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Mormonism and priesthood/Women
Mormonism, women and the priesthoodSummary: Why do women not exercise priesthood authority in the Church?
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- Question: Why do women not hold priesthood offices in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
- Question: Did Joseph Smith intend to ordain women to the priesthood?
- Question: Why are there no women prophets in the church today?
We rejoice that we are privileged to live in this season of the history of the Church when questions are being asked about the priesthood. There is great interest and desire to know and understand more about the authority, power, and blessings associated with the priesthood of God.
- — Sister Linda Burton, Relief Society General President (3 May 2013).
Question: Why do women not hold priesthood offices in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
During the early years of the LDS Church, no provision was made in the revelations describing the priesthood along with its offices for the ordination of women
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints positions in the leadership hierarchy are generally connected directly to offices in the priesthood. During the early years of the LDS Church, no provision was made in the revelations describing the priesthood along with its offices for the ordination of women. Consequently, when the Church received revelation describing the authority structure of the Church in terms of priesthood offices and roles, women were not included. This situation changed to some extent between 1842 and 1844. During the last two years of his life, Joseph Smith both organized the Relief Society and began introducing the temple ordinances (in particular the endowment) to the larger membership of the Church. Both of these developments had consequences for the view of women’s roles in the Church and in discussions over the relationship between women and the priesthood. Joseph addressed the Relief Society six times—the only sermons which he delivered exclusively to women in the Church—and these sermons (found in the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book) continue to frame the discussion of the role of women in the Church and their relationship to the priesthood.
Are women unequal because they don't hold priesthood office?
Some have questioned the recognition of women in the Restored tradition because women cannot hold priesthood office. The Restored Gospel may actually be argued to have a more equal view of women than a lot of other traditions. A few data to keep in mind:
- As part of the Restored Gospel, men and women cannot be exalted without the other. The culminating ordinance of the Gospel is the sealing of men and women to each other for time and all eternity.
- The Restored Gospel teaches us that God has a Heavenly Consort. This is in contrast to much of the rest of Christendom.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has one of the largest women's organizations in the world in the Relief Society.
- Women exercise priesthood authority in the effectuation of temple ordinances.
- Patriarchy does not necessarily imply female inferiority. In some contexts it does imply that and others it doesn't. Patriarchy could simply mean a division of labor along gender lines.
- An argument might be made for the symbolism and the effective spiritual economy that a male-only priesthood ordination brings. When a person stands in water with a person about to be baptized, the baptizer is supposed to represent Jesus Christ ("having been commissioned of Jesus Christ"). Thus the symbolism of that might be more meaningful with a male-only priesthood. As it regards a spiritual economy, it might be helpful to think of those people that claim to receive revelation on behalf of a person within a particular office of the priesthood such as happens with many people that claim to receive revelation that contradicts the prophet. With one, male priesthood holder as the overriding authority of the family, this might prevent gridlock that might occur when two parents disagree over the course of stewardship of the family. This isn't to say that men should be the only decision makers. Men and women are supposed to preside over their families as "equal partners." Ideally, men and women should lead the family as a team--"one heart and one mind."
- An argument may be made for equality by asking candidly about differing efficacies between different mechanisms for expressing faith. As a sobering example, we might consider if God is going to withhold blessings more from the sincere prayer of a mother praying on behalf of a sick child than he would if a priesthood holder were to give a blessing. We would of course shutter at the idea of saying that he does. But then the question arises of what the purpose of the priesthood is in blessing others. It might be more properly conceived as another means to show our faith in God. By believing in the power of the priesthood enough to ask for a blessing is a demonstration of our inner faith in its power. As we learn in the scriptures, God works by power, according to the faith of the children of men (1 Nephi 10:17 (17-19); Moroni 7:37; Moroni 10:7). We should be open to the promptings of the Spirit in such instances to know if that is what God would have us do. But we should not conceive of the priesthood bestowing a higher level of power that makes the conferral of blessings more efficacious or superior to other, very sincerely effectuated mechanisms of expressing faith. Thus, perhaps the fallacy is in thinking too structurally and in relation to the earthly organization of the Church instead of cosmically/theologically when determining the equality of women in the Church and before God. The amount of power is all the same; the faith we demonstrate towards God to receive that power is different. This may demonstrate that priesthood office is a mere division of labor instead of a sign of additional favor towards men from God.
