I met Sophie* more than two years ago because of our shared interest in home birth.
I never told her my marital status.
It wasn’t relevant to a relationship.
She was interested in my head covering, so it was a point of conversation which led to sharing somewhat of my beliefs. I shared what we did with Biblical feasts and what, in the context of Mormonism, I have come to believe about them. Sophie was very interested in my points of view regarding religious and spiritual matters, and we had shared child birthing, feeding, and rearing points of view.
I wanted to go over to her home often, but life is just busy, and my plan to teach her how to make challah never got off the ground.
When our Chanukah party came up, and we had a Facebook invite list, I was mentally going through who I wanted to come to it and Sophie popped into my brain.
So, not really thinking about it beyond sharing our feast with her, I sent an invitation via Facebook and she responded positively.
I wasn’t really sure how to confront the polygamy issue, so I decided to wait until she was actually there and tell her face to face on my porch. I’m kind of in a place of just telling people when they are in circumstances that will lead them to find out anyway. It’s probably not the safest but it gives absolute clarity on where they stand, and I get to do it in a take-it-to-the-front format.
However, two hours before the party began, right in the middle of preparations, I got a phone call from my son who happened to be in town. I hadn’t seen him for 9 months. He is in the Army and been deployed to Afghanistan. I really, really want to maintain this relationship for many reasons, but it’s kind of been on sketchy, tenuous threads and definitely on his terms. So I opted to leave the party preparations, visit him, and get back as soon as I reasonably could.
Well, I didn’t give the heads up to Joshua and Charlotte because I thought I could get back early to take care of disclosure.
That didn’t work out.
I got a text from Sophie, asking for the address and I gave it to her.
As time ran later, I began to worry about getting back on time but there wasn’t a definitive point to leave and I finally just said that I needed to leave. I got in my car and checked my messages.
Imagine my absolute relief when the last text message appeared on my screen.
I was floored. There are literally less than a handful of people who have reacted positively upon immediate disclosure. Sophie made #5.
So, I bawled my way home and walked into a huge hug from Sophie and a bunch of laughter and just absolute happiness about how it all went down.
Everyone at the party stopped talking and watched to see what would happen next. They all knew Joshua and I are not siblings, and they were curious to see how our new acquaintance would take the shocking news of real-life, in-your-face polygamy.
Just minutes earlier Joshua and I had met Sophie* for the first time and were getting to know her and her family. Melissa was supposed to have been there to make introductions, but a phone call had unexpectedly pulled her away from our Chanukah party before Sophie arrived. Melissa had texted Sophie telling her she would be gone and to “look for Joshua and Charlotte”.
So there we were, just chatting away. Joshua and Sophie made the connection that they both used to live in the south. She and I talked about Jewish feasts, home childbirth, and extended breastfeeding. Sophie said to Joshua, “This is a nice area! How long have you lived here?” He wasn’t sure how to answer because Melissa and I currently live in the same house, but we moved in 2 years apart. So which date should be given as his answer? I think he said, “Well, Melissa moved here in June, but we’ve owned the house for 2 years.” Sophie followed up, “So, were you renting it out in the meantime or something?” Awkward.
I started to realize that Sophie didn’t know that her friend Melissa was a plural wife, and that it wasn’t going to be Melissa that broke the news to her. At the same time, Sophie was trying to sort out what exactly my connection to Melissa was.
She gestured to Joshua and me, “So, are you two brother and sister?” That was the moment when our conversation got interesting to the rest of our party guests. All faces in the room turned to us as I tried to decide how to answer.
Our polygamy is not a secret (anymore), and we don’t lie about it, but we also don’t announce it everywhere we go. We like to tell people when it comes up naturally (altho, for various reasons, we occasionally make a point of going out of our way to tell someone). The awkwardness was simply the fact that it was Melissa’s friend, not my own, who asked the question.
I looked at Joshua and said, “She doesn’t know!” He gave me a knowing nod and I said, “And it’s up to me to tell her?” He laughed and said, “I guess so!”
I turned back to Sophie and said with a smile, “No.”
She said, “Oh, I noticed from the Facebook event invitation that you all have the same last name. Are you Melissa’s sister?”
The confusion was setting in. It was time for the truth to be told. I simply said, “No. Melissa and I are both married to Joshua.”
Then we all waited. We have had so many different reactions when people learn we are polygamists; we never know what we’re going to get.
I was pretty surprised when Sophie got excited and spoke with a voice punctuated by exclamation points. “Oh! I had no idea Melissa was a polygamist! I love polygamy! That’s great! Are you guys Mormon? I wish the LDS Church still practiced polygamy!”
Our long-time friend Hugh* butted in on the conversation and teasingly said to Sophie, “Stop encouraging them!” I bantered back by telling Joshua to spit in his food.
“I have so many questions for you!” Sophie went on. And she really did. She was interested and positive and was a good listener. Her response was amazingly supportive.
