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Was Jesus a Polygamist?

Dan Brown may have raised the issue for today’s audience as to whether Jesus was married. But back in 1854, LDS apostle Orson Hyde had already ramped the issue up to an even higher level by stating in a public sermon that Jesus was a polygamist, that Mary and Martha and others were his wives, and that the wedding at Cana was his own wedding (Journal of Discourses 2:81-82 and 2:210 – see also 4:259).

I remember first reading this sound bite from Orson Hyde close to 40 years ago, but only recently, more than twelve years after the claims of The Da Vinci Code, did I connect Orson Hyde’s claim with the greater debate about whether Jesus was married at all.

Brigham Young says in Journal of Discourses 13:309, “The Scripture says that He, the Lord, came walking in the Temple with His train; I do not know who they were, unless His wives and children; but at any rate they filled the Temple.” Elsewhere, he says, “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy” (Journal of Discourses 11:269).

For me, the issue is not theological or ethical, but historical: did it really happen? Because he was the Creator incarnate, and the leading articulator of what marriage is all about, I have no problem with the hypothetical possibility of a married Jesus. Getting married could be a huge distraction from his mission (which was not to create a blood line of incarnate Deity!), but it would not violate his ethical standards for us, unlike a fornicating or practicing gay Jesus, which would violate his standards. (See my post at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tomhobson/2017/09/gods-sex-mandate-two-shall-become-one-flesh/ for more on that subject.) No, my issue, plain and simple, is: Did it really happen?

I joke about it, but yet I am serious: If Jesus were married, what Jewish mother-in-law could have kept silent about it? Aside from the silence of any mother-in-law(s), the silence of the apostles is deafening. They were in the best position to know.

The most conclusive actual Scripture that makes this point is 1 Corinthians 9:5. Paul argues that he has a right to be accompanied by a wife, “as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas [Peter].” So all these church leaders he cites are married. If Jesus had been married, Paul most certainly would have cited Jesus’ example as his strongest argument.

Apostle Orson Pratt agrees with his fellow apostle Orson Hyde’s claim that Jesus was not merely married, but a polygamist. He declares in The Seer, “If all the acts of Jesus were written, we should no doubt learn that these beloved women [meaning Mary, Martha her sister, and Mary Magdalene] were his wives... 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.” (The Seer, pages 159, 172.)

Similarly and at the same time as Pratt, Hyde, and Young made their claims, the apostle Jedediah Grant speculated, “'The grand reason why the Gentiles and philosophers of his school persecuted Jesus Christ, was, because he had so many wives; there were Elizabeth, and Mary, and a host of others that followed him... 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.” (Journal of Discourses 1:345-346).

By implication, historic LDS apostles who claim that Jesus not only married several wives but had earthly children by them are creating a huge theological problem. If Jesus was God incarnate, as we Nicene Christians believe, then he fathered children who were half-divine. But if such supposed children of his were not divine, then was Jesus not divine at this point, either? That gives us a purely human Jesus, whom we Nicene Christians categorically reject, even if he was later exalted to deity.

Pratt goes beyond today’s LDS leaders by teaching that Mary the mother of Jesus was one of God the Father’s wives. He writes, “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.” (The Seer, page 172)

How can this be? Pratt argues that God “had a lawful right to overshadow the Virgin Mary in the capacity of a husband, and beget a Son, although she was espoused to another; for the law which he gave to govern men and women was not intended to govern himself…it may be that He only gave her to be the wife of Joseph while in this mortal state, and that He intended after the resurrection to again take her as one of His wives to raise up immortal spirits in eternity.” (The Seer, page 159)

Meanwhile, Pratt tells us, just as God the Father and his wives have already begotten billions of spirits to inhabit human bodies, Jesus and his wives will also beget countless millions, according to his reading of Messianic prophecies such as Isaiah 9:7 and Psalm 45:16 (The Seer, page 172).

So already, polygamous deities (rather than a Triune God) have led to a non-virgin birth of Jesus. Today’s LDS leaders do not publicly draw such conclusions, and they refuse to go the next step with Brigham Young, who publicly taught that Adam is the one who fathered Jesus in the flesh, proclaiming that Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.” (Journal of Discourses 1:50) In the same breath, he also emphatically states that Jesus was “not begotten by the Holy Ghost,” with which Orson Pratt concurs.

Whether Latter Day Saints have the option to reject the teaching of a prophet of Brigham’s stature is questionable from a logical standpoint. We can applaud their desire not to affirm what appear to be indefensible statements. But the LDS prophet and apostles who succeeded Joseph Smith taught a comprehensive polygamous divine order that cannot be so easily set aside. And what good are prophets and apostles, if they can’t be taken at their word on such matters?