Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume 3: Theology


by Brian C. Hales

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Also available through Amazon and Deseret Book.

Book Synopsis:

Americans of Joseph Smith’s day, steeped in the stories and prophecies of the King James Bible, certainly knew about plural marriage; but it was a curiosity relegated to the misty past of patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, who never gave reasons for their polygamy. It was long abandoned, Christians understood, by the time Jesus set forth the dominating law of the New Testament. But how did Joseph Smith understand it? Where did it fit in the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) predicted in the New Testament? What part did it play in the global ideology declared by this modern prophet who produced new scripture, new revelation, and new theology?
    During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, polygamy was taught and practiced in intense secrecy, with the result that he never fully explained its doctrinal underpinnings or systematized its practice. As a result, reconstructing Joseph Smith’s theology of plurality is a task that has seldom been undertaken. Most theological examinations have either focused on its development during Brigham Young’s Utah period, with its need to resist increasing federal legislative and judicial pressures, or the efforts of twentieth-century and contemporary “fundamentalists” who continue to marry a plurality of wives.
    Volume 3 of this three-volume work builds on the carefully reconstructed history of the development of Mormon polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, then assembles the doctrinal principles from his recorded addresses, the diary entries of those closely associated with him, and his broader teachings on the related topics of obedience to God’s will, marriage and family relations, and the mechanics of eternal progression, salvation, and exaltation. The revelation he dictated in July 1843 that authorized the practice of eternal and plural marriage receives unprecedented examination and careful interpretation that illuminate this significant document and its underlying doctrines.
    Attempts to explain the history of Joseph Smith’s polygamy without comprehending the theological principles undergirding its practice will always be incomplete and skewed. This volume, which takes those principles and evidences with the utmost seriousness, has produced the most important explanation of “why” this ancient practice reemerged among the Latter-day Saints on the shores of the Mississippi in the early 1840s.

Comprehensive Table of Contents:



1. Investigating the Origins

Documentary Sources
The Position of the Community of Christ

2. Theological and Humanistic Interpretations

Polygamy as a Communal Experiment
Psychological Derangement
Nineteenth-Century Depictions of Joseph Smith as a Philanderer
Confusing Historical Fiction for Documented History
Fawn Brodie and Other Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Joseph Smith as a Philanderer

3. A Restoration of Old Testament Practices

Old Testament Polygamy
Biblical Allowance
Biblical Teachings and Marriage
Christian Views of Old Testament Polygamy

4. Other Explanations

Women Outnumber Men
To Bring Needed Trials and Challenges
A Solution to the World’s Moral Problems
Producing Healthier Parents and Offspring
To Raise Up Righteous Seed

5. Joseph Smith’s Pre-Nauvoo Theology

Public Teachings Concerning Marriage and Sexuality
Published Accusations of Sexual Impropriety before 1841
Joseph Smith’s Private Teachings on Marriage and Sexuality
Joseph Smith’s Private Marital and Sexual Behavior
The Importance of Joseph Smith’s Pre-Nauvoo Teachings and Behaviors
Polygamy Theology and Fanny Alger Marriage

6. Authoritative Sources for Joseph Smith’s Theology

In His Own Words
Privileged Accounts of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy
Overcoming Weaknesses in the Accounts

7. Child-to-Parent Sealings

Eternal Sealing
Elijah Restores the Sealing Authority
Proxy Ordinance Work
Vertical Sealings of Children to Parents
No Vertical Sealings Outside of a Temple
The Welding Work Begins
A Focus of the Millennium

8. Husband-to-Wife Sealings

Introduction of Eternal Marriage
The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage
Eternal Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses
Becoming Gods
“A Continuation of the Seeds”
Secret Teachings of Spirit Birth
Spirit Birth and D&C 132?
Creating New Worlds to Accommodate Spirit Offspring
“Born in the Covenant”

9. The Premortal Existence

Premortal Spirits
Created or Uncreated?
Teachings about Premortal Origins
Mother in Heaven
“A Continuation of the Seeds”
Number of “Begotten” Spirits
One Eternal Round

10. A Plural Marriage Theology

Three Reasons Why Plural Marriage Needed to be Established
Eternal Singleness without Eternal Marriage
Anticipating More Worthy Women Than Men
Demographic Observations Regarding Worthy Women and Men
Plural Marriage in Joseph Smith’s Grand Theology

11. The Law of Adoption

Eternal Advantages from More Biological Offspring
Eternal Advantages from More “Adopted” Offspring
To Whom to Be Sealed?
Adoption Sealings in the Nauvoo Temple
John D. Lee Seeks Adopted Offspring
A Post-Nauvoo Emphasis on Adoption
Members Still Requested to Be Sealed to Church Leaders
Questions and Confusion Continue Regarding Adoption
Wilford Woodruff Clarifies the Practice
The Importance of Sealed Offspring

12. Plural Marriage in Joseph Smith’s Theology

Plural Marriage and Exaltation
Promises of Unconditional Salvation?
A Commandment between 1852 and 1890
Unauthorized Polygamy and Celestial Marriage
Polygamy as a Commandment
Compliance Achieved by Marrying Two Wives

