How could Joseph Smith’s polyandrous
marriages be explained?
L. Hannah Stoddard and James F. Stoddard III
Note: LDS Answers encourages civil, constructive, online discussion examining the important issues involving the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Due to the sacred nature of the topics discussed in this article, all irreverent or disrespectful comments will not be approved. Thank you for understanding. For those who are antagonistic to the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, please, do yourself a favor and leave this subject alone.
Many Latter-day Saints are aware that the Prophet Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. However, many are surprised, even shocked, to learn that eleven (according to current research) of his wives were already married to other men.
In other words, Joseph Smith practiced what the world calls “polyandry”.
A common misconception concerning Joseph Smith’s polyandry is that he participated in only one or two such unusual unions. In fact, fully one-third of his plural wives, eleven of them, were married civilly to other men when he married them. If one superimposes a chronological perspective, one sees that of Smith’s first twelve wives, nine were polyandrous. So in this early period polyandry was the norm, not the anomaly…
Polyandry might be easier to understand if one viewed these marriages to Smith as a sort of de facto divorce with the first husband. However, none of these women divorced their ‘first husbands’ while Smith was alive and all of them continued to live with their civil spouses while married to Smith…
In the eleven certain polyandrous marriages, only three of the husbands were non-Mormon (Lightner, Sayers, and Cleveland) and only one was disaffected (Buell). All other husbands were in good standing in the church at the time Joseph married their wives.1
Why would the Lord command Joseph Smith to be sealed to women who were already married? What right did Joseph Smith have to “take” these women?
When viewed in the light of the Biblical record and the premortal life, the issue is more easily resolved.
We are not proposing that the following two explanations are the only answers surrounding the issue of “polyandry”. Instead, these two perspectives are “pieces” to the puzzle of understanding the Kingdom of God.
Before beginning, please note that the following article deals with subject matter that is extremely sacred. These subjects should not be spoken of without the utmost reverence. We mention them here because of concerns that have been raised with Joseph Smith. We feel that these concerns need to be addressed and answered.
Joseph Smith & the Bible
Many of the controversial issues surrounding the Prophet Joseph Smith and his life can be clarified by turning to the Bible. We must remember that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a restorer. His mission was to restore the sacred principles, doctrines, ordinances and power that existed in the Primitive Church, as was had among the righteous Israelites and as was possessed by the ancient antediluvian Patriarchs. As we sing in one of our hymns,
The Lord is extending the Saints’ understanding,
Restoring their judges and all as at first.
The knowledge and power of God are expanding;
The veil o’er the earth is beginning to burst. 2
To understand Joseph Smith, you must understand the Bible. He reverenced the Bible, interpreted the parts that were meant to be literal literally and strove to restore “all as at first”. Very few men and women today, who identify themselves as “Christian”, interpret the Bible literally. Joseph Smith on the other hand, operated from a Biblical worldview.
He then took up the Bible. “I believe,” said he, “in this sacred volume. In it the ‘Mormon’ faith is to be found. We teach nothing but what the Bible teaches. We believe nothing, but what is to be found in this book. I believe in the fall of man, as recorded in the Bible; . . . In the Bible a rule of conduct is laid down for him; in the Old and New Testaments the law by which he is to be governed, may be found. If he violates that law, he is to be punished for the deeds done in the body.3
Joseph Smith was the greatest advocate of the Bible. His successor and personal friend, Brigham Young, later taught:
We take this book, the Bible, which I expect to see voted out of the so-called Christian world very soon, they are coming to it as fast as possible, I say we take this book for our guide, for our rule of action; we take it as the foundation of our faith. It points the way to salvation like a fingerboard pointing to a city, or a map which designates the locality of mountains, rivers, or the latitude and longitude of any place on the surface of the earth that we desire to find, and we have no better sense than to believe it; hence, I say that the Latter-day Saints have the most natural faith and belief of any people on the face of the earth.4
Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test.5
The disagreement between “Mormons” and some claiming to be “mainstream” Christians, in my opinion, typically centers on LDS theology being too literalistic in its interpretation of the Bible. Let us accept the challenge of President Brigham Young and “take up the Bible” and compare Joseph Smith to this standard. Will his engagement in polyandry “stand the test”?