- Some might still say that having the priesthood is still a bestowal of greater power on men. An additional argument may be made for a sense of equality in that the priesthood would not function without the voices of women if men conceived of the priesthood elevating them above women. In Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-42 we read:
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile
The priesthood was never meant to place men above anyone. If anyone conceives of the priesthood as elevating them to higher planes i.e. "gratify  pride, [or] vain ambition" then the priesthood is "withdrawn" and "Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man". Thus women's voices are needed. Through "persuasion" and "long-suffering" we are to counsel with one another. This principle is emphasized in The Family: A Proclamation to the World:
Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children.
[. . .]By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.
It is still very possible that women will hold priesthood office one day. One hopes that women will be given access to callings that don't require priesthood authority. Such is also very possible. We can also continue to highlight the contributions of female Latter-day Saints to the Church--both ancient and modern. The Church is doing this as well.But the reception of authority and office will not signify a change in status or respect before God. All are alike unto God; male and female — as Nephi and Paul tell us (Romans 2:11; 1 Corinthians 11:11; Galatians 3:28; 2 Nephi 26:33). The theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expresses that.
Question: Did Joseph Smith intend to ordain women to the priesthood?
Some have understood Joseph Smith's address to the Relief Society on 30 March 1842 to suggest that Joseph intended to ordain women to the priesthood
On March 30th, 1842, Joseph Smith addressed the Relief Society at their third meeting. Eliza R. Snow recorded in the minute book:
the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuou[s] and holy— Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests an in Enoch’s day— as in Pauls day
Some have understood this to suggest that Joseph intended to ordain women to the priesthood. When the Relief Society was incorporated into the Ward structure (in 1868), Relief Society president Eliza R. Snow expanded on this idea given by Joseph Smith to explain that the Relief Society formed a necessary and integral part of the Church organization:
Although the name may be of modern date, the Institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet, that the same organization existed in the church anciently, allusions to which are made in some of the epistles recorded in the New Testament, making use of the title, "elect lady.:
This is an organization that cannot exist without the Priesthood, from the fact that it derives all its authority and influence from that source. When the Priesthood was taken from the earth, this institution as well as every other appendage to the true order of the church of Jesus Christ on the earth, became extinct, and had never been restored until the time referred to above.
The Relief Society is an essential part of the restoration of the ‘same organization that existed in the Primitive Church’
Viewed this way, the Relief Society isn’t simply an innovation of the modern Church. It wasn’t organized as a way to engage women in the gospel. It is an essential part of the restoration of the ‘same organization that existed in the Primitive Church.’ Likewise, in an interview, former Elaine Jack, past Relief Society general president, summed these ideas in this way:
Relief Society is not an auxiliary. The church was never fully organized until 'women were thus organized after the pattern of the priesthood.' It's the Lord's organization for women. And we act as a companion role to the priesthood.
If seen as a companion to the priesthood – as an integral part of the Church organization, the Relief Society shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute for priesthood ordination, but as its partner. That is, women were not being ordained to the priesthood—they were being ordained to their own society—one just as ancient (a part of the primitive Church), restored to help the members of the Church work together to build up the kingdom of Zion on earth.
Joseph Smith described the organization of the Relief Society as being parallel to the organization of the priesthood
At the first meeting on March 17th, in 1842, President Smith offered this (page 4-5):
Pres[ident Joseph] Smith further remark'd that an organization to show them how to go to work would be sufficient. He propos'd that the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two Counsellors to assist in the duties of her Office - that he would ordain them to preside over the Society and let them preside just as the Presidency, preside over the church; and if they need his instruction - ask him, he will give it from time to time.
Let this Presidency serve as a constitution - all their decisions be considered law; and acted upon as such.
If any Officers are wanted to carry out the designs of the Institution, let them be appointed and set apart, as Deacons, Teachers, &c. are among us. … He then suggested the propriety of electing a Presidency to continue in office during good behavior, or so long as they shall continue to fill the office with dignity &c. like the first Presidency of the church.
