Polygamy in the Bible

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Roger Patterson writes a well-written piece on polygamy. I don’t understand much what his point is, except to try and demonstrate that God never intended one man to marry two wives. Judging by the amount of content he devoted to trying (unsuccessfully) to unravel LDS doctrine, it appears to be an article designed to convince people that Mormons are weird.

I want to clarify a few points he glides by.

One, he claims that polygamy is outright forbidden in the Bible. This simply isn’t the case. Exodus 21:10 clearly tolerates and anticipates polygamy. That scripture alone is enough to throw down the remainder of Patterson’s argument.

The scriptures he later cites do not condemn polygamy outright. In the one case, the Israelite kings are commanded not to multiply their wives, which, as I understand it, means that they shouldn’t have hundreds of wives. In fact, this is what the prophet Jacob in the Book of Mormon was referring to when he said Kings David and Solomon sinned against God—they had too many wives, more than what they were allowed.

In the other case, leaders of the New Testament church were asked not to have more than one wife. Not because it is bad, but because they were leaders of the church and examples to the world. Is this any different than leaders in our church being asked not to grow facial hair? I really wish we could grow beards in the tradition of President Snow (I admire Ken Ham’s beard greatly), but the world frowns on that sort of things and it isn’t really that important anyway. So we don’t do it for fear of alienating people we would not otherwise alienate. not because growing a beard is a sin.

I’ve seen people try to connect King David’s marrying of many wives with sin. The only instance where David sinned is in taking Bethsheba for himself, and then only because he robbed another man of his property. Had Bethsheba been available, and had David followed the law for proper marriage, it appears like there would have been no sin. Otherwise, marrying many wives in clear violation of the “multiply many wives” commandment didn’t seem to be that serious of a sin. If it was, God kept quiet about during his condemnation of David’s adulterous and murderous affair.

Others try to equate what Abraham and Jacob did with sin. In no case can I see the sin on the part of Abraham or Jacob. If these two otherwise perfect men did sin, would the sin be something so grave as adultery, which is second only to murder in extremity? Does God call adulterers to be his representatives on the earth?

If they did sin, where was their condemnation? Where did the Lord call them to the carpet for doing something wrong? Yes, in Abraham’s case, there was discord, and God commanded Abraham to defer to Sarah’s will. That is simply explained because Sarah, in her righteous state, had earned the respect that God gave her, and had a position in the home despite the fact that she was one of two wives. What a great lesson for the modern home! Husbands, listen to your wives, as Abraham was commanded to listen to Sarah!

In both cases, their plural marriage and additional children were a great blessing to them. In Abraham’s case, he is counted as the father of many. many nations, not just Israel because he chose to submit to Sarah and impregnate Hagar. In Jacob’s case, we have the twelve tribes, the twelve groups of people who will bless the entire earth in the last days. This does not sound like the same kind of “blessing” that King David received for committing adultery and murdering an otherwise righteous man—the premature death of his seed and a promise of eternal warfare for his descendants..

The other aspect of the article is Patterson’s naive treatment of LDS doctrine. It is clear that President Woodruff couldn’t change one word of the revelations Joseph Smith received. That would make Joseph Smith a liar, a fraud, a fallen prophet. Or if Joseph was faithful, it would make God a liar and a fraud, or at least the God that Joseph claimed to be a prophet for. Obviously, you can’t go back in time and wipe scriptures out. Jesus said it best: He came to fulfill the law, every bit of it, not to change it or destroy it. Just as Jesus didn’t change one word of Isaiah or Moses, our modern prophets can change no words of any previous prophet. The best they can hope to do is clarify misinterpretation or correct the errors of the scribes over the centuries. The LDS church is bound just as tightly by the Old and New Testaments, as the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. They cannot contradict one another, not in the slightest, or else God is a liar.

The practice of polygamy in the LDS church at the time required that revelation be received from God to permit the marriage, and then consent be gained from the current spouses of the man. Wives could, and did, refuse. Is this any different than what Abraham did with Hagar? Not only did Abraham get permission from God (Abraham did nothing without consulting God first, as we see time and time again in the account of his life), but he was commanded to marry Hagar by his wife.

When President Woodruff announced that polygamy was being done away with, he was making sure everyone knew that in no case would anyone be receiving any revelation from God to continue the practice with absolute authority. There is no way any modern prophet can ever re-open the practice.

We see a parallel in the Book of Mormon. Jacob corrected an error in the practice of polygamy by the Nephites by simply receiving and communicating the commandment that among the Nephites, polygamy was done with and no longer permitted. This was a new revelation, a new commandment. President Woodruff and the prophet Jacob are identical twins in this regard.

This begs the question: If the Old Testament condemns polygamy, why would the Nephites be practicing it? They had the records, and they knew the law. They practiced polygamy because they knew the law permitted it.

Frankly, I’m glad our church had the practice, just like I am glad we no longer do. I’m glad because I was born as a descendant of one the twelve wives of my grandfather Archibald Gardner. If it weren’t for polygamy, I wouldn’t be alive.

Anyone who spends a moment of time examining the life of Archibald Gardner, or any of the righteous polygamists in the LDS church, and the purifying effect plural marriage had on his life, in addition to the vast quantities of blessings he brought down from heaven due to his willingness to sacrifice all the comforts of life he would have otherwise enjoyed to simply and meekly obey the prophet of our God, would have their ideas of polygamy instantly reversed. To me, he is an Abraham of the 19th Century, someone who wrought out with his very lifeblood the faith necessary to earn a spot next to the patriarchs, and who left a mark on history not unlike Abraham’s in terms of the sheer volume of good work he not only did himself, but inspired in others.

I am glad that I will never be called upon to plural marriage. I could not do it. Having one wife and five kids is already too demanding, spiritually and physically. I am scared to learn too much about the practice. I do not ask God about it. I don’t want to know.

AiG does a wonderful job helping people understand that science is not at odds with religion. Unfortunately, it seems a segment of their ministry is devoted to showing the world how bad the Mormons are. I understand that there are deep, theological differences between our two versions of Christianity. On the one hand, the LDS followers believe God is alive today, has called a prophet and speaks his doctrine plainly through him. On the other hand, they believe that God doesn’t have a prophet on the earth, and that he expects us to parse words from the Bible to divine His will, rather than ask the source Himself for clarification.

I will continue to read the material AiG contributes, correcting what I see as errors when they occur, whether it be in science or in their representation of our church. Not because I hate them, but because I love the good work they do, and I love the truth.

I understand that they see themselves as a missionary wing of their branch of Christianity. I hope they understand, however, that their greatest good comes from exposing science for what it really is, and helping people realize that the simple doctrines in the Bible are found in nature as well. That is a ministry I could support. By emphasizing the differences between the LDS church and what they believe, unrelated to doctrines concerning nature and nature’s origins, I feel like all I can do is watch from the sidelines and cheer when they get something right.

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