That moment of truth, that moment when an acquaintance learns about the polygamy, is bound to make or break a budding relationship. Some of my friendships have ended over the issue of polygamy; other potential friendships have never really gotten off the ground. Quite frankly, it could just as easily be a non-issue: I’m happy to be friends with people who are single, monogamous, or polygamous — why do so many people care which I am? There’s a lot more to me than the fact that my husband has another wife. I am grateful for those people in my life who haven’t let my polygamy get in the way of knowing me personally.
And when Jesus was come into the temple, the high priests and the elders of the church came unto him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority do you do these things?”, and, “who gave you this authority?”
Jesus answered them, “Tell me what you think? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go find yourself a wife, and make an eternal family.’
The first son said, ‘I’m not interested.’ Nevertheless, he eventually did find a wife, but they were not married in the temple. And yet he loved and cherished her like a treasure, and worked hard to lead their growing family, and to provide for all her needs. She likewise loved and honored him as her husband, and was a devoted and supporting wife.
Then the man came to the second son, and told him likewise to, ‘find yourself a wife, and make an eternal family.’
And he answered and said, ‘I will sir.’ He found a woman, and married her in the temple – a fact that he was always very proud of. By and by he began to neglect and abuse her, and she him. They insulted rather than complimented one another, they were always on the lookout to find fault and to take offense, they never apologized or reconciled, and they were secretly glad when something bad happened to the other. They were miserable, but still took pride in the fact that they were married by the proper authority.”
When Jesus was finished he asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”
It was actually harder for them to answer than you might realize, but eventually one elder, wiser than the rest, replied, “The first.”
Then Jesus said unto them, “Truly I say unto you, that the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”
It will be good now to make a distinction between marriage and sealing. They are different, but not in the sense that they are two similar but different sorts of contracts (or covenants, or relationships) between people. Nor are they different as if they were alternatives to one another. If you have been in the LDS Church a while, you likely have heard people say things like, “People outside the Church have marriages, but we have sealings.” Or perhaps, “In the temple you don’t get married, you get sealed.” Or something else along those lines. They speak of sealing as if it were a different and advanced form of marriage, or a higher type of relationship.
Sealing is not different than marriage in this sense; rather, it is in addition to it. A “sealing” is not a type of relationship. I will go a little farther and say, there is no “sealing” of one person to another where there is no relationship between the parties. Our language is very sloppy. One person does not get sealed to another. As I will show in this post, it is the relationship that is sealed. Sealing is not a stronger kind of marriage; the marriage is the thing that is sealed.
But we must back up a little first. You see, marriage was always intended to be eternal.
In the New Testament we have recorded an instance where some Pharisees came to Jesus and asked him about divorce. We have Jesus’ answer to them recorded:
Matthew 19:4-6 “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
So it’s not just the Mormons! Even the Catholics and Protestants, who perform marriages “until death”, believe that marriage, at least originally, was intended to be eternal.
Our first parents came to this earth as immortal souls, with bodies of flesh and bone, and while in this state of immortality, Moses records that they were Man and Wife – they were married! They had been joined together by God. If they had remained in the garden they would seemingly have remained wed forever. Thus, the original intent was always an eternal union – an eternal family.
Even upon their expulsion from the garden, there is no indication that the change from immortality to mortality brought a severance of their marriage. They were still Man and Wife. Nor is there any indication that their transition to the next world by death brought any sort of severance of that relationship. Thus the words of Jesus (Matthew 19:6):
“What therefore God hath joined together,
let not man put asunder.”
Alright then, marriage is supposed to be permanent, and sealing has something to do with that, what then is the meaning of the word, “seal”? And how are we to understand it?
I have heard several different analogies given to describe this concept, maybe you too have heard it explained in one of these ways. One is that sealing is like canning food. When you can peaches, for example, you “seal” them in a jar. Thus, the peaches are preserved, and this is similar to the way a marriage is preserved for eternity. Well, this is interesting, and perhaps there are some things to learn there, but this is not quite right.
Another way to think about it, is pipes, or machine parts, with a gasket between them, and sealing compound, so that the joint is “sealed”. In this way, nothing can leak out; nothing is lost. This is also an interesting analogy, but is still not quite it.
A third way to think about sealing is like “sealing” an envelope. The two sides are stuck together, there is glue between them, and nothing can get in between them or pull them apart. This is probably the most common cultural understanding among Mormons that believe in the concept of sealing which I am describing. It is like a divine glue that sticks one person to another. It is the idea that Joseph Smith had people sealed to him so that he could drag them along to heaven with him. They were stuck to him you see, so they had to be with him wherever he went. What a tacky idea. Sealing does not mean that someone is stuck to you like glue. This idea is not right either.
As I said before, sealing has to do with relationships. It is not the people that are sealed together, it is the relationship that is sealed, and this is an important distinction.
