The Unfolding Restoration Lesson 22: Plural Marriage

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Joseph Smith Wives: Joseph Smith’s Contributions to the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Welcome to the Unfolding Restoration. My name is Anthony Sweat, and I am so excited to get to share this video series with you again as we look at how the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ unfolded bit by bit, line upon line, through the Prophet Joseph Smith wives.

Now, I say I’m excited, and I really mean that. Today’s video is Plural Marriage in Nauvoo, Lesson 22, and I actually am excited to talk about this. You may be wondering why I would be, and to me, the reason why is because I think this is a subject that we need to talk about, and I’m excited to talk about it with you. I don’t think that I’ll do it well up front. I’m not sure I’ve ever given a class or a lesson on plural marriage that solved every issue and went over perfectly, or I didn’t fumble or stumble somewhere because it’s such a difficult subject. But I think it’s more difficult to not talk about it, to not address it, to not try to understand it as best as possible, to help with the difficulties and the sticking points that have to do with the practice of plural marriage in the early Church.

So upfront, I want to say I acknowledge my weakness in this, and I apologize upfront if I don’t say or frame or put things perfectly that might resolve a particular issue that you might have. But I do hope, what the reason why I’m excited is, I hope that I can share something, some view, some history, some doctrine, some ideas that can help you unstick some of these sticking points. I know that it is a sticking point for many. I know it has been for me. If I’m being totally honest with you, there are times where I just don’t understand it and shake my head and can’t comprehend it.

But I know it as well because when I survey my students at Brigham Young University, one time I did a pre-class survey with over 500 of my students where they anonymously answered a bunch of questions just so I could understand where they were coming from and know how to address and approach things. And on one of the questions, I asked them, I said, “Which of the following items, if any, have caused you to doubt or question the truthfulness of the gospel?” And I said, “Select all that apply,” and I gave them a whole list of the common things—policy, social issues, anachronisms, historical questions, the restriction of Black Africans and priesthood, etc. Fallibility of prophets. But the number one, the top one that was selected the most often was the early Church’s practice of polygamy and Joseph Smith wives. Twenty-four percent, or roughly one-quarter of all my students, selected that that was something that caused them to question or doubt the truthfulness of the restored gospel as a whole. So, if you’re feeling that way, you’re not alone. With that, I think many of us do.

And maybe one thing upfront, since aspects have been sticking points for me and maybe for you as well, sometimes I say this to my students, and I’ll say this to you on this video. Sometimes students will raise their hand, and they say, “How do you reconcile this?” or “How do you…?” Sometimes I just like to say to them, “I don’t try to reconcile it. I don’t try to, meaning, I don’t try to explain it all as perfectly the way it should have been or perfectly right. I don’t try to justify every aspect of it, right or wrong, big or small. I don’t feel like that’s my responsibility nor yours. We don’t have to reconcile it.”

I, speaking of and Emma Smith, I love them both. I admire them both. I believe they were both called of God and both helped lay the foundations of the Restoration. But I also don’t try to reconcile Joseph Smith wives or Emma’s behavior when it comes to Nauvoo plural marriage. What I try to do is I try to understand them as best as I can, and I can’t even do that, nor can you. So, what I try to do is I try to listen to them. What I try to do, in terms of if I’m going to reconcile anything, is I “try to believe in Christ and be reconciled to God for myself.” – Second Nephi 25, verse 23.

The other thing that I’d try to say upfront is remember that “plural marriage is not our revelation”; it was some of theirs. It’s not your revelation in the same way that for me, speaking personally, I don’t understand, like, or even necessarily have a testimony of the ancient practice of animal sacrifices. I don’t understand how my sins would be reconciled. I don’t have a burning belief. I don’t have a burning belief that if I had offended a law or acted in rebellion against God, killing an innocent lamb or a goat and spilling its blood somehow absolved me from sin. That’s a difficult concept for me, and I don’t find a lot of joy in it. I don’t find a lot of understanding in it. I don’t find a lot of value in it for myself. And the reason why I don’t care about that is because that’s not my revelation. God is not teaching me or you to do that. He’s told me that I need to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit and offer up my repentant broken heart as a sacrifice.

So, it’s, I think that’s also a good thing when thinking about Joseph Smith wives. Just remember that line: “plural marriage is not our revelation”; it was others’ revelations in the past. Today, and you can say, and I can say, I believe that it was a revelation of God for them, for their time, and that maybe some of them found meaning in it, even if you yourself don’t understand or believe or find meaning. And for you today, just like the ancient practice of animal sacrifice, however, I don’t think that means that we don’t try to, again as I said, listen to and understand this practice that was had in the Church roughly from 1840 to around 1900, for that 50-60 year period of time.

