by Al Maxey

Issue #653 ------- March 31, 2015
It was the usual masculine disillusionment
in discovering that a woman has a brain.

Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
Gone with the Wind

Philip's Prophetess Daughters
A Reflective Examination of Acts 21:9

It might surprise some to learn that the Talmud, which, next to the OT writings themselves, is "the central text of Rabbinic Judaism," and which dates back to the early centuries A.D., unequivocally declares, "There were as many prophetesses as prophets in Israel." The culture of the ancient Jews was highly patriarchal, however, which helps explain why little mention is made of women serving God and man in this role. Yet, we do know of some. The sister of Moses and Aaron was "Miriam the prophetess" (Exodus 15:20). Later, we read of "Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, who was judging Israel at that time" (Judges 4:4). We read in 2 Kings 22:14 of several leading men of Israel, including a priest, going to "Huldah the prophetess" for advice. The prophet Isaiah referred to his own wife as "the prophetess" (Isaiah 8:3). And, of course, who could forget the following testimony of Luke: "And there was a prophetess, Anna ... she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. ... she came up (to Joseph and Mary, who was holding baby Jesus) and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:36-38).

As a result of Luke's characterization of this godly woman, and of the fact that she was proclaiming "good news" unto all who would listen, some have characterized Anna (who was well into her eighties) as one of the very first "Gospel preachers." The Redeemer of mankind had at long last come into the world, and Anna the prophetess boldly "spoke of Him" within the temple courts to those eagerly awaiting their Messiah. Following the ministry of Jesus the Messiah, and years after the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, we still find women serving God and their fellow disciples as prophetesses. For example, Acts 21:8-9 informs us that the apostle Paul and his traveling companions (which included Luke) "came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses." Yes, there were not only prophets (males) actively serving in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, but there were also prophetesses (females) doing the same. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with Old Testament prophecy, for in Joel 2:28-29 we read, "And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days." The apostle Peter, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, declared that what the people were witnessing, following the outpouring of the Spirit, was the very thing "spoken of through the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). Yes, it was the intent of the Lord Himself that women would participate in the work of proclaiming the Good News of mankind's redemption. After all, who first proclaimed the "Easter message" that "He is risen!"? That's right -- women (Matthew 28:1-8; cf. Luke 24:1-10). Indeed, "after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene" (Mark 16:9; cf. John 20:1-18), who then went and shared the good news!

One of the great truths of the Christian faith is that our Lord Jesus, through His example, teaching and sacrifice, sought to tear down the various "dividing walls" that had been erected by men over the ages. Jews were divided from Gentiles, masters and slaves were not considered by men as being equal, nor were men and women (the latter often being considered as little more than property). However, these manmade distinctions crumbled under the weight of the cross! "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Sadly, mankind has continued throughout history to rebuild these walls of exclusion based on race, class and gender. And it has been the lot of bold reformers throughout history, often at the risk of their own lives or livelihoods, to expose these devilish walls for what they are, and to call mankind back to an embracing and evidencing of the divine will. Today, as painful as it may be to acknowledge, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ still struggles with manifestations among its members of racial, social/class and gender injustice and discrimination. We are certainly making progress, but we're not yet where we need to be, for such change in centuries of cultural and religious thinking comes slowly and painfully. Nevertheless, it is a war within worth waging!

