Polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 and their Doctrinal and Historical Problems within Mormonism

(Note to reader:  the following letter was sent to seven Mormon apostles in late 2014.  No response was ever received.)

November 24, 2014

Dear Brethren:

The first thing I wish to express is my fervent hope that you will actually read this letter and the two or three which will follow it. I’m aware that you stated in an October 6, 2010 letter to church members that letters like this one, which concerns historical and doctrinal problems surrounding Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, will be sent back to those local church leaders in whose jurisdiction the writer resides. Though I don’t consider myself more important than any other member of the church, there are three reasons why I believe that in this case you should depart from that policy. The first is that I have no questions for local church leaders to answer, nor do I seek counsel or clarification of any church beliefs. The second is that this and later letters I will send concern many yet-unaddressed gospel doctrines and beliefs which church members and nonmembers alike either already are, or soon will be, criticizing as false, and which, if addressed in the future, will require a church-wide response. My local leaders, like all local leaders, have no authority to change these teachings, even if they had the inclination to do so. Third, I haven’t provided you, as far as I’m aware, a means of identifying who my local leaders are.

The following is a brief and non-specific description of me before I continue: Baptized when I was eight, I’ve been a lifelong active member of the church. I’m now in my seventh decade of life. I served a mission, received undergraduate and graduate degrees at BYU, married in the temple, and my wife and I are the parents of several children, all of whom we raised in the church. All our children who have married have done so in the temple. In addition to various stake callings, I’ve held every calling available to a male ward member except ward clerk and elder’s quorum counselor. I hold a current temple recommend and church calling. But if there is anything you remember about me from these letters, I hope it is this: I have a steadfast and unshakeable testimony of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and also accept the Bible as containing the word of God.

Moreover, despite my belief that many important church teachings are in error, I regard the leaders of this church to be righteous men, generally speaking, who often provide timely and inspired guidance to the church and the world. The errors of doctrine discussed hereafter weren’t conceived by you; you’ve inherited them. (I hypothesize that due to the nature of your callings as leaders serving for life, it’s been difficult for you to examine long-accepted doctrines, beliefs and practices with the same freedom that a person enjoys who no longer presides over the saints.) Nevertheless, you are in a position to scrutinize and correct the errors you’ve inherited, and I urge you now to do so.

Many years of studying, pondering and praying about the church’s history and scriptures have led me to the following surprising and counterintuitive, but inescapable, conclusion: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints teaches a great many beliefs that contradict the Book of Mormon and Bible, and often our own church history. (In fact, we even teach doctrines from the Doctrine and Covenants that are flatly contradicted by not only our ancient scriptures, but the Doctrine and Covenants itself.) We claim to receive modern revelation. But our teachings and practices suggest we also believe modern revelation can validly contradict, negate, override and supplant the fundamental gospel contained in The Book of Mormon and the Bible.

This letter concerns the problems of history and doctrine the church has not addressed surrounding Doctrine and Covenants Section 132. In subsequent letters I’ll write about other problem beliefs. Meanwhile, as we speak, the internet is allowing fast-growing numbers of Mormons to be exposed to a completely free discussion of all church teachings. Those interested in Mormon doctrine and history are now reviewing their own beliefs in depth for the first time, enabled by the free flow of information that renders everyone’s research far more fruitful than in prior eras. And, of course, instead of keeping their thoughts to themselves, these new inquirers are discussing their conclusions every day on numerous blogs and websites and in private get-togethers. They’ve formed a group consciousness amongst themselves. The church’s inability to answer, or even address their questions is feeding their disillusionment with LDS teachings. This is causing many to disbelieve not only the errant teachings, but everything the church teaches, including those teachings that are pure, contradiction-free, and true. Because of the internet, soon many members and nonmembers alike will become familiar, if they haven’t already, with these conflicting and contradictory beliefs. But I write, not to save the Church from bad publicity, but to urge it to correct or abolish those doctrines which are manifestly wrong.

