Margaret J. Stoddard
Plural marriage has been a source of controversy since the beginning of its practice by early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Many of the faithful Latter-day saints who practiced plural marriage (also known as Celestial Marriage or Patriarchal Marriage), understood and knew that the Lord revealed the doctrine to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and also that the Lord commanded the practice to be instituted among Church members. Dennison L. Harris remembered the following testimony given by the Prophet Joseph Smith only a few months before his death:
The same God that has thus far dictated and directed me, and inspired me and strengthened me in this work, gave me this revelation and Commandment on Celestial and Plural marriage; and the same God Commanded me to obey it. He said to me that unless I accept it and introduce it and practise it, I together with my people should be damned and cut off from this time henceforth. . . . we have got to observe it, that it was an eternal principle, and that it was given to [me] by way of Commandment and not by way of instruction. 1
There are literally volumes of accounts given by the early saints, testifying that the revelation contained in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 132) was revealed by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith. One example is this witness by Mary Isabella Horne:
I solemnly testify that I know that the Principle of Plural Marriage is true; that it came direct from God; I have had evidence of it’s truthfulness, and have lived in it for nearly fifty years. I counsel all my posterity to avoid condemning or making light of this sacred principle. 2
There are volumes of accounts given by the early saints, testifying that plural marriage was revealed by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
President Heber C. Kimball, grandfather of Spencer W. Kimball, counselor to President Brigham Young and the steadfast friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith, also bore testimony that the practice of plural marriage came from God:
I speak of plurality of wives as one of the most holy principles that God ever revealed to man, and all those who exercise an influence against it, unto whom it is taught, man or woman will be damned, and they and all who will be influenced by them, will suffer the buffetings of Satan in the flesh. You might as well deny “Mormonism,” and turn away from it, as to oppose the plurality of wives. The revelations which Joseph Smith has given to this people were given to him by Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world; and this people cannot be blessed if they lightly esteem any of them . . . . For this purpose did He give the revelation on plurality of wives, as sacred a revelation as was ever given to any people, and fraught with greater blessings to us than we can possibly conceive of, if we do not abuse our privileges and commit sin. This doctrine is a holy and pure principle, in which the power of God for the regeneration of mankind is made manifest . . .
If any of you will deny the plurality of wives and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned. 3
Although plural marriage is no longer practiced in the Church, I believe it is critical for each faithful latter-day saint to obtain a witness and testimony that it was the Lord who commanded Joseph Smith to institute the practice of plural marriage. Many who have not obtained a witness of this important doctrine for themselves, are among those who are not only critical, but are also often quick to condemn the Prophet Joseph Smith, who is the Lord’s anointed. This scripture may apply:
Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them. (D&C 121:16)
In a letter written by William Clayton in 1871 in response to an inquiry about the the Prophet Joseph Smith and the revelation on Celestial Marriage. Elder Clayton wrote:
Now in regard to the subject matter of your letter, it appears to me the principle topic is what is commonly called polygamy, but which I prefer to call Celestial Marriage.
. . . . Now I say to you as I am ready to testify to all the world and on which testimony I am most willing to meet all the Latter Day Saints and all apostates in time and through all eternity. I did write the Revelation on Celestial Marriage given through the Prophet Joseph Smith on the twelve day of July 1843. When the Revelation was written there was no one present except the prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum and myself. It was written in the small office upstairs in the rear of the brick store which stood on the bank of the Mississippi River. It took some three hours to write it. Joseph dictated sentence by sentence and I wrote it as he dictated. After the whole was written Joseph requested me to read it slowly and carefully which I did, and he then pronounced it correct.
. . . . I again testify that the revelation on Polygamy was given through the Prophet Joseph on the 12th July 1843, and that the Prophet Joseph both taught and practiced Polygamy. I do positively know, and bear testimony to the fact . . . .
Polygamy is a celestial order, the most sacred and holy that was ever revealed from Heaven to man. The revelation of July 12, 1843 says plainly, “To whomsoever this law is revealed they must and shall obey the same, or they shall be damned saith the Lord God.” How any man who pretends to believe the Bible can fight against polygamy, is a mystery to me. Abraham and Jacob were Polygamists. One is called the “father of the faithful.” Of the other it is said, ”In thee and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” so that there can be no blessings for the human family only through a Polygamist. You may rest assured that no man that fights against Polygamy will have the privilege of sitting down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven. 4
This revelation is now included in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132. Plural marriage was likely revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith by 1831. 5
Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 explains that the Prophet Joseph Smith had inquired of the Lord:
. . . to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines. (D&C 132:1)
The Prophet Joseph Smith was then instructed by the Lord regarding the matter:
Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.
Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.
For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory. (D&C 132:2-4)
The revelation as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 explains that the Lord commanded these early Prophets to practice plural marriage, and that they
. . . did none other things than that which they were commanded. (D&C 132:37)
The revelation recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants gives what the Lord Himself states about His commandment:
I am the Lord thy God, and will give unto thee the law of my Holy Priesthood, as was ordained by me and my Father before the world was.
Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.
Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins–from whose loins ye are, namely my servant Joseph–which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if we were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them. (D&C 132:28-30)
The Lord explained to the Prophet Joseph Smith that through his obedience these same blessings Abraham received, could also be his:
This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.
Go ye therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.
But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham. The Lord then explained to the Prophet Joseph Smith this doctrine as it was lived by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:
God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.
Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.
Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.
Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law, as Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods. (D&C 132:34–7)
I am sure that Joseph Smith pondered on the Lord’s revelation for a period of time. He began instructing his closest associates about the commandment he had received from the Lord, but he didn’t immediately act on it.