In this current issue of my weekly Reflections I want to focus on the four daughters of Philip, a man characterized by Luke as "the evangelist." This designation not only pointed to the fact of his active ministry of sharing the Good News with others, but also served to distinguish him from the apostle Philip, who was one of the Twelve. We first meet this particular Philip in Acts 6:5 where he is listed as one of the seven men chosen to administer the daily serving of food to widows (a ministry that was experiencing some problems: Acts 6:1). We next encounter Philip in Luke's historical account following the death of Stephen. Many of the disciples of Christ were scattered throughout the region as a result of a great persecution that arose against the church in Jerusalem. However, to their credit, "those who had been scattered went about preaching the Word" (Acts 8:4). As an example of such courage of conviction, Luke shares with his readers the evangelistic work of Philip (Acts 8), who first proclaimed Jesus to the Samaritans, and then later was led by the Holy Spirit to share Jesus with the Ethiopian eunuch. The chapter ends with the statement that after leaving this eunuch, Philip "kept preaching the gospel to all the cities he passed through, until he came to Caesarea" (Acts 8:40). He is not mentioned again until Acts 21:8-9, over twenty years later, where we find he is still living in the city of Caesarea. "And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses." The next verse indicates that Paul and his companions "were staying there for some days." It was in Philip's house that the prophet Agabus warned Paul that he would experience great trouble when he arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-16). Many scholars feel that the four daughters of Philip, "along with Agabus, the prophet who came down from Jerusalem, attempted to divert St. Paul from continuing his journey thitherward, but unavailingly" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 2, p. 214]. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) concurs, saying the text "intimates that they prophesied of Paul's troubles at Jerusalem, as others had done, and dissuaded him from going; or perhaps they prophesied for his comfort and encouragement, in reference to the difficulties that were before him" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

Another important insight may well be assumed from the fact that our text is one of the several "we" sections of the book of Acts, which indicates Luke himself was present. It is not unlikely, then, that Luke may have "picked the brains" of Philip and his four daughters for some of the material for his historical writings. "The daughters were highly esteemed as informants on persons and events belonging to the early years of Judean Christianity. There is reason to believe that the information which Philip and his daughters were able to give about these things was highly prized by Luke, who made use of the information in the composition of his twofold work -- not only during the few days which he spent at Caesarea now, but also during the two years during which Paul was kept in custody there" [Dr. F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts, p. 424]. "Perhaps these prophesying maidens and their father gave Luke source material for his two volumes" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 517]. We most certainly cannot discount the possibility that this was the case, and that these women contributed materially to the content of Luke's two NT books. "Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3:39) tells us that Philip and his four daughters eventually moved to Hierapolis in the province of Asia (probably fleeing the Roman antagonism toward the Jews in Palestine from the mid-sixties on), and that his daughters provided information on the early days of the Jerusalem church for Papias, the author of five books" [ibid].

We must also not overlook the fact that Luke makes a point of stating these four women were "virgins" (although some translations, such as the NIV, have "unmarried"). The Greek word used here is "parthenos," which denotes more than just being in an unmarried state (although this would certainly be true of them, as they were still living with their father); it indicates one who is sexually chaste, pure: a virgin. Thus, "these four daughters, being virgins, unmarried, could devote their whole time to the service of the church" [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p. 334]. One cannot help but think of the apostle Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 7, where he writes, "The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband" (vs. 34). Paul certainly suggests here that women, especially those who do not have their interests divided, can be active servants of the Lord and His people (the church). "An unwedded life might enable them to wait on the Lord without distraction, and thus to be more free for the exercise of their gift of prophecy" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 445].

Philip's four virgin daughters were most definitely "concerned about the things of the Lord," and were serving Him as "prophetesses," which means they served as spokeswomen for God: speaking forth His Word to His people. They were also most likely very active, along with their father, in the work of evangelism: proclaiming the Good News. "Philip's daughters were Christians; they were walking in their father's steps; they 'prophesied' ... that is: they had the power to interpret a divine message. God inspired women as well as men to be used in His service. They had a mission to proclaim the gospel in their own womanly way" [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p. 333]. In other words, "They were female preachers" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 759]. "The prophetic spirit in either the Old or New Testament is not confined to a single sex" [Dr. B. W. Johnson, The People's NT with Explanatory Notes, p. 510]. "These virgins 'prophesied.' The word comprised much more than mere prediction of the future, and included all words that came into the mind of the speaker as an inspiration, and to the hearers as a message from God. In other words, they preached" [Dr. Charles John Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 146]. "The gift of his daughters seemed to be a fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. They present the type of the calling of all Christian women to appropriate forms of Christian service" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 181].