This language would cause later confusion, perhaps best illustrated by the ways in which it was understood
For example, Sarah M. Kimball, one of the first members of the Relief Society had, in 1868, organized her ward Relief Society to match that of the priesthood quorums - including offices of teachers and deaconesses. In responding to this confusion in 1880, President John Taylor (who had been assigned by Joseph to set Emma and her counselors apart as the first Relief Society presidency) wrote:
Some of the sisters have thought that these sisters mentioned were, in this ordination, ordained to the priesthood. And for the information of all interested in this subject I will say, it is not the calling of these sisters to hold the Priesthood, only in connection with their husbands, they being one with their husbands.
President Taylor’s remarks underscore the notion that the Relief Society was not intended to move women into the Priesthood organization of the Church
But, his reference to a priesthood held “in connection with their husbands” returns us to Joseph Smith’s remarks to the Relief Society on April 28th in 1842 (at the sixth meeting of the Relief Society). These remarks provided an understanding of the function and role of the Relief Society within the Church for the rest of the 19th century. In particular, Joseph connected the future role of the Relief Society to the work of temple ordinances that he was working to present to the Saints at Nauvoo:
He said the reason of these remarks being made, was, that some little thing was circulating in the Society, that some persons were not going right in laying hands on the sick &c. Said if he had common sympathies, would rejoice that the sick could be heal’d: that the time had not been before, that these things could be in their proper order— that the church is not now organiz’d in its proper order, and cannot be until the Temple is completed—— Prest. Smith continued the subject by adverting to the commission given to the ancient apostles “Go ye into all the world” &c.— no matter who believeth; these signs, such as healing the sick, casting out devils &c. should follow all that believe whether male or female. He ask’d the Society if they could not see by this sweeping stroke, that wherein they are ordaind, it is the privilege of those set apart to administer in that authority which is confer’d on them— and if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let every thing roll on.
The issue of healing by the laying on of hands was a practice that was common for Mormon women in the 19th century
Here, Joseph first brings up the issue of healing by the laying on of hands (a practice that was common for Mormon women in the 19th century). This had apparently caused some contention as to whether it was appropriate or not. Healing the sick, however, was one of the signs to follow those with faith, and Joseph Smith compared their organization and the ordination that had been given to the members of the Relief Society to the commission given to the apostles in the New Testament. ‘These signs’ were understood to be a part of the mission of the Relief Society, and healing the sick was one of their primary focuses through the beginning of the twentieth century.
Later, Joseph Smith also noted:
He said as he had this opportunity, he was going to instruct the Society and point out the way for them to conduct, that they might act according to the will of God— that he did not know as he should have many opportunities of teaching them— that they were going to be left to themselves,— they would not long have him to instruct them— that the church would not have his instruction long, and the world would not be troubled with him a great while, and would not have his teachings— He spoke of delivering the keys to this Society and to the church— that according to his prayers God had appointed him elsewhere. While we may see a prophetic foreshadowing here of Joseph’s assassination in 1844, this may also represent Joseph’s intentions seen in his journal entry for July 16th, 1843: “The same spirit that crucified Jesus is in the breast of some who profess to be Saints in Nauvoo. I have secret enemies in the city intermingling with the Saints, etc. Said I would not prophesy any more, and proposed Hyrum to hold the office of prophet to the Church, as it was his birthright. I am going to have a reformation, and the Saints must regard Hyrum, for he has the authority, that I might be a Priest of the Most High God; and slightly touched upon the subject of the everlasting covenant, showing that a man and his wife must enter into that covenant in the world, or he will have no claim on her in the next world. But on account of the unbelief of the people, I cannot reveal the fullness of these things at present.” (See History of the Church, 5:510. Volume 5 link)</ref>
When this was prepared for publication in the History of the Church, this section was substantially rewritten (interpreted) as follows:
He spoke of delivering the keys of the Priesthood to the Church, and said that the faithful members of the Relief Society should receive them in connection with their husbands;
This idea of shared priesthood resulted in the notion of women being able to exercise the power of the priesthood without being ordained to an office in the priesthood. It is this understanding of Joseph Smith’s remarks that serves as the backdrop for President Taylor’s comments as well as the treatment of ritual healing and temple ordinance work performed by the Relief Society within the 19th century.
