Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Not Biblical/No biblical mandate for plural marriage

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Questions and Answers

Question: Was there no biblical mandate for plural marriage?

This claim is false; levirate marriage was mandated by the law of Moses

While sometimes forced to admit that some Old Testament figures practiced polygamy, some Christians insist that there was no biblical mandate or command to practice plural marriage.

This claim is false; levirate marriage was mandated by the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

Even if true, this claim is immaterial. God did not condemn the practice of plural marriage in the Bible. If it was everywhere and always forbidden, God could and would have done so. Early Christian authors understood this.

The practice of levirate marriage did not make any conditions on whether or not the brother-in-law was married

The details of this practice are outlined in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, which the Sadducees quote in asking the question to Jesus. The practice of levirate marriage did not make any conditions on whether or not the brother-in-law was married. There was a way for the brother-in-law to avoid this marriage, through a ceremony called halitza, which was a mark of shame on the brother-in-law for refusing to continue his brother's name, thus declaring that his brother was irrevocably dead. This secondary option however, has become much more relevant to the modern practice of Judaism than it was to ancient Israel. Additionally, the practice makes no distinction to whether or not the brother was already married. It is the only instance in the Old Testament where polygamy was mandated under certain circumstances. Finally, the widow with no children, upon the death of her husband, was automatically considered to be betrothed, or engaged, to the next brother in the family of her now-deceased husband.

This practice was changed somewhat in Talmudic law where we find more than a hundred clarifications and expansions on the practice. Among these was a shift towards the practice of halitza being preferable to levirate marriage. This became a ban that was established by religious law in modern Israel in 1957. Because of this, there was an interesting case reported in 1998 in the Spring Newsletter of the International Council of Jewish Women. It describes the unusual case of a married woman, living in Israel, who had a single daughter. In 1991, the family was involved in a serious automobile accident, and the daughter died immediately. The husband died hours later. According to Jewish law, the woman (who was childless at the time of her husband's death) was immediately placed in the role of the childless widow. Before she could remarry, she needed to go through the halitza ceremony with the only living brother of her late husband, who lived in Paris. This case was of significance because the brother-in-law refused to perform the ceremony. At first the Jewish courts simply ordered the brother-in-law to either perform the ceremony, or to pay the woman a thousand dollars a month for maintenance. He refused to do either. It took the woman six years to get the brother-in-law to perform the ceremony, and he also ended up paying her thousands of dollars as ordered by the religious courts.

This practice was not just a custom, but an integral part of the religious law at the time of Jesus

This practice was not just a custom, but an integral part of the religious law at the time of Jesus. While the above story happened only recently, ancient Israel was just as fervent in their keeping the Law of Moses, even in cases such as this. While a hypothetical situation was proposed to Jesus, it was a hypothetical situation that could actually happen, and the statements provided by the authors do not represent correctly this practice.

FairMormon Perspectives offers answers to these questions

Gregory L. Smith, M.D."Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," FairMormon Papers (2005)

The criticism that polygamy is irreligious appeals to western sensibilities which favor monogamy, and argues that polygamy is inconsistent with biblical Christianity or (ironically) the Book of Mormon itself.

This is a weak attack at best, and replies–devotional, apologetic, and scholarly–have been made to the claim.6 There is extensive, unequivocal evidence that polygamous relationships were condoned under various circumstances by biblical prophets, despite how uncomfortable this might make a modern Christian. Elder Orson Pratt was widely viewed as the victor in a three-day debate on this very point with Reverend John P. Newman, Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, in 1870.7

Even were there no such precedents, LDS theology has no problem accepting and implementing novel commandments, since the Saints believe in continuing revelation. I will not belabor the matter here, since ample resources are available.

Click here to view the complete article

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


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