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RS/MP Lesson 26: “Elijah and the Restoration of the Sealing Keys” (Joseph Smith Manual)

Posted by joespencer on January 13, 2009

[My apologies in advance for the somewhat scattered status of these notes. This topic turned out to be far more difficult to summarize than I anticipated. Three hours over three days left me little time to sort things out further, so they will have to remain as they are now. Feel quite free to ask questions for clarification.] The introductory portion of this lesson tells in brief about the events surrounding the dedication of the Kirtland temple, culminating, of course, in the visit of Elijah to Joseph and Oliver a week after the dedication. This event is, in some ways, the most important of the whole series making up the Restoration. And yet—ironically, as I hope to show—it was entirely unanticipated. In order to make quite clear how unanticipated it was, let me quote from Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling (pp. 320-321):

What could this staggering experience have meant to Joseph and Cowdery? Unfortunately, Joseph’s detailed Ohio journal ends with Warren Cowdery’s entry [adopted as D&C 110]. The long run of reports abruptly halts, not to be resumed for two years. We have no idea what Joseph and Cowdery said when they came from behind the veil, or how widely they shared the account. The vision was not included in editions of the Doctrine and Covenants published during Joseph’s lifetime, and no manuscript copies exist save Warren Cowdery’s and the one Willard Richards copied into Joseph’s history for the Church newspaper in 1843. Joseph never mentioned the event in his other writings. There is no evidence he told the Kirtland Saints. . . .

The episode behind the veil is mysteriously suspended at the end of the diary without comment or explanation, as if Joseph was stilled by the event. Joseph would have needed time to understand Elijah’s part in the order of heaven. . . .

The frequency of announced revelations slowed in the ensuing years. Doctrine came through sermons, offhand comments, and letters, reports on revelations rather than full revelations themselves. An air of mystery and reticence rises around the Prophet. He had conscientiously worked to install the order of heaven in Kirtland as rapidly as new light came to him, introducing washings and anointings and ceremonial order. After the temple dedication, he confidently informed the Saints that he had completed the organization of the Church and given them all the instruction they needed. Zion could now be built. But then just as he was setting to work on Zion, an enigmatic revelation intervened. The revelation behind the veil suggested that Joseph was moving ahead of his followers. He began to speak of revelations they could not bear.

The picture: the visit of Elijah floored Joseph, recast everything for him, made him realize that he, as much as the Saints generally, had not entirely understood what the Restoration amounted to. A new era dawned.

Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple.

I’m beginning with the second section under the “teachings” portion of the lesson so as to get the event on the table before seeing one of its most significant effects (recorded in the first section). This second section comes entirely from D&C 110, a text that was, as Bushman points out above, reconstructed from the last entry in Joseph’s 1834-1836 Kirtland journal.

It is a familiar account: Elijah appeared after the Savior, Moses, and Elias (I won’t even begin to get into the question of Elijah vs. Elias!), announcing the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6 and bestowing “the keys of this dispensation,” namely, of “turn[ing] the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse.”

Simple enough, nowadays. But, as discussed above, this completely took Joseph by surprise. He had already announced to the Saints that he had revealed everything that needed to be revealed, and that the Lord would now allow him to rest from his prophetic endeavors. But, as Bushman says, “The episode behind the veil is mysteriously suspended at the end of the diary without comment or explanation, as if Joseph was stilled by the event. Joseph would have needed time to understand Elijah’s part in the order of heaven.” I especially like Bushman’s point that this last entry not only concluded the journal, but that it was followed by two years of silence: Joseph wrote no journal during the remainder of 1836 and all of 1837, into 1838. It is as if the visit of Elijah left Joseph speechless for a full two years.

Interestingly, when Joseph finally decided again to take up pen and paper, he did so not only by starting a new journal (in April of 1838), but also by finally writing—or really, rewriting—his history (the same month). The picture, then:

(1) Joseph dedicates the Kirtland temple and concludes that the Church is fully organized, his own work finally being finished.
(2) Elijah (et al) appears in the temple to Joseph and Oliver, completely taking the Prophet by surprise.
(3) Joseph takes two years off from his overtly public ministry to sort out the meaning of Elijah’s visit and of the keys thereby restored.
(4) When Joseph has worked through at least the outline of what is implied by Elijah’s ministry, he finds it necessary to rewrite his history.
(5) That history becomes a kind of introduction to a new era in the Church, usually referred to as the Nauvoo era.

If all of this is clear, it is necessary to turn to the first section in the “teachings” portion of the lesson, since it quotes directly from the history Joseph began writing in 1838.

The ancient prophet Malachi foretold the coming of Elijah.

This section is drawn entirely from Joseph’s 1838 history. It is a few brief paragraphs about Moroni’s visit, describing his recasting of the Malachi 4 prophecy of Elijah’s visit. But it must not be missed that this bit of history itself cannot be approached without the understanding that Joseph wrote it only in 1838, after his two years of silence following the actual visit of Elijah. Hence, I need to offer a word or two of explanation.

Joseph had told or recorded the story of Moroni’s visit many times before 1838, but he had never told it this way. Though several pre-1838 accounts can still be read, it is significant that none of them mentions Moroni’s recasting of Malachi 4. Indeed, none of them even mentions that Moroni quoted Malachi, even though a few of them provide whole lists of texts Moroni quoted to Joseph. It is only with 1838 that we are served notice of Moroni’s having dwelt on Malachi at all; and thus it is only with 1838 that we are finally given to know that Moroni reworked Malachi in his quotation of him.

