Joseph Smith Wives: Why Did God Command Polygamy?

Dr. Anthony Sweat

Dr. Anthony Sweat

Source Expert

Dr. Anthony Sweat, a leading expert on Mormon beliefs, brings diverse experiences to BYU’s religion department. He boasts a BFA in art and MEd/PhD in education, along with 13 years working with religious education programs. Now a prolific author on Latter-day Saint teachings, his research focuses on improving religious education methods. Dr. Sweat and his wife Cindy reside in Springville, Utah, with their seven children.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Joseph Smith Wives: Unraveling the ‘Why’ Behind Plural Marriage in the Church

There are countless moments in human history that have stumped even the most faithful and God-fearing individuals. One such instance lies within the intricate fabric of plural marriage, a practice that stirred both intrigue and division within the early foundations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just as it puzzled those who lived through it, such as Joseph Smith wives, the commandment’s intricacies continue to perplex many in our modern times. Amidst the challenges and controversies, a resounding question persists: Why? Why would God issue a commandment that seemed to drive wedges between even the most steadfast relationships, including that of Joseph and Emma Smith? To explore the depths of this question, we turn to the cornerstone source, Doctrine and Covenants section 132, where the Lord emphatically declares “The Lord commanded it” multiple times, reiterating His role as the lawgiver. This exploration delves into the complex layers of purpose, from restoration and lineage to the divine directive for growth and fidelity, offering a nuanced understanding of a practice that defies easy explanation.

This was difficult for them as a whole just like it continues to be difficult for many people to understand. Today in light of all this difficulty, the big question is why? Why would God give this commandment this seemed to wedge between Joseph and Emma, Joseph Smith wives, and so many others past, present, and future. Doctrine and Covenants, section 132 is the best source for trying to understand. In section 132, “The Lord commanded it” he says this multiple times. He says “I commanded it” in  section 132 verse 35 also verse 37 to 39. Remember the relationship, “Here I am God and I am commanding you to enter into this”. He says the phrase “I am the lord thy God” eight times in this section more than any other section of the Doctrine and Covenants. It’s the Lord is re-establishing that He gives the law and that He is the law giver and that one of the reasons why is He says in 132, “Why did Abraham enter into it?”,  “I commanded him”. “Why did moses?”, “I commanded it”. As a whole, the Lord is the lawgiver as a whole. Second reason, why why did the church practice plural marriage in the early church? It may have been part of Joseph’s appointment to restore all things including for some and for a brief period of time the practice in the Old Testament of plural marriage. It’s likely that Joseph learned about plural marriage or had questions on it and got his first revelations about it while he was translating the Bible between 1830 and 1833. There are two times in section 132 that the Lord says to Joseph that He has “an appointment or that he restores all things”. That’s in verse 40 and verse 45. The third potential reason why is to multiply and replenish the earth according to my commandment that’s section 132 verse 63 or maybe using a Book of Mormon phrase in Jacob 2:30 to “raise up seed unto God now”. To be blunt, a woman in a polygamous marriage statistically often bore less children than a woman in a monogamous marriage and a woman can only bear so many children. It’s not that it led to a woman having more children necessarily in a polygamous marriage than she would in a monogamous marriage. I don’t think we’re getting at things numerically necessarily, what they seem to be getting at is at the type of marriage and the type of child that we’re raised up in in raising up seed unto God. This is a later recollection and a second hand report. Mosiah Hancock remembered that his father, Levi Hancock said that Joseph taught him about the idea of Joseph Smith wives as early as the spring of 1832, Brother Joseph said: “Brother Levi the Lord has revealed to me that it is His will that righteous men shall take righteous women even a plurality of wise that a righteous race may be sent for upon the earth”. In other words, men and women who have offered all, dedicated all, consecrated all, and are obedient to all what kind of families and what kind of children do they raise up, children who carry similar beliefs and and practices. To be clear, those three reasons and they’re not sufficient, but those are three reasons seen in section 132. It is not because there were more women than men in the church. It was not because all the men died in the on the plains as they came west. As a matter of fact, census records in Utah show that there were more men of marriageable age than women in Utah. Plural marriage wasn’t for everybody and meant for everybody for a long standing period of time. Logistically, that can’t be the case with an equal number of men and women. Some statistics say that there were maybe one out of every four adults during the Utah period who entered into plural marriages. About two-thirds of the men who married into plural marriage married one additional wife, then that practice ceased as the turn of the century in 1900. 

e Brother Joseph a break; let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for now as we move forward.

By Dr. Anthony Sweat, Source Expert

Dr. Anthony Sweat serves as a leading authority on the topic of “Mormonism Explained” He holds a BFA in painting and drawing from the University of Utah and achieved his MEd and PhD in curriculum and instruction at Utah State University. Before assuming his role in the religion faculty at BYU, he accumulated thirteen years of experience working with Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Dr. Sweat is a prolific author with numerous publications centered on the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His research primarily investigates the factors influencing effective religious education. Anthony and his spouse, Cindy, are proud parents to seven children and make Springville, Utah, their home.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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Mormonism Explained is a resource that was designed to provide objective and factual information about Mormonism, its history, doctrines, and policies. Our team of researchers consults experts and primary sources to present factual information on a variety of topics relevant to the Mormon Church.

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