Are Philip's daughters an argument for female preachers...

On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, "The will of the Lord be done!" (Acts 21:8-14)

Walking into K-mart this past Christmas season, I passed a woman at the Salvation Army kettle ringing a bell and singing Christmas hymns beautifully. “That’s nice,” I thought. On my way out this same woman was on her cell phone and as I walked by I heard her talking about the sermon she had preached the Sunday before.

Many might take the passage at the head of this post as a justification for a woman to preach: I mean, the passage tells us Philip the Evangelist had four daughters who were prophetesses…

How easily we dismiss what the Bible has to say to us. Our ears work fine when it comes to the Bible and others but somehow we think God has nothing to say to us that would challenge our lives and life pursuits. As it comes to the roles of men and women and instruction in the Word, God could not have spoken more clearly:

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. (1Timothy 2:11-15)

Note that the reasons the Bible gives us that women should not teach men are not cultural or tied to the first century A.D. Both reasons are rooted in creation and thus are just as true today as ever: Eve was not created first, but Adam (that is, God was saying something through the order in which He created the first two people); and Adam was not deceived in the fall but Eve (the Bible making an issue here of the woman’s discernment and judgment).

It's marvelous how quickly advocates of women teaching men dismiss these statements of the Apostle Paul as cultural, appealing instead to the sense of call a women has--a sense none of us are allowed to judge.

Now to Philip’s daughters…We are told in the narrative that Paul and Luke visit Philip at his house. While in Philip's house, God sends Paul a message. Now, Paul is in a home that has four prophetesses in it. If it were fitting for women to give instruction to men in the things of God wouldn’t any of these women have fit the bill?

But what does the Bible tell us? It tells us that the message comes not from any of the four women but that God sent a man, a prophet named Agabus, to reveal His will to Paul. Why? I would urge thoughtful Christians to consider this question: why did God send a man to this household to reveal His will to Paul when four prophetesses already lived there?

The answer is as obvious as we want it to be. God did not give instruction to Paul through Philip’s daughters because it is not God’s will for women to give instruction to men--but the reverse. I’ll wait a moment for the gnashing teeth to stop. Many will grumble and make accusations, “chauvinist”, “bigot”, “bully”, none of which are true. If we are to make accusations about motives and hearts, should we not start with those who disobey direct commands of Scripture regarding God’s will for the sexes? Far from an argument for women preaching to men, Philip’s daughters are an argument against it.

But what about Deborah? Rules always have exceptions and God was pleased to make an exception to His law in the work of Deborah. Yet God's exception is no justification for our denying His law. It is a perverse age that builds its laws on exceptions to the rule.

Then what about Priscilla working with her husband, Aquila, to explain "the way of God more accurately" to Apollos (Acts 18:25,26)? Note the text doesn't say Priscilla explained things to Apollos. We are told Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, both were explaining things to Apollos--they worked together. Thus Priscilla was not a woman teaching a man. She was a wife helping her husband, and privately.

What a beautiful thing it is to witness women living out their calling, instructing other women, especially those who are younger, in life and in the faith (Titus 2:3-5). It is a women’s privilege to instruct children: their own and the children God brings to their church or into their lives by some other avenue. It was Eve’s privilege to eat from many trees in the garden, only one was kept from her. In the same way, God has granted women the privilege to teach many, yet we find many women, like the first Eve, not content with what God has granted but determined to have what has not been granted.

The Church in our day will not know God’s full blessing until we as His people demonstrate a willingness to obey. Men, don’t think there isn’t something for you and I to repent of here. Are you lovingly teaching and leading your wife and children? Are you lovingly leading and teaching the people of your church? Never forget men that our disobedience and failure to fulfill our duty before God has been the source of many temptations for women to teach and preach to men because we won’t. It doesn’t exonerate them but our guilt is great.


Also with Deborah, the first particular thing we hear about is that she urges a man to take up the sword. And there is shame and dishonor in his unwillingness to do so:
Then Barak said to her, "If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go." She said, "I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman." Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. - Jdg 4:8-9 NASB

"the honor shall not be yours...for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman"

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of "Everything's fine! Deborah's in charge!"

