Mormonism and polygamy/Book of Mormon

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Book of Mormon statements about the practice of polygamy


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Question: Does the Book of Mormon condemn polygamy?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #64: What Does the Book of Mormon Say About Polygamy? (Video)

"For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things"

Jacob 2:24-29 states:

24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.

26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.

27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;

28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.

29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.

Those who cite this as a condemnation of plural marriage generally refrain from citing the very next verse:

30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things. (Jacob 2:30).

The Book of Mormon makes it clear that the Lord may, under some circumstances, command the practice of plural marriage.


Question: Why does Doctrine and Covenants 132 speak favorably about some Old Testament practitioners of plural marriage, while Jacob 2 is negative?

Jacob demonstrates that some of David and Solomon's actions were contrary to Torah, and contrary to God's established order

Jacob demonstrates that some of David and Solomon's actions were contrary to Torah, and contrary to God's established order. If God will not justify even the kings of Israel in such behavior (Jacob seems to argue) why do you think he will justify you in taking plural wives which I, Jacob, have not approved as God's representative among you?

On the other hand, the Doctrine and Covenants' intention is to explain under what circumstances God has and would not only permit but command plural marriage through his prophets.

These two texts are not discussing the same thing at all. This is not immediately obvious, but becomes clear as we look closer.

At some point after David and Solomon, it was encoded into Mosaic law that a man was not to have many wives

One of the challenges is that at some point after these events (David and Solomon), it was encoded into Mosaic law that a man was not to have many wives—and this (back when polygamy was still considered acceptable in mainstream Judaism) was later interpreted by the Rabbis to mean that a man could have as many as four wives.

This injunction on the number of wives seems to be carried over into the polemic given in Jacob. The key in this interpretation of the text is the phrase "Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines...". This is a citation of the Old Testament text found in Deuteronomy 17:17, although the rendering is much closer to the NIV than to the KJV. (Deuteronomy in its present form was probably not written before the Lehites' departure, but a similar body of law and thought would have gone back to Lehi's day.)

Here is the relevant passage from the New International Version of the Bible (NIV), which describes the responsibilities and powers of the king.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (NIV, emphasis added)

14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,"
15 be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.
16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, "You are not to go back that way again."
17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.
19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees
20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

Compare this with the KJV:

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (KJV, emphasis added)

14 When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;
15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
16 But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

It is probable that Jacob is effectively quoting this passage (or a precursor to it) from the Brass Plates

It is probable that Jacob is effectively quoting this passage (or a precursor to it) from the Brass Plates, and whether or not some of those wives/concubines were given to these men by God is to an extent irrelevant to his point. In other words, the passage in the Book of Mormon and the passage in the Doctrine and Covenants, quite possibly, are really not discussing the same issue at all.

Jacob was not just saying that David and Solomon had more than one wife, he says that they "truly had many wives," as if to say, "there is no question that David and Solomon had many wives." The fact that the Old Testament strictly forbade the practice of taking many wives for a king (both Solomon and David were kings) leads one to conclude that they were in violation of Torah. The reason to suggest it as a recitation of Deuteronomy 17:17 is because of the context.

If it is not a recitation, then there is no previous indication that this is an abomination (at least within the scriptures that we have today) and that this would be a new rule. How then could it be retroactively applied to Solomon and David? This ultimately is the point—Jacob was defending the new 'party line' on polygamy from the scriptures.

The Book of Mormon account is basing its statements on an interpretation of Mosaic Law to defend a new (to them) negative position on polygamy. The Doctrine and Covenants, by contrast, wishes to explain how and when polygamy can be acceptable to God. One states that the abomination of Solomon and David was in their breaking the commandments in Torah according to the text, and while there are many polygamous figures in the Old Testament, very few "truly had many wives." It is doubtful that the Nephite proponents of polygamy restricted their proof texts to only David and Solomon.

It was the murder of Uriah and the taking of his wife that was the sin David committed, not polygamy

What were the wrongdoings of David and Solomon from Jacob's perspective? Was polygamy the sinful act they committed, or was it something else? Obviously, polygamy was accepted by the Lord at times, since many of His prophets participated in the practice. In fact, the Bible says that God gave David his plural wives:

2 Samuel 12:7-8 (emphasis added)

7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
8 And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.

Would God give anyone something that was sinful, wrong, or evil? Absolutely not. If polygamy was not the sin that David committed, then what was it? The very next verse in the Bible explains the sin.

2 Samuel 12:9 (emphasis added)

Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.