What I see happening here is something like this. Joseph had not himself taken much notice of the fact that Moroni had quoted Malachi to him. It seemed a lesser point, perhaps because Joseph himself could make little sense of what Malachi meant. With the sudden appearance of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple, Joseph found himself forced to come to grips with the importance of the Malachi prophecy. Searching and pondering, I picture him suddenly recalling that Moroni had said something about this. Whether he remembered it in its details or whether he sought help from the Lord in remembering it in its details, it matters little: when he reconstructed his history in light of what had happened in the Kirtland temple, Moroni’s quotation of Malachi 4 took center stage. Indeed, in many ways, this quotation forms, in the 1838 history, the very foundation of the Restoration: what Moroni does, in recasting the Malachi prophecy, is to give the whole Restoration its ultimate significance.

In a word, the 1836 event called for a rethinking or reorienting of the pre-1836 history (taking the history as a text): certain items that had been more or less swept under the rug before now take center stage, and other things that seemed central before now seem much less important.

But what seems particularly interesting, if I can make one further “philosophical” point before turning to the actual text as Moroni quoted it, is that the 1838 account effectively makes a break in time. Jan Shipps makes the following argument about the Book of Mormon: “Since it was at one and the same time prophecy (a book that said it was an ancient record prophesying that a book would come forth) and (as the book that had come forth) fulfillment of that prophecy, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon effected a break in the very fabric of history” (from her Mormonism, p. 52). It seems to me that there is a similar but not identical circular relationship between the visit of Elijah and the Joseph Smith-History account of Moroni’s alteration of Malachi 4: the actual visit is the impetus for the reconstruction of the account of Moroni’s visit, but then the account of Moroni’s visit determines how the actual visit is understood, etc. There is thus a sense in which everything that had been said about the Book of Mormon before 1836 was suddenly canceled, since it was all now to be recast through its entanglement with the Elijah visit. (I find it significant, for this very reason, that it was in 1837 that Joseph issued his second edition of the Book of Mormon, for the production of which he went through the entirety of the manuscript carefully, correcting, recasting, and occasionally blatantly changing the 1830 text. The Book of Mormon now re-effected a break in the very fabric of history, and the Nauvoo era of the Church began.

For the most part, now, I would like to set such relatively abstract questions aside and turn to the text. (Only for the most part, though, since the Moroni’s alteration of the Malachi text cannot be understood without recognizing what it implies about the Book of Mormon specifically.)

First, let me immodestly refer to three podcasts I recently posted (before I had taken even a cursory glance at this lesson!) on D&C 2, which makes up the bulk of the Moroni alteration. They can be found here. The questions I am raising in those podcasts primarily concern the meaning and structure of the Doctrine and Covenants, rather than what the altered text has to say about the Book of Mormon, but they do deal in some detail with every change between Malachi 4:5-6 and the Moroni text for the same two verses. Here, however, I want to look just briefly at what seems to be going on with the Book of Mormon in Moroni’s alteration of the text.

First, Moroni alters Malachi 4:1. Only one alteration seems of the utmost significance for my present purposes: “the day that cometh shall burn them up” becomes “for they that come shall burn them.” This changes the story of the great and terrible day in a rather drastic way. First, one can say that this change de-absolutizes the “day” of the Malachi text: what is in Malachi less a “day” than the end of history itself becomes in Moroni’s revision an actual day, during which a certain event will take place. Moreover, if the day is, in essence, de-transcendentalized by Moroni’s alteration, its fundamental uninterpretability is canceled, and it is therefore given a specific content: rather than being that indescribable and unimaginable day, this day is the day of the arrival of a certain group of figures, the “they that come.”

What all of this amounts to, in the end, is a shift from the arrival of a single Messianic figure to the arrival of an angelic host. Malachi, for Moroni, begins with the announcement that angels are coming, and that there is an appointed day for their coming. This angelic emphasis proves to be vital, though this will only become clear further along.

Now, the changes to Malachi 4:5. The major change here is a shift in the purpose or role of Elijah: in the Malachi text, he functions as a kind of eschatological figure, someone who shows up to accomplish some definitively divine task; whereas in the Moroni revision, he functions as a mere key-bearing messenger, someone sent to get something started. One could say that the Elijah of Malachi is a kind of conclusive figure, one who ties up a few loose ends before the last day, while the Elijah of Moroni is an initiative figure, one who gets something started so that the last day can eventually come.

Of course, it is not quite so simple as that, even: because of the change to verse 1, one must understand Elijah to be restoring the Priesthood precisely to prepare certain people for the coming of the angels. This is significant, but not yet entirely clear.

On, then, to the alteration to Malachi 4:6. Here there is a still more drastic change. In Malachi, Elijah’s work is to turn the hearts of children to fathers and fathers to children, essentially to heal the rift that lies at the very heart of the family (a kind of “anti-Oedipal” move). For Moroni, however, Elijah’s work is not at all of this reciprocal nature: he does not turn both parties towards each other, but only one party towards the other, namely, the children to the fathers. For Moroni, the hearts of the fathers apparently do not need to be turned toward the children because they are already so turned.

