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 things 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.
But the text we are presented with is actually a transcript of extemporaneous remarks, and the lines are apparently meant as only an approximate quotation. The trouble is that Origen doesn’t attribute anything similar to Celsus whatsoever. Grant either made the whole thing up or grossly misremembered Origen’s discussion in 3.10 of how women threw aside propriety and followed Jesus into the desert.
Two months later, the Mormon leader Orson Pratt tried a different tack on behalf of polygamy and argued that Jesus was the figure in Psalm 45 who was getting married, and claimed that anytime Jesus referenced a bridegroom it referred literally to one of his many marriages.
Francis Michael Darter tried to save the claim that Celsus was on the Mormons’ side in his sermons on “Celestial Marriage,” but he did so at the cost of truth. He, too, misidentified Celsus as the Roman medical writer, and he alleged that the reason that the texts were unavailable is that the Catholic Church had burned them all in order to prevent Christians from learning the truth about Jesus’ polygamy! But by the time Darter made these claims, the Mormons had already renounced polygamy at U.S. government insistence, and Darter was expelled from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The false quotation Grant gave still turns up from time to time in modern books among people who never consulted the original.