Keys and the Relief Society
At the conclusion of his remarks to the Relief Society in April of 1842, Joseph made this comment:
This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order which God has established— thro’ the medium of those appointed to lead— and I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time.
President Willard Richards, following the Nauvoo pattern set by Joseph Smith, called and set apart women as healers
What does this mean, when Joseph suggests that “I now turn the key to you”? Elder Bruce R. McConkie asks this question for us in 1950:
What, then, in summary, is the relationship of the Relief Society to the keys of the kingdom? And what was the significance of the Prophet's turning the key in their behalf in the name of the Lord? ... By turning the key the Prophet delegated to the duly appointed officers of the new organization a portion of the keys of the kingdom. Under the Priesthood they were now authorized to direct, control, and govern the affairs of the society. They thus became legal administrators holding the keys of presidency. Under this appointment their lawful acts would be recognized by the Lord and he would work with them in the rolling forth of the kingdom in the sphere assigned to them.
The sphere that they saw assigned to them was this healing of the sick and taking care of the welfare of Zion. President Willard Richards, following the Nauvoo pattern set by Joseph Smith, called and set apart women as healers:
Accordingly he laid his hands upon the heads of a number of the sisters who had prepared themselves to act as midwives and also administering to the sick and afflicted and set them apart for this very office and calling, and blest them with power to officiate in that capacity as handmaids of the Lord. Among the number set apart at that time Sister Presendia was one who received the blessing, and from that day to this she has realized the power and influence it conferred in her daily administerings, not only when she has been called upon to act as a midwife, but when washing and anointing and blessing the sisters.
During the remainder of the 19th century, there was an increasing formalization in healing ordinances and an accompanying liturgy used within the relief society. President Eliza R. Snow, under the direction of President John Taylor visited many of the newly organized local Relief Societies, and encouraged them:
We need not be afraid of doing too much nor getting ahead of our Bretheren and if we did why let them hurry up,” she told women in Santaquin. She taught Gunnison women the same principle, drawing precedent from the Nauvoo minutes: “The Prophet Joseph Smith said to the Sisters: ‘provoke the Brethren to good works.’” Snow described the Relief Society as “self-governing” and sought to cultivate in women a sense of initiative, responsibility, and partnership. “Woman was not only created as a help meet for man but to be one with him in the priesthood,” she declared. Echoing Joseph’s counsel that “all must act in concert or nothing can be done,” she affirmed that men’s and women’s interests “are both in the Kingdom of God and cannot be divided. The Gospel of Christ is designed to unite our labors.”
The response was enthusiastic. So much so, that in 1906, Elder J. Golden Kimball observed in his General Conference address:
The Priesthood quorums ... have become lax in their work and let loose their hold. While the auxiliary organizations have taken the right of way, the Priesthood quorums stand by looking on awe-struck.
In response, President Joseph F. Smith announced his intention for a priesthood reformation in the April 1906 Conference:
We expect to see the day, … when every council of the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will understand its duty; will assume its own responsibility, will magnify its calling, and fill its place in the Church, to the uttermost, according to the intelligence and ability possessed by it. When that day shall come there will not be so much necessity for work that is now being done by the auxiliary organizations, because it will be done by the regular quorums of the priesthood.
The work of the Relief Society in the 19th century, and in particular the practice of healing by the laying on of hands shifted to the Priesthood during this priesthood reformation (between 1908 and 1920). Attitudes shifted considerably towards these practices. Brigham Young, in 1869 suggested, speaking to the women of the Church:
Why do you not live so as to rebuke disease? It is your privilege to do so without sending for the Elders.
In 1946, a letter from Elder Joseph Fielding Smith shows how policy on this matter had been reversed
Joseph Fielding Smith:
While the authorities of the Church have ruled that it is permissible, under certain conditions and with the approval of the priesthood, for sisters to wash and anoint other sisters, yet they feel that it is far better for us to follow the plan the Lord has given us and send for the elders of the Church to come and administer to the sick and afflicted.
