This blog is part of my ZionBound series. The full series can be read in post order here.
Well, I have often been told that there is no scriptural basis for female ordination. However, the lack of a scriptural basis in no way invalidates the validity of female ordination. At least, not within the Restoration movement, which teaches us that God still reveals his will to the world.
Come to think of it, we do not need a scriptural basis, given that there is no scripture that states that women cannot be ordained. Previously, we reviewed the two verses of Paul often quoted to defend a male only priesthood. However, as we have seen, using these two verses is flawed, and problematic. They do not, as some seem to believe, authoritatively invalidate female priesthood. When we take the time to explore them both, and apply reason to each, we see that they do not support male only priesthood in the modern church whatsoever.
We must add to that the fact that there isn’t any verse in ancient scripture which states that women cannot be ordained. All we seem to have are personal opinions based on rather sketchy interpretations of scripture, rooted in rather dubious views of scriptural context of the verses in question.
So, we don’t actually need a scriptural basis, and we don’t need modern revelation to sanction female ordination. However, we have the latter (which of course becomes the former).
Granted, opponents of Section 156 reject it as a scriptural basis whilst maintaining that there is no scriptural support in ancient scripture. Yet, I’m not sure it is accurate to say that there is no scriptural basis or precedent for female priesthood in our ancient scriptures.
Deborah was the fourth judge of Israel. While that does not mean she was a member of the priesthood, it does prove that women did have positions of leadership and authority. There were also several female prophets. It seems totally implausible to me that God would permanently forbid women to be ordained, but would be willing to deliver prophetic messages to his people through various women.
And what did the female prophets do with their messages? The whole point of a prophet is to share with the community what God had revealed. Some prophets did so by writing down their words. But, it seems that many, including some of the female prophets listed in scripture, did not do so. How than did they share with the people what God had revealed to them? Quite probably, by talking to some sort of gathering of people. In other words, they very likely engaged in a form of preaching.
So, while it may be true that there are no clear, indisputable examples of women serving in the priesthood of Israel or of the church, in ancient scripture, we can say that there is a basis for the eventual ordination of women, as we know that women did, on occasion, have positions of leadership, and also were blessed with spiritual gifts, and very likely preached.
Paul himself delves into this. Consider the following:
1 I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;
2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus;
4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord.
13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren that are with them.
15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
16 Salute one another with a holy salutation. The churches of Christ salute you.
Phoebe is described as a “servant of the church”.
Priscilla is described, along with her husband Aquila, as a helper “in Christ Jesus” She is generally viewed as a missionary, and some scholars feel that she was one of the Seventy. Her name is mentioned six times, always with her husband, and on three occasions, her name is listed first.
Given the culture and era in which the books of the New Testament were written, it would have been quite easy for the authors to have simply ignored Priscilla. However, her inclusion in the work of the Lord was deliberate and noted multiple times.
One such verse regarding Priscilla is particularly interesting:
“And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue; whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” –Romans 18:26 (Inspired Version)
Again, the author could have simply ignored Priscilla. In fact, he probably would have, had she not contributed anything. Yet, it seems clear that she did, and the author was moved to make note of it.
This is not some sort of trivial reference. Priscilla was engaged in a form of preaching; and she was teaching. In fact, it states here, in the Inspired Version, that she was expounding (about God).
Section 17 of the Doctrine and Covenants states repeatedly that one of the duties of the priesthood is to expound. They are also called to teach and preach.
Therefore, it seems clear that Priscilla was performing some of the duties of the priesthood, exhibiting leadership and providing instruction.
Instead of having a problem with this, Paul seems perfectly OK with her conduct, which further suggests that his counsel in First Corinthians and First Timothy was intended to have a limited scope.
Also of interest is Section 42, which offers the following:
“Again I say unto you that it shall not be given to anyone to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority”
Here we see that preaching and building up the church are the domain of priesthood only. Yet, Priscilla functioned as a missionary. This implies that she was in fact a member of the priesthood.
Verse 7 states that Junia was “of note among the apostles”. While I personally don’t interpret this as “prominent among” but rather as “well known to”, the praise is significant. Again, we see a woman who Paul (and, if we accept his words), the other apostles deemed to be, in a positive manner, a noteworthy member of the church.
Verse 12 introduces us to Tryphena, who is listed before her male associate, and we are told that she labors “in the Lord”.
Verse 15 has Paul asking his audience to “salute” several people, including two women, Julia and the sister of Nereus.
From all of these references, it should be clear that women served in the ancient church in vital roles including as preachers and missionaries, performing functions assigned to, and even reserved for, members of the priesthood. It is therefore a denial of God’s truth to cling to a position that ancient scripture does not, to any degree support the possibility of female priesthood members.
We can also find a scriptural basis in Section 24 of the Doctrine & Covenants. Although this revelation does not mention priesthood, and while we have no record of an ordination having taking place, this revelation strongly suggests that Emma Smith was called to the priesthood.