Polygamy in Eternity

Will polygamy be practiced in the Celestial Kingdom?

Yes, probably. Many early Church leaders taught this.[1] However, modern Church leaders have noted that the exact nature of the practice in the afterlife is unknown.[2]

Is polygamy a requirement to be in the Celestial Kingdom?

No, probably not. In the past, some Church leaders taught that it was a requirement for exaltation,[3] whereas others taught that this was not true.[4] Shortly after the release of the 1890 Manifesto,[5] President George Q. Cannon[BIO] taught that exaltation could be received without polygamy.[6]

Does Doctrine and Covenants 132 say that those who don't practice polygamy will be damned?

Probably not. It says that people "must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned" where the "law" is the "new and everlasting covenant[7] of marriage."[8] So if the "law" is just referring to eternal marriage, then no, you won't be damned if you don't practice polygamy. However, if it refers to polygamy, then yes, you will be damned if you don't practice it.

Joseph Smith did not specify if the "law" required polygamy or not;[9] however, several people testified that they never heard Joseph teach this.[10]

Does God practice polygamy?

Possibly. Some early apostles speculated that He did. Orson Pratt[BIO] believed that God the Father was a polygamist,[11] and Orson Hyde[BIO] taught that Jesus Christ was a polygamist and had children.[12]  

Do we have to believe or agree with the principle of polygamy to be in the Celestial kingdom?

Probably to some extent. If some continue to practice polygamy in the afterlife, even those who reject plural marriage for themselves would likely need to accept that polygamy has a place in the celestial kingdom.

Have any prominent women supported polygamy in eternity?

Yes. Eliza R. Snow,[BIO] Zina D. Young,[BIO] Emily Young,[BIO] and others expressed support for it.[13]

If polygamy isn't practiced today, why can a man be sealed to more than one woman today?

It's unknown. The structure of sealings continues in the tradition of plural marriage[14] but the details of how this is implemented are unknown.[15] If you practice plural marriage in mortality, with living people, you will be excommunicated.[16]

Why can't a woman be sealed to more than one man?

It's unclear why. Plural marriage has been taught as one man married to multiple women.[17]

If someone is sealed to more than one spouse in mortality, will they be forced to be polygamous if they don't want to be?

No. The idea of being forced to practice polygamy is in opposition to the fundamental principle of agency. Lucy Walker, one of Joseph Smith's plural wives, recalled Joseph teaching that "a woman would have her choice; this was a privilege that could not be denied her."[18] Charles W. Penrose[BIO] also taught in the Juvenile Instructor that all plural marriages in eternity would be done through the mutual consent of all spouses.[19]

Some People Say . . .

"We don't know how polygamy works in heaven. It's best not to speculate."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • Prophets and apostles have taught that polygamy exists in heaven.

  • Before the ban on polygamy, some Church leaders taught that it was a requirement for exaltation.

  • After the ban on polygamy, Church leaders taught that it was not a requirement for exaltation.

  • D&C 132 is not clear on the issue of polygamy as a requirement for exaltation.

Our Take

The history and practice of polygamy can be uncomfortable or frustrating. So when Church leaders teach it as an eternal principle, rather than just something that was practiced in the 1800s, those feelings could be made even worse.

Polygamy is a complicated subject, but the teachings on this particular idea—that it's a requirement to reach exaltation—are relatively clear. Modern prophets and apostles have taught that it's not required of us. We don't exactly know what the family of God will look like, but we do know it must be big and complex, with all of His children being sealed in eternal families.

That being said, it will still be something that will probably be practiced in the afterlife, which is kind of weird and requires faith in God to know that it will be okay. Agency is a critical part of the plan of salvation, and God goes to great lengths to protect our agency. It’s important to remember that God loves us, understands our minds and hearts, and if polygamy is eternal, we have our agency to choose to do that or not.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Greg B
    Jacob in the Book of Mormon teaches that God prefers marriage between one man and one woman. God directs more than one wife only at special times on earth to raise up a righteous posterity. Men sealed to more than 1 wife on earth gives women right to a celestial marriage.
  • Eliza E
    I want to research polygamous relationships more. I sure don't get the "why" of polygamy, but I don't think I want God to break up families just because they were polygamously sealed.
Footnotes
  • BIOGeorge Q. Cannon

    George Q. Cannon (1827–1901) was born in Liverpool, England, to George Cannon and Ann Quayle. His family was baptized into the Church in 1840. In 1842, he and his family immigrated to Nauvoo and later moved west with the Saints in 1847. In 1849, he served as a missionary to California as a mining missionary. During this time, he was asked to head to the Kingdom of Hawaii, where he served for four years. During this time, with the assistance of Jonatana Napela, Cannon translated the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. After the Utah War, he served as the president of the Eastern States Mission. He was ordained an apostle in August 1860 and served as a counselor in the First Presidency (under four presidents) from 1873-1887 and 1889-1901.