Women and Priesthood in a temple context
The one area where there was little change was in the ordinances of the temple. It was widely recognized that women officiated in ordinances in the temple, and the liturgical language of the endowment recognized women as priestesses. It is in this context that we see references back to Joseph Smith’s teachings of a priesthood given in the temple. After the completion of the St. George temple, and the resumption of temple work, there was a push to formalize the liturgy of the temple, and to make sure that it was consistent across the Church. In this context the question of women’s participation in ordinances both within the temple context and outside it came under scrutiny. In 1888, President Franklin D. Richards provided some additional insight:
I ask any and everybody present who have received their endowments, whether he be a brother Apostle, Bishop, High Priest, Elder, or whatever office he may hold in the Church, "What blessings did you receive, what ordinance, what power, intelligence, sanctification or grace did you receive that your wife did not partake of with you?" I will answer, that there was one thing that our wives were not made special partakers of, and that was the ordination to the various orders of the priesthood which were conferred upon us. Aside from that, our sisters share with us any and all of the ordinances of the holy anointing, endowments, sealings, sanctifications and blessings that we have been made partakers of.
Now, I ask you: Is it possible that we have the holy priesthood and our wives have none of it? Do you not see, by what I have read, that Joseph desired to confer these keys of power upon them in connection with their husbands? I hold that a faithful wife has certain blessings, powers and rights, and is made partaker of certain gifts and blessings and promises with her husband, which she cannot be deprived of, except by transgression of the holy order of God. They shall enjoy what God said they should. And these signs shall follow them if they believe.
Moses said, when some one told him that a certain man was prophesying in the camp, and the people thought he had no right to do so, Moses replied saying: "I would to God that all of the Lord's people were prophets." So I say: I wish all the sisters were so faithful that they were healers of the sick, through the power of God.
In justifying the role of women using priesthood power and authority—particularly within a temple context, President Richards introduced this proof text normally used to justify notions of a priesthood of all believers. It provided an Old Testament context to support this doctrine of priesthood received in connection with temple service.
When asked about such matters and what they implied about women having priesthood ordination, Wilford Woodruff wrote to the Relief Society General President:
Wilford Woodruff: [Answer:] To begin with I desire to say that the ordinance of washing and anointing is one that should only be administered in Temples or other holy places which are dedicated for the purpose of giving endowments to the Saints. That ordinance might not be administered to any one whether she has received or has not received her endowments, in any other place or under any other circumstances.
But I imagine from your question that you refer to a practice that has grown up among the sisters of washing and anointing sisters who are approaching their confinement [i.e., preparing to give birth]. If so, this is not, strictly speaking, an ordinance, unless it be done under the direction of the priesthood and in connection with the ordinance of laying on of hands for the restoration of the sick.There is no impropriety in sisters washing and anointing their sisters in this way, under the circumstances you describe; but it should be understood that they do this, not as members of the priesthood, but as members of the Church, exercising faith for, and asking the blessings of the Lord upon, their sisters, just as they, and every member of the Church, might do in behalf of the members of their families.
In 1912, Elder James Talmage further expanded this to include single sisters being endowed when he suggested that a single woman being endowed shared the priesthood of her future husband:
"It is a precept of the Church that women of the Church share the authority of the Priesthood with their husbands, actual or prospective; and therefore women, whether taking the endowment for themselves or for the dead, are not ordained to specific rank in the Priesthood."
Connections between women, priesthood and celestial marriage
This connection between women, priesthood, and celestial marriage was reintroduced by Elder Ballard in his August 20, 2013 devotional at BYU:
When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power. While the authority of the priesthood is directed through priesthood keys, and priesthood keys are held only by worthy men, access to the power and the blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children. ... Those who have entered the waters of baptism and subsequently received their endowment in the house of the Lord are eligible for rich and wonderful blessings. The endowment is literally a gift of power. All who enter the house of the Lord officiate in the ordinances of the priesthood. This applies to men and women alike.
