Celestial marriage (also called the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, Eternal Marriage, Temple Marriage or The Principle) is a doctrine of Mormonism, particularly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and branches of Mormon fundamentalism.
During Christ’s life on earth, He passed His authority on to chosen individuals who acted in His name. The Bible records, for example, that He ordained his apostles and gave them the “power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils” (Mark 3:14–15). To at least one of His apostles, Peter, he gave an even greater power: “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19).
This authority to bind both on earth and in heaven is today referred to as the sealing power. It is part of the full authority of God, or the priesthood. Lost to the earth after the death of the early apostles, the priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith, the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By heavenly decree the priesthood and constituent sealing power were passed from Joseph to others, including the apostles, in the Church. The divine power is used to seal marriages in the temples, thus establishing the foundation for eternal families—the type of families that God wants His children to have.
A temple marriage sealing is considered one of the very highest ordinances that Mormons can receive, and Mormons believe that an eternal marriage is something highly desirable and extremely sacred.
After a couple has been sealed together by the proper authority, and after they have proven their commitment to an eternal marriage through persistent actions, they have the opportunity to have their sealing confirmed by God’s Holy Spirit. This is not an earthly ordinance; it only comes through revelation from God directly to the individuals in the marriage. Such a divine confirmation may occur in this life or in the next.
In many ways, the confirmation of a couple’s sealing is a “stamp of approval” given by God, a divine recognition that their union will be eternal. This is the true definition of a celestial marriage—one that has been ratified by God as being in full force for the eternities. (Mormon Celestial Marriage)
Marriage Is Ordained of God
Marriage between a man and a woman is a vital part of God’s plan. The Lord has said, “Whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man” (D&C 49:15). Since the beginning, marriage has been a law of the gospel. Marriages are intended to last forever, not just for our mortal lives.
Adam and Eve were married by God before there was any death in the world. They had an eternal marriage. They taught the law of eternal marriage to their children and their children’s children. As the years passed, wickedness entered the hearts of the people and the authority to perform this sacred ordinance was taken from the earth. Through the Restoration of the gospel, eternal marriage has been restored to earth. (Gospel Principles Chapter 38)
Marriage is and should be a sacrament. The word sacrament is variously defined, but among Christian people it signifies a religious act or ceremony, solemnized by one having proper authority. It is a pledge, or solemn covenant, a spiritual sign or bond between the contracting parties themselves and between them and God. That marriage was instituted and sanctified by the Lord Himself is shown by the following quotations:
“And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. …
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:18, 24).
When Jesus departed from Galilee and came into the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan, a great multitude followed Him, and the Pharisees questioned Him regarding divorce.
“And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
“And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
“Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4–6). (The Latter-day Saint Concept of Marriage, By President Hugh B. Brown (1883–1975) First Counselor in the First Presidency)
“It is the normal thing to marry. It was arranged by God in the beginning, long before this world’s mountains were ever formed. Remember: ‘Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man.’ ( 1 Corinthians 11:11 .) . . . Every person should want to be married. There are some who might not be able to. But every person should want to be married because that is what God in heaven planned for us” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 291).
“Marriage is ordained of God. It is not merely a social custom. Without proper and successful marriage, one will never be exalted” (Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 291).
How wonderful a thing is marriage under the plan of our Eternal Father, a plan provided in His divine wisdom for the happiness and security of His children and the continuity of the race.
He is our Creator, and He designed marriage from the beginning. At the time of Eve’s creation, “Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: . . .
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” ( Genesis 2:23–24 ).
Paul wrote to the Corinthian Saints, “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” ( 1 Corinthians 11:11 ).
In modern revelation the Lord has said, “And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man” ( D&C 49:15 ).
President Joseph F. Smith once declared “that no man can be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God without the woman, and no woman can reach perfection and exaltation in the kingdom of God, alone. . . . God instituted marriage in the beginning. He made man in His own image and likeness, male and female, and in their creation it was designed that they should be united together in sacred bonds of marriage, and one is not perfect without the other” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1913, p. 118). (WHAT GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER, Spencer W. Kimball)
Eternal Marriage Is Essential for Exaltation
Many people in the world consider marriage to be only a social custom, a legal agreement between a man and a woman to live together. But to Latter-day Saints, marriage is much more. Our exaltation depends on marriage, along with other principles and ordinances, such as faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We believe that marriage is the most sacred relationship that can exist between a man and a woman. This sacred relationship affects our happiness now and in the eternities.
Heavenly Father has given us the law of eternal marriage so we can become like Him. The Lord has said:
“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
“And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
President Brigham Young taught that celestial marriage “lays the foundation for … intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. In fact, it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the holy Gospel of Salvation” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 163). This is because receiving and keeping the new and everlasting covenant of marriage prepares us to attain the highest glory in the celestial kingdom (see D&C 131:1–3).
A marriage must be performed with the sealing power of the priesthood to be valid after this life.
2. A marriage not performed with the sealing power of the priesthood is not valid after this life (see D&C 132:7, 15–18 ).
3. Only one person on the earth at a time holds the keys of the sealing power (see D&C 132:7 ).
Celestial marriage is essential to exaltation.
“Marriages performed in the temples for time and eternity, by virtue of the sealing keys restored by Elijah, are called celestial marriages. The participating parties become husband and wife in this mortal life, and if after their marriage they keep all the terms and conditions of this order of the priesthood, they continue on as husband and wife in the celestial kingdom of God. . . .