Erastus Snow, recalled:
The Prophet Joseph had said . . . “I have not been obedient enough to this holy law and the Lord was angry with me and an angel met me with a drawn sword but I pled with the Lord to forgive me and he did so and I made the sacrifice required of my hand and by the help of the Lord I will obey his Holy Law.” 6
Not only was it difficult for the Prophet Joseph to bring to light this commandment after he received it from the Lord, but also the apostles who were the first to receive it from Joseph had to receive their own witness that it came from God.
John Taylor wrote:
Where did this commandment come from in relation to polygamy? It came from God. It was a revelation given unto Joseph Smith from God, and was made binding upon His servants. When this system was first introduced among this people, it was one of the greatest crosses that ever was taken up by any set of men since the world stood. 7
Brigham Young also commented:
I never should have embraced it had it not been a command from the Almighty. 8
Each of these great men had to receive their own witness of the doctrine of plural marriage. They followed the process given by God for men to receive a testimony of any principle of the Gospel as given in the Book of Mormon:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true, and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:45)
Many of the early saints humbled themselves and also received their own witness of the truth and the importance of the doctrine of plural marriage through personal revelation, dreams, visions, or promptings. They came to understand the important principle that God’s ways are not man’s ways:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
John Taylor testified:
Where did this commandment come from in relation to polygamy? It came from God. It was a revelation given unto Joseph Smith from God, and was made binding upon His servants. When this system was first introduced among this people, it was one of the greatest crosses that ever was taken up by any set of men since the world stood. 9
Brigham Young explained how he came to a testimony of plural marriage:
Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned; and I will go still further and say, take this revelation, or any other revelation that the Lord has given, and deny it in your feelings, and I promise that you will be damned.
But the Saints who live their religion will be exalted, for they never will deny any revelation which the Lord has given or may give, though, when there is a doctrine coming to them which they cannot comprehend fully, they may be found saying, “The Lord sendeth this unto me, and I pray that He will save and preserve me from denying anything which proceedeth from Him, and give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself.”
Such persons will never deny, but will allow those subjects which they do not understand, to remain until the visions of their minds become open. This is the course which I have invariably pursued, and, if anything came that I could not understand, I would pray until I could comprehend it.
Do not reject anything because it is new or strange, and do not sneer nor jeer at what comes from the Lord, for if we do, we endanger our salvation. 10
Have you received a witness of Plural Marriage?
In today’s world the Prophet Joseph Smith and the early saints who practiced plural marriage are under attack. Even though we are not called upon to practice plural marriage today, each faithful member of the Church must eventually gain his/her own testimony that the Prophet Joseph Smith did receive a revelation from God which commanded plural marriage.
We need to follow the example of the valiant early members of the Church. Many of them understood that God does not give commandments to his children that are not for their benefit and blessing. When the commandment was first given to them, some of the early saints saw it as a great sacrifice but came to realize that through their obedience they received great blessings and true joy. Those who lived this principle did so with the understanding that they were preparing the way for the establishment of the Lord’s Kingdom. Through their obedience, they came to realize that “…sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” (Hymn, “Praise to the Man,” LDS Hymnbook)
Some of the early saints saw plural marriage as a great sacrifice but came to realize that through obedience they received great blessings and true joy.
President George Q. Cannon served the Church as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and member of the First Presidency under Presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow. He reminded the Saints:
No great principles, like those to which we are wedded, no great work like that in which we are engaged, can be established in the earth, in the present condition of mankind at least, without great sacrifice on the part of those connected with it. We need not expect anything else than this. The Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith, in early church revelations, told to the Church: You are laying the foundation of a great work, how great you know not.
“You are laying the foundation of a great work, how great you know not.”
And the same words are just as applicable to us today, notwithstanding the growth of the work up to the present time. We with the light we now possess even, cannot conceive of its greatness. It has not entered into our hearts, neither are we capable of conceiving of it. But we are laying its foundation, nevertheless; and God has chosen us to this work. He has inspired us, and he has blessed us thus far in our endeavor to carry it out, and he will continue to do so to the end; and victory and glory will be the result of our faith and our diligence in keeping his commandments. 11
Sister Eliza R. Snow Smith, plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith and second president of the Relief Society, shared her initial struggle with, and eventual testimony of, plural marriage:
In Nauvoo I had the first intimation, or at least the first understanding, that the practice of a plurality of wives would be introduced in the Church. The thought was very repugnant to my feelings, and in direct opposition to my educational prepossessions; but when I reflected that this was the dispensation of the fullness of times, embracing all other dispensations, it was plain that plural marriage must be included; and I consoled myself with the idea that it was a long way in the distance, beyond the period of my mortal existence, and that, of course, I should not have it to meet. However, it was announced to me that the “set time” had come–that God had commanded his servants to establish the order, by taking additional wives.
It seemed for awhile as though all the traditions, prejudices, and superstitions of my ancestry, for many generations, accumulated before me in one immense mass; but God, who had kept silence for centuries, was speaking: I knew it, and had covenanted in the waters of baptism to live by every word of his, and my heart was still firmly set to do his bidding.
I was sealed to the prophet, Joseph Smith, for time and eternity, in accordance with the celestial law of marriage which God had revealed, the ceremony being performed by a servant of the Most High–authorized to officiate in sacred ordinances.
The more I comprehend the pure and ennobling principle of plural marriage, the more I appreciate it.