Why this is so is quite clear from another part of the altered text: the turning is to be effected, not by Elijah himself (as in Malachi), but by the “promises made to the fathers,” which Elijah is merely to plant in the hearts of the children. Two important points should be noticed here. First, Elijah is again a less imposing figure in Moroni’s version than in Malachi’s: he only plants promises here and then lets those promises do their own work (his task is merely to supplement the situation, not to impose a change on it in any direct way). Second, the fathers themselves are identified: they are the fathers who received the promises, namely, the ancient patriarchs who received the covenants.

This changes things drastically. The picture one begins to get here is something like the following. A day is coming in which the angels are going to arrive to do their work. Lest they have nothing to do but to effect destruction, Elijah will come and plant in the hearts of those on the earth the promises made to those soon-to-be-visiting angels (the fathers) who reside in heaven. Elijah’s task is less a question of inspiring genealogical endeavors or of making one think about one’s dead ancestors in the past few generations than it is a question of planting in our hearts a word concerning the ancient covenants, the ones received by the angels who will, soon enough, be coming on the earth.

All of this will have to be clarified through the teachings that make up the remainder of the chapter, but at least this much should be clear for now: Elijah’s visit cannot be disentangled from the rich angelology that grounds Mormon theology, since he comes precisely to restore certain priesthood keys meant to prepare people for the coming of the angels.

But before turning to the remaining teachings in the lesson, which can be taken to clarify the above theological outline, it is necessary to say a word about how all of this affects the meaning of the Book of Mormon. A key phrase from Moroni’s recasting of Malachi 4:6 guides the way: “And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers.” This should be compared with Moroni’s title page for the Book of Mormon: “Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.” The altered text is definitely Moroni’s altered text: he seems to be bending the Malachi text in the direction of the Book of Mormon’s stated purposes.

What all of this implies is that Moroni’s reworking of Malachi’s text, especially since this reworked text becomes a kind of initiation of the Nauvoo era, makes it clear that the Book of Mormon is itself caught up in the complex story of angelology and the restoration of priesthood keys. It is the one holding the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim who, visiting as an angel and as one of the fathers who received promises and covenants, recasts the Malachi text to clarify the immanent relation between angels and prophets, a relation that amounts to the relation between fathers and children. The great and terrible day will be nothing more nor less than a setting of family affairs.

But again, all of this will have to be clarified with reference to the remaining teachings in the lesson, all of which come from Nauvoo sermons and letters.

Elijah restored the sealing keys—the power and authority to bind in heaven all ordinances performed on earth.

The next section in the lesson draws on D&C 128, one of the most incredible pieces of scripture we have. Here, though, I want to pass over it relatively quickly. What we can draw especially from this section is precisely what it says in the section title: Elijah restored the authority to bind in heaven things performed on earth. In the terms of D&C 128, as quoted in the lesson: “The nature of this ordinance consists in the power of the priesthood, by the revelation of Jesus Christ, wherein it is granted that whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The relationship between angels and prophets, between dead fathers and living children—which is, it is already clear, a covenant relationship—is a relationship of sealing, one that binds heaven and earth, thus piercing the veil.

But what is particularly striking about D&C 128 is that this section makes that binding and sealing a question of writing: the “very bold doctrine” is that there is “a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven.” One must keep “a proper and faithful record” for the sealing power to have any effect. Again the role of the Book of Mormon is central: for the fathers (the dead Nephite prophets) to have any effect on the children (the living Lamanite survivors), there must be some written text that binds them, as well as some angelic messenger who plants those promises in the hearts of the children, etc.

But things are still pretty murky.

Through the sealing power, families can be sealed for time and all eternity, and sacred ordinances can be performed for the dead.

The whole of this section comes from a single discourse, in which Joseph disambiguated the roles of Elijah and Elias. It is very worth a read, but I’ll focus on the present task here.

It begins with a massive clarification, almost a derailing for our present colloquial handlings of Elijah: “The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelation, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth.” Note: the spirit of Elijah is not, for Joseph, a kind of vague desire to do genealogical work. Rather, to have the spirit of Elijah is to have received the sealing keys themselves, to have received “the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood,” something that is received through a very particular ordinance, one administered in the temple.

But if that is clear enough, I want to take up two further clarifying statements. First, at the end of the first paragraph of the section: “the fathers” are clarified as “even those who are in heaven.” Again it is clear that the fathers in question are not our immediate ancestors who died without hearing the gospel, but the ancients who received the promises, etc. As Joseph goes on to explain in the last paragraph beginning on page 311: “Now was this [power] merely confined to the living, to settle difficulties with families on earth? By no means. It was a far greater work.” The work of the sealing power is not a reconciliation of the present generation, but a work much more comprehensive in scope.

Thus Joseph seems to see the work of the sealing ordinances to have three steps, not one. From the first full paragraph on page 312: “I wish you to understand this subject, for it is important; and if you will receive it, this is the spirit of Elijah, that we [1] redeem our dead, and [2] connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven, and [3] seal up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection. What does each of these steps mean?

The first, it seems to me, is the one we tend to talk about as Latter-day Saints: we are to do all we can to redeem our dead, that is, the dead but unbaptized of our more recent, researchable generations. That seems simple enough. But Joseph sees this as a question of accomplishing something: we have got to do this so as to “connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven.” That is, we have got to make a chain through our ancestors back to the ancient patriarchs and matriarchs who received the covenants. If we do not do that, we have ultimately done nothing. Joseph seems to suggest this by adding the third step: it is only once we have connected up with the ancients that we have actually “seal[ed] up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection.” The trick is to seal our dead into a line stretching from the ancients to ourselves.

