Lesson 10: “This Is My Voice unto All” #DandC2017

All right. This is a really fun one. The primary text is the revelation to Emma Smith calling her an “Elect Lady.” Let’s dig in.

First, the revelation is given in July 1830. The church is three months old, and Emma is baptized, but not confirmed a member (Matt Grow’s write up here is a nice overview). I think that it is imperative that the bit about Emma’s ordination be read in context with the Articles and Covenants that were revealed and expanded upon a couple of months earlier. Remember, per our discussion on the priesthood restoration at this time the Aaronic/Melchizedek priesthoods hasn’t been revealed yet. There are simply elders, priests, teachers, and deacons (though the latter may be a later add). These church officers were ordained after the pattern set forth in the Book of Mormon, Moroni 3.

Let’s read the relevant bits from the Articles and Covenants, ca. April, 1830 [D&C20]. Take note of the specific duties. Today people ignorantly read these and think that they are all synonymns. They aren’t:

[It is the Elder’s] calling to baptize and to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons, and to administer the flesh and blood of Christ according to the scriptures, and to teach, expound, and exhort, and to baptize and to watch over the church, and to confirm the church by the laying on of hands and the giving of the Holy Ghost, and to take the lead of all meetings, &c

The priests’ duty is to preach, teach, expound, and exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret, and also to attend to all family duties, to ordain priests, teachers, and deacons, and to take the lead in meetings

neither the teacher nor the deacon has authority to baptize nor administer the sacrament; but are to warn, exhort, expound and teach and invite all to come to Christ. Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon, is to be ordained according to the gifts and calling of God unto them by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains them

That last bit is from Moroni 3:4. Here is a fun one for the class. Read that and ask what it means. Anyway, now let’s turn to Revelation, July, 1830 [D&C 25]. Speaking to Emma:

thou shalt be ordained under his hand to expound Scriptures & exhort the Church according as it shall be given thee by my spirit [n3] for he shall lay his hands upon the[e] & thou shalt receive the Holy Ghost

JS later said that Emma was ordained. Matt in his essay up above wrote in a footnote that “the word ‘ordained’ as used here corresponds to the phrase ‘set apart’ in modern usage.” I think that this is a fairly presentist oversimplification. But let’s just say that the only way they had to create a church officer was to ordain them. I think we all can agree that this revelation is indicating that Emma is supposed to have a church office. The name of that office is not clear, but the duties are delineated in language parallel to the Articles and Covenants. So what are these duties?

The JSP editors include this bit to the footnote:

[n3] In early nineteenth-century America, women’s participation as exhorters or teachers in Protestant churches was generally limited to informal meetings; women customarily were barred from the pulpit on worship days. No extant sources indicate that Emma acted as a teacher either publicly or privately in this early period of the Church of Christ. (See Brekus, Strangers and Pilgrims, chap. 3.)

It is hard to wrap our minds around the idea that preaching is different than exhortation (or teaching or expound). And it makes the title of this recent volume somewhat ironic. It appears that Emma’s office was somewhat analogical to the Methodist exhorter. However, despite JS’s recollection that Emma was ordained (perhaps when she was confirmed?), we don’t have really any evidence that this office was active in the church (we don’t have much for the deacons either for a while). Moreover, when the Articles and Covenants was updated in 1835, Emma’s office was not included.

In 1842 everything changes, though. The lesson manual even points people to the minute book of Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. We don’t have time to dig into the ecclesiology of the Relief Society. However JS taught on that first day of the RS: “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.” This should remind us of what we just did above. After the Society voted on a presidency:

President Smith read the Revelation to Emma Smith,12 from the book of Doctrine and Covenants; and stated that she was ordain’d at the time, the Revelation was given, to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings.—

The 2d Epistle of John, 1st verse, was then read to show that respect was then had to the same thing; and that why she was called an Elect lady is because, elected to preside.

Elder Taylor was then appointed to ordain the Counsellors— he laid his hands on the head of Mrs Cleveland and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to the Elect Lady, even Mrs. Emma Smith, to counsel, and assist her in all things pertaining to her office &c.

Elder T. then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Whitney and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to Mrs. Smith, the Prest. of the Institutio[n]— with all the privileges pertaining to the office &c.