  • BIOOrson Pratt

    Orson Pratt (1811–1881) was born in Hartford, NY, and was an apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was called on many missions. He was excommunicated from the Church in August 1842, after allegations of Joseph Smith's impropriety. Pratt was rebaptized in January 1843 and served as a leading pamphleteer for the Church and defender of the faith.

  • BIOOrson Hyde

    Orson Hyde (1805-1878) was born in Oxford, New Haven, Connecticut. He served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1835 until his death. In 1841, he traveled to the Holy Land, and on October 24, he climbed the Mount of Olives and recorded a prayer to dedicate the land for the return of the Jewish people. From 1847 until 1875, he served as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

  • BIOEliza R. Snow

    Eliza Roxcy Snow (1804-1887) was born in Becket, Massachusetts, to Oliver and Rosetta Snow. Her younger brother, Lorenzo, became the fifth President of the Church. Eliza joined the Church in 1835. She became a plural wife of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Eliza served as the second General Relief Society President from 1866 to 1887. During her life, she left behind around 500 poems, including "O My Father" which references Heavenly Mother.

  • BIOZina D. Young

    Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young (1821-1901) was a Latter-day Saint leader. Born in upstate New York, Zina joined the Latter-day Saint faith after meeting Hyrum Smith (Joseph Smith's brother) and David Whitmer. Zina became an early plural wife of Joseph Smith in 1841, while still temporally married to another member, Henry Jacobs. After Joseph Smith's death, she married Brigham Young. Zina Young was an active leader in the Utah women's suffrage movement and as a leader of the women's Relief Society from 1888 until her death.

  • BIOEmily D. P. Young

    Emily Dow Partridge Young (1824-1899) was born in Painesville, Ohio. Emily was also the daughter of Edward Partridge, first bishop of the church, and a plural wife of Joseph Smith. In 1840, after Edward Partridge had died, Emily and her sister Eliza moved into Joseph and Emma Smith's household in Nauvoo. In March 1843, Emily was sealed as a plural wife to Joseph Smith. She was sealed as a wife to Brigham Young in 1844. Later, in 1892, she gave evidence of her marriage to Joseph Smith as part of the Temple Lot case.

  • BIOCharles W. Penrose

    Charles W. Penrose (1832-1925) was born in London, England, and joined the faith in 1850 as a teenager. In 1861, he immigrated to Utah and became a farmer, retailer, politician, and newspaper editor, publishing widely on subjects like polygamy and the Word of Wisdom. He was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1904 to 1911 and a member of the First Presidency from 1911 until 1925.

  • Church leaders first began to teach this doctrine during the Utah era of polygamy, starting in 1852. Since then, Church leaders have frequently taught that plural marriage will continue into the afterlife.

    In 1853, Apostle Orson Pratt wrote:

    If you do not want your morals corrupted, and your delicate ears shocked, and your pious modesty put to the blush by the society of polygamists and their wives, do not venture near the holy Jerusalem, nor come near the New Earth; for Polygamists will be honored there, and will be among the chief rulers in that Kingdom.

    In 1862, Brigham Young observed of polygamous religion in heaven:

    [Our religion believes in and practices polygamy and is] the only popular religion [in Heaven], for this is the religion of Abraham, and, unless we do the works of Abraham, we are not Abraham's seed and heirs according to promise.

    In 1882, Apostle John Taylor predicted, "We will reign with [our plural wives] in eternity, when thousands of others are weltering under the wrath of God." And in 1912, Apostle Charles W. Penrose specifically taught that polygamy would exist in heaven in an Improvement Era article entitled "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered."

  • When asked if there will be polygamy in the afterlife, Dallin H. Oaks replied:

    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. How? Why, I don’t know.

    The Church's Gospel Topic Essay on "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo" states that "the precise nature" of eternal polygamy "is not known."

  • Exaltation is the eventual process of inheriting all that the Father has and becoming like He is.

    In 1866 Brigham Young taught that:

    The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them.

    In 1871 he also taught:

    Now, where a man in this Church says, "I don't want but one wife, I will live my religion with one," he will perhaps be saved in the celestial kingdom; but when he gets there he will not find himself in possession of any wife at all. He has had a talent that he has hid up.

    William Clayton taught that polygamy was a requirement to attain exaltation, and he claimed that he was taught this by Joseph Smith.

    Joseph Fielding Smith in a discourse given on July 7, 1878 declared that polygamy was a requirement for exaltation as well.

  • Wilford Woodruff, Joseph F. Smith, and several other Church leaders discussed polygamy and exaltation and disagreed that polygamy was required for exaltation.