I like what C.S. Lewis said about this, and the reason why I like this is because one time Joseph Smith said, “Mormonism is truth.” He said that in a letter, and I like that idea that we are not afraid of difficult things. We rejoice in the glorious part of our doctrine and history, and we’re not afraid of difficult aspects of our doctrine or history as we try to understand them.

Back to C.S. Lewis, who sometimes is called the 13th apostle because he’s cited so often. C.S. Lewis wrote this: “If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent, for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know… The truth which you do not know and which you need must, in the very nature of things, be hidden precisely in the doctrine you least like and least understand. It is the same here as in science. The phenomenon which is troublesome, which doesn’t fit in with the current scientific theories,” which, by the way, that’s one of the difficulties of plural marriage, it doesn’t fit in our understanding sometimes of God or the gospel or the restoration or eternal marriage. So, back to this: “The phenomenon which is troublesome, which doesn’t fit in with the current scientific theories, is the phenomenon which compels reconsideration and thus leads to new knowledge.” Science progresses because scientists, instead of running away from such troublesome phenomenon or hushing them up, are constantly seeking them out. In the same way, there will be progress in Christian knowledge only as long as we accept the challenge of the difficult or repellent doctrines such as the history of Joseph Smith wives.

You can see the ready application for this subject at hand. Since this video will not be all-encompassing of Nauvoo polygamy, I’d highly recommend the church’s essays on the subject on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo and also the practice of polygamy in Utah and the ending of polygamy. There are three Gospel Topics essays on that subject.

I do want to say this as well, another book that’s really good that you could read is called A House Full of Females, written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Latter-day Saint. This is a beautiful look and understanding, trying to use original sources to understand plural marriage and women’s rights and the church from 1835 to 1870. It really gives a good glimpse into letting them speak. I like that idea of letting those who experienced it speak, instead of us trying to interpret or tell them how they should have felt or experienced it.

And one of the things that I like to say to my students is plural marriage, just like monogamous marriage, had a lot of different responses. There are some people for whom plural marriage was the worst thing that ever happened to them. There are other people for whom plural marriage was the best thing that ever happened to them, women and men. What I’m trying to say is it’s a lot like monogamous marriage. For some people, monogamous marriage has been the worst thing in their life; for others, it has been the best. For others, they didn’t have the opportunity. They weren’t asked to. Laura Thatcher Ulrich, back in her book, she summarizes this quote: “Plural marriage provoked wildly divergent emotions. Augusta Cobb rejoiced [calling plural marriage ‘glorious’] Emma Smith raged. Aviolet Kimball urged caution. Mother Moon collapsed in despair.” That’s just a wonderful summary of the way different people responded to Joseph Smith wives and plural marriage as a whole.

We have one revelation that deals with plural marriage in the doctrine and covenants and in section 132 I’m going to show you these; these are off Joseph Smith Papers website. Received a revelation in the office in the presence of Hiram and William Clayton. This revelation, Section 132, a lot of it was given directly to Emma Smith, and it was meant to address Emma Smith’s concerns, reservations, and hesitations over plural marriage. Hiram Smith felt that when he learned about it, if Joseph could just write the word of the Lord on the subject, it would convince Emma. Now, Joseph had likely been practicing plural marriage for a handful of years already and had been married to a number of women, some of which Emma knew about, and there are some that Emma did not know about, and I’ll talk about that with you in a minute as well.

When Joseph wrote this revelation, he then gives it to Hiram, and Hiram takes it to Emma and comes back later and then says to Joseph, “I have never received a more severe talking-to in my entire life.” Now, we know that story; some of you have likely heard that story, we’ve heard that. But what we forget is that Joseph had to go home that day, and he had to talk to Emma and continue this difficult discussion with them about Joseph Smith wives. So, on Wednesday, July 12th is when we get the revelation, today found in Section 132. Notice this in Joseph’s journal, the next day, Thursday, July 13th, talks about Shadrach Roundy returning from Springfield and gives a report, but then notice at the bottom, right here, “In conversation with Emma most of the day.” Now, you don’t have to be married for more than five minutes to understand and interpret that line. What “in conversation with Emma most of the day” probably means. Joseph is a busy person at this time; there are very few days where he’s home most of the day, talking to Emma. Likely, we could translate that as “in argument” or “in hard discussions,” in disagreements with Emma most of the day. We know this because four days later, Monday, July 17th, notice what it says, “Mostly at home,” and then look at this down here, “Four days last past in hell or purgatory,” says William Clayton. That’s what those symbols and things mean, “Four days last past since he wrote the revelation on plural marriage.” 