13. Joseph Smith’s Personal Polygamy

Characteristics of Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages
Emma’s Demand that He Stop Marrying Additional Wives
Joseph Smith’s Own Practice and Plural Marriage Theology

14. Possible Motives for Thirty-Five Wives

Libido, Physical Attraction, or Romantic Love
Eternal Advantages
Dynastic Connections
Serving as a Proxy Husband
Fulfillment of Premortal Promises
Women Seeking to be Sealed to the Prophet
Personal Choice

15. Accepting Polygamy

The Deceiver-Deceived Dynamic
A “Well Intentioned ‘Pious Deceiver’”
Charismatic or Spiritual Experiences


Shortened Citations




Praise for Joseph Smith's Polygamy:

“Brian Hales wants to face up to every question, every problem, every fear about plural marriage. His answers may not satisfy everyone, but he gives readers the relevant sources where answers, if they exist, are to be found. There has never been a more thorough examination of the polygamy idea.” — Richard L. Bushman,author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
“Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, the first thorough treatment of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages written by a conservative Mormon scholar, is a landmark in the historiography of Mormon polygamy. While I disagree with some of Hales’s conclusions, I admire his willingness to confront difficult topics and the depth of his research. This impressive work furthers the ongoing dialogue in the Mormon historical community on a fascinating and challenging aspect of the life and teachings of Mormonism’s founding prophet.” — Todd M. Compton, author of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith
“Hales’s massive and well documented three volume examination of the history and theology of Mormon plural marriage, as introduced and practiced during the life of Joseph Smith, will now be the standard against which all other treatments of this important subject will be measured.” — Danel W. Bachman, author of “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Plural Marriage before the Death of Joseph Smith”
“Brian Hales is an exceptionally thorough, meticulous, and evenhanded researcher and assessor of Joseph Smith’s complex and controversial polygamous practices and the theological rationale that supported them. His path-breaking and indispensable three-volume study provides the most comprehensive documentation and assessment yet available of the extant evidence on the topic, even though Hales’s fellow scholars of Joseph Smith’s polygamy may not always find persuasive the ways in which he interprets and contextualizes his evidence.” — Lawrence Foster, author of Religion and Sexuality
“It is clearly the single greatest guide to available resources on the practice of polygamy in Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo. And, it will without any doubt shape the arguments regarding the centrality of plural marriage in early Mormon theology, as well as arguments on precisely what that plural marriage means historically and theologically for Latter-day Saints.” — Cheryl Bruno, Worlds Without End
“Brian C. Hales has done a superb job in bringing all of the relevant history together in one place. No matter what one’s opinions are, for the coming decades this set will prove to be the standard to turn to in researching Mormon polygamy.” — Colby Townsend, Association for Mormon Letters
“Regardless of the reader’s religious or societal views, what Brian C. Hales has achieved, ought to be recognized as an audacious study. . . . This is a very well researched and presented volume, and should be considered as a serious piece of scholarship that enlightens neglected areas of of Mormon past.” — David M. Morris, International Journal of Mormon Studies
“Hales's work is a solid contribution to the historical and theological literature relating to Joseph Smith's life. These three impressive volumes will contain something of value for readers of many backgrounds. Historians, both friendly and antagonistic to Joseph Smith, will appreciate the detailed and comprehensive focus on primary source materials. Latter-day Saints with an interest in history will appreciate reading the words of a writer who shares a common foundation of faith.... This important three-volume work will doubtless be referred to and read for years to come” — M. Scott Bradshaw, BYU Studies Quarterly

See more reviews at Goodreads.

Other Volumes in the Series:

Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Volume 1: History
Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Volume 2: History

Podcasts and Video:

Podcast interview with the Mormon Discussions Podcast.
Podcast interview with the Mormon Stories Podcast.
Podcast interview with the Good Word Podcast.
Podcast discussion with FAIR.
Presentation at Benchmark Books:

About the Author:

Brian C. Hales, board-certified anesthesiologist in Layton, Utah, graduated from Utah State University with a B.S. in biology and from the University of Utah, College of Medicine. This book is his seventh. His Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto (Salt Lake City: Kofford Books, 2007) was awarded the “Best Book of 2007” prize from the John Whitmer Historical Association.
He authored Setting the Record Straight: Mormon Fundamentalism (2008) and The Priesthood of Modern Polygamy: An LDS Perspective (1992). Hales has published articles in Mormon Historical Studies, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and the Journal of Mormon History. He also contributed a chapter to he Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy, edited by Newell Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster (2010). He is also webmaster of and In addition to a fulltime LDS mission in Venezuela (1976-78), he has served as a music missionary (1999 -). Hales has also served as president of the Utah Medical Association and as president of the Medical Staff at Davis Hospital and Medical Center. He is the father of four adult children.

More Information:

332 pages
ISBN: 978-1-58958-687-1 (Paperback)
Published February 2013

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