Most of the erroneous doctrines, beliefs and practices mentioned below have a common human source. If the LDS church could ever consider what it currently deems unthinkable, it would eventually realize that this human source, Joseph Smith, after bringing forth the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, was unfortunately human enough to be capable of gross errors, and often wrongfully taught his own ideas and understandings as the very word of God. He was also capable of claiming to have experienced heavenly manifestations that hadn’t actually occurred. We always admit he was fallible, but we never admit he could be guilty of fabrication or self-aggrandizement—this would be too big a sin for the man whom we associate with the Book of Mormon. Surely God could not forgive a sin this big, we reason; therefore, God would never have chosen a man this sinful to play any part in restoring truths to the world. But we err in this assumption. Joseph was capable of doing many things inconceivable to modern church leaders. (See, e.g., History of the Church, vol. 6, pages 408-09, wherein Joseph is quoted as bragging that he’d done more than Jesus to keep the church together.) By the church opening its collective mind to this simple explanation, all LDS beliefs that conflict with logic, history, and the Bible and Book of Mormon would vanish, and our religion would be back teaching the beautiful, simple and pure gospel it was teaching in 1830. Consider:

The Problematic History of Doctrine of Covenants Section 132

It’s imperative to review the truly suspect origins of D&C 132 before examining its substance. Our own church history establishes that throughout his life, Joseph Smith never publicly claimed that he’d received a revelation justifying polygamy, and he repeatedly denied believing in, teaching, or practicing it. See History of the Church, vol. 6, page 411. In the book Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, for example, no reference to it can be found, nor is there a single church record of him ever advocating it in any talk or sermon. Our own records also conclusively demonstrate, however, that these denials by Joseph Smith about his endorsement of polygamy were untrue, and the church has admitted this in its website essay Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo. Before proceeding further, we should ask ourselves these questions: When has God ever revealed anything and expected, or even tolerated, the person receiving the revelation to repeatedly lie about having received it, and to deny its doctrine? Doesn’t the fact that Joseph Smith repeatedly denied believing in or practicing polygamy provide strong evidence that he knew God had not given a revelation justifying it?

Additionally, Joseph had been dead eight years before Brigham Young came forward with the text of Section 132, written in the handwriting of Joseph Kingsbury, and had it published in The Deseret News Extra in September of 1852. The story put forth by William Clayton, according to a typed version of Clayton’s journal in LDS Church archives (we don’t have Clayton’s original handwritten version), was that Joseph Smith had dictated the revelation to him on July 12, 1843, but that Joseph’s wife Emma had rejected it when it was presented to her, and had later burned the manuscript. Kingsbury, an assistant storekeeper in Newel K. Whitney’s store, in 1886 wrote an affidavit in which he stated that the manuscript he’d written was a copy of an original he’d been directed to copy by Newell K. Whitney. Whitney’s original manuscript was presumably the one returned to Joseph or Hyrum Smith and supposedly later burned by Emma, though this isn’t clear. Since his own handwritten copy didn’t survive, it is inferred that Clayton eventually gave the surviving Kingsbury copy to Brigham Young, who revealed its existence in 1852.

The problems with this story are legion and obvious. To begin with, the no-longer-extant original document (the text of D&C 132) was never mentioned or vouched for by its putative author, Joseph Smith, during his lifetime.  It was vouched for by avid polygamist William Clayton, who sought to establish the divine origins of the document long after Joseph Smith’s death by claiming the deceased and unavailable-for-questioning Joseph said the text was a revelation from God. Newel K. Whitney, who supposedly gave the original-and-now-missing document to Joseph Kingsbury to copy, never wrote or spoke anything corroborating this story, and had died before Brigham Young produced the handwritten Kingsbury copy.  Willard Richards wrote in Joseph Smith Journal that a revelation was received on July 12, 1843, in the presence of Hyrum Smith and William Clayton, but didn’t mention its content. Although Richards was present when all this occurred, he never was known to have said anything about these events besides the journal entry.