This, one of the most important events of my life, I have never had cause to regret. The more I comprehend the pure and ennobling principle of plural marriage, the more I appreciate it. It is a necessity in the salvation of the human family–a necessity in redeeming woman from the curse, and the world from its corruptions.
When I entered into it, my knowledge of what it was designed to accomplish was very limited; had I then understood what I now understand, I think I should have hailed its introduction with joy, in consideration of the great good to be accomplished. As it was, I received it because I knew that God required it. 12
This humble, courageous woman received a testimony of plural marriage, after her willingness to be obedient. Moroni in the Book of Mormon explains this principle:
Wherefore dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. (Ether 12:6)
These early saints received sure witnesses of God’s commandment to practice plural marriage (Celestial Marriage), because of their willingness to sacrifice and be obedient to this eternal doctrine.
John Taylor bore this inspired testimony of plural marriage and how it relates to Celestial marriage:
Where did this commandment come from in relation to polygamy? It also came from God. It was a revelation given unto Joseph Smith from God, and was made binding upon His servants. When this system was first introduced among this people, it was one of the greatest crosses that ever was taken up by any set of men since the world stood. Joseph Smith told others; he told me, and I can bear witness of it, “that if this principle was not introduced, this Church and kingdom could not proceed.”
When this commandment was given, it was so far religious, and so far binding upon the Elders of this Church that it was told them if they were not prepared to enter into it, and to stem the torrent of opposition that would come in consequence of it, the keys of the kingdom would be taken from them. When I see any of our people, men or women, opposing a principle of this kind, I have years ago set them down as on the high road to apostacy, and I do to-day; I consider them apostates, and not interested in this Church and kingdom. It is so far, then, a religious institution, that it affects my conscience and the consciences of all good men—it is so far religious that it connects itself with time and with eternity. What are the covenants we enter into, and why is it that Joseph Smith said that unless this principle was entered into this kingdom could not proceed? We ought to know the whys and the wherefores in relation to these matters, and understand something about the principle enunciated. 13
The Prophet Joseph Smith stated:
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions; they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen. 14
How many of us have testimonies that will “stand the fire.” in regard to plural marriage?
Are we willing to stand by the revelation given by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and defend him and the commandment he was given on the doctrine of plural marriage?
- Harris, Dennison Lott. Dennison L. Harris statement, Ephraim, Utah, given to President Joseph F. Smith https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE5377450, see also McConkie, Mark L. Remembering Joseph, p. 386
- Horne, Mary Isabella. Testimony of Sister M. Isabella Horne. 1905, Church Archives
- Kimball, Heber C. Journal of Discourses. 11:211
- Clayton, William. Letter Salt Lake City to Madison M. Scott 1871 Nov. 11, Church Archives.
- “Plural Marriage (or Celestial Marriage, Patriarchal Marriage, Polygamy).” Inspira Wiki. Joseph Smith Foundation, 29 Jan. 2017. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <https://josephsmithfoundation.org/plural-marriage-or-celestial-marriage-patriarchal-marriage-polygamy/>.
- Recalled by his mission companion, Orson Pratt, “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” The Millennial Star 40. December 16 1878. Print. 788.
- Taylor, John. Journal of Discourses.11:221.
- Young, Brigham, and Elden Jay. Watson. Brigham Young Addresses: A Chronological Compilation of Known Addresses of the Prophet Brigham Young. 1979. 5:170.
- Taylor, John. Journal of Discourses. Payson, AZ: Leaves-of-Autumn, 1980. Print. 11:221.
- Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses, 3:266-67.
- Cannon, George Q. Journal of Discourses, 23:278.
- Tullidge, Edward W. The Women of Mormondom. New York: n.p., 1877. 295.
- John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 11:221.
- Smith, Joseph. Documentary History of the Church, 7 vols., (Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, UT, 1980), vol. 6:184.
I really enjoyed this article! Many people want to believe Brigham Young was the originator of Polygamy, however, church history and the revelations show that it was a true principle revealed by God to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
A courageous testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith! I hope many more Latter-Day Saints will pause and reflect on these things before making light of them, or rejecting the truth about Celestial marriage, because of prejudice. To reject the message of the Prophet Joseph Smith is to reject the word of the Lord. It is all too common in the church today for people to go into apostasy because they reject these doctrines and thereby reject the prophet.
Polygamy has always been a tender subject for me so I have avoided looking more deeply in to the origins of it, but reading this really helps understand God’s purposes better. God’s ways are not man’s ways, but we need to learn to obey God when he tells us to do something.
This is not a subject I am against as I understand it to be part of the plan, but as I read accounts of those men who were tested on following through with it, you can’t help but see their humility in it and their only desire is pure, not sexual or evil as many say. I can only imagine what Joseph Smith and these men went through when asked about plural marriage. Just reading Brigham Young on this topic, you can feel his pain as he states; “My brethren know what my feelings were at the time Joseph revealed the doctrine; I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin.”
I have always loved Brigham and his faithfulness and honesty and I love this article and I love the light that you shared on this subject. Your research is always well done, and one cannot usually argue when finished.
Journal of Discourses, 3:266
Polygamy is not of God.
I sure appreciated the way the article referred back to men like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Plural Marriage was a part of the Lord’s people for thousands upon thousands of years.
That was a very thoughtful and well-written article. That said, I would invite you and anyone else here to consider the following essay concerning Joseph Smith and Polygamy:
When it comes to this subject, there can be a tendency to over-rely almost exclusively on the statements that came about decades later after Joseph’s death, to reach a conclusion.
