In the recent post “A quest for spiritual knowledge“, the comments quickly became centered around two distinct topics. The one being blacks and the priesthood, which was thoroughly covered within the comments on that post. The other was regarding the practice of polygamy early in the church. It was to this point that Matt G. asked:
Rusty, I looked up polygamy and polyandry in the Bible and didn’t find any other prophet teaching the practices. Could you show me where the prophets were teaching these as God’s inspired word?
Rather than answering within the already lengthy comments of that post, I’ve decided to address them in a fresh post, so as to allow the natural divergence of comments around these two separate topics, and since the topic is important enough to deserve higher exposure.
Thank you so much for asking. There are few things I enjoy more than to expose the scriptures, for as we see here, it becomes incredibly problematic that people don’t study the scriptures more thoroughly (which coincidentally was the topic of the originating post). So many have made such a fuss over polygamy in the early days of the church, either about why it was practiced, or why it was revoked, and then turn around and profess belief in the Bible. I say to them, you may believe in it, but you don’t understand it.
There are numerous scriptural precedents regarding polygamy taught biblically, and I’ll cover several of them.
There’s no better place to start than with the Lord himself, who in Deuteronomy gives instructions on how to successfully manage a plural marriage… (Deut. 21: 15-17).
15 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:
The Lord cannot tolerate sin, so if Plural marriage were to be accounted as sin, why then would he here choose to counsel in how to do it successfully, wouldn’t he instead be condemning the practice? Yet interestingly (but not coincidentally) there are times in the bible where he has said it was not to be, even earlier in Deuteronomy, he said:
15 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: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
It could either be that the Lord was unable to make up his mind, or that there is a time and season for all things. And what he has commanded once, is not necessarily to be for all times. I find the latter far more likely, which therefore not only provides precedence for His commanding Polygamy in the early days of the church (at a time when this particular commandment served a particular purpose for the Lord to try the saints), but also sets precedence for the commandment of the practice to later be retracted.
At one point in the Bible the Lord told his disciples only to preach to Israelites. He later told the prophet (Peter) to preach to all people. Again, was it that the Lord couldn’t make up His mind? The thought makes reason stare. Rather, there is a time and a season for all things, and what matters, is that we follow the current set of commandments as clarified by the current, living prophet. Another sound confirmation of the importance of a living prophet.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s talk about David.
In 2 Samuel 12:1-27, we find some important scriptures in this regard. One of which is vs. 7 and 8:
7 And Nathan said to David…Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
Here the prophet Nathan himself tells David the it was the Lord that “gave thee… thy master’s wives”. What’s more, the Lord would have given him more of such political power, wives, and wealth. If plural wives were a sin, why then were they a gift from God, and why would Nathan, who had arrived to condemn David for killing Uriah, not have condemned him then (or earlier) for plural marriage?
Let’s now talk about Solomon. (1 Kings 11:1-8),
1. BUT king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;
2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love…
7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.
8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.
Here the Lord accuses Solomon not of having plural wives, but of allowing them to turn his heart away from Him.
There are other instances as well, such as when Abraham married Hagar (Genesis 16:3), Keturah (Genesis 25:1) and other unnamed concubines (Genesis 25:6). Or Jacob (Genesis 29:21-30, Genesis 30:3-4, Genesis 30:9). Abijah had fourteen wives (2 Chron. 13:21) and yet he is described as a righteous king of Judah who honored the Lord (2 Chron. 13:8-12) and prosper in battle because of the Lord’s blessing (2 Chron. 13:16-18) to name a few. It’s also interesting that Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute as a sign to Israel (Hosea 1:1-3).
In short, it is clear from a true study of the bible that polygamy is not only not immoral, but (at times) sanctioned of the Lord, and a blessing from righteous living. Having studied the scriptures, I do not find it odd that at one time the practice is taught and sanctioned, and at another time it isn’t. Wasn’t the Law of Moses also done away, in place of something else? Was the Law of Moses therefore bad, or merely tailored for the specific needs of the specific people alive at the time?
The prophet Joseph Smith once addressed this very issue with tremendous eloquence and inspiration with which I cannot compete. It is therefore with his quote that I’ll conclude:
This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted-by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed…in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness-and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has-He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances
– Joseph Smith