In Acts21.9 Luke mentions Philip the evangelist (cf. Acts 7-8), with whom Paul stayed. Philip had “four unmarried daughters, who prophesied”.
1. Women and men can prophesy!
Cf. Acts 2:17-18. There are no restrictions based on gender when it comes to the gift of prophecy. See also 1 Cor. 11:4ff. where women are said to “pray and prophesy.” Anna is also described as a “prophetess” in Luke 2:36.
Primary: A primary Scripture states a principal. It is first or highest in rank, quality, or importance. A theological truth is established which can not be refuted.
Secondary: Secondary verses refer to truths established by primary Scriptures. They are of second rank or secondary in importance. When used in relation to a primary Scripture they provide more information or give a broader explanation.
Contextual: A contextual verse is one which relates to, or is dependent on a circumstance, a story or an event. It is not intended to be used as the Biblical basis for a theological statement. This is because the meaning is not clearly stated, leaving it open to speculation or misinterpretation. Christian end up disagreeing because we then handle these differently.
Acts 2 – The Spirit poured out on all people
1 Corinthians 12 and 14 prophecy is a gift of the spirit therefore in Acts 21 is a ministry exercised by men and women.
When Paul writes to Timothy that women cannot have authority over men (1 Tim 2.12) and when Paul in 1 Cor 14:29-40 he appears to prohibit women from speaking in church, these are a contextual verse. They cannot be taken out of context. We only have to show once that Paul did allow women to prophesy over men to show that it is a contextual verse. Here it is in Acts 21 – there plenty of others but this one will do.
Some have tried to draw a connection between Philip’s daughters being “unmarried” (lit., “virgins”) and their prophetic ministry. The idea seems to be that it was their sexual purity that explains their spiritual sensitivity. But it is clear from 1 Cor 11 that married women could also operate in this gift.
What did they prophesy? We don’t know, but given the fact that in the passages preceding and following the prophetic warning is that Paul not go to Jerusalem, we can assume that Philip’s daughters spoke in similar terms.
2. Prophecy in words and actions
Agabus was evidently a well-respected and honoured prophet and was thus listened to when he spoke.
Agabus doesn’t simply speak the word to Paul but acts it out in dramatic fashion (for similar prophetic demonstrations, see 1 Kings 11:29-31 [the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite tore his new robe into 12 pieces to show how Solomon’s kingdom would be disrupted]; Isa. 8:1-4; 20:2-4 [Isaiah went naked and barefoot to show how the Egyptians would be led into captivity by the Assyrians]; Jer. 13:1-11 [where God told Jeremiah to bury his new waste band until it was soiled and ruined to symbolise how God will destroy the pride of the Jews]; 19:1,13; 27:1-22; Ezek. 4:1-8 [Ezekiel mimicked the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem by laying siege himself to a replica of the city]; and Hosea 1:2).
Agabus doesn’t give Paul advice based on what he’s heard from the Spirit. He merely describes the revelatory word.
3. Interpretation and application
Paul’s traveling companions, and the believers in Caesarea didn’t receive the revelation but felt free to interpret its meaning and apply it to Paul’s life.
Paul chooses not to heed their advice (v 13). However, the phrase you are “breaking my heart” may indicate that their warning was undermining Paul’s resolute determination and at least momentarily caused him to pause and reconsider. Or perhaps his “heartbreak” was from his having to take a position opposed to people who he knew cared for him and loved him greatly. In any case, Paul says No to their urging. Paul clearly did not receive the warning of the disciples in Tyre as the word or will of God to him.
Why did Paul resist their warnings?
a) Some suggest that Paul was deliberately disobedient to the will of God. They spoke “the word of the Lord” to him and he said No. This is highly unlikely.
b) Did the Holy Spirit change his mind. Earlier in Acts 19:21 and 20:22-24 the Spirit had told Paul to go (in 20:22a Paul says he is “constrained” or “bound” by the Spirit to go) but now, for whatever reason, the Spirit speaks through these disciples and prophets and says “No, don’t go.” However, we read that when they realised they couldn’t persuade Paul not to go they entrusted him to “the will of the Lord.” It seems that they initially believed it was the will of God for him not to go but later were at least willing to entertain the possibility that it was God’s will for him to go.
c) There is only one legitimate option. The Holy Spirit communicated to the believers at Tyre that if Paul went to Jerusalem he would be persecuted, perhaps even killed. On the basis or on the grounds of this revelation, they in turn interpreted this to be God’s warning for him not to go. The impact of this prophetic word and Agabus’ seems to be one more example of the Spirit reinforcing in Paul’s heart what awaited him and thus help prepare him for the hardships ahead and to stir them to intercede on Paul’s behalf.
Prophecy delivered by humans is generally a mixture of infallible divine revelation and fallible interpretation and application is seen in the word delivered by Agabus. Simply because these prophets got the interpretation and application wrong does not mean they are false prophets. They are not disciplined or rebuked or set out of ministry. Luke didn’t see their mistake as being fatal or a threat to the validity of prophetic ministry. At no time after Acts 21:36 does he say: “Oops,” or “We repent” or “Prophecy is dangerous and to be avoided.” In other words, contrary to what many suggest, errors like this do not disqualify people as prophetically gifted nor does it render prophecy unimportant for the church.
God speaks today!