The Old Testament contains many references to the noble role of women, not only as wives, mothers, daughters and sisters, but also as noble servants in whom the Lord placed great trust. The Book of Judges mentions several.
While serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith - who was president of the Church from Jan. 23, 1970, to July 2, 1972 - wrote in Answers to Gospel Questions: "The counsel that Paul gave in the branches of the Church in his day [for `women to keep silence in the churches' (1 Cor. 14:84) was in strict conformity to the law of the times in which he lived. In the beginning it was not so. Paul intimates that Eve was silent because she was created after Adam (see 1 Tim. 2:8-13), but we may read in the Pearl of Great Price that after the consequences brought upon Adam and Eve by the fall, Eve preached the discourse. It is brief but wonderfully full of meaning. . . . (See Moses 5:11-12.)"We learn from this that Eve as well as Adam received revelation and commandment to teach their children in the ways of eternal life. Then we learn that Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, was a prophetess who played an important part in the exodus from Egypt. She led the women in a triumphal song after the deliverance from Egypt. (See Ex. 15:20.)
"We also read in the Book of Judges where Israel was taken captive, or into bondage, by the Canaanites. Deborah, another prophetess, led the armies of Israel to victory and she judged Israel. (See Judges 4:4, 24; 5:1-3.)
"We also read of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, who went to the Lord in the temple or tabernacle, and prayed for a son and the Lord hearkened to her pleading. (See Sam. 1:11-28.)
"In the Book of Judges we also read of the wife of Manoah who received a visitation from an angel who gave instruction and said she should have a son who would judge Israel. This manifestation was repeated in the presence of her husband. (See Judges 13:2-21.)"
President Smith further wrote that Joel prophesied that in the last day the Lord would pour out His spirit "upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, . . . " (See Joel 2:28.)
A number of faithful women are written about in the New Testament.
President Smith explained: "Even in the days of Paul there were a number of notable women who ministered to the needs of the brethren, and it appears that to some of these there had been given authority.
"In the days of Paul, however, it was the universal custom that women should play no part in political government or minister in churches. Israel, without doubt, gathered some ideas from the Gentile governments with which they had associated. The Jewish people, after the return from captivity, adopted some of the customs and practices common among their captors which were contrary to the former government of Israel. Many man-made rituals and technicalities were added to the law. The custom that women should remain silent may have been borrowed from their pagan neighbors with such additions as the Jewish priests added to the Jewish law. . . . "
President Smith explained that Paul was conforming to the law of his time, when "Jewish women were not permitted to hold any public office, to speak in any gatherings, or even to ask questions in any public assembly."
President Smith added: "In this dispensation the Lord gave commandment that the sisters of the Church should be organized, that they should hold meetings, teach each other the gospel of the kingdom, administer to the poor, the needy, and the distressed. They were to nurse the sick and those who needed comfort. . . . The foolish notions which were practiced . . . anciently have no place in the kingdom of God today. The Lord has promised to all, males and females alike, the gift of the Holy Ghost on conditions of faithfulness, humility, and true repentance. They are required to study and to know the truths of the gospel and to prepare themselves by study, faith, and obedience to all commandments to seek for light and truth that they may be entitled to celestial glory."