Not sure that your example does what you want. Huldah was asked for guidance by both the high priest and King Josiah: she taught them both God's wisdom in this case.

I take all the data to mean that women are not to exercise such gifts in public worship. In public elsewhere, or in private, gifted women may exercise them. (I'm assuming that 1 Tim. 2 regards public worship.)

I prefer Calvin to Knox on this issue. (See

Mr. Larson,

When you say you "prefer Calvin to Knox on this issue" are you saying that Calvin found there to be no shame in having women exercising authority over men, and you believe him to be correct and Knox wrong on that point? But Calvin did speak to the shame of it.

From Calvin's Letter DXXXVIII To William Cecil:
"Two years ago, John Knox in a private conversation, asked
my opinion respecting female government. I frankly answered
that because it was a deviation from the primitive and established order of nature, it ought to be held as a judgment on man for his dereliction of his rights just like slavery — that nevertheless certain women had sometimes been so gifted that the singular blessing of God was conspicuous in them, and made it manifest that they had been raised up by the providence of God, either because he willed by such examples to condemn the supineness of men, or thus show more distinctly his own glory. I here instanced Huldah and Deborah..." (search for Huldah)

And from Calvin's commentary on Ezekiel 13:17-18...
"We know that the gift of prophecy is sometimes though rarely allowed to women, and there is no doubt that female prophets existed whenever God wished to brand men with a mark of ignominy as strongly as possible. I say as much as possible, because the sister of Moses enjoyed the prophetic gift, and this never ceased to the reproach of her brother. (Exodus 15:20.) But when Deborah and Huldah discharged the prophetic office, (Judges 4:4, and 2 Kings 22:14,) God doubtless wished to raise them on high to shame the men, and obliquely to show them their slothfulness."

From what I understand the PCA to believe, it makes sense that you don't have women pastors or women on your governing board (elder board). But I'm not sure why you bar women from other activities during a worship service. Please understand that I'm not knocking your views. I'm somewhat confused. Other Anglican denominations more conservative than the one to which I belong (the Anglican Church in North America) may hold to many of the same views as yours about what is appropriate for women to do in public worship, but they almost always have at least one woman on their governing body (vestry), while you don't. I know that's not the case in Fr. Bill's Anglican denomination, but it's true in others.

For example, why is having a woman lead a congregational prayer taking authority over men? She isn't teaching men how to pray in the same way that she might teach a Sunday School class with both men and women where she teaches on the meaning of each of the clauses in the Lord's Prayer?

Is it wrong for a woman to serve as usher? Does a woman usurp authority from men by finding an seat for a man arriving just before the start of the worship service or taking up the offering?

And finally, if a woman is a lay reader of a scripture passage (maybe this is something you allow; I don't know), she's reading from the Bible verbatim, not commenting on the passage. So why could be this considered teaching or taking authority over men?

Are some of these these activities closed to women not because you believe you believe it is sinful for a woman to do them? Or do you bar women from them because you to give men more opportunities to serve your church?

This inquiring mind wants to know...


Sue asks, "How far does women not teaching or
having authority over men go?"

I've often thought I should write something entitled "What I learned from women, and which women taught it to me." Leaving aside the question about what "having authority" means in its practical deails, teaching -- considered it its most abstract and contextless sense -- is a very broad notion. Many folks I've run into who wish to comply with the Apostle's directive on this prohibition seem tempted to think that anything they learn from a female is "tainted" or that they themselves (particularly if they are men) are tainted from having learned something from a woman.

But mothers, grandmothers, aunts, wives, sisters (especially much older sisters), and matrons of a certain age and older within one's community (especially a community of Christians) -- all of them are often fecund with things any man is richer for having learned from them.

Without negating any of this, Christian ommunities are ~ordered~ -- in marriage, in the family, in the church, and (where Christianity's values govern a culture) society at large. That ordering governs both what is proper to do and how it is proper to do it. Paul makes clear in 1 Timothy 2 that women are barred from teaching men. I think the context makes clear that this Apostolic directive is focused on the Great Commission ("teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you") as it is advanced within the household of faith.