Polyandry in the New Testament
When we peruse the pages of sacred writ, we discover another “polyandrous” marriage from over two millennia ago. President Brigham Young commented:
The man Joseph, the husband of Mary, did not, that we know of, have more than one wife, but Mary the wife of Joseph had another husband. On this account infidels have called the Savior a bastard. This is merely a human opinion upon one of the inscrutable doings of the Almighty. That very babe that was cradled in the manger, was begotten, not by Joseph, the husband of Mary, but by another Being. Do you inquire by whom? He was begotten by God our heavenly, father.6
While many modernists would balk at this literal interpretation of the Bible, a clear, unbiased reading of the New Testament Gospels reveals that no scripture contradicts this interpretation. On the contrary, there are several verses conveying that Jesus Christ was the literal, begotten Son of God.
Luke 1:31-32, 35
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: . . .
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Jesus answered them . . . Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
1 John 5:9-10
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
Leaders of the Church have similarly testified that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God.
Scriptures embodying the ordinary signification—literally that of Parent—are too numerous and specific to require citation. The purport of these scriptures is to the effect that God the Eternal Father, whom we designate by the exalted name-title “Elohim,” is the literal Parent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and of the spirits of the human race. Elohim is the Father in every sense in which Jesus Christ is so designated, and distinctively He is the Father of spirits….
Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh, and which body died on the cross and was afterward taken up by the process of resurrection, and is now the immortalized tabernacle of the eternal spirit of our Lord and Savior. No extended explanation of the title “Son of God” as applied to Jesus Christ appears necessary.7
The Latter-day Saints unite with the people of every creed and tongue and race in the general commemoration of the day observed throughout Christendom as the anniversary of the God-Man’s earthly birth. … We bow to Him as the veritable Son of the living God in the fullest sense of the hallowed term. As Mary was His saintly mother, so the Mighty God was His everlasting and literal Father. He was “the only begotten” of Deity, in the flesh, to die that man may live. This we once more affirm and declare as a glorious truth and a fundamental of “Mormon” faith.8
While brother Joseph was referring to the provinces of God, I was led to reflect that there is no act, no principle, no power belonging to the Deity that is purely philosophical. The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood – was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers.9
Joseph F. Smith:
Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of the flesh… Jesus is the only person who had our Heavenly Father as the father of his body.10
Joseph Fielding Smith:
Jesus was not the son of any mortal man. His biological father was God, the Father. As Son of God, Jesus represents the Father and acts as his agent in all things.11
Ezra Taft Benson:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father.12
Bruce R. McConkie:
As far as this life is concerned, [Jesus] was born of Mary and of Elohim; he came here as an offspring of that Holy Man who is literally our Father in heaven. He was born in mortality in the literal and full sense as the Son of God. He is the Son of his Father in the same sense that all mortals are the sons and daughters of their fathers.13
Mary, perhaps the greatest woman to live on this earth, was married to two men at the same time, God the Father and Joseph. Her marriage to Joseph was for time, while her marriage with the Father was an unbreakable union that spanned into eternity.
27 Dec, 1886 – Sarah M. Granger Kimball, counselor in Relief Society General Presidency teaches from the pulpit that “her brother Lafayette Granger and the late Bishop George Miller in conversation once with the prophet Joseph Smith were told by him that when Mary the mother of Jesus was on her way to the hill country she was met by God the Father and the Angel Gabriel and the latter performed the marriage between Father (God) and Mary.14
Joseph Smith is the witness of Jesus Christ. We are not surprised that his life contains elements paralleling the Son of God. Joseph Smith’s involvement in polyandry is a witness for his prophetic calling, not against.
Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner was married to Adam Lightner when Joseph Smith approached her to become his plural wife. Mary Elizabeth remembered:
In 1834, [Joseph] was commanded to take me for a wife. I was a thousand miles from him. He got afraid. The angel came to him three times, the last time with a drawn sword and threatened his life. I did not believe. If God told him so, why did he not come and tell me? The angel told him I should have a witness. An angel came to me – it went through me like lightning – I was afraid. Joseph Said he came with more revelation and knowledge than Joseph ever dare reveal. (Brigham Young sealed me to him, for time and all eternity – Feb. 1842.) Joseph said I was his before I came here and he said all the Devils in Hell should never get me from him.15
One of the purposes of these marriages was to restore families to their proper order as existed before this life. Mary Elizabeth also remarked:
. . . Joseph made known to me that God had commanded him in July, 1834, to take me for a wife. But he had not dared to make it known to me, for when he received the revelation, I was in Missouri and when he did see me, I was married. But he was again commanded to fulfill the first revelation or suffer condemnation, for I was created for him before the foundation of the earth was laid.16
These statements should cause us to pause, to humble ourselves and realize that perhaps there is far more to the premortal life than we presently understand.17 Did the very same sociality that exists here, exist there? A careful study of Church doctrine, the teachings of inspired Presidents of the Church and scripture reveals that the premortal life is more like this life than perhaps we have realized. President Joseph Fielding Smith and other Brethren on numerous occasions have taught that the premortal existence extended for “eons of time”. Mary Elizabeth understood that she was “created for [Joseph Smith]” and “was his before [she] came here”. This companionship existed for “eons of time”.18 It seems logical that the Lord had the right to re-establish this union that existed for “eons of time” but had been mistakenly interrupted because of mortal foibles. We don’t know what “eons of time” is, but it could be millions of years, if not more. We, the authors, do not know. Imagine forcing someone to stay in the wrong relationship from a mistake made in ignorance, during mortality. This would be the true injustice. The issues that seem so difficult to deal with in this life can often be easily explained by an understanding of the premortal existence.
