Mormonism and Polygamy: An Inescapable Contradiction?

In my earlier post on evangelizing Mormon missionaries, I wrote of the apparent contradiction between Jacob 2:24, which depicts God as condemning David and Solomon for having many wives; and Doctrines & Covenants 132:38-39, which depicts God as saying that David and Solomon’s many wives were a gift from Him. This appears to me to be an inescapable contradiction.  It can’t be both. Let’s look at the two counter-arguments Mormon commenters raised, and why I don’t think they help.

I. Does Jacob 2:30 Hold the Key to Answering This Contradiction?

Of all of the Mormons who responded to those two posts, exactly three of them tackled this question.  And each one of them raised the same argument, an argument which appears to me to be a total non sequitur: namely, that Jacob 2:30 leaves open the possibility that God will permit polygamy in the future. So we have Solito Britton, who wrote:

Some of Mormonisms past is bad (Mountain Meadows) other like polygamy is a doctrine people do not understand becuase they don’t study it within Momonism but from the outside. So let’s not play the “contradictions” as in Jacob 2:24 vs. D&C 132:38-39 (You forgot vs. 30 which does condone polygamy if God so choses. It’s funny how you condem the missionaries for using Amos for not reading the whole thing in context yet you omit the context and teaching in Jacob to falsly prove a point that Mormons are hypocrites, yet don’t move on through vs. 30.
Likewise, NetZach argued,
The answer to the polygamy issue is the same, and can be found in Jacob 2:30, where the prophet says, basically, “If I have a specific reason for doing so, (“raise up seed” is the reason listed) then I will command plural marriage, at all other times, it’s an abomination.”
And then there’s Brad, who said,

By the way, your contradictory scriptures on polygamy is really a misuse of scripture by avoiding context. That really wasn’t fair to the missionaries. The rest of the Book of Mormon scripture is as follows.


Jacob 2:30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.


This is saying that there are times that God will give his people more than one wife, if there is a purpose like to “raise up seed.” 

So this is something of the stock response. The problem I have with that response is that it seemingly doesn’t address the problem I cited to at all. In fact, in my initial post, I explicitly said:

I can see how God could theoretically say that plural marriage is right for David and not for Solomon, or vice versa, but can God says that plural marriage is both right for Solomon and wrong for Solomon?

All Jacob 2:30 says that while polygamy is wrong for David and Solomon, maybe it’ll be right for some other group in the future.  Fine: I have no problem with the idea that, as I said in the original post, “just as the Jews are forbidden to eat pork, but not Christians, it’s possible that plural marriage is right or wrong for specific people, given the particular culture and context.”  Where I have a problem is the idea that polygamy is right for David and Solomon and wrong for David and Solomon.

II. Did Jacob 2:24 Merely Forbid Polygamy Without Permission?

Two of the three commenters also tried a different approach.  Namely, that David and Solomon were sinning when they took wives without permission, but not when they took wives with permission.

Here’s how NetZach made the case:

WRT the apparent contradiction between Jacob 2:24 and D&C 132:38-39, remember that text, without context, is only pretext. In Jacob, the context is against plural marriage, and the prophet is using the wives taken by David and Solomon without divine imprimatur as examples where plural marriage is wrong. In the D&C, the prophet is explaining why, for a short time, plural marriage will be allowed, and is using the wives that were given to David and Solomon as examples where plural marriage is right.

While Brad put it like this:

The Doctrine and Covenants say that their sin was not in polygamy, it was only in taking wives that were not given them by God, and mentions specifically the case of David. It does not say that Solomon didn’t do a similar thing.

I’m thankful that this response addresses my original argument.  However, it’s not faithful to one of the two texts they’re trying to defend.  Doctrines & Covenants 132:38-39 says:

David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me.  

David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; 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. 

That’s more or less the position that Brad and NetZach present.  Fair enough.  But notice the second bold part: the only wife David is condemned for taking is Bathsheba from Uriah (and having him killed — see 2 Samuel 11).   And he’s not condemned for taking any of his concubines: in fact, we’re explicitly told that every woman besides Bathsheba was a gift from God.  So under D&C 132, all of David’s concubines were okay, and all but one of his wives were okay. Turn then, to Jacob 2:24:

Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

David’s concubines were an abomination, and so was his having many wives.  Notice that: he’s not being condemned for stealing Bathsheba, but for having many wives.