I am fascinated with the breakout session in the upcoming conference, the session entitled "Cultivating Feminine Deference (women only)" I'm even more intrigued that it will be taught by a man (Matt Miklovic)! I guess I'll need to wait until my wife has concluded her attendance at this session in order for me to learn what was said, an ironic inversion of 1 Corinthians 14:35.

And here is another irony: the breakout session entitled "Honoring your Husband (women only)" taught by Max Curell. This is an entirely appropriate subject matter for any pastor to teach, of course. But, it is also the expressly enunciated curriculum that Paul lays on the shoulders of older women in Titus 2. In fact, one could easily argue that both these sessions are encompassed in the Titus 2 curriculum for younger wives taught by older wives.

None of the above should be construed as criticism. I'm committing four days of driving to attend this conference with my wife, our parish deacon, and his wife. We're very much looking forward to it.

Some notes on Deborah:

It can’t just be assumed that everything recorded in a narrative is blanket approved, it may be, but it may not be. When you have direct commands in scripture (such as 1Cor14:33-36 and 1Tim2:12) it is not good practice to attempt to trump them with an (unusual) narrative portion that may or may not be a good example to follow.

Isaiah 3:1-12 shows it is a sign of God’s judgement on a nation when a woman or a child rules over them, read the whole passage and particularly verse 12 which says: ‘My people - infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people…’. We find it repeatedly said in Judges that ‘every man did what was right in his own eyes’ and at the very beginning of the chapter about Deborah and Barak it says: ‘And the people of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord… And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan’ (Jud 4:1-2). Thus the statements in Isaiah 3:1-12 and the state of the nation at that time very much suggest they were being chastised by God by having a woman lead them in some way.

Having a woman lead them would thus be something to feel shame about, not glory in. This is actually played out in the narrative when in Judges 4:9 Barak is actually chastised for desiring Deborah to help him lead - it is an indictment on men when God uses a woman to slay the enemy (see also Judges 9:53, 54). The lesson from this is that men should step up to the plate and not be cowardly, not that women should seek the reigns of leadership. Notice the themes in the chant that bear this out where those who stepped up to the plate are commended but those who did not are condemned:

‘That the leaders took the lead in Israel… bless the Lord!... My [probably Deborah see vs 7] heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly… Bless the Lord… from Machir marched down the commanders… from Zebulun those who bear the lieutenant’s staff; the princes of Issachar… Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death; Naphtali, too,…’(Jud 5:2, 9, 14, 15, 18).

‘Why did you [clan of Reuben] sit still among the sheepfolds, to hear the whistling for the flocks?... Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he stay with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea…’ (Jud 5:16, 17)

Thus despite his earlier timidity, Barak and his men must have got their act together, which is why he is commended in the Hebrews hall of faith.

Unlike religious feminists today, Deborah sought (and by God’s own command) a man to lead them into battle, in Judges 4:4 she says:

‘Has not the Lord commanded you [Barak], ‘Go, gather your men ….’

Women desirous of leadership positions over men today should note this.

Note that it was Barak who actually led the army:

‘10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.’ (Judges 4:10).

‘Barak went down … with 10,000 men following him’. (Judges 4:14).

‘Issachar faithful to Barak; into the valley they rushed at his heels’. (Judges 5:15).

Notice also the role differentiation in the song:

"Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, break out in a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abinoam. Judges 5:12.

Just because someone has the gift of prophecy does not mean it validates their lives. E.g. Jonah, Balaam (Num 22-24), Saul (1Sam 19:23-24) cf Matt 7:22 and 1Cor13:2.

Similarly, should Samson be chosen as an example to follow just because God used him to deliver Israel? So Deborah being called a prophetess is not necessarily a rubber stamp.

God sometimes performs exceptional things that are not to be used as a moral example to follow. E.g. God willed Samson to take a philistine wife (Judges 14:4), contrary to OT law. God is sovereign and can do as he pleases, but this is not an excuse for us to abandon the commands he has given us.

