“We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip, the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”
What does it mean to be called to preach, as a woman in the church of Jesus Christ? This is an age old question that not only applies to women called to the clergy office; but, to all women who hold leadership roles in the Church. Because of our gender, there are still those who will insist that we take a back seat, if a seat at all, at the table in the kingdom of God. Tragically, to defend this warped thinking, the Bible is often used against us. The New Testament is largely where this happens because this testament records the history and development of the early Church. As students of the bible, we understand our struggle for leadership, that often involves putting women “in our place.”
Even as there are those who attempt to block the full involvement of women in the Church, Scripture defends us with story after story about the courageous and bold leadership, energy, talents, gifts, and resources of women who took their rightful place in the kingdom of God and answered God’s call to ministry.
The story of Philip’s daughters is one of the many found in the New Testament, specifically in Acts, demonstrating the power and giftedness bestowed to women by an almighty God, who uses those whom He chooses to bring about His perfect will in the Church. In the book of Acts, we find a large group of women who stepped into their destinies, as leaders of the Church. The involvement and leadership of women was a defining characteristic of the early Christian church. From those like the Luke 8 women who accompanied Jesus to the cities, villages, and towns, as He preached the good news of the Kingdom, (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many others – “they provided for Him from their substance”); to those listed in the Acts of the Apostles (written by Luke), the participation of women was necessary for the growth of Christianity:
Mary, the mother of Jesus and the women (Acts 1:14)
Queen Candace of the Ethiopians (Acts 8:27)
Tabitha & the sister circle (Acts 9: 36-42)
Mary, sister of Barnabas (Acts 12:12; Col: 4-10)
Rhoda (Acts 12: 13-16)
Lydia (Acts 16: 14-15, 40)
These are just some of the women listed in Acts of the Apostles, who were leaders in the early Christian church. But, how much can we learn about four young (virgin) women whose story is described in one sentence? It seems we can and will learn a great deal, even though these four daughters are mentioned only once in the Acts of the Apostles. When we examine the sentence that describes them in the 21st chapter of Acts, there are two important words that stand out in their story: “daughters & prophesied.”
To know more about these daughters, we must understand who they are through their father, Philip. Philip was appointed by the Apostles, (along with Stephen and five others) to supervise the daily distribution of food to the widows, following the dispute between the Hellenists (The Greeks) and the Hebrews (Acts 6:1-6). Later, Philip carried the gospel to Samaria, founded the Samaritan church (Acts 8: 5-13), and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8: 26-39). Obviously, Philip the Evangelist, was an important man in the early Christian community, and a major influence in his daughters’ lives. He was a father who shared his missionary call with his daughters. It is recorded in Acts that Apostle Paul stayed with him and his four daughters, which indicates by their mention, Philip included them in his work in the Church.
In the Greek, the daughters are called “prophetesses.” This word means: (From Studylight Classic.com)
“to prophesy with the idea of foretelling future events especially to the kingdom of God. To utter forth, declare, a thing which can only be known by divine revelation. To break forth under sudden impulse in lofty discourse or praise of the divine counsels. Under like prompting, to teach, refute, reprove, admonish, comfort others. To act as a prophet, discharge the prophetic office.
So, the sentence, “He [Philip] had four daughters, who prophesied,” is a very impactful and important descriptive in their story.
To comprehend who these daughters were and what they meant to the development of the early Christian church, we need to examine the meaning and the office of prophet in Scripture. Abraham Herschel, the great Rabbi and Hebrew theologian writes the following in his classic book, The Prophets:
“The prophet is not only a prophet. He is also poet, preacher, patriot, statesman, social critic, moralist…Prophesy is not simply the application of timeless standards to particular human situations, but rather an interpretation of a particular moment in history, a divine understanding of a human situation…..For prophecy is a sham unless it is experienced as a word of God swooping down on man and converting him [her] into a prophet.” Herschel continues by writing, “The prophet was an individual who said No to his [her] society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. He [the prophet] was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected. His fundamental objective was to reconcile man and God.” (Pages x-xiii).
We understand, through Rabbi Herschel’s descriptive that a prophet IS NOT A FORTUNE TELLER. In the bible, there is a distinct difference made between the two. Fortune telling is presented as an ungodly spirit in the Old and New Testament. Fortune telling had/has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God, and is rejected as evil. Fortune telling is presented as an inauthentic imitation at prophesy (Acts 16:16 -18). The profound difference between the two is fortune telling has NOTHING to do with the Holy Spirit. The genuine spirit of prophecy , whether to an individual, to a nation, or to the Church, attaches itself to the Kingdom of God. Therefore, Philip’s daughters were prophesying about the kingdom of God, and this is the primary reason why they are mentioned in the book of Acts.
Philip’s four daughters were women of high moral character and were chosen by God for an unique and important assignment in the early Church. They were preaching women – women who spoke inspired utterances from God. They were also appreciated for more than their prophetic gifts. Several centuries later, the church historian Eusebius wrote that Philip’s daughters were recognized as authorities on persons and events of the early church. In fact, Philip and his daughters may well have been key sources for the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Yet, they lived in a culture that typically denied the personhood, gifts, talents, and the very presence of women. Because the book of Luke explores the stories of women, more than the other three gospels, some scholars believe the four sisters provided Luke with valuable information about the stories of women found in his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.
Philip’s daughters stand as an example and a testimony against the pervasive opinion that women should not preach/prophesy and should be silent in the church:
1 Corinthians 14:34
1 Timothy 2:12
Filled with the Holy Spirit, these daughters embodied the divine gift of the Spirit, as found on the day of Pentecost: “And, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4) Even as Peter’s sermon reminds those who would doubt the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the four daughters embody the prophesy of Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…….” (Joel 2:28) The four daughters of Philip are the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Scripture gives us, as women, the explicit permission to preach, prophesy, teach, witness, testify, and lead in the Church. God gives us our ordinations, assignments, & appointments. What God has for us, as God’s daughters, cannot be taken away from us. As the stories of the women of Scripture demonstrate, we must stand strong in our power and proclaim the Good News of Jesus to a dying world. It is our right, it is our witness, it is our destiny. To God be the glory!!!! Let the daughters of God say, “AMEN!”
Questions for our consideration:
Have you ever had a time where, in the Church, or perhaps somewhere else, a person or persons attempted to keep you from the assignment you knew came from God? Explain.
As women, why do you think we attempt to prevent each other from taking leadership roles in the Church?
Think about Jesus’ attitude towards women, as opposed to the 1st century (and beyond) attitudes towards us? Why do you think Jesus’ approach towards women was so different & supportive?
“Little girls with dreams become women with vision.” (Unknown)
“As women, we must stand up for ourselves. We must stand up for each other. We must stand up for justice for all.” (Michelle Obama)
“Power is not given to you. You have to take it.” (Beyonce’)
OUR SENDING PRAYER
As your daughters, oh Lord,
We pray with the power of those You have empowered.
Like Deborah – we claim Your victory in our battles
Like Miriam – we say, “The Lord has become my salvation and my song.”
Like Mary Magdalene – we will lead others to find Your presence in their lives
Like Rahab – we will share our testimony with our family, friends, neighbors, & community.
Lord, we give You the glory and the honor for creating us, as women, in Your likeness.
We request Your anointing in our lives,
So we may serve You and build Your kingdom.
Like Jesus, we ask for the power of love and forgiveness for those we encounter
That we may draw even closer to You.
In the matchless name of our Savior & Christ, Jesus, we pray.
“The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters Bible Empowerment Series. They may be used by you with our permission, which may be revoked at any time. All copies of the materials must include the following notice: “This material is Copyright  Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters, and is distributed with permission.”