In this two part series we will investigate the ministry of the late first or early second century prophetess, Ammia of Philadelphia. We will consider: what did prophets do in the early church? How could a church discern a true prophet from a false one? In the second part of this series we will discuss Ammia’s ministry in the context the volatile Christian scene in Asia Minor. It will be proposed that the prophet’s ministry disappeared in the contest for authority in the consolidating church. And we will also propose with the loss of the office of prophet that women’s voices became silent in the church. We will then reflect on this missing role in today’s church and the silence of women’s voices in many evangelical congregations.

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Ammia was a prophetess. Unknown now but well known enough by ancient audiences to be identified as “Ammia in Philadelphia.”[1] Ammia is listed as a prophet by the church historian Eusebius (4th C CE). She is among a group of prophets who were active in the church from the first or perhaps early second century,

“Agabus, or Judas, or Silas, or the daughters of Philip, or Ammia in Philadelphia, or Quadratus” (Church History, 5.17. 2–4).

In this list we recognise from the book of Acts, Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10), Judas, Silas (Acts 15: 22–32) and the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9).[2] Ammia and Quadratus don’t appear in Acts, which seems to suggest that their activities come after the book was written (very late first century, very early second?).  We should also notice that she is given the descriptor “in or of Philadelphia.” This suggests that she needs to be distinguished from another well-known Ammia.[3] In this two part series we will attempt to get to know Ammia as best we can and consider her role as a prophet in the early church. What did prophets do in the early church? We will then reflect on this missing role in today’s church and the silence of women’s voices in many evangelical congregations.

Ammia is included among a number of prophets who according to Acts knew each other and knew the Apostle Paul. After Paul had sailed from Miletus on his way to Jerusalem, he stayed in Caesarea with Philip the evangelist,

“Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses” (Acts 21:9).[4]

While Paul was staying with Philip and his daughters a prophet named Agabus “came down from Jerusalem” (Acts 21:10). Now Acts describes Agabus’ prophetic activity and gives us some idea of the role that prophets played in the early church,

“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’” (Acts 21:11).

Let’s list out what we can discern from this description of Agabus’ prophetic activity:

  1. he speaks on behalf of the Holy Spirit,
  2. his actions and his words indicate that he has a specific message for an individual, Paul,
  3. he demonstrates through drama a predicted event much like the Old Testament prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeramiah,
  4. when he delivers his message believers believe him, “when we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12). This suggests that Agabus is giving his prophecy within a group of believers.

Since Acts and Eusebius describe Philip’s daughters and Agabus as prophets we can infer that Philip’s daughters and Agabus are engaged in similar activities. This implies that Philip’s daughters are bringing specific messages from the Holy Spirit to believers in the context of a group meeting.

Now Philip’s four daughters form a bridge between the apostles and the churches they founded. They along with Quadratus are called successors to the apostles by Eusebius (3.37.1),

Among those that were celebrated at that time was Quadratus, who, report says, was renowned along with the daughters of Philip for his prophetical gifts. And there were many others besides these who were known in those days, and who occupied the first place among the successors of the apostles. And they also, being illustrious disciples of such great men, built up the foundations of the churches which had been laid by the apostles in every place, and preached the Gospel more and more widely and scattered the saving seeds of the kingdom of heaven far and near throughout the whole world.

We can discern here that Eusebius is describing a report, and this report says that Philip’s daughters and Quadratus were famed; that is famed in the church. There were others as well he says who were known and celebrated, and since in his later remarks Eusebius lists Ammia between Philip’s daughters and Quadratus, she too must have been renowned and celebrated. These people are described as disciples of the apostles, who built up the foundations of the churches they had laid. So while Agabus gives a warning to Paul it must be that these prophets, such as Quadratus, spoke to the church in such a way to build it up. Eusebius seems to take it for granted that Philip’s daughters and Quadratus are equally responsible for continuing the ministry of the apostles, and this must include Ammia as well.

Christine Trevett in her article “Apocalypse, Ignatius, Montanism: Seeking the Seeds” notes that Ammia’s example was appealed to by both Montanists and catholics alike.[5] Montanism, also called the New Prophecy by its adherents, was a Christian movement in Asia Minor (the geographical area including Philadelphia, Ephesus, Colossae etc) and came to prominence in the mid-second century (c. 260 CE). [6] Montanus lead the movement along two other prophets, Priscilla and Maximilla. Montanus had prophesied that the towns of Pepuza and Tymion in the highlands of Asia Minor (Phrygia) would be the site of the New Jerusalem. These three prophets spoke to their followers in ecstatic visions and urged them to keep fasts, praying that they might also receive revelations.[7] Eusebius reported that Montanus allowed the annulment of marriage and that Priscilla and Maximilla had deserted their husbands (5. 18. 2—3). What became Montanism was an exaggerated form of practices within the early church in Asia Minor in the early second century. At its first appearance it was not regarded as a heresy.[8] The evidence from Tertullian, an adherent of Montanism, suggests that the problem with Montanism was not doctrinal but one of practice. The catholics he said,