Did Deborah really exercise a public leadership office over men? She (like Huldah and Anna) seemed to prophesy in a more private setting (people would come to her at the Palm tree of Deborah) rather than exercising the more public preaching ministry that you find with other male OT prophets and judges. Is it not more like people going to seek counsel from a wise woman in personal conversation? Indeed, when the time comes to publicly lead a group of men she (by God’s own command) calls Barak to do it (Judges 4:6).

Those using Deborah as an example for church leadership should remember Deborah was not a priest, in the OT only men were admitted to the priesthood. That is the closer parallel to church leadership. You never find a female priest in the Bible.

Even if one wants to use Deborah as a positive example of women holding a public leadership office over men, to be consistent, you should also require that this be a rare occurrence. Having, say, 50% women leaders overturns the pattern in the OT where leadership was overwhelmingly male.

Why is it that the Hebrews hall of faith passes over Deborah as an example, yet commends Barak? And why is it that 1Sam12:11 says: "And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies...". It seems here that it was Barak who was the one the Lord raised up to deliver Israel at that time, Deborah was used to kick him out of passivity.

If Deborah did hold a public leadership office, she did not seek it. Those wishing to follow the example of Deborah should note this (Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin).


In conclusion, if one thinks Deborah did exercise a public leadership role over men, I think there is no reason why she cannot be viewed as a gifted lady who ended up assuming a de-facto leadership position because the men did not step up to the plate, but this was not the Lord's perfect will, rather He ordained it as judgement on a wicked nation. It is perhaps similar to a situation where a husband abdicates his responsibilities and the wife has to assume much more leadership over the household than is fitting. It is too much to say that she is sinning, but it is certainly less than ideal, and she would seek, as we see glimpses of Deborah doing, for the man/men in her life to 'arise' and discharge the duties of their office (Judges 4:6), and rejoice when they do so.

Dear Phil,

I don't assume my post addresses all realities of God's roles for men and women and it only lightly deals with the issue of His exceptions. My simple point is that the moment many egalitarians see the word "prophetess" they assume the exercise of that office equally for women as men.

There is something glaring in the Acts passage and that is the fact that God did not send His message to Paul through any of Philip's four daughters but sent a man. I have never heard an egalitarian acknowledge this let alone explain it.


you ask some good questions, here is my shot at them:

>>For example, why is having a woman lead a congregational prayer taking authority over men?

I think the best answer to this is that in 1Cor14:34-36 the Apostle Paul defines how a woman's submission in the worship service should be demonstrated:

"the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."

This would seem to exclude various forms of public address, such as public scripture reading and leading the congregation in prayer. I think it is inherently understood by people that the person who leads the congregation in prayer is performing a public leadership function which is inconsistent with being 'in submission'.

>>Is it wrong for a woman to serve as usher?

I think this question has more to do with how one applies principles of authority/leadership/submission etc. This is the case with all sorts of commands in the bible, we have to apply them to real life situations. In the case of an usher I would say a few things. Ushers don't merely help people find a seat, they bear the offering, control the doors, direct the seating and (in my experience in South Africa) they have to serve as bouncers at times, and obviously that is a job that is fitting for a man not a woman. In addition, generally those who serve 'on doors' are viewed as in some sense as 'gatekeepers' - guardians/protectors/authority figures and so it sends a bit of an egalitarian message when women perform those functions. At the very least, it is best to err on the side of caution and give Christianity a more masculine feel than it currently does have in most places. Also of note is that the job of managing the distribution of food to the widows in Acts 6 was given to 7 men, this is perhaps quite a close parallel.

side note, for those wondering if there is some incongruence in using 1Cor14:34-36 when we also have 1Cor11 to deal with, see this excellent article from the New Testament Reformation Fellowship:

There are a number of other good articles on this subject, here is one of them:

Do you mind if I ask if you are a pastor? It would help me to know if you're a father in the household of God or a brother (like me). Also, is there a reason that you don't put your last name? There has been pastoral helpfulness in your recent comments, but I want to understand why you would post them semi-anonymously -- specifically, it's hard to see how it can be wise to give weight to the words of a man who doesn't take ownership of them himself. Please consider identifying yourself to remove this impediment to your helpfulness to me and others. God bless you.


couldn't one also point to the opposite and say God did not send his message to Josiah through Jeremiah (a contemorary cf. Jer 1:2) or Zephaniah (also a contemporary cf. Zep 1:1) but through a woman - Huldah. It is possible this has to do with the issue of judgement with women and children ruling the nation (Isa 3:12 - Josiah was a child when he assumed the throne, Huldah was a woman) but I don't think there is a biblical problem with women prophesying to men in private settings, is there?