So, in what sense then aught we to understand the word, “sealed”? I have here the definition of the word as found in the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language:
SEALED: Furnished with a seal; fastened with a seal; confirmed; closed.
Ah, this is the correct understanding of the word. Let us now read a little farther to discover the definition of, “seal”. Here it is (also from the Webster’s 1828):
SEAL, noun [L. sigillum.]:
A piece of metal or other hard substance, usually round or oval, on which is engraved some image or device, and sometimes a legend or inscription. This is used by individuals, corporate bodies and states, for making impressions on wax upon instruments of writing (a.k.a. documents), as an evidence of their authenticity….
The wax set to an instrument (a.k.a. document), and impressed or stamped with a seal…
The wax or wafer that makes fast a letter or other paper.
Any act of confirmation.
That which confirms, ratifies or makes stable; assurance. 2 Timothy 2:19.
That which effectually shuts, confines or secures; that which makes fast. Revelation 20:3.
To fasten with a seal; to attach together with a wafer or with wax; as, to seal a letter.
To set or affix a seal as a mark of authenticity; as, to seal a deed. Hence,
To confirm; to ratify; to establish.
There are a few other definitions but this will suffice, and this is the correct sense of the word. We ought to understand it in the same sense as a, “Seal of Approval”, or “Stamp of Approval“.
Here are several examples of documents that have seals on them:
A US issued passport with the Seal of the United States of America.
A US dollar bill with the seal of the Federal Reserve, and the US treasury, and also the Great Seal of the United States of America.
My Driver License with the seal of the State of Utah.
My diploma with the seal of the University of California.
My daughter’s birth certificate stamped with the seal of the State of California.
In every case, the purpose of the seal on these documents is to show their validity, and authenticity. You could contact the State of California and they would tell you that my daughter’s birth certificate is valid, it was issued by them, and they will vouch for its authenticity.
The dollar bill has the seal of the United States on it, and it is a valid currency, but what would happen to this money if the United States collapsed and went away? It may well become worthless then, because the authority that issued it, and placed its seal upon it, would be gone. Or, what would happen to my Driver License if the State of Utah seceded from the Union and became the Independent Nation of Deseret? Of course, my license would become invalid. True, they may grant me some sort of grace period, but I would ultimately have to get a new license issued by the new authority – or else stop driving.
All things that exist, will exist for as long as the power that upholds them. This is very clearly expressed in section 132 as well:
D&C 132:7 “And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise… are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.”
Notice, it is the relationship that is sealed! It is the covenant, contract, association, connection, etc. which is sealed. Whatever it is that has God’s seal on it, also has his approval. It means that God has placed his stamp upon that thing, that he claims and supports that thing as his, that he will preserve and protect that thing, and that he will vouch for its authenticity. Jumping to verse 13:
D&C 132:13-14 “And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God. For whatsoever things remain are by me; and whatsoever things are not by me shall be shaken and destroyed.”
In other words, all things are upheld for as long as the power which upholds them remains. Who then seals? And by what power are eternal, sealed relationships upheld? Ultimately, it is by the power of God’s One Anointed. And who is that? The Anointed in Hebrew is Messiah; in Greek it is Christ. He is Jesus.
People, relationships, and things may be sealed (or approved) by men, and even by the devil:
Alma 34:35 “For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.”
And people, relationships, and things may be sealed (or approved) by God:
Mosiah 5:15 “Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.”
However, everything ordained by men, or by Satan, will ultimately crumble and will not be upheld (D&C 132:13) at the last day.
Alma 30:60 “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.”
In contrast, whatever God has placed his stamp, his approval, or seal, upon will be preserved. He claims it as his, he seals it as his, and he will uphold it (D&C 132:14).
Ecclesiastes 3:14 “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it.”
If you want your marriage to have God’s stamp of approval upon it, if you want your marriage sealed, then here is my simple advice to you: Make your relationship the kind that God would want to preserve in Heaven, because he finds that it is a small piece of Heaven already. Keep the covenants you have made with each other, and with God. Remain faithful thru both the difficult times and the good.
If your marriage has been neglected, then do what needs to be done to remedy it. Swallow your pride, seek after God to help you first become what you should be, and second to help your marriage become what it should be.
We have probably all caught glimpses of Heaven on Earth at times. Moments when our peace and satisfaction with life and our relationships seem full to the brim and overflowing. And yet, we are very often our own worst saboteurs. When the seeds of Heaven have been cast upon our lives, and upon our relationships, we so easily, and carelessly, let the thorns grow unchecked until they choke the sprouting seeds, or we uproot the tender plants ourselves, just so we can check to see whether they are growing or not.
God will sow the seeds of Heaven on all types of soil. He is very generous and merciful in that way. But we must nourish and protect the seeds in order for them to produce fruit to harvest. Some will return thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, and some an hundredfold.
