Jesus Christ/Was Jesus married/Was Jesus a polygamist

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Questions


Do Mormons believe Jesus Christ was a polygamist?

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Charles Penrose (1912): "We do not know anything about Jesus Christ being married"

Charles W. Penrose:

Question 2: Do you believe that Jesus was married?
Answer: We do not know anything about Jesus Christ being married. The Church has no authoritative declaration on the subject. [1]


Answer

The Bible is silent on the issue of Jesus' (or the Father's) marital state, and there has been no modern revelation stating he was or was not married. This leaves the issue an open question. Jesus' purported polygamy plays little if any role in present-day LDS discourse.

Detailed Analysis

The easy answer is that no, Latter-day Saint doctrine does not teach that Jesus was married, polygamist or otherwise. In fact, there is no official Church doctrine on this issue. Members are free to believe as they wish concerning this matter.

Since members in the nineteenth century were commanded to practice polygamy, many presumed that Jesus would have had to also practice this law.

Early LDS views

Jedediah M. Grant

Jedediah M. Grant said:

...This ancient philosopher says they were both John's wives. Paul says, "Mine answer to them that do examine me is this:—.Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas." He, according to Celsus, had a numerous train of wives.
The grand reason of the burst of public sentiment in anathemas upon Christ and his disciples, causing his crucifixion, was evidently based upon polygamy, according to the testimony of the philosophers who rose in that age. A belief in the doctrine of a plurality of wives caused the persecution of Jesus and his followers. We might almost think they were "Mormons."
But if you pass on in their history to seek for uniformity and beauty, you will find some grand flare-ups among them. Look, for instance, at Paul and Peter, disputing and quarrelling with each other....[2]

Grant believed that early writers, hostile to the Christians, charged members and even Jesus, with polygamy (a charge which would have offended sophisticated Roman opinion in the day). Grant sees the obvious parallels with how the Saints have been treated over the same issue, but Jesus' marital state is not his main point, but conflict and persecution. (It is not clear, however, to which source Grant is referring—FAIR has been unable to locate any such reference to Celsus.)

Orson Hyde

Main article: Journal of Discourses

Likewise, Orson Hyde remarked:

I discover that some of the Eastern papers represent me as a great blasphemer, because I said, in my lecture on Marriage, at our last Conference, that Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha, and others were his wives, and that he begat children.
All that I have to say in reply to that charge is this—they worship a Savior that is too pure and holy to fulfil the commands of his Father. I worship one that is just pure and holy enough "to fulfil all righteousness;" not only the righteous law of baptism, but the still more righteous and important law "to multiply and replenish the earth." Startle not at this! for even the Father himself honored that law by coming down to Mary, without a natural body, and begetting a son; and if Jesus begat children, he only "did that which he had seen his Father do."[3]

Hyde is again not focused on Jesus' matrimonial state, and notes that being married and begetting children—polygamously or otherwise—is no evil, but is in accordance with God's commandments from time to time. We remark too that Hyde indicates his uncertainty: "if Jesus begat children," he is only following the pattern of God the Father, who also had a Son.

Orson Pratt: The Seer

Main article: The_Seer

In his defense of plural marriage, Orson Pratt wrote:

From the passage in the forty-fifth Psalm, it will be seen that the great Messiah who was the founder of the Christian religion, was a Polygamist, as well as the Patriarch Jacob and the prophet David from whom He descended according to the flesh. Paul says concerning Jesus, "Verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham." (Heb. 2: 16.) Abraham the Polygamist, being a friend of God, the Messiah chose to take upon himself his seed; and by marrying many honorable wives himself, show to all future generations that he approbated the plurality of Wives under the Christian dispensation, as well as under the dispensations in which His Polygamist ancestors lived.
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, and another being upon the earth by whom He begat the tabernacle of Jesus, as His Only Begotten in this world. We have also proved most clearly that the Son followed the example of his Father, and became the great Bridegroom to whom kings' daughters and many honorable Wives were to be married. We have also proved that both God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ inherit their wives in eternity as well as in time; and that God the Father has already begotten many thousand millions of sons and daughters and sent them into this world to take tabernacles; and that God the Son has the promise that "of the increase of his government there shall be no end;" it being expressly declared that the children of one of His Queens should be made Princes in all the earth. (See Psalm 45: 16.)
Jesus says there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." (Luke 13: 28.) There are many in this generation so pious that they would consider themselves greatly disgraced to be obliged to associate with a man having a plurality of wives; would it not be well for such to desire a place separate from the kingdom of God, that they may not be contaminated with the society of these old Polygamists? And then it would be so shocking to the modesty of the very pious ladies of Christendom to see Abraham and his wives, Jacob and his wives, Jesus and his honorable wives, all eating occasionally at the same table, and visiting one another, and conversing about their numerous children and their kingdoms. Oh, ye delicate ladies of Christendom, how can you endure such a scene as this? Oh, what will you do, when you behold on the very gates of the holy Jerusalem the names of the Twelve sons of the four wives of the Polygamist Jacob? 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.[4]

Pratt likewise argues that Old Testament figures were polygamists, and that Christ and the Father were likewise. This section is preceded by several paragraphs in which Pratt argues that the parables of Christ being "married" to the Church, and that references to him as the "bridegroom" ought to be seen literally. Most modern members—like, doubtless, much of Pratt's nineteenth century audience—would find this line of argument strained and unpersuasive.

Some elements of Pratt's publication were disavowed by the First Presidency of the day (see: here). While The Seer contains much of value, and may well reflect how many nineteenth-century saints saw these matters, it cannot be considered an authoritative exposition of LDS doctrine. Pratt's speculations and arguments are certainly not binding on Church members.

The Church does not take an official position on this issue

This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:

Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.[5]

Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:

All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer.[6]

This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.[7]

In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:

Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.[8]

Notes

  1. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
  2. Jedediah M. Grant, "UNIFORMITY," (7 August 1853) Journal of Discourses 1:346.
  3. Orson Hyde, "The Judgements of God on the United States--The Saints and the World," (18 March 1855) Journal of Discourses 2:210.
  4. Orson Pratt, "Celestial Marriage," The Seer 1/11 (November 1853): 172.
  5. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
  6. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  7. LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," lds.org (4 May 2007)
  8. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).


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