Joseph Smith and children through plural marriage

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Articles about Plural marriage
Doctrinal foundation of plural marriage
Introduction of plural marriage
Questions about Joseph Smith and plural marriage
Notable plural wives of Joseph Smith
Plural marriage in Utah
End of plural marriage
Articles about various topics in plural marriage

Joseph Smith and children through plural marriage

Question: Was the only purpose of polygamy to "multiply and replenish the earth" and "bear the souls of men"?

Doctrine and Covenants states that polygamy is for the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth

Doctrine and Covenants 132:63 states,

But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.

The institution of the practice of polygamy was part of the "restoration of all things"

Polygamy was not permitted only for the purpose of procreation. Joseph established the practice of plural marriage as part of the "restoration of all things," (D&C 132: 40, 45) and introduced it to a number of others within the Church. This alone may have been the purpose of Joseph's initiation of the practice. The establishment of the practice ultimately did have the effect of "raising up seed"...just not through Joseph Smith.

As Brian Hales writes:

Joseph Smith dictated what is now Doctrine and Covenant section 132 on July 12, 1843. This revelation, along with his other statements, provide several reasons why he believed plural marriage could be introduced among the Latter-day Saints.

The earliest justification mentioned by the Prophet was as a part of the “restitution of all things” prophesied in Acts 3:19–21. Old Testament prophets practiced polygamy, so it could be a part of the restoration of “all things” (see D&C 132:40, 45).

Several members who knew Joseph Smith left accounts of him referring to a connection between the two during the Kirtland period.

Benjamin F. Johnson recalled in 1903: “In 1835 at Kirtland I learned from my Sisters Husband, Lyman R. Shirman,[1] who was close to the Prophet, and Received it from him. That the ancient order of plural marriage was again to be practiced by the Church.”[2]

A few years later in 1841, Joseph Smith attempted to broach the topic publicly. Helen Mar Kimball remembered: “He [Joseph] astonished his hearers by preaching on the restoration of all things, and said that as it was anciently with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so it would be again, etc.”[3] Joseph Smith was a prophet-restorer, which helps to explain why the command to practice plural marriage has been labeled a “restoration,” even though it is not a salvific ordinance.[4]

The institution of the practice of polygamy made available the blessings of eternal marriage to everyone

Brian Hales addresses one aspect of D&C 132 that may be overlooked in casual readings:

The fourth reason Joseph Smith gave for the practice of plural marriage dwarfs the other three explanations in significance because it deals with eternity. The message of D&C 132:16–17 states that men and women who are not sealed in eternal marriages during this life (or vicariously later) “remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity.”

In other words, “exaltation,” the highest salvation, requires eternal marriage. No unmarried person can be exalted according to Joseph Smith’s teachings. Doctrine and Covenants section 132 seems to anticipate more worthy women than men as it approves a plurality of wives[5] and disallows a plurality of husbands.[6] Verse 63 states that a plurality of wives is “for their [the wives] exaltation in the eternal worlds.” Section 132 supports that eternity was the primary focus of the Joseph’s marriage theology rather than plurality or sexuality. Eternal, rather than plural, marriage was his zenith doctrine. It appears that the crucial objective of polygamy on earth was to allow all worthy women to be eternally sealed to a husband and thus obtain all the ordinances needed for exaltation. According to these teachings, a plurality of wives in some form may be practiced in eternity, but not by all worthy men and women. We know that polygamy on earth is unequal and difficult, but we know nothing about how eternal marriage or eternal plural marriage might feel in eternity. Brigham Young acknowledged that eternal marriage (not plural marriage) is “the thread which runs from the beginning to the end” in God’s plan for His children:

The whole subject of the marriage [not plural marriage] relation is not in my reach, nor in any other man’s reach on this earth. It is without beginning of days or end of years; it is a hard matter to reach. We can tell some things with regard to it; it lays the foundation for worlds, for angels, and for the Gods; for intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. In fact, it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the holy Gospel of salvation—of the Gospel of the Son of God; it is from eternity to eternity.[7][8]

Can this be included in the interpretation of D&C 132: 63?

Another author commenting on this verse made a compelling case for this theology being put into D&C 132: 63:

Here is the text in its entirety, from verse 62: “for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men.” [Emphasis added.] You want to get legalistic? Let’s get legalistic. Just for fun, let’s parse the living snot out of this.This clause begins with multiplying and replenishing as a primary justification. Then we get the word “and” thrown in there. You’re reading this as if it says “they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, in order to fulfil the promise…” But that’s not what it says.

“And” suggests we’re about to get a second reason, not a clarification of the first. In fact, a tight, strict-constructionist reading of this verse reveals three different and distinct reasons for plural marriage, not “only” the replenishment of the earth, [. . .]So let’s review the three reasons:

1. Multiply and replenish the earth.
[. . .] D&C 132 is unequivocal on this point, just as it is unequivocal on the two points that follow.