This is why Joseph talks in the last paragraph of the section about our being “wise” (he actually seems to have said “crafty,” but the text was altered at some point): “The first thing you do [if you receive the sealing power], go and seal on earth your sons and daughters unto yourself, and yourself unto your fathers in eternal glory.” Joseph seems to see this as a kind of “perk” for those who have been given the highest keys that can be given on earth: you use those keys to seal your dead as well as your living to you, and then through your own connection to the ancient patriarchs, you have given all these the opportunity to be exalted.

It is, in some ways, a very odd doctrine. It would seem that Joseph is encouraging those who receive these powers to “take advantage” of them, to use them to save their family. As the quotation goes on to say (following the TJPS): “Use a little wisdom, and seal all you can, and when you get to heaven tell your Father that what you seal on earth should be sealed in heaven, according to his promise. I will walk through the gate of heaven and claim what I seal, and those that follow me and my counsel.” (p. 340) This is a kind of “opportunist” doctrine of employing the sealing power, one Joseph quite clearly taught.

Of course, this gives us one way of understanding the temple program of the Church today: the entire Church is using a bit of wisdom or craftiness, and we have decided to seal every single dead person we can find from the whole human family, in an attempt to claim them all. Rather than seeing Joseph’s “opportunism” as odd or out of place, it actually describes well at a local level what the Church is now doing on a global level. And what a program: we intend to redeem the whole world, person by person!

A bit of clarification, but things are still a little murky.

The coming of Elijah was a necessary preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior.

The last section of the lesson is made up of four different quotations, all taken from different discourses. Each adds a bit of clarification, but I want to focus only on the last words of the first paragraph, a phrase that has been encountered a number of times, but which can perhaps now be addressed more directly.

The phrase is this: “If Elijah did not come, the whole earth would be smitten.” This is the question that has, in the end, to be asked and answered about this whole Elijah business: Why would the whole earth be smitten, or in Moroni’s phrasing, utterly wasted, if it were not for the restoration of the keys held by Elijah? Asked another way, and hopefully in such a way that all of the above meandering commentary can be drawn together in a single picture: What are the promises that were made to the Fathers, why does their being planted in the hearts of the children matter, and what does sealing have to do with all this?

So first, what were the promises? Unfortunately, when we talk about the Abrahamic covenant, for example, we tend to talk only about the promises of a particular land, a large seed, and such. But there is something much more vital wrapped up in the covenants. The covenant began, not with Abraham, but with Adam. D&C 107:42 describes the covenant this way: Seth “received the promise of God by his father [Adam], that his posterity should be the chosen of the Lord, and that they should be preserved unto the end of the earth.” For some reason, the core of the covenant seems to be connected to the actual end of the earth, to the arrival of the Savior.

The covenant is described in similar terms in Moses 7:52, when Enoch sees it given to Noah: “And he [the Lord] sent forth an unalterable decree, that a remnant of his [Noah’s] seed should always be found among all nations, while the earth should stand.” Enoch’s massive vision of what the Second Coming means cannot be separated from this promise: the Second Coming is a major part of the ancient covenants. The promise to the patriarchs and matriarchs was that they would have someone from their seed living at the last day, present when the Savior arrives. Thus he sees the reunion of fathers (who received the promise) and children (who fulfilled the promise) at that coming: “we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other” (Moses 7:63).

All of this begins to explain the “they without us” nor “we without them” can be “made perfect” business that appears again and again in the scriptures. Though this is commonly thought to mean that since those who died without the gospel cannot be saved unless we do their work, and since we would obviously be wicked if we did not bother to do their work, we cannot be saved without each other. But it is clear in D&C 128 that the phrase refers not to our relationship with the dead who never heard the gospel, but to our relationship with the ancient patriarchs and matriarchs who received the covenants: their promise cannot be fulfilled unless we receive the covenant and stand at the last day; and we cannot be saved without receiving that covenant. The promise cannot be fulfilled without its fulfillment, nor can the fulfillment function as fulfillment without the promise being given in the first place. “We” then means “fulfillment,” and “they” means “promise.”

This at least outlines the promises themselves, and begins to articulate why they must be planted in the hearts of the children: if we do not receive those covenants, they will never be fulfilled. Elijah comes to turn our hearts back to the ancients and to recognize the importance of the covenants they received. When we are bound together in those covenants, the possibility of promise-and-fulfillment is real.

All of this, then, is clear. Why is all of this connected to the earth and its being smitten/utterly wasted? This, I think, is relatively simple. If all of this begins with Adam and Eve, then we can begin to make sense of Brigham’s teachings (which are sometimes ignored on the grounds that he seemed to be saying some kind of nonsense about God): Adam was chosen in the premortal council to come down, start a massive family, and then redeem them all (this is why it is so important that, as Joseph teaches, Adam stands at the head of the priesthood, all sending of angels being by his hand, etc.). The promise was given to Adam, and the fulfillment has to be through his covenanted children. The whole plan is a question of the single family of Adam, sealed up. And the whole earth was created for this single purpose: to seal up the family of Adam and Eve. If the sealing power is not restored, if the covenants are not restored in the last days, and if the work of binding up the whole human family is not undertaken, then the earth has not at all served its purpose. It will simply be smitten or wasted.

The work we are engaged in, then, is a work of covenants, of the ancients. We have the task of seeking out the patriarchs and matriarchs of antiquity, receiving the covenants that once were given to them, and making it possible thereby to redeem all the dead who have not received the gospel.

