Old Testament - Lesson 10
Resources Notes

Note 1

Plural Marriage - An Ancient Institution
Franklin D. Richards and James A. Little

(Note:  The information below is provided to help the reader understand the importance and justification of this practice anciently. This information is not intended to justify any current practice of plural marriage. See below for official statement from the Church.)

Plural marriage is a very ancient institution. Although generally ignored by peoples professing modern Christianity, it is still customary among a large portion of the family of man. Many customs of modern Europe and America are modeled after those of pagan Greece and Rome, instead of after the primitive patriarchs, or after the examples recorded in the history of ancient Israel.

While these ancient nations were monogamists, the limits of intercourse between the sexes, especially on the part of men, were very indefinite. This phase of society is quite characteristic of the modern nations of Europe and America. While the Christian sects of to-day profess some respect for the patriarchs of Israel, they practically condemn their family relations as corrupt and immoral.

If plural marriage be unlawful, then is the whole plan of salvation, through the house of Israel, a failure, and the entire fabric of Christianity without foundation.

God said to Abraham, "I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, as for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations;" Gen. 17. 1-4.

Here we are informed that God talked with Abraham, told him to be perfect, bestowed upon him the blessings of a numerous posterity, and, as a sequence, future power and glory. If polygamy was contrary to his law, it is remarkable that God should have condescended to talk with and greatly bless a man who had, but a short time before, taken a second wife, while the first was living; a fact of which we are informed in the second and third verses of the previous chapter. If this was criminal, Sarai, the mother of all Israel, was involved in the transgression, for she gave Hagar to her husband for a wife; Gen. 16. 3.

The Lord told Joseph, the Seer, that he commanded, "And Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife;" Doc. & Cov. 132. 34. This is also the testimony of Josephus, the Jewish historian; Ant. B. 1. C. 10.

When Hagar was in distress, on account of difficulty with her mistress, the Lord did not treat her as a profane, cast off woman, but sent an angel to counsel and comfort her, by assuring her that her posterity should not be numbered for multitude; Gen. 16. 8-10.

The Lord further promised to bless Ishmael, the fruit of this polygamic marriage, and said, "I will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget and I will make him a great nation;" 17. 20.

We find that this great and good man, Abraham, whom the Lord especially favored, had concubines: for "Unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son;" 25. 6.

Jacob, the grandson and heir to all the blessings of Abraham, was a polygamist. He served seven years for Rachel the daughter of Laban, but being deceived, and Leah given him instead, he served other seven years for Rachel. Each of these wives had a handmaid, which they gave to their husband for wives; Gen. 29. 18-35. Chap. 30. 3-12.

Moses was conversant with the Lord, and was the great lawgiver of Israel; in his laws especial provision was made for polygamous children; Deut. 21. 15-17. In them polygamy is not mentioned as one of the crimes for which penalties were provided.

Elkanah was a polygamist, yet his son, Samuel, was a great prophet, and judge in Israel. He was born, and lived under the special favor of God.

David, king of Israel, was the chosen of the Lord; 1 Sam. 16. 12, 13. He took Abigail and Ahinoam, "And they were also both of them his wives;" 1 Sam. 25. 42, 43. He "Took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem;" 2 Sam. 5. 13.

We are further informed, that "David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite;" 1 Kings 15. 5. In this passage we have an assurance that David did right in taking all his wives and concubines, except in one instance, for which he was severely chastised. When Nathan, the prophet, reproved him for this sin, he said to him, in the name of the Lord, "I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom;" 2 Sam. 12. 8.

After having repented and suffered for his sin, Bath-sheba was given him for a wife, and she bare Solomon; verse 24. The Lord appeared to this son of a plural wife in a dream, and bestowed upon him great blessings; 1 Kings 3. God gave him "Wisdom and understanding exceeding much;" 1 Kings 4. 29. He was not reproved for plural marriage but for marrying strange wives, who led him into idolatry and wickedness; 1 Kings 11. Many chief men in Israel, to whom the Lord manifested his favor, were polygamists.

The following is sometimes quoted as an argument against plural marriage: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh;" Mark 10. 7, 8. But "Know ye not that he which is joined to a harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh;" 1 Cor. 6. 16, shows that it has no connection with the subject.

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife;" 1 Tim. 3. 2, and let deacons be the husbands of one wife; verse 12, are supposed by some to limit officers in the church, and by inference all men, to one wife. But when the passages are taken in connection with the context, which is an enumeration of several qualifications necessary for bishops and deacons, there is but one reasonable construction—that these officers of the church should be married men.

The Latter-day Saints believe that all men should marry; Doc. & Cov. 49. 15-17. The Lord is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and can not look upon iniquity;" Hab. 1. 13; and says, that "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation;" Deut. 23. Yet the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel were the sons of four wives of Jacob; Gen. 35. 22-26.

