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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

01 June 2006

The Da Vinci Code: Mormons and the Marriage of Jesus

Q: Thanks for clearing up what Martin Luther said about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. I’m curious, however, about the Time Magazine book review that said Brigham Young believed that Christ was married. What is the Mormon teaching about this?

A: You don’t hear too much currently on this topic from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). However, in days gone by, a number of that group’s leaders weighed in on the marriages of both Jesus and His Father. I checked with some ex-Mormons in order to point readers to original sources whenever possible, so you can see with your own eyes that I’ve not invented any teachings and credited them to the LDS or put any words in the mouths of their patriarchs and prophets.

Those Mormons who know their church’s early writings and the utterances of its prophets will not be much surprised at what you will read here. While the LDS officially condemned polygamy years ago, it’s still an important part of their theology. Even if a Mormon man has only one official wife during life on earth, many have already been sealed to multiple wives who they believe will be with them in eternity.

Mormons teach that as people progress through the life to come, they will be able to conceive and bear spirit children who eventually will become the souls of people who will live on other earths yet to be populated — or even created. It’s all part of an understanding to which fifth LDS President Lorenzo Snow gave a popular form in 1840: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” Although this saying is not listed as an official teaching of Mormonism, it correctly sums up much official Mormon doctrine. For more on the topic, with a list of sources, please see this article by Bill McKeever.

Plural marriage and a plurality of gods have been part of Mormonism for most of its history. I don’t have time and space to point out all instances of such teaching, but I encourage interested people to study the ample online and print resources — both LDS and “gentile” — to see for themselves. Please note as we continue this examination that the sites hosting these documents belong to the LDS.

We read first the words of Jedediah M. Grant, Second Counselor to Brigham Young, the Second Prophet (after Joseph Smith) of the LDS:

What does old Celsus say, who was a physician in the first century, whose medical works are esteemed very highly at the present time. His works on theology were burned with fire by the Catholics, they were so shocked at what they called their impiety. Celsus was a heathen philosopher; and what does he say upon the subject of Christ and his Apostles, and their belief? He says, “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.” After Jesus went from the stage of action, the Apostles followed the example of their master. For instance, John the beloved disciple, writes in his second Epistle, “Unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth.” Again, he says, “Having many thing to write unto you (or communicate), I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” Again — “The children of thy elect sister greet thee.” This ancient philosopher says they were both John’s wives.

Paul says, “Mine answer to them that do examine me is this: — Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas.” He, according to Celsus, had a numerous train of wives.

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. A belief in the doctrine of a plurality of wives caused the persecution of Jesus and his followers. We might almost think they were “Mormons.”

(“Discourse: Uniformity,” Journal of Discourses, Volume 1.)

We now note the words of Apostle Orson Hyde, recorded in two different volumes of the Journal of Discourses. In the first, he claims that it was Jesus’ own wedding in Cana which Saint John recorded (John 2:1-12) and that, most likely, Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and the sisters Mary and Martha:

It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and on a careful reading of that transaction, it will be discovered that no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the best of it.

I will venture to say that if Jesus Christ were now to pass through the most pious countries in Christendom with a train of women,. such as used to follow him, fondling about him, combing his hair, anointing him with precious ointment, washing his feet with tears, and wiping them with the hair of their heads and unmarried, or even married, he would be mobbed, tarred, and feathered, and rode, not on an ass, but on a rail. What did the old Prophet mean when he said (speaking of Christ), “He shall see his seed, prolong his days, &c. [cf. Isaiah 53:10]” Did Jesus consider it necessary to fulfil every righteous command or requirement of his Father? He most certainly did. This he witnessed by submitting to baptism under the hands of John. “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness,” said he. Was it God’s commandment to man, in the beginning, to multiply and replenish the earth? None can deny this, neither that it was a righteous command; for upon an obedience to this, depended the perpetuity of our race. Did Christ come to destroy the law or the Prophets, or to fulfil them? He came to fulfil. Did he multiply, and did he see his seed? Did he honour his Father’s law by complying with it, or did he not? Others may do as they like, but I will not charge our Saviour with neglect or transgression in this or any other duty.