It is a massive task, and one that begins with a reinterpretation—if we trust Moroni—of the Book of Mormon: that book is precisely what gets the whole process started by letting us know about the covenants of the Lord, that they are still operative, and so puts us on the track of receiving the sealing power. It is time we took that book seriously.

31 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 26: “Elijah and the Restoration of the Sealing Keys” (Joseph Smith Manual)”

  1. Timburriaquito said

    On the subject of Joseph not writing very much from 1836 to 1838, wouldn’t that be attributable to the other things going on in Kirtland at that time, like the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, and the mass apostacy that was going on? I realize this isn’t the point of the lesson, and I can see the image of Joseph taking a step back to understand the whole experience of the visitations received behind the veil. But I think there was a lot going on in that two year period that was probably pretty hard to deal with even for a prophet, spiraling down to his time in Liberty jail, probably the lowest point in his life.

  2. This is really good stuff. Thank you. I will do my best to present it to the sisters in my ward.

  3. Julie said

    Why have I never heard this before? I’ve been a member all my life and the promises/spirit of Elijah have never been present in this way before. It IS interesting the different texts of prophesy from Moroni and Malachi. But I can’t just believe it because you said so. And I certainly couldn’t bring these things up in Relief Society without scriptural references. How are you connecting the dots? How do you connect Adam’s promise/Moses’ promise with “our fathers”? How do we know it doesn’t mean the simple interpretation of joining our ancestors together through genealogy/temple work. I am impressed with your links and find it very plausible, but unfortunately, I’m a bit skeptical simply because these dots have never been connected in this way before in any lessons I’ve had. Have I just been blind all these years regarding the turning the hearts to the fathers/children stuff, or is this something you too have never heard addressed at church before? If it is so vital to the plan of salvation, why is it not stressed more? Are there any teachings by general authorities that reference these connections? I DO want to learn more, even if I don’t feel I could go that deep in Relief Society.

  4. joespencer said


    I find this all right in the texts I’m discussing. (I’ve certainly not invented it, though it is not something one hears a great deal about.) For example, that the fathers means for Moroni the ancients (and not our immediate dead ancestors) seems quite straightforward: “And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers.” What promises? I can’t figure out what other answer to give to that question than: the promises given to the fathers, the ancient patriarchs and matriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, etc. I know of no promises given to my great grandparents.

    So I think, in the first place, it has to be drawn directly from the texts.

    Second, the teachings Joseph offers in this lesson are quite straightforward. It is he (not I) who says that the spirit of Elijah is to receive the fullness of the priesthood. It is he (not I) who explains that Elijah bestows the power to write on earth so as to make a law in heaven, etc. So: yes, there is at least one general authority who not only references but makes these connections, namely, Joseph Smith. (As for other general authorities, I do find that these kinds of things come up once in a while, but I haven’t spent any time scouring their teachings in an attempt to justify the scriptures, which seem quite straightforward on their own. Indeed, I don’t really find that general authorities take it as their task to make commentary on the scriptures so much as to offer their own, relatively “original” counsel.)

    So where would I point to learn more? To the scriptures and to the teachings of Joseph. If there is another way to understand Joseph that makes more sense of his words, I’d love to hear it. But so far, this is the best explanation I’ve been able to work up.

  5. joespencer said


    I entirely agree that that is a likely explanation for Joseph’s silence. The Kirtland disaster and the move to Far West dominates that two year stretch. But Joseph was under much, much more pressure during much of the Nauvoo period, and he managed to produce a remarkable amount of material: the sermons recorded in journals, the editorials, a massive correspondence, the Book of Abraham, the Book of the Law of the Lord, several hundred pages of journals, etc. So I don’t think the stresses are enough to explain it.

    Indeed, maybe it would be best to see Joseph’s own understanding of what the Latter-day work is crumbling with the visit of Elijah, and that very crumbling being a major contributor to Joseph’s bafflement at the Kirtland disaster. Could the Kirtland disaster be in part a consequence of Joseph’s complete confusion at the turn things were taking? That is, of course, to put things a bit strongly, but nonetheless…

  6. Julie said

    I am not trying to fight or discredit you. I am looking for further information to back up what you’ve interpreted. I like what you’ve said; it sits right with me, but the scriptures are not as black and white to me as they are to you.

    I am not as good as you and others at interpreting the scriptures, so I find it easier to understand what general authorities say in plain English. (Yes, I know Joseph Smith is your source, the most reliable general authority. But as in all things of God, there is always more than one witness.) I have been looking in past General Conferences for something more to Malachi’s words than the obvious geneological charge. I am not finding much beyond genealogy and vicarious work in general. Nothing about Abraham/Adam’s covenants/promises yet.

    Here’s what I’ve found so far:
    Redemption of the Dead
    Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Seventy
    May 1991

    Slightly modifying the Malachi reference to Elijah, Moroni said:

    “He [Elijah] shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.” (JS—H 1:39.)

    The word plant was introduced by the angel Moroni. What does it mean to plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers? What were the promises made to the fathers?

    The promises relate to the covenant of the Lord that He is no respecter of persons and that He has a plan whereby all of His children may have opportunity to return to His presence by being obedient to the laws, principles, and ordinances of the gospel.

    To plant these promises in the hearts of the children, and to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, was defined by Elder Mark E. Petersen in the October 1971 general conference, as follows:

    “Malachi plainly outlined the mission of Elijah—to establish a bond of interest between present and past generations … to create in the hearts of living men and women an interest in their ancestors.” (Ensign, Jan. 1972, p. 49.)

