Is Polygamy Part of God's Plan for Marriage?

by Sandra Tanner


    When God created humans He instituted His plan for marriage: one man should have one wife. In Genesis 2:18 we read:

    "And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him."

    Verse 22 relates the creation of Eve, again showing that there was to be just one woman for each man. Verse 24 states:

    "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh."

    The first mention of polygamy in the Bible is Genesis 4:19:

    "And Lamech [a descendant of Cain] took unto him two wives..."

    If there was ever a justification for polygamy it would seem to have been needed when Adam and Eve were to populate the earth. Yet we see the pattern of just one woman and one man.

    The same pattern is carried out by Noah at the time of the Ark (Genesis 7:7). Noah took his one wife into the ark. Again, if polygamy were ordained of God, why didn't He tell Noah to take additional wives to repopulate the earth faster?

    God instructed Moses that the kings of Israel were to have only one wife:

    "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away." Deut. 17:17

    This is exactly what happened with Solomon. We read in I Kings 11:4:

    "For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father."

    David's heart was right with God because he did not turn to other gods, not because he practiced polygamy.

    LDS will sometimes point to 2 Samuel 12:8 to prove that David's wives were approved by God. But that verse indicates that he inherited Saul's wives, not that David actually married them by God's appointment. It was the custom of the time for the succeeding ruler to receive all of the prior ruler's property and women. This is not a proof that God intends people to practice polygamy. It is contrary to the pattern of marriage established with Adam and Eve and His instructions in Deuteronomy.

    Just as divorce was permitted, so too was polygamy. But it does not represent God's will. In Matt. 19:3-9 the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce and Jesus answered:

    "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

    "And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain [two] shall be one flesh?

    "Wherefore they are no more twain [two], but one flesh."

    The Pharisees then asked him why Moses allowed for divorce. Jesus answered:

    "Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so" (Matt.19:7).

    In the New Testament the practice of polygamy would have kept a man from leadership in the church. Paul instructed Timothy:

    "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife..." (I Tim.3:2)

    Paul also wrote to Titus:

    "...ordain elders in every city...if any be blameless, the husband of one wife..." (Titus 1:6)

    Even the Book of Mormon condemns polygamy. In Jacob 2:24 we read:

    "Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord."

    Mormons will sometimes appeal to Jacob 2:30, saying God could make exceptions to verse 24 and command polygamy. It says:

    "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 [instruction in Jacob 2:24]."

    But the justification for polygamy seems to be when God wants to speed up reproduction. Smith's polygamy did not achieve this (as there are only two or three children suspected to be from Smith's plural wives) so what is the justification? Also, Smith seems to have begun practicing polygamy even before his revelation. Joseph Smith's revelation on polygamy is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 132. But verse 52 instructs Smith's wife, Emma, to "receive all those that HAVE BEEN GIVEN unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God."

    Mormons will sometimes argue that the date on the revelation (July 12, 1843) is only the date when the revelation was committed to paper, not when it was actually given. But verse 52 demonstrates that Smith had already taken plural wives before the revelation was given, no matter what the date.

    The second half of verse 52 seems to suggest that Smith had also taken some unvirtuous women as wives.

    In a Salt Lake Tribune review of Todd Compton's new book on Smith's polygamy we read:

    "In identifying 33 well-documented wives of [Joseph] Smith -- other researchers have placed the figure as high as 48 -- Compton found that in the case of 11 women, Smith's polygamy was polyandrous. That is, the women were married and cohabiting with their husbands, who mostly were faithful Mormons, when Smith married them.

    "Yet not one divorced her 'first husband' when Smith was alive. Indeed, they continued to live with their civil spouses while married to Smith.

    " 'If one superimposes a chronological perspective, one sees that of Smith's first 12 wives, nine were polyandrous....'

    "Compton, a practicing Mormon...spent much of the 1990's combing pioneer records, diaries and reminiscences.

. . .

    "Eleven of Smith's wives were between ages 14 and 20, nine were in their 20s, eight were in Smith's own peer group of 31 to 40, two were in their 40s and three in their 50s.

. . .

    "Toward the end of Smith's life, knowledge of his secret marriages began to leak out. William Law, Smith's second counselor ... filed suit against the church leader for living 'in an open state of adultery' with 19-year-old Maria Lawrence.

    "In a speech a month before his death, Smith responded by flatly denying polygamy, which was illegal under federal law. 'What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one,' he said." [See Smith's entire speech in History of the Church, vol. 6, pp.408-412.]

(Salt Lake Tribune, December 13, 1997, p.C2)

    For more on the subject of LDS polygamy see:


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