Joseph, the first son of Rachel, the second wife of Jacob, received especial blessings; Gen. 49. 22-26. The Lord called to Samuel, the son of a polygamous father; 1 Sam. 3. 4-14. Solomon was the son of a polygamist, yet he was a child of promise; 1 Chron. 22. 9, 10. Jesus Christ was descended from David through Solomon the son of her who had been the wife of Uriah; Matt. 1. 1-17.

The Lord said to Isaiah, "Lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins;" 58. 1. This commission was to be faithfully executed; Ezek. 3. 18. Polygamy was common in the Jewish nation, yet none of the prophets reproved them for it; but they were sharply reproved for adultery, whoredom, fornication, and other sins; Jer. 5. 7, 8, 23. Ezek. 22. Chap. 23. 36-44.

History evidences that plurality of wives was generally customary among the nations of Asia, yet it is not condemned in any of the epistles of the apostles, nor does John the Revelator mention it in the letters he was commanded to write to the seven churches of Asia.

Paul mentions nearly every crime, in 1 Cor. 6. 9, 10, but, says nothing about plurality of wives. Every species of commerce between the sexes, outside of marriage, is often mentioned in the scriptures as crime, but plural marriage is never, except on the part of the woman, who is forbidden to marry another man during the lifetime of her husband; Rom. 7. 3.

Had plurality of wives been sinful in man, the inference is reasonable that it would have been equally condemned. Although plural marriage was customary in the days of the patriarchs, some assert that it was done away in Christ. This would seem very inconsistent when he himself was of a polygamous lineage. He was born and filled his earthly mission among a polygamous people, yet, he never reproved them for their plural marriages. There is nothing in the inspired writings to infer that he reproved or did away with either polygamy or monogamy. The following is from the Book of Mormon on this subject: The Lord, through dreams and visions and the ministry of angels, directed a Jewish prophet by the name of Lehi, to leave Jerusalem, 600 years B. C., with his family and others, for the purpose of colonizing America.

It was then a dark period in the history of Israel, as is evident from the Bible history of the times, and from the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon.

The brilliant reign of Solomon had deeply planted in Israel the sins of idolatry and sexual wickedness. His reign was the pride of Israel, and its effects were deep and lasting. It hastened the destruction of the ten tribes, as a people, some one hundred and twenty years before the exodus of Lehi, and at that time was about to culminate in the destruction of Jerusalem and in the Babylonish captivity.

With all his wisdom, Solomon had disobeyed two very important commandments, one especially to the kings of Israel: "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away;" Deut. 17. 17. The other was to all Israel, that they should not marry into the idolatrous nations around them: "Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son;" Deut. 7. 3. Ezra, chapters 9. 10.

Through disobedience to these injunctions, his heart had turned away from the Lord, and he had been led into idolatry and wickedness. At his death he not only left the influence of his personal example, but, also, a numerous family who, from their great wealth and high social position, must have exercised a powerful and lasting influence for evil, which, with other causes, resulted, in less than three hundred years, in the scattering of the ten tribes among the nations of Asia, and the occupation of their country by strangers, and in less than four hundred years, in the destruction of Jerusalem, and in the Babylonish captivity.

The sexual wickedness which had become prevalent in Israel, and the consequent abuse of the marriage relations, was, evidently, the reason why the Lord commanded that the children of Lehi should have but one wife, for he said to the Nephites, through his prophet Jacob, "This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures; for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son;" 2. 23.

That is, they excused themselves with the example of these kings for breaking the special command of God to them, that they should have but one wife and like those eminent persons, ran into excess and wickedness, as their fathers had done before them.

To neutralize the evil effects of the bad example of their fathers was evidently the reason why the Lord commanded the Nephites, "For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;" verse 27. Plural marriage would have been whoredom to the Nephites, because the Lord had forbidden it.

That the prophet Jacob foresaw, prophetically, that at some future period this restriction would be taken off is evident from verse 30, "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." That is, they were required to limit themselves to one wife, until the Lord should order it otherwise, and by implication, when he instructed them to take more than one wife, it would be justifiable.

In the thirty-first verse the Lord gives a reason for forbidding plural marriage among the Nephites, "For behold, 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."

These teachings of the prophet Jacob cannot be presumed, even by opposers of plural marriage, to do away with the tenor of the Jewish Scriptures, for we are informed in 2 Nephi 3. 12, that the record of the Jews and of the Nephites, should grow together unto the confounding of false doctrine in the latter days.

The prophet Jacob could not have intended to condemn a principle on which is based the legitimacy of our Savior, of prophets and patriarchs, and indeed of the whole house of Israel. The words "multiply." and "greatly," in Deut. 17. 17, evidently imply excess and unreasonable indulgence, as in the case of David and Uriah, and in taking strange women, as in the case of Solomon.

(Franklin D. Richards and James A. Little, Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1925], 130 - 131)


“I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members … If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church.”



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