While the Prophet Joseph Smith was working on the inspired revisions of the Bible in 1831, he asked the Lord for understanding about the ancient patriarchs having more than one wife. At that time the Prophet began to receive revelation in answer to his inquiries. In subsequent years, the Lord commanded the Prophet and other Latter-day Saints to live the principle of plural marriage. In July 1843, while the Church was headquartered in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Prophet recorded the revelation he had received. Doctrine and Covenants 132 addresses the Lord’s teachings regarding plural marriage, including counsel to Joseph and Emma Smith.
Suggestions for Teaching
The Lord reveals the principle of plural marriage
Begin by explaining that while Joseph Smith was working on the inspired translation of the Old Testament in 1831, he read about some of the ancient prophets practicing plural marriage (also called polygamy). Under this practice, one man is married to more than one living wife. The Prophet studied the scriptures, pondered what he learned, and eventually took his questions about plural marriage to Heavenly Father in prayer.
Write Genesis 16:1–3 on the board. Explain that these verses describe the actions of Sarai and Abram, later known as Sarah and Abraham. Invite a student to read these verses aloud. Ask the class to follow along and think about any questions they might have about this event in Abram and Sarai’s life.
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:1 silently, looking for what the Prophet Joseph Smith asked as he studied passages in the Old Testament concerning the practice of plural marriage. Ask students to report what they find. (You may want to explain that the word concubine is a term used to describe women in the Old Testament who, in the time and culture in which they lived, were legally married to a man but had a lower social status than a wife. Concubines were not part of the practice of plural marriage in our dispensation.)
Write the following question on the board: Why would the Lord command righteous men and women to obey the principle of plural marriage at certain times?
Explain that in their study of Doctrine and Covenants 132, students can find answers to the question on the board and other questions they may have concerning plural marriage. Invite them to write down the doctrines and principles they discover during their study today.
Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 132:34–36. Ask the class to follow along, looking for why Abraham and Sarah began to practice plural marriage.
According to verse 34, why did Sarah give Abraham another wife? What does this teach us about the principle of plural marriage? (As students respond, write the following principle on the board: Plural marriage is approved of the Lord only when He commands it.)
What did Sarah and Abraham’s obedience help to fulfill? (The Lord’s promises to Abraham, including the promise that Abraham would have posterity as numerous as the stars [see Genesis 15:5].)
To help students further understand the principle you have written on the board, suggest that they write Jacob 2:27, 30 in their scriptures near Doctrine and Covenants 132:34. Invite a student to read these verses aloud. Point out that monogamy (marriage between one man and one woman) is God’s standard for marriage unless He commands otherwise.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:37–38 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for phrases that describe instances when the Lord commanded the practice of plural marriage. Ask students to report what they find.
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 132:39, 41–43 by explaining that the Lord affirmed that when people practice the principle of plural marriage according to His commandment, they are not guilty of the sin of adultery. However, if anyone practices plural marriage under any circumstances that the Lord does not command, they are guilty of adultery. (Note that the word destroyed in verse 41 indicates that those who violate their sacred covenants will be separated from God and from His covenant people [compare Acts 3:22–23; 1 Nephi 22:20].)
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:40 silently and look for what the Lord said He was going to do.
According to verse 40, what was the Lord going to do? (Restore all things. Explain that “all things” refers to the laws and ordinances of the gospel that had been revealed in previous dispensations. Write the following principle on the board: The commandment to live the law of plural marriage in the latter days was part of the restoration of all things. [See also Acts 3:20–21.])
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:45, 48 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord conferred upon Joseph Smith to bring about the restoration of all things.
What did the Lord confer upon Joseph Smith to bring about the restoration of all things? (The keys and power of the priesthood.)
What do we learn from verses 45 and 48 about plural marriage? (As students respond, write the following principle on the board: Plural marriage can be authorized only through the priesthood keys given to the President of the Church.)
Explain that early in this dispensation, as part of the restoration of all things, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage through the priesthood keys held by the Prophet Joseph Smith and subsequent Presidents of the Church—Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff. In 1890, President Woodruff, acting with those same priesthood keys, received revelation that the practice of plural marriage should end (see Official Declaration 1).
The Lord counsels Joseph and Emma Smith concerning plural marriage
Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith was reluctant to begin the practice of plural marriage. He stated that he did not begin the practice until he was warned that he would be destroyed if he did not obey (see “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record, May 1887, 222). Because of a lack of historical documentation, we do not know about Joseph Smith’s early attempts to comply with the commandment. However, by 1841 the Prophet had begun to obey the commandment and to teach it to some members of the Church, and over the next three years he married additional wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s obedience to the Lord’s commandment to practice plural marriage was a trial of faith for him and his wife Emma, whom he loved dearly.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:49–50 aloud. Ask the class to look for the blessings the Lord promised Joseph Smith.
What blessings did the Lord promise Joseph Smith?
According to verse 50, why did the Lord promise these blessings to Joseph Smith?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:52 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for counsel the Lord gave Emma Smith.
