Philip's Prophesying Daughters

Philip and his Daughters in Acts

Philip was a prominent minister in the New Testament church and is mentioned several times in the book of Acts. He is not the apostle Philip but was one of the seven Greek-speaking Jewish men (including Stephen) who were chosen to minister to the Greek-speaking Jewish widows in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-6; 21:8).[1]

Philip's Prophesying DaughtersAfter Stephen was stoned to death, and the subsequent persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-2), Philip went and ministered in Samaria. This is recorded in Acts 8:5-7. Philip then went on the road to Gaza where he shared the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch, the treasurer for Queen Candace, and he baptised him in water (Acts 8:26-39).

Philip is also mentioned in Acts 21:8 where he is identified as one of the “seven” and as an “evangelist”. Being an evangelist is one of the leadership ministries on the Ephesians 4:11 list. In fact, Philip is the only person identified as an “evangelist” in the New Testament (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5). Another leadership ministry on the Ephesians 4:11 list is that of “prophets”.

Prophets played an important role in the early church. Being gifted by the Holy Spirit, they provided guidance, instruction, strengthening, encouragement and comfort (Acts 13:3-4; 16:6; 1 Cor. 14:3, 31, etc). Paul considered prophecy to be the most desirable of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1); and he listed prophets before teachers in his lists of ministry gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11.

When Paul and his team came to Caesarea during the third missionary journey, they stayed with Philip who was living there with his four daughters. Luke describes these women simply as “four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9). These daughters may have chosen to remain unmarried in order to be “concerned about the things of the Lord” and dedicate themselves for ministry (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8, 34).[2]

Elsewhere in the book of Acts, Luke provides most of the names of the many women he mentions. Even the servant Rhoda is named in Acts 12:13-15. It seems however, that Philip’s daughters were well known to the whole church simply as “Philip’s Daughters”. The Greek Menaon (an annual calendar which preserves the memory of martyrs and saints) claims that two of the daughters were called Hermione and Eutychis. It states that these two daughters went to live in Asia Minor after the death of the apostle John who lived his last years in Ephesus. Eutychis is said to be buried in Ephesus; Hermione may have been martyred.[3] Other sources, however, state that Philip and his daughters were all buried in Caesarea (cf. Eusebius 3.31.3-5).[4]

Philip’s Daughters in Eusebius

Several early Christian writers mention Philip’s daughters. One of these is Eusebius (b. 263 AD). In his history of the church (3.37.1)[5], Eusebius speaks about a man called Quadratus[6], and others like him. What is interesting in Eusebius’s description of Quadratus, is that he and his prophetic gift are compared to Philip’s four daughters and their prophetic gift. It seems that Eusebius regarded Philip’s daughters and their ministry as the benchmark for prophetic ministry in the early church. He also implies that Philip’s daughters, like Quadratus, took over from the apostles’ ministry (3.31.1).[7]

Eusebius also quoted Papias, a church leader alive at the time of Philip’s daughters, who said that people travelled great distances to visit these female prophets and listen to their accounts of the early church.[8] One of the accounts they may have related was that one of the daughters had died and come back to life (Eusebius 3.39.9).

Writing in 1320, a thousand years after Eusebius, Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos wrote a history of the church which borrows from Eusebius and others. Nicephorus says this about Philip’s daughters:

And until the times of Trajan these [successors of the apostles] continued the priesthood, while the beloved disciple still was present in [this] life. . . . After them Quadratus became eminent in the prophetic gift, being distinguished together with the daughters of Philip. And there were many more than they who manifested the apostolic gifts, who obtained the succession after the apostles. [This] history, as far as it is possible for me, hands down one after another similar things concerning Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias. For now it sets forth as much as [possible] the earliest demonstration of apostolic teaching.
Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos, Church History 3.2.40-55 (Source)

The histories of Eusebius and Nicephorus associate the daughters of Philip with apostolic gifts, teaching, and foundational ministry. (See endnote 5 for Eusebius’s account.) Like the prophets Judas and Silas who are mentioned in Acts, Philip’s four daughters probably had much to say that encouraged and strengthened the believers in the early church (cf. Acts 15:32).

Philip’s Daughters as Prophets

Some argue that Luke does not explicitly call Philip’s daughters “prophets” or “prophetesses” in the Greek text of Acts 21:9 (cf. Agabus who is clearly called a “prophet” in the next verse, Acts 21:10). However, this does not mean that the women were not prophets. Luke uses the participle of “prophesy” to describe the four daughters. John N. Collins notes that “Greek writers preferred the participle to the noun as giving a more immediate sense of the . . . action.”[9] There is no doubt that the ability to prophesy is what characterised these four women. (Compare how different English versions translate Acts 21:9 here.)

