Plural Marriage & The Parable of the Talents


This essay is being written in response to the appearance of a viewpoint among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints espoused and common to the RLDS or Community of Christ, namely that Joseph Smith did not teach (let alone practice) polygamy. Often promulgated by an inordinate desire to see Joseph Smith as a bastion of post-Catholic, Victorian-era virtues regarding intimacy and romance, this viewpoint has been the renewed product of well intentioned members of the church who have nonetheless erred by inflating their zeal to “defend Joseph” with the air of preconceived and false beliefs concerning what a prophet should look like and what the doctrine of Christ is allowed to address. In a word, they would gladly open the door when Christ knocks until they discover, to their horror, that the door he knocks upon is that of the master bedroom, or mirrored bridal chamber, and that he has sent his servant to knock in His behalf. Here they balk and cry, “Christ we would have received at the front door, but who is this fellow and why does he think to knock at this place? Away with him!”

Continue reading for a defense of Joseph’s teachings, which comprehend the whole of the Bible cover to cover, and come from Christ who sent his servant, Joseph, to restore these things up to the very end of his life.

The Honest Expositor

Sad experience recorded throughout holy writ has taught that those who persecute God’s true servants are nearly universally led to do so in the name of God; the vitriol against true revelation is so frequently the panegyric of orthodoxy; a Judas can only arise from the teacher’s inner circle. Likewise, on Friday the 7th of June, 1844, a group of disaffected friends to Joseph Smith took it upon themselves in the name of Christian decency to publish a newspaper whose aim was to expose Joseph’s deepest doctrines that he reserved only for those few with whom he had entrusted them in secret. A portion of that pretentiously pious print reads as follows:

“Inasmuch as we have for years borne with the individual follies and iniquities of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and many other official characters in the Church of Jesus Christ, (conceiving it a duty incumbent upon us so to bear,) and having labored with them repeatedly with all Christian love, meekness and humility, yet to no effect, feel as if forbearance has ceased to be a virtue, and hope of reformation vain; and inasmuch as they have introduced false and damnable doctrines into the Church, such as a plurality of Gods above the God of this universe, and his liability to fall with all his creations; the plurality of wives, for time and eternity; the doctrine of unconditional sealing up to eternal life, against all crimes except that of shedding innocent blood, by a perversion of their priestly authority, and thereby forfeiting the holy priesthood, according to the word of Jesus; ‘If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered, and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned,’ St. John, xv. 6. ‘Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God, he that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, hath both the Father and the Son; if there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed, for he that biddeth him God speed is a partaker of his evil deeds;’ we therefore are constrained to denounce them as apostates from the pure and holy doctrines of Jesus Christ.”

Four doctrines are found therein that Joseph had taught these brethren in confidence but who had betrayed Joseph’s trust as they were apparently carnally minded—for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God:…they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Those four items were:

  1. The familial nature of man and gods
  2. The Adam-God theory
  3. Polygamy, or the Patriarchal Order of Marriage
  4. The full nature of salvation [1]

Each of these things Joseph did in fact teach—three he confided in private and one he began to teach publicly just before his martyrdom—but there was a sound principle animating his secrecy: the keys of the mysteries. It may be pertinent here to make a brief investigation into these keys and their implications for the church and individuals, both then and now:

The Revelations Which Are Sealed

In the year 1840, Lorenzo Snow was preparing to serve a mission to England. While yet in Nauvoo he was discussing a passage of scripture (the parable of the husbandman and the hired servants) when he was suddenly given a striking revelation from God, which he recorded in a poetic couplet:

As man now is, God once was: 
As God now is, man may be.

In his own words he recounted that, “I related [it] to no one except my sister Eliza, until I reached England, when in a confidential private conversation with President Brigham Young, in Manchester, I related to him this extraordinary manifestation.” [2] As related by the official church publication, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, “Lorenzo Snow did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught it,”[3] and this at the counsel of President Young who told him, in effect, that the mystery was true but remained sealed by the keys of the mysteries, which Joseph held.[4]

In this series of events, twin principles concerning the mysteries of God are manifest: (A) God may reveal his mysteries to whomever He pleases,[5] but (B) only he to whom the keys of the mysteries have been given can define the same as constituting church doctrine (or not), which may be termed his ability to un-seal the mysteries (or, if a mystery is redacted, re-seal them back up again). Using the anecdote above as an example, we see that Snow as an apostle could learn the truth of the kinship between men and gods for himself, yet without holding the keys of the mysteries he could not teach it for doctrine. In support of this we find the following scriptures:

It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him…. [To him] that will not harden his heart…is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full” (Alma 12:9 – 10; also see Doctrine and Covenants 76:5 – 7).
“Thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom; and thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church; for I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead” (Doctrine and Covenants 28:5 – 7).

Joseph learned the truth of the mystery of the plurality of gods for himself by revelation as Snow had done (though assumedly at some point far earlier than Snow), and, bearing the keys of the mysteries, he later taught the same publicly at sermons given on April 7th, 1844 (the famous “King Follet” funeral discourse), and June 16th, 1844 (his final public sermon). In that last public sermon, he hints that God had not yet authorized him to give a binding revelation to the church on the full nature of “the God of Heaven”:

“[Paul states:] ‘For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.’
“Some say…it means the heathen gods [when] Paul says there are ‘gods many [and lords many]’…. Without a revelation I am not going to give the God of Heaven to them any how…. I have it from God and—get over it if you can—I have a witness of the Holy Ghost and a testimony that Paul had no allusion to the heathen gods in the text.”[6]

Despite this, he did instruct in private regarding God’s identity as it had been revealed to him personally, as witnessed in the secret Council of Fifty:

“[Joseph Smith] explained the meaning of the word ‘Ahman,’ which signifies the first man or first God, and [that] ‘Ahman Christ’ signifies the first man’s son.”[7]

The four ‘false and damnable doctrines’ Joseph was accused of teaching were actually of this kind—they were mysteries ‘given unto many’ by personal revelation—yet, in 1844, three remained ‘sealed’ by the keys governing what could be declared as the doctrine of the church and one—the familial nature of man and gods—was ‘un-sealed’ (or taught publicly).

The three ‘sealed’ mysteries prematurely unveiled by the Nauvoo Expositor would each later be ‘un-sealed’ by Joseph’s successor, Brigham Young, less than a decade later: polygamy and the full nature of salvation in 1852 and Adam-God in 1854.[8] (Incidentally, they are once again sealed as of the writing of this essay; therefore they are not considered doctrines of the church and excommunication may rightly follow from insisting the contrary. See “A Note on Modern Polygamy” at the end of this essay.)

Each of these topics is extremely important to understand in comprehending Joseph Smith’s most expanded view of the plan of salvation revealed to him by the time he died. But the focus of this essay regards only one of the 1844 sealed mysteries that Joseph had taught only in private: polygamy.