It was the murder of Uriah and the taking of his wife that was the sin David committed, not polygamy. David already had plural wives. These wives were given to him by God. Polygamy was not the sin David was guilty of, but murder and coveting another's wife was. David committed this murder (or rather caused it to happen) so he could have Uriah's wife as his own. In other words, David took an additional wife that the Lord did not give him. But the fact that he had plural wives was in no wise a sin.

The Doctrine and Covenants confirms what the Bible tells us concerning this matter.

DC 132:39

David's wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife;

It was the fact that Solomon allowed some of his wives to turn his heart away from the Lord that resulted in sin, not polygamy

What of Solomon? Was polygamy his sin? Not according to the Bible.

1 Kings 11:1-6 (emphasis added)

1 BUT king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;
2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.
3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.
4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.
6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father.

It was the fact that Solomon allowed some of his wives to turn his heart away from the Lord, just like Uriah's wife did with David, that resulted in sin or evil. It was not polygamy that was evil. The Book of Mormon explains that only when God commands it can a man have more than one wife at a time.

Now, let's return to the second chapter of Jacob:

Jacob 2:23 (emphasis added)

But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures...

Remember that verse 30 could be the "exception clause." That is why it is important to look at the full account in the scriptures, and not selectivity pick one or two verses.

Jacob 2:23 (emphasis added)

...for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.

The Lord had not given permission for the people to have more than one wife at that time. The people were selectively using the scriptures to obtain more than one wife. Because the Lord had not given His permission, it was wrong to have more than one wife at a time, and Jacob can demonstrate how both these kings were also condemned by the Law for their unapproved actions.

Jacob 2:24

Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

It was not the concubines or the multiple wives that was abominable, but the fact that not all of it was specifically approved by the Lord

It was not the concubines or the multiple wives that was abominable, it was abominable because there was some abuse and not all of it was specifically approved by the Lord.

Jacob 2:27-30

27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; OTHERWISE they shall hearken unto these things.

Their plural wives and concubines were an abomination in that not all of them were approved by the Lord. They were kings who used their temporal power to take that which God had not approved.


Question: Did early Church leaders state that the Book of Mormon condemns polygamy?

Critics of the Book of Mormon attempt to use the words of early LDS leaders to bolster their position. For example, note how the words of Orson Pratt are "mined" to support the critic's assertion that the Book of Mormon condemns polygamy:

Reference Original quote... What the critics want the quote to say...
Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, p. 221 quoting Orson Pratt in Journal of Discourses 6:351 The Book of Mormon, therefore, is the only record (professing to be Divine) which condemns plurality of wives as being a practice exceedingly abominable before God. But even that sacred book makes an exception in substance as follows—"Except I the Lord command my people." The same Book of Mormon and the same article that commanded the Nephites that they should not marry more than one wife, made an exception. Let this be understood—"Unless I the Lord shall command them." We can draw the conclusion from this, that there were some things not right in the sight of God, unless he should command them. We can draw the same conclusion from the Bible, that there were many things which the Lord would not suffer his children to do, unless he particularly commanded them to do them. The Book of Mormon, therefore, is the only record (professing to be divine) which condemns the plurality of wives as being a practice exceedingly abominable before God.

The critics use this quote to state that Orson Pratt "admitted" that the Book of Mormon condemns plural marriage by extracting only the portion of his quote that mentions it. They omit Pratt's subsequent explanation regarding the exception mentioned in Jacob 2:30, thus implying that Pratt was making an "admission" that the Book of Mormon condemned polygamy.

The Smoot hearings

Jerald and Sandra Tanner quote Vol. 1, p. 480 of the Smoot hearings for this claim. They ignore the exchange on the very next page in which President Joseph F. Smith responds to this claim in the Senate, with the senate making the same error made by the Tanners and other critics.

Joseph F. Smith insists that the senate consider what is now Jacob 2:30. Anti-Mormon attacks have not changed much since.


Question: Is Jacob 2:30 actually not saying that polygamy is an occasional exception to monogamy?

Introduction to Question

A splinter group of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints known as the "Doctrine of Christ" have been adamant that the Book of Mormon doesn’t actually condone polygamy under certain circumstances.

The focus is over Jacoh 2:30. Jacob is speaking to Nephite men and women. Here are the verses in question verbatim

23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.
26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

Those associated with the Doctrine of Christ have interpreted this verse in a variety of ways that do not include the “exception clause” provided by Jacob 2:30 that polygamy may be commanded by God when God needs to raise up seed.

This article will respond to the major arguments in favor of reinterpreting this passage.

