Women Witnesses

At the time of Christ, culturally women were inferior to men. It was not that way from the beginning. Adam and Eve shared the labor equally. (Moses 5: 1.)

In many ways the Lord deliberately challenged cultural and religious norms of His day. On the day of His resurrection, He made it a point to show His regard for women by appearing first to Mary. (Mark 16: 9; John 20: 14-17.) There were others who also saw Him before His apostles did. The Twelve rejected the testimony of both women and the others to whom He first appeared. This offended the Lord. (Mark 16: 14.)

In Joseph Smith’s day, women were likewise thought to be inferior. Women were not considered “competent” to manage their own legal affairs, and when they married, any property belonging to them became their husband’s. When Joseph was required to have three witnesses (2 Ne. 27: 12) to the plates, Urim & Thummim, directors, breastplate and sword of Laban (D&C 17: 1), it only made sense to have three men be the witnesses.

The Lord, however, clearly showed His high regard for women. Before the three witnesses were shown the plates of the Book of Mormon, an angel showed them to a woman. In June 1829, just prior to when the plates were shown to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris, Joseph moved from Harmony to Fayette. During the move the plates were given to an angel for transport. Here is how the events then unfolded:

“Whitmer later recounted that during their journey to Fayette, he, Cowdery, and JS  briefly encountered a ‘pleasant, nice looking old man’ whom JS identified by revelation as a heavenly messenger transporting the plates. Whitmer also recalled that soon after their arrival in Fayette, his mother, Mary Mussleman Whitmer, was met ‘by the same old man, ‘who showed her the plates.'” (Joseph Smith Papers, Documents Vol. 1: July 1828-June1831, p. 67.)

This same volume published by the LDS Church Historian’s Press goes on to report: “Though he did not become a witness of the plates for weeks, he [David Whitmer] reported years later that soon after their arrival, his mother was shown the plates by a heavenly messenger.” (Id. at p. 83.)

At that time, as in Christ’s, culture had little regard for a woman’s testimony. But in both of these cases, the Lord chose to first give a witness to women.

We should overcome whatever reluctance we have to listen to women’s voices. Women have been able to vote since 1869. The state legislatures have allowed them to own property post-marriage since the 1840’s. More importantly than those milestones, however, is the Lord’s clear preference to have women as witnesses of His great work. We should take note of this.

Since the days of Adam, the greatest single event was the Lord’s resurrection. And a woman was the first to witness the risen Lord. From the close of the New Testament, the greatest event has been the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Again a woman was chosen to be the first (after Joseph) to witness the plates in the hands of an angel.

The Lord trusts women and wishes we would do likewise.

On the other hand, when women focus on church office they may forfeit something a great deal more valuable. Given a choice, I’d trade away all church positions for a visit with the risen Lord. I would gladly exchange membership for a meeting with the heavenly messenger bearing the gold plates. Perhaps such an exchange is required. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris all left the church, afterall. Granted two of them were rebaptized shortly before their deaths. President Heber J. Grant valued his church membership more than heaven itself, and wanted no angelic appearance to come to him if it compromised his church affiliation.

The Lord has a “strange act” indeed. (D&C 101: 95.)