Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Prophetesses: Then. And Now?

Which women in the New Testament were prophetesses? Anna (Luke 2:36); 4 daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9)

The Bible makes no distinction between the prophetic ministry of men and women. Eleven Biblical women are deemed to be prophetesses: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; II Chronicles 34:22), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Isaiah’s unnamed wife (Isaiah 8:3), Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). Of the five New Testament prophetesses, all appear in Luke-Acts and only one is named, Anna (Luke 2:36).

Little is said of Anna. She was a devout 84-year old widow who spent her time in the temple (Luke 3:36). She was there when the infant Jesus was brought to be circumcised, praised God and thereafter spoke about the Lord “to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38, NASB).”

Less is said of Philip’s daughters than Anna. Only their existence as virgins and prophetesses is acknowledged (Acts 21:9). Technically speaking, they are not deemed prophetesses. Though the NASB uses the word “prophetess” in relation to them, most translations accurately say that they prophesied (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). The fact that these women prophesied does not require the conclusion that they were deemed prophetesses. Other women might be said to have prophesied, such as Mary (Luke 1:48) and Elizabeth (Luke 2:41-45), but were not considered prophetesses.

The stories of the five New Testament prophetesses cover a total of only four verses (Luke 2:36-38; Acts 21:9) and in none of them does the prophetess do anything particularly noteworthy. Nor are any direct quotes attributed them.

What does it mean to be a prophetess? What do you think caused these women to be seen as prophetesses?

The role of prophetess is not clearly defined and the New Testament does not teach of an office of prophetess. It is clear that women did and were intended to prophesy in the New Testament era. Peter pronounces at Pentecost that women would prophesy (Acts 2:18) and Paul teaches that women who prayed or prophesied ought do so with their heads covered (I Corinthians 11:5).

Though many definitions abound as to what it means to be a prophet, one commonality is that prophecy requires revelation from God. Before one can speak for God, God must first speak to them. Since these women prophesied, the implication is that God spoke to these New Testament women.

If God speaks to women, should God also not speak through women? When has a woman voiced the words of God to you? Have you ever encountered a prophetess?

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