Historical Context and Background of D&C 132

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

Section 132 is heaven and hell, exaltation and damnation, the best thing in the Doctrine and Covenants and the worst. It made Joseph F. Smith feel like he had to qualify it. “When the revelation was written, in 1843,” he explained,

it was for a special purpose, by the request of the Patriarch Hyrum Smith [Joseph F.’s father] and was not then designed to go forth to the church or to the world. It is most probable that had it been then written with a view to its going out as a doctrine of the church, it would have been presented in a somewhat different form.

He said it included intensely personal things that addressed its immediate context but weren’t relevant “to the principle itself.”1

Joseph F. was spot on. Section 132 is about marriage, specifically Joseph’s marriage to Emma Hale. Would it endure beyond death? Would it even endure for another week? Those were Joseph’s questions in July 1843. The revelation answers them conditionally. Joseph had those questions because of the answers he had received years before to two questions about the Bible. Verse 1 restates Joseph’s question about the seemingly adulterous yet Biblical practice of polygyny—simultaneously having more than one wife—by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. The other question comes from Matthew 22:30, Jesus’s teaching that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”

The answer to that one was wonderful news: those who make and keep the new and everlasting covenant of marriage will be exalted. But the answer to the other question was more than Joseph anticipated. The Book of Mormon forbade plural marriage unless the Lord commanded otherwise (Jacob 2:28–30). Joseph’s own revelations declared adultery an abomination and promised punishment. “With these prohibitions emblazoned on his own revelations, Joseph was torn by the command to take plural wives. What about the curses and the destruction promised adulterers? What about the heart of his tender wife?”2

Though he began to obey it within a few years, Joseph did not dare to write the revelation until its hard doctrines put so much strain on his marriage to Emma in the summer of 1843 that he decided to write it in hopes that it would help her. He entered a plural marriage with Fanny Alger in the 1830s, though it did not last. Then, between early 1841 and fall 1843, Joseph was sealed to approximately thirty women. About a third of them were already married at the time. As historian Richard Bushman noted, “Nothing confuses the picture of Joseph Smith’s character more than these plural marriages.” He continues, “What drove him to a practice that put his life and his work in jeopardy, not to mention his relationship with Emma?”

At times Emma worked up the will to consent to some of the sealings, but then her will to do so broke. She had forsaken her parents and siblings to marry and follow Joseph. She believed in him as much as anyone and made monumental sacrifices for her faith. But this one was Abrahamic. All she had was Joseph, and that was enough to compensate for all she had laid aside, but now she was being asked to share him. She would not do it willingly, at least not consistently. During a period of willingness, however, in May 1843 she and Joseph were sealed together.

By July, Emma was struggling to be reconciled to the revelation. Joseph and Hyrum counseled about what to do for her and decided to write the revelation and see if it would help. William Clayton, Joseph’s secretary, wrote the revelation as Joseph dictated with Hyrum present at Joseph’s upstairs office in his Nauvoo store. It took nearly three hours and ten pages to write, after which William read it back to Joseph for accuracy. Hyrum optimistically took it to Emma, who rejected it. Clayton confided to his journal that Joseph “appears much troubled about E[mma].”3

By September Emma again reconciled to the revelation, and she and Joseph received the crowning ordinances of exaltation section 132 describes esoterically in verses 7 and 19.4 Joseph was determined that if he were going to break Emma’s heart to obey a command, he would not lose her eternally. He was heard to say, “You must never speak evil of Emma.”5

Section 132 is an extraordinarily complicated text. Not only does it intertwine the answers to two questions, but it is the culmination of the Restoration, the most exalted of the exaltation revelations (see sections 76, 84, 88, 93, and 131). It sets forth gospel fulness in cryptic terms, as if some of its pearls are too precious to be viewed publicly. Moreover, though it contains much that was revealed to Joseph earlier, the actual text of section 132 was determined by events in the summer of 1843, including Emma’s opposition to Joseph’s plural marriages, an otherwise unknown test the Lord gave her, and her concerns about the economic security of herself and her children.

Section 132 is Abrahamic in every sense. If you choose to read it, pay special attention to the Lord’s rationale throughout. Plural marriage is meant to be an Abrahamic test. The revelation ends with assurance the Lord will reveal more later (D&C 132:66). Meanwhile, “plural marriage was the most difficult trial of 1843,” wrote Bushman and, he could just as accurately have said, of Joseph and Emma’s life and the lives of many Latter-day Saints today.6 It is hard to imagine a more wrenching test for Joseph, and it was incomparably difficult for Emma. The revelation forced them—and us—to find out whether we will trust the God who gave it. That is characteristic of the God of Abraham, who puts his children through wrenching tests to “prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25).

