Evidence that Plural Marriage was Practiced in the Book of Mormon


This short essay was written by Ogden Kraut and makes great points defending the thesis that plural marriage was in fact practiced by the righteous of the Book of Mormon.

If any man writes to you, or preaches to you, doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, set him down as an imposter.
–Joseph Smith
Times & Seasons
April 1, 1844

Polygamy not for the Wicked

Unlike the Bible, the Book of Mormon doesn’t say much about plural marriage. Nor did it say much about any of the other higher principles of the Priesthood. This is understandable when you consider that the book was intended for a priestcraft oriented people, blinded by tradition, custom and superstition. A thousand contending Christian churches were leading the people down different and strange paths. The corruptions of their society and failure to learn and obey Priesthood laws denote a people about to be destroyed rather than a people about to be translated or exalted.

Nephi often read the words of Isaiah to his brothers and he told them, “I did liken all scriptures unto us. . . .” (l Nephi 19:23), meaning that he applied those passages to themselves as much as to anyone else. He explained that the judgments of God “come upon all nations.” (2 Nephi 25:3) And when the Savior appeared among the Nephites, He said, “a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.” (3 Nephi 23:1) Among the last words of Mormon was his admonition to “Search the prophecies of Isaiah.” (Mormon 8:23)

It seems rather strange that the Nephites would include in their historical record, the third and fourth chapters of Isaiah, which tell about a war so terrible that six out of seven [78] men would be killed and “seven women shall take hold of one man” to live plural marriage. (2 Nephi 14:1) Then the next verse says, “In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious.” (v. 2) Such an inclusion would certainly encourage them to accept plural marriage as a desired, correct and honorable principle.

But Nephi knew many things he could not reveal to his brothers or other family members. He said, “I was forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard” (l Nephi 14:28), and again, “mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for men; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.” (2 Nephi 4:25) Moroni said he wanted to write more: “I was about to write more, but I am forbidden.” (Ether 13:13) This appeared again and again in the Nephite record. Mormon explained why only a very small part of the Savior’s teachings could be recorded at that time:

And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people;
But behold the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people.
And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken.
And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.
And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation.
Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade [79] it, saying: I will try the faith of my people. (3 Nephi 26:6-11)

If people are too worldly or proud to accept the first principles of the gospel, there is no reason to offer them any more, as Jesus said, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it unto the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)

Thus the Book of Mormon seemed to avoid the subject of plural marriage as much as possible, and even the little that was written was half-hidden in the wording. Many times it would say a man had sons and daughters, and then describing another man it would say he begat many sons and daughters, but it seldom mentioned the exact numbers of children. Had that been the case, plural marriage might have been inferred by those high numbers, as it was in the case of Orihah:

And it came to pass that Orihah did execute judgment upon the land in righteousness all his days, whose days were exceeding many.
And he begat sons and daughters; yea, he begat thirty and one, among whom were twenty and three sons. (Ether 7:1-2)

With 31 children, he had to be a polygamist. And if he was a man of “righteousness all his days” and he had 31 children in polygamy, it must mean that the Lord was not displeased with him or his marriages.

Amulek said as he was journeying to see a “near kindred,” that “an angel of the Lord” appeared unto him and told him about a “chosen man of God”. Amulek was instructed to return and take this “holy man” into his house and care for his needs. He did this and as a result Amulek recorded that Alma “blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk.” (See Alma 10:7-11.)

[80]         Amulek must have been a good man because, first of all he was instructed by an angel of God. He had possibly taken as wives some of the widows left from the many wars, and Alma blessed his wives, or “women” as he called them. Amulek was recognized as a righteous man by God and obviously would have lived righteously with those women.