"The question arises: Did they exercise their gift of prophecy in the church or in private? The passage 1 Corinthians 11:5 seems to indicate that in the church at Corinth women did pray and prophesy in the congregation" [ibid, p. 180]. Sir Anthony F. Buzzard, PhD, a British theologian with whom I have exchanged some emails, and who sent me a copy of his translation of, with accompanying commentary on, the NT ("The One God, the Father, One Man Messiah Translation"), wrote, in a footnote on Acts 21:9, that these four daughters of Philip were "ladies who were thoroughly involved in the ministry of edifying and encouraging" [p. 356]. Sir Anthony then gave the references: 1 Cor. 11:4-5; 14:3ff. "Paul encouraged all believers to desire to prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1), that is, to offer speech which builds up the church (14:5). First Corinthians 11:5 presumes women were involved in prophesying and prayer in public worship" [The Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 1144]. "The prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28) about their sons and daughters prophesying is quoted by Peter and applied to the events on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-17). Paul in 1 Cor. 11:5 gives directions about praying and prophesying by the women (apparently in public worship) ... not forbidding the praying and prophesying" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. Dr. James Hastings agrees: "It was evidently a function in which women might share, as we gather from 1 Cor. 11:5, where public prophecy and public prayer are associated as gifts of Christian women" [Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 2, p. 280]. Dr. Hastings goes on to say, "We find prophets and prophetesses from the very beginning of the early Jewish Church. ... The gift which developed at Pentecost in the Church at Jerusalem was destined to spread wherever a Christian society came into being" [ibid, p. 279].

It is interesting, and perhaps significant, to note that "Philip was one of the heroic first to admit non-Jewish believers into the fellowship of the Church. Prior to this, the Samaritans were excluded and even denied the privilege of becoming Jewish proselytes. It was Philip (not the apostles) who took the first step in 1) overcoming Jewish prejudice, and 2) the interracial expansion of the Church in accordance with the Lord's command" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 759]. Little wonder then that we find the active role of women in serving as spokeswomen of God also associated with this man. He was the visual focal point of the movement to break down the walls of exclusion of race, class and gender that had plagued the people of God too long. And we can also thank Luke the physician for documenting this bold progress in fulfilling our Lord's will. As the noted Greek scholar Dr. A. T. Robertson rightly observed, and to which we would do well today to take heed, "One thing is certain, and that is that Luke appreciated the services of women for Christ!" [Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. As for Philip and his four daughters, we are given no further insight from the Scriptures. However, the glimpses we have from the pen of Luke are truly inspiring, and I pray they will motivate us to some serious reflection on the role of women in service to the Lord today.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Tennessee:

We just started our Minor Prophets class today at the school of preaching I'm attending here in Tennessee, and our instructor enjoys using your notes (The Minor Prophets: In-Depth Background Studies) to help teach the class. Just thought I'd let you know that you're "famous!!"

From a Reader in Tennessee:

You wrote a Reflections article on the apostles perhaps not being baptized. I can't remember exactly how you titled this article, so am having trouble finding it on your web site. I do know, however, that it was very good. I had forwarded a copy of it to one of our elders, but he had misplaced it and wants another copy. Can you recall which article this is? Thanks! You have come to my rescue so many times!

From a Reader in New Zealand:

Thank you for your current Reflections article: "Baptized with Spirit and Fire" (Reflections #652). I have a leaning towards the baptism in fire referring to A.D. 70. John the Baptist is talking to the Pharisees in Matthew 3:7ff, and he says "the axe is already laid at the root of the trees, ... He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." In Matthew 24 Jesus, who is the one who baptizes in fire, will gather together His elect from the four winds (vs. 31). Of the destruction of Jerusalem, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, "On the 105th day -- the ominous 9th of Ab -- the temple and the lower city were burnt, and the last day found the whole city in flames." Thank you again, Al, for your wonderful articles!