I will kill you, as the Lord lives

In early April of 1843, Benjamin Franklin Johnson was enjoying a nice stroll through the woods near his home in Ramus, Illinois, with his close friend, the Prophet Joseph Smith. Little could he have guessed at the prophet’s intention in calling upon him for a private walk and conversation that spring day. They came upon a fallen tree suitable for sitting and Joseph confided privately to Johnson that God had revealed the doctrine of plural marriage to him many years prior in Kirtland, Ohio, and asked if Johnson would inquire of his sister whether she would become one of Joseph’s wives. In Johnson’s words:

“If a thunderbolt had fallen at my feet I could hardly have been more shocked or amazed. He saw the struggle in my mind and went on to explain. But the shock was too great for me to comprehend anything, and in almost an agony of feeling I looked him squarely in the eye, and said, while my heart gushed up before him, ‘Brother Joseph, this is all new to me; it may all be true—you know, but I do not. To my education it is all wrong, but I am going, with the help of the Lord to do just what you say, with this promise to you—that if ever I know you do this to degrade my sister I will kill you, as the Lord lives.’ He looked at me, oh, so calmly, and said, ‘Brother Benjamin, you will never see that day, but you shall see the day you will know it is true, and you will fulfill the law and greatly rejoice in it.’ And he said, ‘At this morning’s meeting, I will preach you a sermon that no one but you will understand. And furthermore, I will promise you that when you open your mouth to your sister, it shall be filled.'”[9]

As Johnson’s account goes, he did approach his sister and when he nervously opened his mouth to speak to her on the subject, he recounts, “my heart opened to the light of the Lord, my tongue was loosened and I was filled with the Holy Ghost. I preached a sermon that forever converted me and her also to the principle.”[10]

But what did Joseph teach in Ramus that morning? Joseph Smith’s diary records for the 2nd of April, 1843, in Ramus, Illinois:

“What is the meaning of the scriptures. he that is faithful over a few things shall be made ruler over many & he that is faithful over many shall be made ruler over many more?
“What is the meaning of the Parable of the 10 talents?”[11]

This content appears unassuming and pedestrian at first, but it will be recalled that Jesus’ stated purpose in teaching such parables in the first place, including the parable of the talents, was so that his teachings would intentionally appear unassuming and pedestrian while simultaneously conveying multiple layers of meaning at once:

“Jesus [spake] unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.”
“And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand” (Matt. 13:34 – 35; Mark 4:9 – 12, emphasis added).

The Bible here testifies that Jesus too possessed the mysteries through revelation but that he did not invoke the keys of the mysteries to teach them publicly as doctrine. Once he began to do so, starting with revealing that his flesh was the bread of life, the people turned their favor away from him until he was even betrayed by one of his inner circle. As the scripture relates, “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). The pattern was the same for Joseph Smith.

But what mystery did Joseph intend to convey that only Johnson would understand when he quoted the parable of the talents in 1843? What teaching did Joseph imply that Jesus secretly conveyed in the New Testament? The answer ties the overt principles of the New Testament to the obscure practices of the Old; the answer ties the teachings of Jesus to the torah of Jehovah.

They Shall Be Gods

The apocryphal Gospel of Philip, which was discovered as part of the ancient Christian library of Nag Hamadi in Egypt, gives a very interesting reason for Christ’s earthly ministry:

“[Adam and Eve’s] separation became the beginning of death. Because of this, Christ came to repair the separation, which was from the beginning, and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation, and unite them. But the woman is [to be] united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated.”[12]

It is as the scripture says, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever” (2 Ne. 2:25 – 26). The Gospel of Phillip adds that the ‘joy’ man may obtain to through Christ finds its fullest fulfillment only through holy matrimony. Indeed, to Joseph Smith it was shown that the ‘joy’ God intends for His prepared children is not to strum a golden harp on a cloud as an angel-servant forever; no, the prophet’s continuing revelations detailed a destiny hidden within parables, a destiny ‘kept secret from the foundation of the world.’

By 1843 Joseph Smith’s ever-expanding vision of the full order of Heaven included seeing the plurality of the Gods, but in this plurality he saw not only their numbers but also that they were composed of both men and women. This aspect of eternal life—that of eternal gender—was included in a revelation he dictated to his scribe, William Clayton, on July 12th, 1843, which revelation remained hidden from the church at large for nearly a decade, until Brigham Young, wielding the keys of the mysteries, un-sealed the revelation. Now recorded as Doctrine and Covenants section 132, it states:

If a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world…. Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory…. Therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity….
If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise…, then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (D&C 132:15 – 16, 19 – 20, emphasis added).

This revelation expands upon that which was given to the prophet in 1832 that revealed the tiered structure of Heaven in three general rungs (D&C 76)—the bottom two of which were designated for “angels” (see vv. 86 – 88) and the top rung for those who will inherit “all things” and “are gods” (see vv. 55 – 60). Adding to this structure, the 1843 revelation further clarifies the process by which those in the top rung become gods: through being united in ‘the bridal chamber’ mentioned in the Gospel of Philip, whose modern Mormon equivalent is termed the sealing room of the temple, where husbands and wives are joined in marriage; conversely, for a man and a woman to not be thusly united will result in their becoming only angels hereafter. The sacred goal and purpose of marriage finds expression in Paul’s admonition: “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11). Thus we see that the great difference between angels and gods is found in the priesthood ordinance of marriage between the sexes.

It was not the significance of Adam and Eve’s union in marriage alone that the 1843 revelation sought to shed light upon; this revelation brought with it an extension of understanding to additional marital practices peculiar to the patriarchs of the Old Testament. To understand the mystery uncovered by Joseph Smith in the parable of the talents, we must understand more fully the ways of the God of Abraham.

More Liberal in His Views

On the 11th of April, 1842, Joseph penned an oft-quoted yet oft-misunderstood letter to the then 19-year-old daughter of Sidney Rigdon, Nancy. From it church members have clipped out inspirational platitudes from such lines as the following: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence,” or, “Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.”[13] But the quoting often ends there, leaving out the full intent of the prophet’s message. (For instance, the rest of the latter quotation states: “And, at the same time, [our heavenly Father] is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be”!)

A knowledge of the full context of this letter reveals an unanticipated and stunning meaning to the prophet’s otherwise innocuous comments. Joseph had petitioned Nancy to be his plural wife and she rejected his proposal. The next day, Joseph dictated this letter and had it delivered to Nancy by his secretary, Willard Richards. Therefore, when Joseph speaks of ‘happiness’ as the ‘object and design of our existence,’ he speaks of that ‘joy’ only attainable by the gods through marriage.

The content of the full letter reads more like a revelatory treatise on how to obtain blessings of peace than it does a plea for reconsidering a marriage proposal. Though a full exploration of its contents would be illuminating, for the purposes of this essay only relevant portions will be brought forward for investigation. Note for instance the following language in light of the parable of the talents:

“If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added. So with Solomon: first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it every desire of his heart, even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of heaven only in part, but which in reality were right because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation…. Everything that God gives us is lawful and right; and it is proper that we should enjoy His gifts and blessings whenever and wherever He is disposed to bestow; but if we should seize upon those same blessings and enjoyments without law, without revelation, without commandment, those blessings and enjoyments would prove cursings and vexations in the end, and we should have to lie down in sorrow and wailings of everlasting regret. But in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures—He never has [and] He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of His law and ordinances. Blessings offered, but rejected, are no longer blessings, but become like the talent hid in the earth by the wicked and slothful servant; the proffered good returns to the giver; the blessing is bestowed on those who will receive and occupy; for unto him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly, but unto him that hath not or will not receive, shall be taken away that which he hath, or might have had.”[14]

Notice the theme from Doctrine and Covenants 132, discussed above, emerging here as well: without God’s law, or His word (‘without revelation’), ‘blessings and enjoyments’ have an end (the result being mere angelhood); the implied corollary being that with “[God’s] law, which is [His] word” (D&C 132:19), ‘blessings and enjoyments’ of marriage have no end (the result being godhood). The romantically-trained Mormon is ready to extend these principles of married exaltation to Adam and Eve as the archetypes of God’s sanctioned marital unions (“therefore shall a man…cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”! [Gen. 2:24])—but what of Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah? Is there godhood for the polygamous? Or, in the case of the above letter, what of Joseph, Emma, and Nancy?