Eusebius (5.17.3) quoted an earlier historian Miltiades who criticised the inappropriate ecstatic behaviour from Montanist prophets and he compares this behaviour with the respectable conduct of Philip’s four daughters and other male and female prophets:

“They cannot show that one of the old or one of the new prophets was thus carried away in spirit. Neither can they boast of Agabus [Acts 11:27-28; 21:10], or Judas, or Silas [Acts 15:22, 27, 32] or the daughters of Philip, or Ammia [a prophetess] in Philadelphia, or Quadratus, or any others not belonging to them.”

From this quote it appears that Philip’s daughters were regarded as prophets just like the other prophets mentioned in the book of Acts: Agabus, Judas and Silas.  Moreover, “In Acts the most prominent and pervasive leaders are called ‘prophets’.”[10] The church at Antioch, for example, was led by prophets (Acts 13:1-3).

Several female prophets are mentioned in the Bible.[11] Miriam and Deborah were recognised and respected as both prophets and leaders (Exod. 15:20 cf. Mic. 6:4; Judg. 4:4). Huldah the prophetess helped to bring about a spiritual revival in Judah (2 Kings 22:13-14; 2 Chron. 34:21-22). Anna the prophetess ministered in the Temple and spoke to everyone, men and women, who were “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38). And Isaiah’s wife was a prophetess (Isa. 8:3). There was a place for women prophets in ancient Israel. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, more women, as well as men, prophesied (Acts 2:17-18). So, it was not unusual for women to prophesy and be recognised as prophets in the New Testament Church (cf. 1 Cor. 11:5).

There is no doubt that Philip’s four daughters were highly esteemed; Eusebius refers to them as “great lights” or “mighty luminaries” (3.31.3). The daughters held a unique place in the early church. They seemed to exercise their ministry gift freely and powerfully, and they were in demand. We should not underestimate their leadership and influence. I wonder how many women, gifted like Philip’s daughters, have since been silenced by the church?


Endnotes

[1] Philip is mentioned second to Stephen in the list of seven men. These seven men were “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), and have been traditionally referred to as the first deacons. The story of Stephen’s martyrdom is recorded in Acts chapter 7. [More on the ministry of the Seven here.]

[2] Consecrated “virgins” became an official order in the church in the second century.

[3] An unverifiable account of Hermione’s martyrdom in 117 AD is here.

[4] William Cave, Lives of the Most Eminent Fathers of the Church that Flourished in the First Four Centuries, Volume 1 (London, 1840), 89.

[5] “Among those that were celebrated at that time was Quadratus, who, reports say, was renowned along with the daughters of Philip for his prophetical gifts. And there were many others besides these who were known in those days, and who occupied the first place among the successors of the apostles. And they also, being illustrious disciples of such great men, built up the foundations of the churches which had been laid by the apostles in every place, and preached the Gospel more and more widely and scattered the saving seeds of the kingdom of heaven far and near throughout the whole world.” Eusebius 3.37.1
Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250103.htm>.

[6] More about Quadratus is recorded by Eusebius in his church history in 4.3.1-2. Jerome states that Quadratus was a disciple of the apostles and the bishop of the church in Athens (Letters LXX.4). Quadratus wrote a treatise defending Christianity which had the effect of staving off a serious persecution by Emperor Hadrian.

[7] At times Eusebius gives accounts that confuse Philip the apostle with Philip the Evangelist (e.g. 3.31.2-5). It appears that both had prominent daughters, which further confuses the stories. However, at least some of the apostle’s daughters were married. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 3.16.6 (52) writes that Philip the apostle gave his daughters in marriage.
Polycrates gives an account of the daughters, recorded by Eusebius (5.24.2), which seems to confuse the apostle with the evangelist. In this account, three (surviving?) daughters of Philip are associated with the apostles Philip and John, the bishops and martyrs Polycarp of Smyrna, Thraseas of Eumenia, and Sagris of Laodicea, as well as Papirius of Smyrna and Melito of Sardis.

[8] F.F. Bruce mentions this in his book, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1951), 387.  But I cannot locate the reference in Eusebius.

[9] John Collins is speaking about the difference between the noun (diakonos) and participle (diakonōn) in this quotation which I’ve taken from, Deacons and the Church: Making Connections Between Old and New (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002), 44. But the principle also applies for the noun “prophet” and the participle “prophesying”.

[10] Kevin Giles in his paper on “Ordination” (sent to me in a personal email from the author.)

[11] “The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Exo. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judg. 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov. 31:1-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are considered prophetic and are included in Scripture. They have been recorded in the Bible and thus have the authority of Scripture. Some people consider Scripture as having the highest level of prophecy.” Quoted from here.

© 24th of November 2013, Margaret Mowczko

Images

“Costumes of the Ladies of the Nobility in the Ninth Century from a Miniature in the Bible of Charles the Bold (National Library of Paris)” in Manners, Customs, and Dress During the Middle Ages, and During the Renaissance Period by Paul Lacroix (no date) (Source: Guttenberg Press)

Map showing places where Philip ministered, © Tyndale House Publishers (Source: Visual Bible Alive)


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