And again, most recently in the April 2014 General Conference by Elder Dallin H. Oaks quoted Elder Ballard and emphasized this statement:
Our Church doctrine places women equal to and yet different from men. God does not regard either gender as better or more important than the other. … When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which is priesthood power. … Access to the power and the blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children.
Question: Why are there no women prophets in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today?
Throughout history, women as well as men have developed the gift of prophecy as told and foretold by the scriptures
The Old and New Testaments talk of women prophets. Why are there no women prophets in the church today?
Every one of us should seek the Spirit of the Lord in learning and discerning our paths through life. This interplay between questions and answers from God is one face of the spiritual gift of prophecy. Throughout history, women as well as men have developed this gift as told and foretold by the scriptures. However, the spiritual gift of prophecy is different from the calling the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have to act as "prophets, seers, and revelators" for the Church and the world in general. Still, their callings do not conflict with the blessing we can all enjoy of being prophets for ourselves, our families, and for our callings in the Church.
The Bible mentions a number of prophetesses. In the Old Testament, we have Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14,2 Chronicles 34:22), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14). The New Testament mentions Anna (Luke 2:36). So why do we not see women designated as "prophetesses" today?
The fact that there is a person designated as "The Prophet" for the Church does not preclude others from having the gift of prophecy
A "prophet" is often regarded as an office to which one is formally called and set apart. Latter-day Saints often refer to the President of the Church as "The Prophet," although they are not technically the same thing. In ancient days, it was not possible to instantly communicate with the world as it is today. There were multiple prophets on the earth who communicated the Lord's will to the people for whom they were responsible. For example, there were prophets simultaneously in the New and the Old Worlds. Today, however, it is possible to have one prophet who is responsible for communicating the Lord's will worldwide. The fact that there is a person designated as "The Prophet" for the Church does not preclude others from having the gift of prophecy.
From the Bible Dictionary definition for "Prophet," we read the following:
...In certain cases prophets predicted future events, e.g., there are the very important prophecies announcing the coming of Messiah's kingdom; but as a rule prophet was a forthteller rather than a foreteller. In a general sense a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost, as in Num. 11: 25-29; Rev. 19: 10.
- —Bible Dictionary, Prophet
Surely the women called as General Auxiliary Presidency members are forthtellers. They travel the world teaching and testifying; they speak at General Conferences; they produce material for Church publications and do all of it by the spirit of prophecy. Women as well as men in all levels of the church today are blessed with this gift of the spirit to receive revelation. We simply don't recognize them formally.
In a broader sense, all who have a testimony of the Saviour are prophets regardless of their demographic characteristics Joel 2:28-29. Perhaps some of those named as prophets and prophetesses in the scriptures were given the title as charismatic/spiritual designations, not formal/official positions in a church hierarchy. Prophecy is a gift of the spirit, not necessarily a priesthood office.
Along with the prophetesses mentioned above, the word “prophetess” is used in two other ways in the Bible and Book of Mormon: the false prophetess and the consort prophetess.
The False Prophetess
In the New Testament, the word is applied to “that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess.”Rev 2:20 According to the Bible Dictionary, the use here is figurative and is part of a historical allusion used by John to communicate a threat of serious apostasy. This reference to the spiritually disastrous reign of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel warns of a situation early church members should have recognized as dramatic and dangerous.
The negative use of “prophetess” shows there must have been real significance attached to the word. Otherwise, its abuse by a Jezebel figure wouldn’t have been put forward as a sign of an insidious and destructive movement within the early church. John probably wasn’t trying to say there was a woman named Jezebel trying to act as the president of the church in Thyatira. Instead, he was warning of the negative influence anyone’s false claim to the spiritual gift of prophecy can have.
Why are there no female prophets today?