To accept all of these later statements at face value, when the contemporary history, records, and statements made by the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, vindicate him of ever advocating/engaging in this practice, can be careless in the sense we attribute behavior to Joseph that he “may” in fact never have engaged in.
Also, keep in mind that polygamy is summarily condemned in the Book of Mormon 3 times: Jacob 2:24; Mosiah 11:2-4; and Ether 10:5
So, I would invite you to consider the following points and let the Prophet Joseph Smith speak for himself concerning this subject.
Below are some things taken directly from the contemporary history:
“The Prophet warned against ‘iniquitous characters [who] say they have authority from Joseph or the First Presidency’ and advising them not to ‘believe anything as coming from us, contrary to the established morals & virtues & scriptural laws . . .’ The sisters were urged to denounce any man who made polygamous proposals and to ‘shun them as the flying fiery serpent, whether they are Prophets, Seers, or Revelators; Patriarchs, Twelve Apostles, Elders, Priests, Majors, Generals, City Councilors, Aldermen, Marshals, Police, Lord mayors or the Devil, [they] are alike culpable & shall be damned for such evil practices. (Richard Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, p. 29)
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s most pointed denial of plural marriage occurred on 5 October 1843 in instructions pronounced publicly in the streets of Nauvoo. Willard Richards wrote in Joseph Smith’s diary that Joseph:
“gave instructions to try those who were preaching, teaching, or practicing the doctrine of plurality of wives…Joseph forbids it and the practice thereof. No man shall have but one wife.’”
(The Joseph Smith Papers: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-draft-1-march-%2031-december-1843/143?highlight=5%20Oct%201843
Our 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (found at the Joseph Smith Papers website, link below) up until 1876, included a section on marriage, which denounced polygamy as well as any effort to persuade someone to leave their spouse to join the church:
This section actually stated:
“Inasmuch as this church has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy; we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”
“It is not right to persuade a woman to be baptized contrary to the will of her husband, neither is it lawful to influence her to leave her husband. All children are bound by law to obey their parents; and to influence them to embrace any religious faith, or be baptized, or leave their parents without their consent, is unlawful and unjust. We believe that all persons who exercise control over their fellow.”
(The Joseph Smith Papers — http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/doctrine-and-covenants-1835/259)
Further, the Quorums of the Seventy at Kirtland also made it known that polygamists would not be tolerated within that body when they adopted a resolution which stated that they would have no fellowship with any Elder “who is guilty of polygamy.”
While imprisoned in Liberty Jail, Joseph Smith denounced polygamy in all its manifestations in a letter he wrote to the Saints in Caldwell County, ending with the warning that “if any person has represented any thing otherwise than what we now write they have willfully misrepresented us.” (Joseph Smith Papers: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-the-%20church-in-caldwell-county-missouri-16-december-1838/5
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s denunciations of polygamy were frequent and fervent. He considered the practice a plague that must be stamped out or it would eventually lead the church to the very brink of destruction—which it did, when you think about it.
Here are some more questions from the contemporary history we should carefully consider:
Why did Joseph Smith sue Chancee L. Higbee on 24 May 1842 under oath in the State of Illinois for slander regarding claims that Joseph was a polygamist? Chancee was a lawyer. Would it make any sense to sue an attorney in the state of Illinois regarding polygamy (which was illegal) for slander where truth is the ultimate defense to the charge of slander? Would Joseph really risk going to jail in order to successfully pretend he wasn’t a polygamist? I do not believe he would risk that.
Why were 380 men sent out from Nauvoo in September of 1842 throughout the United States with certificates and affidavits signed by many of Nauvoo’s most prominent men and women denying polygamy in order to counteract damage done by Dr. John C. Bennett? Was Dr. Bennett the one lying about polygamy or the prominent men and women who signed the affidavits against what they claimed were false accusations?
There are numerous affidavits and witness statements that came about in the late-1800s, which paint a very different picture of Joseph than what the contemporary records do. These affidavits/witness statements written decades after Joseph’s death purport that he originated, taught, and practiced polygamy and that he did so secretly—saying one thing in public and practicing another thing in private. The question that should be asked is why the need, all of a sudden, for these affidavits and witness statements?
In the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s Joseph F. Smith began a search for documentation in an effort to prove Joseph Smith was a polygamist. Joseph F. Smith corresponded with Orson Pratt in 1875 about his efforts to obtain evidence regarding Joseph Smith’s polygamy and stated he was astonished at the lack of existing evidence. Below is what Joseph F. Smith wrote to Orson Pratt in correspondence:
“A few years ago [May 1869 to April 1870] I obtained the affidavits of as many as I knew of, with a few exceptions, who received personal instructions or commandment from The Prophet respecting the Subject of celestial marriage [,] all of which are filed away in the H.O. [Historian’s Office]…. When the subject first came before my mind I must say I was astonished at the scarcity of evidence, I might say almost total absence of direct evidence upon the Subject, as connected with the Prophet Joseph himself. There was nothing written and but few living who were personally knowing to the fact that Joseph Taught the principle. True much had been written in support of the Doctrine, bearing upon scriptural—and rational evidences, but not a word, except the Revelation itself. Showing that the The Prophet was the Author—under God…. (Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume 1: History, Brian C. Hales, p. 9)
Joseph F. Smith stated himself there was “almost total absence of direct evidence” of Joseph Smith teaching or practicing polygamy and it was precisely because of this; he had to resort to obtaining affidavits (signed statements, not made under penalty of law for perjury, from approximately 50 persons) of those stating they knew Joseph was a polygamist. (Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume 2: History, Brian C. Hales, p. 352-357). This was all done in an effort to support the Church’s position in the Temple Lot Court Case (another topic all together).
