Essays on Polygamy


This essay declares that polygamy (a man married to more than one woman) is not the “standard” that God has given for marriage. Within this Gospel Topics Essay, the LDS Church says,

“The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that the marriage of one man to one woman is God’s standard, except at specific periods when He has declared otherwise.1

Footnote 1 for this paragraph reads,

Jacob 2:27, 30. For instances of plural marriage in the Bible, see Genesis 16:3; 25:1; 29:21-30; 30:3-4, 9. See also D&C 132:34-35.”

As you can see, this footnote 1 lists the Book of Mormon reference, Jacob 2:27, 30, for God’s standard being one wife for one man. But next, after trying to justify the practice by listing biblical scriptures, it gives Joseph Smith’s revelation on polygamy in Doctrine and Covenants 132.

Note that while the LDS Church references the Book of Mormon passage of Jacob 2:27, which condemns marriage to more than one wife, they fail to mention verse 24 which is even stronger in its condemnation of polygamy found in the Bible. The whole passage reads as follows:

Jacob 2:24, 27-28: “Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. …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.”

This essay admits that although the Mormon Church published the Manifesto in 1890 denouncing the practice of polygamy, it wasn’t “strictly prohibited” until 1904.  They acknowledge that, “During the years that plural marriage was publicly taught, all Latter-day Saints were expected to accept the principle as a revelation from God.”  So when the Manifesto was advocated by the Church, many Mormons,

“Believing these laws to be unjust, Latter-day Saints engaged in civil disobedience by continuing to practice plural marriage and by attempting to avoid arrest. When convicted, they paid fines and submitted to jail time. To help their husbands avoid prosecution, plural wives often separated into different households or went into hiding under assumed names, particularly when pregnant or after giving birth.”

Then the Mormon Church tries to justify their “civil disobedience” of the laws of the United States by blaming God, saying that He commanded polygamy using the very Book of Mormon passage in Jacob 2 that condemns polygamy!

“Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God’s purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to ‘raise up seed unto [the Lord]’ (Jacob 2:30).”



As noted in our introductory discussion of this essay in our section on how to witness to Mormons using their own church history, this essay confesses that Joseph Smith had between 30 and 40 wives, that he took wives as young as 14 years old, and that he married 12 to 14 wives who were already married to living husbands.

We will now examine this essay in more depth to determine the nature of Joseph Smith’s relationships with his plural wives and whether these marriages could have been approved of by God as the Mormon Church now claims.

As noted in our earlier discussion, this essay acknowledges that some of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages (sealings) included the “possibility” of intimate relationships and that Emma, his first wife, only knew of his marriages to “four” of his additional thirty wives.  We noted that this is in direct violation of Doctrine and Covenants 132:61, where it explicitly states that the first wife must give her permission before a man is able to wed another wife. Yet, this essay claims that Joseph Smith said that an angel threatened him with death if he didn’t marry these women. It states,

“Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.”

In other words, Joseph Smith blamed God for his disobedience to the Mormon “laws of polygamy” given in Doctrine and Covenants 132:61.

In the Bible, we see that God never commanded polygamy and He certainly condemned any form of polyandry (marrying of other men’s wives) and intermarriage with mothers and daughters.[1]

Although this essay does not mention this fact, Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, (cited in this essay), provides additional details on how Joseph Smith was not only married to several wives of other men, but he was sealed to four pairs of sisters (Huntingtons, Partridges, Johnsons, Lawrences) and a mother and a daughter pair as well (Bartlett Sessions and Sylvia Sessions Lyon).[2] Regarding these marriage “sealings,” the Mormon Church claims,

“Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone.30 Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.”

Then, at footnote 30, they state,

“Polyandry, the marriage of one woman to more than one man, typically involves shared financial, residential, and sexual resources, and children are often raised communally. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith’s sealings functioned in this way, and much evidence works against that view.”

So to get around the biblical mandates against polyandry and intermarriages, the LDS Church claims, “There is no evidence that Joseph Smith’s sealings functioned” in this way of polyandry. Yet, Todd Compton notes the opposite in his book, In Sacred Loneliness:

“In conclusion, though it is possible that Joseph had some marriages in which there were no sexual relations, there is no explicit or convincing evidence for this (except, perhaps, in the cases of the older wives, judging from later Mormon polygamy). And in a significant number of marriages, there is evidence for sexual relations.” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, page 15)

Again, notice that this source that the Mormon Church’s essay is based upon, disagrees with this essay’s conclusions regarding Joseph Smith’s intimate marriages. But even if it could be proved that Joseph Smith avoided physical relations with the wives of other men that he “sealed” for eternity, what does this say about the Mormon belief in polygamy being practiced in heaven?  The essay notes,

“Marriage performed by priesthood authority meant that the procreation of children and perpetuation of families would continue into the eternities. ”

So even an “eternity only” celestial marriage to nearly a dozen wives already married to living husbands, four pairs of sisters, and a mother and daughter pair, goes far beyond any form of human decency and morality that could claim to be “Christian.”  This evidence clearly proves Joseph Smith’s insatiable appetite for women in that he thought he could, at least, “seal” these wives to himself for “eternity,” if not, for “time” in this life as well.