Second, the document’s claimed date of dictation occurred well after Joseph Smith had already taken additional wives and word of his activities had begun to leak out. How could Joseph have been taking a multitude of wives before God had given authorization for the practice, unless he was doing something God hadn’t authorized and felt the need to justify the practice after the fact? (The church’s assertion in the caption preceding D&C 132, that the content of this “revelation” was known to Joseph by 1831, which language the church added to its 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, is contradicted by the language in verses 51 and 52, which would be anachronistic in 1831. These verses refer to struggles between Joseph and Emma that had already occurred over the plural wives issue, and to the wives who had already been given to Joseph and “have said they were pure.” Joseph was still years away from accumulating additional wives by 1831.)

Third, the nine-year-old document was produced by two men, Brigham Young and William Clayton, after a long and unexplained absence.  When it was brought forth in  1852, both men were already deeply involved with, and committed to, polygamy. They were hardly neutral, dispassionate and disinterested witnesses. In fact, Brigham Young’s antipathy toward Emma Smith, which he never made any effort to hide, is curiously a strong theme of the last part of the text, wherein Emma and any other women who might share her plight are threatened with destruction if they don’t acquiesce to plural marriage.  The handwriting in the last six verses also appears different than that of the 60 preceding verses, suggesting supplementation after the initial drafting.

Fourth, the content of D&C 132 contradicted the straightforward language of an earlier claimed revelation from God, D&C 49:16, declaring that a man should have one wife, as well as an 1835 church proclamation entitled Article on Marriage, which became part of the 1835 version of the Doctrine and Covenants. The 1835 proclamation specifically denounced polygamy and declared that all persons married should have only one spouse. This declaration, unanimously approved at a church general assembly following rumors of Joseph Smith’s relationship with Fanny Alger, still comprises Section 111 of the Community of Christ church’s Doctrine and Covenants. Its existence stands as another refutation of the idea that in 1831 Joseph received approval from God for polygamy.

Fifth, Emma Smith never corroborated any aspect of the story regarding D&C 132’s origins or her supposed role in burning the original manuscript.

Sixth, William Clayton’s version stated that Hyrum Smith had suggested Joseph use the Urim and Thummim to dictate the revelation, but Joseph had declined on the grounds that he had memorized the 66-verse manuscript, which now covers seven pages of the Doctrine and Covenants.  Polygamist Clayton’s story appears obviously contrived and self-serving, since Hyrum would know in 1843 that Joseph hadn’t possessed the Urim and Thummim for over thirteen years, having returned the instrument to the angel in 1830 following the publication of the Book of Mormon. (Joseph had also given away his purported seer stone around the same time.) Also, it seems doubtful Joseph Smith would claim such exaggerated memorization powers, even to his loyal friends, when the text was so long and Joseph had no manuscript from which to read.

Most importantly, Section 132 is full of the doctrinal falsehoods elaborated below. Before examining those falsehoods, though, it should be clear at the outset that if the church is going to make this document the foundation of its most high-profile beliefs (marriage for time and eternity in the temple, the path to godhood, etc.), it should at least require said document not be of such dubious provenance.

The Erroneous Doctrine of D&C Section 132

Though polygamy is not the greatest of the doctrinal errors contained within Section 132, I address it first, because it’s the central issue that purportedly spurred the writing of the entire section. In the second chapter of Jacob in the Book of Mormon, Jacob specifically condemned the practice of taking multiple wives, emphasizing how hurtful it was to the wives and children of the men who did it. He also declared that David’s and Solomon’s practice of taking multiple wives was an abomination before the Lord (verse 24). He added that if God needed polygamy to “raise up seed,” he would command his children, (Abraham’s wife Sarah had offered her servant Hagar for temporary use in fathering a child only because he had no seed at the time.) Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 flatly contradicts Jacob, saying that nothing done by David and Solomon related to polygamy was a sin against God (see verse 38).

