“I don’t think that word means what you think it means”: What is the sealing power, anyway?

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.

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10 Comments

Filed under Doctrine, Speculation

10 responses to ““I don’t think that word means what you think it means”: What is the sealing power, anyway?

  1. HP

    I haven’t yet had time today to examine the terminology in the OT to see if it coincides with terms regarding seals. I will do so and report. Also, could one of you Greek scholars investigate NT usage? Are those heavens being sealed or are they being opened and closed?

  2. You piqued my interest and I ran a quick search of WoJS. In the vast majority of cases, Joseph uses the verb “to seal” and the “sealing power” as a synonymn for the Spirit (and or Power) of Elijah or the Fullness of the Priesthood. Here some of the usages that were pertinant to this thread:

    spoke of contracts & covenants made from life end with life. the necessity of the Temple that the Servants of God may be sealed in their foreheads.(WoJS pj. 239)

    I would to God that this temple was now done that we might go into it & go to work & improve our time & make use of the seals while they are on earth (WoJS pj. 318)

    for it is necessary that the seals are in our hands to seal our children & our dead for the fulness of the dispensation of times, (WoJS pj. 346)

    Copy editing provided at your request by Mogget

  3. Mogget

    Hm, well, I think the heavens pretty much open in the NT, except when they get torn.

    Here’s a bit on the famous Mt 16:19

    I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, so that whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

    The verb “to bind” is deō, while the verb “to seal,” which appears elsewhere in the NT, is sfragizō.

    Binding and loosing appear together as technical terms in both magical texts and early Jewish documents. In magical texts, together with their close cousins, the exorcism rituals, the binding and loosing powers are control over demons and the like.

    In early Jewish literature, it is the authority to make decisions about what is permitted and what is not. Examples include deciding which vows must be kept and which can be shrugged off, expounding moral law, and perhaps the authority to release or enforce community exclusion.

    The majority opinion among modern exegetes arises from the Jewish line of thought. Peter is here given the authority to declare what is permitted and what is not. In his case, it includes things like how much or how little of the Law his fellow disciples must keep as well as the wider issues of doctrine and revelation that fill out the rest of the passage.

    So…his is a postition of authority on earth which is recognized in heaven. And now I must get more done on ye olde dissy before I can come out and play again.

    There is some good stuff on seals and sealing, though, in the Paulines.

  4. J, I love your fullness stuff. Keep it coming. Your amalgamation of hyperlinks regarding the fullness on yesterday’s thread was inestimable.

    Thanks man. Your comments class up this place.

  5. LisaB

    A few thoughts (without any word study qualifications). I have wondered about sealings (typical Mormon usage)in light of all temple blessings being conditional. Seems to contradict the definition of sealing. But I believe there is a power in the ordinaces for those dedicated to God. If we are “sealed His” (don’t have the scripture reference) in more than just nominal/ check the box terms, we are protected from those who would have us “loosed” or lost. Sealing also gives us an indicator of who is ostensibly acting in God’s name. Woe to those who are merely pretenders.

  6. LisaB

    Oh, yes, also ideally then those with sealing power help us better understand God’s will and dealings.

  7. …but all temple sealings are not conditional…

  8. HP

    LisaB,
    welcome back to the nacle. I know that J has a very limited definition of what constitutes Sealing, as opposed to sealing. I don’t know if it is helpful to limit the definition that way.
    That is to say, I find your ideas intriguing.

  9. Mogget the Slacker

    we are protected from those who would have us “loosed” or lost. Sealing also gives us an indicator of who is ostensibly acting in God’s name.

    Ah, LisaB, you shame me. I had great intentions to come back to this over the weekend, but I should know better. Weekends are hell around here.

    Anyway, here’s a bit more on the “seal” and “sealing” passages in the NT. They are, as LisaB’s comments indicate, mostly connected with ownership, authenticity, and protection.

    John 6:7 Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal (esfragisen)

    First, the aorist tense suggests that this sealing is some discrete event in the past. Baptism? Does this sealing indicate approval? Consecration? Bearing the name/power of God as an authentic agent? Not sure, but I lean toward the last.

    1 Cor 9:2 Although I may not be an apostle for others, certainly I am for you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

    Here, the saints are the certification or attestation of the authenticity of Paul’s calling as an apostle. If the Corinthians deny Paul’s apostolic status, then they deny their own status in Christ.

    2 Cor 1:22 he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.

    “Put his seal” is an aorist participle in a string of similar participles. It probably designates divine approval and may refer to baptism, but I really don’t know much about 2 Cor. The Spirit as a “first installment” understands the gift of the Spirit as something of a down payment against the full payment of our eventual inheritance with God.

    Eph 1:13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit,

    The expression “were sealed” is an aorist passive that clearly designates an event that is both past and complete. The participle translated “believed” is also aorist, so the “belief” and the “sealing” happened at the same time. Receipt of the Spirit is the sign that believers belong to God and that he takes care of them during the current trials (v. 14).

    Eph 4:30 And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.

    Again, an aorist passive. Here, the context suggests that receipt of the Spirit is a guarantee that God will eventually take complete possession of believers despite the unpleasant events associated with the coming apocalypse.

    Rev 7:2 Then I saw another angel come up from the East, holding the seal of the living God. He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were given power to damage the land and the sea,

    Here, the word “seal” is a noun and it clearly indicates something solid such as a signet ring or another similar device capable of making a impression or mark. The mark that is made is never specified, but is clearly a sign of God’s ownership. Rev 14:1 does indicate that the names of the Lamb and his Father are written on the foreheads of the faithful, so we might understand that as the imprint left by “seal.” Rev 9:4 makes it clear that this seal also functions as protection against the demonic onslaught. Like most of Revelation’s motifs, it has an antithesis, that is, the mark of the Beast.

    All of this has OT precedent of course, including the mark (sēmeion) of protection God put on Cain. God is envisioned as possessing a signet or seal (hôtām), but we’ll have to ask David J. if he knows more about it, because I don’t.

    Finally, there’s one last reference to control of the heavens in Rev 11:6. The two prophets have power to “shut up” (kleiō) the sky/heavens so that it “rains no rain” during the days of their ministry.

  10. A bit of a tangent, but I believe it relates to the original post. While doing some research for another project, I just stumbled accross this from Elder Packer (in The Holy Temple (pg. 151):

    I heard President Kimball say on one occasion, as other Presidents of the Church have said, that, while he holds all of the keys that are held upon the earth, there are keys that he does not hold. There are keys that have not been given to him as President of the Church, because they are reserved to higher power and authority. For instance, he said that he does not hold the keys of the resurrection. The Lord holds them, but He has not delegated them-neither anciently, nor to modern prophets. President Kimball mentioned also the authority to command the elements, to walk on the water. The Lord has this power, but He has not given it to mortals, although there are times when righteous men have been inspired to command the forces of nature and have been obeyed.

    It struck me as odd, as it represents what seems to me a drastic departure(the elements part, not the resurection or water part) from the teachings of Joseph Smith and the scriptures (especially the inspired version of Genesis 14: 25-40) of what the sealing power is.