By Scott S. Mitchell
Two Sundays ago, the lesson in my LDS priesthood meeting centered around a talk by Becky Craven in the April 2019 general conference entitled “Careful Versus Casual.” Predictably, two things occurred during the classroom discussion. First, the discussion quickly focused on two of the most prominently discussed Law-of-Moses-type items on Mormonism’s long checklist of do’s and don’ts–wearing the temple garment and Sabbath Day observance. Second, two or three members of the class self-censored the comments they felt were most important to make. (It should be obvious who one of them was.) Had they not self-censored, they would have pointed out that neither temple-garment-wearing nor Sabbath Day observance were part of Jesus’ gospel when he preached that gospel to the Nephites. Thus, as non-commandments, the rules of garment wearing and Sabbath proscriptions didn’t merit the attention LDS Church members give them. In fact, it might also have been added that Jesus never even mentioned the word “temple” or anything about sabbath observance to the Nephites in all his teachings,1 nor were these items part of his teachings to the Jews.
Why did these two or three class members voluntarily refrain from mentioning these seemingly important points? They did so to not disrupt classroom discussion with unorthodox remarks which, while true and extremely germane to the topic at hand, would inevitably be upsetting to others and would further stigmatize themselves and what they might say in the future. But such self-censorship, while well-intentioned and seemingly necessary to maintain peace, unfortunately enables the church’s efforts to avoid discussion of Book of Mormon scriptures which unyieldingly refute entrenched LDS orthodoxy. And these noble gestures are never reciprocated. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “the Church”) never concedes that its doctrines, and even its history, are at odds with Book of Mormon or Bible teachings. And for the last several years, large numbers of people have begun to notice.
My love of this topic (i.e., suppression or censorship of scriptures or history) is due solely to its crucial importances in suggesting what sweeping changes need to be made. My love should not be confused with schadenfreude over the growing rejection of orthodoxy among formerly devout Church members. To the extent this trend causes disenchanted church members to turn their backs on authentically inspired things (e.g., the Book of Mormon and Jesus’s teachings in the Bible) along with the many untrue things which should be revised (e.g., huge chunks of LDS doctrine and its version of its own history), I lament it as much as anyone. However, the tide can’t be stemmed unless we address the host of doctrinal conflicts between what Mormons believe and what is actually taught in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. These conflicts are nowhere more apparent in the way the Church attempts to circumvent the terribly important message of Jacob Chapter 2 in the Book of Mormon.
In an essay dated July 24, 2019, I argued that the LDS Church has purposely eschewed in-depth discussion of Nephi’s psalm of 2 Nephi 4 because it reveals that righteous prophets who are thought to be closer to God than those whom they lead, are often tempted by, and succumb to, serious sins. (See 2 Nephi 4 and the Pain or Exhilaration of Learning What You Thought You Wanted to Know, Part 2, elsewhere on this website. Author’s note: Several days after that essay was posted, I re-read it and discovered numerous embarrassing grammatical, typographical or vocabulary errors. Memorably, in one instance, I somehow used the word “adultery” in place of “idolatry,” which resulted in me arguing against my main thesis. I’ve since corrected the errors that I caught.) Because this notion suggests early LDS Church leaders like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and their contemporaries and successors could have been guilty of repeated serious sins, the Church is loathe to encourage readers to consider the true message Nephi was communicating in his psalm. Hence, the Church admits that Nephi wrote a psalm, but effectively censors any discussion of what sins and temptations troubled him, how badly they troubled him, and how a prophet could be so fallible. As we will see, the Church does the same thing with Jacob 2. Once again, its purpose is to conceal from the reader the fact that Jacob specifically condemned the polygamy practiced by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and their contemporaries and successors. The result is that the Church blatantly misleads its members as to what Jacob taught in Jacob 2 and 3, with a sound understanding of gospel truth the resultant casualty. Only the protection of leaders’ reputations remains sacrosanct. As important as Nephi’s psalm is to our understanding of ourselves, Jacob 2 and most of Jacob 3 are even more so.
What Vitally Important Truths Have Been Censored from Jacob 2 and 3?
The first critically important message that goes unmentioned in LDS general conference talks and curricula is Jacob’s reference to what happens when writings accepted as canonical aren’t accurately understood by their readers. This problem can arise either when the original historians and editors protect the reputations of their heroes by reporting the heroes’ deeds without revealing how God felt about those deeds, or when the original writers do cover the subject matter objectively and thoroughly but the reader isn’t careful enough in gleaning the right message from the text. Referring to biblical writings about David’s and Solomon’s polygamy, Jacob made clear that they had been misunderstood. In Jacob 2 we read Jacob’s words to his people:
23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.
26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
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 . . .
(See Jacob 2:23-27; emphasis added.)
