D&C 132 was recorded on July 12, 1843. In this section, God revealed to Joseph Smith the Celestial Law of Marriage, and showed that a man could be sealed to multiple wives if done with the proper priesthood authority. On the other hand, women are not supposed to be sealed to multiple men. However, verse 51 offers a vague reference:
A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her;
The subject of polygamy was quite controversial with Emma. in a previous post, Richard Van Wagoner noted the issue of polygamy
left Joseph and Emma’s marriage hanging by a thread. Emma spent the last three years of her husband’s life jealously battling his errant yearnings, more than once threatening to return to her family in New York. On one occasion, according to Smith’s private secretary, she threatened that if he continued to “indulge himself she would too.” [William Clayton Diary] Although Emma apparently countenanced two of her husband’s 1843 sealings “to Emily and Eliza Partridge“ she recanted within a day and demanded that Joseph give them up or “blood should flow.” Her change of heart came after she found Joseph and Eliza Partridge secluded in an upstairs bedroom at the Smith home. The realization that the sealing represented more than a “spiritual marriage” or “adoptive ordinance” devastated her. [From page 293]
Some of the footnotes are very interesting on this subject. Footnote 26 on page 305 quotes an 1844 expose of Mormonism. I don’t know if this can be corroborated, but I found it interesting.
Emma’s threat to “be revenged and indulge herself” may have been merely a warning to the prophet to give up his spiritual wives. But Joseph H. Jackson, a non-Mormon opportunist who gained the confidence of the prophet in Nauvoo, recorded in an 1844 expose of Mormonism: “Emma wanted [William] Law for a spiritual husband,” and because Joseph “had so many spiritual wives,” she thought it but fair that she would at least have one man spiritually sealed up to her and that she wanted Law, because he was such a “sweet little man.”
Although there is nothing to suggest that Law and Emma were more to each other than friends, Law later confirmed that Joseph “offered to furnish his wife Emma with a substitute for him, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would forever stop her opposition to polygamy and permit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in his house and to be well treated, etc.” (Salt Lake Tribune, 3 July 1887.)
This seems to be related to verse 51 mentioned above. The revelation ended the offer that Emma could be sealed to another man. Most people assume that a woman can be sealed to only one man. However, temple ordinances allow a woman to be sealed to multiple men. Devery Anderson’s book called The Development of LDS Temple Worship 1846-2000 has some fascinating notes from David O. McKay’s diary which shows how this process came about.
In 1969, Apostle (and future president) Howard W. Hunter approached President McKay with a few problems. Elder Hunter noted that the current practice was to seal a woman to her first husband. I’ll highlight parts of the minutes from a Jan 14, 1969 meeting.
[Hunter] said there have been cases where the family has said that the mother or grandmother, whoever it might be, did not want to be sealed to her first husband, that she did not respect him and had more affection for her second or third husband, as the case might be, and under such circumstances she was sealed to the second or third husband. He said that where we have trouble is in cases that go beyond the point of memory, that, for instance, when we go to the parish records in England, and other registries, and we find the woman has been married to several men, we do not know what her wishes or desires were and so ordinarily she would be sealed to the first husband, except in cases when we had enough information to indicate that the second or third one would be the appropriate husband to seal her to. He said all of this is a little arbitrary and is based upon lack of facts.
He mentioned the recent decision of the First Presidency[,] going into the computer program[,] to the effect that we would go through the parish register of marriages and seal all women to their husbands wherever we found their record of marriage in the parish records. He said this results sometimes in a woman being sealed to more than one husband, that sometimes where a woman has been married more than once she is sealed to two persons. This was approved by the First Presidency.
The entry continues for quite some time, but Elder Hunter advocated for the policy that a women should be sealed to all of her husbands she lived with in life, and then she would be able to choose who she wanted to be sealed to in the hereafter. It was noted that on the subject of baptism for the dead, a person must choose to accept the baptism.
President McKay tentatively approved Elder Hunter’s request, and suggested a letter should be drawn up. On Feb 3, 1969, Elder Hugh B. Brown indicated some concern with the change in policy, and felt that the existing policy should not be changed. However, a March 6 diary entry from President McKay indicates an interesting case in history.
[There] was a custom in the early days of the Church for a woman to be sealed to a good man in the Church, a General Authority or someone else who was still living, other than her deceased husband who died without accepting the gospel. The sealing was performed as an assurance for an eternal union in the hereafter. If is now recommended that inasmuch as President Wilford Woodruff received a revelation which altered this practice, that in such cases prior to 1890 when this ruling was made, if a woman was sealed to a deceased member of the Church or to a living member of the church but did not live with him as a wife, permission be granted for her to be sealed also to her non-member deceased husband to whom she had been married in life. The original sealing will not, however, be cancelled. President [N. Eldon] Tanner asked me if I could see anything wrong about such a ruling, and I said no.
It appears that from this time forth, deceased women are sealed to all husbands that she lived with. A Dec 8, 1988 circular letter signed by Presidents Benson, Hinckley, and Monson confirmed
- A deceased woman sealed in life to one husband many also be sealed to another man with whom she lived as a wife.
The Church Handbook of Instructions from 1998 also confirms
A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life.
So, contrary to popular belief, a woman can be sealed to more than one man. Are you surprised?