One of the most faithful men described in the Book of Mormon was the brother of Jared. It is said of him:

And there were many whose faith was so exceeding strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad.
And behold, we have seen in this record that one of these was the brother of Jared; for so great was his faith in God, that when God put forth his finger he could not hide it from the sight of the brother of Jared, because of his word which he had spoken unto him, which word he had obtained by faith. (Ether 12:19-20)

Because of his great faith, “the Lord could not withhold anything from his sight; wherefore he showed him all things, for he could no longer be kept without the veil.” (Ether 12:21) He was so inspired that “the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.” (v. 24) Here was a good man–a man who conducted his life and his family according to the will of the Lord. He was worthy to raise a large family with many wives, which is what must have happened, as we read that “the number of the sons and the daughters of the brother of Jared were twenty and two souls,” (Ether 6:20), indicating that he, too, must have had more than one wife.

Another indication of plural marriage in the Book of Mormon is also recorded in Ether:

[81]                         Wherefore every man did cleave unto that which was his own, with his hands, and would not borrow neither would he lend; and every man kept the hilt of his sword in his right hand, in the defense of his property and his own life and of his wives and children. (Ether 14:2)

This passage is talking of “every man” (singular) and “his property”, but mentions “his wives” (plural).

Just like any principle and doctrine of the Gospel, both the righteous and wicked have been permitted to obey and live them, for whatever reasons–and it is no different with plural marriage. There is the example of Riplakish, a wicked man–

. . . who did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines, and did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes he did build many spacious buildings.
And he did erect him an exceedingly beautiful throne; and he did build many prisons, and whoso would not be subject unto taxes, he did cast into prison; and whoso was not able to pay taxes he did cast into prison; and he did cause that they should labor continually for their support; and whoso refused to labor he did cause to be put to death. (Ether 10:5-6)

Certainly this is enough evidence to show Riplakish was a very wicked man! Yet he “did have many wives and concubines” and “did afflict the people with his whoredoms and abominations.” (v. 5, 7) Because of his free agency, he was entitled to this lifestyle as much as anyone else; but it certainly doesn’t mean he took additional wives because he wanted to obey God and become a more righteous man.

[82]         Along these same lines, King Noah, son of righteous King Zeniff, did not walk in the ways of his father and became corrupted by selfish lusts and vanity. It is said of him:

For behold, he [Noah] did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness. * * *
And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots. (Mosiah 11:2, 14)

The Devil enjoys influencing wicked men to twist and abuse righteous principles, and polygamy seems to be one of his favorite areas, as there are countless cases of those who lived that doctrine unrighteously.

Riplakish and Noah were just two examples of the type of men whom the Lord did not want to live plural marriage; and apparently there were many others during the time of Jacob, Lehi’s son, for he warned the people:

And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it?
Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other. And all flesh is of the dust; and for the selfsame end hath he created them, that they should keep his commandments and glorify him forever.
And now I make an end of speaking unto you concerning this pride. And were it not that I must speak [83] unto you concerning a grosser crime, my heart would rejoice exceedingly because of you.
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.
Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
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.
Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
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;
For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. (Jacob 2:20-28)

The key words here are “among you”–talking of the wicked people he has just been addressing. Why should they be allowed to continue in the abuse of such a holy principle? As verse 23 states, these people were guilty of three serious sins:

1. They were beginning to wax in iniquity.
2. They did not understand the scriptures.
3. They were committing whoredoms (multiplying wives), like David and Solomon.

For these reasons, the Lord wanted them restricted to only one wife and no concubines. Plural marriage must have been practiced among the Nephites before this time or why [84] else would this limitation now be placed on them by the Lord? Because of their actions, the Nephite people, generally speaking, had really become unworthy of even one wife. As Jacob goes on to describe their iniquities, it becomes even more evident why the Lord restricted them to one wife:

Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. (Jacob 2:35)

Except ye repent the land is cursed for your sakes; and the Lamanites, which are not filthy like unto you, nevertheless they are cursed with a sore cursing, shall scourge you even unto destruction. . .
Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our fathers–that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.
And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people. (Jacob 3:3, 5-6)

The Lamanites apparently had also been guilty of abusing the principle of plural marriage and the Lord had already commanded them to have just one wife; but because of their renewed obedience, they would “one day . . . become a blessed people,” indicating their people would once again be righteous enough to live plural marriage. But it was harder to get the Nephites to obey, and because of their disobedience and abuse of plural marriage, they were under greater condemnation.