According to verse 52, what was Emma counseled to receive? (“All those that have been given unto my servant Joseph” refers to those who had been sealed to Joseph Smith.)
Explain that in addition to commanding Emma to receive those who had been sealed to her husband, the Lord commanded her to abide in His law and forgive Joseph of his trespasses. Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:56 silently to learn what the Lord promised Emma Smith.
What did the Lord promise Emma if she would obey His commands?
Explain that in 1841, Joseph Smith began to teach other faithful men and women the principle of plural marriage. They also struggled initially to understand and accept this principle. For example, when Brigham Young first learned of the commandment to enter plural marriage, he said that he felt that he would rather die than take plural wives (see Susa Young Gates and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young , 321). Although these faithful Church members were hesitant and frustrated about the command at first, they received individual confirmations through the Holy Ghost and accepted the principle of plural marriage. Vilate Kimball, the first wife of Elder Heber C. Kimball, received and embraced the doctrine of plural marriage and “could not doubt the plural order of marriage was of God, for the Lord had revealed it to her in answer to prayer” (Helen Mar Kimball, in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball , 325; see also pages 326–28).
Practicing plural marriage brought additional challenges. Because the practice was initially kept very quiet, rumors began to spread about Church leaders marrying additional wives. These rumors greatly distorted the truth, slandered the names of the Prophet and other Church leaders, and contributed to increased persecution against the Saints.
Read Doctrine and Covenants 132:63 aloud, beginning with the phrase “for they are given unto him.” Before you read, explain that this verse helps us understand one reason why the Lord commanded Joseph Smith and others to practice plural marriage. Ask the class to follow along, looking for that specific purpose.
What commandment does the Lord refer to in verse 63? (The commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.) What does it mean to multiply and replenish the earth? (To have children.)
Point out the following phrase in verse 63: “for herein is the work of my Father continued.”
How does having children allow parents to be part of the continuing work of Heavenly Father?
As part of this discussion, you may want to read the following statement by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“When a child is born to a husband and wife, they are fulfilling part of our Heavenly Father’s plan to bring children to earth. The Lord said, ‘This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ [Moses 1:39]. Before immortality, there must be mortality” (“Children,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 28).
Based on what you have learned from verse 63, what is one reason why the Lord has at times instituted the practice of plural marriage? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: The Lord has at times instituted plural marriage to provide further opportunities for His people to raise up righteous children unto Him. You may want to refer again to Jacob 2:30.)
Refer to the question you wrote on the board near the beginning of the lesson: Why would the Lord command righteous men and women to obey the principle of plural marriage at certain times? You may want to invite students to summarize for the class what they have learned from their study of Doctrine and Covenants 132 and Jacob 2:27, 30 that helps them to answer this question.
Conclude by sharing your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and that he received and obeyed revelation from God.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 132. How to approach a study of plural marriage
Much unreliable information pertaining to plural marriage exists on the Internet and in many print sources. Be cautious and wise with such information. Some authors who write about the Church and its history present information out of context or include partial truths that can be misleading. The intent of some of these writings is to destroy faith.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles warned:
“There have always been a few who want to discredit the Church and to destroy faith. Today they use the Internet.
“Some of the information about the Church, no matter how convincing, is just not true” (“Trial of Your Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 41).
In studying about plural marriage, it is important to remember the pattern the Prophet Joseph Smith followed in his gospel learning. He studied, pondered, and prayed to gain knowledge.
Doctrine and Covenants 132:1. “The principle and doctrine” of plural marriage
The following accounts help to clarify the feelings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church members when plural marriage was first introduced.
Eliza R. Snow, who was sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, recorded the details of the Prophet Joseph teaching the principle of plural marriage to her brother Lorenzo Snow. She noted the anguish and pain that the principle caused Joseph Smith and that he only moved forward in establishing the principle because of divine revelation:
“The Prophet Joseph unbosomed his heart [to Lorenzo Snow], and described the trying mental ordeal he experienced in overcoming the repugnance of his feelings, the natural result of the force of education and social custom, relative to the introduction of plural marriage. He knew the voice of God—he knew the commandment of the Almighty to him was to go forward—to set the example, and establish Celestial plural marriage. He knew that he had not only his own prejudices and prepossessions to combat and to overcome, but those of the whole Christian world stared him in the face; but God, who is above all, had given the commandment, and He must be obeyed. Yet the Prophet hesitated and deferred from time to time, until an angel of God stood by him with a drawn sword, and told him that, unless he moved forward and established plural marriage, his Priesthood would be taken from him and he should be destroyed! This testimony he not only bore to my brother, but also to others—a testimony that cannot be gainsayed [contradicted]” (Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow , 69–70).
