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The Law of Abraham & the Law of Sarah

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The Law of Abraham:

This Law authorizes polygyny (a.k.a. plural marriage involving one man and multiple women). This is a more accurate term that the more commonly used "polygamy" which can refer to any type of plural marriage.

The LDS recognizes four sacred texts as divinely inspired and authoritative scripture. These are called the "Standard Works." Unfortunately, they give three mutually exclusive teachings about polygyny:

bullet Negative teaching: In the Book of Mormon, God clearly condemns polygyny and the owning of concubines, treating both as abominations which lay curses on the land:

Jacob 2:24 - 29: "Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. 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.  Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes."

This passage is often quoted on anti-Mormon web sites. However, the next verse is generally ignored. It implies that God may command otherwise at any time after the Book of Jacob was written:

Jacob 2:30: "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."

bullet Neutral teaching: Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), eight types of family structures are described without any having being condemned. Some involve concubines and multiple wives. For example, Esau had 3 wives, Jacob: 2, Ashur: 2, Elkanah: 2,  Solomon: 700, Rehaboam: 3, and Abijah had 14.  Ahab, Belshazzar, David, Gideon, Jeholachin, Jehoram, and Joash also had multiple wives. Solomon also had hundreds of concubines. Other Hebrew leaders in the Bible had concubines as well.
bullet Positive teaching: In the Doctrines and Covenants, Section 132, God assigns a positive value to polygyny. He makes a covenant to deal with plural marriage, and threatens both Mormon men and women if they reject polygamy. This revelation was allegedly given to Joseph Smith and recorded on 1843-JUL-12:
bullet God starts by stressing the universality of the covenant, its permanence, and a curse for any who reject it:
bullet 3: "...all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same."
bullet 4: "For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory."
bullet 6: "...he that receiveth a fullness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned....
bullet God reviews the many figures in the Hebrew scriptures who had concubines and/or were involved in plural marriages: Abraham, David, Solomon, Moses and many others.
bullet God commands Joseph Smith's wife, Emma, to follow this commandment or be destroyed.
bullet God introduces the "law of the priesthood": that a man can, with the approval of his first wife, marry one or more other women without committing adultery "...for they belong to him and they are given onto him...":
bullet 61: "....if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else."
bullet 62: "And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified."
bullet However, if a woman, after she is espoused, engages in sex with another man, she is guilty of adultery and is to be destroyed. What is sauce for the gander is definitely not sauce for the goose.

The "law of the priesthood" was taught as an important, foundational practice by the early LDS church. Thus, in 1890, many Mormons found the church's suspension of polygynous marriages to be unacceptable. These members upheld the original revelation given to Joseph Smith and continued their plural marriages, even though it generally meant excommunication from the LDS church. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, mainly centered in Utah, Arizona and British Columbia, was founded as a break-away Mormon sect, and is the main denomination within the LDS Restorationism movement which continues to practice polygyny today -- mainly in Colorado, Utah, British Columbia.

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The Law of Sarah:

The reference to Sarah came from the story of Abraham and Sarai (later renamed Sarah) in the Bible's book of Genesis. Sarai told her husband Abraham to engage in sexual intercourse with her female slave Hagar -- presumably against Hagar's wishes -- in order to conceive children. Being totally lacking in power, Hagar could not refuse what was apparently repeated rapes, until she became pregnant:

Genesis 16:1-4:  "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. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived..." (King James Version)

The Mormon Law of Sarah states that a man's first wife was given the right to consent to, or prohibit, her husband's wishes to marry additional wives. 1 It was derived from one of the sacred Mormon books, the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132. Further, she could select who these additional wives would be.

However, there were serious consequences if a wife refused to consent to additional wives. In Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132:64, God threatens any wife with destruction if she does not consent:

"And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things (plural wives), then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her..." 2

In the next verse, Section 132:65, God states that if the wife does not consent, then she is considered a transgressor, and the husband is exempt from the law of Sarah:

"Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife." 2

So, the Law of Sarah was really a type of Hobson's Choice. 3 It gave the first wife the right of consenting to, or refusing, her husband's request to marry additional wives:

bullet If she consented, then her and her husband's previously monogamous marriage would become polygamous.
bullet If she refused consent, then God would destroy her. Even if she survived, her husband was considered exempted from the Law, and could proceed with the additional marriages. Again, her marriage would become polygamous.

So, in practice, the first wife was expected to humbly accept new wives into the family. She had no power to stop it.

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  1. Marion Strickler, "Marriage of Joseph Smith and Emma Hale,"
  2. "Doctrine and Covenants - Section 132," at:
  3. "Hobson's choice" means to have no choice at all. It was derived from a Mr. Hobson who rented out horses from his stable. A customer could rent any horse that he wished, as long as it was the animal closest to the door.
  4. "Jacob 2," The Book of Mormon, at:

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Copyright 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAR-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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