I know that some of what I have to say here is controversial. I’m not an authority on anything except my own opinions. This is a massive topic and I do not address all of the views and perspectives. This is simply one person’s train of thought examining one facet. I encourage everyone to do their own prayerful research and consider all viewpoints.
The mind that seeks pornography would know something of the motivation driving the Nephites who were desiring many wives and concubines under Jacob’s ministry.
C.S. Lewis once wrote about the evils of keeping “a harem of imaginary brides” (Letter C. S. Lewis sent in 1956 to Keith Masson) and if that was evil, what about the abomination of an actual harem of brides?
“…the people of Nephi, … began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.Jacob 1:15
Their desiring (and no doubt obtaining) many wives and concubines was called “wicked.” Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines wicked as: “Evil in principle or practice; deviating from the divine law; addicted to vice; sinful; immoral.”
Jacob quotes the Lord on his commandment that they were to have only one wife and absolutely no concubines (which are essentially mistresses), women kept for lewd purposes or in an inferior role to an actual wife:
…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;Jacob 2:27
The next verse is key because the Lord explains why:
For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.Jacob 2:28
Thus, having more than one wife or any concubines results in the unchastity of women (and likely of men as well) and are defined as whoredoms that the Lord declares are abominable.
In the Book of Mormon, many wives and concubines are always referenced together because they are essentially one the same.
The practice itself, not a lack of authorization
Look at some of the language used by Jacob and the Lord and ask if any other practices in scripture have such strong language associated with them:
- [they began] to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices (1:17)
- crimes (2:9)
- enlarge the wounds (2:9)
- wounded (2:9)
- wounds (2:9)
- wounded (2:9)
- daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds (2:9)
- your wickedness and abominations (2:10)
- broken heart (2:10)
- grosser crime (2:22)
- grosser crimes (2:23)
- iniquity (2:23)
- they understand not the scriptures (2:23)
- they seek to excuse themselves (2:23)
- whoredoms (2:23)
- abominable (2:24)
- one wife, concubines none (2:27)
- whoredoms (2:28)
- abomination (2:28)
- sorrow (2:31)
- mourning (2:31)
- wickedness (2:31)
- abominations (2:31)
- cries (2:32)
- lead away captive the daughters…because of their tenderness (2:33)
- whoredoms (2:33)
- ye have done these things which ye ought not have done (2:34)
- greater iniquities than the Lamanites (2:35)
- broken hearts of your tender wives (2:35)
- lost confidence of your children (2:35)
- your bad examples (2:35)
- sobbings of their hearts (2:35)
- many hearts died pierced with deep wounds (2:35)
- not pure in heart (3:3)
- filthy (3:3)
- filthy (3:3)
- they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none (3:5)
- whoredoms (3:5)
- ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them (3:10)
- sins (3:10)
- slumber of death (3:11)
- pains of hell (3:11)
- angels to the devil (3:11)
- lake of fire and brimstone (3:11)
- second death (3:11)
- fornication (3:12)
- lasciviousness (3:12)
- sin (3:12)
- awful consequences (3:12)
Note that Jacob’s sermon never says anything about Nephites lacking “authorization” for what might be an otherwise holy practice. Both he and the Lord’s condemnations are focused entirely on the actual practice itself: that of having more than one wife or any concubines.
Even if a sacred ordinance or practice was being done without authorization, why would it be called a “gross crime”, “wicked”, “filthy”, “abomination”, or be associated with “slumber of death”, “pains of hell”, “angels to the devil”, “lake of fire and brimstone”, or “second death”?
It’s possible that this idea of “authorization” was reinforced by the chapter heading of Jacob 2. However, in 2013, the church actually changed the wording of this chapter heading. Prior to that date, the chapter heading said:
“Jacob denounces the love of riches, pride, and unchastity—Men may seek riches to help their fellow men—Jacob condemns the unauthorized practice of plural marriage—The Lord delights in the chastity of women. About 544–421 B.C.”
They removed the portion that said “unauthorized practice” and replaced it with this:
“Jacob denounces the love of riches, pride, and unchastity—Men may seek riches to help their fellowmen—The Lord commands that no man among the Nephites may have more than one wife—The Lord delights in the chastity of women. About 544–421 B.C.”
Why the change? What was wrong with the previous version? Is the official interpretation that suggests that God can or will authorize men to take many wives and concubines incorrect?
I have written an essay that makes the case that the official interpretation of this verse is incorrect and provides an accurate interpretation based off many points of evidence.
