There are 9 thoughts on “An Easier Way to Understanding Joseph Smith’s Polygamy”.

  1. My testimony is that Joseph Smith was required to restore “all things” in the last dispensation. That including purality of wifes. Remember that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob held prominate positions in Christ’s church and were “called of God”. They too need to “fit” into the restored church; the “true” church of God should also justify thier families and life-styles. The Lord required the restoration of polygamy for a “short season” so that this vital justification could come into play. And yes, it was extremely difficult for Joseph Smith and all of the other rightous men and women in the early church to establish this vital principle. God bless they all.

  2. No, I did not mean to imply that plural marriage was wrong, only that Joseph, as a human, could have exceeded his mandate as did David and Solomon. If he did, he repented and was forgiven. Whether he did or not he is still a prophet. All I’m saying is that I personally don’t require, nor expect, Joseph Smith to be perfect for the Church to be true. Only Jesus lived a perfect sinless life.

  3. I read Rough Stone rolling and was troubled at first by Joseph’s apparent adultery. However, as I thought it over I felt comfort as I considered two things. History is not science, more art, and my knowledge of the Bible prophets shows that they weren’t perfect.
    I’ve long considered the story of King David to be evidence of the truth of the Bible as history. What other ancient history tells of other than all the great accomplishments, conquests, etc. of their kings or leaders? David is still considered by the Jewish people as a great man and revered by all, in spite of his adultery and murder! David was chosen by Samuel with the direct revelation from God that the boy David should be anointed to be the next king of Israel – “Man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh upon the heart”. If my memory serves me right David made many messianic prophesies in Psalms that are quoted in the new testament. So David was also a prophet. Modern folks expect a prophet to be perfect or nearly so. My understanding is that God does not take over a prophets agency, turning him into a puppet. Joshua comes to mind when he makes an alliance with Canaanites after God had forbidden such. Why then do we expect Joseph Smith to be perfect? I feel sorry for him – after all he was “…nothing but an ignorant plow-boy”. Look what the Lord put him through! The miracle is that in spite of the weaknesses of men the Church survives and thrives -truly a “marvelous work and a wonder”

    • Steve,
      When trying to understand our history of plural marriage, I have found a couple of things necessary. One is to remember that the Lord, alone, deals with His prophets. Prophets who holds the keys of priesthood authority, like Moses and Joseph Smith, will have their words as binding on the people. If the people do not follow their counsel and instruction they are under condemnation from God. Because this is so, God will not allow His prophet to lead the people into gross error. David was not this type of prophet but Nathan, his contemporary, was. If Joshua had been wrong to form an alliance w/ a portion of the Canaanites, who came to his camp and claimed to be from a distant land, the Lord would have corrected Joshua. The people of Joshua, however, were not to blame and honored their covenant made with those people and the Lord was seen to bless them in battle and prosper them.
      When it comes to Joseph Smith, he also was under the strict eye and hand of the Lord (if you could not tell from the few times he DID really screw up and was chastised severely). He was never chastised by the Lord for his actions regarding plural marriage (that I am aware of). His teachings and actions in regards to the institution of the law of plural marriage were not evidence of his human folly, but were absolutely evidence of the hand of the Lord in guiding this work.
      “Believing is seeing,” as a wise man once said.

  4. I’m grateful for this work and also grateful for the advice proffered to the prophet. I’m very uncomfortable with the rationalizations about why its ok to marry a 14 year old and not tell your wife and also why its ok to marry another mans wife. I can think of no reason that God would condone these actions. The fact that we are still trying to make sense of these actions 150 years later is a telling fact.

    • Thank you James for your comments. I understand that what might potentially trouble me might not trouble you and vice-versa.
      For example, I understand your discomfort in Joseph Smith not telling Emma about his plural marriages. My heart goes out to Emma and what she must have gone through but my heart also goes out to Joseph because he was between a rock and hard place — obey God and deceive Emma or not. A very tough place, indeed.
      I also understand your discomfort over Joseph marrying married women and I strongly recommend you get Brian and Laura Hales’ book because they do an excellent job in explaining this.
      On the other hand, I personally am not concerned about Joseph marrying a 14 year old. First of all, there is no evidence Joseph engaged in sexual relations with his 14 year old wife and there is, in fact, circumstantial evidence he did not. But even if he had, as a professional genealogist I have seen in old records a number of weddings of young women 14 and up. I have even seen a few 13 year olds. In fact, in my own genealogy is a 13 year old French-Canadian Catholic girl whose husband was 28 to 33 (depending upon which record one looks at).
      People of today need to realize that childhood was very differently defined until at least the middle and really more toward the end of the 19th century and continued to be redefined and broadened throughout the 20th century. Those on the frontier tended to marry at a much younger age than elsewhere. The Hales did not discuss this as much as an essay in the volume titled The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster. I would recommend you get this book or at least go to and look at their essay regarding Joseph Smith’s marriages to teenage girls.

  5. Thank you for the review. Since you have read the book I wonder if you can comment on something I read once. I can’t recall where I read this, but the suggestion was made that polygamy was essentially a red-herring. Prior to polygamy the main complaint against the church was essentially concerning revelation. But, the practice of polygamy threw the detractors off-course so they stopped crying out against revelation (first vision, angel moroni, revelations in the doctrine and covenants, etc.) and started crying out against polygamy. Once polygamy was discontinued, revelation was still there but the detractors were no longer concerned with revelation which allowed the church to grow and flourish during the 20th century.

    • Thank you for your comment and question. If plural marriage was a red-herring it was an extremely costly, almost fatal one. The level of negative publicity, as well as government-sponsored persecution was incredible and the LDS Church still feels the ramifications of this practice to this day.
      In all honesty, I cannot conceive of plural marriage simply being a red-herring. Furthermore, some anti-Mormon critics and their literature have included attacks on latter-day prophets and their revelations.
      Thanks again for your comments

  6. Thank you for this review! I, too, feel uncomfortable with the Hales’ hindsight counsel to the Prophet, even though I am very much indebted to them for their work. I’m sure he had good reasons for what he did. Whether or not he told Emma from the start…what if he was protecting her from the condemnation she would have faced at having (even more vehemently) rebelled against the commandment of the Lord before she was that much more prepared?
    I also feel uncomfortable with the insistence that one of the reasons for the restoration of plural marriage was to provide a customized trial for the Saints. I can see how it was one of the natural consequences that accompanied its practice (with Abraham and Sarah it was no different), but it does not sit well – the idea that the Lord would pull that command out of His quiver like some random test of valiance. There is more to it than that. Every quote from the time period seems to reinforce the fact that it, indeed, was a trial. But it wasn’t until later than 1900 that people began to look back at it and suppose that it was one of the reasons. If anyone can find something from Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s day to the contrary, I would appreciate if you would share.
    Thanks again for the article.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged. Individual authors are given the option to disallow commenting or end commenting after a certain period at their discretion.

Close this window

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This