The single document tying Joseph Smith to plural marriage is the revelation recorded on 12 July 1843—what is now D&C Section 132. The original of that document no longer exists. Section 132 was introduced in 1852.
The content of Section 132 is a document in the handwriting of a Joseph Kingsbury, who was not a clerk for Joseph Smith and is a curious source for the document.
That said, there was a revelation, but the contemporaneous description given of the document (Section 132) in June 1844 describes it in these terms:
“[Hyrum] referred to the revelation [he] read to the [Nauvoo Stake] High council—that it was in answer to a question concerning things which transpired in former days & had no reference to the present time.” (Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes, p. 241.)
Unfortunately, William Clayton, kept a double set of books. And we don’t know which set was right and which set was altered and how reliable he was. The Church has not yet released all of his journals. (only ~25% have been released thus far I believe), so we need to keep this in mind.
Additionally, one problem with William Clayton is that he makes reference to Hyrum asking Joseph to dictate the Section 132 revelation into writing on 12 July 1843, using the “Urim and Thummim,” but Joseph, in reply, said he did not need to, for he knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end. The problem with William Clayton’s statement is that Joseph no longer had possession of the Urim and Thummim at this time. Joseph Smith earlier recorded that he returned the [Book of Mormon] plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate to the angel on 2 May 1838. (Times and Seasons, May 2, 1842, 3:772).
You cite Eliza R. Snow; however, in an 1877 letter from Eliza R. Snow to RLDS missionary, Daniel Lund, Eliza R. Snow wrote the following:
“You asked (referring to President Smith), did he authorize or practice spiritual wifery? Were you a spiritual wife? I certainly shall not acknowledge myself of having been a carnal one.” (Brian Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Vol. 1: History, p. 287)
In the effort to identify children of Joseph Smith born by a plural wife, DNA testing has not proven a single child to be Joseph’s. The only woman who bore him children was his wife, Emma.
So what was Joseph Smith doing? I believe Joseph was doing “sealings” involving both men and women, but “sealings” do not necessarily equal plural marriage. Joseph sealed others to him as the Patriarchal head of a dispensation. These original sealings bound people to Joseph as “the Patriarch.” Initially in the Church, family history involved sealing the family line to Joseph. In fact, sealings to Joseph Smith continued until President Wilford Woodruff, when it changed to our current practice. Note: I believe Orson Hyde left the best attempt at trying to explain this in a diagram he constructed that was published in the Millennial Star, Vol. 9 [15 January 1847], pages 23-24: http://www.aliveonline.com/grasshopper/hyde_diagram.html
I believe Joseph Smith was not just connecting a man and a wife. He was assembling families. Joseph Smith restored a covenant allowing his contemporaries to belong to God. I do not believe he used this covenant and sealing power as the primary purpose for obtaining a multitude of wives. Additionally, Emma Smith said in one of her last interviews, “He did not have improper relations with any woman that ever came to my knowledge.”
So you ask: “have you received a witness of [Joseph Smith] and Plural Marriage?”
Well, I have. Joseph Smith was a true and mighty prophet of God! He knew far more than he could ever impart to any of us. He was a man who was worthy and virtuous; he consistently condemned adultery, promiscuity, improper sexual relations, and lust. The historical record contemporary with his life unequivocally shows this.
You further ask, “Are we willing to stand by the revelation given by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and defend him and the commandment he was given on the doctrine of plural marriage?”
That is difficult to do, when we don’t have the original revelation. What came about in 1852 was in the handwriting of someone, who never clerked for Joseph.
Even if there is information to the contrary in the form of “recollections” that came about decades after Joseph’s death in the form of affidavits, that does not remove all doubts. Therefore I join in speaking good of the Prophet’s name and will hold him innocent of this until proven otherwise. I believe Joseph Smith was not the author of a great deal of mischief later adopted in his name.
I always acknowledge and stand open to being wrong and corrected, but this is my understanding of this subject at this given time. I think if anything is written on a subject such as this, balance should also be given to the contemporary history and Joseph Smith’s own words concerning the matter.
Again, thank you for the thoughtful article on this subject!
One major problem for LDS in rejecting the testimony of those that did accept and live plural marriage is that they also have to reject the written Word of the Lord revelations that Presidents John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff wrote. Thus they have to reject both as true prophets. It is very evil to write something as the Word of the Lord if it is not really the Lord’s word.
You know, in order to lay hold upon the truth concerning this matter, we must all ask God in humility and obtain the truth from Him. Relying on the recollections or words of any other man is dangerous indeed!
“One major problem for LDS in rejecting the testimony of those that did accept and live plural marriage is that they also have to reject the written Word of the Lord revelations that Presidents John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff wrote.”
Well, not necessarily and I am active LDS. Celestial Marriage does not necessarily equal Plural Marriage or Plural wives, especially given that Joseph Smith never used the term “Celestial Marriage” to describe plural wives, but he did use the term “adultery” to describe it. (see Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844, Edited by Donald Q. Cannon, Lyndon W. Cook, Deseret Book (Salt Lake City, 1983), pp. 162- 171. Id., p. 163).
One of the challenges our generation faces is that just because we have grown up with a certain “vocabulary,” it does not necessarily mean we understand what that vocabulary actually means.