At this doctrine the long-faced hypocrite and the sanctimonious bigot will probably cry, blasphemy! Horrid perversion of God’s word! Wicked wretch! He is not fit to live! &c., &c. But the wise and reflecting will consider, read, and pray. If God be not our Father, grandfather, or great grandfather, or some kind of a father in reality, in deed and in truth, why are we taught to say, “Our Father who art in heaven?” How much soever of holy horror of this doctrine may excite in persons not impregnated with the blood of Christ, and whose minds are consequently dark and benighted, it may excite still more when they are told that if none of the natural blood of Christ flows in their veins, they are not the chosen or elect of God. Object not, therefore, too strongly against the marriage of Christ, but remember that in the last days, secret and hidden things must come to light, and that your life also (which is the blood) is hid with Christ in God.

(“Sermon: Man the Head of Woman — Kingdom of God — the Seed of Christ — Polygamy — Society in Utah,” Journal of Discourses, Volume 4.)

Here, Hyde comments on Mary Magdalene’s words and behavior at the tomb while also expressing the notion that the marriage in Cana was Christ’s:

How was it with Mary and Martha, and other women that followed him? In old times, and it is common in this day, the women, even as Sarah, called their husbands Lord; the word Lord is tantamount to husband in some languages, master, lord, husband, are about synonymous. In England we frequently hear the wife say, “Where is my master?” She does not mean a tyrant, but as Sarah called her husband Lord, she designates hers by the word master. When Mary of old came to the sepulchre on the first day of the week, instead of finding Jesus she saw two angels in white, “And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She said unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord,” or husband, “and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.” Is there not here manifested the affections of a wife. These words speak the kindred ties and sympathies that are common to that relation of husband and wife. Where will you find a family so nearly allied by the ties of common religion? “Well,” you say, “that appears rather plausible, but I want a little more evidence, I want you to find where it says the Savior was actually married.”

Have you ever read your Bibles? I must confess I have not read it for some time, but looked more to Him who rules on high, and to those who hold the words of life in the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; I look to them more frequently than to it. I have once memorized the Bible, and when any one quoted one verse, I could quote the next. I have memorized it in English, German, and Hebrew, still I do not profess to be very familiar with it now, yet the sentiments and spirit of it are in my heart, and will be as long as I live, and still remain when I am gone to another sphere. When does it say the Savior was married? I believe I will read it for your accommodation, or you might not believe my words were I to say that there is indeed such a Scripture.

We will turn over to the account of the marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Yes, and somebody else too. You will find it in the 2nd chapter of John’s Gospel; remember it and read it when you go home. “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the water pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him” — that is, the ruler of the feast saith unto the bridegroom, “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.”

Gentlemen, that is as plain as the translators, or different councils over this Scripture, dare allow it to go to the world, but the thing is there; it is told; Jesus was the bridegroom at the marriage of Cana of Galilee, and he told them what to do.

(“Lecture: The Marriage Relations,” Journal of Discourses, Volume 2.)

This following item appeared in the Mormon church paper the Millennial Star in 1853:

If these things have power to disturb the pure mind we apprehend that even greater troubles than these may arise before mankind learn all the particulars of Christ’s incarnation — bow and by whom he was begotten; the character of the relationships formed by that act; the number of wives and children he had, and all other circumstances with which he was connected, and by which he was tried and tempted in all things like unto man.

(Millennial Star, Volume 15, page 825. Note: A list item near the bottom marked “Editorial,” following one called “History of Joseph Smith,” bears pages 824-826.)