The Nephites were threatened with destruction for having many wives and concubines and it appears that this pattern of sorrow, contention, and destruction follows this practice wherever it is found.
The first man to take another wife was Lamech, a descendant of Cain who covenanted with Satan to become a second “Master Mahan” who then murdered someone who threatened to expose his secret combinations. (Moses 5:44,49) Lamech was cursed by the Lord and cast out of society.
Abraham technically had a concubine that was pushed on him by Sarah as an attempt to fulfill the Lord’s promises when the Lord already had another plan.
Jacob was tricked into marrying the wrong woman because of society’s customs at the time and then his two wives push their handmaids upon him fighting for his love by who could give him more children.
David and Solomon both sinned against the Lord while in pursuit of many wives.
King Noah and his civilization were destroyed, as was Riplakish (a Jaredite) and possibly his descendant Morianton.
Nauvoo was destroyed, the church fractured, and the saints were scattered. Then the U.S. government was about to impound the church’s property and imprison the leadership before the church finally let go of the practice.
Is there a single example of a blessed and happy polygamous family in all of scripture? The effects of many wives and concubines on the women and children are detailed by Jacob and the Lord. The Lord wasn’t just displeased with it among the Nephites alone, it seems that he condemned it in Jerusalem as well and everywhere.
I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands.Jacob 2:31
According to Brigham Young, the women in the church at the time reflected the same feelings as the Nephite women:
“…it is more particularly for my sisters, as it is frequently happening that women say they are unhappy. Men will say, “My wife, though a most excellent woman, has not seen a happy day since I took my second wife;” “No, not a happy day for a year,” says one; and another has not seen a happy day for five years. It is said that women are tied down and abused: that they are misused and have not the liberty they ought to have; that many of them are wading through a perfect flood of tears, because of the conduct of some men, together with their own folly.Sermon by Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4., pp. 55-57; also printed in Deseret News, Vol. 6, pp. 235-236
The original pattern
The original pattern was Adam and Eve, one man and one woman. A man cleaves unto his wife and they become one flesh. A wife rightly feels cheated on when her husband’s heart and sexual advances are directed at another woman. But what if the man marries another woman, would his wife then feel fine about it because he married her?
How does she feel knowing that her husband that she must be completely loyal to will always have an eye out for courting other women, continually looking out for another future sexual partner, and another, and another?
This is the fundamental difference between the union of one man and one woman where the individuals in the couple are completely committed to one another.
Note that in the Book of Mormon the phrase “many wives and concubines” is always mentioned with the two together as a pair and never separately. The Book of Mormon doesn’t make any distinctions between the two suggesting that it sees multiple wives and mistresses both as whoredoms.
The Lord has said to the men of the church:
Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else. And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.D&C 42:22-23
The Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines lust as “Longing desire; eagerness to possess or enjoy;” so how can a man marry another woman if he does not first desire to possess her? How can a man love and cleave unto his wife with all his heart and none else if his heart goes after another, and another, and another?
The Church has polygamy in its past and this is a fact that can be difficult to reconcile. One can be torn between choosing that this must invalidate the entire Church and its mission, or that polygamy must have been part of that mission.
I disagree with both of these options. I actually have a handful of theories based on my own research and I don’t plan on elaborating on any of them because there is simply too much information and, in light of what I have concluded, they don’t really matter.
My current personal views
On the subject of polygamy itself, I maintain the view that the Book of Mormon has along with Gordon B. Hickley, a former president of the Church, who said this about polygamy:
As far as we’re concerned it’s behind us, a long ways … I condemn it as a practice because I think it’s not doctrinal.Gordon B. Hinckley, Interview with Larry King
Note that Hinckley said that the practice was not doctrinal. Elder David Bednar defined doctrine this way:
A gospel doctrine is a truth—a truth of salvation revealed by a loving Heavenly Father. Gospel doctrines are eternal, do not change, and pertain to the eternal progression and exaltation of Heavenly Father’s sons and daughters.Increase in Learning, pp.151–152)
If polygamy is not doctrinal then it is not a truth revealed by a loving heavenly father and does not pertain to our eternal progression and exaltation. The Book of Mormon vividly says much worse things about it.
After everything that I have learned thus far and in consideration of all known theories I always come back to one conclusion.
That conclusion is that whatever happened back then, it didn’t stop God’s work. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon is the sign that Jesus prophesied to the Nephites would signal the beginning of the fulfillment of his covenant to the House of Israel. A new era in God’s work began when Moroni handed the plates to Joseph and nothing will stop what is coming next.