This is a painting that I did, trying to show the difficulty of Joseph and Emma over plural marriage. Emma, who believes in the prophetic role of her husband, always did her whole life, who loves her husband deeply. Joseph, who is a prophet, who has received this difficult revelation, who loves the Lord and Emma with all of his heart. This revelation, you can see it; I place it in the painting in between them because it did come between them and create a lot of difficulty for them. There’s indications, by the way, that Joseph and Emma likely talked about getting divorced over the issue of Joseph Smith wives. Joseph will deed Emma during this time period 60 city lots and give her ownership of half of a business, a steamboat that they have, maybe trying to say to Emma, “Let me set you up financially if we separate and divorce.” It was difficult for them. I painted them in front of this fireplace; you know, the fire symbolizing the heat, the difficulty that it was causing, the rocks, the difficult rock and a hard place they were in, the beam symbolizing kind of an Abrahamic sacrifice. They were asked to bear this cross; they were asked to bear, as a whole. You can see Joseph kind of sitting, and he’s looking to the side; he won’t quite look Emma in the eyes. Emma’s sitting there with her arms folded, defiant and bold and angry and hurt and vulnerable all at the same time. In between the two of them in the rocks, I also painted in that little shorthand symbol that symbolizes purgatory there that you can see. Anyway, what I just wanted to see is this was difficult for them, as a whole, just like it continues to be difficult for many people to understand today.

So, in light of all this difficulty, the big question is why? Why would God give this commandment of Joseph Smith wives? This seemed to wedge between Joseph and Emma and so many others, past, present, and future. Well, I think Section 132 is our best source for trying to understand it. In Section 132, the Lord says something like, “The Lord commanded it.” He says that multiple times; He says, “I commanded it.” Section 132, verse 35, also verse 37 to 39, like, remember, let’s 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 that I’ve ever seen. It’s almost like the Lord is re-establishing that He gives the law and that He is the lawgiver. 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.”

The second thing, the second reason why, why did the Church practice plural marriage and the concept of Joseph Smith wives 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 to [or that He] restore[s] 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 fewer children than a woman in a monogamous marriage, and a woman can only bear so many children. So, it’s not that it led to a woman having more children necessarily in a polygamous marriage than she would in a monogamous marriage. So, I don’t think we’re getting at things numerically necessarily. What they seem to be getting at is 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 it’s a secondhand report, so bear that in mind. But Mosiah Hancock remembered that his father, Levi Hancock, said that Joseph taught him “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 wives, that a righteous race may be sent forth 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 would Joseph Smith wives raise up? Children who carry similar beliefs and practices as well.

I want to be clear, those three reasons, and I get that they’re probably not sufficient, but those are three reasons that I see Section 132 saying. I want to be clear that it is not because there are more women than men in the Church. It is not because all the men died 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. And logically, by the way, plural marriage, maybe I’ll talk about this in a future video, 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 when it was practiced the most who entered into plural marriages, and about two-thirds of the men who married into plural marriage married one additional wife. Then that practice ceased, as I’ve mentioned, at the turn of the century in 1900.

Well, back to Joseph Smith wives and the Nauvoo practice of it. Very few in Nauvoo practiced polygamy. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t taught openly; it was taught very privately. Joseph knew that this revelation, this teaching, this practice would cause major controversy and difficulty for a Church that already was dealing with major controversy and difficulty. So, the practice was implemented very slowly, very deliberately, very privately, to select people that Joseph felt like he could trust.

