THE LDS RESTORATIONIST MOVEMENT,
INCLUDING THE MORMON CHURCHES
POLYGYNY IN THE MORMON MOVEMENT:
The Law of Abraham & the Law of Sarah
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
||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
||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.|
||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:|
||God starts by stressing the universality of the covenant, its
permanence, and a curse for any who reject it:|
||3: "...all those who have this law revealed unto
them must obey the same."
||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
||6: "...he that receiveth a fullness thereof must and shall
abide the law, or he shall be damned...."
||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.|
||God commands Joseph Smith's wife, Emma, to follow this
commandment or be destroyed.|
||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...":|
||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."
||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."
||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.
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
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
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..."
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."
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
||If she consented, then her and her husband's previously monogamous
marriage would become polygamous.
||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
So, in practice, the first wife was expected to humbly accept new wives
into the family. She had no power to stop it.
Marion Strickler, "Marriage of Joseph Smith and Emma Hale,"
"Doctrine and Covenants - Section 132," at:
"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.
"Jacob 2," The Book of Mormon, at:
Copyright © 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAR-26
Author: B.A. Robinson