Many readers of the Bible tend to dismiss Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, or David’s peculiar marriage practices by citing old-world cultural differences to which, they reason, God must have turned a blind eye. But the Bible indicates the opposite, calling Abraham “the friend of God” (James 2:23) and David “a man after [God’s] own heart” (that is, until he was accessory to Uriah’s death [Acts 13:22]). How are these two facts to be reconciled? Ever the revelator, Joseph Smith brings these Old Testament patriarchs and their antiquated lifestyles into the scope of the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by way, no less, of the New Testament itself. This is where the parable of the talents comes into focus.

Twin Keys

In the parable of the talents as found in the Gospel of Matthew 25:13 – 31, which is substantially the same as the parable of the minas found in Luke 19:12 – 27, the Lord conveys a mystery regarding the Kingdom of God (see v. 1), which naturally must deal then with the mechanics of salvation (see John 3:3). A breakdown of the main symbols and narrative are as follows (items indicated with “[M]” come from the parable of the talents as found in Matthew and items marked with “[L]” come from the parable of the minas as found in Luke):

  • Characters:
    • Nobleman [M] [L]
    • Servants [M: 3] [L: 10]
    • Renouncing locals [L]
  • Plot:
    • The nobleman leaves his current estate for a distant land [M] [L] in order to be made a king. [L]
    • He entrusts his servants with his goods. [M: varying talents to each] [L: one mina to each]
    • The locals renounce the nobleman as their ruler after he is gone. [L]
    • Two servants magnify their responsibility (fiducially symbolized by making a return on their investments). [M] [L]
    • One servant does not magnify his responsibility. [M] [L]
    • The nobleman returns [M] having obtained kinghood. [L]
    • To the profitable servants the returned nobleman/king entrusts even more wealth [M] and dominions within the new kingdom. [L]
    • From the unprofitable servant the returned nobleman/king takes the goods originally delivered and transfers it to the most profitable servant. [M] [L]
    • The renouncing locals are brought before the returned nobleman/king and executed. [L]

Note how that the goods (be it pennies or provinces) exchanged between master and servant are tandem responsibility-blessings, possessions from which certain benefits may be derived. From said possessions, responsibility and reward cannot be divided from each other: one is the natural result of the other. Hence, the greater one’s responsible possessions, the greater one’s potential enjoyments derived from the objects of those responsibilities; conversely, the fewer one’s responsible possessions, the lesser one’s potential for the same. From these parables we can derive then the twin keys referenced repeatedly by Joseph Smith: faithfulness and redistribution. Note the semantic allusions to these keys in his 1843 revelation on plural marriage:

“Concerning adultery…if [a] husband be with another woman, and he was under a vow, he hath broken his vow and hath committed adultery. And if [his wife] hath not committed adultery, but is innocent and hath not broken her vow, and she knoweth it, and I reveal it unto you, my servant Joseph, then shall you have power, by the power of my Holy Priesthood, to take her and give her unto him that hath not committed adultery but hath been faithful; for he shall be made ruler over many….
“And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me…and I give unto my servant Joseph that he shall be made ruler over many things; for he hath been faithful over a few things, and from henceforth I will strengthen him…. And I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundredfold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds” (D&C 132:41 – 44, 52 – 53, 55, emphasis added).

As with Joseph’s 1842 letter to Nancy Rigdon (and as with his 1843 allusion in Ramus, Illinois), the concept of accepting responsibility-blessings and, through that acceptance, being given additional responsibility-blessings is mirrored once again in the above 1844 revelation that references the parable of the talents in explaining some of the Celestial mechanics involved. In short, those who will be faithful to the marital responsibilities given them by the Lord in this world—before He returns—will be given additional marital responsibilities in the world to come, which marital state enables godhood; those who are not faithful will have their blessings taken from them and they will be reduced to singleness, which marital state is angelhood. This principle is actually explicitly stated within the 1844 revelation itself in reference to King David:

“David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me[, the Lord,]…and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord” (D&C 132:39, emphasis added).

As Lyman O. Littlefield recounted concerning Joseph Smith’s teachings:

“He often referred to the feelings that should exist between husband and wives, that they, his wives, should be his bosom companions, the nearest and dearest objects on earth in every sense of the word. He said men must beware how they treat their wives. They were given them for a holy purpose that the myriads of spirits waiting for tabernacles might have pure and healthy bodies. He also said many would awake in the morning of the resurrection sadly disappointed; for they, by transgression, would have neither wives nor children, for they surely would be taken from them, and given to those who should prove themselves worthy. Again he said, a woman would have her choice; this was a privilege that could not be denied her.”[15]

Despite the high regard that Joseph’s language imparts to women and the privileges that can ‘not be denied her,’ modern Mormons infected by the anti-Biblical precepts of feminism (knowingly or unknowingly) are sure to be scandalized by Joseph’s revealed meaning of the parable of the talents. It may seem the height of misogyny to compare women to talents, minas, or any other good to be possessed by a man. But such a conclusion myopically fails to consider the intent of all symbols leveraged by the Savior in his teachings: people of both sexes were compared to all manner of narrative props in order to highlight a certain aspect of the mechanics disguised (be it fish, sheep, talents, or even types of soil). The intention of comparing wives to a liquid asset is to teach a sharp lesson to those who would call themselves servants of the nobleman—the very priesthood patriarchy itself.

The Patriarchal Order of Marriage

In 1832 the Lord said through Joseph Smith, “Of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82:3). Seven years later in 1839 Joseph lamented in a revelatory cry: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:39 – 40). These scriptures set the stage for how it is that a patriarchal, polygynous societal arrangement—such as those personified by Abraham, Jacob, David, Joseph Smith, etc.—could not only be approved by God but also instituted by Him as the most equitable and exalting arrangement for both sexes.

First, it cannot be assumed that ‘equitable and exalting’ has ever meant easy or even natural. In the Book of Moses we read of the fundamental cause for difficulty in living up to holy standards:

“The Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good…. Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence” (Moses 6:55, 57, emphasis added).

This mortal tendency for sin to conceive in the heart has only ever been fully tamed by one man: Jesus Christ. To all other men the scriptures admonish:

“The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).

It is the natural state of no man to abide by heaven’s laws without the need for strict discipline (hence disciple) and correction from default human tendencies and desires. As Peter wrote, these adjustments are necessary to be “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust…. Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance” (2 Pet. 1:4 – 6, emphasis added). However, the natural state of woman is not given to these same Shekhinah-witholding faults.

On this point, consider for a moment the attributes a disciple is to obtain through Christ whilst overcoming the natural man and becoming “a saint,” as enumerated in Mosiah 3:19, and the correlation between typical feminine and masculine traits :

Saint/Feminine AttributeNatural Man/Masculine Antonym
Full of loveUnsentimental

The adjectives in the right column are those that the world would suggest are more manly and stand opposed to the traits they would consider un-manly, or perhaps girly, in the left column. Yet the traits in the left column are actually those the scriptures indicate are necessary to becoming Christ-like or “as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). It would be a mistake to assume then that Christ Himself was feminine; it is instead the fact that women are naturally more Christ-like. As Joseph Smith stated in 1842:

“It is natural for females to have feelings of charity and benevolence…. Respecting the propriety of females administering to the sick by the prayer of faith, the laying on of hands or the anointing with oil…, who are better qualified to administer than our faithful and zealous sisters whose hearts are full of faith tenderness sympathy and compassion? No one.”[16]

This then accounts for fundamental and complimentary difference of the sexes and why it is not the lot of women to bear the priesthood. Simply put, a baptized woman does not require the priesthood to transform her into “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13); women are naturally more Christ-like by nature, or worded differently, the attributes of Christ most often extolled are categorically innate to the female. This inherent closeness to God explains Joseph Smith’s statement that “females, if they are pure and innocent, can come into the presence of God. For what is more pleasing to God than innocence?”[17] Compare this to the scriptural injunction given to males to obtain the same blessing of coming ‘into the presence of God’:

“For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God. Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind.”
“And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; for without this [priesthood] no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies” (D&C 67:11 – 12; 84:21 – 22, 33, emphasis added).