This is a good summary of Joseph’s practice of plural marriage from the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers in Journals, Volume 1. They say it this way: “At times, revelation became a burden as well as a blessing, at no time more than when plural marriage was revealed. Plural marriage was the final component of the logic of restoration. Smith had prayed for an understanding of Old Testament polygamy and was commanded to do the works of Abraham. Although he hated adultery and was deeply loyal to his wife Emma, he believed he was to take additional wives as had the ancient patriarchs. He went about it carefully, one woman at a time, usually approaching her relatives first and going through a prescribed wedding ceremony. During his lifetime, he was married to approximately 30 women. Although conjugal relations were apparently involved, [that means intimate relations] he spent little time with the women of Joseph Smith wives. The need for secrecy and the demands of his time keeping them apart. At first, aghast at what her husband was doing, Emma eventually agreed to a few of the plural marriages but then pulled back. She oscillated between hesitant submission and outright opposition to the practice. But according to Mariah Jane Johnson Woodward, who worked for a time as a servant in the Smith household, Emma told her, ‘The principle of plural marriage is right; it is from her father in heaven.’ After her husband’s death, Emma refused to go west where plural marriage would be practiced. She never admitted to her children that their father had been involved.” And that is one of the driving reasons, by the way, why Emma Smith does not come west. It’s not that she lost faith in her husband’s prophetic ministry or in the Book of Mormon or in the restoration. A lot of it had to do with his difficulty with the practice of plural marriage. She knew that the Quorum of the Twelve would likely continue as the church went west.

One thing we have to be careful of, as I’ve summarized this from the Joseph Smith Papers, is our sources on plural marriage. We can only form our conception of the past based on the sources that exist. And they’re just simply, because of the secretive private nature of plural marriage, that it wasn’t taught in practice openly in Nauvoo. Nauvoo plural marriage is actually more difficult to piece together than the Utah practice of plural marriage. Therefore, we actually know less about Joseph Smith’s practice of it than Brigham and the Utah practice of plural marriage.

Editors of the Joseph Papers point out about Joseph Smith wives, “Most of the information on the practice during this Nauvoo period comes either from later affidavits and reminiscences or from reports of disaffected members of the church at the time, none of which, for a variety of reasons, can be considered entirely reliable historical sources for delineating how plural marriage was understood and practiced by those involved at the time-.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is anybody who is a little too definitive or too, like, um, we know exactly what went on with Nauvoo and plural marriage, we’ve got to, I take that with a grain of salt, and I hope that I’m not coming across as too definitive in this video either.

For example, we know from a later affidavit that Joseph Smith likely married Lucy Walker. He married Lucy Walker on May 1st, 1843. Well, if you go to Joseph Smith’s journal for May 1st, 1843, he doesn’t say anything about it. He just says he went out in the forenoon and came back in the afternoon. When he went out, he probably, that’s probably when the marriage occurred. We know of this marriage because of a later affidavit from Lucy Walker herself, that was sworn in 1902, as you’re seeing here, that she married Joseph on the first day of May, 1843, by Elder William Clayton. She says, “The prophet was then living with his first wife, Emma, and I know that she gave her consent to the marriage of at least four women to her husband as plural wives.” And so, this is one example of a pretty good source of why we know that Joseph, coming from Lucy Walker herself, saying that, “I married Joseph Smith.” There are other good sources, like we have a lot of good sources that Eliza Partridge probably married Joseph Smith. We have all these listed here, and this one’s signed by Eliza herself. There are others within Joseph Smith wives that just aren’t quite so clear as a whole.

So, one time I went to a colleague of mine at BYU and said, “Okay, when I teach this, he’s one of the church’s leading experts on Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage. So, when I teach this, I want to make sure I’m accurate on it. How many women was Joseph married or sealed to in his lifetime?” And he said, “Well, it depends on the sources because some of them are more credible than others, and it’s just hard to piece it together.” I said, “Well, how many would you say?” And he goes, “There’s probably 10 sources for 10 women that it’s pretty definitive that Joseph married in his lifetime.” And he goes, “There’s sources for about 10 others that make it possible, and then there’s some hints of maybe 10 others, but not quite as strong.” And I said, “So, 30?” And he goes, “No, I would say that there are good, strong sources for 10, possible sources.” That’s how good historians approach Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage. They try to base it off good, reliable sources.

Although historians are unsure, it’s likely that Joseph may have married his first wife, a woman named Fanny Alger, sometime in Kirtland between 1833-35. It’s not known if Emma knew about the marriage beforehand or after or when she learned about it. It likely leads to Oliver Cowdery accusing Joseph Smith of adultery, and Joseph saying that he wouldn’t commit adultery and trying to teach Oliver about plural marriage. If Joseph did marry her, there’s not extremely strong sources on it, and that might lead to some of Joseph’s hesitations.

