Mormonism and gender issues/Women/As prophets anciently
Why are there no women prophets in the church today?
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.
Women also participate in prophecy as they become unified with husbands called and ordained to serve as prophets.
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?
What is a prophet?
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.
Both in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon passages of Isaiah, the prophet referred to his wife as “the prophetess.” Isa 8:3 2 Nephi:18 The use of the term here could be two-fold. As Isaiah’s female counterpart, it’s fair to call his wife a prophetess regardless of her spiritual gifts. However, there may be much more to it.
From the beginning, the ideal of marriage relationships has been the one Adam celebrated when he spoke of Eve saying, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh…therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.“ Gen 2:23-24This ideal was restated by the Lord when he taught his disciples married couples “shall be one flesh: so then shall they be no more twain, but one flesh.” Mark 10:8
As it did for Isaiah’s wife, the possibility of achieving oneness in marriage has implications for the wives of men formally called to serve as prophets in the contemporary LDS Church. When male Church leaders grow in oneness with their wives, these women’s influence and inspiration becomes enmeshed with the men’s.
Richard G. Scott explained, “as the Lord intends…a married couple [can] think, act, and rejoice as one – face challenges together and overcome them as one, to grow in love and understanding, and through temple ordinances be bound together as one whole, eternally. That is the plan.” (Richard G. Scott, "The Joy of Living the Great Plan of Happiness," Ensign, November, 1996.)
This oneness doesn’t end when couples are physically separated or serving in different callings in the Church. The connection is inextricable and transcendent. It depends on personal righteousness, devotion, and the atonement of Christ as applied through the marriage covenant. It does not depend on the couple actually sitting beside each other in every presidency or council meeting. Even if specific issues are never discussed between the spouses, the inspired influence and the benefit of the spiritual gifts of wives is carried with husbands.
In a very real and personal way, wives of Church leaders help husbands both to receive inspiration and to shape the practical initiatives that will arise from that inspiration. Without a formal call or ordination, valiance within the covenant of marriage makes the wives of prophets partners in that office. (See DC 131:2-3 )
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:)