Lesson 22 Teacher Material: Plural Marriage

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“Lesson 22 Teacher Material: Plural Marriage,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material (2019)

“Lesson 22 Teacher Material,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material

Lesson 22 Teacher Material

Plural Marriage

Marriage between one man and one woman is the Lord’s law unless He commands otherwise (see Jacob 2:27–30). By revelation the Lord commanded the Prophet Joseph Smith to live the principle of plural marriage and to teach it to some early Church members. Plural marriage continued in the Church until the Lord declared by revelation that the Saints should end the practice (see Official Declaration 1). This lesson is designed to strengthen students’ assurance that Joseph Smith and early Church members were acting under the Lord’s direction when they practiced plural marriage. It will also help students more fully trust in the Lord as they seek to obey His will and find answers to their questions.

Suggestions for Teaching

The Lord revealed the practice of plural marriage.

Display the following statement by President Russell M. Nelson:

Russell M. Nelson

God has always asked His covenant children to do difficult things. (Russell M. Nelson, “Stand as True Millennials,” Ensign, Oct. 2016, 27)

  • What are some of the “difficult things” God has asked Church members to do in our day? (You might list responses on the board. Invite students to consider their personal obedience to these commandments throughout the lesson.)

  • Why do you think God asks His covenant children to do these things?

Point out that for many early Latter-day Saints, one of the most difficult requirements from God was for them to live the principle of plural marriage. Remind students that as early as 1831, Joseph Smith prayed to understand why some ancient prophets and Israelite kings practiced plural marriage (see the section heading and verse 1 of Doctrine and Covenants 132).

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:34–37 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for how the Lord responded to the Prophet’s question.

  • Display the following question: Why did Abraham marry Hagar as a plural wife?

  • According to verses 36–37, what principle did the Lord teach Joseph Smith about obedience to His commandments? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: When we are willing to obey whatever the Lord commands, it is “accounted unto [us] for righteousness.”)

  • How might the Lord’s commandment for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac be compared to His commandment for Joseph Smith and the early Saints to practice plural marriage?

Explain that sometime after the Lord revealed the principle of plural marriage to Joseph Smith, He commanded the Prophet to live this principle and to teach it to others.

Display the following statement, and invite a student to read it aloud:

According to Helen Mar Kimball, Joseph Smith stated that “the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.” Though it was one of the “severest” trials of her life, she testified that it had also been “one of the greatest blessings.” (“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics,

  • What were Joseph Smith’s feelings toward the practice of plural marriage when it was first introduced? (If needed, have students review Sister Eliza R. Snow’s statement in section 2 of the preparation material.)

Ask class members to consider the examples of Abraham and Joseph Smith.

  • What does the early Saints’ willingness to obey such difficult commandments reveal about their character and faith?

Explain that several of the early Saints left descriptions of the internal struggle they experienced when plural marriage was introduced to them. Invite students to share what they remember from the accounts they studied in section 3 of the preparation material.

Display the following account from Phebe Woodruff, wife of President Wilford Woodruff. Invite a student to read it aloud:

When the principle of polygamy was first taught I thought it the most wicked thing I ever heard of. … As soon, however, as I became convinced that it originated as a revelation from God through Joseph, and knowing him to be a prophet, I wrestled with my Heavenly Father in fervent prayer, to be guided aright at that all-important moment of my life. The answer came. Peace was given to my mind. I knew it was the will of God. (Phebe Woodruff, in Edward Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom [1877], 413)

  • How can Phebe’s example help someone today who may struggle with obeying a commandment from God? How can her example help someone who may have questions about the practice of plural marriage among the early Saints?

Invite a student to read Proverbs 3:5–6 aloud, and ask the class to read along and look for a principle that can relate to these early Saints’ experiences.

  • What principles can we learn from this passage and the experience of the early Saints? (Using students’ words, write on the board (or display) a principle similar to the following: If we trust in the Lord with all our heart and do not rely on our own understanding, then He will guide our lives.)

Ask students the following question:

  • What do you think it means for someone who is concerned about the early practice of plural marriage to trust in the Lord with all his or her heart and not simply rely on his or her own understanding?

Explain that it is not uncommon for Church members to have questions or concerns about plural marriage. God has not revealed and does not require His children today to understand the details of plural marriage. However, all Saints are promised that they can obtain a witness that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet who received commandments and revelation from Him and that Joseph faithfully lived according to the Lord’s commands.


You can help students answer difficult questions. Providing students with correct information and helping them locate trustworthy sources can help them think about challenging topics and explain them accurately. If students want to learn more about the practice of plural marriage in early Church history, invite them to prayerfully study the additional resources listed in the “Want More?” section of the preparation material.

Invite students to consider times in their lives when they have trusted in the Lord and obeyed a difficult commandment—or when they have had to “lean not unto [their] own understanding” as they searched for answers to difficult questions. You might invite a few students to share their experiences. Ask them how the Lord directed their paths.

Consider giving students time to think about religious or personal questions they have. Ask them to ponder what they can do to find answers to or reassurances about these questions, to trust in the Lord, and to rely on Him. They might even record their thoughts in a journal or pray for the Lord’s help to know how to act in faith.

The Lord revealed some reasons for the practice of plural marriage.

Explain that we do not understand all of God’s purposes for introducing plural marriage in this dispensation, but He has given us some of His reasons. For example, the Lord taught the Prophet Joseph Smith that the practice was part of the restoration of “all things” from previous dispensations (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:40, 45).

Invite a student to read Jacob 2:30 aloud, and ask the class to look for another reason the Lord has given for commanding His people to practice plural marriage. Invite students to report what they find. (Students should include in their responses that the command was given as a way to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant. In this way, the Lord’s people “raise up seed” unto Him.)

Point out that the early Saints’ efforts to obey this commandment “result[ed] in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes” (“Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah,” Gospel Topics,

The Lord later revealed that Latter-day Saints should stop practicing plural marriage.

Invite a student who studied the preparation material (section 2) to recount what led to the end of plural marriage in the restored Church.

  • How would you explain the Church’s current stance on plural marriage to someone?

Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from the first and seventh paragraphs of “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff regarding the Manifesto,” which follows Official Declaration 1.

  • What did President Woodruff teach the Saints? (Students should identify a truth similar to the following: The Lord will never permit the President of the Church to lead the Church astray.)

  • How can this truth affect the way we personally respond to the counsel and teachings of the Lord’s living prophet?

Conclude by sharing your testimony that the Prophet Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders were true prophets of God who obediently followed and taught the Lord’s commandments to the Latter-day Saints.

For Next Time

Explain to students that as they study for the next class, they will have the opportunity to learn about the details surrounding the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Encourage students to come to class prepared to discuss their thoughts on what Joseph Smith accomplished as a prophet of God.