The sum of these statements is that whereas the tendency to be holy is more natural to females, it is the responsibility of males who receive the priesthood to become so. Failing this responsibility, the males who make a poor use of their priesthood receive the greater condemnation and suffer their talents to be redistributed to the relative ‘few’ who were faithful (for ‘many’ were initially called). As the scriptures bear out, it would have been better for a man to not have received the priesthood than to have received it and made a poor use of it, being cast out of the kingdom (after his talents are removed!):

“Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved. But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come. And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received.”
“Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power—they are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born;…concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come” (D&C 84: 40 – 43; 76: 31 – 32, 34, emphasis added).[18]

The holiness of women and the failure by men to so be is allegorically illustrated in the language of Isaiah who compares the ability to feed and clothe oneself as symbols of personal holiness or spiritual independence and maturity:

“When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand: in that day shall he swear, saying, I will not be an healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: make me not a ruler of the people….
“In that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach” (Isa. 3:6 – 7; 4:1 – 2, emphasis added).

Thus the combination of the failure of the Lord’s covenant people throughout the history of the world to produce men worthy of marital godhood along with the relative blamelessness of covenant women who are sacred by nature results in an eschatological imbalance that the parable of the talents evens out: as women will outnumber men worthy of godhood in the highest heaven, a plurality of wives to one husband will be arranged to provide the most glory to the most people possible. That women are compared to a liquid asset in the parable indicates that the women are God’s riches to bestow, an honor that no man “taketh unto himself” (Heb. 5:4, see also D&C 132:59), and He will glorify His sons through them only as He sees fit.

The Law of the Lord

For those few servants who will be worthy of the Lord’s treasures, the structure of the priesthood covenants will find the man at the head of each wife given him of God. Though woman is holy, she is placed in this covenant order in relative subjection to the man that through him she might obtain her exaltation. The Lord confirms this point in the 1843 revelation on plural marriage:

[Women] are given unto [a man] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified” (D&C 132:63, emphasis added).

The Law of the Lord, which covenant defines the terms of this oxymoronic exalting subjection, is summarized in the words of Peter, who said, “Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1 Pet. 3:6); Paul touched upon the mechanics of this law when he further said, “Man…is the…glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man” (1 Cor. 11:7). By this Paul had reference to the manner by which the Father is “glorified in the Son” (John 14:13), that is, by saving his Son on condition of his obedience (see Heb. 5:8 – 9). To be saved, the Son needed a covenant father to minister an entrance for him:

The earliest depiction of the ascension of Christ, carved ivory, c. 400 AD

The above image of the ascension of Christ joins with the ordinances of the temple to testify of the need for someone from within the heavens to admit someone from without. One cannot enter on his or her own! As Peter said concerning each Saint who desires exaltation, “an entrance shall be ministered unto you” (1 Pet. 1:11, emphasis added). In the case of Jesus, his covenant Father is none other than God the Father; for the rest of mankind, the Law of the Lord establishes the covenant relationships governing who shall admit whom: covenant fathers admitting their covenant sons, and covenant husbands admitting their covenant wives.

That a man admits a woman to exaltation through marriage is what Paul meant by man being the ‘glory of God’ and the woman, ‘the glory of the man.’ Joseph Smith taught that God derived his glory through “saving all that His hands had made”[19] (also see Moses 1:39). In other words God is glorified as he exalts man, and that exalted man is in turn glorified as he exalts woman. This process welds the chain back to God, through Christ, by the utility of the sealing covenants of the Melchizedek priesthood (through covenant relation, which is not blood relation [see Heb. 7:3 and 1 Cor. 15:48 – 49]).[20]

Thus despite all that has been said of the naturally sacred status of woman, God has appointed the patriarchal order in the family structure wherein man is made the head, and this due to the necessity that he worthily obtain the Melchizedek priesthood in overcoming the natural man so that he may return to God’s presence and thence minister exaltation to woman. Thus in the exaltation of woman through man “is the work of [the] Father continued, that [at the head of the process] he may be glorified” (D&C 132:26).

In the parable of the talents then we read that it is the men who are called the nobleman’s servants, whereas the women are the nobleman’s treasure (likewise as it is the priest’s function and not the priestess’ to minister an entrance unto others at the celestial veil, women become the final and crowning objects of admittance and exaltation). Those ‘few’ men who do attain to the status of ‘good and faithful servant’ (out of the ‘many’ that are called) are particularly prized by God, who said, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir” (Isa. 13:12). In support of this concept of headship by a righteous man we find the following passage from the writings of Paul:

“The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head [Christ]. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head [her husband]….  For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man…. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have a covering on her head because of the angels.” (JST 1 Cor. 11:3 – 5, 7, 9 – 10, emphasis added).

Here Paul appears to connect the headship of man over woman with their respective uses of headwear. To understand Paul’s revelatory writings and how they apply to patriarchy and polygamy we must first comprehend two key events in the Book of Genesis, the first going all the way back to the garden planted eastward in Eden.

Transgression or Transformation?

The Adam and Eve narrative tells the story of the first parents of humanity and the actions they took that led to our present state as a species on this planet. Regarded by many as a literal series of events, the story appears to portray the duo as having made the first and worst mistake in human history, placing themselves as witting antagonists to God’s plans and subjecting their descendants to a cursed way of life, which portrayal has vilified their roles in the eyes of mainstream Christians for centuries. This traditional viewpoint has sometimes even been brought into the Mormon tradition as unwelcome baggage (and this despite the added revelation that “Adam fell that men might be”! [2 Ne. 2:25]). To most Christians, then, Eve’s curse appears as a justified punishment to her temporal condition and that of her daughters. But if the fall of Adam was actually a necessary step in God’s plan, is this what the curses really are?

After finding Adam and Eve camouflaged and covering their nakedness, God says:

“Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:11 – 13).

Subsequent to the trio admitting their inversion to the patriarchal order as the source of their error (the serpent commanding the woman who then commanded the man[21]), God rectifies their revelatory pattern by giving them the Laws of God and of the Lord. God then pronounces curses upon the party of three starting with the serpent, who is now correctly at the bottom of the chain instead of the top, and thence moving from the woman and finally to the man. To Eve He describes the consequences of her actions thusly:

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16, emphasis added).

Outwardly this passage does seem like the random punishments of an angry God; the correct way, however, to approach this passage (and all aspects of the garden narrative) includes understanding that the roles of Adam and Eve are in fact symbolic archetypes for every man and woman on the path of covenant discipleship. Thus woman, being holy by nature, ought not to be regarded as the primary agent of original transgression but the primary agent of original transformation. As some historical mythologists have noted:

“Historically and in myths up to when the Eden story was written, generally women were regarded as being in greater touch with the mysteries of life, were the bringers of life, and were at the core of primordial mysteries…. She was the transformer of matter and life, and so too was regarded as transformer of spirit.”[22]

This fact is supported by the greater wisdom credited Eve in the modern revelations received through Joseph Smith, wherein she states after her eyes are opened:

“Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).