President Brigham Young explained:
“If any man had asked me what was my choice when Joseph revealed that doctrine, provided that it would not diminish my glory, I would have said, ‘let me have but one wife.’ …
“… I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin. …
“… But the saints who live their religion will be exalted, for they never will deny any revelation which the Lord has given or may give, though, when there is a doctrine coming to them which they cannot comprehend fully, they may be found saying, ‘the Lord sendeth this unto me, and I pray that he will save and preserve me from denying anything which proceedeth from him, and give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself’” (in “Provo Conference,” Deseret News, Nov. 14, 1855, 282).
Vilate Kimball, President Heber C. Kimball’s first wife, received a testimony of plural marriage. Her daughter Helen recounted:
“‘My mother often told me that she could not doubt the plural order of marriage was of God, for the Lord had revealed it to her in answer to prayer.
“‘In Nauvoo, shortly after his return from England, my father, among others of his brethren, was taught the plural wife doctrine. …
“‘My father realized the situation fully, and the love and reverence he bore for the Prophet were so great that he would sooner have laid down his life than have betrayed him. This was one of the greatest tests of his faith he had ever experienced. …
“‘My mother [Vilate Kimball] had noticed a change in his manner and appearance, and when she inquired the cause, he tried to evade her questions. At last he promised he would tell her after a while, if she would only wait. This trouble so worked upon his mind that his anxious and haggard looks betrayed him daily and hourly, and finally his misery became so unbearable that it was impossible to control his feelings. He became sick in body, but his mental wretchedness was too great to allow of his retiring, and he would walk the floor till nearly morning, and sometimes the agony of his mind was so terrible that he would wring his hands and weep like a child, and beseech the Lord to be merciful and reveal to her this principle. …
“‘The anguish of their hearts was indescribable, and when she found it was useless to beseech him longer, she retired to her room and bowed before the Lord and poured out her soul in prayer to Him who hath said: “If any lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” …
“‘Before her was illustrated the order of celestial marriage, in all its beauty and glory, together with the great exaltation and honor it would confer upon her in that immortal and celestial sphere, if she would accept it and stand in her place by her husband’s side. She also saw the woman he had taken to wife, and contemplated with joy the vast and boundless love and union which this order would bring about, as well as the increase of her husband’s kingdoms, and the power and glory extending throughout the eternities, worlds without end.
“‘With a countenance beaming with joy, for she was filled with the Spirit of God, she returned to my father, saying: “Heber, what you kept from me the Lord has shown me.” She told me she never saw so happy a man as father was when she described the vision and told him she was satisfied and knew it was from God.
“‘She covenanted to stand by him and honor the principle, which covenant she faithfully kept, and though her trials were often heavy and grevious to bear, she knew that father was also being tried, and her integrity was unflinching to the end. She gave my father many wives, and they always found in my mother a faithful friend’” (in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball , 325–28).
President John Taylor said of the time when the principle of plural marriage was introduced:
“I had always entertained strict ideas of virtue, and I felt as a married man that this was to me, outside of this principle, an appalling thing to do. … It was a thing calculated to stir up feelings from the innermost depths of the human soul. I had always entertained the strictest regard of chastity. … Hence, with the feelings I had entertained, nothing but a knowledge of God, and the revelations of God, and the truth of them, could have induced me to embrace such a principle as this” (in B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor, Third President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , 100).
Doctrine and Covenants 132:18–20. The eternal nature of marriage
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who remarried after his first wife died, explained in an interview that on the subject of the eternal nature of marriage, we know some things and do not know other things:
“There are a lot of people that live on this earth that have been married to more than one person. Sometimes those marriages have ended with death; sometimes they’ve ended with divorce. What does the next life mean to them in relation to a covenant they once made and so on? I don’t think those people have much of an answer for that question. It might not bother them because they don’t believe that people will live as married couples in the next life. And if they don’t make and live for the covenants to do that, [as for themselves] they’re right! But for people who live in the belief, as I do, that marriage relations can be for eternity, then you must say, ‘What will life be in the next life, when you’re married to more than one wife for eternity?’ I have to say I don’t know. But I know that I’ve made those covenants, and I believe if I am true to the covenants that the blessing that’s anticipated here will be realized in the next life” (in “Elder Oaks Interview Transcript from PBS Documentary,” July 20, 2007, mormonnewsroom.org).
Doctrine and Covenants 132:38–39. David and Uriah
The Lord declared that David sinned in taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. David later orchestrated the death of Uriah to hide his sin. As a result, David fell from his exaltation. The inclusion of David’s example in Doctrine and Covenants 132:38–39 underscores the strict laws governing the practice of plural marriage. Even in times when the Lord instituted this practice and commanded His people to live it, they were required to do so according to His commandments and the direction He gave to His servants who held the necessary priesthood keys.
Doctrine and Covenants 132:51–56. What was Emma Smith commanded not to partake of?
“No indication is given here or elsewhere of what the Lord had commanded the Prophet Joseph to offer to his wife, but the context seems to suggest that it was a special test of faith similar to the test of Abraham’s faith when the Lord commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. Beyond that, it is useless to speculate” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2001], 334).