Wedding Rings as Symbols

I’ve attended my fair share of Latter-day Saint weddings in Utah and there is one common element that has puzzled me.

Latter-day Saint marriage sealings take place in the temple, and the official ordinance does not involve a ring exchange. It’s not uncommon, however, for the couple to do a ring exchange after the sealing ordinance is performed, either in the temple or at a reception later on. And the most common quote I’ve heard used at those ring exchanges is the one where Joseph Smith talks about eternity in the King Follett Sermon:

I want to reason more on the Spirit of Man for I am dwelling on the body of man on the subjt. of the dead— I take my ring from my finger & liken it unto the mind of man the im[morta]l. Sp[irit] bec[ause] it has no beging. suppose you cut it into but as the L[or]d lives there wo[uld] be an end all the fools & wise men from the beging of creation who say that man had begin— they must have an end & then the doc[trine] of annihilitn. [annihilation] wo[ould] be true— but if I am right I mit. with boldness proclaim from the house top that God never had power to create the Sp[irit] of Man at all—  God himself co[uld] not create himself[1]

The logic of using the quote in these settings is that the wedding rings are circular, much as Joseph Smith’s ring was, and that circularity represents eternity or eternal existence. Since we believe that a marriage that is sealed in the temple by priesthood authority is able to endure into the eternities, a wedding ring that represents eternity can be used to represent an eternal marriage.

The problem is that the logic is faulty and self-defeating. You see, what Joseph Smith is saying is that the shape of the ring represents eternity because it has no beginning or end. If the ring is broken so that it doesn’t form a full loop, it will then have both a beginning and an end. In his analogy, in other words, anything that has a beginning must have an end and vice versa. His intended application is that if a human soul can never die, that means that it had to exist in the past through all eternity as well. The issue with applying this analogy to an eternal marriage is that the marriage has a definite beginning—the time of the marriage ceremony. Hence, using the quote by Joseph Smith in that setting is actually a statement that the marriage will not be eternal because he is saying that anything that has a beginning has an end.

Now, the reality is that Joseph Smith’s ring is only an analogy and probably does not represent an actual universal rule. I’m perfectly fine with the idea that eternal marriage can endure into the eternities despite it having a beginning. My point here is that using this quote from the King Follett Sermon is not a good idea at a ring ceremony (unless you believe in some sort of cosmology where the marriage is as eternal as the soul—back into premortal existence—and is merely being reconfirmed in the marriage ceremony. Cue “I’ve Seen that Smile Somewhere Before”).

An alternative symbolism that is likely to be more useful was given by a Medieval priest from England who was named John Mirk. In a marriage sermon, he wrote that the ring can symbolize God in the lives of the couple:

Therefore the priest blesseth a ring that betokeneth [symbolizes] God, that hath neither beginning nor ending, and doth put it on her finger that hath a vein running to her heart, tokening [showing] that she shall love God over all things and then her husband.[2]

The ring representing the role of God in the relationship of the bride and groom works better as a symbolism than the King Follett Sermon quote.

This symbol as a part of the marriage is something that is congruent with the teachings of Latter-day Saint prophets and apostles. For example, President Ezra Taft Benson taught that, as Mirk wrote, “she shall love God over all things”:

When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.

We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives. …

We should give God, the Father of our spirits, an exclusive preeminence in our lives. He has a prior parental claim on our eternal welfare, ahead of all other ties that may bind us here or hereafter.[3]

As for God’s role in the marriage relationship, President Russell M. Nelson taught, “To qualify for eternal life, we must make an eternal and everlasting covenant with our Heavenly Father. This means that a temple marriage is not only between husband and wife; it embraces a partnership with God.”[4] President Howard W. Hunter also taught that “Marriage is often referred to as a partnership with God. This is not just a figure of speech. If this partnership remains strong and active, the man and woman will love each other as they love God, and there will come into their home a sweetness and affection that will bring eternal success.”[5] In addition, Elder David A. Bednar wrote,

The Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point in a covenant marriage relationship. Please notice how the Savior is positioned at the apex of this triangle, with a woman at the base of one corner and a man at the base of the other corner. Now consider what happens in the relationship between the man and the woman as they individually and steadily “come unto Christ” and strive to be “perfected in Him” (Moro. 10:32). Because of and through the Redeemer, the man and the woman come closer together.[6]

Figure 1. Image of a marriage relationship with Jesus involved at the apex of the triangle.

Altogether, these teachings by Latter-day Saint church leaders portray a theology where God is part of the marriage relationship and that the priority for the heart is, first, devotion to God and then, second, devotion to the spouse.

This theology is very much in line with John Mirk’s symbolism of the wedding ring representing God and that by placing the ring on the finger (through which blood flows from the heart), it represents an exclusive preeminence of God in our lives, even in marriage. While related—in that the ring still represents the eternal—this is a better symbol for a wedding ring than an analogy that teaches that since the marriage has a definite beginning, it will have a definite end.

[1] Discourse, 7 April 1844, as Reported by Thomas Bullock, p. 18, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 26, 2024,

[2] John Mirk, Mirk’s Festial: A Collection of Homilies, by Johannes Mirkus, ed. Theodore Erbe (London: Early English Text Society, 1905), 291. Spelling modernized.

[3] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Great Commandment-Love the Lord,” in Conference Report, April 1988, 3–5; see also Ensign, May 1988, 4–6.

[4] Russell M. Nelson, “Celestial Marriage,” in Conference Report, October 2008.

[5] Howard W. Hunter, “Marriage Insurance,” Beneficial Life Insurance Company Convention, Tamarron, Colorado, July 14, 1978.

[6] David A. Bednar, “Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan,” Liahona, June 2006.

3 comments for “Wedding Rings as Symbols

  1. Prompt: What’s the difference between “eternal” and “everlasting” in LDS theology?

    ChatGPT: Eternal: Without beginning or end; timeless; often used to describe the nature of God. Everlasting: Continuing forever into the future once it has begun; often used to describe covenants, blessings, or states of being.

  2. John, so what you’re saying is the Church’s parlance should change to everlasting marriage rather than eternal marriage?

    PNWReader, I thought about going silent on the blog for six months just to make it seem like your comment came true.

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