Prophetic Momentum

Jon Cressey writing mostly about church, prophets and prophecy...

Daughters who prophesy…


If you read the ESV, after pushing through the drama of the Gospels, you come to another book, authored by Luke, simply called “Acts”.

It is best understood as the Acts of the Holy Spirit, but it also recounts the acts or adventures of the Church and key individuals in the early days of the Church. God was at work by His Spirit, and chapter after chapter reveals the ongoing work of God both in the Church and in the nations.

As you journey through the narrative, sipping your tea while reading about miracle after miracle, moments of shock and horror, and times of awe, suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere in Acts 21:9, we encounter an intriguing mention of Philip’s daughters who prophesied: “He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.” This seemingly brief reference opens up a small insight into early Christian life, including the role of women in the Church and the significance of prophetic ministry. Much has been written on the role of women in ministry, so don’t hold your breath here for anything new; I’ll leave that to the scholars. Suffice it to say, I’m more interested in the overall picture of Acts 21:9 and a few things we can learn from it.

So let’s start with Philip. We know him best as “Philip the Evangelist,” and he is a significant figure in the New Testament. He first appears in Acts 6:5 as one of the seven deacons chosen for their character to serve the early Church in Jerusalem, a group tasked with addressing the needs of the community, particularly the distribution of food to widows, freeing up time for the Apostles to devote themselves to the Word of God and prayer. It was an awesome time in the life of the Church. Serving alongside him at the time was Stephen, who also went on to do other things… Philip’s ministry, however, quickly escalates beyond these practical duties. By Acts 8, we see him evangelising in Samaria, where his preaching and miracles lead to widespread conversions. Later, he is guided by an angel to meet the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza, a pivotal moment that underscores his role as an evangelist (Acts 8:26-40). We underestimate this man. He leaves the starting block with an inspiring lifestyle. You can read about the character requirements of being a deacon – and Philip met those, as reflected by his continuing lifestyle, walking in the power of the Spirit.

Philip’s evolution from deacon to evangelist is not a promotion but a calling that reflects his growing influence and the expanding scope of his ministry. He’s no settler. His move to Caesarea, a significant Roman port city, situates him in a strategic location for spreading the gospel. It is here, in Caesarea, that we find him residing with his four daughters. By the time we hear about Philip’s daughters, Philip has met a man on a chariot, baptised him, and been carried away or transported by the Spirit. He’s never saying that church is boring.

The Daughters Who Prophesied

We’ve now come to a place of intrigue. The mention of Philip’s daughters in Acts 21:9 is noteworthy for several reasons. Firstly, it highlights the presence of prophetic gifts within his family, suggesting that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit were at work not just among the apostles but within the broader Christian community, including women. There’s nothing special here, but… this is a special moment. It’s not “Philip had a son that prophesied.” We could read that and be blasé about it – no, it catches our attention. Philip had four daughters… and they prophesied. The Greek word used for “prophesied” in this text means to speak under divine inspiration, to foretell events, or to speak forth the mind and counsel of God. It implies that they didn’t just do it once or twice – all four of them were cooperating with the Holy Spirit.

The fact that all four daughters were prophets signifies a family deeply immersed in the spiritual life and the ministry of the early Church. It implies that Philip’s influence wonderfully extended to his children, who were active participants in the Church’s mission. The absence of any mention of brothers or the mother in this context does not necessarily indicate their nonexistence but rather places emphasis on these daughters’ roles in the narrative. I’m very inspired by the life, calling, and ministry of Samuel for personal reasons, but equally, this is something that may make you sit up, slurp your tea, and stare out of the window for a minute.

Prophetic Ministry in the Early Church

The role of prophecy in the early Church was pivotal and essential to their well-being. Prophets were considered conveyors of God’s messages, providing guidance, encouragement, and sometimes correction to the believers. This practice is equally well-rooted in the Old Testament, where figures like Deborah, Huldah, and Miriam were recognised as prophetesses. In the New Testament, the prophetic gift is reaffirmed in several passages, such as in 1 Corinthians 12:28, where Paul lists prophets among the gifts given to the Church, and in Acts 2:17-18, which quotes Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of the Spirit on all people, including sons and daughters who will prophesy. There we have it – the kids get the gifts, and old ones get to nap – and to dream!

Philip’s daughters stand as a testament to the fulfilment of this prophetic promise – Joel promised it, Philip’s girls got it. Their ministry underscores the inclusive nature of the Holy Spirit’s work, transcending gender and social status, and empowering individuals based on their spiritual gifts rather than their societal position.

Lessons from Philip’s Family

Philip’s family offers several valuable lessons. First, it demonstrates the importance of a household committed to faith and spiritual growth. Philip’s example as an evangelist and a spiritual leader evidently created an environment where his daughters could develop, nurture, and exercise their prophetic gifts. Imagine the conversations they had over meals, or the dreams and visions they shared. This reflects the biblical principle found in Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ESV). Philip’s household would have not been far removed from Samuel’s school of the prophets!

Second, the inclusion of women in prophetic ministry highlights the early Church’s recognition and encouragement of women’s spiritual contributions. This inclusion is consistent with the ministry of Jesus, who often elevated women’s roles and broke societal norms, as seen in his interactions with women such as Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman at the well. Women have a valuable place of contribution that we must encourage and preserve; it’s worth every effort. Sometimes women can communicate God’s heart more clearly – no chest thumping needed.

Finally, the prophetic ministry of Philip’s daughters serves as a reminder of the diverse ways God can use families in His work. It encourages modern social-media, TikTok-driven, Facebook-using Christian families to nurture each member’s spiritual gifts and support each other in their individual callings. We’re not told any of their prophecies, their experiences, or the outcomes other than the apostles turning up at Philip’s house and there they were! In fact, they are mentioned (no names) and then we are taken to the prophetic ministry of Agabus. But there it is, God’s word attesting to them. In heaven, you may meet them, but you won’t know them by name!

Connections

The prophetic role of Philip’s daughters connects with various other biblical references to women in prophetic roles, such as Miriam, who is described as a prophetess in Exodus 15:20, and Deborah, who was both a prophetess and a judge of Israel (Judges 4:4). Over the pages, Anna the prophetess is another notable figure, who spoke about Jesus to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).

The prophetic activity of Philip’s daughters also aligns with Paul’s encouragement to the Church regarding the prophetic gift. In 1 Corinthians 14:1, Paul writes, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” This emphasis on prophecy as a desirable and beneficial gift for the edification of the Church underscores its importance in early Christian communities.

Philip’s Evangelistic Role

Back to Philip – his journey from deacon to evangelist illustrates the dynamic nature of spiritual calling and ministry. His progression was not a mere career advancement but a response to God’s direction. As an evangelist, Philip’s lifestyle and dedication had a profound impact on his family. His daughters, growing up in a home where the gospel was actively shared and lived out, naturally embraced their own spiritual gifts. That’s an ambition for any Christian parent. Imagine a home where you have four prophets, and evangelist resident and the apostles are coming to stay for a few days…

This fantastic story of Philip and his daughters invites us to reflect on the environment we create within our own homes and communities. It challenges us to foster spaces where spiritual gifts can be recognised, nurtured, and exercised, regardless of gender or age. Some of the contributions can be life-transforming…

Daughters who prophesy…
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