38 New and Everlasting Covenant

The New and Everlasting Covenant & Polygamy

CES Letter Core Question

Is the New and Everlasting Covenant polygamy?

Prophets & Polygamy (Continued)

It’s even in the scriptures:

“For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”

CES Letter, Page 64

The new and everlasting covenant of marriage is part of the new and everlasting covenant. It is eternal marriage, not plural marriage.

An 1831 revelation through Joseph Smith defines the everlasting covenant as “the fulness of my gospel, sent forth unto the children of men, that they might have life and be made partakers of the glories which are to be revealed in the last days” (D&C 66:2; see also 133:57).  All mortal who inherit celestial glory will enter into this covenant (D&C 76:101; D&C 131:2), which is comprised of bonds that cannot be broken (D&C 78:11).

The everlasting covenant existed even before the world was organized.  “Wherefore, I say unto you that I have sent unto you mine everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning” (D&C 49:9; italics added).  From the beginning, God has made covenants with mortals on earth and as they comply with them, they are blessed even with exaltation (D&C 6:1, 14:7, 132:23).  Compliance begins with baptism (D&C 22:1-4) and is completed through temple ordinances including eternal marriage sealings (D&C 131:2, 132:4, 18-20).

The Lord's pattern is to reveal the everlasting covenant to believers on earth.  Then, when it is lost through apostasy, He reveals it again to a living prophet as a “new” covenant.  That prophet is authorized to teach and is given priesthood authority to administer the requisite ordinances. Joseph Smith taught “…in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given” (D&C 128:9).

The scriptures indicate that this covenant was made with Adam (Moses 6:54-55), Enoch (JST Genesis 9:21-23, 13:13), Noah (Genesis 9:16), Abraham (Genesis 17:7, 13, 19), Jacob (1 Chronicles 16:17), and Moses and the Children of Israel (Leviticus 24:8, Numbers 25:13, Jeremiah 32:40).  Although Christ came in the meridian of time, He is the mediator of this covenant (Hebrews 13:20).   Joseph Smith taught that the everlasting covenant would be reestablished through him (D&C 1:17-22; see also 15) “to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me” (D&C 42:9). 

The first public references to the new and everlasting covenant of marriage came in 1843.  In May the Prophet 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.”   Then two months later, on July 16, he became more specific. According to William Clayton, “He [Joseph Smith] 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.” 

Some of the details of this covenant were recorded on July 12, 1843 in a revelation that is now section 132 in the Doctrine and Covenants. The opening verses explain that once it is revealed to a people, this covenant must be obeyed—that is, once the sealing ordinance is introduced among God’s followers on earth, they must marry according to that covenant or incur divine condemnation. The revelation reads:

For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God. (D&C 132:4-6)

Some authors assert that these verses universally command the practice of plural marriage and that anything besides polygamy (i.e. monogamy) brings damnation.  However, later verses in the revelation demonstrate that the “covenant” that must be obeyed is eternal marriage, not plural marriage.  Verse nineteen promises exaltation to a man who marries a wife monogamously by proper authority and they live worthily.

The threat of damnation in these verses is directed at individuals who have the opportunity to be sealed in eternal marriage, but instead choose a civil union or some other form of matrimony. They are “damned” in the sense that they “remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity” (D&C 132:17) and are not married in the next life. This threat of eternal consequences is similar to that accompanying other covenants and ordinances. For example, a person cannot reject baptism when the opportunity is presented and thereafter expect a second chance to accept it without penalties (see Alma 34:33-35; D&C 45:2).

The revelation further explains how a husband and “a wife” will be exalted if they are sealed by proper authority and they live worthily: “Verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, . . . [it] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things” (D&C 132:19).

Modern polygamists are all condemned because their marriages are not authorized.  See D&C 132:18, 38.

Additional Resources:

Did Joseph Smith Teach Exaltation Requires Plural Marriage?

“The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage” LDS.org Essay 

“Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” LDS.org Essay

“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” LDS.org Essay

“Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah” LDS.org Essay

Like Two Crazy Aunts in the Attic: Latter-day Saints and Popular Polygamy Stereotypes” (2010 FAIR Conference) by Craig L. Foster

“Mercy Thompson and the Revelation on Marriage: D&C 132″ by Jed Woodworth

A Reconciliation of Polygamy by Valerie Hudson

The Fallacy of Fundamentalist Assumptions” (2005 FAIR Conference) by Blake T. Ostler

Separated but not Divorced: The LDS Church’s Uncomfortable Relationship with its Polygamous Past” by Craig L. Foster

Hagar in LDS Scripture and Thought” by Andrew C. Smith

Plural Marriage and the Half-Empty-Glass School of Historiography –  by Allen L. Wyatt

Prologue to the Study of Joseph Smith’s Marital Theology –  by Danel W. Bachman

Articles of Faith 3: Craig L. Foster on Polygamy and its relationship to the LDS Church, Craig L Foster, 0:33:04

Best of Fair 12: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask), Dr. Greg Smith, 1:02:38

Mormon FAIR-Cast 85: Foundations of fundamentalist polygamy, Martin Tanner, 0:19:55

Mormon FAIR-Cast 187: Polygamy Roundtable, Gregory L. Smith, 1:25:20

Polygamy and its relationship to the LDS Church- Craig Foster

Mormon FAIR-Cast 85: Foundations of fundamentalist polygamy

Joseph Smith’s Polygamy –Dr. Brian Hales– Fair Mormon Podcast

Polygamy as an Abrahamic Sacrifice–Dr. Valerie Hudson– Fair Mormon Podcast

Plural Marriage and Maintaining Faith- Dr. Gregory Smith- Fair Mormon Podcast

The Naturalistic vs. Faithful View of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Brian Hales

12 Myths Regarding Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Brian Hales 

Fundamentalists and the 1890 Manifesto