Also consider the following statement by Joseph Smith, recorded in the journal of Joseph Lee Robinson.
We also heard him [Joseph Smith] say that God had revealed unto him that any man who ever committed adultery in either of his probations that that man could never be raised to the highest exaltation in the Celestial Glory and that he felt anxious with regard to himself and he inquired of the Lord and the Lord told him that he, Joseph, had never committed adultery.
This saying of the Prophet astonished me very much. It opened up to me a very wide field of reflection. The idea that we had passed through probation prior to this and that we must have been married and given in marriage in those probations or there would be no propriety in making such an assertion and that there were several exaltations in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, the highest we supposed to be the Godhead and we conclude that there are several grades of exaltations in servants to the Gods. Be this as it may, this is what he said. We will know the truth of the matter some day.19.
As Brother Robinson said, “we will know the truth of the matter some day”. There is much concerning the premortal life that is yet to be revealed. Joseph Smith was not able to reveal all or even a small fraction of what he knew.
Shortly following the Prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, Brigham Young was given a vision wherein he asked the Prophet:
Brother Joseph, the brethren you know well better than I do; you raised them up, and brought the Priesthood to us. The brethren have a great anxiety to understand the law of adoption or sealing principles; and if you have a word of counsel for me I should be glad to receive it.
The Prophet responded:
“Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. . . . Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord; and if they will, they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in Heaven before they came into the world. Our Father in Heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized and in great confusion.”
Joseph then showed me the pattern, how they were in the beginning.20
The following account from May 1843 reveals that Joseph Smith knew far more concerning the spirit world, the family, mortality, the premortal life and salvation than we understand today.
On May 23, 1843, I listened to a discourse preached in the Nauvoo temple, which was then only partially finished. Brother Joseph was talking on the pre-existence of our spirits, and our relations to God in the spirit world, and our standing in the family circle of our Father. Now I am telling the truth, and I remember that while thus talking he suddenly turned around to the Apostles sitting on the stand and said in effect:
“Brethren, if I were to tell you all I know of the kingdom of God, I do know that you would rise up and kill me.”
Brother Brigham arose and said, “Don’t tell me anything that I can’t bear, for I don’t want to apostatize.” Brother Joseph, addressing the Apostles, then said: “The weight of this kingdom has been as a millstone around my neck, but I am going to roll it off on your shoulders, and then the kingdom of God will go on.” There were eleven of the Apostles present at this time. Among them I saw Parley Pratt, Orson Pratt, Willard Richards, Geo. A. Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor. I don’t remember the others.21
Could it be that in our 21st century arrogance, in our modernist repulsion to Joseph Smith’s actions, we have missed understanding who we were, who we are and who we can become? We would submit that one day we will discover that Joseph Smith’s greatest “crimes” are in reality a powerful testimony to the greatness of his character and understanding.
- Compton, Todd. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature, 1997. 15-16
- The Spirit of God, LDS Hymnal, #2
- Joseph Smith, Sermon delivered at Washington, D.C. on February 5, 1840, reported by Matthew L. Davis, member of the U.S. House of Representatives
- Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses. 13:236
- Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses. 16:46
- Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses. 11:268
- First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and the Twelve. June 1916; see also Clark, James R. Messages of the First Presidency. Vol. 5. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 26-27
- Christmas pastoral epistle, December 19, 1914; see also Deseret News, December 19, 1914; see also Clark, James R. Messages of the First Presidency. Vol. 4. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 318-319
- Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses. 8:115
- Smith, Joseph F. Family Home Evening Manual. 1972. 125-126
- Smith, Joseph Fielding. The Restoration of All Things. 61
- Benson, Ezra Taft. Come Unto Christ. 4; see also The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 7
- McConkie, Bruce R. The Mortal Messiah. 1:330
- Quinn, D. Michael. The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Salt Lake City: Signature, 1997. 786
- Lightner, Mary Elizabeth Rollins. “Statement” signed Feb. 8, 1902, Vesta Crawford Papers, MS 125, bx1 fd 11. Original owned by Mrs. Nell Osborne, SLC (courtesy Juanita Brooks). See also Juanita Brooks Papers, USHS, MSB103, bx16, fd 13; BYU special collections, Ms 1132.
