The Difference Between Binding and Sealing Powers

Jul 18
Royal seal

This past week I was reading my scriptures and came across a verse that caught my attention. At this point I can’t remember which of a few verses I read first, but this verse in Isaiah typifies all the verses.

Isaiah 8: 16. Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.

(an identical verse appears in 2 Nephi 18:16 where this Isaiah chapter is quoted.)

The comma here is similar in nature to the word “and” as we will see in the verses below. Bind and seal are apparently separate concepts even though we typically think of them as synonymous. This search has 8 results, 7 of which illustrate a distinction:

seal* and (bind* or bound)

Similar to the 2 verses mentioned above, these 3 illustrate the difference in these terms.

D&C 88: 84. Therefore, tarry ye, and labor diligently, that you may be perfected in your ministry to go forth among the Gentiles for the last time, as many as the mouth of the Lord shall name, to bind up the law and seal up the testimony, and to prepare the saints for the hour of judgment which is to come;

D&C 109: 46. Therefore, O Lord, deliver thy people from the calamity of the wicked; enable thy servants to seal up the law, and bind up the testimony, that they may be prepared against the day of burning.

D&C 133:72. Wherefore, they sealed up the testimony and bound up the law, and ye were delivered over unto darkness.

It can be seen in these verses that the sealing and binding of the law and the testimony is somewhat interchangeable. We should inquire, what is the law? What is the testimony? Those terms are going to have to wait for another post.

Bind and Seal – to initialize and finalize

First, lets define the terms bind and seal.

The word bind used in the Isaiah reference above comes from “ṣārar” in Hebrew which means to bind, be narrow, be in distress (ex. you are “in a bind”), make narrow, cause distress, besiege, be straitened, be bound.

I picture a binding like lashing objects together, or like this picture of a book binding being created.

Binding pages

The word seal comes from “ḥāṯam” in Hebrew which means make an end, mark, seal (up), stop, lock up, affix a seal.

I picture a closure on something locking it up, or a royal seal making something official like in this image.

Royal seal

One way of viewing this in a gospel sense is a binding represents the beginning of the process like the sealing ordinance in the temple, but the sealing is when the Holy Spirit of promise ratifies the action and makes it permanent in the heavens from what has been done on earth. The same is true of the baptism of water being preparatory and the baptism of fire being the sealing or ratifying of that initial ordinance.

What are we “bound” to? God and his laws. What are we sealed to? God and exaltation when we have completed our “tests” to show God our hearts are fully circumcised.

The Holy Spirit of Promise

Performing this search in Scripture Notes reveals 8 verses:

"Holy Spirit of promise"

Here is a sampling:

Ephesians 1: 13. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,

D&C 76:53. And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.

We therefore see that believers who accept and live the gospel receive this sealing blessing to signify in the heavens, a completion of the ordinance performed on earth.

Mortals Can Exercise this Power

Some mortals on earth are given power to both bind and seal. They not only hold the “binding” power to perform ordinances, but also the authority and power under the direction of the Holy Ghost, to bestow the blessings of the Holy Spirit of Promise, sealing people to salvation in the heavens. Hyrum Smith was given this blessing:

D&C 124:124. First, I give unto you Hyrum Smith to be a patriarch unto you, to hold the sealing blessings of my church, even the Holy Spirit of promise, whereby ye are sealed up unto the day of redemption, that ye may not fall notwithstanding the hour of temptation that may come upon you.

(Stipulations that accompany this sealing may be seen in D&C 132:19.)

Some temple workers are called to be “sealers” who perform ordinances that “seal” couples and children to parents. However, maybe they should more accurately be called “binders,” after which the Holy Ghost acting as the “Holy Spirit of Promise” ratifies the sealing. Or as seen in this verse above, someone receives the Holy Spirit of Promise through a mortal blessing, perhaps that which is termed the “second anointing” ordinance.

The Keys of the Kingdom

Another verse from our initial search set above is different in the way it talks about these powers of sealing and binding.

D&C 128:14. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as are the records on the earth in relation to your dead, which are truly made out, so also are the records in heaven. This, therefore, is the sealing and binding power, and, in one sense of the word, the keys of the kingdom, which consist in the key of knowledge.

This is a deep and intricate verse. To get some context, the two verses before it are speaking of baptisms for the dead and specifically the need for such to be performed in a font below ground level.

I believe this was to give the impression that those individuals assembled to perform the ordinances would be symbolic of the dead mingling together in an area symbolic of death. Then after their baptism is performed they can ascend above ground for other ordinances of the temple, having been freed from spirit prison and beginning their journey upward toward the celestial glory.

Verse 14 is pointing out that we start life as “earthy,” natural man individuals just like Adam. We complete life by completing the ordinances to take upon us the spiritual individual, laying aside or completing the death of the natural man in order to become the spiritual.

Those individuals holding the keys of the kingdom, are authorized under the direction of the spirit, to receive the knowledge of who to seal up to eternal life, and utilizing the keys of the kingdom, exercise the binding and then sealing power to perform those ordinances to bring this about.

