heart softened as Joseph explained that he could be sealed to his deceased wife, Jerusha, as well as his living wife, Mary, who was subsequently sealed to Hyrum and also served as proxy for Jerusha.

At times Emma worked up the will to consent to some of the sealings, but then her will failed and her feelings overwhelmed her. She had forsaken her parents and siblings to marry and follow Joseph. She believed in him and had made monumental sacrifices for her faith. But this one was Abrahamic. All she had was Joseph, and that was enough to compensate for all she had laid aside, but now she was being asked to share him. She would not do it willingly, at least not consistently. During a period of her willingness, however, in May 1843 she and Joseph were sealed. By July Emma was struggling to be reconciled to the revelation, and Joseph decided to commit it to writing. Joseph and Hyrum counseled about what to do for her and decided to write the revelation and see if it would help. (Largey, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, p. (2012), © Deseret Book Company. Used by Permission.)

William Clayton (Secretary to Joseph Smith; Scribe of D&C 132)

On the morning of the 12th of July, 1843; Joseph and Hyrum Smith came into the office in the upper story of the brick store, on the bank of the Mississippi river. They were talking on the subject of plural marriage. Hyrum said to Joseph, "If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace." Joseph smiled and remarked, "You do not know Emma as well as I do." Hyrum repeated his opinion, and further remarked, "The doctrine is so plain, I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity and heavenly origin," or words to that effect. Joseph then said, "Well, I will write the revelation and we will see." He then requested me to get paper and prepare to write. Hyrum very urgently requested Joseph to write the revelation by means of the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph in reply, said he did not need to, for he knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end.

Joseph and Hyrum then sat down and Joseph commenced to dictate the revelation on celestial marriage, and I wrote it, sentence by sentence, as he dictated. After the whole was written, Joseph asked me to read it through, slowly and carefully, which I did, and he pronounced it correct. He then remarked that there was much more that he could write on the same subject, but what was written was sufficient for the present.

Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma. Joseph remained with me in the office until Hyrum returned. When he came back, Joseph asked him how he had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a more severe talking to in his life, that Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and anger.

Joseph quietly remarked, "I told you, you did not know Emma as well as I did." Joseph then put the revelation in his pocket, and they both left the office.

The revelation was read to several of the authorities during the day. Towards evening Bishop Newel K. Whitney asked Joseph if he had any objections to his taking a copy of the revelation; Joseph replied that he had not, and handed it to him. It was carefully copied the following day by Joseph C. Kingsbury. Two or three days after the revelation was written Joseph related to me and several others that Emma had so teased, and urgently entreated him for the privilege of destroying it, that he became so weary of her teasing, and to get rid of her annoyance, he told her she might destroy it and she had done so, but he had consented to her wish in this matter to pacify her, realizing that he knew the revelation perfectly, and could rewrite it at any time if necessary.

The copy made by Joseph C. Kingsbury is a true and correct copy of the original in every respect. The copy was carefully preserved by Bishop Whitney, and but few knew of its existence until the temporary location of the Camps of Israel at Winter Quarters, on the Missouri. (History of the Church, 5:xxxii-xxxiii)

Joseph C. Kingsbury

[On May 22, 1886, Joseph C. Kingsbury made the following statement before Charles W. Stayner, a notary public, in Salt Lake City:]

In reference to the affidavit of Elder William Clayton, on the subject of the celestial order of patriarchal marriage, published in the Deseret Evening News of May 20th, 1886, and particularly as to the statement made therein concerning myself, as having copied the original revelation written by Brother Clayton at the dictation of the Prophet Joseph, I will say that Bishop Newel K. Whitney, handed me the revelation above referred to either on the day it was written or the day following, and stating what it was, asked me to take a copy of it. I did so, and then read my copy of it to Bishop Whitney, we compared it with the original which he held in his hand while I read to him. When I had finished reading, Bishop Whitney pronounced the copy correct, and Hyrum Smith coming into the room at the time to fetch the original, Bishop Whitney handed it to him. I will also state that this copy, as also the original are identically the same as that published in the present edition [1886] of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.

I will add that I also knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith had married other women besides his first wife, Emma; I was well aware of the fact of his having married Sarah Ann Whitney, the eldest daughter of Bishop Newel K. Whitney and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, his wife. And the Prophet Joseph told me personally that he had married other women, in accordance with the revealed will of God, and spoke concerning the principle as being a command of God for holy purposes. 

(Signed) "Joseph C. Kingsbury." (History of the Church, 5:xxxiii-xxxiv)

Orson Pratt (Quorum of the Twelve)

Lyman Johnson, who was very familiar with Joseph at this early date, Joseph living at his father's house, and who was also very intimate with me, we having traveled on several missions together, told me himself that Joseph had made known to him as early as 1831, that plural marriage was a correct principle. Joseph declared to Lyman that God had revealed it to him, but that the time had not come to teach or practice it in the Church, but that the time would come. (History of the Church, 5:xxxi-xxxii)

Joseph F. Smith (President)

