“Lesson 24: Doctrinal Developments in Nauvoo,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)
“Lesson 24,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material
Doctrinal Developments in Nauvoo
Introduction and Timeline
While visiting Benjamin and Melissa Johnson at their home in Ramus, Illinois, on May 16, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that entering into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage is required for exaltation (see D&C 131:1–4) and then sealed the couple for eternity. About two weeks later, Joseph and Emma Smith were sealed for eternity in Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Illinois. During this time, Joseph also continued to obey the Lord’s commandment to practice plural marriage. Emma consented to several of Joseph’s plural marriages but struggled to accept the practice. At that time, revelation that Joseph Smith had previously received from the Lord concerning plural marriage had not yet been recorded. Hyrum Smith, believing that he could convince Emma that plural marriage was of God, asked Joseph to record a revelation on plural marriage. On July 12, 1843, Joseph Smith dictated the revelation now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, which explains principles of eternal marriage and the practice of plural marriage.
May 16, 1843While visiting Ramus, Illinois, Joseph Smith taught that eternal marriage is required for exaltation (see D&C 131).
May 28, 1843Joseph and Emma Smith were sealed for eternity.
Late June, 1843Officers attempted to arrest Joseph Smith and take him to Missouri to be tried on false charges.
July 12, 1843Joseph Smith dictated a revelation on eternal marriage and the practice of plural marriage (see D&C 132).
Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapters 40–41
Suggestions for Teaching
Joseph Smith declares that eternal marriage is essential for exaltation
Explain that most Christian religions, both in Joseph Smith’s time and today, believe in one of two concepts about heaven. One view is that after death a righteous person becomes an angel who worships God but does not experience family relationships. This belief holds that earthly relationships are temporal and end at death. The other view is that in addition to worshipping God, those who die maintain relationships with family members and friends. (See Jed Woodworth, “Mercy Thompson and the Revelation on Marriage,” in Revelations in Context, 282, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg , or history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.)
Invite a student to read aloud the following paragraph summarizing what Phebe Woodruff and her husband, Wilford, communicated in 1843 while he was serving a mission:
“While Wilford was away, Phebe had written to him, asking if he thought their love would ever be divided in eternity. He responded with a poem expressing his hope that their love would thrive beyond the tomb” (Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 , 509–10).
Why do you think many people, like Phebe and Wilford Woodruff, have desired that their relationships last beyond this life?
Invite students to look for principles and doctrine during this lesson that can help them better understand truth about marriage relationships beyond this life.
Display the accompanying image of Benjamin F. Johnson. Explain that Benjamin and his wife, Melissa, had been married for nearly 17 months when the Prophet Joseph Smith visited them at their home in Ramus, Illinois, in May 1843.
Display the following account by Benjamin F. Johnson, and invite a student to read it aloud.
“In the evening [Joseph Smith] called me and my wife to come and sit down, for he wished to marry us according to the Law of the Lord. I thought it a joke, and said I should not marry my wife again, unless she courted me, for I did it all the first time. He chided my levity, told me he was in earnest, and so it proved, for we stood up and were sealed” (Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review , 96).
If Benjamin had better understood what the Prophet was referring to, how might he have reacted differently?
Explain that William Clayton, a scribe for Joseph Smith, recorded the Prophet’s teachings to the Johnsons about eternal marriage (see Matthew McBride, “Our Hearts Rejoiced to Hear Him Speak,” in Revelations in Context, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg , 279–80, or history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Some of those teachings are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Prophet Joseph Smith taught about eternal marriage.
What principle can we identify from verses 1–2 about the significance of eternal marriage in Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation? (Students should identify the following principle: In order to obtain the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, we must enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.)
Explain that in this context the word new means that the covenant was newly restored in our dispensation; the word everlasting means that the covenant, including its blessings, is eternal. We enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage today when we receive the marriage sealing ordinance in the temple.
How can knowing this truth impact the way we view marriage?
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Parley P. Pratt (1807–57) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who learned of the doctrine of eternal marriage as early as 1839. Ask the class to follow along, looking for words or phrases that show how Elder Pratt felt after learning that marriage relationships can be eternal.
“It was from [Joseph Smith] that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore. …
“I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling, which would lift my soul from the transitory things of this grovelling sphere and expand it as the ocean. … In short, I could now love with the spirit and with the understanding also” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. , 297–98).
How did learning the doctrine of eternal marriage influence Elder Pratt?
Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith knew that once the Nauvoo Temple was completed, the sealing ordinance would be available to all worthy Church members. Prior to the completion of the temple, the Lord authorized Joseph to teach the doctrine of eternal marriage to a few faithful Church members and seal them together. On May 28, 1843, Joseph and Emma Smith were sealed for eternity in an upper room of the Red Brick Store in Nauvoo.
