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Anna the Prophetess|
Q. What kind of prophetess was Anna as mentioned in Luke 2:36? I'm not sure I really understand what a prophetess is or how Anna fulfilled that role in the New Testament.
For our readers Luke 2:36-38 says,
"And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem." (ESV)
The question concerning the prophetess role of Anna in the New Testament is a good one. Did she serve as one fulfilling the role of an Old Testament prophet, sometimes referred to as the "office" of prophet?
Law&Prophets Prior to John
This is considered a possibility because Jesus had said, "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John - since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it" (Luke 16:16, NASB).
Prophecy Office vs. Prophecy Gift
Jesus' declaration separates the Old Testament "office" of prophet from the Pauline "gift" of prophecy as noted in several passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11.
In this sense the question is: Do Anna and Simeon (who is mentioned prior to Anna) "straddle" the two Testaments? They saw the fulfillment of God's promise of the Messiah. Yet, they did not live to witness the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost when the New Testament gift of prophecy emerged.
As Peter preached:
"But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams'" (Acts 2:16-17, ESV).
Anna's life was too early to have witnessed this outpouring of God's Spirit as a fulfillment of Joel's prophecy upon the entire earth and those Christians at Pentecost mentioned in Acts 2.
Those who teach egalitarian roles for men and women such as Gilbert Bilezikian propose something like this:
"The prophetic ministry was the highest religious function in the Old Covenant…Although statistically the majority of old-covenant prophets were male, the Bible refers to several prophetesses and describes them as exercising the same kind of authority in the religious sphere as their male counterparts (Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and so on)." (Grudem, Evangelical Feminism2004, 136).
Grudem answers, "While there were women prophets in the Old Testament, no women taught God's people because there were no women priests. …God speaks through a prophet to His people. But prophets and teachers have different roles in the Bible. A prophet is like a messenger who delivers a message but has no authority on his own to do more than that, such as explaining or applying the message."
Grudem continues, "Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message, 'I am with you, 'declares the LORD" (Haggai 1:13).
"A prophet could not add to the message anything of his own. Even Balaam admitted, 'Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?' (Numbers 23:12).
Grudem also notes that there were "the description of false prophets as those who speak when the Lord has given them no message in Jeremiah 14:14-15, 23:16-22, and Ezekiel 13:1-3."
He continues, "Why then could women prophesy but not teach the people? We may not be able to understand all the reasons, but it is clear that the two roles were distinct, and that God allowed women to be prophets but not teachers" (Grudem 2004,pg. 137).
Office of Prophet
Old Testament prophets prefaced many of their prophecies with, "Thus says the Lord." These were men whom God used to declare the future. They were God's voice. We call prophets such as Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, and others, men who held the "office of prophet." The office of prophet in this sense no longer exists - as Jesus made clear in Luke 16:16.
Gift of Prophecy
However, in the New Testament we are told that many believers have various gifts. One of those gifts is the "gift of prophecy" as described in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. The purpose of a prophetic gift is to "fill-in-the-blanks in God's revealed word by giving supporting information as to how God's plan will be fulfilled in various situations. Accordingly, all prophecy given today has to be consistent with and validated by God's Word" (Kelley, "The Gift of Prophecy").
In Anna's case she clearly knew the Old Testament prophecies concerning the time of the Messiah such as that found in Daniel 9:25-26, and the prophetic descriptions of the Messiah's life such as that found in Isaiah 53. She spoke God's Word and taught the prophetic promises concerning the Messiah to all who would hear her. According to biblical teacher John MacArthur, Anna "was a teacher of the Old Testament - not a source of revelation." (MacArthur Study Bible,v. 2:36, "a prophetess.").
Conflicts Among Themselves
Naturally, we immediately see a conflict between MacArthur's own words from several of his own sources when he states emphatically that women may never be teachers of the Word. We also find similar things when Grudem states that women prophetesses may never teach because only male Levitical priests taught the peoples.
This simply misses the point.
A standard Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines propheeteuoo as to "proclaim a divine revelation." The second definition is to "prophetically reveal what is hidden" and to "foretell the future."
Paul suggests this in 1 Corinthians 14:30 where it is implied that something is "revealed" to one of the prophets. In contrast, some translate propheeteuoo as to "speak God's Word" such as noted in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5. This doesn't require any special revelation from God.
God Uses Godly Men&Women
It is clear that there are various interpretations, descriptions, and historical thought concerning the prophetic role that Anna fulfilled among other prophetesses in the Old and New Testaments. There is also much dissension and infighting about the biblical roles of women in both the Old and New Testaments.
But, of one thing we are sure: God uses godly men and women to serve His purposes and to teach His Word. Some women serve as prophetesses (whatever the expanded definition of the word implies), some are teachers, others are writers, some are deaconesses, and some preach.
For this and many other reasons I recommend that all of our readers subscribe to the free magazine, Voice of the Martyrs. In each issue it becomes clear that among those who are persecuted and suffering for their faith, God uses whoever is willing to follow and obey Him - male or female.