“charge us with keeping fasts of our own…with observing xerophagies…keeping our food unmoistened by any flesh…; and with not eating or drinking anything with a winery flavour; also with abstinence from the bath, congruent with our dry diet.” (On Fasting, 1).[9]

Those who Tertullian calls “catholic” were those who claimed to adhere strictly to the apostles’ teaching on doctrine and practice.[10] However, the Montanists claimed that they had received their prophetic gift from the prophets Quadratus and Ammia of Philadelphia, who had succeed the prophetic ministry of Agabus and the daughters of Philip.[11]  As we can see in Eusebius’ comments he saw Quadratus and Ammia’s prophetic ministry standing in line with the earlier prophets. The issue boils down to claims of succession not women’s ministry versus men’s ministry.

What is clear from Agabus’ example in Acts is that a prophetic role involves speaking in a meeting of believers. Tertullian describes the experience of having a woman prophet in the congregation during services,

We have now amongst us a sister whose lot it has been to be favoured with sundry gifts of revelation, which she experiences in the Spirit by ecstatic vision amidst the sacred rites of the Lord’s day in the church: she converses with angels, and sometimes even with the Lord; she both sees and hears mysterious communications; some men’s hearts she understands, and to them who are in need she distributes remedies. Whether it be in the reading of Scriptures, or in the chanting of psalms…in all these religious services matter and opportunity are afforded to her of seeing visions…. After the people are dismissed at the conclusion of the sacred services, she is in the regular habit of reporting to us whatever things she may have seen in vision (Treatise on the Soul, 9).

We should note here that Tertullian is careful to point out that the sister does not speak until after the people are dismissed. Her quietness stands in stark contrast to the original Montanists. I suggest that this should be read against the criticism that the Montanists had received about their style of prophecy. Eusebius quotes Apolinarius of Hierapolis, a contemporary of Montanus, who scolded,

and he became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning (5.16.7).

The major problem that Apolinarius had with Montanus was his style of prophecy, which was in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the church.[12] It appears that Montanus’ frenzy and ecstasy was in contrast to the quietism of the traditional practice. As we see in the example of Agabus, he came with his prophecy already received and delivered it to Paul and his companions. This suggests that the type of prophetic ministry that Ammia had was not one of frenetic visionary experiences within any meeting of believers. She either came with a prophetic message already received or quietly received the vision or the word from God within the meeting. This suggests that Ammia was able to maintain an appropriate demeanour in contrast to the ecstatic and frenzied experiences of the later Montanist women, Priscilla and Maxilla. As Eusebius asserts using Apolinarius’ argument that Ammia and Quadratus stand in contrast to the Montanist prophets,

the false prophet falls into an ecstasy, in which he is without shame or fear. Beginning with purposed ignorance, he passes on, as has been stated, to involuntary madness of soul. They cannot show that one of the old or one of the new prophets [ie. Judas, or Silas, or the daughters of Philip, or Ammia in Philadelphia, or Quadratus] was thus carried away in spirit. (5.17.2–3).

Eusebius’ argument is that the practice of the Montanist women is not the same as the former prophets, Judas, Silas, the daughters of Philip, so that they are not the successors of these prophets. Indeed says Eusebius neither have they been the predecessors of any prophets since their time of prophetic activity (5.17.3—4). This last point is the trump card for Eusebius because he sees succession as guaranteeing continuity with the tradition of Paul,

“for the apostle thought it necessary that the prophetic gift should continue in all the Church until the final coming” (5.17.4).

And these insights tie in neatly with Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about men and women praying and prophesying in the meeting of the believers (1 Cor 11). In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul urges them to be imitators of his practice (1 Cor 11:1). He praises them because they do remember his example and hold to the traditions “just as [he]delivered them” (1 Cor 11:2). Thus their practice is (or should be) in line with the practice of a somewhat earlier generation of Christians, which we can glean is the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 15:1–8; Gal 1:18–19). But this is an introduction to a warning for it seems that Paul is concerned about a drift away from the traditional practice. What follows is, for the second-hand reader, a passage that sparse on detail — almost telegraphed.[13] This is phenomenon often arises in letters when the writer is referring to shared knowledge between him or herself and the recipients.[14] This suggests that Paul is responding to a question posed by the Corinthians.[15] It is only in verses 14 and 15 that we get the clue that he is talking about hair.

