Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the question, “Did women offer priesthood blessings during Joseph Smith’s lifetime?”
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Although this question is posed as a simple yes or no question, if those were my only options, the answer would look something like this.
But also no.
Joseph Smith had recently reorganized the society of women within Christ’s church today called the Relief Society. The Prophet Joseph Smith organized the sisters, setting them apart in their respective offices of the Relief Society “under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.”
As we do today, most certainly the women of Brother Joseph’s day also felt and knew the power and authority of the priesthood that came from acting within their callings and assignments. In the words of President Dallin H. Oaks:
“We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.” (Emphasis added.)
With regard to giving blessings of healing, Joseph Smith taught the sisters that they may administer with power and authority inherent in their roles as believers and followers of Christ, much the same way that the Lord taught in the New Testament and the Doctrine & Covenants.
“And these signs shall follow them that believe . . . . they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:17-18).
“I say unto you again, that every soul who believeth on your words, and is baptized by water for the remission of sins, shall receive the Holy Ghost. And these signs shall follow them that believe—In my name they shall do many wonderful works; In my name they shall cast out devils; In my name they shall heal the sick; In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf; And the tongue of the dumb shall speak” (D&C 84:64-70, emphasis added).
“Respecting the female laying on hands,” Joseph taught the women, “there could be no devil in it if God gave his sanction by healing— that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with water— that it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith, or if the sick has faith to be heal’d by the administration.”
So, yes. The women of Brother Joseph’s day did perform healings by the laying on of hands with power and authority from God.
But no, the women were not ordained to the office of the Melchizedek priesthood. Their administrations were given power through their faith in Jesus Christ.
Eliza R. Snow (second president of the restored Relief Society) explained, “Women can administer in the name of JESUS, but not by virtue of the Priesthood.”
The practice of the “laying on of hands” among women fell away in an effort to follow the directive given in James 5:14: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (emphasis added).
The current directive in the Church Handbook reads, “Only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick or afflicted” but this really doesn’t limit the way women can exercise their faith or their spiritual gifts of healing.
President Boyd K. Packer taught, “I have come to know that faith is a real power, not just an expression of belief. There are few things more powerful than the faithful prayers of a righteous mother.”
Prayers of faith are still mightily powerful. Let us be cautious not to take lightly the blessings available to all of us—men and women alike—through the faithful prayer and through the gifts of the Spirit that follow all disciples of Christ who have faithfully received the Holy Ghost.
May we ever strive to “live up to [our] privileges, [so] the angels cannot be restrained from being [our] associates.”
Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.
Becca loves audiobooks, cookies, hiking, walking, singing with Millennial Choirs and Orchestras, going out with her husband, and raising their ten chickens and five children. She still wants to meet her hero Sheri Dew, see magma and a blue whale in person, and uplift others with her words.