So why then is sacred woman, through Eve’s curse, appointed an archetypal role in subordination to the man—to her husband unto whom her ‘desire shall be’? A limited, mortal perspective trained in modern, anti-patriarchy principles may not perceive the answer at first (see 1 Cor. 2:14) for headship is modernly considered most valuable in worldly affairs (think of a CEO being paid the most in a company); the eternal perspective, however, would teach that the value of the head is only equal to the value of the body that gives the head its power.

As quoted above from D&C 121:39, “almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” This is reflected in the corporate power structures upheld in modern Babylon where a headstrong, independent personality is rewarded with greater authority and power. This is not the headship that God intended for Adam over Eve. Instead, Adam is to work together with Eve “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41).

Instead of viewing priesthood as a source of divinely-sanctioned control over inferior, less valuable members of a family body, priesthood ought to be viewed in terms of the literal bodily function of a head: it provides guidance to the other, equally valuable limbs. For example, it would not be said that a head directly controls or manipulates the movements of the fingers while they play notes upon a piano, yet by seeing the notes on the sheet music and occasionally glancing at the keys as they are played the head may guide the fingers to more accurately perform their movements in a synergistic manner. In a similar way, the man who has obtained the priesthood of God is not authorized to control others within the body of his family, but he may provide guidance that the members would be wise to obey (just as God gives us commandments as members of the body of His kingdom and yet does not compel us to obey but simply asks that we be one with His guidance).[23] To quote the famous analogy of Paul (whose symbols appear to extend with ease to the roles of husband and wife):

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Cor. 12:21 – 25 NIV, emphasis added).

That They May Be One, Even as We Are One

Just as Paul here comes to the conclusion that the parts of a body must ‘have equal concern for each other,’ Peter in his writings comes to the same conclusion regarding husbands and wives, saying that they ought to have “compassion one of another”:

Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands…. Let [your adorning] not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be…that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1 Pet. 3:1, 3 – 8, emphasis added).

Headship, therefore, in terms of the Melchizedek priesthood, is manifested not through patriarchal dominance but through covenant unity, the head manifesting unified concern and guidance for the body and the body manifesting unified cooperation with the head. At the celestial veil, this unity and order is manifest by the head admitting its covenant body into the presence of God that the head might be glorified by the body. To quote the Lord’s very prayer for this organized unity, he referenced his covenant status with the Father (the Father being the head of the Son) and his desire that his disciples might obtain to the same covenant but through Christ as their head:

“As thou[, Father,] hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:18 – 22, emphasis added).

In short, through the law of adoption sons are joined to fathers not by blood but by covenant (the ancient apostles being sealed to Jesus as covenant sons, even as Jesus was sealed to the Father as a covenant son). Though we are born in blood families upon this earth, the family structure of God’s kingdom will be determined only by covenant—as Paul said, “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:48 – 49). As “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17) all others who ‘may be one’ with God and Jesus do so by these covenants:

Covenant Head+ Covenant Body = Resultant covenant Unit
ManManFathers and sons (from God on down)
Kings and lords
ManWomanHusbands and wives
Gods and goddesses
The man covenants with Elohim, and the woman covenants with the man
Covenant Head+ Covenant Body = Source of glory/increase
ManManSons to fathers (on up toward God)
Lords to kings
ManWomanWives to husbands
Goddesses to gods
The man is the glory of God, and the woman is the glory of the man

There is proof that this concept was well understood (and perhaps best understood) as early as 1847. Three short years after Joseph’s martyrdom in 1844, the apostle Orson Hyde, who had been privy to Joseph’s private counsels, produced the following diagram and accompanying explanation of the organization by covenant of God’s kingdom:

A Diagram of the Kingdom of God, a facsimile published in the January 15th, 1847, edition of the Millennial Star by the apostle Orson Hyde

“The above diagram shows the order and unity of the kingdom of God. The eternal Father sits at the head, crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. Wherever the other lines meet, there sits a king and a priest unto God, bearing rule, authority, and dominion under the Father. he is one with he Father, because his kingdom is joined to his Father’s and becomes part of it.… The most eminent and distinguished prophets who have laid down their lives for their testimony (Jesus among the rest), will be crowned at the head of the largest kingdoms under the Father, and will be one with Christ as Christ is one with his Father; for their kingdoms are all joined together, and such as do the will of the Father, the same are his mothers, sisters, and brothers. … It will be seen by the above diagram that there are kingdoms of all sizes, an infinite variety to suit all grades of merit and ability. The chosen vessels unto God are the kings and priests that are placed at the head of these kingdoms. These have received their washings and anointings [sic] in the temple of God on this earth; they have been chosen, ordained, and anointed kings and priests, to reign as such in the resurrection of the just. Such as have not received the fullness of the priesthood, (for the fullness of the priesthood includes the authority of both king and priest) and have not been anointed and ordained in the temple of the Most High, may obtain salvation in the celestial kingdom, but not a celestial crown. Many are called to enjoy a celestial glory, yet few are chosen to wear a celestial crown, or rather, to be rulers in the celestial kingdom”[24]

As the full doctrine of salvation had not by 1847 been un-sealed by the keys of the mysteries, which full doctrine would included the marriage covenant, Orson appears to have intentionally only hinted at the need for marriage in order to obtain ‘a celestial crown.’ Indeed, his admonition that those who do not receive ‘the fullness of the priesthood’ may not ‘be rulers in the celestial kingdom’ mirrors the language of Joseph Smith’s 1843 revelation on marriage:

“If a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word… when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage… but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods [and do not wear a celestial crown], but are angels of God….
“If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant… then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods [and wear a celestial crown], because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (D&C 132:15 – 17, 19 – 20, emphasis added).

Holier than the Angels

Paul’s instruction concerning headship includes a puzzling detail that can now be fleshed out and comprehended. Recall his words quoted above:

‘Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head [her husband]…. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.’

In other words, when entering into a certain order of prayer, the covenants of headship—namely, that the head of a covenant son is his covenant father and that the head of a covenant wife is her covenant husband—predicate that the man needn’t wear a veil whereas the wife should. But what does this have to do with the law of the Lord? The answer is in the varying requirements between the natural man and the natural woman in their journey to godhood (i.e. exaltation above the angels through marital status) as detailed above, keeping in mind that where the natural man is an enemy to God, the natural woman tends toward holiness. But, before continuing on this point, let us consider briefly the purpose of veiling:

Unarguably, the basic function of a veil is to obstruct or obscure an outside observer from viewing or perceiving the full nature of what lies behind it. Scripturally there are two overt examples of this: the veil in the tabernacle (and later in the temples in Jerusalem), and the veil Moses wore after speaking with God. In the case of the former, the subject of veiling was the “holy of holies,” the innermost sanctum of the sacred structure where God himself was to come; in the latter, the subject was the face of Moses himself, which shone so brightly after spending time in God’s presence that a veil was needed to allow him to stand in the presence of the Israelites and speak to them directly afterward. In both cases, something more holy was being kept from something less holy.

Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding angels reveals that there is a wide spectrum of rank and glory among them. Some have been resurrected and have bodies while others have not (see D&C 128); some bear keys of God’s priesthood while others “set up stakes” and were blinded by the false traditions of their fathers while in probation and to this day are mystified by the Melchizedek Priesthood and its rights (see footnote 20); some are exalted above man, having partaken of the ordinances of the priesthood, while others are less exalted than man.[25] It was to these lesser servants Paul had reference when, in speaking of women veiling their faces, he said they ought to do it ‘because of the angels’; this is in fact another reference to the Old Testament.