    Why would it be necessary to turn our hearts to the ancients? Our own fathers (recently deceased) would have the same promises as the ancients by way of lineage (patriarchal blessing), so wouldn’t our hearts turned toward finding our ancestors be sufficient?

    Another quote to put in perspective the turning of our hearts by Henry B. Eyring, May 2005, Hearts Bound Together, which is the simple version of why it is vital to do temple work:

    Many of your deceased ancestors will have received a testimony that the message of the missionaries is true. When you received that testimony you could ask the missionaries for baptism. But those who are in the spirit world cannot. The ordinances you so cherish are offered only in this world. Someone in this world must go to a holy temple and accept the covenants on behalf of the person in the spirit world. That is why we are under obligation to find the names of our ancestors and ensure that they are offered by us what they cannot receive there without our help.

    For me, knowing that turns my heart not only to my ancestors who wait but to the missionaries who teach them. I will see those missionaries in the spirit world, and so will you. Think of a faithful missionary standing there with those he has loved and taught who are your ancestors. Picture as I do the smile on the face of that missionary as you walk up to him and your ancestors whom he converted but could not baptize or have sealed to family until you came to the rescue.

    Another question for you is: Because Moroni quoted Malachi different, are we to disregard the original text in the Bible as if it was translated wrong by scholars and that the Moroni version is the pure version? Or should we view them as separate scriptures entirely? Is one right and one wrong or are they both right with slightly different meanings?

  7. Julie said

    There is a lot of good stuff in the Old Testament institute manual. http://www.ldsces.org/inst_manuals/ot-in-2/ot-in2-10-zec-end.htmScroll down to Chapter 34: Malachi “Behold I will send you Elijah the Prophet.” I don’t think there ARE any hidden meanings after all; I think it is straight forward and clear. But I always appreciate your take on the lessons. It sure made me look deeper.

  8. joespencer said

    From Joseph McConkie’s Revelations of the Restoration:

    “JS-H 1:39 He shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers. The fathers spoken of in this text are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promise given them was that of the continuation of seed or the continuation of the family unit (Genesis 12:1-3; 13:16; 15:2-6; 16:2-4; 17:2-7; 21:12-13; 22:18; 24:60; 25:23; 28:1-4). The emphasis of Malachi centered in the power that rested with those who had received the fulness of the blessings of the priesthood to labor for and bless their posterity even after they had departed this life. Moroni, on the other hand, emphasized the spirit, known to us as the spirit of Elijah, which he prophesied would be known to the descendants of Abraham as they are gathered in the last days. It is this spirit that creates within the gathering remnant of Israel the desire to extend the blessings of the gospel to their progenitors who died without them. Thus Moroni in his paraphrase of Malachi ties the return of Elijah to the covenant God made with Abraham.”

    From Charles R. Harrell’s article on D&C 2 in Kent Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, vol. 1:

    “First, as used in D&C 2, the word ‘fathers’ seems to refer to the ancient fathers-Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those living must emulate the works and seek after the blessings of the fathers pertaining to the fulness of the everlasting gospel. In this sense the hearts of the children are turned to the fathers for their own sakes. It is a turning of ‘the hearts . . . of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just’ (Luke 1:17), and ‘the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets . . . lest [the Lord] come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before [him]’ (D&C 98:17).”

    From Joseph Smith, in the History of the Church, vol. 6:

    “Now was this merely confirmed to the living, to settle difficulties with families on earth? By no means. It was a far greater work. Elijah! what would you do if you were here? Would you confine your work to the living alone? No, I would refer you to the Scriptures, where the subject is manifest: that is; without us, they could not be made perfect, nor we without them; the fathers without the children, nor the children without the fathers. [Heb. 11:40; D&C 128:18.]” (Note that Hebrews 11, to which Joseph plainly refers, is clearly talking about the patriarchs and heroes of the Old Testament. And note, moreover, that D&C 128 goes on from verse 18 to list those very same fathers as the ones holding the keys, etc., all of whom must be gathered together into one great final dispensation.)

    Now, only Joseph Smith, among these three, counts as a “general authority,” but I think it should be clear that I’m not arguing for anything particularly obscure here, nor would I call what I present in the post a “hidden meaning”! I think it is actually a rather straightforward interpretation, one that requires less rather than more interpretive creativity. (To what “promise” would the text refer if “the fathers” are those who died without the gospel? I know of no promise given to them. One has to invent a promise concerning which we know nothing in order to assign such a meaning to the text.)

    Finally, to answer your question: I am not saying that Moroni is giving us the “true” or “original” translation of the Malachi text. Indeed, I think just the opposite is the case: I think Moroni is “likening” the text for his own purposes, the Malachi text as it stands in the KJV being the “true” or “original” text. In other words, I would take them both as scripture. (For proof: take a look at the JST for the Malachi text, in which it is not altered in any way; moreover, when the Savior quotes Malachi 3-4 in Third Nephi, he does not alter the text at all. It seems pretty clear that Moroni is taking a bit of license.)

    Does that help at all?