There’s no indications that he enters into any other plural marriages of Joseph Smith wives during the Kirtland period. It’s not until the Nauvoo period that he begins to enter into plural marriages again. As I mentioned, although the numbers are on shirts, maybe there’s evidence that Joseph may have been married or sealed to about 30 women during his lifetime. That’s from the church’s own essay on the subject. If you use people’s different lists, and just to be clear about this, it all depends on how people frame things. I understand that I’m framing it in a certain way, but sometimes people will say they want to focus on Joseph Smith’s younger wives, and Joseph did marry his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball. He was sealed to her at the age of 14. But he also married women who were in their 50s and others of every age in between. If you use Todd Compton’s list, the average age of Joseph Smith’s wives that he married was 28 years old. The oldest was likely Rhoda Richards, who was 58, and Fannie Young, who was 56. None of Joseph’s contemporaries, anyway, raised an issue of the ages of his wives, of either being too old or too young at the time.

Well, speaking of Joseph’s hesitancy, there are a number of later reminiscences that Joseph hesitated to implement this revelation. Most revelations from God, Joseph moved right into it; this one he seemed to have a lot of hesitation about. Brian Hales has documented there’s at least 20 reminiscences of an angel with a drawn sword coming to Joseph Smith, commanding him that he needed to implement the practice of multiple Joseph Smith wives, or that he would lose his prophetic mantle, calling, position, however you want to say it. These are later reminiscences. I want to be clear; you know the earliest one is 1853, the latest is 1905. And so here’s just a few of them:

Eliza R. Snow: “[Joseph Smith] received the revelation in 1837 but was himself afraid to promulgate it until the angel came and stood beside him with a flaming sword and bade him to do the command of God. Not until then, did Joseph enter polygamy. Zina D. Young told of Brother Joseph’s remark in relation to the revelation on [plural] marriage. How an angel came to him with a drawn sword, and said if he did not obey this law he would lose his priesthood; and in the keeping of it, Joseph did not know but it would cost him his life.”

Or Helen Mark Kimball: “This fact [plural marriage] the Lord revealed to His prophet, Joseph Smith, as early as the year 1831. And yet had not been for the fear of his displeasure. Joseph would have shrunk from the undertaking and would have continued silent, as he did for years, until an angel of the Lord threatened to slay him if he did not reveal and establish this celestial principle.”

There’s some of the sources on it. Joseph marries most of his wives in the Nauvoo period after he gets out of Liberty Jail and into 1844. Joseph Smith did not enter into more plural marriages at that time. One of the biggest questions people have is why? Why did Joseph do it in private? Why wasn’t he public and open about it and being transparent? Sometimes Joseph publicly denied the practice of polygamy that was happening as well commonly called Joseph Smith wives.

Now, this is how the book Saints summarizes it: “Joseph felt an urgency to teach plural marriage to the Saints, despite the risks and his own reservations. If he introduced the principle privately to faithful men and women, he could build strong support for it, preparing for the time when it could be taught openly. To accept plural marriage, people would have to overcome their prejudices, reconsider social customs, and exercise great faith to obey God when He commanded something so foreign to their traditions.” That might be some of the reasons why it was done in private. I just think Joseph knew of the difficulty that it would cause and bring about upon his people as a whole. It was difficult enough when it was announced in public, and we were out in Utah, really on our own, all by ourselves. It still caused so much difficulty for the church during the 1850s all the way through the 1890s up to the end of it.

Well, one thing when we get into Joseph Smith wives that I do want to touch on in this video is maybe the theology on plural marriage. Brian Hales has a whole volume on theology, and you’ll notice that a lot of times when you hear, and so far, I myself, a lot of times you’ll hear about people who want to know the details. They want to know dates, numbers, years, ages, arrangements, was there intimacy involved, do they have any children? And by the way, there are no known children that Joseph had with any of his plural wives for reasons we don’t know. People want to get into details like that, but they very rarely get into the theology. But the theology seems to be what was motivating it. Now, that was the motivating factor behind everything. Brian Hales writes, “None of Joseph Smith’s wives indicated that bearing children was the primary reason for polygamy or their specific marriage to the prophet.”

Well, then, what may it have been? What might the reason be? Richard Bushman, the historian, writes in his classic book Rough Stone Rolling, “Joseph did not marry women to form a warm human companionship, but to create a network of related wives, children, and kinsmen that would endure into the eternities.” Here’s one quote that I personally think unlocks some of the theology the most on the concept of Joseph Smith wives. It comes from Wilford Woodruff’s notes on a sermon that Joseph delivered in March of 1844. Joseph said, “The doctrine or sealing power of Elijah is as follows: if you have the power to seal on earth and in heaven, then we should be crafty. The first thing you do, go and seal on earth your sons and daughters unto yourself and yourself unto your fathers in eternal glory. And go ahead and not back, but use a little craftiness and seal all you can. And when you get to heaven, tell your Father that what you seal on earth should be sealed in heaven according to His promise.”