In the book of Job, two verses speak directly of angels, and the language they use is this:

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them” (Job 1:6)

ויהי היום ויבאו בני האלהים להתיצב על־יהוה ויבוא גם־השטן בתוכם׃

“Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD” (Job 2:1).

ויהי היום ויבאו בני האלהים להתיצב על־יהוה ויבוא גם־השטן בתכם להתיצב על־יהוה׃

In both these verses the scene that is set is that of a heavenly council where God and “the sons of the gods[26] gather to discuss the integrity and valiance of Job and are interrupted by the devil. Though in itself a good subject for study, the council is not what concerns this essay—the focus is the Hebrew term בני האלהים (bə-nê hā-’ĕ-lō-hîm, “the sons of the elohim“) as used in the Bible. The wording only appears three times in the Old Testament: twice in Job (as seen above) and once in Genesis. The context of Job makes it sufficiently clear that these beings are angels of some kind. This meaning then unlocks the Genesis passage:

“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose” (Gen. 6:1 – 2).

This passage is corroborated in the apocryphal Enochian literature as well, to which literary resource the New Testament writers, such as Paul and Jude, clearly had access (see for example Jude 1:14 – 15). Regarding the ‘sons of the gods’ who come to earth to take wives, the Book of Enoch more directly recounts:

“And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’ And Semjâzâ, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’ And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’ Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred.”[27]

That these ‘children of the heaven’ were angels of a lesser status is manifest by their singlehood expressed by their desire to take wives; they had none, having not obtained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and the marital ordinances thereof in their probationary periods. Joseph Smith confirmed the truth of this passage in a sermon given on April 13th, 1843, and recorded by George Laub, one of the prophet’s close associates:

“Now the history of Josephus in speaking of angels [says they] came down and took themselves wives of the daughters of men, [as in] Geneses 6th chapter, 1st and 2nd verses. These were resurrected bodies, [which] violated the Celestial laws.”[28]

It may be startling to contemplate that a resurrected being can violate ‘Celestial laws’ and somehow rejoin mortality, but suffice it to say that this understanding is fundamental to Joseph’s alleged teaching that God Himself fell ‘with all his creations’ that ‘man might be’ (a mystery later un-sealed by Brigham Young as the “Adam-God” doctrine). Nevertheless, it can now be demonstrated that the witnesses of Joseph Smith and Job come together to explain Paul’s admonition that women, entering an order of prayer with the intent of entertaining angels, ought to cover their heads. The explanation is that Paul was aware that angels who are male and single are less holy than (and apparently tempted by) mortal women and consequently have been placed under certain Celestial laws whereby they are not to minister in mixed company without the glory of the woman being withheld from them. This ancient tradition finds echoes in the contemporary Jewish traditions in Paul’s day:

“In accordance with the Jewish belief of [Paul’s] days…good angels, being under the possibility of falling from the same cause as their evil brethren, fly away at once from the presence of unveiled women…. The meaning [of Paul’s statement] seems to be, out of respect and reverence for the holy angels…. ‘Reverence the angels’ is St. Chrysostom’s remark.”[29]

Men are thus not under the requirement to veil their faces while joined in the same order of prayer with women since men and the ‘sons of the gods’ are both in the image of God (Paul: ‘man…is the image and glory of God’). The difference between mortal man and the angels is that mortal man, in his probation, is divinely authorized to partake of the holiness of womanhood through marriage. It appears then that Paul understood that for men and women to pray to God (and to experience certain gifts of the spirit in that setting), and to receive a response through angelic ministration, the sacredness of woman’s appearance needed to be veiled from the view of the petitioned divine messengers in case those sent in response were of this lesser rank.

Conclusion: The Family Kingdom

With the context for these Old Testament references in place, the writings of Peter and Paul come together with Jesus’ parable of the talents in beautiful harmony to support woman in her sacred status as the exalting treasure of man; for, inasmuch as it is the typical course of the woman is to be worthy of admittance into the Celestial courts on high, the only question is, by whom shall she obtain this appointment? Through whom shall God entrust this great honor? It cannot be by just any man but only by those servants of God who have obtained the priesthood and overcome the natural man. Out of the multitude who are called to prove themselves faithful over a few things, a scarce number only will be chosen to rule over many. The rest who fail the course appointed them by their Lord will find that they will not be glorified by woman, for she shall be taken from them and given to glorify those truly worthy of being called her head.

Joseph Smith’s repeated reference to the parable of the talents can now be taken in hand with the text of his 1843 revelation on plural marriage to establish his responsibility as the restorer and careful teacher of plural marriage.[30] In restoring the practice of plural marriage Joseph was following a precedent the Lord had established early in his life: he read the Bible, reflected on the content, and asked God for wisdom where he lacked it. The Lord confirmed that this was Joseph’s process in the case of plural marriage when He introduces the topic, saying:

“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines…. as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time” (D&C 132:1, 38).

The variety of arguments against Joseph Smith’s teaching or practicing polygamy all necessarily fall with a consideration of the prophet’s understanding of the parable of the talents.[31] Without going into detail, a summary of those arguments and their exposed flaws are as follows:

Theory on Joseph SmithTheory on D&C 132Parable Counterpoint
Plural marriage introduced by apostates and Joseph fought polygamy insisting on monogamyBrigham Young & Co. fabricated it to suit their lustsSlothful/lustful servants will have their wives exalted by worthy men post resurrection
Plural marriage introduced by Joseph for oligarchical alliances but never intended for conjugality or reproductionBrigham Young & Co. altered it to suit their lustsAs the Lord’s treasure, women are not mere tokens of treaty but actually the means of glorifying a husband
Plural marriage introduced by Joseph as a perfunctory formality of the restoration of “all things” but he actually believed monogamy to be the heavenly standardBrigham Young & Co. altered it to suit their lustsFaithful servants will be entrusted eternally with the care and covenant of multiple worthy women post resurrection
Plural marriage introduced by Joseph as practiced Biblically including conjugality and reproductionBrigham Young & Co. faithfully preserved it having overcome their lustsNo counterpoint

Many of Joseph Smith’s teachings were hidden, being mysteries that God had not yet authorized him to give unto the world despite the virtue of the keys he held in that regard. Exasperated as to the saints’ general inability to prepare themselves for greater truth and light, and apparently hinting at the very doctrine of plural marriage itself, Joseph exclaimed in early 1844:

“I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen.”[32]

Joseph’s teachings on the subject in public, therefore, took on the same mode as that employed by the Savior two millennia earlier when he sought to convey deeper truths by degree to the congregations. As the Lord then explained: “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matt. 13:13); to an inner circle, however, both the Savior and Joseph Smith explained these doctrines in full clarity; then, in both cases, there were those who trampled their teachings under their feet and turned again and rent them (see Matt. 7:6). Despite the nefarious efforts of Joseph’s enemies to piously decry his calling, every exposed doctrine that they had hoped would disaffect his followers was within a decade subsequently confirmed and published to a larger and stronger church by Joseph’s successor to the Keys of the Mysteries, Brigham Young.

Opponents to Joseph’s revelations on plural marriage—either past or present, within or without the church—can never tarnish his legacy as a revelator of God’s hidden mysteries, for when they search the scriptures they shall find that everything Joseph tried to teach had been there all along.