How do we know Jacob was right and Joseph Smith wrong? Joseph’s taking of some 33 additional wives was illegal bigamy, contravening the church’s belief in living within the civil law (see Article of Faith 12).  It was also deeply hurtful to his wife Emma and his children, just as Jacob had warned it would be, and as detailed in Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and R. Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith.  It brought tremendous persecution upon the church and came close to bringing its destruction, and continues to embarrass the church to this day.  And tellingly, it produced no acknowledged, traceable seed. These points are not addressed by the Church’s plural marriage articles on its website, but are of utmost importance in judging whether God had ordained this practice.

The church contends in its article that a number of notable church leaders were raised in families from later polygamous relationships by other church members. This point is both spurious and misleading.  First of all, the rightness or wrongness of polygamy is not determined by merely pointing out that some children who were born into polygamous families grew up to be church leaders or stalwart church members. Otherwise, a rapist might justify his acts by pointing out that some of his crimes produced offspring who grew to be upstanding citizens. The historical facts show that the practice violated the criteria set forth by Jacob and damaged many lives. Brigham Young’s enthusiastic embrace of this supposedly inspired mandate produced predictable results: Ten of Young’s wives divorced him. Of the 55 polygamous wives sealed to him, 39 bore him no children at all, and most of the 16 other women who did, bore significantly fewer children than the average woman in a monogamous marriage produced at that time. The church’s statement in the aforementioned article that “[p]lural marriage did result in an increased number of children born to believing parents” is completely false, and amazingly, the church concedes its falseness in footnote 6 of its other polygamy article, “Plural Marriage in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints.” (And, contrary to Mormon supposition, there was no overabundance of women in Brigham’s era, nor a shortage of qualified men to replenish the earth through conventional monogamous marriages.) Harriet Amelia Folsom, the woman who by all accounts was Brigham Young’s favorite and most beautiful wife, and on whom he showered material wealth which the rest of his wives didn’t receive, was 37 years younger than he when at age 22 she married him. But she, too, never bore him children. Was this what God intended?

Moreover, as graphically chronicled in such books as the aforementioned ones by Bushman and Compton, and in Thomas Alexander’s Things in Heaven and Earth: The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff, a great many women suffered lives of humiliation, sorrow, disappointment, loneliness and poverty as a result of consenting to polygamy. Clearly the Lord was not behind the doctrine or the practice of plural marriages. To suggest the Lord would allow the lives of scores of women to be brought so low, merely to “test the faith” of Joseph Smith, is to blaspheme the Lord’s ways. But our church’s article “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” actually makes this claim by citing a hearsay account by a devoted polygamist of Joseph Smith claiming an angel drew his sword to force Joseph to search out more wives. Truth be told, the men who practiced polygamy quickly gave up any pretense of personal sacrifice, or of being commanded in the taking of additional wives. Almost none of Joseph’s successors saw any need to pretend that they were following orders in taking additional sex partners, freely disclosing the truth that they needed no prompting or prodding by church authorities in searching out said women. For the church to characterize the practice by these men as painful, but noble, obedience to God’s commandments is to misrepresent the gender of the sufferers. The unvarnished truth is that polygamy turned out to be just as wrong and harmful as Jacob had described it. Had the Book of Mormon been heeded instead of ignored, none of this would have happened.

Three other major false doctrines, equal in importance to polygamy, are also rooted in Section 132. The first is the shocking teaching that a man may commit any sin whatsoever short of murder after having his marriage sealed by the “holy spirit of promise,” and he will nevertheless come forth in the first resurrection. This idea flies in the face of every Judeo-Christian teaching ever taught about “enduring to the end,” but see especially Mosiah 15:26 and Moroni 10:26; see also 2 Nephi 9:38, Ezekiel 3:20 and 18:21 and Alma 12:16. Though the LDS church has understandably shied away from affirmatively teaching this doctrine, it has allowed it to remain as canonized scripture that contradicts the Bible and Book of Mormon.