Section 132 leads us to the conclusion that God requires all our hearts first and foremost before he finishes the work of sealing them to each other and exalting them forever. The same revelation that requires such an extreme sacrifice of Emma, after all, sets forth the terms and conditions on which she will be exalted with Joseph. It seems that one of the main points of section 132, in fact, is to assure Joseph that he and Emma will be exalted together, that despite the wedge plural marriage drove between them, the Lord will weld them eternally. Joseph specifically prayed in the Kirtland temple that Emma and their children would be exalted. The Lord seems likely to answer that prayer (D&C 109:68–69).

When he does, it will not be an exception to the law of exaltation in section 132:7, 19–20. Historical records show that Joseph and Emma met its terms and conditions. They made and entered the covenant on May 28, 1843 and received the confirming ordinance section 132 refers to as “most holy” on September 28, 1843 (D&C 132:7).7 Though neither Joseph nor Emma was flawless, after meeting the conditions on which the Lord will exalt them, neither committed the unpardonable sin verse 27 describes as the only way to nullify the promised blessings. Emma was not excommunicated; her ordinances were not voided. She gave her children faith in the Book of Mormon but blamed Brigham Young for plural marriage. It seems as if the Lord spoke D&C 132:26 specifically to set Joseph at ease about Emma’s eternal destiny. Perhaps that knowledge was an “escape” Joseph needed in order to make the extreme “sacrifices” for plural marriage that contributed to his death (see section 135) (D&C 132:49–50).

As they parted for the last time on earth, Emma asked Joseph for a blessing. He was under pressure and unable to bless her then but bade her to write the desires of her heart and he would seal them later. She wrote of her desire “to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side.”8 She wrote, in other words, that she wanted the blessings promised to her in section 132 and that she desired to obey its challenging commands. The next time Emma saw Joseph he had been shot to death. Section 132 makes that a small matter. It promises them, and all others who make and keep the same covenants, “Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths.”

There it is. Section 132 is heaven and hell, exaltation and damnation, heights and depths. Perhaps we are to learn from it that if we never plumb depths, we can’t expect to ascend the heights.

1. Joseph F. Smith, “Discourse,” Deseret News, September 11, 1878, 498.

2. Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 441.

3. Smith, ed., William Clayton, Journal, July 12, 1843. William Clayton Letterbooks, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah.

4. Faulring, ed., American Prophet’s Record, September 28, 1843; William Clayton, Journal, October 19, 1843, in George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995), 122.

5. According to Lucy M. Wright in Woman’s Exponent, 30:59.

6. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 490.

7. Faulring, American Prophet’s Record, September 28, 1843; Andrew F. Ehat, “Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1981, 76–84; William Clayton, Journal, October 19, 1843, in George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995), 122.

8. Cited in Carol Cornwall Madsen, “The ‘Elect Lady’ Revelation: The Historical and Doctrinal Context of Doctrine and Covenants 25,” in The Heavens Are Open (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1993), 208.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

Doctrine and Covenants 132 contains some of the most uplifting and some of the most controversial revelations of Joseph Smith. In the section, Joseph outlines the principles of eternal marriage, explaining how the sealing power can allow family relationships to continue beyond the grave. Joseph also taught the principles of plural marriage, pointing back to the righteous patriarchs of the Old Testament, such as Abraham and Israel. These teachings were received in the intensely personal context of ongoing discussions about this topic between Joseph Smith and his wife Emma.

We do not know the precise origins of plural marriage in the Church, although evidence suggests that some of the principles of plural marriage were known as early as 1831. It is likely that Joseph Smith began asking questions about the practice while engaged in his project to produce a new translation of the Bible. Doctrine and Covenants 132 directly states that Joseph prayed to know why Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon entered into the practice of having more than one wife. The Lord responded that He had commanded these prophets to enter into these relationships (D&C 132:34–38).

Throughout the 1830s, Joseph Smith began to privately teach a small number of Latter-day Saint couples that their relationships would become eternal if they endured in the faith. William W. Phelps wrote to his wife in 1835 about “a new idea, Sally, if you and I continue faithful to the end, we are certain of being one in the Lord throughout eternity.”1 To the early Saints, the ideas of eternal marriage and plural marriage were connected to each other in the minds of the early Saints. By the late 1830s, Joseph may have taken his first plural wife, a woman named Fanny Alger. Sources on this relationship are scattered, and because this information was related by some participants decades after the fact, these sources must be approached with caution. However, the sources indicate that Joseph entered into a marriage with the consent of Fanny Alger as well as that of her parents. We do not know what conversations Joseph and Emma had about this first plural union.2 After Joseph left Ohio, the union seems to have ended, and Joseph set aside the practice of plural marriage for several years.3

Joseph revisited the practice after the Saints began to establish themselves in Nauvoo. During the early 1840s, Joseph began to introduce the principles of eternal marriage and plural marriage to a small group of trusted associates. By the time the revelation in section 132 was given, Joseph Smith had entered into several plural relationships. He had also continued to discuss the practice with Emma Smith, who quite understandably struggled to accept this new teaching. Doctrine and Covenants 132 was initially received to help Emma understand the principles surrounding the practice.