[85]         But did this instruction of having “one wife” apply to the righteous leaders and people who tried to live close to the Lord and obey all His commandments? Certainly there must have been a few of them scattered throughout the Nephite communities, who felt that instruction did not pertain to them.

Jacob 2, verse 24, referred to David and Solomon’s having “many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me.” We need to remember that when David and Solomon were in good favor with the Lord, He blessed them in every way, which included their wives; but when they apostatized, they were no longer worthy of those good women. David was guilty of murder and adultery, and Solomon took foreign wives which led to further unrighteousness:

Foreign marriages brought foreign religions, and the king compromised the convictions which he had expressed in his dedicatory prayer for the temple (I Kings 8:23, 27) by engaging in syncretistic worship to placate his wives. This violent breach of Israel’s covenant could not go unpunished. (Illus. Bible Dict., vol. 3:1472)

After such sins and “multiplying wives” out of lust, David and Solomon were no longer worthy to live plural marriage or to take additional wives. This is what the scripture is referring to as being “abominable before me.”

With this explanation it becomes a little more clear what Jacob meant when he said:

And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son. (Jacob 1:15)

[86]         Both David and Solomon corrupted themselves, their families and their kingdoms through their immorality. The purpose of plural marriage is to live pure lives and raise up a righteous posterity. They failed to do this and so did the Nephites, and thus they were forbidden from taking plural wives.

It is easy to understand the potential nature of good and evil in all things. For example, a fire can warm a house or burn it down. A gun may provide food for hungry people, or it can kill the people themselves. So it is with plural marriage–it can exalt or destroy. Like any other marriage, it is neither good nor bad in and of itself; its value is determined by the way it is used or abused.

Jacob left the door open for the righteous to live plural marriage when he said:

For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.
For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands. (Jacob 2:30-31)

So apparently it was just as difficult for men to live this principle righteously in those days as it has been in our dispensation. So Jacob issued a type of Manifesto for his time similar to what was declared and accepted in the LDS Church in 1890. Orson Pratt commented:

But because the Lord dealt thus with the small branch of the House of Israel that came to America, under their peculiar circumstances, there are those at the present day who will appeal to this passage in the [87] Book of Mormon as something universally applicable in regard to man’s domestic relations. The same God that commanded one branch of the House of Israel in America, to take but one wife when the numbers of the two sexes were about equal, gave a different command to the hosts of Israel in Palestine. But let us see the qualifying clause given in the Book of Mormon on this subject. After having reminded the people of the commandment delivered by Lehi, in regard to monogamy, the Lord says–“For if I will raise up seed unto me I will command my people, otherwise they shall hearken unto these things;” that is, if I will raise up seed among my people of the House of Israel, I will give them a commandment on the subject, but if I do not give this commandment, they shall hearken to the law which I give unto their father Lehi. That is the meaning of the passage, and this very passage goes to prove that plurality was a principle God did approve under circumstances when it was authorized by Him. (JD 13:191-92, Oct. 7, 1869)

Of course, he is talking here about accepted procedure of the Church, allowing for the fact that there will always be a few who wish to obey eternal principles in or out of the Church.

The Book of Mormon is an amazing book. It is so amazing that it must be true, because truth is stranger than fiction. Unlike fiction, however, it teaches principles, religious themes, history and a vast amount of common sense. It depicts the lives of both good and bad men as descriptively and eloquently as any in the Bible. From such illustrative examples comes a precious understanding of good and evil, and the fruits resulting from each.

Our actions determine our outcome–not merely the beliefs we claim nor what we possess. For instance, gold is neither good nor bad, but its use by either good or bad individuals determines its significance and value. Both good [88] and bad individuals hold government offices, and how they use that power becomes a factor in determining their true worth.

So now we come to the principle of plural marriage. It, too, can be received and lived by both good and bad men and women; it can be righteously practiced or it can be terribly abused. The Book of Mormon gives us important instructions by providing a glimpse into the fateful history of plural marriage. We can learn from the many examples that plural marriage is not a principle to be lived by the wicked, and God will not tolerate His Church in any dispensation to abuse it for long.


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