The common definition of adultery is a sexual relationship between a married person and any person other than a spouse. Scripturally, adultery can be interpreted more widely, encompassing any voluntary sexual relationship between unmarried people. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, has very strong opinions about the sin of adultery and those who commit it.

The Book of Mormon

Mormons consider the Christian Bible holy, but they believe it is only the partial word of God, and that the Book of Mormon completes it by revealing a lost testament of Jesus Christ. Disagreement over the sanctity of the Book of Mormon is a huge reason for the rift between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism. In the book of Alma 39:3-5, God admonishes a man named Corianton for committing adultery with a “harlot” named Isabel. God tells Corianton that the only sins more grievous than adultery are denying the Holy Ghost and murdering the innocent.

Doctrine and Covenants

Mormons consider the Doctrine and Covenants as the combined revelations (instructions from God) given to Mormonism’s founding prophet Joseph Smith and subsequent presidents of the church. The Doctrine and Covenants address adultery in no uncertain terms, saying that any man who looks lustfully at a woman lacks the Holy Spirit, and will be cast out, that is excommunicated, if he doesn’t repent. Any man who otherwise commits adultery but doesn’t repent will also be cast out. An adulterer who sincerely repents and never commits adultery again is forgiven. A second instance, however, cannot be forgiven under any circumstances.

Degrees of Glory

The Mormon idea of Heaven can be thought of as a multi-tier system. The tier you wind up on in the afterlife is based on the goodness of your works and your faith in the testimony of Jesus. There are three “Degrees of Glory.” From highest to lowest, they are Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial. According to the Doctrine and Covenants, liars, sorcerers, whoremongers and adulterers will be sent to hell until Jesus reigns over the earth. During this time in hell, there will be an opportunity for repentance. Those who sincerely repent will be raised to the Telestial Glory at the end of the millennium.

Polygamy and the Church

Very prominent early Mormons, such as founder Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, were polygamists who took many wives. These polygamous arrangements were not, and are not, considered adultery by the church, as it is the Mormon view that God specifically commanded those men and select others to take many wives in order to build the church. However, after 1890, the church stopped preaching plural marriage and the modern church excommunicates known polygamists.