Why does Luke mention Phillip’s daughters?

Q. Why does Luke mention Phillip’s daughters in the book of Acts?

This is an excellent kind of question to ask, because Luke no doubt had a lot of material to work with as he was putting together the book of Acts, and presumably he did not include everything that was available. So we can and should ask why details like this one were included. How do they fit into the overall plan and theme of this biblical book?

The episode you’re asking about comes in one of the “we” sections of the book of Acts, in which Luke is relating events that he took part in personally. Luke is accompanying Paul on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the offering from the Gentile churches, and about this specific incident, which took place as the travelers neared Jerusalem, he says: “We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

By “one of the Seven,” Luke means that Philip was one of the seven people who had earlier been appointed to oversee the distribution of food to needy members of the church in Jerusalem. But Philip did many things after that to help spread the good news about Jesus, and at this point he was no longer living in Jerusalem. Luke probably mentions that the daughters were “unmarried” to indicate that they were still living at home. And while his language could be understood to mean that they “prophesied” as a regular ministry (some Bibles say that they “had the gift of prophecy” or “were involved in the work of prophecy”), it seems to me that they must have prophesied while Paul and Luke were staying in their home, and that is how Luke knew that they had this gift.

So why does he mention it? Was it just a memorable experience along the way? He probably had more reason than that, since the travelers no doubt had many other memorable experiences on this trip that he could have included. I think Luke mentions these four prophesying daughters specifically because this detail illustrates the overall theme of his book. As I say in my study guide to Luke-Acts (which you can read online or download at this link), Acts describes how the community of Jesus’ followers “spread throughout the Roman Empire as it proclaimed the good news about Jesus to people of many different backgrounds, languages, and regions.”

Early in the book, Luke records how the Holy Spirit descended on the young community on the day of Pentecost and enabled its members to speak all  the different languages of the visitors who had come to Jerusalem for that festival. That was a picture of how the community would spread to people of all backgrounds. To explain to the crowd that gathered what was happening, the apostle Peter quoted these words from the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

The Pentecost episode is like an overture, encapsulating the themes that play out in the rest of the book. The prophetic gifting and ministry of Philip’s daughters is a fulfillment of the words, “Your … daughters will prophesy.” So I think that when Luke was putting together the book under divine inspiration, he recognized that staying in their house and witnessing them using this gift was not just a memorable personal experience, but something that he should share with his readers as an example of how the words of Joel continued to come true as the Holy Spirit empowered the community of Jesus’ followers—men and women, young and old, of different social classes—to spread the good news.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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