Although God may have tolerated polygamy at times, nowhere in the Bible does He ever “command” plural marriage. In fact, He strongly condemned the practice at the following verses:

Deuteronomy 17:15,17: “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee… Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away.”

1 Timothy 3:2: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife….”

Titus 1:5-6: “…ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife….”

Furthermore, as the Manifesto essay (next) will cover in more detail, this essay, on “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” admits that Mormon leaders practiced what is now called “Lying for the Lord,” giving a public image that is the opposite of what is being practiced. By issuing “carefully worded denials,” they attempted to cover-up early Mormon polygamy and polyandry:

Participants in these early plural marriages pledged to keep their involvement confidential, though they anticipated a time when the practice would be publicly acknowledged. Nevertheless, rumors spread. A few men unscrupulously used these rumors to seduce women to join them in an unauthorized practice sometimes referred to as ‘spiritual wifery.’ When this was discovered, the men were cut off from the Church.21  The rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated ‘celestial’ plural marriage.22  The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God’s living prophet, might do so.23

Likewise, this essay shows how the wives who participated in plural marriage “risked reputation and self-respect” and it records the personal feelings of Zina Huntington Jacobs who married Joseph Smith just a few months after she married Henry Jacobs. This essay states:

“ ‘I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life,’ said Zina Huntington Jacobs, ‘for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honorable woman.’ ”

Such is the legacy of Joseph Smith’s polygamy and polyandry. The devaluing of women that occurs today in polygamous splinter groups, that have broken away from the Mormon Church, is not much different from what occurred in Joseph Smith’s plural marriages.



This essay discusses the fact that the first Manifesto, given in 1890, was used to provide a public image of monogamy for the LDS Church in order to help Utah gain acceptance into the United States. Yet, it did not stop loyal members from practicing polygamy in secret.  Notice how this essay describes how early Mormon leaders practiced and encouraged “civil disobedience” to the laws of the United States, endorsing polygamy in secret, and then issued a “carefully worded” Manifesto to denounce polygamy publicly while continuing to practice it in secret:

“Latter-day Saints sincerely desired to be loyal citizens of the United States, which they considered a divinely founded nation. But they also accepted plural marriage as a commandment from God and believed the court was unjustly depriving them of their right to follow God’s commands.

“Confronted with these contradictory allegiances, Church leaders encouraged members to obey God rather than man. Many Latter-day Saints embarked on a course of civil disobedience during the 1880’s by continuing to live in plural marriage and to enter into new plural marriages. The federal government responded by enacting ever more punishing legislation. …

“This government opposition strengthened the Saints’ resolve to resist what they deemed to be unjust laws. Polygamous men went into hiding, sometimes for years at a time… . New plural wives had to live apart from their husbands, their confidential marriages known only to a few. Pregnant women often chose to go into hiding, at times in remote locales, rather than risk being subpoenaed to testify in court against their husbands. Children lived in fear that their families would be broken up or that they would be forced to testify against their parents. Some children went into hiding and lived under assumed names.”

Once Mormon Church property began to be seized by the federal government, in accordance with the Edmunds-Tucker Act which allowed for confiscation due to the Church’s refusal to end polygamy, Mormon Church President Woodruff announced the 1890 Manifesto, which was published in Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 1.  The essay describes it this way,

“The Manifesto was carefully worded to address the immediate conflict with the U.S. government. ‘We are not teaching polygamy, or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice,’ President Woodruff said. ‘Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do
likewise.’ ”

Yet, although this first Manifesto was accepted as “authoritative and binding” by the LDS Church leadership, it did little to stop the actual practice of polygamy among the membership.  This essay admits that it wasn’t until 1904, when it was revealed through the testimony of Church President Joseph F. Smith, that while,

“…the Manifesto removed the divine command for the Church collectively to sustain and defend plural marriage; it had not, up to this time, prohibited individuals from continuing to practice or perform plural marriage as a matter of religious conscience.”

So, at the April 1904 General conference, under the leadership of Mormon Church President Joseph F. Smith, a forceful statement against polygamy was issued by the Church. Known as the Second Manifesto, this essay states,

“The Second Manifesto was a watershed event. For the first time, Church members were put on notice that new plural marriages stood unapproved by God and the Church.”

This statement is significant because it gives another historical example on how Mormon leaders practiced “Lying for the Lord” where they said one thing to the outside world, while practicing the opposite inside.  It acknowledges that regardless of the wording of the first Manifesto being accepted as “authoritative and binding” upon the LDS Church, it wasn’t until this Second Manifesto was issued that the membership of the Mormon Church understood, “For the first time… that new plural marriages stood unapproved by God and the Church.”

[1] See Leviticus 18:17-18; 20:17.

[2] See pages 171, 202, 397, 475 of Todd Compton’s book.

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