Mrs. Sherlock Holmes?
Did Anna receive her insights from the Holy Spirit in mystical revelations? Of course, it is possible. Still, how did she know that the child Jesus was the actual Messiah? For that matter, how did Simeon know this? Maybe we are just looking in the wrong place for answers. Maybe it is not so mystical in this instance. "It may be elementary, my dear Watson."
Sherlock Holmes was a famous detective renown for his ability to read clues and signs that were all around him. We belive that Anna and Simeon could be 1st century "sleuths" as well. Anna was knowledgeable in the Scripture. Jesus said repeatedly that He was to be found in Scripture: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life - it is these that testify about Me" (John 5:39, NASB).
Anna (and Simeon) must have studied the geneologies of both Mary and Joseph because, according to Luke 2:4, the Angel Gabriel had announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds who spread the word to the entire community. She knew that the priest, Zacahriah, had fathered John the Baptist. John was heralded by the Angel Gabriel. John the Baptist was equated to the Prophet Elijah who would make the way for the coming Messiah. Anna most certainly knew this. She was a good student of the Scriptures.
Remember, Anna lived on the Temple grounds and had access to family records - geneologies. She had access to royal records and the Holy Scriptures. She had access to the best minds of the day - the Pharisees - including their thoughts on prophecy and their commentary concerning the coming Messiah.
We made a quick list of just 20 clues that Anna and Simeon had right in front of them. (And this was a short list that we could have expanded upon). We did not even get into the prophecies of Daniel or the Magi's. These prophecies were designed to pinpoint the details surrounding the times and places of the birth and life of the Messiah, including those found in Daniel 9 and Isaiah 53.
If we take only the prophecies and obvious clues found in the Old Testament along with the circumstances and events surrounding the birth of John and Jesus, we can come to pretty much the same conclusion that Anna did. She knew who Jesus was because she searched the scriptures. Most importantly, she had the heart of a prophet. She was one who loved God and was open to the leading of His Spirit.
In response to MacArthur's or Grudem's focus upon the role of a female prophetess, it seems that when circumstances are ideal, the administrative and pastoral duties follow the hierarchical church model for men and women listed in the books of Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter.
However, oftentimes when male believers fail to assume their godly roles as leaders in the church or when there are not enough men to accomplish what God desires, then the Lord raises up godly women to preach and to teach and to serve other functions within the churches. Certainly when God's children are suffering and fleeing persecution, God uses those who will serve Him - male and female. Period.
Beside, if God can use Balaam's donkey, our Lord can and most certainly will use women to give forth His word. Especially when a man becomes a bone-head and does not learn God's word,
(My husband told me to say that!)
But in addition, all women need to encourage their husbands and male friends to study God's Word and to become teachers of the Word. Women should not just look to their pastors or elders for answers. With proper training and encouragement many men can become vibrant spiritual leaders in our homes and communities.
Women must help and encourage this process of seeking and wanting the best for those they love. But this takes the willing sacrifice of time for study and getting into Bible study groups. Careful study of the Bible and study group attendance belongs to women, too. We shouldn't forget that. …But, back to the main point concerning the godly female prophetess, Anna…
In 1 Timothy 5:5 Paul wrote, "Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day."
This was Anna.
Anna lived on the temple grounds and served God with fastings and prayers day and night. She studied her Bible and knew it well. Praising and thanking God, she spoke of the incarnation of the Messiah to those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Anna was a prophet in the truest sense. She gave forth the plan of God and told the people about His plan. One of the characteristics of a prophet is that they "give or show forth" this plan. She may not have held the "Office of Prophet" such as Elisha. But, she definitely had the gift of seeing God's plan in action. Anna had her eyes open and was looking for the Messiah! She knew exactly what and who was coming! In effect, Anna was the Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye of her day. We celebrate her ministry as prophetess and holy woman - a role model for all men and women today.
Emilio, K&V. Prophecy gifts today? Articles: Eschatology&prophecy. Available from: remnantreport.com.
Grudem, Wayne. 1988. The gift of prophecy. Wheaton, ILL: Crossway.
—- 2004. Evangelical feminism&Biblical truth. Colorado Springs: Multnomah.
Kelley, Jack. The gift of prophecy. Available from: www.gracethrufaith.com/ask-a-bible-teacher/gift-of-prophecy.
MacArthur Study Bible, NKJV. 1997. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Preus, Rolf. The office of prophetess in the New Testament. Available from: http://www.christforus.org/Papers/Content/OfficeProphetess.html.
Co-Authors Val and Ken Emilio founded Remnantreport.com. Ken graduated from California State Univ. Long Beach and completed an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Valorie Emilio received her M.A. in History from U.C.L.A. She specialized in early church history and Middle Eastern religions. And she does not think her husband is a "bone head!" At least not most of the time.
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