[very rough draft]


In her 1881 autobiographical letter, Helen Mar Kimball wrote:

I heard him [Joseph Smith] teach and explain the principle of celestial marriage. After which he said to me, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred.” This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward.

Brian Hales argued against the idea that this is “solid evidence that the Prophet promised exaltation to at least one of his plural wives and her family if they would agree to the marriage” because:

… one year later Helen clarified that she may not have understood everything correctly: “I confess that I was too young or too ‘foolish’ to comprehend and appreciate all” that Joseph Smith then taught.

[quotes from her family]

Sarah Ann Whitney blessing

Sarah Ann Whitney blessing:

Oh Lord my God thou that dwellest on high bless I beseach of thee the one into whose hands this may fall and crown her with a diadem of glory in the Eternal worlds Oh let it Sealed this day on high that She Shall come forth in the first reserrection to recieve the Same and verily it Shall be so Saith the Lord if She remain in the Everlasting covenant to the end as also all her Fathers house Shall be Saved in the Same Eternal glory and if any of them Shall wander from the foald of the Lord they Shall not perish but Shall return Saith the Lord and be Saived in and by repentance be crowned with all the fullness of the glory of the Everlasting gospelel these promises I Seal upon all of their heads in the name of Jesus Christ by the Law of the holy preisthood Even so Amen

Joseph Smith
Sarah Ann Whitney)

Breaking down the promises

Besides the potential ambuiguity of the meaning of the word “shall”, the blessing is a conglomerate of conditional unconditional statements.

  1. “I beseach of thee …”
  2. “… let it [be] Sealed …”
  3. “if She remain in the Everlasting covenant to the end”
  4. “… [family] be Saived in and by repentance …”
  1. “… let it [be] Sealed …”
  2. “… She Shall come forth in the first reserrection …”1
  3. “…verily it Shall be so Saith the Lord…”
  4. “her Fathers house Shall be Saved in the Same Eternal glory…”1
  5. “…they Shall not perish”1
  6. “…but Shall return Saith the Lord and be Saived …”1
  7. “…these promises I Seal upon all of their heads …”

Most importantly, at least some of these promises are clearly directed towards the entire family: “… these promises I Seal upon all of their heads …”

Reconciling the conditional unconditionals

Joseph Smith’s proposal to Lucy Walker, according to a later reminiscence of Lucy, included verbiage of a gate being closed were she to “reject this message”:

I have no flattering words to offer. It [to accept his proposal or perhaps enter into a polygamous relationship] is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.

A passage from The Book of Mormon also uses the gate metaphor and may offer, by analogy, a way to reconcile the conditional and unconditional promises. The Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 2:17–20 states:

do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water … And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path [via the gate], I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay … Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

So, one way to interpret the promises generally and promise given to Helen Mar Kimball specifically is that it would ensure certain blessings conditioned only on continual righteous. By entering into plural marriage with Joseph, Helen had entered into “the gate” to secure these higher blessings.

In colloquial terms, the promises were guaranteed but certain terms and conditions still apply for the guarantee to be honored.

Dramatic reversal of position

[discuss how HMK was very non-plussed about the situation and what Joseph Smith said was a huge turning point in her mind. Did she really misunderstand or did Joseph oversell it?]

Why we do not marry 14 year olds

[If Hales’s argument is correct, then this is a great reason not to marry 14 year olds (regardless of whether you have sex with them)!]

[Why didn’t Joseph postpone the marriage? What was the rush??]

[Best case, the wishes of the father superseceded the concerns of the daughter. Worst case, Joseph wanted to marry her for power or sexuality, either immediately or deferred]

  1. Just like today, the word “shall” may be somewhat ambigious in meaning 2 3 4