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SHARON - Lately there has been this group of women assciated with Ordain Women who claim that it was Joseph Smith's intention to give women the priesthood and base this claim on something he said to the Relief Society: "Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests an in Enoch’s day— as in Pauls day". Is it true that he thought women would get the priesthood?
JOEL - I am not sure what Joseph Smith was thinking exactly although there is no record of him actually ordaining any women. He may have simply been refering to the priesthood authority that women would use in performing temple ordinances.
He may not have been referring to the Relief Society when he said that, but to the church in general. In the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book the following note is made of what Joseph Smith said:
"that the society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuou[s] and holy— Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests an in Enoch’s day— as in Pauls day - that it is the privilege of each member to live long and enjoy health—" (See Joseph Smith papers)
In printing the original minutes of the prophet's talk after his death, the official History of the Church by BH Roberts (1902) changed the third “Society” above to “Church of Jesus Christ”, to clarify which organization he was refering to. He summarized the notes in the following way:
"The Lord was going to make of the Church of Jesus Christ a kingdom
of Priests, a holy people, a chosen generation, as in Enoch's day, having
all the gifts as illustrated to the Church in Paul's epistles and
teachings to the churches in his day--that it is the privilege of each
member to live long and enjoy health. He then blessed the Saints."
(See B. H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. 4:570.)
Joseph Smith had, on other occasions, used the word "Society" when talking about the Church or religious organizations in general (D&C 134: 9-10, History of the Church Vol. IV)
"We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship." (D&C 134: 9-10)
The Saints Petition to Congress:
"Your petitioners, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Elias Higbee, would most respectfully represent, that they have been delegated, by their brethren and fellow-citizens, known as "Latter-day Saints" (commonly called Mormons), to prepare and present to you a statement of their wrongs, and a prayer for their relief, which they now have the honor to submit to the consideration of your Honorable Body.
In the summer of 1831, a portion of the society above-named commenced a settlement in the county of Jackson, in the state of Missouri."
(History of the Church vol 4: 24)
It gets confusing when both the Church and the Relief Society are referred to as "society". But if he was talking about the Relief Society specifically in that statement he would more likely have said he was "going to make this Society a kingdom of priestesses"(instead of priests).
Something else to take note of is that If you look at the original handwritten notes for that meeting on the second page after that statement there is the following note:
“Prest. Smith propos’d that the ladies [gentlemen?] withdraw, that the Society might proceed to business”
Zooming in on the original, you will see that the word ‘ladies’ is crossed out and a rather illegible word is written in above it which is assumed to refer to gentlemen who were there. Someone decided that the word "ladies" didn't make sense, since in that phrase, the ladies were the ones who stayed to conduct their business. The notes also say "Pres Smith withdrew."
(See Relief Society notes)
Asking the gentlemen to leave indicates that Joseph Smith was speaking to a group consisting of men and women when he states “he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day”, and therefore could have meant the entire church when he said "Society" in that statement.
In D&C 107:40-52 we read:
“The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.
This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage…”
Meaning that the priesthood was originally meant to handed down from father to son.
There is nothing in the scriptures that specifically says women can't be ordained to the priesthood. However, the priesthood has only been confered on men for the last 6000 years. If it were a mistake to not allow women to hold the priesthood I would think God would have corrected that by now.