It’s not difficult to determine that biblical authors’ incomplete treatment of David’s and Solomon’s polygamy contributed heavily to the misuse of their writings. Those writings omit any reference to the Lord’s displeasure with polygamy. The biblical writer of 2 Samuel 11 does inform the reader in verse 27 that David’s lust-driven adultery with Bathsheba (precipitated merely by watching her bathe before ordering that she be brought to him), his attempt at covering up his sin, and his elimination of Bathsheba’s husband by arranging for his death in battle, “displeased the Lord.” But nowhere does any biblical writer suggest that the very practice of accumulating a host of wives and concubines was abominable to the Lord, much less explain why it was abominable. In fact, 2 Samuel 12:8 reports that when the prophet Nathan rebuked David for what he’d done, he also said the Lord would have given David even more if what he’d already been allowed to have “had been too little.” And the writer of 1 Kings 11:1-13 suggests that Solomon’s only missteps in taking 700 wives and 300 concubines consisted in choosing non-Israelites and condoning their respective pagan religious practices. I believe the early writers and editors of these records intentionally avoided providing the Lord’s views of these actions.
We thus see why it’s imperative to read the Book of Mormon and measure other canonical writings against it. The dangers of hero worship among sacred record keepers, the Lord’s feelings on polygamy (or more precisely, polygyny), and the rationale behind anti-polygyny teachings are all revealed exclusively for the first time in Jacob 2 and 3. The Old Testament doesn’t contain these teachings–instead, it protects David’s and Solomon’s reputations. Jacob courageously criticizes these two Israelite cultural icons and provides the missing information that the Lord despised their practice of polygyny. He also corrects the notion that David’s only mistake was the Bathsheba/Uriah matter and Solomon’s sole mistake was taking pagan wives and concubines instead of Israelites exclusively. And in the only place in scripture where this is topic is expounded, Jacob explains why men having multiple sexual partners simultaneously is so repugnant: it hurts the feelings of their wives and children.2
Given the centrality of Jacob’s teachings, why would the Church not want to draw attention to them in talks and curricula, and assure that members take them to heart? Is it not essential that spouses understand the harm to spouses and children caused by competing sexual partners? Amazingly, not only does the Church give short shrift to these two chapters, it blatantly contradicts them and uses intellectually dishonest arguments to alter their plain meaning. It even cites to its own Doctrine and Covenants for authority for the contradictions. From the LDS Church’s own 2017 Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher’s Manual, Lesson 44, “Jacob 2: 12-35”, we read in the following excerpt how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants this subject taught to its students:
Ask a student to read Jacob 2:24-27 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord declared about marriage. You may need to explain that the word concubine refers to a woman in Old Testament times who was legally married to a man but had a lower social status than a wife. You may also want to explain that the Lord did not condemn David and Solomon for practicing plural marriage in general; rather, He condemned them for entering into specific plural marriages that He had not authorized (see D&C 132:37-39).
According to Jacob 2:27, what is the “word of the Lord” regarding having more than one wife? (Help students identify the following truth: Unless the Lord commands otherwise, He has ordained that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. Invite students to consider writing this truth in their scriptures.)
Make sure that it is clear that in Book of Mormon times and in our day, the Lord has commanded that a man should be married to one wife. (See also D&C 49:15-16.) At certain times in the history of the world, the Lord has commanded His people to practice plural marriage. For example, plural marriage was practiced in Old Testament times by Abraham and Sarah (see Genesis 16:1-3; D&C 132:34-35, 37) and by their grandson Jacob (see D&C 132:37), and it was practiced for a time during the early days of the restored Church, beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 132:32-33,53).
Ask a student to read Jacob 2:30 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for when the Lord’s people are authorized to practice plural marriage.
According to Jacob 2:30, when are the Lord’s people authorized to practice plural marriage? (Help students identify the following truth: Plural marriage is authorized only when the Lord commands it. Invite students to consider writing this truth in their scriptures.)
Explain that if the Lord commands individuals to practice plural marriage, He will issue that command through His prophet—the President of the Church—and through no one else (see D&C 132:45-48).
According to Jacob 2:30, what is one reason the Lord has commanded some of His children to practice plural marriage? (To “raise up seed unto [the Lord],” or increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant.)
Point out that Jacob was speaking to the Nephites about the most prominent way they were committing sexual sin. Invite a student to read Jacob 2:28 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the Lord feels about chastity and sexual sin.
(Emphasis in italics added to highlight nonscriptural teachings; boldface in original.)
The foregoing excerpt contains several statements that are either blatantly untrue or employ illogical suppositions. In Part 2 of this essay, we’ll dissect this excerpt, identify its deceptions and the untruths in Doctrine and Covenants 132, and show why these writings are unworthy of a church that purports to be Christ’s only true one. But for now, the reader should note that the Church’s interest is obvious in protecting Joseph Smith’s reputation against any inference that his polygamy was practiced against God’s will. The church employees who wrote this material paid as much attention to justifying polygamy under certain circumstances as they did to denouncing it. Are they not repeating the same mistakes of biblical writers who sacrificed truth when they tried too hard to protect David and Solomon against valid and necessary criticism?
Also, before reading Part 2, the reader is challenged to find any place in scripture where polygamy was actually commanded, as the Church repeatedly claims.
1. Or at least, if Jesus did mention them, the otherwise-meticulous prophet Mormon didn’t consider them worth mentioning and purposely omitted them from his record of what Jesus taught.
2. Even though the New Testament prescribes one wife only for church leaders, no explanation is given as to why this rule exists.