Even more detrimental is the teaching introduced in verses 16-18 that relegates those without a temple marriage to the supposedly less worthy status of angels in the hereafter, even if they are otherwise thought to be eligible for the celestial kingdom. These people are supposedly destined to minister to the superior, exalted gods who were married by Mormon priesthood authority. Not only does this teaching contradict all Book of Mormon and Bible scriptures relating to the hereafter, and on its face exclude almost the entire human race, but no softening of its harshness is provided. It makes no allowance for doing marriage sealings for the dead. The practice of sealing marriages for the dead was devised a short time later in Mormon history, but not by any purported revelation from God. To this day, like the endowments performed in the temple for the living and the dead, the practice of sealing marriages of deceased individuals is scripturally unfounded.

To add insult to doctrinal injury, however, note that another section of the Doctrine and Covenants contradicts Section 132. In D&C Section 137, Joseph Smith claimed to have seen his brother Alvin and his parents with God the Father, Jesus, Adam and Abraham in the celestial kingdom of God, and marveled, since Alvin had died without being baptized or married. He then made clear that our present practice of baptizing and sealing for the dead is unnecessary, declaring in verses 7-9:

7 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;
8 Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;
9 For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

(See also Moroni 8:22 for similar proof that proxy endowments are unnecessary, though this is a topic for a subsequent letter.)

Though the heading to Section 137 claims that revelation occurred in the Kirtland temple on January 21, 1836, and that the occasion “was the administration of the ordinances of the endowment as far as they had been revealed”, there exists no church record which corroborates this claim. The endowment ceremony didn’t yet exist, either in whole or in part, and was in January of 1836 neither taught nor practiced. See History of the Church 2: 378-382. Furthermore, one might validly wonder why, if God had revealed the endowment ceremony, he would do it piecemeal, as the Section 137 heading implies.

Biblical history also makes obvious that God doesn’t withhold exaltation from those that don’t marry. In fact, it’s clear that many extremely righteous men purposely never married at all–Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, John the Beloved, Paul and Jesus being among them. Jesus himself explained that some men abstain from marriage (“make themselves eunuchs”) “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”—i.e., to devote themselves more fully to their religious missions. See Matthew 19:12.

If a “temple marriage” were the only way to attain the highest level of glory in the hereafter, wouldn’t God the Father and Jesus have mentioned this, at least once, to the Israelites, Jews, or Nephites? The same question must be asked for the temple endowment ceremony we now teach as a prerequisite for the celestial kingdom. If these beliefs are true, then no doctrines could be more important. Jesus surely would have included them when he taught the way to happiness to his followers, and the writers of the four gospels would not have omitted them. Even if such a tremendous oversight were possible in the Bible, it would not have recurred in the Book of Mormon, which God touts as the “fullness of the gospel.” But Jesus never did teach these things and neither did the Father. In fact, never at any time in the Bible or Book of Mormon does the Father or the Son ever state that “exaltation” or godhood awaits his children in a “Celestial Kingdom”. But what Jesus did teach was this (from 3 Nephi 11):

33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God . . .
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. . .
37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

Prior to Jesus announcing the plain doctrine set forth above, Alma’s words to Helam when he baptized him in the waters of Mormon reflect the same understanding regarding the simplicity of the road to eternal life as Jesus later described it. Of this event, Mormon wrote:

And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.

(Mosiah 18:13)

When Jesus and the prophets sermonized about being “perfect in Christ”, they never mentioned the necessity of temple endowment and marriage ordinances. See, e.g., Matt. 5:48; Moroni 10:32, 33. Either Jesus and the prophets all erred by omitting necessary requirements, or we err by teaching that man can only attain the highest reward through temple rituals. Are we right, and they wrong?