- Lightner, Mary Elizabeth Rollins. “Mary Elizabeth Rollins,” copy of holograph in Susa Young Gates Papers, USHS box 14, fd 4.
- JST Revelation 12, Alma 13:3
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:37; Elder Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal
Messiah, 4 vols. , 1:21-23, see also 3:470; Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p. 12
- Robinson, Joseph Lee. Journal. LDS Church Archives, retrospective entry, without date
- Young, Brigham. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, also from Unpublished Revelations of the Prophets and Presidents of the Church pg. 106
- Horne, Robert. Reminiscences of the Church in Nauvoo. Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star, Vol. 55, No. 36, Sept. 4, 1893. 585
Is it feasible that Joseph Smith was simply wrong about polygamy and polyandry and simply was acting as a man and not a prophet?
Give Joseph a break, maybe he simply got this wrong and as a church we should admit he made a mistake and wasn’t acting in the name of God on this one.
It does not seem feasible at all that this was a mistake, although I have no problem with the fallibility of prophets. If you read about the plural wives and you read what they said and the experiences they had, it is obvious it was God’s will. The plural wives had confirmation from God through revelation that it was His will and many testified if that. I do not think they all got it wrong. No way.
Bravo, Hannah! Excellent work. I have been waiting so long to read something like this coming from a woman of faith! These are the simple truths that need to be laid down so that we can finally build something solid in our collective understanding of plural marriage. We have fancy-footed around them for so long in an unsatifying, merely palliative-toward-women way and no good has come from it. This is what we really need!
I have a question regarding Mary, the mother of Jesus. Given that she was married to God the Father, and that Jesus physical body was conceived in the “normal way”, then why does Isaiah prophecy that “a virgin shall conceive”? Would not the “normal way” of conceiving a child mean she no longer was a virgin?
Or is the term “virgin” being used to describe her pure, virtuous, and chaste state at the time of her marriage? Or is is perhaps an inaccurate translation or modern understanding–in other words, does the term as originally used (perhaps the term used in the original language of writing) simply mean a “virtuous young woman” (much like the English word “maid” or “maiden”)?
President Ezra Taft Benson and Elder Bruce R. McConkie have both commented on the “virgin birth” of Jesus Christ.
“[Jesus Christ] was the Only Begotten Son of our Heavenly Father in the flesh—the only child whose mortal body was begotten by our Heavenly Father. His mortal mother, Mary, was called a virgin, both before and after she gave birth. (See 1 Nephi 11:20.)” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Joy in Christ,” Ensign (March 1986), 3–4.)
“Our Lord is the only mortal person ever born to a virgin, because he is the only person who ever had an immortal Father. Mary, his mother, “was carried away in the Spirit” (1 Ne. 11:13-21), was “overshadowed” by the Holy Ghost, and the conception which took place “by the power of the Holy Ghost” resulted in the bringing forth of the literal and personal Son of God the Father. (Alma 7:10; 2 Ne. 17:14; Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38.) Christ is not the Son of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 18-20.)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 822.)
JST Gen 24:16 “And the damsel, being a virgin, very fair to look upon, such as the servant of Abraham had not seen, neither had any man known the like unto her, and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up.”
The word “know” means sexual relations in Hebrew and Old English. The word “virgin” means more than just never had sexual relations with someone.
Mosiah 1:4 “For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.”
Now lets look at Egyptian word for “virgin” which is “Zi” in Joseph own handwriting he wrote “virgin, unmarried or the principle of virtue.” Others he taught the language, he told them the word meant “most virtuous comely and beautiful, modest and chaste, being taught most perfectly and upright.”
The word virgin is found in others words or phrases. For example Joseph taught others “Lish Zi hoe oop Iota” Which means “The Glory of the Celestial Kingdom: The connection of attributes; many parts perfected and compounded into having been united, being united that which will be united, one glory above all other glories, as the Sun excels the Moon in light, this glory excels being filled: with the same glory equality”
Why would a word for a man or Woman that never have kids is found in the phrase for “the glory of the Celestial Kingdom”
The word “virgin” is used in other place in the Egyptian language for “woman” who is married and is a “mother”. which is “Zip Zi.”