Keys Held by Mortals, Delegated by Christ

From Official Declaration 1:10

10. “I move that, recognizing Wilford Woodruff as the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the only man on the earth at the present time who holds the keys of the sealing ordinances…”

The prophet of God on earth is the individual empowered with this ability though he may delegate it, or portions of it, to others to aid in performing this work. Temple “sealers” operate under this delegated authority.

We see that Christ delegated this power on others during his lifetime as well. Peter, the chief apostle and prophet under Christ, was given the power in Matthew 16:

Matthew 16:19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

This brings us to the last verse of the initial search set. Speaking of the keys and power of the priesthood that have been restored, the Lord told the prophet Joseph Smith this power was his:

D&C 132:46. And verily, verily, I say unto you, that whatsoever you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you remit on earth shall be remitted eternally in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you retain on earth shall be retained in heaven.

This verse seems to muddy the water a little bit. It seems clear to me that to seal and bind are separate but obviously related concepts. Used here, both are used on earth and recognized in heaven. What is the difference?

Perhaps it just goes back to the original definitions. A binding may be seen in a temple marriage which is recognized on earth as bringing two individuals together for eternity, and it is recognized in heaven. If the individuals do not receive the sealing mark in this life, but live worthy of it, the binding is still recognized in heaven and the sealing (or ratifying) takes place in the next life if the couple live worthy of and desire that blessing. However, having the seal placed upon the binding in this life is advantageous in bringing a greater hope and peace to the couple. Admittedly, this article is heavy with my own speculation and here I’m trying to think through how this verse could be explained. More study will need done to find further answers on this topic.

Now I just want to point out there are some other interesting aspects of the sealing power shown in the scriptures.

Sealing Powers

Obviously, Christ had the fulness of the sealing power on earth. He forgave sins, manipulated physical objects (multiplying bread, water to wine, cursing a tree, etc…), he raised the dead, and other miracles. He gave power to his disciples who would be able to perform similar works which we see instances of in the book of Acts.

We also see powers given to other prophets in the scriptures who obtained this status.

Moses was given this power over the elements and told by God:

Moses 1:25 “…for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God.”

Nephi was told in Helaman 10:7-10 that he had this power which included the ability to demolish buildings, flatten mountains, and smite people. He was given full authority by God to utilize angelic hosts in performing the works and miracles he needed to do (verse 6 is where God informs the angels to obey Nephi). Obviously, the sealing power is a powerful authority given to those the Lord highly trusts to be in tune with the Holy Spirit and not seek their own benefit (as shown in Helaman 10:5).

In the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14, we read of instances of miracles performed with God’s power to divert rivers and move mountains, and there are numerous examples throughout the scriptures.

Obtaining Sealing Powers

It is my belief, that all the blessings of the priesthood and the miracles shown in the scriptures are available to everyone who prepares themselves for those blessings. They are not just reserved to prophets except to hold the keys of these powers and to exercise them for the entire church. God does that to maintain order in the kingdom so that no one makes a claim to be receiving revelation and power for the church except the one appointed to that position by God. However, God can bestow power on mortals and allow them to exercise power in the priesthood by virtue of their personal righteousness and desire to do God’s will.

  • First we receive the ordinances binding ourselves to God which manifest the power of godliness (D&C 83:20-21) in our lives.
  • Second to have the ordinances sealed upon us by the Holy Spirit of Promise (D&C 76:53 and D&C 132:18-19) giving us the understanding we have completed our initial trials and have full confidence in the presence of God (D&C 121:45).
  • And third, to then receive through the Lord the sealing power and a knowledge by direct revelation that we have attained the station that we are doing the will of God (Helaman 10:5) and are entrusted to not seek our own benefit by having such power.

The Care in Holding Such Power

Interestingly, I came across this story from Joseph Smith which illustrates the care with which he held this power even toward those who sought his life.

“Again: The doctrine or sealing power of Elijah is as follows:—If you have power to seal on earth and in heaven, then we should be wise. The first thing you do, go and seal on earth your sons and daughters unto yourself, and yourself unto your fathers in eternal glory, and go ahead, and not go back, but 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.

The Lord once told me that what I asked for I should have. I have been afraid to ask God to kill my enemies, lest some of them should, peradventure, repent.

I asked a short time since for the Lord to deliver me out of the hands of the Governor of Missouri, and if it needs must be to accomplish it, to take him away; and the next news that came pouring down from there was, that Governor Reynolds had shot himself. And I would now say, Beware, O earth, how you fight against the Saints of God and shed innocent blood; for in the days of Elijah, his enemies came upon him, and fire was called down from heaven and destroyed them.”

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 340

The sealing power is the ultimate power given to man on earth. It differs from regular priesthood power and is a higher order given to a select few individuals in this life, but obtainable by all worthy individuals in the next life if they do not receive it here.

We can only speculate as to the full nature of its powers and why it is called the sealing power when it includes such diverse powers to both bless and curse or manipulate physical objects, and perform and ratify priesthood ordinances.

What we do know is it is a power to which we should be seeking in all righteousness, proving to God we are loyal to do his will and trustworthy to be endowed with such power.


(Images by Burdun & Leaf at


About the Author

Oak Norton - Just trying to share a love of the scriptures with others.

  • This is an excellent article. Thank you for it and the increased understanding it has given me. It would have been useful in teaching from D&C 76 last Sunday.

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