What all was involved with Philip’s daughters prophesying in Acts 21?
Let’s ask another question first. What was the point of prophesy? W.E. Vine tells us that it not only has to do with “foretelling the future” but that it has sometimes to do with “telling forth the divine counsels.” The need, then, of prophets is evident in that the people of God did not yet have the completed Word of God, and thus God graciously (although sporadically) would reveal His thoughts to certain of His people. Joel himself had prophesied (foretold) that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” quoted on the Day of Pentecost (Act 2:17).
By the time Paul visited Caesarea, his Corinthians letter was already in circulation. In it he mentions the fact that there were women who were indeed prophesying there too (1Co 11:5), but later he writes about the need for the women to keep silence in the meetings of the church (1Co 14:34). So one thing we can learn from Acts 21 is that these four daughters would not have been serving in a public sphere in regards to teaching all the people of God. The Scriptures do not contradict themselves, and therefore we must be cautious on two fronts: reading our own thoughts and desires into the passage, and ignoring or evading the clarity of other Scriptures that speak to the subject.
Consider, too, the culture in which they lived. Not only did the church of God not permit women to teach, but even the Jewish culture in which they lived did not allow for women teachers. So what did God do in order to bring a singular and special message to the apostle Paul? Agabus arrived on the scene, many days later, in order to prophesy about Paul’s eventual sufferings in Jerusalem (Act 21:10-11). Paul had spent considerable time in Philip’s house, and surely would have had ample opportunity to speak with his four daughters, but they did not share a message from God for Paul – he had to wait long enough in order for God to send Agabus for that purpose.
So we ask the question: What did they do, and what did they say? There is no mention of their message, so we ought not to go beyond what Luke saw fit to write, guided by the Spirit. There is no allusion as to their audience, so again we need to be careful, but at the same time take into account other Scriptures inspired by the same divine Author.
We can only assume that they remained within the parameters and principles laid down in the Word of God. Perhaps they were involved in reaching out with the gospel message, although we are not suggesting they were evangelists preaching on the street corners. They could share the message with others, and perhaps as they saw some young ladies brought to Christ they would be able to encourage them along the pathway in their newfound faith.
We need to be careful, then, to not give to these fine young Christian women more responsibility and place than what the Holy Scriptures clearly indicate. We honour their testimony and faithfulness, and are certain they, too, will receive the recompense in that coming day.