The accounts of Mary being a virgin they never give the same emphasis that she never had sexual relations as they did with Rebekah. Except when she said she never knew a man, this is when she was told the angle that the Father will come unto her.
Virgin is a Covenant based word, similar to the word “Beautiful” and Nephi called her exceedingly fair and beautiful.”
I hope this clears up any misunderstanding that anybody may have. You can find Egyptian word and translations info on the Joseph Smith papers project site. http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/back/comparison-of-characters
Can i just tell you how much I loved this article!!! My love and reverence for the Prophet Joseph Smith just increased a hundred fold!
I understand that this topic tries the faith of many members. It has never bothered me. I haven’t always understood it, but I have never doubted it either. But as I read this article including quotes from Joseph Smith the Spirit testified to the truthfulness of this sacred gospel principle. It is not something we should be afraid of. I have complete confidence in God and in His plan for his children. Families are the highest order of heaven and without this principle many of God’s children would become lost.
I thought that the marriages that were considered polyandry were for eternity only since the woman was already married for time, and didn’t involve sexual relations. Which wife did he marry for time and eternity who was already married at the same time for time only?
Beautifully written! The message I get more than anything is while in this mortal sphere, we indeed see through a glass darkly. The Spirit spoke plainly to me of simple truths as I read this article. When that occurs, I know truth is being shared in what I am reading. Thank you, Hannah!
On this anniversary of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birth, it would be well for us to remember who he is: “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” D&C 135:3. Many of the early saints and faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today also declare: “…I testify that Joseph Smith was the greatest Prophet that ever lived on this earth, the Savior, only, accepted.” (Testimony of M. Isabella Horne, 1905, Church Archives)
It is not at all feasible “…that Joseph Smith was simply wrong about polygamy and polyandry and simply was acting as a man and not a prophet.”
The Book of Mormon explains why better than I can:
“Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift. For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.” Moroni 7:10-11
This is a difficult topic for many members of the Church. This particular aspect of our history has been sanitized from our mainstream narrative of the Restoration. Thanks to Google and social media difficult topics such as this are much harder to dismiss or excuse as ‘anti-mormon’. The journal accounts of those involved in these events and their testimonies are finding the light of day from forgotten (or hidden) archives.
Thank goodness articles and information on these topics can be discussed from a believing perspective! Debate surrounding marriage and sexuality are at the fore front of many of the struggles modern latter-day saints deal with right now. Understanding our roots as a church, particularly the marriage and sexual practices of our founders, can help us understand how to navigate with faith our currently social climate.
If entering into polyandry is evidence of Joseph Smith Jr.’s prophetic calling, why do we not see such actions from today’s prophets? Why aren’t they re-establishing unions that existed for “eons of time”?
I think that using Mary’s relationship with God the Father as a comparison to and justification for Joseph’s secret, polyandrous marriages borders on blasphemy. I’m grateful that the Church has never tried to rely on such an approach.
Easier to just admit that Joseph may have made some missteps in his early understanding of the sealing ordinance (in the same way we abandoned the law of adoption).
I do not know that this article went to far as to say that “polyandry is evidence of Joseph Smith Jr.’s prophetic calling”, simply that “When viewed in the light of the Biblical record and the premortal life, the issue is more easily resolved.”
There is no evidence that Joseph ever lived with these women or had any children with them, only that they were sealed. A sealing in and of itself is not an action that could be immoral. It is simply an opportunity to receive eternal blessings.
May I quote Elder Anderson: “Give Brother Joseph a break.” I/We do not understand God’s ways, because they are higher than our ways. Sometimes it is enough to know Joseph was a prophet – the knowledge allows everything else to fall into place.
“Easier to just admit that Joseph may have made some missteps.” God doesn’t make ‘missteps’. His servants cannot and will not lead us astray.
You mention, “justification for Joseph’s secret, polyandrous marriages borders on blasphemy”. Interesting that the Prophet foretold how many would feel about him and his work in the latter day:
“Would to God, brethren,
I could tell you who I am!
Would to God I could tell you what I know!
But you would call it blasphemy . . .”
You mention, “Easier to just admit that Joseph may have made some missteps in his early understanding of the sealing ordinance”
I do not believe this aligns with the revelations. Please note in section 132 that the Prophet is: 1. given power to restore all things
2. given power to know all things in time
3. given power to move or change sealings in any way that is seen fit
4. given power to retain or remit sins
5. given power to bless or curse in the name of the Lord
45 For I have conferred upon you the keys and power of the priesthood, wherein I restore all things, and make known unto you all things in due time.