From a Reader in Alabama:

The immediate context of "burning the chaff" means that the baptism of fire is punishment of the wicked, yet I am amazed that hardly anyone mentions that this refers to the punishment of wicked Jews in 70 A.D. when the Romans, as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24, killed a million (according to Josephus) wicked Jews. That is also the context of Malachi 4 and the coming of Elijah (John the Baptist) before the "great and terrible day of the Lord" (again: 70 A.D.). Acts 2 quotes Joel 2 and the pouring out of the Spirit in the last days before that great and terrible day of the Lord (again: 70 A.D.). Jesus poured out (baptized with) the Spirit, accompanied by the miraculous (tongues, healings, visions, etc.) as Joel predicted, on believers during the last days of the Jewish nation, which is the period from 30 A.D. (Acts 2 -- Pentecost) to 70 A.D., culminating with the baptism with fire in 70 A.D. on the wicked Jews. This also, as Franklin Camp notes, gives a clear cessation date of the miraculous (70 A.D.). Just my thoughts on an early Friday morning in Alabama!

From a Reader in Canada:

There can be no doubt that the baptism of fire is reserved for the wicked, the tares who will be cast into the lake of fire and destroyed when Jesus returns. Indeed, at the time of the return of the Lord Jesus He will cleanse His threshing floor (this world), gather His own to be with Him, and the rest will be burned up with unquenchable fire. We are currently called to produce fruit, broadcasting the coming Kingdom of God. This is our work: to bring salvation to as many as we can with God's Spirit working in us, thus saving them from the baptism of fire (hell; lake of fire) which is to come. I hope all is going well with your ministry and your outreach to the world. May God bless you in all you do in His name.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I appreciate the effort it took to write this Reflections on the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. Not an easy topic, for sure! I think that I have got to go with the sanctification (cleansing, purifying) aspect of the fire as the true meaning here. It just seems to me that the punishment phase of the Law was now passing away, and that the New Covenant was one where perfect love casts out all fear of punishment. Not that the purification/refining process is easy or painless -- it often takes a little more "heat" to get us motivated to change. Thankfully, the Lord has plenty to spare! Love ya, man! Oh, as for your statement of belief on baptism (which was in your response to the final reader in the Readers' Response section of your last issue of Reflections) -- nailed it!!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Al, in your response to an elder from Oklahoma at the end of the readers' section of your last Reflections, you provided your own "statement of belief" with respect to baptism, which read: "We believe baptism in water is commanded by our Lord, and that it is a visible demonstration of our faith in Him, as well as a symbolic recreation and participation in His death, burial, and resurrection. It is a public testimony to our trust in His accomplished work on the cross and His victory over death at the empty tomb. We do not believe the act itself has any sacramental efficacy, but that it simply, yet powerfully, evidences our faith in Him who saves, which salvation we receive by grace through faith." Al, you're getting verbose in your old age. Why not just cite Peter's explanation in 1 Peter 3:21? -- "We believe that baptism in water is an appeal to God for a good conscience." Simplistically yours, -------

From a Reader in Texas:

Of course this predicted baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire has reference to purification -- getting the worthless things out of the way. It always does in Scripture. And, of course it is in reference to punishment (through consumption/extinction, not endless pain). It always is. And of course it is in reference to the fire with which "the world that now is" was to be destroyed. And equally factual is the nearness of its fulfillment. It is one of those things included in Peter's statement that "the end of all things is at hand." John was speaking to the Jews about themselves. The harvest time was at hand, and those who believed in Jesus were immersed with the Holy Spirit, and those Jews who rejected Him would literally be burned up along with the temple. Jesus Himself promised all these things would come upon that present generation. And it did in 70 A.D. You can read all about it in Josephus.

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