Women and the Scriptures


“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.)

It was a searching of scriptures that prompted Joseph Smith to seek for divine guidance as to which church was right, and it was probably foreordained that James’s promise should lead him to seek the answer in prayer.

That was for a great purpose, but the question may be raised: Is it as necessary for a woman to be a student of the scriptures as it is for a man? Why should a woman know the scriptures? What will this mean to her here and now?

The answers seem rather obvious. A daughter of the Lord is as precious in his sight as is one of his sons; moreover, the divine role of woman in mortality is not only to be responsible for her own salvation, but to be also a helpmate to her husband and a guiding star to her children, hourly and daily. This requires that she be a student of the scriptures. One woman who knows the scriptures and lives them to the best of her ability vigorously asserts, “We can’t live any better than we know.”

On one occasion a group of women, having completed the task that brought them together, began to reminisce.

“Ladies,” the hostess asserted, “the thing that keeps me going is a passage I memorized because it meant so much to me when I read it in Proverbs. When I repeat it to myself I seem to have my heart healed for the time. ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’ (Prov. 3:5–6.) I say these words to myself first thing in the morning when I awaken depressed and blue, and they really comfort me.”

A younger woman spoke up. “You know, the verse that lifts my spirit is in the Doctrine and Covenants: ‘… fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.’” (D&C 6:34.)

“Oh, that was such a comfort to me on my mission,” Mary, an older woman, interjected. “When my companion and I would feel alone and rejected, we would cheer each other up by reciting that verse. Isn’t it true that whatever sorrow, trouble, or despair we experience, if we search the scriptures we can find solace and comfort and enlightenment?”

“That is true,” Josephine agreed. “When my daughter was very ill with polio, I felt sick at heart. She lay in an iron lung, her little body covered only partially by a strip of cloth. The disease seemed to me to represent evil, choking and maiming my loved one. I felt helpless and almost hopeless. In desperation one day I prayed that I would open the Book of Mormon to something that would help me. When I did open the book, the verse my eye fell on was: ‘And God did hear our cries and did answer our prayers.’ (Mosiah 9:18.) We had fasted and prayed, and that verse came to me as a confirmation that God would hear our cries. I clung to that assurance until she recovered. It has always been a testimony to me of the power of the scriptures to lead and comfort.”

The other women voiced their agreement; they too had been comforted by searching the scriptures.

“You really embarrass me,” said Jane, who up till then had not uttered a word. “How do you know where to find these scriptures? I would be at a loss.”

“I don’t know how you sisters have studied or what has given you the incentive,” Mary volunteered, “but I remember sitting in the Tabernacle one year and hearing President George Albert Smith ask that everyone read the four standard works of the Church. I had never conscientiously read the Doctrine and Covenants from beginning to end, nor the Old Testament, so I decided then and there that I would obey his words.”

Mary concluded by saying, “I know we get a lot out of scriptures when we can discuss them with others, but there is no substitute for reading them thoughtfully, systematically, and prayerfully all by oneself. As I read, I absorb the parts that bring me strength for my particular needs. Even reading the same chapter a month later often calls to my attention truths I had not absorbed the last time I read it. I also feel that I only know them when I memorize the passages.”

There are many women who make it a practice to read the scriptures, but there are also many who have not seen the need for it. If one can live no better than one knows, then every mother needs to know section 68 of the Doctrine and Covenants. [D&C 68] This section contains the commandment the Lord has given to fathers and mothers as to the things they are responsible for teaching to their children before they are eight years old. A mother needs to teach the doctrines of repentance, faith in Christ, the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands. She must also teach her children to pray and to walk uprightly before the Lord.

President George Albert Smith’s mother knew the Lord’s will; he told this touching incident of being taught to pray: “I was trained at the knee of a Latter-day Saint mother. One of the first things I remember was when she took me by the hand and led me upstairs to the bedroom. In the room there were two beds, the bed in which my parents slept, and a little trundle bed over on the other side. I can remember it as if it were yesterday. When we got upstairs she sat down by my little trundle bed. She had me kneel in front of her. She folded my hands and took them in hers and taught me my first prayer. I shall never forget it. I do not want to forget it. It is one of the loveliest memories that I have in life, an angelic mother sitting down by my bedside and teaching me to pray. … That prayer opened for me the window of heaven. That prayer extended to me the hand of my Father in Heaven, for she had explained to me what it all meant, as far as a little child could understand. …” (Sharing the Gospel with Others [Deseret Book Co., 1950], pp. 147–48.)

President Wilford Woodruff has advised: “I consider that the mother has a greater influence over her posterity than any other person can have. And the question has arisen some time: ‘When does this education begin?’ Our prophets have said, ‘When the spirit life from God enters into the tabernacle.’ The condition of the mother at that time will have its effect upon the fruit of her womb; and from the birth of the child, and all through life, the teachings and the example of the mother govern and control, in a great measure that child, and her influence is felt by it through time and eternity.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff [1st ed., Bookcraft, 1946], p. 269.)

This quotation from President Woodruff has added significance today in view of the way many pregnant women are abusing their bodies. It is recognized that babies born of mothers who have been on drugs have the same withdrawal symptoms as the mothers. If an unborn baby is so influenced, how very vital is a mother’s influence after birth when the child can see, hear, feel, and imitate the mother’s actions! A woman who knows her God-given responsibilities and has prepared herself to train her child has a great advantage over the mother who is ignorant of her spiritual duties. The knowledgeable mother will carefully weigh any suggestion that she and her child be separated during the formative years.

One is impressed by the truth that in facing and overcoming daily temptations, it is not enough to read only the scriptures contained in the Bible and the Book of Mormon; a woman also needs to be guided and directed by the scriptures that have come through the Lord to his prophets in this dispensation. These scriptures are not couched in unfamiliar phrases or abstruse meanings; they are in the language and vernacular of the present.

With Satan’s frenzied efforts to pull down the righteous, as the second coming of the Savior draws near, the Latter-day Saint woman needs to fortify herself with an understanding of the sanctity of the marriage covenant and the basic eternal element of the family unit. She must heed the words of modern prophets.

If a woman feels uncertain on the current, conflicting viewpoints about woman’s place in the world, the uncertainty will be resolved as she seeks counsel in the words of the prophets. Instructions on the role of woman in the gospel plan have never deviated from the days of Adam to the present. As an individual, a woman will cultivate and nourish a testimony founded on revealed truth. As she grows strong in spirit, she will be prepared to fulfill her preordained work. As an individual, she must keep the commandments; and as a wife and mother, she must heed inspired counsel. In order to live the commandments, she must know them.

The scriptures teach the glorious destiny of woman. The prophets extol her.

President Joseph F. Smith declared: “There are people fond of saying that women are the weaker vessels. I don’t believe it. Physically, they may be; but spiritually, morally, religiously and in faith, what man can match a woman who is really convinced? Daniel had faith to sustain him in the lion’s den, but women have seen their sons torn limb from limb, and endured every torture satanic cruelty could invent because they believed. They are always more willing to make sacrifices, and are the peers of men in stability, Godliness, morality and faith.” (Gospel Doctrine [3d ed., Deseret Book Co., 1920], p. 440.)

As a woman reads, studies, and activates the truths in her own life, she will be blessed and guided as the Holy Spirit whispers truth to her spirit. The pathway straight and narrow before her will beckon and lead her on to eternal life.

[photo] Photography by Eldon Linschoten

Sister Sharp has been first counselor in the general presidency of Relief Society and editor of the Relief Society Magazine for twenty-five years. She and her husband, Ivor Sharp, are parents of three daughters. They are members of the 20th Ward in Ensign Stake, Salt Lake City.