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.
47 And again, verily I say, whomsoever you bless I will bless, and whomsoever you curse I will curse, saith the Lord; for I, the Lord, am thy God.
You mention, “why do we not see such actions from today’s prophets?” Please note that the Prophet Joseph Smith was given promises that do not pertain to the Presidents of the Church today. Only the Prophet Joseph was promised that the Church should heed all his “words” and “commandments”:
4 Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
6 For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.
7 For thus saith the Lord God: Him have I inspired to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good, and his diligence I know, and his prayers I have heard.
Remember that the Prophet Joseph was sealing up to exaltation:
49 For I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father
The Lord has declared a difference between the Prophet Joseph and the other Presidents of the Church.
It is possible for a woman to be married to one man for time and to another man for eternity. It is an arrangement that reflects who the proper husband truly is, but it allows for a woman to be in more ideal individual circumstances at the same time. It shouldn’t be any great surprise that a man of Joseph Smith Jr.’s caliber would have more than a few women who are his eternal companions. In a way, it can be said he was being generous to share them with other men.
Why did an angel visit Joseph and threaten to destroy him with a drawn sword if he didn’t follow through with polygamy? Would this take away his agency? The church always promotes agency and it’s importance in the plan of salvation.
Recall a true story from the bible where an angel visited a prophet with a sword and threatened to destroy him. Recall the wrestle between Jacob (Israel) and an Angel. Learn about Jacob’s Ladder where Angels are constantly on a mission side by side with us. Learn about the Angels who surround the temples protecting them as they stand with swords. Recall that Christ clearly came to do his Father’s will or he would be as Satan, who preferred to not do his Father’s will. The prophet was taught by many Heavenly Beings including our Father in Heaven and with Divine teaching comes great responsibility to do the Father’s will or a prophet is removed from his place. Joseph Smith did have agency. I am inspired to believe he had to decide if he wanted to be removed from his place with the Father and his will. I recall when the prophet initially received the revelation of plural marriage. He was in so much pain over it for he truly believed that his one true wife was Emma. He didn’t tell her right away. This is the man struggling with a new commandment. As a prophet, hoping he could be obedient at all costs.
The Historical Record (Church Encyclopedia-Book 1) by: Andrew Jenson Pg. 219-221, Salt Lake City, 1886
(“The following affidavit it was sworn to before James Jack, a notary public in Salt Lake City, March 4, 1870)
Benjamin F. Johnson
“On the first day of April, A. D. 1843, President Joseph Smith, Orson Hyde and William Clayton, and others, came from Nauvoo to my residents in Macedonia, Hancock County, Illinois, and were joyfully welcomed by myself and family us our guests.
“On the following morning, Pres. Smith took me by the arm for a walk, leading the way to a secluded spot within an adjacent, grove, where, to my great surprise, he commenced to open up to me the principle of plural or celestial marriage, but I was more astonished by him asking me for my sister Almera to be his wife. I sincerely believed him to be a Prophet of God, and I loved him as such and also for the many evidences of his kindness to me, yet such was the force of my education, and the scorn that I felt towards anything unvirtuous, that under the first impulse of my feelings, I looked him calmly, but firmly in the face and told him that ‘I had always believed him to be a good man and wished to believe it still and would try to, and that I would take for him a message to my sister, and if the doctrine was true, all would be well, but if I should afterwards learn that it was offered to insult or prostitute my sister, I would take his life.’ With a smile he replied, ‘Benjamin, you will never see that day, but you shall live to know that it is true and rejoice in it.’
“He wished me to see my sister and talk to her. I told him I did not know what I could say to convince her. He replied, ‘When you open your mouth you shall be able to comprehend and you shall not want for evidence nor words.’ He also told me that he would preach a sermon that day for me which I would understand, while the rest of the congregation would not comprehend his meaning. His subject was the ten talents, ‘unto him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly, but from him that hath not (or will not receive), shall be taken away that which he hath (or might have had).’ Plainly giving me to understand that the talents represented wives and children, as the principle of enlargement throughout the great future to those who were heirs of salvation.
“I called my sister to private audience, and with fear and trembling and feelings I cannot express, commenced to open the subject to her, when, just as he had promised, the light of the Lord shone upon my understanding and my tongue was loosed, and I, at least, was convinced of the truth of what I was attempting to teach.
“My sister received my testimony, and in a short time afterwards consented to become the wife of President Smith.
