I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

Could you explain the meaning and use of the term “prophetess” as it’s used in the Bible?

Daniel H. Ludlow, director of teacher support services, Church Educational System In general, this term seems to be used in the Bible to describe a woman who had a special gift of prophecy or foretelling or to show that a certain woman had an abundance of the Spirit in understanding or teaching the gospel plan. Of course, it is possible that some women were prophetesses in both senses of the word.

The gift of prophecy is a special spiritual endowment that is available to every worthy member of the Church. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has said: “Every member of the Church—acting in submission to the laws and system which the Lord has ordained—is expected to have the gift of prophecy. It is by this gift that a testimony of the truth comes.” (Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958, p. 542.)

One definition of a prophet or prophetess, then, is one who knows by the Holy Ghost that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, “for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). Moses prayed, “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them” (Num. 11:29). Thus, a woman who had an abundance of the special gift of testimony may have been referred to as a prophetess.

The term can take on additional depth and meaning, however. Elder George Q. Cannon wrote: “The spirit of the Church of God is that manifested by Moses. … The genius of the kingdom with which we are associated is to disseminate knowledge through all the ranks of the people, and to make every man a prophet and every woman a prophetess, that they may understand the plans and purposes of God. For this purpose the gospel has been sent to us, and the humblest may obtain its spirit and testimony” (in Journal of Discourses, 12:46).

Add to these two meanings—having the testimony of Jesus, and having a broader understanding of the plans and purposes of God—is a third usage that relates directly to foretelling or prophesying. President Joseph Fielding Smith has said: “Our sisters are entitled just as much to the inspiration for their needs of the Holy Spirit as are the men. They are entitled to the gift of prophecy concerning matters that would be essential for them to know as it is for the men.” (Take heed to Yourselves, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971, p. 259.) Thus, as a woman with a special gift for poetry can be called a poetess, so could a woman with the spiritual gift of foretelling be termed a prophetess.

However, there are possible additional usages. The term may have been used to suggest a woman’s relationship to a prophet, as in describing the wife of Isaiah (Isa. 8:3). But this possible usage appears to be quite infrequent, albeit a potential usage of the term. (See Judg. 4:4, Luke 2:36, Ex. 15:20, and 2 Kgs. 22:14, all of which identify a woman as a prophetess and also identify a relationship to a man.)

Another possible usage of prophetess would be to indicate a leadership status. President Joseph Fielding Smith observed: “We read that in earlier days of Israel women were active and had duties to perform, that there were actually prophetesses among them. Such a noted character was Deborah, who is spoken of as being a prophetess unto whom the people went for counsel, and she became a judge in Israel. It appears in the account of the exodus of Israel from Egypt, that Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, who is spoken of as being a prophetess (Ex. 15:20), evidently had been given authority, particularly in relation to the affairs of the women of Israel.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1965, p. 5.)

This leads to the question of a Church position for a prophetess. For example, the word prophet is used in the Church to refer to a specific office or calling in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Thus, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are sustained as “prophets, seers, and revelators.” Further, the term prophet is often used in referring to the President of the Church. However, in these usages, the term prophetess is not used as a female counterpart to a prophet. That is, there is no office, calling, or position of prophetess within the priesthood, nor any other area of jurisdiction, nor were there in olden times such priesthood offices or callings that could have given rise to such usage.

Consequently, although the term prophetess has a wide range of possible usages, the general intent of the biblical term likely has to do with the sister having an abundance of the Spirit of the Lord, one gift of which is the gift of prophecy.

How can I help my children appreciate great literature and music, rather than just television and popular music?

Spencer J. Condie, bishop, Provo Twenty-Sixth Ward and father of five children The first thing to realize is that not all television shows and popular music are bad. In fact, some of these can be very worthwhile. Parents need to help their children learn to distinguish entertainment that is beneficial from that which wastes time, glorifies harmful values, and encourages improper behavior. Parents may need to explain why an individual song or television program is harmful.

But just pulling children away from undesirable influences isn’t enough; children should also be pulled toward the good. Let’s examine the situation of “migrating values” by looking at a seemingly unrelated phenomenon: the migration of Europeans to America. An explanation which partially explains why people migrate from one country to another is the push-pull theory. For example, large numbers of Irish were “pushed” out of their native homeland by the great potato famine of 1846. But why did they come to America instead of, say, Russia or China? The United States had generous immigration policies, economic opportunities, and religious freedom—just a few of the pulling factors.

Sometimes parents try to push their children away from the evils of the world without trying with equal effort to pull them toward the good—in this case, lofty music and edifying literature. The good things must be made interesting and enticing.

If financial circumstances permit, providing children with music and dancing lessons helps them appreciate the world of the fine arts. They learn confidence, poise, and grace, too. And they learn that the toll for talent is unselfish service. Also, children can be encouraged to sing in choirs and play in music groups.

Taking older children to an occasional opera, symphony, or choir concert may be somewhat unrewarding for them at first, but eventually they can develop a love for good music. If teenagers become rebellious and defensive in their attitudes toward good music, parents might set aside certain times when the whole family is within listening range of wholesome music while they are involved in other activities.

A Sunday moratorium on certain television shows and certain types of music could provide an uninterrupted opportunity for both good listening and good reading. And uplifting Sunday music could be followed by a home evening which addresses the problems of TV-itis and rock music addiction. One excellent starting point for such a discussion could be President Ezra Taft Benson’s general conference address “Satan’s Thrust—Youth” (Ensign, Dec. 1971, pp. 53–56), which confronts the evil influence of hard rock music. Another discussion starter could be Worthy Music, Worthy Thoughts, a filmstrip based on a speech by Elder Boyd K. Packer (see Ensign, Jan. 1974, pp. 25–28). These resources may be available from your ward or branch library.

Merely berating children for watching too much television or for listening to unsavory music can create a vacuum which must then be filled with worthy alternatives. When children can experience the joy and excitement of the sublime, they will learn to love it.

P. S. It’s easier if you start when the children are three instead of thirteen!