Response to Question

“Command My People” May Mean “Move to a Different Location”

One of the arguments is that to “raise up seed”, God wouldn’t need to command polygamy but, like Lehi, he could just command his covenant people to move to another location. In the case of Lehi, he was commanded to leave Jerusalem and sail to another location. At the beginning of 1 Nephi 7, Nephi informs us of the following:

And now I would that ye might know, that after my father, Lehi, had made an end of aprophesying concerning his seed, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take bdaughters to cwife, that they might raise up dseed unto the Lord in the land of promise.

Thus, the Lord commanded Lehi to get his sons to take daughters to wife and take them to the land of promise where they could raise up seed. Monogamously, the Nephites may very well have done that. There are many verses in the Book of Mormon that speak of the Nephites multiplying monogamously.

In Jacob 2 itself Jacob declares:

Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a arighteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.

But verse 30 does not entirely rule out that polygamy might be among the strategies the Lord might pursue in order to raise up seed. Leading people away from hostile environments might only be one of those strategies. Saying that verse 30 totally rules out polygamy is thus a form of eisegesis.

The Book of Mormon clearly states that the David and Solomon’s sin was having many wives and concubines

The next major assertion is that Jacob flatly condemns polygamy in his discourse. At first blush, this assertion seems to be entirely correct. Jacob 2:25 says:

Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

There is a lot more complexity to Jacob’s assertion though. We have outlined that complexity in the article below.

As a clue to some of the complexity, several biblical characters practiced plural marriage and they did not receive condemnation from neither God nor Jacob.

Richard and Pamela Price's Interpretation

Richard Price “is a Reorganization conservative who interprets redirection in the church’s policy and doctrine as evidence of apostacy [sic] from the truths of the Restoration. He has become the chief spokesman for Reorganization fundamentalists, and a rival church organization is now developing around him.”[1] Him and his wife Pamela are the authors of the three-volume series Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy.

They claim the following:

The true interpretation of the passage shows that it is definitely monogamous, and that it is in harmony with all the rest of the revelation which the Lord gave through Jacob. The true interpretation is:
For if I will, saith the Lord of hosts, raise up [righteous] seed unto me, I will command my people [the Lord will be their commander—He will give them commandments to obey]: otherwise [if the Lord is not their commander; or they do not obey His commandments], they shall hearken unto these things [they shall practice the sins of polygamy].
This is the true meaning of this passage—and therefore it condemns polygamy, rather than justifying it as the Mormon Church leaders claim.[2]

Other authors have followed their lead in interpreting Jacob 2:30 this way.

Gregory L. Smith pointed out the major flaws of their argument in a post on the FAIR Blog:

This is certainly a creative reading. I see a few problems, however:


  1. The reading requires the “shall hearken” to be read as predictive (what will happen), not imperative (what should happen). Yet, in Joseph’s day, shall is typically an imperative when applied in the second and third person, not a future tense. See Webster’s 1828 dictionary, “shall,” definition #2.
  2. It seems strange for the Lord to say simply that He will be “their comamnder,”–the verse is clearly talking about commanding SOMETHING. And, it involves the Lord “will”[ing] something that He might not will in other situations.
  3. It ignores the fact that Jacob is almost certainly commenting on Deuteronomic (or Deuteronomy-like) writing about plural marriage in Judaic kings, some of whom clearly had wives given them by God. (e.g., 2 Sam 11:8) See here [ and here ] for analysis on these lines by FAIR.[3]

Conclusion

These rebuttals should suffice in demonstrating that the major arguments in favor of reinterpretation are all either false or non-determinative.


Gospel Topics: The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that the marriage of one man to one woman is God’s standard, except at specific periods when He has declared otherwise

"Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah," Gospel Topics on LDS.org

The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that the marriage of one man to one woman is God’s standard, except at specific periods when He has declared otherwise. [4]

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Roger D. Launius, ”An Ambivalent Rejection: Baptism for the Dead and the Reorganized Church Experience,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23, no. 2 (Summer 1990): 61n1. For more on Price, see William D. Russell, “Richard Price: Leading Publicist of the Reorganized Church’s Schismatics,” in Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher, eds., Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 319–40.
  2. Richard Price and Pamela Price, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, 3 vols. (Independence, MO: Price Publishing Co., 2000), 1:226.
  3. Gregory L. Smith, "Plural marriage ponderings: An RLDS/CoC apologetic for Jacob 2:30," FAIR Blog, February 4, 2008, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/blog/2008/02/04/plural-marriage-ponderings-an-rldscoc-apologetic-for-jacob-230.
  4. "Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)