In my post about the social/legal side of marriage I said that I would write a future post about the spiritual aspects of marriage. In particular, I am going to give some thoughts on the Mormon concept of “sealing”. I realize this might not be interesting to all readers, but it is an essential concept for understanding the full import of Mormon polygamy.
The words that follow are adaptations of the words I prepared for a marriage rededication ceremony for some friends of mine. Just to give a little of the back story, I will repeat the beginning of my previous post:
A few years ago (November 2015) some friends of mine decided to rededicate their marriage. They threw a big party and asked if I would “officiate” at their ceremony. It was a relatively informal event; I said a few words, and they renewed their vows with each other. It was a beautiful thing, but the reason they were doing it was a bit disappointing. You see, they had just left the LDS Church (the reason why is unimportant to this post), and the validity of their Church marriage (specifically their sealing – more about this later) was being called into question by some of their acquaintances. This is sadly not an uncommon occurrence. When the Church kicked us out we had the same experience. Concerns were expressed to us that we had broken our covenants and now we were adulterers, had lost all our blessings, no longer had the Holy Ghost with us, etc.
My friends were not polygamists (never have been and never want to be), but many of the things I said will have obvious application to marriage in general. Here we go.
To express it briefly, sealing is all about a continuation of the family relationships that are formed in mortality. The hope is that those relationships which have been sealed will have the power to extend beyond this life, and into eternity, or in other words, that the covenants involved in family life will continue indefinitely.
The belief is that there is something essential about human familial interaction that can be preserved and endure forever – if it is worth preserving (that is, if it is Heavenly). While it is true that we may not know the exact details of Heavenly life, we believe that earthly life can be made to mirror Heaven in some respects, that earth can be made a little piece of Heaven, that the Kingdom of God can be within us, and among us, and that we can be personally (and as a family and even as a community) fashioned and made fit for Heaven as clay in a potter’s hand.
If you had to guess which one heaven was more like, a Church or a Family, which would you say? I would say that Heaven is more like a Family than a Church. In fact I would say that it was like one family in particular: The family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact Jesus calls Heaven, “Abraham’s bosom“. Those who enter are said to, “sit down” with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And all the faithful who are Christ’s will be part of that family. Whether natural branches or adopted in, they will be the seed of Abraham.
The structure of this family looks like this; there are 3 patriarchs at the head (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), below them are the 12 tribes (the sons of Jacob), next are the 70 descendants of Israel that entered into Egypt (which is symbolic of the world), finally there is the mixed multitude of their descendants and others who have joined them in their journey to the Promised Land. This structure is very similar to the hierarchical structure of the Church with it’s Presidency (3), Apostles (12), 70s, and members.
But here is the question: is Abraham’s family supposed to be reminding us that the Church is the real thing to be a part of, or is the Church supposed to be reminding us that Abraham’s Family is the real thing to be a part of? Well, I’ll give you a hint; Jesus never refers to Heaven as Russell’s bosom.
For Elder Parley P. Pratt, a knowledge of this doctrine of an eternal, heavenly family deepened his love for his own family:
“It was at this time that I received from him the first idea of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes, in those inexpressibly endearing relationships which none but the highly intellectual, the refined and pure in heart, know how to prize, and which are at the foundation of everything worthy to be called happiness. . Till then I had learned to esteem kindred affections and sympathies as appertaining solely to this transitory state, as something from which my heart must be entirely weaned, in order to be fitted for its heavenly state. . It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter. . It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore.… . I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling, which would lift my soul from the transitory things of this grovelling sphere and expand it as the ocean.… In short, I could now love with the spirit and with the understanding also.” – Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 297–298
For those who love and cherish their families, and spouses, it would not fully be Heaven without them. Mark Twain expressed it very well in, Eve’s Diary. The final words of that story are Adam’s description of his beloved Eve:
“Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.”
Mormons get too wrapped up in authority. They argue with everyone about it. They even argue among themselves about it. For many of them it seems that authority, for all the reverence they give it, is their religion, and this sometimes leads them to say foolish things. Things like, “Plural marriage without the proper authority is sin.” or, “Unauthorized polygamy is adultery.” or, “Polygamy will damn those who practice it, unless their unions have been authorized by the One Man who holds all the authority (keys)”.
I’ll say a little more about authority in the next installment of this post, but for now I’d just like to point out that in section 132 the Lord mentions three separate cases where a man and woman can make a covenant with each other (these cases are in verses 15, 18, 19). In every case mentioned, the covenant is between the man and the woman, or between the man, the woman, and God. There are no mentions made of government officials, state approval, judges, magistrates, or licenses, nor priests, bishops, elders or other clergy. Furthermore, in every case, no matter how it is done, the Lord calls it “Marriage”, and marriage is always honorable.
