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Polygamy: an eventual necessity?... or not?

(image from The Daily Beast)

**NOTE** I do not know if polygamy exists in exaltation. I do not know if it will return before the second coming. It may or may not. The purpose of this article/podcast is to show that it is not necessary for exaltation and that the conventional arguments that surround it do not hold up under scrutiny.

The inspiration for this article came from a recent conversation I had with an individual I have a pretty close relationship with. The conversation went something like this:

"BJ, I want to know your opinion about polygamy?"

"What do you mean?"

"It is just... my husband has convinced me to deal with the eventual necessity of it. It is prophesied of anyway. I just want to know your opinion on the matter."

"Oh!? I can give you my opinion. If I am completely honest though, I used to think the way your husband does."

I went on to explain my personal opinion on it and referred her to many things. This article is a brief summary of my opinion in written form. It is my hope it can provide healing and profound understanding.

This issue affects many. Many women have probably wet their pillows at night thinking that this was an eventual thing they will have to come to grips with. Many men have felt the need to simply not think about the possible future when it comes to the belief that it will eventually come to pass.

The conventional idea goes something like this:

"We believe that all things will have to be restored. Polygamy will have to be restored, again, in order to make that happen. It is prophesied of in scripture and earlier prophets and apostles in this dispensation have said it is the heavenly standard. It just also makes numerical sense, since there are so much more women than there are men. It will test our faith, but we must prepare ourselves for it."

To get right to the point, here are a collection of actual statements from latter-day prophets, seers, and revelators:
The Latter-day Saints were long regarded as a polygamous people. That plural marriage has been practiced by a limited proportion of the people, under sanction of Church ordinance, has never since the introduction of the system been denied. But that plural marriage is a vital tenet of the Church is not true. What the Latter-day Saints call celestial marriage is characteristic of the Church, and is in very general practice; but of celestial marriage, plurality of wives was an incident, never an essential. Yet the two have often been confused in the popular mind. - James E. Talmage (The Story and Philosophy of 'Mormonism', p. 88)
Marriage between one man and one woman is God’s standard for marriage, unless He declares otherwise, which He did through His prophet, Joseph Smith. (LDS Gospel Topic Essay: The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage)
The standard doctrine of the Church is monogamy, as it always has been... the standard of the Lord’s people is monogamy unless the Lord reveals otherwise. Latter-day Saints believe the season the Church practiced polygamy was one of these exceptions. (Mormon Newsroom, Church Statement on Polygamy)
 When a debate in the School of the Prophets arose when one claimed that "no man who has only one wife in this probation can ever enter [the] Celestial kingdom," both Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor disagreed. (Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 3: Theology (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 208. citing Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, Minutes (10 February 1873))
 In 1892, Wilford Woodruff and others were asked, in essence, "if Joseph Smith had ever taught you at Nauvoo or anywhere else during his lifetime, that in order for a man to be exalted in the hereafter, he must have more than one wife?"
I don't know that I ever heard him make use of that expression or use that form of expression.
Bathsheba W. Smith:
I never heard of that.
Joseph C. Kingbury:
No sir. He did not teach me that. He did not say anything about that....I heard it preached from the stand that a man could be exalted in eternity with one wife. (Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 3, 194., citing Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent's Testimony, Part 3, p. 66, question 698; p. 205, question 600; p. 225, questions 1028–1029; p. 319, questions 590–91.)
 I condemn it [polygamy], yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law. - Gordon B. Hinckley (Larry King Live, September 8th 1998)
 Plural marriage is not essential to salvation or exaltation. Nephi and his people were denied the power to have more than one wife and yet they could gain every blessing in eternity that the Lord ever offered to any people. (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 410)
There are other statements, but this should suffice for our purposes.

It should be plain to see the idea that polygamy is necessary for our exaltation and that it is, somehow, an awkward and dreadful surprise awaiting us after death is a fabrication of the worst kind. It is a myth that is perpetuated by those more attuned to culture than doctrine.

As seen above, the very idea that men who practice polygamy themselves saw it as not essential for exaltation should tell us something. First, it tells us that the salvational consequences it had upon people in the mid to late 1800s had nothing to do with polygamy alone. It had everything to do following counsel from those who were sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators.

To continue on, the scriptures are just as clear on the heavenly standard:

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” (Jacob 2:27)
The following verses that end the second chapter of Jacob ought to ring sweet music to our ears. It is Jacob condemning the practice of polygamy among the Israelites during the second temple period. From the prophetic quotes above, and from Jacob, we learn that the heavenly standard for marriage is monogamy.

This does bring up interesting questions though. I will answer them quickly:

Isaiah 4?

The conventional scripture cited to justify that plural marriage will be restored before the second coming is Isaiah 4:1, which reads:

 And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.
To the untrained reader of the scriptures, it is easy to divorce this verse from the complete context of Isaiah chapter 3. The separation of chapters do not exist in the earliest manuscripts but was placed in biblical compilations well over a millennium after Christ's death. In other words, many chapter separations break the continuity of the text where it should be read together in their proper context.