“Subsequent to this I took her to the city of Nauvoo where she was married or sealed for time and eternity, to President Joseph Smith by his brother Hyrum Smith, in the presence of myself and Louisa Beaman, who told me she had also been sealed or married to the Prophet Joseph. This was at the residence of my sister, the widow of Lyman R. Sherman who also was a witness.
“After a short period, President Smith and company, viz., George Miller, WM. Clayton, J. M. Smith and Eliza and Emily Partridge (who were the wives of the Prophet) came again to Macedonia, where he remained two days, lodging at my house, with my sister as man and wife (and to my certain knowledge he occupied the same bed with her). This visit was on the 16th and 17th of May, 1843, returning to Nauvoo on the 18th.
“Again, on the 19th of October, the same year, President Smith made us another visit at Macedonia and remained till the 21st. He was accompanied by Wm. Clayton. At this time (Oct. 20th, 1843), he sealed my first wife to me for time and all eternity. * * *
“He also visited my mother at her residents in Macedonia and taught her in my hearing, the doctrine of celestial marriage, declaring that an angel appeared unto him with a drawn sword, threatening to slay him of he did not proceed to fulfill the law that had been given to him. And counseled my mother to be sealed to his uncle, Father John Smith (father of Geo. A. Smith), to which she consented, and to my certain knowledge was subsequently sealed to him by the Prophet.
“After the death of the Prophet, I told President Brigham Young what he (Joseph Smith) had said to me relative to my taking Mary Ann Hale to wife. Pres. Young said it was right and authorized Father John Smith to seal her to me, which he did on the 14th of November 1844.
(Signed) B. F. Johnson.”
————————– *** ————————–
(The following affidavit was made before J. C. Wright, clerk of Box Elder County, Utah, Aug. 28, 1869.)
“In the month of April, 1843, I returned from my European mission A few days after my arrival at Nauvoo when at President Joseph Smith’s house he said he wished to have some private talk with me, and requested me to walk out with him. It was toward evening, we walked a little distance and sat down on a large log that lay near the bank of the river, he there and then explained to me the doctrine of plurality of wives.
“He said that the Lord had revealed it unto him and commanded him to have women sealed to him as wives, that he foresaw the trouble that would follow and sought to turn away from the commandment, that an angel from heaven appeared before him with a drawn sword, threatening him with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment.
“He further said that my sister Eliza R. Snow had been sealed to him as his wife for time and eternity.
“He told me that the Lord would open the way and I should have women sealed to me as wives. This conversation was prolonged, I think, one hour or more, in which he told me many important things.
“I solemnly declare before God and holy angels, and as I hope to come forth in the morning of the resurrection, that the above statement is true.
(Signed) LORENZO SNOW”
I cannot sleep as I am concerned about these matters.My heart is vexed. There are no words or explanations I think to satisfy the discomfort or distress that accompanies the unanswerable. As I read each entry above they vary in defense and try to soothe the angst, but they cannot. Only our own silent prayers to God Himself can bring about personal revelation on these subjects. I know the Gospel is true but to things surrounding or framing it I have questions.
I think you’ve nailed the most important issues right on the head. Joseph Smith was God’s prophet and the gospel is true.
Wilford Woodruff set a great example for us when he preached Brigham Young’s controversial ADAM GOD doctrine in general conference and then quietly removed it from church doctrine when he became prophet. It’s a great church. The greatest.
31 My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.
32 Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear;
Doctrine & Covenants 136:31-32
If we seek concrete answers to Heavenly laws and order we must employ patience and wait on the Lord. We cannot make God over in our own image and remain His faithful children at the same time.
Some questions we must accept His peace about, having faith that all will be made known to us one day.
I don’t understand everything about Joseph Smith’s choices during his time on earth. I do know that the Book of Mormon is truth he translated because I have received my own personal confirmation of its authenticity.
I am not sure, as Latter Day Saints, we should allow ourselves to be so distracted by these questions when preparing the earth for the coming of Christ is our charge. We have not been called to live this law and while I too have questions about it, it is enough that I will receive answers later and I accept the peace I feel when I pray about it and know it can be enough for now. Why would we want to question ourselves away from our Father and Savior because we don’t understand their eternal ways?
President Nelson has given us direction on receiving anwers to our questions in our most recent Gen. Conf. in his talk on receiving revelation.
“Brothers and sisters, how can we become the men and women–the Christlike servants–the Lord needs us to be? How can we find answers to questions that perplex us? If Joseph Smith’s transcendent experience in the Sacred Grove teaches us anything, it is that the heavens are open and that God speaks to His children….
