The sealing power is an oft-discussed concept in LDS theology. It is used to describe the motivation of phenomena as diverse as divine intervention in weather patterns and the joining together of eternal families. As a result, definitions of the sealing power tend toward the vague side. Luckily, the Book of Mormon provides some insight into “sealing” and related terminology that allow us to write a potentially more helpful definition. As a result, the sealing power can be defined as the power to act in God’s name in such a way that one’s acts and edicts are treated as His on earth and in heaven.
There is no denying that the bestowal of sealing authority implies great power. For example, in Helaman 10:7 Nephi is given the sealing power with the following words:
Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people. [emphasis mine]
The clear implication is that what Nephi says while using the sealing power will be enforced in both the mortal and the divine realm. His words and acts are powerful and, it seems, representative of God’s power. God himself admits this in verse 5b:
…behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. [emphasis mine]
The final clause is interesting because it can be interpreted two ways. First, it could be read to mean that Nephi will not be allowed to ask anything that is contrary to God’s will. Second, it could be read to mean that God allows Nephi to ask anything he wants, because He knows that Nephi will only ask things that are in accordance with God’s will. Both meanings may be implied (they are not mutually exclusive), but it appears that the second meaning is likely to be the one intended.
To justify this choice, it is necessary to review the use of seals. The purpose of a seal is two-fold: to keep a private document of some sort from public scrutiny; and, to represent the authority of the person who closed access to the document. Thus, the seal represents the person who sealed the document and it is only that person who may authorize others to break the seal. The transfer of the seal from one person to another also involved the transfer of the authority to use it.
There are two principle uses of the verb “to seal” in the Book of Mormon. One in particular is modified by a preposition, resulting in “to seal up.” “To seal up” is used 15 times in the Book of Mormon and it is never used to talk about a person (Title Page; 1 Ne 14:26; 2 Ne 18:16; 26:17, 27; 27:8, 22; 30:3; Eth 3:22-23, 27-28; 4:5; 5:1; Moro 10:2). Instead, it is used to discuss closing and keeping certain documents and artifacts (“interpreters) out of the public eye. That “to seal” doesn’t mean the same thing as “to seal up” is made evident by 2nd Nephi 27:8, which reads as follows:
Wherefore, because of the things which are sealed up, the things which are sealed shall not be delivered in the day of the wickedness and abominations of the people. Wherefore the book shall be kept from them. [Emphasis mine]
Here it seems that the things which are sealed up (the documents) contain the things that are sealed. The nature of the things which are sealed seems to be more varied than just documents. In the Book of Mormon, the following are sealed: physical records or documents (Title page; 1 Ne 14:26; 2 Ne 18:16; 26:17; 27:7-8, 10-11, 17, 22; 30:3; 33:15?; 3 Ne 3:5; Eth 3:22-23, 27-28; 4:5; 5:1; Moro 10:2); words, revelations, or doctrines (2 Ne 27:8?, 15, 21; 33:15?; Mos 17:20); people (Mos 5:15; Alma 34:35); and miscellaneous things (2 Ne 30:17; Hel 10:7). Obviously, there is a heavy emphasis on working with words and documents here, but the exceptions are interesting enough to note. When one considers that people are being sealed, within a Book of Mormon context, it would appear that the seal is “stamped” on that person, indicate who has authority regarding the individual, whether it be God (as in Mos 5:15) or the Adversary (as in Alma 34:35).
Perhaps most importantly is the contrast between the two verses where what is being sealed is not specified. In 2 Ne 30:17, we read the following:
There is nothing which is secret save it shall be revealed; there is no word of darkness save it shall be made manifest; and there is nothing which is sealed upon the earth save it shall be loosed. [Emphasis mine]
This establishes an interesting dichotomy with Helaman 10:7, where Nephi is promised that what he seals on earth will be sealed in heaven. There is a permanence given the sealing that Nephi does that isn’t extended to other earthly attempts to seal (righteous or otherwise). To seal in heaven, one must be authorized to bear the seal of the one who is the authority in heaven. Therefore, the bestowal of the sealing power authorizes the person upon whom it is bestowed to act in God’s name in all that they do. They may expect their will to be followed by the obedient as if it were God’s.
The sealing power then is the ability to represent God and do his will in a manner that affects both earthly and heaven actions. This ability is granted because the bearer of the sealing power is granted the necessary power and authority, much as the bearer of a seal is sufficiently empowered to act in the name of the seal’s owner. In both cases, when the servant seals or looses it is as if the master did it himself.