But if D&C 132 is true, Jacob 2:24 is false: in that case, it wasn’t an abomination for them to have many wives and concubines.  At most, it was an abomination to take those wives and concubines without permission. But there’s a huge difference between those two things, like the difference between being wealthy (having a lot of stuff) and a thief (taking stuff that’s not yours to take).  Jacob 2:24 condemns David and Solomon for being wife-wealthy and concubine-wealthy.  D&C 132 praises David and Solomon for being wife-wealthy and concubine-wealthy, but condemns them for being wife-thieves and concubine-thieves.

III. Presenting the Catholic Position

So let’s pose it as a specific question; namely, “Was it Morally Wrong for David to have Many Concubines“?

  • Jacob 2:24 says YES — not only was it wrong, but it was an abomination. “Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

  • Doctrines & Covenants 132:38-39 says NO — not only was it not wrong, but these wives was a gift from God. David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife. ”  

Of course, it’s logically impossible for both of these things to be true, and since God is all Truth, it’s impossible for both of these things to have been said by God.  Scripture supports this, and St. Paul speaks of how God’s consistency (rooted in His faithfulness) is what distinguishes Him from worldly contradictions (2 Cor. 1:17-20):

When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?  But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

As far as I can see, Mormonism is “Yes, yes,” “No, no,” about even basic questions, like whether Solomon’s having many wives was an abomination, or whether David’s having many concubines was an abomination.

All that said, I’m always open to hearing the other side on this: are there better LDS responses out there?  If not, are the two LDS arguments above stronger than I realize?  If not, is there any way for all of the above to be true without it proving Mormonism false?

10 Comments

  1. While we are on contradictions…

    …can someone possessed by such a demon that it requires fasting to cast out be saved by faith alone and not by the work of fasting?

  2. Being possessed by a demon is one thing, being saved is another. I can imagine someone suffering possession until death and yet being saved. (God might not relieve his temporal suffering from it for the good of his soul.)

    The reason why he can not be saved by faith alone is that faith without works is dead and has no power to save a man.

  3. I am honestly shocked at the lack of sudden interest in these topics by those that have previously critiqued your arguments…

    where oh where have you gone?

    God Bless

  4. @Daniel, this argument is something Joe and I have been trying to flesh out very heavily in the past week or two. But to answer your question, briefly, no on is saved by the devil when he is acting as the agent, i.e. the efficient cause. The devil’s activity may lead to the salvation of souls by providence (of God) who, when acting as the agent of all creation guides it towards His end which is redemption. In Augustine’s enchiridion he answers that God allows evil, in order to bring about the greater good. This is possible because what we speak of as evil, is permissible because of God’s justice. This is a lower order of Good, if you pardon the imprecision, than His mercy, but it is still a good. When utilizing evil (or better, permitting it) God is not actively commiting evil, only accidentally permitting it according to his Justice. What he is actively commiting is more properly called Mercy, which belongs to the virtue called Charity, which according to the natural law, and scholastic system, is a higher order of Good than Justice. So the ‘act’ if you would like, of God’s will (active will) is Mercy, and God’s permissive will (the activity of Satan) do not contradict one another in this way, but work together to make the world more perfect. I’ll probably review that later and clarify it, if it needs, it.

  5. To clarify a little, The thing God is permitting (Satan’s activity in the world), is not ‘good’, but THAT God is permitting, or God’s permission, is in itself what is good.

    Joe, I realize my comments are probably very dense for the average reader, and I would greatly appreciate your correction and discretion in making that more readable for everyone.

    Love,

    Ryan

  6. I am an ex 7 point calvinist. I used to say that Scripture says God doesn’t change. God is both just and merciful. If evil didn’t exist, then how could he exercise the wrath justice requires? Or mercy?

  7. Daniel,

    The problem with that Calvinist view is that it’s dualistic: that God requires evil to be God. Because if your theory were correct, think about the time before the fall of Satan. It would mean that God wasn’t Just or Merciful then, because you’re arguing that His Justice and Mercy require evil.

    If that thought were true, either God is still not Just and Merciful (since He doesn’t change), or He changes. As you can see, none of those conclusions are possible. So the problem is with your starting premise, that God’s Justice and Mercy requires evil. In fact, God’s Justice includes rewarding the Just, and His Mercy includes rewarding Creation with more than is due to it. And of course, Creation itself is a mercy. God bless,

    Joe

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