A Note on the LDS Church & Polygamy:

Starting in 1890 and lasting several decades, the LDS church—reluctantly at first and then vigorously by the end—ceased the practice of plural marriage for the living. Today it would result in immediate excommunication. This, of course, does not prove that the doctrines laid out above are untrue, but it does prove that as a regular body with officers the church may adapt itself to the situation it finds itself in according to the perceived faith (or lack thereof) of its constituents to meet the occasion. It appears that often the Lord withdraws truth and light from his covenant people when they reject what he has given them by their actions (see D&C 93:28 – 39). Wilford Woodruff’s personal journals reveal that right up to 1890 he was still receiving revelation from God showing forth the principle of plural marriage as being immutable. Why then did he issue the manifesto in 1890? In his own words he said he was shown that “trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice” (Official Declaration 1). Why was he shown this in vision if the Lord had at other times promised to fight the saints’ battles? The Lord gave the answer through Joseph Smith 49 years earlier in addressing the failed Missouri temple project:

“If my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place. But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them…. For instead of blessings, ye, by your own works, bring cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments upon your own heads, by your follies, and by all your abominations, which you practice before me, saith the Lord” (D&C 124:45 – 46, 47).

President Woodruff’s diaries reveal that he and even John Taylor were often pressed by other church leaders to sign a manifesto that they might obtain relief from the federal government and its agents. As Isaiah prophesied of latter-day Israel, they would be “a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things” (Isa. 30:9 – 10). In their absence of unity and faith in living up to the principles God had given, their fate was spelled out by the Book of Mormon: “If there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself” (Ether 12:12).

Nevertheless, the scriptures, the revelations, and the histories are before the eyes of all the people today. It is possible to search them and believe these hidden gems without teaching them for doctrine; or, to cite the historical anecdote above, it is possible to be a Lorenzo Snow, receiving the mysteries personally, relative to a Joseph Smith, who teaches the mysteries to the church. (Conversely, to attempt to teach the mysteries received personally, not possessing the Keys of the Mysteries, is akin to being a Hiram Page relative to a Joseph Smith [see D&C 28].) Accordingly, this author is not teaching anything here for doctrine; what has been presented is historical and informational but framed within a spiritual and believing narrative, which may be an unfamiliar perspective for the reader.

Though the author believes that a historical and scriptural investigation into Joseph Smith’s teachings of polygamy is profitable for one’s testimony of the prophet’s calling and his faithfulness to God to the end of his life, the conclusion of such a study does not obfuscate the need for one to abide by policies of an organization to which one belongs. Recall that the Keys of the Mysteries can both un-seal and re-seal a mystery; it is fully within the power of those who have held these keys to determine what will be constituted doctrine for the body of the church or not. Furthermore, if someone desires to be exalted, their marriage must be performed by proper authority—be it to one wife or many. Hence, as it is the official position of the LDS church that the ‘proper authority’ only exists within it, and since the church excommunicates any who attempt to enter into plural marriage, modern plural marriage cannot be authoritatively entered into in the modern LDS church.

Those who read this article and feel concern in their hearts may feel so for one of two reasons: either the reader fears that they will be forced in heaven to partake of something they do not desire to partake of or the reader fears that not being allowed to participate in polygamy in mortality will cut short the degree to which they may be exalted with God and Christ hereafter. To the first, the author would remind the reader that God will force no one to do anything, but he would admonish the reader to remember to fear not and know that God has instituted his laws for the greatest happiness of his children, including you, the reader; to the second, the author would ask the reader to remember Joseph Smith’s vision concerning God’s mercy to His children who are valiant in their hearts and would do God’s bidding were it possible:

“The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God…. I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept; and marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he…had not been baptized for the remission of sins.
“Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (D&C 137:1, 5 – 9, emphasis added).

Hence the message of the parable of the talents is not that the faithful servant is only that servant who receives multiple talents from his master at first; it is that the servant who is faithful to his master—no matter what he is given at first—will be asked to extend his faithfulness over many talents at the last. In other words, it is not plural marriage in itself that leads to exaltation; it is exaltation that in itself leads to plural marriage.


[1] Joseph Smith’s teachings clearly connect the definition of salvation with the doctrine of having one’s calling and election made sure:

“The doctrine that the Presbyterians and Methodists have quarreled so much about—once in grace, always in grace, or falling away from grace—I will say a word about. They are both wrong. Truth takes a road between them both, for while the Presbyterian says: ‘Once in grace, you cannot fall’; the Methodist says: ‘You can have grace today, fall from it tomorrow, next day have grace again; and so follow on, changing continually.’ But the doctrine of the Scriptures and the spirit of Elijah would show them both false, and take a road between them both; for, according to the Scripture, if men have received the good word of God, and tasted of the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, it is impossible to renew them again, seeing they have crucified the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame; so there is a possibility of falling away; you could not be renewed again, and the power of Elijah cannot seal against this sin, for this is a reserve made in the seals and power of the Priesthood” (Joseph Smith sermon on March 10, 1844, as quoted in Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], pp. 338 – 339).

The ‘reserve made in the seals’ is clearly explained in D&C 132:26 – 27:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife according to my word, and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God.
“The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God; and he that abideth not this law can in nowise enter into my glory, but shall be damned, saith the Lord.”

This is the meaning of the Lord’s exact phrasing from the New Testament:

“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men [JST: who receive me and repent]: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men” (Matt 12:31).

Joseph’s apostate associates sought to degrade Joseph’s utterances but in so doing only crucified “to themselves the Son of God afresh,” putting Christ’s New Testament teachings “to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:6). The publishers of the Nauvoo Expositor truly followed the archetypal example of he whom the scriptures condemn as “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10).

[2] Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Co., 1884), p. 47.

[3] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012), p. 83. Emphasis added.

[4] Shared with the author in person at BYU in the Fall of 2013.

[5] “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint10 may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them” (STPJS, 149). Also see Alma 12:9 – 10.

[6] Joseph Smith, as quoted by Thomas Bullock, “Sermon delivered at Nauvoo temple grounds on Sunday June 16, 1844”. Spelling and grammar modernized.
Note in this quotation how that Joseph is simultaneously revealing the plural nature of the Gods yet claims to not give “the God of Heaven to them any how.” That Joseph had reference to other mysteries yet private given the juxtaposition of his statements is certain; that this mystery was Adam-God material can be inferred from the contemporaneous clandestine teaching that was recorded in the Council of Fifty minutes (see footnote 7), the claims of the Nauvoo Expositor, and the claims by Brigham Young, Eliza R. Snow, and others post-1854 attributing the original teaching to Joseph.

[7] “5 April 1844 • Friday”, Council of Fifty minutes, Volume 1 (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2016); p. 81. Emphasis added. See footnote 25 as well.

[8] The mysteries presented in 1852, that of plural marriage and the full nature of salvation, had the advantage of relative clarity in the following years due to Joseph Smith’s having received a revelation now canonized as Doctrine and Covenants section 132. The 1854 mystery, that of Adam-God, did not benefit from the same written revelatory legacy.

[9] Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Independence, Missouri: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1947), pp. 7-107.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Journal, December 1842–June 1844; Book 2, 10 March 1843–14 July 1843,” p. 43, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 2, 2020,, spelling and grammar updated.

It is noted that Willard Richards, who did not accompany Joseph Smith down to Ramus for those few days he lingered there, reconstructed the events of those days from the notes of William Clayton who did accompany Joseph.

[12] Wesley W. Isenberg, translator, The Nag Hammadi Library: The Gospel of Philip (Claremont, California: The Gnostic Society Library). Emphasis added.