    Note carefully that I am not suggesting that D&C 2 is therefore not at all connected with temple work. Rather, I think it is all the more connected with temple work: as Joseph McConkie nicely puts it, we do temple work because the promises of Abraham are planted in our heart, and we seek out, as he did, the opportunity to seal up everyone in the history of the world. What I am suggesting is that D&C 2 does not equate “the fathers” with those who died without a knowledge of the gospel, an interpretation that would make our salvation of the dead something ultimately independent of the entire Adamic/Abrahamic covenant, a veritable absurdity for Joseph Smith.

    But I fear I’m still not being clear enough. :(

  9. Julie said

    You HAVE cleared some things up for me. While there are still some things I’m not sure I agree with, you have certainly enlightened me to a great deal I would not have found. I feel much more prepared for my lesson.

    And thanks for your thoughts on having 2 versions of Malachi 4:5-6. I was wondering why Joseph didn’t alter/put in JST in the scriptures but only put the Moroni version in JSH. What you said makes sense.

    Thanks again for your posts every week!

  10. A. M. said

    Hi Joe,

    I love reading your blog as it really helps me understand and prepare my RS Lesson.

    I found this particular lesson quite difficult to understand and much research was needed for me to ‘get it’. Your further discussion and clarifications in your comments above have helped me immensely.

    I found this in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (see the quote below) and wanted to post it on here as I feel this completely supports and gives some background info concerning the issue of ‘Fathers = The Ancients’.
    It may be quite basic knowledge for some – but it helped me a lot to further understand what you are saying. Hopefully it will make it easier for any others, like me, who need a little more clarification than others. :)

    (I apologise if the quote is repeating any previous comments…)

    Many Thanks,

    From the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual:

    Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained:

    “Abraham first received the gospel by baptism (which is the covenant of salvation); then he had conferred upon him the higher priesthood, and he entered into celestial marriage (which is the covenant of exaltation), gaining assurance thereby that he would have eternal increase; finally he received a promise that all of these blessings would be offered to all of his mortal posterity. (Abra. Abraham 2:6–11; D. & C. D&C 132:29–50.) Included in the divine promises to Abraham was the assurance that Christ would come through his lineage, and the assurance that Abraham’s posterity would receive certain choice, promised lands as an eternal inheritance. (Abra. Abraham 2; Gen. Genesis 17; 22:15–18; Gal. Galatians 3.)

    “All of these promises lumped together are called the Abrahamic covenant. This covenant was renewed with Isaac (Gen. Genesis 24:60; 26:1–4, 24) and again with Jacob. (Gen. Genesis 28; 35:9–13; 48:3–4.) Those portions of it which pertain to personal exaltation and eternal increase are renewed with each member of the house of Israel who enters the order of celestial marriage; through that order the participating parties become inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (D. & C. D&C 132; Rom. Romans 9:4; Gal. Galatians 3; 4.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 13).

  11. joespencer said





  12. JerryYoung said

    I am preparing to present Chapter 26 on Sunday in our High Priests Group and appreciate the many thoughts and material in this blog.

    As a convert, my wife gave me years ago “Mormon Doctrine” to help me learn of the doctrine and principles of the Church. However, there was always the onus of the “first edition” problem and that it was not an official Church publication. Then there was the “Encyclopedia of Mormonism”. For an “official” (First Presidency)Church publication source, now we have “True to the Faith.” Under “Abrahamic Covenant” on page 5 of “TttF”,it reads much as in “M D”.

    Thanks to you and Joespenser for enlarging the landscape of the discussion.

  13. Julie said

    Thanks for the references. It has been stressed that we stick to Church approved materials when teaching lessons, so I don’t feel comfortable using sources that aren’t “official.” This entire lesson has been very insightful and I’ve really enjoyed delving into deeper doctrine than just genealogy.

  14. […] here to read the post and the […]

  15. jarod said

    Here are some quotes from General Authorities (courtesy of the D&C Gospel Doctrine Manual) discussing the “promises” made to the “fathers” that are in line with the premise of this post.

    President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “What was the promise made to the fathers that was to be fulfilled in the latter days by the turning of the hearts of the children to their fathers? It was the promise of the Lord made through Enoch, Isaiah, and the prophets, to the nations of the earth, that the time should come when the dead should be redeemed” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:154).

    Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “God made those promises to the ancient patriarchs—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and so forth—and we undoubtedly made them to our own lineal fathers and mothers, those who came to earth before the gospel was restored but whom we promised to provide its saving ordinances” (Christ and the New Covenant [1997], 297).

  16. SeekingFutherLight-n-Understanding said


    Thank you for your depth explanation and enlightenment you have shared with us here. I am assigned to teach the Elders Quorum and I was struggling all week with what I would say and how to engage my brethren with this lesson. When I read your comments last night I was instantly captured and intrigued as I read of things I have never heard before.

    I know that we are instructed to teach from the supplied material and to not deviate from that which has been approved for our use but I found your explanations to be most insightful and helpful to get a true understanding of the important message we are encouraged to learn and understand. As Joseph Smith said “I wish you to understand this subject, for it is important;” we are advised to be ‘wise’ about this subject.

    I taught this lesson today and I believe it was well received. I was unfortunately limited in the time I was unable to deliver all the content but I believe that the main points were covered. Unexpectedly my class was expanded today to include 5 -6 members from the High Priest group including one member of the Stake Presidency, a past Bishop and a High Councillors. This definitely made me more nervous to be teaching material sourced from the Internet but they all appeared to agree and accept the teaching and instruction without challenge.

    Thanks again for your insights and for taking the time to ‘study out’ the subject and share with us all.

    Will you be posting more commentary on the coming lessons 27-28….?