Knowing that any righteous individual can have gifts of the spirit, one really ought to ask: "Why do you not notice the females in the Church who are prophets?" The Lord has asked His people in ages past, and today to be:
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. (Exodus 19:5-6)
He has also said that this is "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:" (1 Peter 2:9)
Moses desired all the Lord's people to be prophets, he said:
Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them! (Numbers 11:)
Ardis E. Parshall,"“But Don’t You Want the Priesthood?”", Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog, (March 23, 2014)
Some version of this question, or a declarative answer – affirmative or negative – comes up in the comment thread of just about every discussion of O[rdain] W[omen]. No question could be more irrelevant to the issue of Latter-day Saint women and the priesthood.(Click here for full article)
The FairMormon Blog responds to these questions
Nick Galieti,"Articles of Faith 4: Valerie Hudson on the Current Discourse on Women and the Priesthood by Ballard, Dew, and Oaks", FairMormon Blog, (26 May 2014)
Dr. Valerie Hudson joined the faculty of Texas A&M University at the Bush School in 2012 as the George Bush Chair. She is considered an expert on international security and foreign policy analysis, she received her PhD in political science at The Ohio State University. Prior to going to Texas A&M she taught at Brigham Young University. In 2009, Foreign Policy named her one of the top 100 Most Influential Global Thinkers. Dr. Hudson developed a nation-by-nation database on women (http://womanstats.org) that triggered both academic and policy interest including use by both the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and various agencies of the United Nations. Her research and teaching experience is also complemented by three major teaching awards and numerous research awards. She is a founding editorial board member of Foreign Policy Analysis, and also serves on the editorial boards of Politics and Gender and International Studies Review. More information can be found on her website, http://vmrhudson.org. She comes to us today under the nome de plume V.H. Cassler to discuss her article in the 7th Volume of the online journal SqaureTwo found at SquareTwo.org.
- Linda Burton, Relief Society general president, at the BYU Women’s Conference: 3 May 2013.
- The most significant revelations relating to the structure and function of the priesthood are found in D&C Sections 20:, 84:, and 107:. The language is almost entirely gendered. For example, 20:60 reads “Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him.”
- It is difficult to overemphasize the value of this record. A copy has been placed on-line at the Joseph Smith Papers website of the Church here.
- With the point about spiritual economy, it might be that only women might receive the priesthood.
- Take for example the publication of "At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women" or the introduction of a new class to Institute students "Women in the Scriptures".
- Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book (entry dated 17 March 1842), LDS Church Archives, 22.
- Eliza R. Snow, “Female Relief Society,” Deseret News (22 April 1868): 81.
- Eliza R. Snow references Articles of Faith 1:6 in her article.
- Quoted in Tina Hatch, "'Changing Times Bring Changing Conditions': Relief Society, 1960 to Present," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 37 no. 33, 68-69.. See also Julie Beck’s (then Relief Society general president) remarks in "Why We Are Organized into Quorums and Relief Societies," BYU devotional address (17 January 2012).
- See Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book (entry dated 17 March 1842), LDS Church Archives, 9. See also JD 21:368 (below) where he appeals to that experience.
- John Taylor, (8 August 1880) Journal of Discourses 21:367-368.
- Minute Book, 38-39.
- For an overview, see Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, "Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism" The Journal of Mormon History 37 (Winter 2011): 1-85.
- Minute Book, 37-38.
- History of the Church, 4:604. Volume 4 link See also Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 226. off-site For a discussion of the interpretations of the Minute book see Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen, "Preserving the Record and Memory of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 1842–92" Journal of Mormon History Vol. 35/3 (Summer 2009): 88-117.
- Minute Book, 40.
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- “A Venerable Woman: Presendia Lathrop Kimball, Continued,” Woman’s Exponent 12 (15 October 1883): 75.
- Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen, "Preserving the Record and Memory of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 1842–92" Journal of Mormon History Vol. 35/3 (Summer 2009): 99.
- Conference Report (April 1906), 19.
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- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13:155.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, letter, 29 July 1946.
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- Wilford Woodruff to Emmeline B. Wells, 27 April 1888, Correspondence of the First Presidency, LDS Church Archives.
- James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord: a study of holy sanctuaries, ancient and modern (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Deseret News, 1912), 94.
- M. Russell Ballard, "'Let Us Think Straight'," BYU devotional address, 20 August 2013.
- Dallin H. Oaks, "The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood," Ensign (May 2014).