And yet, a marriage union has both civil and religious recognition and ramifications. This is because marriage is fundamental both to our society here as well as in Heaven. In D&C 130:2 we read,
“And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”
Indeed, there is something potentially eternal about our relationships. Hopefully, we will treat them that way.
I have witnessed many, and sometimes heated, debates about the status of polygamy in God’s eyes. The variations in position cover the following range of beliefs:
It is an abhorrent adulterous abomination to God, and always has been.
It is an adulterous abomination, but only presently, and has been allowed or commanded in the past (this is the view currently held by the LDS Church).
It is technically allowed (or tolerated) by God, but is not considered ideal (this view is held by some Christians, Martin Luther for example).
It is not only allowed, but also considered equally favored by God in comparison with monogamy (this view is held by some in the Hebrew Roots movement).
It is always a positive commandment of the Lord (altho it has been withheld from the wicked), it is favored above monogamy, and living it brings the highest possible blessings (this view is held by the various fundamentalist Mormons).
Of course, there are many variations and gradations of these positions, I am sure, and I apologize if I have missed anyone’s particularly favorite view point. There is at least one additional position not listed, which I will unfold in this post. But first, let’s look at some often misunderstood (and criticized) verses of Mormon scripture:
D&C 132:34-35 “God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law…Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.”
Why is this particular passage so often misunderstood and criticized? On its surface it is really quite simple; anyone reading the account in Genesis about Hagar will see in a moment that Abram takes Hagar to be his wife at Sarai’s urging, while God seems to be silent in the moment.
Genesis 16:1-3 “Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.”
The Bible says it was Sarai’s idea; section 132 says it was to fulfill God’s command. Section 132 says it was to fulfill “the law”; the Bible makes no mention of any law being followed. Therefore, section 132 contradicts the Bible, therefore section 132 is false. QED. If only the world were so simple.
Of course there are many other objections to section 132, and I will get to some of them in future posts, but for now I will stick to this objection. Actually, this objection often goes further to say that God never commanded polygamy; not in Abraham’s case and not in any other case either.
The truth about polygamy in the Bible is neither as bleak as the detractors hope for, nor as rosy as the Fundamentalists would like.
While it is true that polygamy was never commanded in a general sense in the Bible, there are several instances where it is most certainly commanded in a limited sense. First we have the levirate marriage situation:
Deuteronomy 25:5-6 “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.”
This command is general in that the marital status of the next brother is not a factor at all. In other words, this command may result in polygamy if the next of kin is already married; he will still be required to add his deceased brother’s wife to his family, and to provide an heir for his brother’s house by having children with her. Certainly, this would not result in polygamy in every instance (for example, if the next of kin were single, widowed, or divorced), but it would amount to commanded polygamy otherwise.
Next we have the case of premarital sex between a man and an eligible woman.
Exodus 22:6 “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.”
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.”
As in the previous case, there is no mention made whatsoever of the marital status of the man (only of the woman). Like the previous example, this command would not always result in a polygamous union, but in cases where the man were already married it certainly could. Both of these laws are made to protect the woman, and to prevent her from being abused, either by tragic circumstances or by unscrupulous men.
So there we have two cases where polygamy may be commanded in certain situations. However, neither of these applies to Abraham and Hagar (altho you might argue that the second case applies). How then can section 132 claim that Abraham took Hagar as wife in order to fulfill the law and command of Yehovah? One solution is to simply believe that the command was given but was unrecorded. This is certainly a possibility, but I don’t think it is necessary to believe this in order to harmonize the verses.
A third case where polygamy might be commanded was in the case of infertility, and this certainly was the case for Abraham and Sarah. Among the first commandments given to man by God was the command to multiply and replenish the earth. As strange as this may sound at first, this commandment was for the men only. Some of the ancient rabbis taught that the command to have children wasn’t necessary for women, since they were seemingly hardwired to want that anyway. Of course the men need the women in order to fulfill this command; nevertheless, it was the men’s responsibility to fulfill, and this has always been the Jewish understanding of the matter. How can this be so?
Genesis 9:1, 7-9 “And God blessed Noahand his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying,And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;”
Here God is speaking to Noah and his sons only (and to all the future sons of Noah). Here is another example in Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel:
Genesis 35:10-11 “And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob:…And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;”
Here’s another interesting one:
Psalm 127:3-5 “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them…”
Polygamy can allow a man to have a larger family than he could with a single wife. Of course, there are some women that are capable of handling a large family on their own. I am in no way discrediting this; indeed I admire this, but not all women have the same threshold for children (whether biological or psychological), and this will vary widely from woman to woman. Some would be happy to have a dozen or more while others would rather have none, or want some but are unable. I personally came from a family of 7 children (I am the eldest), and while I certainly would not want to send myself or any of my siblings back, it ended up being too many for my mother (if you asked her, she would not have wanted to send any of us back either). She suffered multiple mental breakdowns and institutionalizations during the latter part of her life. As a result, she had relatively little to do with the raising of my youngest siblings. My father was happy with 7, and my mother was too (if you asked her), she just might have been happier with 4 or 5.
