Over the last couple of months, the LDS Church has been publishing some in-depth “Gospel Topics” essays covering controversial issues such as the translation of the Book of Abraham and the First Vision accounts. The latest essays are on polygamy in the early church, and specifically, on the plural marriages of Joseph Smith (which some Mormons were not aware of—this is the first time this information has been officially stated by the LDS Church, though it’s been available through other sources for quite some time).
Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson have been going over the LDS polygamy essay on their Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast (see the episodes on 11/10-11/25), giving more detail about the historical documents informing this issue.
As part of the discussion, they responded to the LDS claim that God commanded polygamy for the sake of raising up more children, quoting from their book Answering Mormons’ Questions:
Polygamy certainly is not encouraged in the Book of Mormon. Speaking of David and Solomon’s “abominable” practice of having many wives and concubines, Jacob 2:26-27 [part of LDS scripture] warns, “Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.”
Jacob 2:30 does offer a single exception: “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.” In an essay titled “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” writer Stanley Ivans states, “While polygamy increased the number of children of the men, it did not do the same for the women involved. A count revealed that 3,335 wives of polygamists bore 19,806 children, for an average of 5.9 per woman. An equal number of wives of monogamists taken from the same general group bore 26,780 for an average of 8. This suggests the possibility that the overall production of children in Utah may have been less than it would have been without benefit of plurality of wives” (p. 64).
McKeever and Johnson recommend the books Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith and In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (both written by Mormons) to learn more about polygamy in the early LDS Church.