Anna the prophet gives us a look into a life well-lived in service to the kingdom of God. She is the only named female prophet in the New Testament. The story of Anna in the Bible comes to us from Luke 2:36-38. Through her steadfast faith, Anna invites us to contemplate the expectation of the living hope we find in Christ Jesus.
God, our maker, would you shake us up and give us a desire to live a life of devotion to you? Jesus, our Savior, would you remind us again of your incarnate reality—that you make sacred even the smallest acts of kindness, goodness, and faithfulness? Holy Spirit, our breath, would you be near to us in this moment—working through our lungs and our bodies to prepare us for the work you have for us in the world? Holy Trinity, thank you for all these things. Amen and amen.
“There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” – Luke 2:36-38
Introduction to the Story of Anna the Prophet
The story of Anna the prophet takes place during the early days of Jesus’s life. According to the law of Moses, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord” (Luke 2:23). In light of this law, Mary and Joseph took an eight-day-old Jesus to the temple to offer sacrifice: two turtle doves for his circumcision and Mary’s purification. When Mary and Joseph entered the temple, they were greeted by two people: Simeon and Anna.
The two humans who interact with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are described as being led by the Holy Spirit into the temple. Simeon scooped Jesus out of the arms of his parents and into his own and gave a prophecy. Simeon declares many things, including the “falling and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34). It is after Simeon’s prophesying that Anna takes the stage.
Digging Deeper: Who Was Anna in the Bible?
Anna the prophet. She is a woman who, as I imagine it, walks into the temple and simply glows. In her place, I can picture so many of the saintly women in my life who have devoted themselves to the work of the church. I imagine her gracing the temple with her presence and being an expansive presence to all around her.
We only have three short verses to see who this woman is, but the biblical texts give us some clues about who we would have encountered if we met Anna in this temple space. She is described as being a woman who fasted often, so we can imagine that she was thin. Being “of a great age” gave her social standing in her community as an elder (Luke 2:36-37). Additionally, her ability to move about the temple, to come and go, gives us an indication that she was physically able to move around. Her designation as a prophet indicates her spiritual acuity and the fact that her spiritual community values her giftings and recognizes her authority.
She is described as being the daughter of Phanuel and of the tribe of Asher. Luke names her father and tribe, making her one of the few New Testament characters with tribal listings. Others who hold tribal listings include Jesus, of the house and lineage of David and the tribe of Judah (Luke 2:4; Matthew 1:1-16); Saul of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5); and Barnabas, a Levite (Acts 4:36).1
Anna is the only named female prophet in the New Testament. Combined with her advanced standing in her community and dedication to prayer in the temple, this suggests Anna was a woman of remarkable faith.
If she was married at around 14 years old (a common age for women to wed at that time) and was married for seven years, Anna would have been 21 years old when she was widowed. The text reads that she was a widow until she was 84 years old. Some interpret the text to say that she was a widow for 84 years, which would make her around 105 years old when she met the family of Jesus.
This wrinkled, saintly woman is a woman who, after her husband passed, is described as never leaving the temple. She worships with fasting and prayer every night and day. When she comes into the temple on the day Jesus is there, she sees what others could not. The moment she arrives, she begins praising God and telling about the child to “all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
Anna’s speech is not narrated, yet the story is powerful. Simeon’s words are given to us, and they speak of things to come. Anna seems to be caught up in the moment, giving instruction to everyone around her in the midst of her praise. The messianic overtones given by the narrator suggest that she began evangelizing to all present, to anyone who was looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
She Is Called and We Are Called
What continues to stick out for me in powerful ways in the story of Anna is her devotion to prayer, fasting, and life in the temple. I think of the women I have encountered along this journey of life who do not hold bitterness in their hearts but seek God’s face above all else.
When Anna was widowed at a young age, she could have taken a different posture. She could have sulked or fallen into deep sadness, but instead she shows up here, at the tail-end of the Christmas narrative. She is a woman full of hope and purpose.
She is accompanied by the Holy Spirit and, in my mind, seems to float in the direction and leading of the Spirit in her life. Some of us may readily picture a woman like this from our own lives, but for others, the idea of a person led so acutely by the Holy Spirit is an odd thought. A person coming and going and spouting truth to anyone surrounding them at a given time could be called a bit eccentric, to put it kindly. But, this prophet from the tribe of Asher finds her place in biblical history and points us to a life lived in expectation.
It is fitting that Anna’s story wraps up the biblical Christmas narrative. She is a woman who has been waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem for over 80 years. Advent, a liturgical season of waiting, wraps up for us, following in the footsteps of Anna, with the bringing in of light and a praise that rings forth from every Christian church across the globe.
Anna, in her story, invites us to the same sort of expectation with which she lived her life. She models what healthy Christian discipleship can look like: some type of fasting, continual prayer, and sharing the good news with others. She helps us imagine what it could look like for us to rely solely on our Maker. It is a radical life that she lived, which issues to us a radical invitation to wait expectantly for the glory and goodness of God.
- Who in your life has been like an Anna? How did this person embody the dedication and expectation of Anna?
- What does it look like for you to expectantly wait for the glory and goodness of God in your life?
- What surprised you in this Bible study session?
- What do you hear the Spirit saying to you/your family/your church/your community?
 Branch, Robin Gallaher, ‘Anna in the Bible: Luke reveals the prophetess as a Biblical model for aging’, Biblical Archaeology Society, Washington DC, BAS, 2020, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/anna-in-the bible/, (accessed January 26, 2021).
Rev. Alisha Riepma serves as the pastor of St. John’s Reformed Church in Red Hook, New York. She is passionate about youth, equity, and justice, looking to the church to lead the way in a revolutionary way of being in the world today. She is a member of the Women’s Transformation and Leadership Guiding Coalition.
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