Despite all that, the obvious objection to this view of the commandment is to point to the case of Adam and Eve:
Genesis 1:27-28 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
The Jewish understanding of these verses looks at the entire injunction, rather than isolating the multiplying and replenishing part only. God also says to subdue the earth and to have dominion over it, and over everything on it. These are largely male activities; which gives us a clue as to who was being addressed. Of course Eve was to be Adam’s help in fulfilling all these things, but the ultimate responsibility was on Adam’s shoulders. Here is a verse that illustrates the Hebrew view of the dominion that was enjoined upon man:
Psalm 8:4-6 “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:”
Here then is a third situation in which polygamy was commanded in the Bible. If a man had an infertile wife (and the large majority of infertility problems stem from the female), then he ought to seek another wife in addition to his first in order to keep the law and responsibility placed upon him to multiply and replenish the earth. The commonly understood length of time is 10 years of infertility (this is the rabbinical tradition), but might be any reasonable length of time. After this time the couple ought to be looking for another wife if they are serious about keeping the injunction to multiply. This is not to say that another wife could not be added before this time, or for another reason, but that after this time has elapsed the responsibility becomes more serious.
For many modern Jews, the option of polygamy has been made unavailable to them by the decree of Rabbi Gershom in the year 1000 A.D. (or thereabout). This rabbinical decree made polygamy unlawful in the Diaspora (and also made it illegal to snoop by opening other people’s mail). There is some controversy about this ban and when it may have expired etc.; however, the general practice among Jews is to continue this ban out of tradition. Unfortunately, this means that a modern Jewish man in this situation may have to think about divorce in order to fulfill his duty to procreate, and among Jews this is seen as a justifiable reason to seek a divorce. Not that divorce is required by the rabbis, only that it is justified. Still, I think it is a very sad state of things for those in this unfortunate situation. it would be much better if they would just embrace the law that was already given them, rather than encumbering it with traditions of the elders.
Abraham was promised by Yehovah that his seed would be both numerous, and also a blessing to the whole world.
Genesis 22:17-18 “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;”
This is the law and commandment which God had given to Abraham, and to all other men as well. Even if God did not single out Hagar by name as Abraham’s next wife, it would still be perfectly correct to say that Abraham and Sarah were keeping the law and God’s command by adding Hagar to their family.
Let me put it another way. If the verses in section 132 were talking about marriage in general (and not about polygamy specifically), and had said something like this instead:
“God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave herself to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law…Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.”
No one would probably complain (because monogamy isn’t controversial), even tho the Bible doesn’t explicitly say this anywhere – God did not directly command Abraham to marry Sarah by name. Hopefully it would be easy to see that Abram married Sarai because it is God’s law to marry and reproduce (it is not good for man to be alone and all that jazz). Who knows, this may have also been Sarah’s idea. Regardless, it is the command of God for men to find a willing and eligible woman, get married to her, and attempt to reproduce. In other words, a similar argument can be made in support of Abraham’s monogamy as in support of his polygamy. In both cases he was seeking to fulfill God’s law and command. In so doing Abraham was blessed, and the promises were fulfilled.
D&C 132:30,34 “Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins…and as touching Abraham and his seed…both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them…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.”
This then illustrates an additional view on plural marriage which was not among those listed at the beginning of this post: It is a form of marriage which is always honored by God if it is lived in a righteous manner (the same can be said of monogamy), and is sometimes commanded, but not necessarily for everyone in every situation. I do believe there is freedom in these things; most people are not required to live polygamy, but anyone may if they choose. However, there are times when it positively must be lived, and, like every other law of God, it is a law which ought to be kept when God’s word requires it of us.
In a previous post, I promised to elaborate some more on Adultery. It is among the dirtiest of words in the English language. It conjures up thoughts of the most serious kind of betrayal. There is perhaps no more serious a crime than the treachery of betrayed trust. Indeed, Dante places it at the very bottom of the pit – the 9th and very lowest circle of Hell. In Genesis 20:9 adultery is referred to as, “[the] great sin“. It is important then that we know what constitutes this great sin.
This is especially true perhaps in the case of polygamists, who are accused of committing this heinous sin by virtue of their marriages. For example, the last paragraph under the entry “Plural Marriage” in the book Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce McConkie, said, “Any who pretend or assume to engage in plural marriage in this day [when the President of the LDS Church has forbidden it], are guilty of gross wickedness. They are living in adultery, have already sold their souls to Satan, and (whether their acts are based in ignorance or lust or both) they will be damned in eternity.” These are strong accusations to make.
