In Acts 21:8, 9 we read of Philip’s four daughters who prophesied. How do you reconcile that with Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11, 12? What is the context of those verses and do they conflict with the mention of Philip’s four daughters?
First, let’s establish what kind of ministry is meant by prophecy. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:3, “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” I discuss the significance of this verse as describing New Testament prophetic ministry in a nearby Q&A titled Is Prophecy for Today?. If you have questions about what prophecy is today, I recommend reading that post.
Let’s look at Acts 21:8, 9 to see what it tells us.
On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried [or, virgin; NASB] daughters, who prophesied.
This passage identifies Philip as the one we read about in Acts 6:5 and chapter 8, a godly man whose daughters are following in his footsteps. The daughters themselves are described as “virgins”, which in Scripture frequently identifies someone who is particularly devoted to God. (Matt. 1:23; 25:1; 2 Cor. 11:12; Rev. 14:4) Yet, the fact that they are specifically described as prophesying is remarkable.
Luke’s mention of “daughters” (notice, not just “women”) being used in prophetic ministry emphasizes what the apostle tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:14-27, where we see that the members which are unseen, or even less honorable, are vital for the healthy functioning of the body.
The apostle in 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 reminds us that there is a limit to a believing woman’s ministry. Notice that this is related to the sphere of influence not the importance or scope of the influence. The verses in 1 Corinthians 12 emphasize the importance of every member.
F. W. Grants writes,1 (edited slightly)
May we covet, as we are exhorted to do, the gifts of His grace. And, may we also understand that women as such are not shut out from them, however there may be for them (as women) a suited sphere for their exercise. It is nature that has marked out this sphere; which grace does not set aside, nor limit on this account the fulness of blessing that may be theirs who covet it. How good it would be to see more of this coveting in faith, and that we would put to the proof in faith these assurances that are given us. How great would be the result, not to the individual only, but in the assembly as a whole, of believing hearts that craved from God their portion!
So, in the example of Philip’s daughters there is a very important lesson for us all. No one in the body of Christ, no matter what limitation they may feel, is excluded from the gift of the Holy Spirit and the associated ministry that God has given them. Further, all the gifts are together necessary for the building up, the encouragement, and the comfort of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12).
One additional comment is needed with regard to the passage in 1 Timothy 2. Verse 11 says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” Perhaps we could all learn from this example. The apostle Paul tells us to “submit one to another.” (Eph. 5:21; Phil. 2:3) Both Paul and James tell us to show submission and respect to those in authority. It is sad and a serious dishonor to the Lord—who as Christ owns God as Head (1 Cor. 11:3; Rom. 15:3)—to see believers speaking rashly, even railing against those with governmental authority. (Rom. 13:5; Jude 9) In this day, rebellion, self-will, even arrogance, is too often seen among those who profess godliness. This “ought not to be so.” (Jas. 3:10)
So, perhaps verse 12, which seems so easily disregarded today, is really meant to focus attention on a christian service which is most important and easily minimized. Do not women and children need prophetic ministry? And, cannot women intercede on behalf of others? The lesson here is to not despise the gift of God and the natural place that corresponds to it. Fill the place in which He has placed you with joy and gratitude. The true effect of our work and our reward is not found here, but only at the judgment seat of Christ. (1 Cor. 4:2-5)
1. Grant, F. W., The Numerical Bible: Acts to II Corinthians, (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1932), p 144.