The LDS Church today views the sealing ceremony—the means by which family relationships may be secured beyond the grave—as one of the most important doctrines revealed in this dispensation (e.g., 1, 2, 2).
However, if the raison d’être of the sealing ceremony is to extend the family unit into the afterlife, we would expect one of the first sealings in this dispensation to have been Joseph Smith to his wife Emma:
- As other ordinances became available, Joseph was eager for his family members to be among the first to receive them (e.g., Joseph baptized several family members the same day the Church was organized).
- Emma was Joseph Smith’s first wife, his only legal wife, and the love of his youth. His relationship with her extended through multiple births, the deaths of many children, and lasted the duration of Joseph’s life. Primary evidence exists of the affection they shared for one another (for example). It stands to reason that Joseph would have had substantial desire and motivation to have been sealed to Emma just as soon as he understood the purpose and significance of the sealing ceremony.
- Joseph and Emma suffered the loss of many children, so the sealing ceremony (either Joseph to Emma or, even more importantly, their children to parents) would have been especially comforting and applicable to both Emma and Joseph.
- As understood in the modern LDS Church today, sealing to one’s wife, children, or parents is completely independent of polygamy. In this context, we can imagine nothing that would have prevented Joseph Smith from having the sealing performed between him and Emma as soon as it was revealed to him or its significance understood by him, regardless of Emma’s feelings towards polygamy.
The following are facts which contradict our expectation:
- Two years, one month, and twenty-three days elapsed between Joseph Smith’s first sealing (Louisa Beaman April 5, 1841) and his sealing to Emma (May 28, 1843). Before his sealing to Emma, Joseph would be sealed first to approximately twenty other women (“23rd” and 16 well documented sealings).
- Joseph never sealed himself to his parents or children during his lifetime (see footnote #6)
- Joseph Smith’s first polygamous relationship was viewed as adulterous by both Emma and Oliver Cowdery, the two individuals closest to him at the time. LDS Historian Brian Hales wrote of Joseph’s relationship with Fanny “it is obvious Emma did not believe the ceremony was valid and concluded the relationship was adulterous. Ironically, Oliver Cowdery, who Joseph summoned to diffuse the situation, sided with Emma, discounting the validity of the polygamous marriage.”
Given the above statements and data, one or both of the following are likely to be true:
- The original, primary intent of the sealing ceremony (either revealed by God or independently generated by Joseph Smith) was other than the extension of the monogamous family unit into the afterlife. The sealing ceremony, for instance, may have been part of the legitimization of what would have otherwise been viewed by the Latter-day Saint people as illicit and improper polygamous relationships.
- Joseph Smith misunderstood the significance or proper application of the sealing power as it was originally revealed to him or the modern LDS view of the sealing ceremony differs significantly from Joseph Smith’s conception of it.