First of all, let us establish that God has very clearly commanded,
Exodus 20:14 “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
It is the 7th commandment, and violation of this prohibition brought the most serious of consequences. As for punishment, there is no difference between the sexes, it was to be punished by DEATH for both parties (Leviticus 20:10). Certainly then we would want to know what constitutes this grave sin, so that we may utterly eschew it.
What is adultery? The answer to this question may seem simple, and indeed it is. And yet, the answer may nevertheless still surprise many people. Of course, as God is the author of this law, we ought to consult the scriptures for an answer. But first, let us look at the present usage of the word.
Unfortunately, the modern notions of what constitutes adultery have strayed in a very significant way from the original meaning of the word. Of this grammatical apostasy, some will say that the Biblical definitions of words, such as ‘adultery‘, are not as relevant in these modern times, with our modern understanding, and our modern morality. To this I would reply, that the Bible is the very reason that ‘adultery‘ is even in our vocabulary. It is the Biblical teachings on the matter that are the source of our conceptual understanding of this topic. The Bible is foundational to our notions about the immorality of adultery in the first place. Furthermore, no matter what the modern understanding of a word may be, we must understand the original, Biblical meanings of words in order to understand the Biblical stories, teachings, and commandments. As in all things, context is crucial. Let us be faithful to the word.
Here is the modern definition of adultery from some well-respected dictionaries:
Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person’s current spouse or partner. – Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse. – Oxford Dictionary
Sex between a married man or woman and someone he or she is not married to. – Cambridge Dictionary
Certainly language evolves, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is expected as our world changes. There are constantly new things and new situations that need to be described. Perhaps these definitions wouldn’t bother me so much if they stated that they were strictly modern definitions and that the original meaning of the word was something else. Without this sort of disclaimer, people will interpret ancient occurrences of the word in the incorrect light of a modern definition. Case in point: dictionary.com used to include the biblical definition of adultery on its “adultery” page, but that section was deleted just recently (sometime between March and May of 2017).
Here are some older definitions of the word:
Violation of the marriage bed; a crime, or a civil injury, which introduces, or may introduce, into a family, a spurious offspring. By the laws of Connecticut, the sexual intercourse of any man, with a married woman, is the crime of adultery in both. – Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed.) starts with the modern definition, but then adds:
In some [US] states, however, as was also true under the Roman and Jewish law, this crime is committed only when the woman is married to a third person.
I like the wording of these definitions very much. In the Webster’s 1828, it says that Adultery may introduce spurious offspring into a family; thus, adultery requires the woman to be married (i.e. she is part of a family). To adulterate a thing is to corrupt it by adding something foreign to it – to add or mix something with it that would not normally be mixed with it. To do so is to commit adultery. The adulterer is adding his seed to another man’s wife, and potentially his offspring to another man’s family.
Whether or not adultery has been committed depends exclusively on the marital status of the woman. The marital status of the man has nothing to do with it. He may be married or single, divorced or widowed; it is all inconsequential. Let me be very clear and precise: adultery happens when a married (or betrothed) woman voluntarily has sex with a man who is not her husband (or her betrothed). That is the simple, scriptural meaning of the crime of adultery. This does not mean that only women can commit adultery! Both parties are equally guilty, and the punishment is the same for both.
Let’s compare these common definitions with the definitions from a selection of Bible Dictionaries. As you read these you’ll get the impression that one of these things is not like the other…
Conjugal infidelity. An adulterer was a man who had illicit intercourse with a married or a betrothed woman, and such a woman was an adulteress. – Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897)
Adultery was understood as sexual intercourse between a man and another man’s wife or betrothed woman. Similarly, any act of coition between a married woman and a man who was not her husband was also regarded as adultery. – Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (1996)
The parties to this crime, according to Jewish law, were a married woman and a man who was not her husband. – Smith’s Bible Dictionary (1884)
The unlawful association of men and women. Although generally having reference to illicit activity of married persons, the scripture often does not distinguish between the married and the unmarried. – LDS Bible Dictionary (1979)
A few things stand out to me as I read these definitions. First, I am very pleased with the descriptions given in the first three dictionaries. And yet, with this correct understanding of scripture, it makes me wonder in disbelief, how there can be such a generally vehement opposition to polygamy from the Christian community at large.
The other thing that stands out to me is the LDS definition. It just makes me shake my head. What are they talking about, “the scripture often does not distinguish between the married and the unmarried”?? Every single instance of adultery in the scripture where the marital status of either party is mentioned makes reference to the marriage or betrothal of the woman. Every single one. Here are several examples:
Leviticus 20:10 “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”
Proverbs 2:16-19 “Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth [i.e. her husband] and ignored the covenant she made before God.”
Proverbs 5:3,20 “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil…Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?”
Proverbs 6:26-32 “For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry…But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.”
Jeremiah 29:23 “Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the Lord.”
Ezekiel 16:32 “But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!”
Hosea 3:1 “The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.'”