As for Isaiah 4, V.H. Cassler explains:

Isaiah predicts a time when “Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.  And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.  And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach” (Isaiah 3:25-26; 4:1).  Because of a physical lack of men due to war casualties, women will seek to enter polygamous unions...
 As noted in Isaiah, these post-war polygynous unions appear not to be God-sanctioned, because the women initiate the request (as versus the community receiving a commandment from God’s mouthpiece, the prophet), and the marriage does not involve the God-ordained husbandly support and protection due to the wives in question (D&C 83:2).  Furthermore, these circumstances are presented in a survey of the horrible consequences that are the reward of the iniquitous.  These women will be smitten with “a scab” on the crown of their heads (Isaiah 3:17) and will be afflicted with “stink” and “baldness” and “burning” (Isaiah 3:24).  The depiction in Isaiah 4:1 of seven women taking hold of one man is the final element in Isaiah’s description of the punishment of the wicked.  Nevertheless, in addition to such cases of polygamy not sanctioned by the Lord it is possible that these calamities will affect the community of the Saints as well (or that for some other reason which God in his infinite wisdom determines), and that Bruce R. McConkie may be correct when he predicts a reinstitution of the “holy practice” of God-sanctioned polygamy around the time of the Second Coming (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., rev. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 577). But we must remain clear that God is under no necessity to do so as part of the restoration of all things. (Cassler, "Polygamy", SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 1 (Spring 2010), note 9)
Also, numerous biblical commentaries note that the chapter break, if there should be any, should occur between Isaiah 4 verses 1 and 2. It is generally understood when one looks at the original manuscripts that verse one is supposed to be an extension of the condemnation towards haughty women and the result of war found in Isaiah chapter 3. Many of those commentaries can be found here.


It is a common assumption by many that plural marriage is obviously in heaven because there are much more women than men. Scientific studies of human demographics would beg to differ. Quoting V.H. Cassler, again:

Approximately 106 male babies are born on earth for every 100 female babies born. [20]  More males have existed on earth than females.  Yet by age five, the sex ratio is about 1:1, for male babies are more susceptible to genetic disorders.  Therefore, a large number of males die before the age of accountability and are automatically saved in the celestial kingdom.  Also, male deaths through such mechanisms as the wholesale killing of male children by an enemy power (e.g., in Moses’ time and in Jesus’ time), or males laying down their lives in righteous defense of family and homeland also increases the pool of males eligible for the celestial kingdom.  Using established demographic procedures, several  BYU sociologists declare in perhaps only a partially tongue-in-cheek essay that they can demonstrate there will be more males in the celestial kingdom than females! (Cassler, "Polygamy", SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 1 (Spring 2010))
Other sources confirm this idea that men outnumber women. A simple google search quickly shows this.


In order to understand, our paradigm about 'eternal families' might have a need to be adjusted. Firstly, it is explained, in my opinion, fairly clear in scripture that polygamy was an 'Abrahamic Sacrifice'. The Lord compares polygamy to Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac in D&C 132:34-36.

God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.
Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.
Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.

What does this mean? For me, it makes the idea of monogamy being the heavenly standard even more scripturally consistent. For example, killing is absolutely abhorred by the Lord in scripture. The comparing the commandment to practice polygamy to that of Abraham sacrificing his son puts polygamy in the same category as killing. This is consistent with Jacob's wording in Jacob chapter 2 where he warns of a "sore curse" and "destruction" for those who practice unsanctioned polygamy.

What purpose did polygamy serve then? It is my opinion that the Abrahamic Sacrifice of plural marriage allowed a wide proliferation of temple blessings to the Saints. It purified their hearts and showed them to be worthy of a wider spreading of what is called the "fulness of the priesthood". You won't find any official statement on that, but that is personally my opinion.

Why do we need to restructure our understanding of eternal families? And, what does it have to do with polygamy? This interesting statement from an official church manual is refreshing:

When a man and a woman are married in the temple for time and all eternity and then separate, the children will go with the parent who is justified and who has kept the covenants.  If neither of them has kept his covenants, the children may be taken away from both of them and given to somebody else and that would be by virtue of being born under the covenant.  A child is not to be sealed the second time when born under the covenant, but by virtue of that birthright can be transferred. (Questions Frequently Asked About the Temple and the Endowment (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 10)
This all suggests that what is most important in our sealings to our families is to be born or sealed under the covenant. What covenant is it speaking about?...

The everlasting covenant which was made in the pre-earth life to provide the plan of redemption for all mankind. This allows people to be sealed into the family of Adam. Our families are simply the method used, along with the sealing ordinances, to bring all of God's children back underneath that covenant. This is not to downplay the beauty of eternal families, but it does allow us to view sealings in a light that helps make sense of polygamy. It also helps us make sense of the strange practice that still exists in the church that allows men to be sealed, again, to another woman after his previous wife has passed away.

In sweet summation, plural marriages served not only as Abrahamic sacrifice and testing, but it allowed many faithful women to be sealed under the covenant. The men they were sealed to should be regarded as a proxy until further light and knowledge are revealed. The same goes for men who are sealed again due to the death of a previous spouse.

I hope this article sheds light on a very mysterious and culturally destructive belief. There are great resources on this topic. They can be found below:


  1. I'm not an Isaiah expert but I have read it many times and you are completely correct that the first verse of Chapter 4 belongs with chapter 3. An example is Donald Parry in his book "Harmonizing Isaiah" which is really his translation of Isaiah puts it with chapter 3.


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