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Why did Joseph Preach Against Plural Marriage?

by W. John Walsh

Why was Joseph Smith still preaching against polygamy in October 1843 after he got his revelation in July 1843 commanding the practice of polygamy? (D/C 132; Teachings of the Prophet, page 324). How did Joseph Smith become involved in polygamy, when the Book of Mormon specifically condemns it?

Although the revelation relating to the plurality of wives was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet Joseph Smith since 1831. In October 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote:

"... I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Page 324)

The Prophet Joseph did not preach against the practice of plural marriage as you suggest. If you read your reference again carefully, he said that no man should practice it unless directed to do so by the Lord. This has been the policy of the Church both before and after 1843.

The Book of Mormon states:

"Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things." (Jacob 2:27-30, emphasis added)

Please note that while critics often claim the Book of Mormon condemns plural marriage, a careful reading of the text shows that this interpretation is incorrect. The Lord condemns plural marriage when the practice is used to gratify lustful desires for sensuality. Such perversion of a sacred doctrine violates the Lord's standards on sexuality. However, at times a divine commandment is given to "raise up seed unto" God. In such cases, the practice is not only approved, but the necessary prerequisites (e.g., patience, love, humility) leads the practitioners into deeper sanctification.

The Bible teaches that the Patriarchs of the Old Testament, who had multiple wives, were still admitted to Heaven:

And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 8:11)

I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob[.] God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:32)

There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you [yourselves] thrust out. (Luke 13:28)

If their marital relations were inherently sinful, they surely would have been condemned by God. Why were their actions accepted? Because plural marriage had been sanctioned by the Lord in their case. Yet, men in the Book of Mormon practiced plural marriage and were condemned for it harshly. Why? Because it had not been sanctioned by the Lord in their case. (See The Doctrinal Exclusion: Lesser Arguments)

(See Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page; Plural Marriage home page)

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