Hi Daniel,

thanks for your challenge, I appreciate it and do consider it. I'm not a pastor, just a brother like you.

The reason I currently don't disclose my last name is that (unlike you:) I have a very rare last name and I don't want to be blacklisted when I apply for jobs because of a google search. I think that is a prudent reason.

Aside from the fact that nobody here would know me personally anyway, is not the same principle at work in the fact that:

o in some countries believers meet in secret in underground churches
o anonymity/pseudonymity by many great men (e.g. Knox's work you mention above I think)
o many instances in scripture where it seems it was prudent for God's servants to hide (e.g. Elijah, David etc...)
o a number of verses that warn in some situations against speaking wisdom to a fool because of the trouble that it will incur

There are many times where we each must suffer for the truth, but I don't think it is necessary to bring it on oneself needlessly, especially when there is no more reason to do so than give an extra name that still renders me an unknown person to all the people reading here.

I'm open to changing my views on this issue, but am not convinced of the reasons for doing so as of yet.

At the very least I'm happy to disclose my full name and address and church via e-mail to all who ask.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts against the arguments I have set forth,



I admit that there are many instances of men of God hiding themselves in times of persecution where it seems clear that they were acting prudently and in faith to do so. For a shining example,

"...(men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground." - Hbr 11:38 NASB

These are men of whom the world was not worthy, but what were they doing wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground if not to flee persecution?

But I don't know of any good example of men of God teaching or proclaiming the Word of God in public yet without being known. Can *the proclamation of God's truth* be compatible with anonymity?

Sometimes the apostles were in the temple teaching and sometimes they were in upper rooms with the doors locked, but they were never in the temple wearing disguises or masks. Elijah hid from the wicked king, but when he brought God's word to him he faced him.

I guess there was that prophet that disguised himself with the bandage over his eyes (1 Kings 20:38-43)... but even he ripped the bandage off, revealing his identity, before preaching to the king.

John Knox did publish the Monstrous Regiment anonymously-- but John Calvin, while agreeing with him theologically, excoriated him for his method (see Letter DXXXVIII To William Cecil - search for DXXXVIII )

Trusting the advice (spiritual advice not least!) of anonymous people is generally not wise, so when you give wise advice anonymously, aren't you leading your readers to be less discerning when it comes to other anonymous advice?

>>> At the very least I'm happy to disclose my full name and address and church via e-mail to all who ask.

That does make a big difference. And now I remember that you and I have had earlier exchanges on this topic, even email exchanges! I apologize for my failure to remember you.

Does it make enough of a difference, or bring the issue down to the level of a minor quibble? I'm not sure.


I can't see in Calvin's letter to William Cecil that he condemns Knox for publishing anonymously. Could you quote me the relevant portion?

>>Trusting the advice (spiritual advice not least!) of anonymous people is generally not wise

I'm not sure what the thinking behind this premise is?

>>> I can't see in Calvin's letter to William Cecil that he condemns Knox for publishing anonymously.

He doesn't condemn Knox particularly for publishing anonymously; the reason the letter is relevant is that Knox's anonymous publishing of the tract is one of the primary examples held up nowadays to demonstrate good that can come from anonymity. But at the time Calvin said a "No! This was not good!" It's evidence against this particular instance of anonymous teaching having been good.

Dear Sue, I've responded to your questions above in this post. Thanks for asking. And by the way, we do not bar women from the work you mention. I'm not sure why you thought so, but it provides this opportunity to make it clear we don't. Here's our church statement on such matters. Warmly, Tim

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