Mormon Scriptures and David's wives

by Luke Wayne

The Mormon church does not currently permit the practice of polygamy (or "plural marriage") in this life, but it does teach that God has sanctioned, blessed, and even commanded this practice in the past. This teaching does lead to the interesting question of when God did and when he did not approve of polygamy. Was it right, for example, for King David to have his several wives and concubines? This question is interesting because the Mormon scriptures give conflicting answers to this question. The Book of Mormon declares:

"Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord" (Jacob 2:24).

This verse clearly says that it was abominable to God that David had many wives and concubines. This was a sin for David. It was an abomination. It is plain that, from the perspective of the Book of Mormon, God did not approve of polygamy for David and Solomon. Yet this is not the only passage in Mormon scripture that seeks to answer this question. In Doctrine and Covenants we are given a wholly different answer:

"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" (D&C 132:38-39).

Here, the Mormon scriptures tell us that David received both his wives and his concubines from God, and his polygamy was not a sin at all. His only sin was in taking Uriah's wife. So his sin was adultery, not polygamy, and his having many wives and concubines was not an abomination before God but was, in fact, a blessing from God.

So which is it? Were David's many wives and concubines an abomination before God, as the Book of Mormon says? Or were they given to him by God, as the Doctrines and Covenants says? Did David sin in having many wives and concubines, as Jacob 2 clearly states? Or is it true that "in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife" as D&C 132 says? These are opposing, mutually exclusive claims. "Having many wives was sinful for David" and "having many wives was NOT sinful for David." This isn't just the ambiguity between two separate sources reporting the same thing different ways, as is often the case when people accuse documents of "contradiction." This is a perfect example of the very definition of a logical contradiction. One source says something IS true, and the other source says the very same thing is NOT true.

Remember that our question here has nothing to do with whether or not Mormons approve of polygamy today. The contradiction is not in the fact that Mormons teach that polygamy is okay at some times in history and not okay in others. The question is whether or not polygamy was okay specifically for King David at his time and in his place. On this specific and important historical claim, the Mormon scriptures are irreconcilably contradictory.