I realize that the assertion I’m now about to make in this paragraph might evoke the strongest emotional response of anything in this letter. This assertion, if accepted by the church, would cause the most massive overhaul of church practices and teaching imaginable—a veritable earthquake. But please keep in mind whom I’m quoting as authority for said assertion–Jesus Christ.  According to Christ, the simple fact is that no one is married to anyone in the hereafter. When Jesus was asked about who is married to whom in the next life, he unequivocally said that no one is married after the resurrection.  Marriage is an earthly institution only.  That he truly taught this is not subject to debate; it’s found in three synoptic gospels. See Matt. 22: 29-30; Mark 12: 23-25 and Luke 20: 34-36 (none of which Joseph Smith attempted to modify in his own version of the Bible).

Any attempt by our church to argue that these scriptures only mean that all marriages have to be performed during mortality by proper priesthood authority to last through the eternities is untenable. When Jesus spoke these words, no practice of marriages performed by Melchizekek Priesthood holders existed, nor were marriages performed in the temple. The question put to Jesus by the Sadducees presupposed the continuation of already-performed marriages, and that’s exactly what Jesus said was incorrect, though the presumption of a resurrection was correct. And Jesus obviously wasn’t merely describing people unworthy to be married in the hereafter when he spoke of post-resurrection individuals being as “angels unto God”, because the hypothetical contained no reference to the righteousness or lack of same by the marrying individuals. Furthermore, Jesus never at any time taught that angels were unworthy individuals, and made no distinction between “ministering” angels and any other kind. Do we consider angels like Gabriel or Moroni, or all the rest of them who dwell in God’s presence, to be lesser beings unworthy of exaltation because they failed to properly marry? Unfortunately, that’s what the Doctrine of Covenants Section 132: 15-18 says—those without the proper kind of marriage are relegated to the inferior status of angelhood.

In other words, though marriage is indeed as sacred as we make it out to be, the doctrine of eternal marriage extending into the hereafter as contained within Section 132 is another doctrine flatly contradicted by uncontroverted biblical scripture. This teaching’s falseness is why it isn’t taught in the Bible or Book of Mormon. When the rest of the Christian world marries couples “till death do you part,” they are only taking Jesus at His word. And, one can only imagine the doctrinal and emotional confusion we could avoid as a church if we no longer had to explain why temple rituals, or their absence, determine whether or not we become gods. We also wouldn’t have to worry about whose spouses or children belong to whom in heaven when individuals belong to more than one family unit in mortality. Avoiding these teachings would allow us to return to the simple, uncomplicated truth about marriage that Jesus and his messengers taught in the Bible and Book of Mormon. To achieve this, of course, we’d first have to countenance the notion that Joseph Smith and some of his early followers could take, and did take, wrongful liberties with the core gospel of Christ.

There are several other flaws in the philosophy and practice growing out of Section 132 which also belie its authenticity as a revelation from God. Eleven of the additional wives Joseph took were already married to other men at the time. This practice of polyandry by Joseph was never justified even in Section 132, since verses 61 through 63 required the new wives be virgins. And no verses provided any purpose in depriving a husband of his only wife by sealing her to Joseph, either for mortality or eternity. But our own church records reveal that apostle Orson Hyde was in Israel dedicating that land for the return of the Jews when Joseph, without Orson’s knowledge, took his wife as his own. Who among you thinks God would ordain such a thing?

Two particular Section 132 doctrines currently being heavily scrutinized and criticized in the blogosphere, and rightfully so, are the one set forth in verses 39, 51-52, and 64-65. These verses are stunning in their misogyny. Verse 39 asserts that David’s only polygamy-related mistake concerned the “case of Uriah and his wife”; that said mistake caused David to fall “from his exaltation”; and that David’s polygamous wives and concubines were given to some unnamed other.  Even a mildly intellectually curious reader of this verse should ask this about a verse which informs the readers that but for David’s sin, he would have inherited his wives and concubines out of this world: What possible reason could there be for concubines in heaven, when they’re considered sinful to possess on earth? Jacob said in Jacob 2: 27: “Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.”  Does heaven contain women, whose purpose in the eternities is to be a lower-status sexual partner to a man, but who never become his full-fledged wife?

