LDS Views of Women in the Bible

A Conversation with Amy Easton-Flake

Amy Easton-Flake ( is an assistant professor of ancient scripture, BYU.

Rebekah Weaver ( was a student editor at the Religious Studies Center.

Weaver: Could you tell me about the latest project you have been working on?

Easton-Flake: Currently, I have a few different research projects that I am working on. The one I am perhaps most excited about is the article where I look at how biblical women were discussed in the Woman’s Exponent, a journal put out by Latter-day Saint women from 1872 to 1914. I am looking at how Latter-day Saint women used the Bible and how they viewed the women in the Bible. While there has been a good amount of research on how early Church leaders have used the Bible, including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, there is very little on how women were engaging with it.

Weaver: What have you discovered so far?

Easton-Flake: The women seem to be using the Bible for various reasons, such as to find comfort, to explain doctrine, to encourage good behavior, to argue for certain political or social views, and to build up the Church. What I am focusing on specifically is how these women discussed the women in the Bible. They seem to want to use them as a way to help explain themselves, to create their own sense of self, or to find their own space within the Mormon community. They are trying to find themselves in the biblical narratives, which makes me read through and say, “What can we learn about these women from how they’re interpreting other women?” They are discussing women in the Bible, but more often they seem to be talking about themselves. They use these women primarily as Christian role models and to argue for women’s equality with men: they defend their right to vote, to have access to higher education, and to have a voice within the community. They also use the stories of women in the Bible to defend the practice of polygamy.

Weaver: So these LDS women were using women to defend the issues they think are most important, like suffrage and polygamy? You seem to be honing in on those two issues in particular. Are they the biggest, or are there other issues of equal weight?

Easton-Flake: Those are probably the two major issues they wanted to address at that point in time. However, they are also using these women to defend more essential ideas such as women having educational or work opportunities. They also use women in the Bible to put forth characteristics of what women should be like, such as pure, virtuous, brave, heroic, self-sacrificing, and unselfish. There’s also considerable discussion about motherhood.

Now, what makes this project particularly interesting for me is that I am trying to compare how Latter-day Saint women are using the Bible to how other non-Latter-day Saint women from that time period are using it. Obviously one of the biggest differences is polygamy, as no one else is defending polygamy. While women of other faiths would completely ignore the fact that Sarah was in a polygamous relationship, because they don’t want to discuss polygamy, Latter-day Saint women are bringing it to the forefront. Another difference that interests me is that the Latter-day Saint women like to minimize any conflicts that women in the Bible had, or anything that people might find questionable about these women. They put them up on a pedestal, which is not happening often in the exegesis being put forth by others, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Weaver: That’s very interesting. Do you have any thoughts as to why that difference would exist?

Easton-Flake: I think that one of the reasons is the Latter-day Saint view of patriarchs and matriarchs. If you look at Christian churches as a whole in the 1870s, they tended to have a more developmental view of Christianity. They looked at Abraham and the other patriarchs as good people who did not have the same knowledge as those born after the time of Christ. Therefore, they tended to point out their foibles and accept them, because they believed they didn’t have a fulness of truth. They considered them to be the forerunners of a developing Christianity. However, Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth-century and believed that Adam and Abraham knew what they knew and made the same covenantal relationship with God; so when these Latter-day Saint women looked at the patriarchs and matriarchs, they expected them to have the same saint-like qualities we would expect to see in a prophet of this dispensation, which meant that the women often ignored anything that seemed problematic.

Weaver: So what you’re saying is that these women of the early Church used the female biblical figures to reflect the Latter-day Saint belief that our church is a restoration, and anything that didn’t fit was left out?

Easton-Flake: Yes.

Weaver: That’s fascinating. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Easton-Flake: No, that’s a good summary of that particular research project. However, that’s just one of the projects I am doing right now. I have three strands of research that I am always working on. This project fits into my research about nineteenth-century women and biblical hermeneutics, which essentially means studying how women interpreted the Bible. Another strand of my research is looking at the Book of Mormon within a nineteenth-century historical context. For example, right now I am researching what the Book of Mormon says about masculinity in relation to what other texts in early-nineteenth-century America say about masculinity. I have also looked at principles and doctrines, such as infant baptism, and have examined what the Book of Mormon teaches in relation to other religions of the day. My third avenue of research focuses on polemical novels of the nineteenth-century, most often about suffrage.

These projects generally underscore what I am passionate about, which is bringing to light the everyday woman who has been underrepresented. One thing I noticed in graduate school was that conservative women’s voices were being left out of the academic conversation. Most of the women that are discussed in scholarship are the individuals that academics consider progressive or feminist, but there is a whole host of women who were just living their lives and doing impressive things without ever seeking recognition or fame. These are the women who have been lost, and I am trying to bring their voices to the conversation.

Weaver: I understand that these projects are important to you personally, but could you tell me about their importance to the Latter-day Saint community at large?

Easton-Flake: I think they help us to gain a broader perspective on what people were thinking and doing in the nineteenth century. The Woman’s Exponent is a jewel that we need to analyze, because it is a place where women were talking and sharing their opinions. We can see how much of a vibrant force Latter-day Saint women were in the community by looking through its pages. We can see them working for different social causes—these women were very active, especially the individuals who were writing for the Exponent. In particular, the Relief Society was such a vital organization at the time, and you can really see that when you read the journal. You see these Latter-day Saint women talking about the construction of buildings; what they are doing for the poor and needy, such as collecting food for their granary and running a hospital; and how they are teaching and sharing the gospel. I think this is important for us as Latter-day Saints, because when you read about what these women were doing, you cannot be anything but proud of our past and in particular what these women were accomplishing. I think that many times we think that women’s roles were limited then, but when we look at the nineteenth century, we see how women in the Church had much more expansive roles than most of their contemporaries. It is important to understand and appreciate our history, including the history of the women of the Church, especially when gender is such a controversial topic.