    Both Wilford Woodruff and Bathsheba W. Smith were questioned about this doctrine in the 1892 Temple Lot trial and testified that they did not believe that Joseph Smith taught that polygamy was required for exaltation.

  • After a sustained campaign of prosecution and anti-polygamy laws from federal authorities, including the planned seizure of the Salt Lake City Temple and total disenfranchisement of the Church as a corporate entity, President Wilford Woodruff released a statement declaring that Church leaders would no longer practice plural marriage, known as Official Declaration #1. Some Church leaders attempted to work around this Manifesto; plural marriages continued, though less frequently, for the next several years. Many of them took place in Mexico and Canada since the Manifesto said that Latter-day Saints should not engage in marriage "forbidden by the law of the land." In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith released a second Manifesto prohibiting all polygamous marriages.

  • President George Q. Cannon taught in 1891:

    I know there are a great many people who feel that, this being a principle of exaltation, they may be in danger of losing their exaltation, because of their inability to obey this. I want to say to all such that the Lord judges our hearts; He looks at our motives. There, were a great many men in past times who never had the privilege of obeying this doctrine, because the law was not given to them. Do you think that they are excluded from exaltation? Do you think that they will be deprived of celestial glory? I do not.

    Later in the twentieth century, other Church leaders supported this teaching. For example, in 1912, Charles W. Penrose wrote in the Improvement Era that plural marriage is not “essential to a fulness of glory in the world to come.”

    In 1958, Bruce R. McConkie also stated in Mormon Doctrine that “plural marriage is not essential to salvation or exaltation.”

  • The "new and everlasting covenant" may generally refer to the "sum of all gospel covenants that God makes with mankind" or it may refer to a specific covenant, such as baptism, eternal marriage, etc.

  • Doctrine and Covenants 132, which is frequently identified as the source text for the doctrine of polygamy, states:

    All who will have a blessing at my hands, Shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing and the conditions thereof, as was instituted from before the foundation of the world and as pertaining, to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and Shall abide the law or he Shall be damned Saith the Lord God.
  • Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal a discussion he had with Brigham Young about D&C 132. Brigham believed “the law” in D&C 132 referred to “the whole law with its covenants,” not necessarily plural marriage in particular.

  • In the 1892 Temple Lot trial, several witnesses were specifically questioned about Joseph Smith's teachings related to polygamy and exaltation.

    Bathsheba W. Smith responded, “No sir. I never heard of that.” Wilford Woodruff and Joseph Kingsbury provided similar testimony. However, a few Church leaders reported that Joseph Smith said those who were commanded to practice plural marriage and were disobedient would be damned.

  • In 1853, Orson Pratt declared in The Seer:

    We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity, by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His First Born.
  • In a lecture Orson Hyde gave, he said that:

    Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha, and others were his wives, and that he begat children.

    Decades later, Charles W. Penrose wrote that the “Church has no authoritative declaration on the [marital status of Jesus].”

  • Women who had entered into plural marriages for time and all eternity testified at various points of their lives that they considered this a true doctrine. Eliza R. Snow went as far as to proclaim her love for the doctrine of polygamy.

    In an interview, Zina affirmed that she was married to Joseph Smith for eternity.

    Emily Young describes the principle of polygamy as not only being for time but also eternity:

    To me it was the word of the Lord. I accepted the pure and sacred principle, and was married, or sealed to him as his wife for time and all eternity, in Nauvoo 1843.

    Almera Johnson, Lucy Walker, and other women accepted the teaching of polygamy, too. They understood it as an eternal practice and testified of that principle.

  • The General Handbook says that a widower can be sealed to another woman "if she is not already sealed to another man," but a woman "may not be sealed again" if she has been sealed to another husband.

  • The Church's Gospel Topics essay on the subject states "the precise nature" of eternal polygamy "is not known."

  • Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church."

  • Plural marriage was taught and practiced in the form of having a "plurality of wives" as opposed to a plurality of spouses.

  • She also remembered Joseph teaching that

    many [men] 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 provide themselves worthy.
  • In 1888, Charles W. Penrose wrote in the Juvenile Instructor that mutual consent is a component of plural marriage in heaven:

    In the case of a man marrying a wife in the everlasting covenant who dies while he continues in the flesh and marries another by the same divine law, each wife will come forth in her order and enter with him into his glory. . . . They belong to no other man, but are his by mutual consent of all the interested parties, and they live together in the marriage state, one as much as the other.

    The General Handbook also teaches:

    A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life.

    Because the Church doesn't teach polyandry, this implies that if a woman is posthumously sealed to multiple men, the woman can choose which husband to be eternally sealed to.