Section 132 was written down at the request of Hyrum Smith, who was seeking to help Emma understand plural marriage. Hyrum Smith had also struggled with the new teaching at first, but after careful discussions and prayer, he became convinced of its truth.4 Hyrum offered to help Emma understand its principles as well. William Clayton, Joseph Smith’s scribe, remembered being present when the revelation was recorded. He recorded that on July 12, 1843, Joseph and Hyrum Smith sat down in the office on the upper floor of Joseph’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo. Hyrum told Joseph, “If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.” Joseph smiled and said, “You do not know Emma as well as I do.” Hyrum felt that “the doctrine is so plain, I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity[,] and heavenly origin.” Joseph asked William to get some paper so he could record the revelation.5

Joseph then sat down and dictated Doctrine and Covenants 132 while William Clayton recorded it sentence by sentence. When Joseph was finished, he asked William to read the revelation back to him, and he pronounced it correct. Joseph then commented “that there was much more that he could write on the same subject, but what was written was sufficient for the present.”6 Hyrum took the revelation to Emma while Joseph and William waited in the office. When Hyrum returned, Joseph asked how Emma had responded. Hyrum replied that “he had never received a more severe talking to in his life, that Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and anger.” William Clayton noted that Joseph then quietly remarked, “I told you you did not know Emma as well as I did.”7

This incident was not the first or last conversation Joseph had with Emma on the subject. Joseph’s journal for the following day, July 13, records, “I [was] in conversation with Emma most of the day.”8 Emma eventually accepted the practice for a time, though she struggled with it for the rest of her life. The challenges surrounding plural marriage would have been difficult for anyone. Because of the personal context surrounding Doctrine and Covenants 132, it must be read carefully and with consideration for the people involved and the issues they were struggling with. 

President Joseph F. Smith, son of Hyrum Smith, advised a careful reading of Doctrine and Covenants 132 when he said: 

When the revelation [D&C 132] was given in 1843, it was for the special purpose, by the request of the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, and was not then designed to go forth to the church or to the world. It is most probable that had it been then written with a view to its going out as a doctrine of the church, it would have been presented in a somewhat different form. There are personalities [Emma Smith, specifically] contained in a part of it which are not relevant to the principle itself, but rather to the circumstances which necessitated its being written at the time. Joseph Smith, on the day it was written, expressly declared that there was a great deal more connected with the doctrine which would be revealed in due time, but this was sufficient for the occasion, and was made to suffice for the time.9

The full teachings surrounding the nature of eternal marriage came through the sacred ceremonies found inside the temple. In a discourse given several days after recording section 132, Joseph Smith taught 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.”10 In the same discourse he acknowledged that “he could not reveal the fulness of these things until the temple [was] completed.” Doctrine and Covenants 132 serves as an introduction to those teachings, outlining the basic principles surrounding the sealing power and the duration of eternal relationships. The latter part of the revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 132:51-57) is specifically addressed to Emma Smith and is better understood if read in that context. The nature of families is a deeply emotional concept for most people and must be handled carefully. 

The original manuscript of section 132 was read by several authorities of the Church before it was given to Emma Smith, who destroyed it. However, a copy was made at the request of Bishop Newel K. Whitney before the original was destroyed. Joseph Kingsbury copied the original revelation. After seeing the copy of the original, William Clayton said that “the copy made by Joseph C. Kingsbury is a true and correct copy of the original in every respect.”11 The revelation was published in the Deseret News in 1852. When the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published, section 132 replaced an earlier article on marriage, which was removed from the book.12

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 12 July 1843 [D&C 132].

1. William W. Phelps to Sally Waterman Phelps, 26 May 1835, cited in “Doctrine and Covenants 132,” in Joseph Smith’s Revelations.

2. Brian Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume 1: History, 2013, 107–27. 

3. “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics Essays, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

4. Brian Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume 2: History, 2013, 42–47.

5. William Clayton, Affidavit, Salt Lake Co., Utah Territory, 16 Feb. 1874, 3, Church History Library, cited in “Doctrine and Covenants 132,” in Joseph Smith’s Revelations.

6. Clayton Affidavit, cited in “Doctrine and Covenants 132,” in Joseph Smith’s Revelations.

7. Clayton Affidavit, cited in “Doctrine and Covenants 132,” in Joseph Smith’s Revelations.

8. JS Journal, December 1842–June 1844, p. 308, JSP. 

9. Joseph F. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 20:29. 

10. Discourse, 16 July 1843, as Reported by William Clayton, pp. 65–66, JSP.

11. Clayton Affidavit, cited in “Doctrine and Covenants 132,” in Joseph Smith’s Revelations.

12. Robert J. Woodford, Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, 1736.