Question: What do the scriptures say about plural marriage?

FairMormon Answers Wiki Table of Contents

Question: What do the scriptures say about plural marriage?

The only scriptural explanations given from the Lord for approved plural marriage are found in Jacob 2:30 and D&C 132

Many have asked what the scriptures say about the reasons the Lord gave for plural marriage. All such reasons are outlined in this article.

Raise Up A Faithful Seed

"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."

Here, the Lord gives one reason for plural marriage, "to raise up seed unto me."

Restoration of All Things

As Latter-day Saint scholar Brian Hales has written:

The earliest justification mentioned by the Prophet was as a part of the “restitution of all things” prophesied in Acts 3:19–21. Old Testament prophets practiced polygamy, so it could be a part of the restoration of “all things” (see D&C 132:40, 45).
[. . .]
Joseph Smith was a prophet-restorer, which helps to explain why the command to practice plural marriage has been labeled a “restoration,” even though it is not a salvific ordinance.

Making Marriage Available to Everyone

Again from Brian Hales:

The fourth reason Joseph Smith gave for the practice of plural marriage dwarfs the other three explanations in significance because it deals with eternity. The message of D&C 132:16–17 states that men and women who are not sealed in eternal marriages during this life (or vicariously later) “remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity.”
In other words, “exaltation,” the highest salvation, requires eternal marriage. No unmarried person can be exalted according to Joseph Smith’s teachings.

Multiply and Replenish the Earth

In the only recorded revelation on plural marriage received by Joseph Smith, the Lord further stated (D&C 132:63):

"they [the plural wives] are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified."

This passage suggests that plural marriage served the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth.

Abrahamic Test

D&C 132:34-36 reads:

34 God acommanded Abraham, and Sarah gave bHagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.
35 Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.
36 Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.

This scripture suggests that one of the purposes of polygamy was to provide an Abrahamic-like test for the early Saints. Many people recalled how difficult it was to practice polygamy.

Hellen Mar Kimball recalled:

I did not try to conceal the fact of its having been a trial, but confessed that it had been one of the severest of my life; but that it had also proven one of the greatest of blessings. I could truly say it had done the most towards making me a Saint and a free woman, in every sense of the word; and I knew many others who could say the same, and to whom it had proven one of the greatest boons—a ‘blessing in disguise.'[1]

Plural marriage can be a difficult historical fact for people to understand, both members and nonmembers alike

It is often not the Lord's pattern to give a multitude of reasons for His commandments, and we are often left to draw our own conclusions—which may be completely wrong (Moses 5:6-8). We often obey when we do not understand why a command has been given—we only know that it has been given. We should remember the caution of Elder Dallin H. Oaks:

...It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we're on our own. Some people [have] put reasons to [commandments] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.[2]

Trying to fully understand the purposes behind such a commandment in today's mindset can also make this subject difficult. It is important to note that we do not have all the historical information surrounding the inception and implementation of the practice. Rather than trying to understand the Lord's purposes in retrospect on a limited scope, one should remember the above scriptures in Jacob and D&C 132. Other benefits, although potentially advantageous, are not given as reasons by the Lord.


Notes

  1. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1884), 23–24; see also page 8.
  2. Dallin H. Oaks cited in "Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban," Daily Herald, Provo, Utah (5 June 1988): 21 (Associated Press); reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011), 68-69.