Joseph Smith dictates revelation on eternal and plural marriage
Explain that in addition to teaching about eternal marriage, the Prophet Joseph Smith also continued to teach some Church members about plural marriage. Remind students that Joseph reluctantly obeyed the Lord’s commandment to practice plural marriage after repeated warnings from an angel (see “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org; see also lesson 21). Joseph’s practice of plural marriage was difficult for himself and for his wife Emma. Emma consented to several of Joseph’s plural marriages but struggled to accept the practice. In July 1843, the Prophet’s brother Hyrum volunteered to speak with Emma to try to convince her of the truthfulness of the principle of plural marriage. At that time, revelation that Joseph Smith had previously received from the Lord concerning plural marriage had not yet been recorded (see William Clayton, affidavit, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, Feb. 16, 1874, in Affidavits about Celestial Marriage, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
Ask the students to locate chapter 41 of Saints: Volume 1. Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from page 502, starting with the paragraph that begins “On the morning of …” and concluding with the paragraph on page 503 that begins “When Joseph finished …” Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord revealed about the covenant of marriage. Explain that this revelation is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132.
What is required for a marriage to continue after death? (A couple must be married by the proper priesthood authority, their covenant must be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, and they must remain faithful to their covenants [see D&C 132:19]).
What blessings does the Lord promise those who fulfill these requirements? (They will receive the blessings of exaltation, which include becoming like God and having an eternal increase [see D&C 132:19–20].)
According to this revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, what are some reasons why the Lord has commanded plural marriage? (To raise up children in righteous families and bring about their exaltation [see D&C 132:63]. Point out that other reasons for plural marriage mentioned in the revelation include to “restore all things” [see D&C 132:40, 45] and to provide a way for the Saints to be proven or tried, even as Abraham [see D&C 132:51].)
Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from page 504 of Saints: Volume 1, starting with the paragraph that begins “Hyrum returned …” and concluding with the paragraph that begins “Joseph and Emma wept …” Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Emma responded when Hyrum presented the revelation to her.
Why do you think it is important that we refrain from judging Emma Smith for her reaction to the practice of plural marriage?
Display the following recollection by Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, who was sealed to the Prophet, and invite a student to read it aloud:
“The Prophet said that the practice of [plural marriage] would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith” (Helen Mar Whitney, “Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo,” Woman’s Exponent, Nov. 1, 1881, 83).
Explain that plural marriage was a difficult commandment for most to obey, and the Prophet Joseph Smith promised those who were asked to live it that if they sought a spiritual confirmation that plural marriage was commanded by God, they would receive one.
Divide students into small groups, and give them copies of the accompanying handout, “Testimonies That Plural Marriage Was Commanded by God.” This handout contains accounts by Phebe Woodruff, Zina Diantha Huntington Young, and Lorenzo Snow, all of whom were affected by the commandment to practice plural marriage. Ask students to read the accounts together and discuss their responses to the questions on the handout.
After students have finished their discussion, invite a few students to share their responses to the questions on the handout.
What principle can we learn from these individuals about what we can do when we face difficult questions about the Church’s teachings or history? (Students may say something similar to the following: As we prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance, He will bless us with assurances that will help us to move forward with faith.)
Invite a student to read the following statement by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles aloud:
Neil L. Andersen
“Faith never demands an answer to every question but seeks the assurance and courage to move forward, sometimes acknowledging, ‘I don’t know everything, but I do know enough to continue on the path of discipleship’” (Neil L. Andersen, “Faith Is Not by Chance, but by Choice,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015, 66).
How could this statement be helpful for a person who has questions about the practice of plural marriage in the early Church?
Explain that the practice of plural marriage was eventually discontinued in response to a revelation given to President Wilford Woodruff (see Official Declaration 1). Although we are not asked to live the law of plural marriage today, it is important that we receive an assurance that Joseph Smith was following the will of the Lord when he obeyed and taught this difficult commandment.
Invite a student to read the following statement by Elder Neil L. Andersen aloud:
Neil L. Andersen
“Questions concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith are not new. … To those of faith who, looking through the colored glasses of the 21st century, honestly question events or statements of the Prophet Joseph from nearly 200 years ago, may I share some friendly advice: For now, give Brother Joseph a break! In a future day, you will have 100 times more information than from all of today’s search engines combined, and it will come from our all-knowing Father in Heaven. Consider the totality of Joseph’s life—born in poverty and given little formal education, he translated the Book of Mormon in less than 90 days. Tens of thousands of honest, devoted men and women embraced the cause of the Restoration. At age 38, Joseph sealed his witness with his blood. I testify that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Settle this in your mind, and move forward!” (Neil L. Andersen, “Faith Is Not by Chance, but by Choice,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015, 66).
Why do you think it is important for us to settle in our minds that Joseph Smith was an inspired prophet of God?
What are some things we can do to strengthen our faith in the prophetic calling and mission of Joseph Smith?
How has your testimony and assurance of Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission helped you to move forward with faith when you have faced difficult questions?
Testify that Joseph Smith was an inspired prophet of God who was faithful to the Lord’s commandments. Encourage students to seek their own assurances from the Lord so that they can move forward with faith.
Invite students to prepare for the next class by studying chapters 42–43 of Saints: Volume 1.
Testimonies That Plural Marriage Was Commanded by God handout