[13] “Joseph Smith to Miss Nancy Rigdon,” 11 April 1842, Documentary History of the Church [DHC], Vol. 5, pp.134 – 36.
Also found in Richard Galbraith, Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], pp. 255 – 257. Accessed online:

[14] Ibid., emphasis added and grammar modernized.

[15] Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints (Logan, Utah: The Utah Journal Co., 1888). Emphasis added.

[16] Thomas Bullock in the Manuscript history of the Church vol. 3, 1326, vol. 4, addenda segment, pp. 26-27, 38-43.

[17] Eliza R. Snow, “Instructions delivered at the Nauvoo Female Relief Society on Thursday April 28, 1842 (Held in upper room of Red Brick Store),” Relief Society Minutes, pp. 33-42

This statement about female innocence finds expression in the written 1843 revelation: “Let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God” (D&C 132:52). In being confronted by Sidney Rigdon about propositioning his daughter, Nancy, for plural marriage, Joseph Smith reportedly said that he had “wished to ascertain whether she was virtuous or not” (Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, p. 73). It may be the case, then, that it was revealed to Joseph that the pure or innocent among women (‘virtuous and pure before [God]’) would react favorably to the doctrine of plural marriage while the impure and sinful, therefore including the deceitfully innocent, would reject it. In other words, those who rejected the teaching when presented by Joseph, such as Nancy, may be among those referred to who ‘are not pure, who said they were pure.’

[18] These scriptures bear out principles carried forward by Brigham Young when he taught:

“Evil is inverted good. If you receive the Priesthood, and make an evil use of it, it will make devils of you. If I am a righteous man, I acknowledge the hand of God in all things, that I owe my life and all I am to Him. Suppose I become a devil, do I owe Him any less? No! A perfect trim mounted devil is one who has had the Eternal Priesthood upon him, or else he has not got his proper character. That is the way devils become what they are” (12 Feb 1854, The Teachings of President Brigham Young, Vol. 3, 1852-1854 [Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing Co., 1987], pp. 230-45).

[19] STPJS, p. 291

[20] Joseph Smith explains “The mystery power and glory of the preisthood [sic] is so great and glorious that the angels desired to understand it and cannot: why, because of the tradition of them and their fathers in setting up stakes and not coming up to the mark in their probationary state” (“Sermon delivered at Nauvoo temple grounds” James Burgess Notebook, 27 Aug 1843). This again shows that the singleness of the angels maritally speaking is a result of their failure to comprehend and obtain the Melchizedek priesthood.

There is a Chinese saying that comments on the power of marriage relations: in summary it says that it is an irony that within a household those of the same blood sleep in separate beds while only those of different blood (i.e. husband and wife) sleep in the same bed.

[21] “A traveler in the Eastern country overtook an old gentleman walking towards a town, and asked him, ‘Who is the great man of that little town? Who is your leading man? Who is the governor and controlling spirit of that little place?’ The old gentleman replied, ‘I am the king of that little town.’ ‘Really,’ says the traveler, ‘are you the leading man?’ ‘Yes, sir, I am king in that place, and reign as king.’ ‘How do you make this to appear? Are you in affluent circumstances?’ ‘No, I am poor; but in that little village there are so many children. All those children go to my school; I rule the children, and they rule their parents, and that makes me king.’ I frequently think of this. Let the children rule the mother, and the mother the father, and that makes the children kings” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses [JOD] 9:39).

[22] Arthur George and Elena George, The Mythology of Eden, (Lanham, Maryland: Hamilton Books, 2014), p. 234

[23] “The kingdoms [the Lord] possesses and rules over are his own progeny. Every man who is faithful and gets a salvation and glory, and becomes a king of kings and Lord of Lords, or a father of fathers, it will be by the increase of his own progeny. Our Father and God rules over his own children. Wherever there is a God in all the eternities possessing a kingdom and glory and power it is by means of his own progeny” (Brigham Young, JOD 11:262).

“In [Joseph Smith] teaching us the ‘Fatherhood of God, and the Brotherhood of Man,’ we could begin to see why we should ‘love God supremely, and our brother as ourselves.’ He taught us that God was the great head of human procreation—was really and truly the father of both our spirits and our bodies; that we were but parts of a great whole, mutually and equally dependent upon each other, according to our conditions. And in our love of God we show, as do the members of our bodies, naturally a greater love and protection for our head” (Johnson, My Life’s Review).

[24] Orson Hyde, “A Diagram of the Kingdom of God,” Millennial Star 9 (15 January 1847), 23-24. Emphasis added.

[25] “There is one revelation that this people are not generally acquainted with. I think it has never been published, but probably it will be in the Church History. It is given in questions and answers. The first question is, ‘What is the name of God in the pure language?’ The answer says, ‘Ahman.’ ‘What is the name of the Son of God?’ Answer, ‘Son Ahman—the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Ahman.’ ‘What is the name of men?’ ‘Sons Ahman,’ is the answer. ‘What is the name of angels in the pure language?’ ‘Anglo-man.’ This revelation goes on to say that Sons Ahman are the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Son Ahman and Ahman, and that Anglo-man are the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Sons Ahman, Son Ahman, and Ahman, showing that the angels are a little lower than man” (Orson Pratt, JOD 2:342).

[26] “In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation. It is a great subject I am dwelling on. The word Eloheim ought to be in the plural all the way through—Gods. The heads of the Gods appointed one God for us; and when you take [that] view of the subject, its sets one free to see all the beauty, holiness and perfection of the Gods. All I want is to get the simple, naked truth, and the whole truth” (Joseph Smith, STPJS, p. 372).

[27] Rev W. O. E. Oesterley, The Book of Enoch, Translated by Robert Henry Charles, (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge: 1917) 6: 1 – 6.

[28] George Laub Journal, “Joseph Smith. Nauvoo, April 13th, 1843.” Grammar and spelling modernized. Accessed online:

[29] Spence-Jones, H D. M, and Joseph S. Exell. The Pulpit Commentary, “1 Corinthians 11:10,” (London, 1882).

[30] That the prophet’s personal Judases, such as William Law and John Bennet, attempted to justify their adulteries by claiming the Patriarchal Order of Marriage has been well established through other researchers and historians, such as Brian C. Hale. This distorted version of polygamy that Joseph’s 1843 revelation sought, apparently, to curb through explicit definitions of adultery was termed “Spiritual Wifery.” See Brian C. Hales, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 25 (2017): p. 151, accessed online:

[31] The only significant argument against Joseph’s debated involvement in polygamy does not then rest on theological or eschatological considerations, but on the apparent lack of DNA evidence that he ever fathered children with any woman other than Emma, his only publicly acknowledged wife at the time. But this argument suffers from the fact that it is inherently an argumentum ad ignorantiam or an illogical appeal to ignorance, meaning that in only testing the DNA of suspected, living descendants from other women, actual descendants may be missed as they may have died without producing living descendants of their own to test or they may have been hidden or kept secret from the beginning and thus have not been subject to DNA testing yet.

One woman, Mary E. Lightner, whom Joseph had approached in life concerning plural marriage with himself and who was posthumously sealed to him testified toward the end of her life: “I know [Joseph Smith] had six wives and I have known some of them from childhood up. I knew he had three children. They told me. I think two are living today but they are not known as his children as they go by other names” (Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, “Remarks,” given at BYU 14 April 1905, typescript, BYU, emphasis added). Despite the number of wives Lightner cites being inaccurate to the actual number of wives the prophet had, it is yet notable that Lightner knew six of them well enough to identify them and know their history, a closeness that would support her having been told by them of secret births.

[32] STPJS, p. 331

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