I’m not claiming that the early church leaders did anything wrong, they could have very well been doing as God wanted. But even in the worst-case scenario where they were not doing right, even that could not stop God’s work.
Assuming the worst, consider what Alma had to deal with when Corianton went after the harlot Isabel. Alma said to Corianton:
Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.Alma 39:11
Today many people have a hard time accepting the message of the restoration for similar reasons, plus many members leave the church because they can’t accept that godly men could be involved in things that God vehemently condemned in the Book of Mormon.
Think about others who have done both good and evil in the eyes of God such as Coriantion, David, and Solomon.
To those who struggle with understanding this issue, remember that God’s message and work were still true no matter what Corianton did. Corianton repented and became a great missionary and Jesus still came to minister personally to the Nephites.
Psalms and Proverbs are still beautiful, prophetic, and full of wisdom no matter what David or Solomon did. David had many wives and arranged for a man to be killed so he could claim his wife, nevertheless, Jesus still quotes from Psalms more than any other scripture and even used David’s words to fulfill prophecies. (source)
All I know is that I’m pretty flawed and God still works with and through me on my own endeavors. The Lord told Joseph Smith why he was raised up and it wasn’t because he was amazing or powerful:
Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, I am well pleased with your offering and acknowledgments, which you have made; for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth.Doctrine and Covenants 124:1
Whether polygamy in the early church was inspired for divine purposes, a mistaken application of doctrine, or an abomination that almost destroyed the Church twice, I have some theories, but ultimately I cannot say which version is the truth.
The way I see it, those men had a part to play in bringing forth what we see before us today whether I agree or disagree with aspects of what they did or taught. I’m not going to throw any of them under the bus because I don’t know their hearts and will accept all the good that they did with gratitude to God.
I believe that God is in this work and like a rough stone rolling down a mountain, the sharp corners are getting chipped off and it is becoming more and more polished as time goes on.
The Book of Mormon is the sign Jesus gave and it is here. Whoever is for the Book of Mormon, I am on that side because it will be at the center of whatever God is doing in this world to fulfill all of His promises.
The warnings given to Joseph while in Liberty Jail after he had made some huge mistakes just prior in Far West are revealing. Joseph was prone to wanting control …..in today’s world he was a control freak.
Polygamy would not have happened if Joseph had to get approval from 12 equals.
The 12 who were chosen by the 3 witnesses and ordained by Oliver Cowdery held and hold the keys.
The 12 started out as equals but quickly allowed seniority within their ranks and not long after a president.
Single prophets are dangerous. Checks and balances and multiple witnesses are the pattern the Lord set up.
Any practice or decision made by church leaders that is not witnessed by multiple parties and approved by the 12 in advance will be found to be wickedness or at a minimum a big mistake.
Polygamy was instituted by Joseph in secrecy without approval of the 12. It was wickedness as Jacob defines.
The 12 hold the keys and pass those keys on.
We won’t have growth and progress until we give up on one man rule and recognize the 12 as equals.
Seniority, one prophet, are where we went astray. Those false customs brought us patriarchy, polygamy, racism, wealth emphasis, kingdom building.
Power is a tricky thing. I don’t know that very many wield it well. It’s perhaps easiest as a parent to do it right but then you scale up to a leader of a community, a city, a nation.
I agree with multiple witnesses and D&C 107 sets for a system of checks and balances. As much as I have studied the subject, I’m not sure where Joseph actually stood on the matter. We have clear evidence that his words were changed after his death and many people attesting to things that Joseph expressly contradicted in public.
There are some that think Joseph was innocent of polygamy which I think could be possible. But then you have the big question of why he and Hyrum were slain. Were they removed because of wickedness or were they like Abinadi and allowed to seal their witness with their blood.
Maybe the latter, but I think if Joseph had gone down in a hail of bullets cursing polygamy then I might be more convinced as Abinadi went down condemning the wickedness around him.
These early church leaders served their purpose one way or another. They did a lot of good and made a lot of mistakes. I hope we can learn from the mistakes and push forward in spite of anything they may or may not have done wrong.
They’re dead now and we’re here. It’s in our hands and it doesn’t matter that much what really happened because we’ll never know the whole story. Historical research may reveal a journal here and there but we’ll never know the whole story.
The specter of polygamy still haunts us though and I find that disturbing. One day we will have full clarity on these issues, however. I think we all look forward to that day. In the mean time, there is so much good to enjoy.