Of course, Brigham Young’s name is the one normally mentioned in the David van Biema review by for Time and elsewhere. Young clearly outlines the Mormon concept of an anthropomorphic Heavenly Father and seems to mingle Father and Son as he speaks of Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in the temple. Note how he gets on the wrong “train” as he assumes that “the train of his robe (Isaiah 6:1 ESV)” is the “train” of “His wives and children ... [that] filled the Temple”:

[T]he Lord is our God and it is He whom we serve; and we say to the whole world that He is a tangible Being. We have a God with ears, eyes, nose, mouth; He can and does speak. He has arms, hands, body, legs and feet; He talks and walks; and we are formed after His likeness. The good book-the Bible, tells us what kind of a character our Heavenly Father is. In the first chapter of Genesis and the 17th verse, speaking of the Lord creating men, it reads as plain as it can read, and He created man in His own image and likeness; and if He created Adam and Eve in His own image, the whole human family are like Him. This same truth is borne out by the Savior. Said he, when talking to his disciples: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;” and, “I and my Father are one.” 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, and how many there were who could not get into the Temple I cannot say. This is the account given by Isaiah, whether he told the truth or not I leave every body to judge for himself.

(“Discourse: Gathering the Poor — Religion a Science,” Journal of Discourses, Volume 13.)

I leave you with one last reference, from early LDS Apostle Orson Pratt. He plainly and clearly says, in an utterance the Mormon Church previously accepted as inspired and holy, that Jesus was married — and to to more than one woman:

From the passage in the forty-fifth Psalm, it will be seen that the great Messiah, who was the founder of the Christian religion, was a polygamist, as well as the patriarch Jacob and the prophet David, from whom he descended according to the flesh. Paul says concerning Jesus, “Verily he took not on him the nature of angels but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” (Heb. 2:16). Abraham the polygamist, being a friend of God, the Messiah chose to take upon himself his seed; and by marrying many honorable wives himself, show to all future generations that he approbated the plurality of Wives under the Christian dispensation as well as under the dispensations in which his polygamist ancestors lived.

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 [fleshly body] of Jesus, as His only begotten in this world. 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 honourable wives were to be married. We have also proved that both God the Father and our lord Jesus Christ inherit their wives in eternity as well as in time; and that God the Father has already begotten many thousand millions of sons and daughters and sent them into this world to take tabernacles; and that God the Son has the promise that “of the increase of His government there shall be no end;” it being expressly declared that the children of one of His Queens should be made Princes in all the earth. (See Psalm 45:16.)

(“Second Epistle of Orson Pratt: Celestial Marriage,” The Seer, pages 172-173. Note: In the browser, look for “Second Epistle of Orson Pratt/Celestial Marriage.” The next heading is titled “Celestial Marriage”; click on it, then on “172” and then “173” to find these pages. Utah Lighthouse Ministries, the home of noted ex-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner, includes a scanned page from a different printing of The Seer with some of the more provocative quotes underlined.)

If you read all of The Seer at this link, you’ll discover an amazing display of non-Christian interpretations of Scriptural prophecies and fulfillments, especially concerning marriage passages involving the Lamb, the King, and the like. Various apostles of the LDS have made occasional efforts to disavow some of the utterances of Pratt and others early Morman leaders. However, they run into the problem that their words were accepted as divinely inspired and binding doctrine at one time or another by Mormonism. And even if we exclude Pratt, the plain words of numerous other Mormons show clearly that the LDS has believed from its early days that Heavenly Father was married (and often teaching that He wed many times over) and that Jesus, likewise, took wives for Himself on earth and continues to have sexual relations with them in heaven.

How contrary is this to orthodox Christian doctrine! The Lamb has but one Bride, His holy Church, and that they will enter into marital bliss upon the Last Day. Anything else twists and perverts clear Scripture, shifts the focus of the Gospel, and denigrates the saving work of Christ on our behalf.

Thanks to Sandra Tanner for helping me locate some of the original sources used in this response.

Scriptures included are those used by the original authors. It appears that most come from either the King James Version or the Joseph Smith Translation. Text in square brackets is mine, as are the parenthetical notes and references following each quote.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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