The actual revelation received by President John Taylor on 27 September 1886, is as follows:
“My son John: You have asked me concerning the New and Everlasting Covenant and how far it is binding upon my people. Thus saith the Lord, all commandments that I have given must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are revoked by me or by my authority and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant [sic] For I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with; but they stand forever. Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject? Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandment, and yet have I borne with them these many years and this because of their weakness because of the perilous times. And furthermore it is more pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regard to these matters. Nevertheless I the Lord do not change and my word and my covenants and my law do not. And as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph all those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law. And have I not commanded men that if they were Abraham’s seed and would enter into my glory they must do the works of Abraham. I have not revoked this law nor will I for it is everlasting and those who will into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so Amen. (Unpublished Revelations of the Prophets and Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, compiled by Fred C. Collier, 1979, pages 145-146).
You can read this, but you will not find the words “plural wives” or the plural form of “wife” anywhere in this revelation.
So you have to ask yourself is “Celestial Marriage” the same thing, or equal to “Plural Marriage?”
When the Lord states, “And as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph all those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law,”–I think we need to reflect on Joseph’s actual words (recorded in the contemporary history) and not the embellished recollections that came in the form of affidavits decades later after Joseph’s death. There is no contemporary historical record in existence where Joseph advocated or condoned polygamy. To the contrary, all of his statements condemn this practice as an abomination. Remember, the Lord does not work in darkness, but in light and in plainness (2 Nephi 26:23).
On 24 November 1889, President Wilford Woodruff received a revelation very similar in word and content to John Taylor’s earlier revelation in 1886. You will also find the words “plural wives” are absent from President Woodruff’s revelation. There is nothing in that revelation touching on “plural wives” or abrogating the first 33 verses of D&C Section 132.
Additionally, in a meeting on 20 December 1888, President Wilford Woodruff prophesied, “The Lord will never give a revelation to abandon plural marriage.” He was wrong. (See Diaries of Heber J. Grant, Pages 89-90.)
Section 132, should be read very, very differently than an out right authorization for anyone to practice plural marriage/polygamy.
Here’s why: The first part of the revelation (versus 1-33) reveals the concept of exaltation and the eternity of the marriage covenant. The concept is linked to marriage between a man and a wife (singular, a wife). The document reveals the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. The first, most important, and therefore the primary subject of the revelation is exaltation of a man and a woman when they two are sealed by the proper authority.
Therefore, when we read section 132, we should not leap to verse 34 and then read backwards the statements beginning there into the earlier text. Nothing in the earlier text addresses anything other than the marriage of a man and a woman. We do not get to an answer about Joseph’s inquiry concerning plural marriage until verse 34. Only in verse 34 does the subject matter change, and the question that was asked is then answered beginning with that verse.
In my opinion, the image of God (Eloheim) is a man and a woman; hence the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teaching that the name Eloheim is plural! All marriages should seek to reflect this image.
Even Author Brian Hales concedes that: “Establishing the Prophet’s precise instructions is difficult due to a lack of contemporary accounts recording Joseph Smith’s specific teachings on these lofty topics. Furthermore, a challenge arises regarding which sources should be considered authoritative for defining his theology, ideology, and cosmology. Of course, the most authoritative of sources would be the Prophet himself, but his writings and recorded instructions on plural marriage are limited to the revelation on celestial and plural marriage, Doctrine and Covenants 132.” (Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Volume 3, Theology, chapter 6: Authoritative Sources for Joseph Smith’s Theology, pp.69-84.)
My understanding is that Joseph’s original instruction about sealing dealt with connecting the living faithful to the “fathers” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The connection was to be accomplished through adoption sealing, not genealogy. Joseph was connected to the “fathers” through his priesthood. He and his brother Hyrum were to become “fathers” of all who would live after them. Families were originally organized under Joseph as the father of the righteous in this dispensation. Accordingly, men were sealed to Joseph Smith as their father, and they as his sons. This was referred to as “adoption” because the family organization was not biological, but priestly, according to the law of God.
As soon as Joseph died; however, the doctrine began to erode, ultimately replaced by the substitute practice of sealing genealogical lines together. In between the original adoptive sealing to Joseph Smith and the current practice of tracking genealogical/biological lines, there was an intermediate step when families were tracked back as far as research permitted, then the line was sealed to Joseph Smith. (See The Words of Joseph Smith, Page 329) as well as Orson Hyde’s Diagram.)
Bottom line/my .02 cents: there is much more to this than what was bequeathed to us, but it is obvious Joseph was doing something far more grand than was commonly understood, or that he was able to fully lay out to the saints before he was killed.
Wow that was quite a response Josh.
However, you cannot take one revelation written by President Taylor and ignore other revelations he received. Here is one he dated June 1882:
Question: Is the law of Celestial Marriage a law
given to this nation or to the world?
2 Answer: No– in no other sense than as the
gospel is given and in accordance with the laws
thereof. So far as it is made known unto men, it
is made know unto them as the gospel is made
known unto them, and is part of the New and
3 And it is only those who receive the gospel that
are able to, or capable of, entering into this
4 Have I not said through My servant Joseph
Smith that all kingdoms are governed by law?
And if they receive not the law of the gospel, they
cannot participate in the blessings of Celestial
marriage, which pertains to Mine elect.
5 No person or people or nation can enter into
the principle of Celestial marriage unless they
come in by Me, saith the LORD, and obey the law
of My gospel through the medium of him who is
appointed unto this power as made known unto
My people through My servant Joseph in a
Revelation on the eternity of the marriage
covenant, INCLUDING THE PLURALITY OF WIVES.
6 I have therein stated that , “all those who have
this law revealed unto them must obey the same;
for behold I reveal unto you a New and an
Everlasting Covenant; and if ye abide not that
covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can
reject this covenant and be permitted to enter
into My glory.