“The most important things that any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ever does in this world are: 1. To marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority; and 2. To keep the covenant made in connection with this holy and perfect order of matrimony—thus assuring the obedient persons of an inheritance of exaltation in the celestial kingdom” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 117–18).
“The house of the Lord is a house of order and not a house of confusion; and that means that the man is not without the woman in the Lord, neither is the woman without the man in the Lord; and that no man can be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God without the woman, and no woman can reach the perfection and exaltation in the kingdom of God alone. That is what it means. God instituted marriage in the beginning. He made man in his own image and likeness, male and female, and in their creation it was designed that they should be united together in sacred bonds of marriage, and one is not perfect without the other. Furthermore, it means that there is no union for time and eternity that can be perfected outside of the law of God, and the order of his house. Men may desire it, they may go through the form of it, in this life, but it will be of no effect except it be done and sanctioned by divine authority, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 272).
“The Holy Spirit of Promise is the Holy Spirit promised the saints, or in other words the Holy Ghost. This name-title is used in connection with the sealing and ratifying power of the Holy Ghost, that is, the power given him to ratify and approve the righteous acts of men so that those acts will be binding on earth and in heaven. . . .
“To seal is to ratify, to justify, or to approve. Thus an act which is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise is one which is ratified by the Holy Ghost; it is one which is approved by the Lord; and the person who has taken the obligation upon himself is justified by the Spirit in the thing he has done.
“The ratifying seal of approval is put upon an act only if those entering the contract are worthy as a result of personal righteousness to receive the divine approbation. They ‘are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true .’ ( D. & C. 76:53 .) If they are not just and true and worthy the ratifying seal is withheld” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 361–62).
“Marriage covenants authorized and sealed by that God-given power, endure, if the parties thereto are true to their troth, not through mortal life alone, but through time and all eternity. Thus the worthy husband and wife who have been sealed under the everlasting covenant shall come forth in the day of the resurrection to receive their heritage of glory, immortality, and eternal lives.
“It is the blessed privilege of resurrected beings who attain an exaltation in the celestial kingdom to enjoy the glory of endless increase, to become the parents of generations of spirit-offspring, and to direct their development through probationary stages analogous to those through which they themselves have passed.
“Eternal are the purposes of God; never-ending progression is provided for His children, worlds without end” (James E. Talmage, “The Eternity of Sex,” Young Woman’s Journal, Oct. 1914, 604).
“The gift promised to those who receive this covenant of marriage and remain faithful to the end, that they shall ‘have no end,’ means that they shall have the power of eternal increase. Only those who have this power will truly ‘ know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.’ Others may see the Lord and may be instructed by him but they will not truly know him or his Father unless they become like them” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 247).
“Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection. But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 300–301).
1. In order to obtain the highest degree in the celestial kingdom, a man and a woman must enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (see D&C 131:2–3 ).
2. A marriage must be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise before the husband and the wife can obtain exaltation (see D&C 132:19 ).
Eternal Increase, as God is man may become
“We understand that we are to be made kings and priests unto God; now if I be made the king and lawgiver to my family, and if I have many sons, I shall become the father of many fathers, for they will have sons, and their sons will have sons, and so on, from generation to generation, and, in this way, I may become the father of many fathers, or the king of many kings. This will constitute every man a prince, king, lord, or whatever the Father sees fit to confer upon us.
“In this way we can become king of kings, and lord of lords, or father of fathers, or prince of princes, and this is the only course, for another man is not going to raise up a kingdom for you” (in Discourses of Brigham Young, 195).
“If righteous men have power through the gospel and its crowning ordinance of celestial marriage to become kings and priests to rule in exaltation forever, it follows that the women by their side (without whom they cannot attain exaltation) will be queens and priestesses. ( Rev. 1:6 ; 5:10 .) Exaltation grows out of the eternal union of a man and his wife. Of those whose marriage endures in eternity, the Lord says, ‘Then shall they be gods’ ( D&C 132:20 ); that is, each of them, the man and the woman, will be a god. As such they will rule over their dominions forever” ( Mormon Doctrine, 613).
“Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so that undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God” (in Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, First Presidency—Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, Charles W. Nibley 5:244).
“What do we mean by endless or eternal increase? We mean that through the righteousness and faithfulness of men and women who keep the commandments of God they will come forth with celestial bodies, fitted and prepared to enter into their great, high and eternal glory in the celestial kingdom of God; and unto them through their preparation, there will come spirit children. I don’t think that is very difficult to comprehend. The nature of the offspring is determined by the nature of the substance that flows in the veins of the being. When blood flows in the veins of the being the offspring will be what blood produces, which is tangible flesh and bone; but when that which flows in the veins is spirit matter, a substance which is more refined and pure and glorious than blood, the offspring of such beings will be spirit children. By that I mean they will be in the image of the parents. They will have a spirit body and have a spark of the eternal or divine that always did exist in them” ( Melvin J. Ballard—Crusader for Righteousness, 211).
“Mortal persons who overcome all things and gain an ultimate exaltation will live eternally in the family unit and have spirit children, thus becoming Eternal Fathers and Eternal Mothers. ( D&C 132:19–32 .) Indeed, the formal pronouncement of the Church, issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, states: ‘So far as the stages of eternal progression and attainment have been made known through divine revelation, we are to understand that only resurrected and glorified beings can become parents of spirit offspring.’ ( Man: His Origin and Destiny, p. 129. Elder Bruce R. McConkie)” ( Mormon Doctrine, 517).