On the last day of Emma’s presidency she declared that “if thier ever was any authourity on the Earth she had it.” The Articles and Covenants of the church hasn’t changed since 1835, but our ecclesiastical structure sure has. And it still will.


  1. I’ll be teaching lesson #10 in my ward on Sunday. I never know how much of this type of thing to get into. So many people count uncovering truth in church history as rabble-rousing. But this is a great rundown, Stapley. Not sure what I’ll do with it, but – thank you.

  2. In the linked The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, it sounds to me like the women choose the Presidency. It specifically mentions the men present leaving at two points while names we discussed.
    Was it under Brigham Yound then that we lost the ability to chose our leaders?

  3. Good stuff. Thanks. I’d love to participate in an open discussion about these matters, one with no defined or required wrap-up. It would require that the room be open to the idea of further change in ecclesiastical structure.
    I think it worth noting that the Teacher’s guide to lesson 8 (on the restoration of the Priesthood) points the teacher to the “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women” essay, which covers much of this material (with its own spin, of course), and says not to make it the center of the lesson. The signaling is that lesson 8 (already behind most of us) is the place for any “women and the priesthood” discussion. Lesson 10 is supposed to be about putting ourselves in the place of individuals–including Emma–who are named in the scriptures.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Niki La, I’ve read through a lot of the early minute books, but I can’t remember off hand. There are examples of wards choosing their own bishops fairly late in Utah, so I wouldn’t be surprised about local RS presidents. General RS presidents were all chosen by the Church President after Emma.

  5. This is great. I am one of those that ignorantly glossed over “preach, teach, expound, and exhort” as basically synonyms. I had read about methodist “exhorters” before, but I didn’t put it together with “exhort” as used in these revelations. And I’m not clear on the difference between exhort and preach, teach, expound, and warn. Is there a good explanation for the uneducated about these differences?

    The ordain/set apart distinction wasn’t really made until later, right? So even if he had said “set apart” instead of ordain, that wouldn’t necessarily mean “set apart” the way we use it today, would it? (That lack of a distinction early on also leads to confusion about whether President of the Church is an office in the Melchizedek priesthood or a church office/calling. (But again, that distinction also wasn’t really made until later, and even then not always consistently, so I’m not sure that it’s even the right question.)

  6. J. Stapley- would the wards also choose when the bishop would step down? Was it a preset term of service, similar to the five year bishop we have now? Did everyone vote, or just priesthood? (Sorry for possible thread jack here, but this is a new and fascinating idea, having a real say in who my leaders would be)

  7. J. Stapley says:

    JKC, Bill has some good stuff on these distinctions. Bill, when is that going to be out already? The book the JSP folks cite has some good info. There is a vintage article in the Southern Speech Journal “A Lost form of Pulpet Address,” by Jerry Tarver that hits on exhortation. Preaching relates to the pulpit and sermonizing (and in Mormonism evangelization) Preaching and Exhorting probably have the most demonstrably prescribed acts. Expounding relates to scriptures, and I associate teaching with Methodist class leaders, but that could be folly.

    Niki, In the nineteenth century, pretty much all callings were lifetime callings. Bishops generally didn’t get released unless they were essentially incapacitated. I don’t have all my notes accessible, so I’m going from memory, but it seems to me that everyone voted. Typically the visiting GA would ask for nominations, and then the ward voted. In one case I seem to remember, the guy who got the lesser votes became a councilor. It wasn’t always this way but it did happen.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    …and JKC, yeah, the ordain/set apart distinction didn’t exist until many decades later. So it was essentially a synonym. The RS presidency were set apart when JT ordained them.

  9. Kristine N says:

    Oh, wow. I wish this had been the lesson I sat in on. We talked about spouses supporting one another, which devolved into reminding the spouses to be meek and humble.

  10. Kristine N – it’s good to know the church is the same wherever you go – testimony affirming :). How’s the land down under?

  11. Angela C says:

    Kristine N: Reminding both spouses to be meek & humble or just the women?

    Stapley: Wow, this is fantastic, like finding out my simplistic ideas of the past were just childish fantasies with no understanding.

  12. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks. The lesson manual here entire skips these verses. I imagine that the curriculum authors had no idea what to do with them. Ordaining women == scary.

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