2. Fulfil [sic] “the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world.”

What promise? This seems to have reference to the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:21) Joseph cited the need to restore ancient practices to prepare for the Second Coming as a justification for polygamy, and this verse provides a credible scriptural context for him to do so. So just relying on this phrase – plural marriage is acceptable because it fulfills God’s promises – would be justification enough for the practice, at least according to D&C 132.
3. For “their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men.”

Oh, this one’s my favorite. Notice the emphasis I added on the “that.” The word appears there to create a conditional clause. You claim the bearing of souls is the same thing as multiplying and replenishing the earth, but the actual text insists that the bearing of the souls of men will only be made possible by “exaltation in the eternal worlds.” This is a promise of eternal increase, of bearing souls after the earth is no longer around to be replenished. Big, big difference.

And right here, with Reason #3, we have a clear rationale and justification for Joseph being sealed to women with whom he made no attempts to multiply and replenish the earth – i.e. no sex.[9]

Question: If the only purpose of polygamy was to "raise up seed," then why did Joseph not have children by his plural wives?

Polygamy was not permitted only for the purpose of procreation

If the only purpose of polygamy, at least in Joseph Smith's case, was to "raise up seed," then why did Joseph not have children by his plural wives? He was certainly capable of having children, as demonstrated by those that he had by Emma, many of whom died. Yet, there is no conclusive evidence to date of Joseph having had children by any of his plural wives, and DNA testing has ruled out most of those who were suspected of being such.

Joseph was commanded to restore the practice of polygamy as part of the "restoration of all things." It was obviously not intended that Joseph use the practice to produce progeny.

Joseph was also sealed for eternity to some women who were already married, but these women continued to have children by their current husbands

Among Joseph's plural marriages and/or sealings, between eight to eleven of them were to women who were already married. Of the eight well-documented cases, five of the husbands were Latter-day Saints, and the other three were either not active in or not associated with the Church. In all cases, these women continued to live with their husbands, most of them doing so until their husbands died. These eternal marriages appear to have had little effect upon the lives of the women involved, with the exception that they would be sealed to Joseph in the afterlife rather than to their earthly husbands. No children from these marriages have ever been identified. These were sealings which would only affect Joseph's association with these women in the afterlife.

Purpose of plural marriage

Summary: Why would the Lord have commanded the 19th century Saints to implement plural marriage? What purpose(s) did polygamy accomplish?

Joseph Smith and polyandry

Summary: Joseph Smith was sealed to women who were married to men who were still living. Some of these men were even active members of the Church.

Why would Joseph Smith be sealed to other men's wives?

Summary: Why would Joseph Smith be sealed to other men's wives? Were these marriages for time or only for eternity? Were these marriages consumated? Why did these women continue to live with the husbands after being sealed to Joseph Smith?

Did Joseph have any children through polygamous marriages?

Summary: Is there evidence of any children through Joseph's polyandrous marriages?
See also Brian Hales' discussion: Common Inaccurate Explanations for Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

Both modern and 19th century members of the Church have proposed a variety of explanations for the practice of plural marriage. Not all of these suggestions can be supported by the available data. (Link)
Doctrinal summary
Joseph identified four reasons for the restoration of plural marriage. (Link)
Joseph Smith’s Personal Polygamy
Many are quick to declare that Joseph's polygamy sprang from religious extremism and/or sexual desire. This article explores the difficulties that Joseph had with plural marriage, and evidence for what truly motivated his acts. (Link)
The Faith of the Nauvoo Polygamists
Why did early members of the Church practice polygamy? Were they all dupes? Easily manipulated? Religious fanatics who believed Joseph could do no wrong? This article explores the initial reactions and eventual decisions made by the first generation of polygamists in Nauvoo. (Link)


  1. Sherman was a close friend and devout follower of Joseph Smith. He was called as an apostle but died before learning of the appointment. See Lyndon W. Cook, “Lyman Sherman—Man of God, Would-Be Apostle,” 121–24.
  2. Dean R. Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. Gibbs (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon, 1976), 37–38.
  3. Helen Mar Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith [III], Editor of the Lamoni Iowa “Herald,” (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882), 11; see also Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Bookcraft, 1992), 142–43. See also Joseph A. Kelting, “Affidavit,” March 1, 1894, images 11–16a; see also Kelting, “Statement,” Juvenile Instructor 29 (May 1, 1894): 289–90.
  4. Brian Hales, "Plural Marriage Teachings" <> (accessed 18 December 2018)
  5. See vv. 34, 37–39, 52, 55, 61–65.
  6. See vv. 41–42, 61–63.
  7. Brigham Young, October 6, 1854 Journal of Discourses, 2:90. Important in Brigham Young’s comments is his observation that the “marriage relation,” referring to eternal marriage, not exclusively plural marriage, comprises the “foundation for worlds … and for Gods.”
  8. Brian Hales, "Plural Marriage Teachings" <> (accessed 17 December 2018)
  9. Jim Bennett "A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter from a former CES Employee" <> (accessed 30 December 2018)