Hosea 4:13-14 “They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills… your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses [feminine noun] shall commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses [feminine noun] when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.”
Romans 7:2-3 “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth… So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”
In light of this fact (that every instance where marital status is explicitly mentioned in connection with adultery the woman is married to another man), we can use this as a key to understand two other cases of scriptural references. The first case is when adultery is not explicitly mentioned, and second case is where marital status is not explicitly mentioned. Here is an example of the first case:
Genesis 20:2-6,9 “…Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife…and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this. And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?”
No where in these verses is adultery explicitly mentioned, and yet we know this is the sin that both God and Abimelech are speaking of (and the sin which Abimelech was spared from committing) – because of Sarah’s marital status. Abimelech took Sarah with the intention to make her his wife, thinking that she was unmarried. In verse 17 we read that Abimelech was already married, and yet both God and Abimelech knew that what he was planning was with “integrity”.
Here is another example of the first case. What is the difference between these verses in Deuteronomy and this verse in Exodus?
Deuteronomy 22:22 “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman:”
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 “… If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die… so thou shalt put away evil from among you.”
Exodus 22:16 “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.”
The difference between the outcome of these verses is the marital status of the woman. The situations in Deuteronomy are clearly adultery, for the woman is either married or betrothed, and the penalty is correspondingly harsh. The situation in Exodus describes a woman who is neither married nor betrothed, and the consequence is correspondingly light. I don’t know if I would even call this a punishment (altho I did in a previous post for humorous effect). It is also of note that the marital status of the man, in all these verses, is entirely inconsequential. He may be single or married; the consequence is the same either way.
As for the second case, here are some examples where there is no explicit mention of marital status.
However, we must interpret these verses in light of the rest of scripture. By using the term adultery there is an implicit mention of the marital status of the woman. The very word adulteryimplies the woman involved is married (or betrothed) and having sex with a man other than her husband (or her betrothed).
One scripture commonly used to make accusations about polygamy being adulterous is:
Matthew 5:27-28 “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Those making this accusation feebly reason that a man must have lusted after subsequent wives, and is therefore guilty of adultery. However, they condemn themselves as well since the marital status of the man is not mentioned by Jesus. They fail to grasp that by their own understanding of Jesus’ words, an unmarried man looking for a wife is just as guilty as a married man looking for an additional wife.
Indeed, I have known several monogamous people (both men and women) who have wondered whether they are guilty of committing adultery since they have “lusted” after their own spouse. Of course, they are not guilty of anything (in this regard), but there are several problems with their interpretation that led them to this faulty conclusion:
First, even if they were “guilty” of “lusting”, it would not be of adultery; it would be of “adultery in their heart”, which (altho it is still a sin) is not the same thing as committing adultery with your body. Hopefully this is self-evident to every reader and can be left without further discussion.
Second, the word lust is not merely sexual in meaning. Certainly lusts can include sexual desires, but in this context, and in most other contexts in the scriptures, a better term might be covet. Coveting is all about wanting something that is not yours. It is about wanting your neighbor’s things. This saying of Jesus is as much about the 10th commandment as it is about the 7th. He is reaffirming the command, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” (Exodus 20:17), and, “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife” (Deuteronomy 17:21). Coveting your neighbor’s wife is the adultery in the heart that Jesus is referring to.
But how do we know that the woman he is talking about is a married woman? Because he uses the word adultery, and as we have seen, adultery always involves a married woman. This is the third point of common misunderstanding with these verses.
Many common English Bible translations use the potentially ambiguous term, woman, in Jesus’ saying quoted above, but this word is only ambiguous to our modern understandings. Ancient readers knew that the women Jesus was saying not to lust after were other men’s wives.
Reformation Day was last week, and this year my family studied the life and contributions of William Tyndale. The man was a chosen servant in the hand of God, and his contributions to the world are undervalued by a large margin. He is the man who gave God an English voice, and he did a beautiful job at it. Here are those verses in Matthew from Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the New Testament:
If you had some difficulty reading that “English” text, have no fear, here it is with modernized spelling and punctuation:
Ye have heard how it was said to them of old time, thou shalt not commit advoutry [adultery]. But I say unto you, that whosoever eyeth a wife, lusting after her, hath committed advoutry [adultery] with her already in his heart.
Tyndale hit the nail exactly on the head!
Those who make accusations of adultery had better beware of what they do lest they find themselves in violation of the 9th commandment.
Exodus 20:16 “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
Violating this commandment may be more serious than it seems. The Law requires the false accuser to receive the punishment appropriate to the accused crime.
Deuteronomy 19:18-19 “And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.”
In other words, if a person falsely accuses another person of a capital offense, the punishment for the false accuser is also death.
May we all speak with understanding and not with ignorance, and may we be cautious in making accusations of wrongdoing.
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise. – Proverbs 10:19