This revelation quotes from D&C 132 numerous times exactly like D&C 132 is written today in the D&C. Furthermore, Presidents Young, Taylor and Woodruff gave numerous discourse specifically teaching that plural marriage was a correct principle when done correctly.
The bottom line is that you are justified in saying plural marriage can easily get out of control and be done incorrectly, but you are not justified in saying church doctrine has ever not accepted D&C 132 just as it is written today– including the parts about plural marriage when necessary.
And when is it necessary?
1. D&C 132:44 requires that a faithful woman married in the NAECOM, whose husband commits adultery, must be given the option to remarry to a faithful man in the covenant– even if it requires plural marriage. She cannot live the covenant if she is married to a man not in the covenant, especially one who has broken it.
2. The Old Testament law that Boaz (who surely had a wife) obeyed to marry Ruth (and thus provide a lineage for King David and later Jesus) was from Moses, and surely is a correct principle. It requires a faithful man in Israel to marry his dead brothers wife. This also make sense for those in the NAECOM.
3. We cannot put conditions on the LORD! If the LORD gives a specific command for a certain man to live plural marriage and raise up seed, please do not be so uppity to try to tell the LORD that He is wrong.
The fact is, if Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, William Clayton and all the rest just made this up or took it in the wrong direction the very foundation of the Church is in question. If our leaders were incapable of receiving direction from the Lord, where are we? The Lord put his stamp of approval upon Brigham Young in the transfiguration event. The transfiguration is one of the most documented miracles in Church history.
This article is very insightful and thorough in describing the fact that celestial marriage was indeed a revelation from God. Too many times the world looks at the practice of polygamy and condemns Joseph Smith, arguing that he was a corrupt and evil man. However, as we see the results of the principle as well as the additional testimonies of this commandment, the Holy Ghost does bear witness that it is true. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. I know that he did receive this revelation. He did not invent it for his pleasure or gratification, as evidenced by his initial hesitancy to follow it. It was truly from God. Polygamy is a deep topic we do not fully comprehend, and it is a principle that we must have trust in the Lord and absolute faith in his prophets on. As of now, we are not instructed to practice it, quite obviously it is heinous if contemporarily practiced. However, that does not give us a reason to cover it up or be humiliated in regards to this topic. Indeed, it is a celestial principle. We must each individually grow line upon line, until our minds are fully enlightened by the Holy Spirit on this and on any other gospel truth. Through God’s ultimate wisdom, all encompassing love, and eternal power the truths of God will be unfolded to each of his penitent and righteous children.
This article does an excellent job clarifying confusion and controversy on the subject of plural marriage. It also explains the importance of obeying revelation, and the eternal quality of marriage. It provides evidence from early church members along with scriptures that all explicitly put forth the importance of obeying revelation from God. As members of the church we are often ashamed in relation to the topic of celestial marriage. However, we must not apologize for revelation from God because we do not fully understand or practice it at this time.
I appreciated all of the original research and first hand accounts showing how this commandment took great faith to follow. Those that excercised faith received a witness of the principle. I believe that it is important not to appologize for the early members of the church living this principle of plural marriage which took great sacrifice for them to live. In many cases, we have reaped the blessings of having the gospel in our lives because of the great pioneer families who followed the prophets in living this principle. Its also interesting that many of those that persecuted the church, specifically for plural marriage, were themselves adulterers and fornicators. I believe those that followed this principle of plural marriage were faithful men in the church and in their families. Families of which were the most faithful in the church.
Yah, I am not interested in getting into a debate over this as I think I have better things to do. Nevertheless, when Christ says that whoever doesn’t hate their father or mother or wife etc… in Luke (as well as the version in Matthew 10) the point he is actually trying to make is twofold.
1. We know that there is a first and great commandment, and a second commandment. He is telling us how the two relate. He is saying “yes, love your neighbor as yourself, but when that conflicts with loving God with all your heart might mind and strength then you need to choose God absolutely first”. This is worth noting in a day when we tend to be willing to throw away truth at a moments notice when it will make people feel more comfortable in the church.
2. Christ is saying “Yes, family is what everything in the gospel is all about, but your going to have to learn to do the family the way it is practiced in heaven, and that is going to go against your traditions — it will even seem to you like you are paining your own family members to obey it, even though it will prove to be the path to joy in the end”.
We see this illustrated quite bluntly before us these days when there is hardly anything that Heavenly Father declared in Eden that you can quote without causing an uproar. The Father said to multiply and replenish the earth. If you are going to determine to keep that commandment, the world these days will make you feel like you must hate your spouse and your own children if you freely obey that commandment. That is part of what Christ is saying when he says that whoever doesn’t hate his own father, mother etc… is not worthy of him. He is saying “Look, you are going to have to let me remake your family into the form it exists in the celestial kingdom if you want to be able to keep that family in the celestial kingdom, and it is going to violate all those societal traditions you have gotten from the world and seem like you must be the sort of person that hates your own family to do it,. … but trust me, it is the only real path to family joy”.
Another fine example is feminism. The Father himself said that the husband was to rule over is wife, and added that her desire was to be to him. Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 agree, though that is unnecessary since we are talking about the words of the Father himself here. There is no greater authority on the matter. But our feminism has a great hold on both our men and women these days, and if you try and live by what the Father himself laid out everyone is going to think you hate your family. And that is the point Christ is making. He is saying “do it my way, and even if that is a bit of a shock, and it seems like a hateful thing to do, it must be done — your family must work the way my family does if you want to take it to heaven with you.” Christ’s family is a patriarchal family. He prays to his father. He obeys his Father. He is concerned that he always does his Father’s will. He loves his mother — not only his earthly mother but also his heavenly one. But he doesn’t talk to her as being the head. The father is his head.