To be sure, there may be times when you feel as though the heavens are closed. But I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you–even miracles–will follow. That is what personal revelation will do for you.“
What a relief! As I read this, I was led by the spirit that the pre-mortal life and celestial marriage as revealed to my Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, -Joseph Smith, is a blessing upon my own mortal existence. My patriarchal blessing refers to having a marriage “as my choice shall be His choice.” I have been plagued with this line until now. I know now that I can confidently do the Father’s will in helping my current spouse receive his covenants and still be blessed in a future existence that I will be truly matched with someone I knew in my pre-mortal life. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband very much. Joy shall truly be mine through all eternity as I love and trust my Father in Heaven completely in all things.
I am not sure the polandry thing was even explained in this article to its full extent. The article went around the topic, and briefly touched the polandry issue, and then went off on other things. If binding, sealing, and marrying for eternity only was Joseph’s Smith primary focus to these women that were already married, wouldn’t this be taken care of in the millennia?, if it was God’s will, why was polandry such a secret?, why couldn’t it be out in the open if this was God’s will!?
This actually clears some things up for me. I know many men are to be given several wives, but many are not. I knew we knew people before this life, but not that we were married. We are just figuring out who we were as his children. Many are lost. If we abide our celestial marriages it will all be sorted out in the next life. I think many ARE married to who they are supposed to be married, but since men are to only have one wife now, many will be getting more at some point. It has to do with their growth.
One important piece of this puzzle is found in D&C 132:51-54
51 Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.
54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and acleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
When we understand what The Prophet was commanded to offer to Emma, (Polyandry) Because it was by His “word, which is [his] law”, (D&C 132:12) What was offered to Emma was as difficult for her (them) as Abraham offering his son Isaac. The answer here is found 6th Lec. on Faith. When we go before The Lord, and put our all on The Alter of The Lord, What he commands whatever it is, is the right thing.
The key to this subject is what already happened in our 1st estate.
And a knowledge of the promises made in 132:11 & Proverbs 3:5-6
Again, another beautiful well written article. When you read it the spirit testifies of the truth in it. I have always accepted polygamy even though I do not understand it. I trust God that it will be a beautiful thing someday and I see the purpose in it. These truths taught in this wonderful article and I agree when Brigham Young said it was “one of the best doctrines ever published.” When I read this article, I gained such a greater love for the prophet and who he was as our prophet, leader, and as a husband. Thank you for writing about such a hard topic and teaching about this doctrine the way you did.
With the world as it is today, it is a hard concept for many to accept this practice. I had this in mind as read through the scriptures starting with the Old Testament. I found many incidents where polygamy was practice. I have come to the conclusion that it is a celestial law that means it must be practiced in righteousness. If at anytime lust or any unrighteousness enters into the practice, the right to practice it will be remove by the Lord. This has happened many times, however, people continue the practice because of the attitude of men.
I know that Moses sister received leprosy because she disagreed with him. I was not there, but after reading the writings of Joseph Smith, there was no one else that has written the things he has that are profound, I have to believe he received revelation and was threaten as was Moses’ sister. I do not know the intent of those that practiced it, but the Lord removed it from us again because of law changes and I believe the desire behind it changed again.
Just my thoughts.
This is the greatest article ever written. Thanks very much for your great research.
Why are the wives of JS not celebrated and taught about with our children? Or was Dieter Uchtdorf’s 2013 talk when he made reference to mistakes made by early church leaders – making reference to polygamy? or blacks and the priesthood? If they were mistakes, then shouldn’t that be acknowledged clearly? If they were not, shouldn’t we embrace them fully?
Because there is meat for adults and children get milk. This is a principal involving and surrounding a sacred union that is surrounded by the idea of building families (in time and eternity) which is connected to procreation. Procreation is both the highest manifestation of human life and also carnal drives. The mingling of the two can barely be controlled by adults not fit for such teachings much less for children or simpletons wo the proper cultural and spiritual knowledge that can make such possible in a community wo the opposing effect (misery, carnality and error). It is a principal to celebrate for in fact Jehovah in the OT referenced himself a polygamist and only JS has stamped the sacred nature of such a union as authorized under the right conditions. But … he never was able to fully reveal the exact nature of such. But the righteous use of such and the conditions surrounding it will be revealed in full one day.
In a comment above regarding Benjamin Johnson, he was correct in saying that a woman was sealed to him.
Hannah, near the beginning, you state that Joseph was sealed to other women.
This needs to be corrected by saying the women were sealed to Joseph. No man has been sealed to his wife. It’s incorrect language. The woman is always the one being sealed to the husband.