Hairstyles in the ancient world were important. How a person worn their hair was as important as how a person dressed. It spoke about their status and it spoke to their character.[16] We now begin to see the disquiet that the frenzied practice of the Montanists engendered. Philip Payne in his book, Man and Woman, One in Christ, makes the case that in this passage in first Corinthians Paul is urging women to keep their hair tied up and secured as becoming a respectable woman.[17]  The problem he argues is that not only was it disgraceful for a woman to pray with her hair uncovered but even more so with her hair let loose.[18] It symbolised sexual looseness as a woman’s hair would only be let down in the presence of her husband in private. However, there is evidence that in the ecstatic cults, such as the cult of Dionysius, the god of wine, women would become overwhelmed and allow their hair to come down.[19] He argues that Paul in verse 10, rendered by the NASB as “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head,” is actually making the point that a woman ought to have control over her head (and hair).[20] A woman ought to be able to keep her hair up and behave in an appropriate fashion in prayer and when prophesying. The danger that the Corinthians faced was a slide into assuming the religious practices of popular cults. This is not a harmonising of theological views but the pull of fashion in how to pray and prophesy.[21]

 

In part two we will consider the contested office of prophet in the Asia Minor context. We will also consider a number of questions about Ammia that have been raised in part one. How was Ammia expected to conduct herself? If she was in the line of succession from the apostles, who were her successors? Where are her successors today?

The second part Ammia in Philadelphia (part 2) can found here.

©Lyn M. Kidson, 2018.

Endnotes

Image: The Louvre, Portrait of a young women from Memphis in Egypt, about 2nd century. Taken by L. Kidson.

[1] Eusebius, Church History, 5.17, 2—4.

[2] Silus is also Paul’s travelling companion, Acts 15:40–41; chapter 16–18; For more on the daughters of Philip see Marg Mowczko’s article, Philip’s Prophesying Daughters.

[3] The Acts of Paul knows of another Ammia who, with her mother, travelled with Paul in Palestine; The Acts of Paul, trans. Wilhelm Schneemelcher and Rodolphe Kasser, in New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, trans. R. McL.Wilson (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 1989), 2.213–270 (260). Available from Google Books here.

[4] All Scripture references (unless otherwise stated) are from New American Standard Bible, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

[5] Vigiliae Christianae, 44.4 (1989): 313–338 (316).

[6] Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority, and the New Prophecy (Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 32.

[7] Trevett, Montanism, 107.

[8] Trevett, “Apocalypse, Ignatius, Montanism,” 314.

[9] Tertullian, On Fasting, trans. S. Thelwall, in Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. A. Roberts and J Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers 4 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub, 1999).

[10] Although the teaching and practice of those who were “orthodox” varied from group to group and regionally at this stage in the early church’s history. The New Testament was still being formulated and the great church councils of Nicae where a long way off in the future (AD 325).

[11] Eusebius, Church History, 5.17,1–2: Miltiades a Montanist claimed that they are the successors of Ammia and Quadratus,  Origen, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4, fragment 74, Montanists claiming to be successors of Philip’s four daughters in Claude Jenkins, “Origen on I Corinthians 4.” JTS, 7 (1908): 29-51 (41–42); William Tabbernee, Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia: Epigraphic Sources Illustrating the History of Montanism, Patristic Monograph Series (Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1997), 37, 40–41 fn, 6–8.

[12] The criterion for true prophecy in the second century church manual, The Didache, was the behaviour of the prophet, “his behaviour, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known” (11.8); James L. Ash, “The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church.” Theological Studies 37.2 (1976): 227–252 (233).

[13] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1987), 492: “this passage is full of notorious exegetical difficulties.”

[14] For this kind of phenomenon see my article on 1 Thessalonians, “You Can Do Anything,” Donald Trump 2005.

[15] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 491–492.

[16] In relation to men, Maud W. Gleason, Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 67–70; Hairstyles in relation to women, Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 104; Cynthia L. Thompson, “Hairstyles, Head-Coverings, and St-Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth.” Biblical Archaeologist 51.2 (1988): 99–115.

[17] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 155–161.

[18] Ibid, 164—166; So important was this that the martyr Perpetua in the middle of the arena, after she is attacked by the maddened cow, stops to secure her hair, The Contortions of Gender: the transformation of Perpetua into a man (while staying a woman).

[19] Ibid, 162–164.

[20] Ibid, 181–187; The NASB has insert “a symbol” in an attempt to make sense of the sentence having assumed that Paul is talking about a veil.

[21] See my discussion on this in “You Can Do Anything”;   Contra the argument of Richard and Catherine Kroger that the problem is the influence of teachings from the Artemis cult, Richard Clark and Catherine Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11–15 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992).