The principle of plural marriage was first revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831, but being forbidden to make it public, or to teach it as a doctrine of the gospel, at that time, he confided the facts to only a very few of his intimate associates. Among them were Oliver Cowdery and Lyman E. Johnson, the latter confiding the fact to his traveling companion, Elder Orson Pratt, in the year 1832. And this great principle remained concealed in the bosoms of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the few to whom he revealed it, until he was commanded, about 1842, to instruct the leading members of the priesthood, and those who were most faithful and intelligent, and best prepared to receive it—in relation thereto; at which time, and subsequently until his martyrdom, the subject, in connection with the great principles of baptism, redemption and sealing for the dead, became the great theme of his life; and as the late President George A. Smith repeatedly said to me and others—"The prophet seemed irresistibly moved by the power of God to establish that principle not only in theory, in the hearts and minds of his brethren, but in practice also, he himself having led the way." (B.H. Roberts, Outlines of Ecclesiastical History, p.429)

I here declare that the principle of plural marriage was not first revealed on the 12th day of July, 1843. It was written for the first time on that date, but it had been revealed to the Prophet many years before that, perhaps as early as 1832. About this time, or subsequently, Joseph, the Prophet, intrusted this fact to Oliver Cowdery; he abused the confidence imposed in him, and brought reproach upon himself, and thereby upon the church by "running before he was sent," and "taking liberties without license," so to speak, hence the publication, by O. Cowdery, about this time, of an article on marriage, which was carefully worded, and afterwards found its way into the Doctrine and Covenants without authority. This article explains itself to those who understand the facts, and is an indisputable evidence of the early existence of the knowledge of the principle of patriarchal marriage by the Prophet Joseph, and also by Oliver Cowdery.

When the revelation was written, in 1843, it was for a special purpose, by the request of the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, and was not then designed to go forth to the church or to the world. It is most probable that had it been then written with a view to its going out as a doctrine of the church, it would have been presented in a somewhat different form. There are personalities contained in a part of it which are not relevant to the principle itself, but rather to the circumstances which necessitated its being written at that time. Joseph Smith, on the day it was written, expressly declared that there was a great deal more connected with the doctrine which would be revealed in due time, but this was sufficient for the occasion, and was made to suffice for the time.... When the time came to introduce this doctrine to those who were worthy in the church, God commanded the Prophet and he obeyed. He taught it as he was commanded to such as were prepared to receive and obey it, and they were commanded to enter into it, or they were threatened that the keys would be turned against them, and they would be cut off by the Almighty. It need scarcely be said that the Prophet found no one any more willing to lead out in the matter in righteousness than he was himself. Many could see it—nearly all to whom he revealed it believed it, and received the witness of the Holy Spirit that it was of God; but none excelled, or even matched the courage of the Prophet himself. (Journal of Discourses, 20:29-30)

Aftermath and Outcomes of D&C 132

Steven C. Harper (LDS Scholar)

Doctrine and Covenants 132 resulted in an Abrahamic test. "Plural marriage was the most difficult trial of 1843," wrote historian Richard Bushman, and he could just as accurately have said of Joseph and Emma's life and of the lives of many Latter-day Saints today. It is hard to imagine a more wrenching test for Joseph, and it was incomparably difficult for Emma. The revelation forced them—and us—to find out whether we trust the God who gave it. That would not be an Abrahamic test if the circumstances were simple and made sense, as if the gospel could be summed up as "exaltation made effortless." The God of Abraham is all for all. Indeed, Abraham heard him saying that his plan for his children was to "prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" (Abraham 3:25). He asks all and gives everything, including his Only Begotten Son. He asked Joseph to accept plural marriage. He asked Emma to consent to it, even to sustain it, when it seemed to her more repugnant than anything else she could imagine.

Section 132 leads us to the conclusion that God requires all of our hearts first and foremost before he finishes the work of sealing them to each other and exalting them forever. The same revelation that requires such an extreme sacrifice of Emma, after all, sets forth the terms and conditions on which she will be exalted with Joseph. It seems that one of the main points of section 132 is to assure Joseph that he and Emma will be exalted together, that despite the wedge plural marriage has driven between them, the Lord will weld them eternally. Joseph had specifically prayed in the Kirtland Temple that Emma and their children would be exalted (D&C 109:68–69).

That would not require an exception to the law, for the law of exaltation is set forth in Doctrine and Covenants 132:7, 19–20, and the historical record shows that Joseph and Emma met its terms and conditions precisely. They made and entered the covenant on May 28, 1843, and received the confirming ordinance section 132 refers to as "most holy" on September 28, 1843 (v. 7). Though neither Joseph nor Emma was flawless after meeting the conditions on which the Lord will exalt them, neither committed the unpardonable sin verse 27 describes. Emma was never excommunicated, her ordinances never voided. She gave her children faith in the Book of Mormon but [later] blamed Brigham Young for plural marriage. It seems as if the Lord spoke verse 26 specifically to set Joseph's mind at ease about Emma's eternal destiny. Perhaps that knowledge was the "escape" Joseph needed in order to make the extreme "sacrifices" for plural marriage that contributed to his death (v. 50; see D&C 135).

As they parted for the last time on earth, Emma asked Joseph for a blessing. He was unable to minister to her then but bade her write the desires of her heart and he would seal it. She wrote of her desire "to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side." She wrote, in other words, that she wanted the blessings promised to her in section 132 and that she desired to obey its challenging commands. The next time Emma saw Joseph he had been shot to death. But section 132 makes that a small matter, for it promises them, and all others who make and keep the same covenants, "Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths" (v. 19). Those last three words sum up section 132, the highest and deepest of Joseph's revelations. (Largey, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, p. (2012), © Deseret Book Company. Used by Permission.)