Reading this, I am struck by the faith it took on the part of the men, particularly Joseph Smith, to actually practice polygamy. If they had been a bunch of hedonists then it would have taken no faith at all. But they were the very opposite. It took faith for the men of the early church to do just as it took faith for Abraham to raise the knife to Isaac. When we sweep polygamy as an act of faith under the rug we dishonor their sacrifice. We may as well try and distance ourselves from Abraham for trying to kill his own son, as to try to distance ourselves from polygamy in the early church, for it is the same heritage of obedience to the Lord at all cost.
If you have read enough of their writings (and I am afraid we haven’t, so we have lost track of our dear friend’s goodness) of Joseph or Brigham to imagine what sort of faith it would take them, who had always craved obedience and stood for morality to approach some woman whom they thought was particularly righteous, whose virtue they greatly esteemed, and then suggest to her out of the blue to become a plural wife, knowing that it would strike her as being the darkest of sin that they were inviting her into.
I find that simply staggering.
It is the same tribulation, it its own sense, that Mary went through when she bore Jesus. She was pure enough to speak words that are, among men, almost incomparably laden with the Holy Ghost like those words found in Luke 1, and yet she was required to appear to have been entangled in immorality by having a child who appeared to be born out of wedlock. She appeared to have fallen into dark iniquity to all around her, all the while being the purest girl earth had to offer its God.
We do not see polygamy in its early days as the tremendous test that it was. When Joseph says “by the help of his hand I will obey his law” he is speaking literally. This is a commandment that is going to require him to actually approach women of high virtue and ask one of them to do something that they have been taught has been an immoral perversion. Literally, he cannot obey by himself. He needs to approach those who would actually be desireable as a wife, and have therefore learned to be strictly chaste.
Indeed, to do such a thing, just like Mary of old he had to care not what any man or woman would think of him, but only what the Lord would think. He has to descend below all things, in the eyes of those who will not listen to the Holy Ghost, so that he can be raised up to eternal life.
I notice men remarking here how strong the man had to be to live plural marriage. Well I believe it was the woman who was living the celestial law. ( I looked it upo: celestial law is the law of ultimate sacrifice.”). The woman sacrificed everything! She is no longer his one true love, no longer that one special person closest to his heart. So she could find herself feeling lonelier than in her whole life. I have studied and studied to get a testimony of polygamy. I believe it was a way to grow as a church, but also a way to sift the members. Do I think we have polygamy in Heaven? No.
1- There just doesn’t seem to be the need. Goodness, we aren’t going to procreate the same way as on earth. Sorry to some of you guys that were looking forward to being busy procreating. Heavens way is not our way. Our way is arcade.
1- In polygamy , the women aren’t equal to each other. Remember, we are that same person who died on earth. That man will have a tendency to have a favorite, because he died having a favorite.And there is going to be a wife that feels less loved or insecure of her standing. I totally know that God sees men and women as equal and different. He wouldn’t want a heaven where any of his daughters did not know from head to toe that she was a queen and priestess, having come from Heavenly Parents, and she may always be welcomed at the sides of her parents to be crowned on high.
I am not one of those people who tear down Joseph Smith. He did his very, very best. I cry when following Emma’s life and all of the pain she went through. I suppose when Joseph was killed something broke in Emma. She stayed close to his parents and all his siblings. They were her family . I’m thinking that Brigham Young offered to see her safely to Utah and to do that he would take her as one of his wives. Emma very much disliked Brigham so that offer would have been repulsive and offensive to her.
So very inspired! I felt greatly inspired while taking in the article. Thank you for posting this. This topic rests deeply on my mind for the sake of understanding. I felt led to this article and the content resonated with me. Cheers!
When practiced correctly it is a holy thing. A women loses the financial support of her family and looks around for a helpmeet and finds none the right fit. A couple who is selfless is inspired to have her in their family to grow in oneness of purpose. This can be just in the Lord’s eyes. In the OT a sister in law’s husband dies and she and her family are destitute. Her brother in law in that culture would care for her as his own to honor his family and brother. A people of upright heart have to few righteous men and the selection of good men is few and far between (you hear this every day btw). An upright family would be honored to have her their mother and wife. God is the determiner of who, when and the intent of those involved. The physical and physiology of humanity is largely governed by self preservation and procreation of which nature provides a pattern proven thru eternity (in humans this is the family unit). Can it be abused? Most certainly. Can it be had in purity? Most certainly. Not by all indeed hence the need for inspiration and guidance of a spiritual leader/community. Who is to decide? Ultimately the ultimate guide, the spirit of the Lord. Some of those most opposed are such by design (which is fine) or by carnality of their own minds (ie they know they couldn’t do it in the correct spirit so how can anyone else? It is my opinion that sealing ordinances of adoption (there are such on the earth today in fraternities) for sealing mothers, daughters,sons etc with keys of such, along with the righteous and unrighteous use of such were revealed and mingled by the minds of enemies and friends into the derision that Joseph’s name now sits. It is my opinion that in nothing was Joseph unfaithful to Emma in in practice but certainly she also would be pained by the teaching and trust tested. This is imo why their are no children of Joseph Smith with any of his wives. If ever there was found such imo Emma approved it but it would be the exception. The secrecy surrounding all is simply the sacredness and meaty principal taught to the minds of the unspiritual. The subsequent result being the unrighteous practice magnified by minds that can’t understand or motivated by evil intent or confused by both.