Furthermore, do we actually believe women are just given to another man in heaven like so many head of livestock, as verse 39 says David’s supposedly were?  If so, have they no say in the matter?  Is this the fate of righteous women in our church who aren’t married to an “exaltation”-worthy man during mortality —they’re treated as exchangeable possessions whose are own sensibilities are irrelevant? No, we don’t believe it. But it’s still canonized scripture. Why?

Verses 51-52 and 64-65 require Emma Smith and all other women whose husbands desire multiple wives to accept plural marriage or “be destroyed.” The Holy Ghost virtually shouts that these words were not spoken by the Lord, whose kindness and consideration toward women comprise one of the salient themes of the New Testament. It’s blasphemous to assert otherwise.

Of relatively minor import, verses 1 and 37 wrongfully state that Abraham had concubines, but he only had one concubine—Hagar, who bore him one child. Concubines were never used by Abraham thereafter. The other woman who bore Abraham children, besides Sarah, was Keturah, whom he married after Sarah’s death. She wasn’t a concubine.

This statement perhaps requires some clarification. Though the biblical writers referred to Keturah as a wife in Genesis 25:1, it is true that they also classified her as one of Abraham’s two concubines in Genesis 25: 6 and in First Chronicles 1:32. Biblical scholars have explained that this was done to remind the reader that Keturah wasn’t entitled to the same status as Sarah, as they considered Sarah alone the mother of the chosen race of Israelites to which they belonged. But by any objective standard, Keturah was a wife, in no way similar to the mere temporary sexual partner concubines possessed by David and Solomon.

The conclusion that Abraham did not have multiple concubines, and didn’t ever have more than one wife at a time, is made understandable when the two scriptures declaring Keturah a concubine, Genesis 25: 6 and First Chronicles 1:32, are considered in their proper contexts.  The point of Genesis Chapter 25 and First Chronicles Chapter 1 is to set forth all Abraham’s sons descended from their respective mothers, and in so doing, the only women set forth are Hagar, Sarah, and Keturah.  The other point of these chapters is to contrast the treatment of Isaac with the treatment of the other sons Abraham fathered.  So, it follows that in stating that the sons of the “concubines” were sent away to the east of where Abraham dwelt, the biblical writers go on to describe exactly where Hagar’s son Ishmael and the sons of Keturah went and settled, but mentioned no other women or offspring.  If Abraham had had more sons by other concubines, it would have been mentioned in these two chapters of the Bible, since that was the topic under discussion.

In summary, careful biblical exegesis demonstrates that there were only three women mentioned in scripture with whom Abraham had sexual relations and by whom he fathered sons during his lifetime.  Also, the term “concubines” doesn’t refer to any other women besides Hagar and Keturah.  And, despite the Israelite writers’ desire to diminish Keturah so as to elevate Sarah, it’s also clear that by the Book of Mormon standard of Jacob, and by our modern standards, Keturah was in no sense a concubine, since Abraham married her after Sarah’s death and she became his sole companion.  Thus, Abraham did not engage in the practice of David and Solomon, later condemned by Jacob, of having concurrently a multitude of women who served as occasional sex partners only.  Though Abraham fathered a child by Hagar while married to Sarah, his participation happened only because Sarah had requested it, and thus was not hurtful to her feelings.  

So too, the Bible makes clear that Bilhah and Zilpah were both given to Jacob “to wife” by Rachel and Leah, respectively, and became the mothers of four of the twelve tribes of Israel.  This practice of giving their handmaids as wives to Jacob was initiated by Rachel and Leah, not by Jacob.  It was done openly, and once again, for the sole purpose of bearing additional children.  See Genesis 30:1-24.  Although Bilhah and Zilpah were also referred to as concubines (see Genesis 35:22), their roles were vastly different from the roles assumed by the concubines of David and Solomon–the former bore some of the twelve sons of Israel, while the latter were mere sexual partners.

