Philip's Daughters: Prophets Crossing Borders

by Amos Yong | June 22, 2011

In passing, Luke mentions that Philip "had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy" (Acts 21:9, NRSV; all Scripture references in this article are from the book of Acts). Feminist scholars have pointed out, however, that women's voices remain silent throughout much of this book, so we know neither what these daughters said nor much else about them. But we know a bit about Philip, and I would like to suggest that aspects of his life might shed some light on how his daughters were nurtured in the gift of prophecy.

First, we know that Philip was a man full of wisdom (6:3) and courage. When persecution broke out against the earliest followers of Jesus, the Twelve remained in Jerusalem, but he ventured into Samaria, "proclaiming the word" (8:4b). Here was a man who had originally been appointed to serve tables (6:2), but instead emerged as a preacher of the gospel, one who knew the Scriptures (8:35) and whose ministry was accompanied by convincing miraculous signs, exorcisms, healings, and "great miracles"(8:6-7, 13). Perhaps this was to be expected of one who was "full of the Spirit" (6:3) and sensitive to the Spirit's voice (8:29), and who had experienced firsthand the wondrous movements of the Spirit's winds (8:39)!

If Philip as a Spirit-filled man had raised his daughters to be women of the Spirit also, we might not be surprised that they turned out to be prophets. However, I would also note that the Spirit taught them in part through the family's cross-cultural life experiences. Their father was a Greek-speaking Jew, a Hellenist (6:1) who perhaps had traveled the Mediterranean world. Since he had a Greek name, he was probably at least a second or third generation member of the Jewish diaspora. We are not told from where his family had settled, but we know that he eventually made his home in Caesarea, a coastal town in the region of Samaria. What is even more intriguing is that he would have made efforts to evangelize to the Samaritans, toward whom the Jews were extremely antagonistic. This tells us a great deal about Philip's capacity to negotiate volatile ethnic relations, unstable political borders, and hostile religious climates, while also providing an important window into the intercultural skill and cosmopolitan mentality that motivated and enabled his actions.

Philip's prophesying daughters undoubtedly carried on their father's legacy of crossing cultural borders. It had already been said that with the outpouring of the Spirit, "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (2:17). These female prophets had as their exemplar a Spirit-filled father, one who was willing to break taboos, carry the gospel where it had not yet gone, and be a conduit for the signs and wonders of the Spirit. His daughters were to be no less women of the Spirit, prophesying in a time when women were supposed to have been silent, and by doing so, freeing people from local customs, conventions, and constraints, and enlarging the horizons of possibilities for all people in anticipation of the liberating reign of God. Come Holy Spirit, today!