The Reasons for Polygamy
CES Letter Core Question
Is the only reason for polygamy to have kids?
CES Letter, Page 55
CES Letter, Page 57
Joseph Smith identified four reasons for the restoration of plural marriage with the fourth being much more important than the others:
1 - As part of the “restitution of all things” prophesied in Acts 3:19–21 (D&C 132:40, 45).
2 - To provide a customized trial for the Saints of that time and place (see D&C 132:32, 51).
3 - To provide bodies for noble premortal spirits by “multiplying and replenishing the earth” (D&C 132:63).
4 - To allow all worthy women to be sealed to an eternal husband “for their exaltation in the eternal worlds” (D&C 132:63, 16–17).
The earliest justification mentioned by the Prophet for the reestablishment of Old Testament polygamy was as a part of the “restitution of all things” prophesied in Acts 3:19–21: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (italics added). This need for a restoration is mentioned in Section 132: “I am the Lord thy God. . . . I have conferred upon you the keys and power of the priesthood, wherein I restore all things” (v. 40; see also 45).
Another reason for the establishment of plural marriage is that it brought trials to practicing Saints that provided opportunities for spiritual growth, to be “proven” (D&C 132:51). In an 1831 revelation, Joseph Smith taught the value of tribulations: “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand” (D&C 58:3–4). One of Joseph’s plural wives, Helen Mar Kimball, remembered: “The Prophet said that the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.”6 Apostle John Taylor summarized:
"Where did this commandment come from in relation to polygamy?” and then he answered: “It also came from God. It was a revelation given unto Joseph Smith from God, and was made binding upon His servants. When this system was first introduced among this people, it was one of the greatest crosses that ever was taken up by any set of men since the world stood."8
The third reason given by Joseph Smith for the practice of plural marriage comes as polygamous couples “multiply and replenish the earth.” Through those marriages, additional devout families are created into which “noble and great” premortal spirits can be born (see Abraham 3:22). The revelation on celestial marriage affirms: “they [the plural wives] are given unto him [their husband] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment . . . that they may bear the souls of men . . .” (D&C 132:63). Nauvooan Charles Lambert recalled,
“The Prophet used to hold meetings in a log house of his sometimes. . . . At one of these he said he wished he had a people that he could reveal to them what the Lord had shown to him. But one thing I will say, there are thousands of spirits that have been waiting to come forth in this day and generation. Their proper channel is through the priesthood, a way has to be provided. But the time has come and they have got to come away.”16
Helen Mar Kimball agreed,
“It was revealed to him [Joseph Smith] that there were thousands of spirits, yet unborn, who were anxiously waiting for the privilege of coming down to take tabernacles of flesh, that their glory might be complete.”17
The revelation on celestial and plural marriage (D&C 132) explains the fourth reason why polygamy needed to be restored. It begins with Joseph prayerfully inquiring “to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines” (D&C 132:1). Clearly the opening question is about polygamy, but that subject is not mentioned again until verse 34 and “multiply and replenish” is not mentioned until verse 63.
D&C 132:19–20 explain the eternal benefits available to a monogamous couple who are sealed by that authority and then live worthily:
And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood . . . [they] shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths . . . and if ye abide in my covenant . . . [it] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. (D&C 132:19-20.)
Joseph Smith taught that exaltation is available only to eternally married (sealed) individuals. This gospel principle creates an undeniable problem if monogamy is the only celestial marital dynamic. Any inequality in the numbers of worthy men and worthy woman at the final judgment would result in damnation of some obedient individuals simply because they had no spouse.
Section 132 does not predict more worthy women than men at the final judgment, but it does anticipate that scenario. Apparently Joseph Smith’s God, who is described as knowing “the end from the beginning” (Abraham 2:8), could predict the future thus eliminating the need to provide for all possible outcomes. A “plurality of wives” is needed in eternity and therefore must be practiced by some of God’s followers on earth. While all men do not need to be sealed to additional wives, some will.
Brigham Young explained that eternal marriage, not plural marriage, that lays the foundations for immorality and eternal lives:
The whole subject of the marriage [not plural marriage] relation is not in my reach, nor in any other man’s reach on this earth. It is without beginning of days or end of years; it is a hard matter to reach. We can tell some things with regard to it; it lays the foundation for worlds, for angels, and for the Gods; for intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. In fact, it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the holy Gospel of salvation—of the Gospel of the Son of God; it is from eternity to eternity.36