  17. joespencer said


    I put up notes for every lesson. Check back. :)

  18. Rob said

    Joe, thanks again for another great set of comments.

  19. mommywhat said

    I enjoyed this lesson quite a bit. I am always surprised at how much doctrine I find in the Teachings of The Presidents of the Church manuals that is so clear, and yet we don’t teach often. All the manuals have been that way. The prophets are so clear, and yet we don’t read them often enough to keep the information in our heads! (me included!) :) I’m grateful for these manuals to help me hear this fantastic information!
    Julie, I hope you feel better about things. There is a lot to learn! There is a fantastic article called, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children About the Temple” by President Benson. It is amazing, it blew my mind when I read it. Every paragraph or two I had to stop and rethink things! We are a church where we teach each other, and sometimes that means that we don’t stop and reread the prophets, or the scriptures, but just reteach what we heard someone else teach. But anyway, this talk teachs about the “fulness of the Melchezidek Priesthood” and the role of Elijah. Please read! It’s fantastic!
    (Link: http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=f318118dd536c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=2fa20e46d0bdb010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1)

  20. mommywhat said

    To SeekingFutherLight-n-Understanding:
    You said you were uncomfortable teaching from a source from the internet. I suppose I would look at this in two ways, either you are teaching because you liked what Joe said, or you are teaching it because when you read the post, you better understood what Joseph Smith said, and then you taught that. I believe all our discussion here is not so that we add upon and pile up our own thoughts and then go and teach a mixture of our ideas, but so that we can see more clearly what Joseph is saying.
    When I teach from a manual, I do the same thing (a manual where a lesson plan is presented, not the MP/RS style.) I read through the material, and understand it to the point where I can go into the classroom and just teach it, not saying, “And here the manual says this.” That means I don’t really believe that the doctrine or scripture says that, so I have to use the manual to back it up. If I really trust that the interpretation is correct, then why hide behind the manual? Just teach it! The manual is just a help so that I can see what is there and teach it. The scriptures are what is true and revealed, not the manual. It is just a help. I am not testifying of the manual, so why say “The manual says..”?
    And along those same lines, if someone goes into a classroom and says, “Well, this online blog said this and this..” Then they didn’t REALLY think that the scripture said that, so they have to use the blog to teach it. They like the idea, but dont’ think it is really in the words of the prophet or scripture. Does that make sense? Any manual (again, the lesson-plan type) or dicussion (online or not!) are supposed to erase themselves once we understand the actual scripture, doctrine, words of prophets, etc!! Is it true? Is it right there in front of us, in the scriptures? Then teach it!! that has a lot more power in the classroom than deferring to the manual. If you aren’t comfortable teaching what you learned here by just teaching it in the scriptures, then I wouldn’t teach it. If it’s not that clearly in the scriptures to you, then either keep thinking and pondering, or let it go and don’t teach it. Maybe it isn’t a good interpretation, or maybe it is, but if it doesn’t settle in your heart enough to teach it without using the blog as your authority, then I suggest letting it go. Testify of the Joseph Smith and the scriptures, and the Spirit will be there to ratify your testimony.
    Sorry for a long comment. :)

  21. Rob said

    Mommywhat, that’s a great Benson talk…thanks for reminding us of it!

  22. Rosie said

    Thank you for you insight on this lesson! And even all the comments- I learn so much each time I og on to your site.

  23. […] RS/MP Lesson 26: “Elijah and the Restoration of the Sealing Keys” (Joseph Smith Man… […]

  24. johnboy said

    Joe – Great information. What I think is left out of this discussion is that it was Pres. Wilford Woodruff that straightened out the whole thing about who to be sealed to (parents). Prior to that time i’m guessing the members didn’t want to be sealed to their non-member parents, but rather chose to cast their lots with prominent members of the church, hence reports of church leaders “electioneering” to have people not even related to them sealed to them (like John D. Lee to Brigham Young). It was President Woodruff who instructed the saints to be sealed to their parents and assured them that “only very few would not accept the Gospel” At least that’s what I remember reading in a BYU Studies booklet about 30 years ago. And I noticed one of the lesson 26 references was from Pres. Woodruff.

  25. joespencer said


    Yes, indeed. That is worth mentioning. There’s a lot to say about Wilford Woodruff’s teachings that backed up that change as well. Thanks for bringing that point up.

  26. Opal Hopson said

    How to I get on your mailing list?
    Made my brain work–thanks.
    Thanks Opal

  27. joespencer said


    If you mean you want updates to the blog to come to your e-mail inbox, you just need to set up an RSS feed. If you look up on the left margin (you’ll have to scroll up from the comments), you’ll see the RSS links. They should guide you through the process.

    If you meant some other mailing list, I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about!

  28. […] my notes on lessons 26 (see here), I briefly discussed the apparent shock Joseph experienced when Elijah came to the Kirtland […]

  29. gomez said

    This is obviously a long time after the event but I thought of this post today as I was reading D&C 27. I think D&C 27:9-11 are quite explicit in defining who the fathers are.

  30. […] I’ve decided to primarily refer readers to Joe’s excellent and related post post, “Elijah and the Restoration of the Sealing Keys” (Lesson 26 in the Joseph Smith manual). First, however, I will offer a passages of commentary by […]

  31. rogue binds…

    […]RS/MP Lesson 26: “Elijah and the Restoration of the Sealing Keys” (Joseph Smith Manual) « Feast upon the Word Blog[…]…

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