One of the reasons why I love that quote is if I could give an Anthony Sweat translation to this, it seems like Joseph’s like God has given us the sealing power, and if He has told us that whatever we seal, whoever we seal up to us will be sealed up in heaven, then let’s be smart about it. Let’s seal up as many people as possible to each other. Joseph was thinking of plural marriage dynastically. Sometimes they’ll call this dynastic ceilings, think of like a dynasty extending horizontally. We primarily, in the church today, due to a revelation that later comes to Wilford Woodruff, we think of ceilings vertically. We link children, parents to parents to parents to parents. The early church was not sealing children to parents. The early church was thinking, how do we, because, by the way, they weren’t doing endowments for the dead, they were only doing baptisms but not endowments for the dead. So then, how do we link up a whole nation of kings and priests and queens and priestesses to God? And plural marriage seems to be one of their theological drivers to it, to bind people up as this network of related people and Joseph, in essence, and say, “God, you’ve told me that you’ll save and exalt me and my family. Meet my family.” That seems to be what Joseph’s saying. “Look at everybody who’s sealed up to me.” That’s one potential understanding of it. That’s why, by the way, I mentioned Joseph Smith wives, specifically Helen Mark Kimball, that his youngest plural wife who was 14 years old when she was sealed to Joseph. Helen herself remembers Joseph saying to Helen and their family, and likely, by the way, it was the sources are that the Kimball family approached Joseph wanting a link between a dynastic link between their families and proposed that Joseph be sealed to their daughter, Helen. Helen remembers Joseph saying, “’If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all your kindred.’ This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward.” Trying to understand their thinking at the time, you see the dynastic exaltation connection there.

Trying to understand their thinking at the time, you can see the dynastic exaltation connection. This is Todd Compton in his book In Sacred Loneliness, he says critics have made great mileage out of Joseph Smith wives, particularly his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball. “However, they failed to mention (this is him commenting about his book) that there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage. I suggest that following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality. All the evidence points to this marriage as primarily a dynastic marriage.”

That’s from Todd Compton. As I conclude this video, trying to give a basis for the theology and some of the practice of Joseph Smith’s revelation on plural marriage and how it developed in Nauvoo, I want to just conclude by saying that the church has been very clear: monogamy is God’s standard, and polygamy is an exception. The church calls it a standing law of marriage, which is one man to one woman. The new heading of Official Declaration One, which ended plural marriage in the church, says that “the Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise.”

So, although plural marriage may be, as I conclude, one application, although monogamy is God’s standard for marriage, and polygamy may never be required for any of us, one thing that will be required, that I think is a good takeaway, is that all of us need to learn the great principles of obedience, sacrifice, and consecration. These are the three great holy laws as taught in the holy temple, and these three great covenants.

Although plural marriage such as in the case of Joseph Smith wives is not necessary for exaltation, definitely living the law of obedience, the law of sacrifice, and the law of consecration are essential. Abraham chapter 3, verse 25, says that one of the things God’s going to prove you and me to do is to see if we’re willing to do all things that He commands us in our time. And if you look at Section 132, particularly verses 50, 59, and 60, it often was equated for these early saints as a test of obedience, as a test of sacrifice, and they often linked it to Abrahamic sacrifice. These women and men did; they viewed it as their Abrahamic test.

The Lectures on Faith famously say that “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” So, whether you and I understand plural marriage, whether we agree with plural marriage, whether we hated it (and maybe hated this video, and I apologize in my weakness if anything I taught didn’t come across clearly or understandably or if I may be in error on anything), as I’ve tried to talk about it openly, I do hope that one thing that we do love is that we, as individuals today, can learn from the past. Whether that was through animal sacrifice or through plural marriage sacrifice, or through sacrifice coming west, or through sacrifice to build and gather to Zion and build the New Jerusalem, or whatever current sacrifices we’re asked to make, that we learn how to have that spirit of obedience, of consecration, and of sacrifice so that we can prove ourselves to the Lord that we’re willing to do all things that He

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

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.

About Mormonism Explained

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.