Accordingly, by contrasting the practice of the ancient patriarchs with that of Joseph Smith, we can conclude that if the polygamy practiced by Joseph Smith had been ordained of God, Joseph would not have approached a host of women on his own initiative to convince them to marry him, would not have done it secretly while publicly denying it, would not have allowed a proclamation to be approved by a general assembly of the church and become canonized scripture declaring that a man should have one wife only, would not have taken wives already belonging to other men, and his polygamy would have produced a substantial increase in his seed, instead of no seed.

Yet another minor error is the apparent make-weight suggestion in verses 1 and 37 that Isaac practiced polygamy.  He did not.  If he had, Moses, who had two wives himself, would have mentioned it in Genesis, just like he did his own polygamy, and that of Isaac’s father and sons.  The church repeats this erroneous statement about Isaac in its own website essay, Plural Marriage in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, ignoring the conclusive countervailing evidence in the Bible.

Don’t the mind and spirit revolt against the Section 132 teachings set forth above?  Didn’t God create our minds and spirits with the expectation that we would use both of them together in discerning through the Holy Ghost what’s true and what isn’t? Do the teachings of D&C 132 pass the test of Moroni 7:13-16, which requires that to be of God, a teaching must invite us to do good? Isn’t it perfectly clear at this point that Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 didn’t come from God?

May God help us all to embrace his truths.


M.S. Brothers [pseudonym used by Scott S. Mitchell when the above was written]

5 thoughts on “Polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 and their Doctrinal and Historical Problems within Mormonism

  1. Welcome to the website, Alan. My brother and I have decided to only publish those comments that deal with the specific substance of the essays, which are always welcome and will be responded to. You can always elbow me in the ribs at church, though.


  2. Have you read Enid S. Debarthe’s “Biography of the Joseph Smith II–The Mormon Prophet Leader?”

    It was her Master’s Thesis written in 1969. In it she analyzes the writing style, sentence structures, use of neologisms, etc, of 132 and states, “Joseph Smith just didn’t write that way.” She correctly lays 132 on Brigham, along with King Follett, which she claims underwent a serious rewrite by BY before it was published. Certain phrases and linguistic fingerprints of 132 appear in later BY’s sermons and statements.

    These were both Brigham Young attempting to cover his own serial fornication and adultery, as well as his “mystery seeking,” which Hyrum openly condemned in March 1844 in his “Letter to the Saints Living on China Creek.” That letter, interestingly, references men who claimed to have a “certain priesthood” that allowed them have more than one wife. Hyrum rebukes them and the doctrine in no uncertain terms. Three months later he was dead.

    RLDS Elder Evan Frye made a similar study of 132, albeit more casually, and arrived at the same conclusion. He didn’t name Brigham directly, but absolved Joseph of 132. I have .pdfs of both if you’re interested. I’m part of a group that works on absolving Joseph from LDS claims of polygamy. We have amassed hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of research and documentation that shows LDS polygamy did not begin with or ever involve Joseph or Hyrum. I’m happy to pass any of it along…


    • How do you respond to the sworn testimony of people like Emily Partridge, who said under oath that she did have sex with Joseph Smith after she was sealed to him, and that her sister did too? How do you respond to Helen Mar Kimball’s writings, which she kept sealed until her death, which make clear that her being sealed to Joseph as a 14 year old involved literally becoming his wife? I don’t dispute that Brigham Young doctored history, but there is only so much he could doctor. How do you explain Oliver Cowdery’s insistence that JS committed adultery with Fanny Alger? Why do you suppose active, righteous Mormons like William Law and William Marks, were willing to risk their relationship with JS and with the Church to criticize JS for polygamy?


  3. Pingback: Doctrine and Covenants 132 – "Dear Mr. Mormon"

  4. Matt Lohrke, I agree with you I don’t believe Joseph Smith or Hyrum had anything to do with it and all these other men tried to pin it on him to justify what they were doing. I would be interested in the info you have if you would sent it my way.


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