Priscilla and Aquila are first mentioned in Acts 18. As was Paul’s custom when he arrived in Corinth he sought out fellow tradesmen. Guilds offered a “home-base” for people moving from one city to another. Priscilla and Aquila have landed in Corinth after the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Claudius in 49-50 A.D. (v.1). Paul meets Aquila and sets up shop with them. On the Sabbath the tentmakers head to the synagogue and share their faith (v.4). The impact of their ministry can be seen in the names of those whose lives they touch. Crispus (v.8) is a prominent leader in the synagogue; Titius Justus (v.7), a Gentile. The ministry thrives, but opposition comes about when Paul is brought before Gallio the proconsul (vv.12-17). The team departs and eventually land in Ephesus. Priscilla and Aquila remain there when Paul moves on to Galatia and Phrygia (vv. 18-19, 23-28).
Not much is said about their background although their names hint of some sort of status. We do know that Aquila was born in Pontus (v.1) so it is likely that Priscilla came from there too. Priscilla, sometimes identified as Prisca, means “worthy or venerable”; Aquila means “eagle”, the emblem of the Roman Army. While any conclusion drawn from the significance of their names is speculation, they do indicate that both were Roman through and through. Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in several other letters which Paul wrote (Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19) and in most cases Priscilla in particular is called Paul’s “fellow worker”. It is a frequent term that Paul uses in association with those who shared his ministry (Rom. 16:9; 1 Cor. 3:9; Phil. 4:3; Col. 4:11 and including fellow itinerants like Timothy- Rom. 16:21; 1 Thes. 3:2; Titus- 2 Cor. 8:23; Epaphroditus- Phil. 2:25; and Philemon). One commentator noted that “other passages may fill in a few more particulars of this married team’s ministry which included instructing ministers and leading a house church (Acts 18:26; 1 Cor. 16:19; Phile. 1, 2)". Simply put Priscilla and Aquila were among the movers and shakers of the early church.
Many take note of the order of their names in the passages where they are mentioned (Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19). Aquila appears first in three of the passages, and Priscilla is placed first in the other three. Lists of people usually started with the most significant people first, and subordinates after. The appearance of Priscilla’s name at the top of the list in 2 Timothy 4 and in Acts 18 means she had a prominent role in the events depicted there- a leader in the house church, evangelizing on Paul’s missionary trip and in the discipleship teaching/training of Apollos. One commentator wrote, “As a Jewish wife Priscilla would have been expected to be subject to her husband. Aquila would have been the one who studied God’s Law and sat with the other men in the synagogue. Priscilla would have been expected to know the laws governing a kosher kitchen, but in all other matters she would have been expected to defer to her husband. In mentioning the couple, if both were mentioned at all, normal mode of speech would have identified Aquila “and his wife”.”
That Luke and Paul mention Priscilla by name, and sometimes place hers first indicates how the early church truly viewed women. The natural interchange of Priscilla’s and Aquila’s names tells us two things. First, she was a full partner in ministry with her husband and secondly, the early church embraced this equal status based on a person’s spiritual gift, not on roles assigned to gender by the culture. The importance of this is shown in the life of Apollos who before their tutelage is known as an eloquent preacher but afterwards one of the most powerful defenders of the faith (Acts 18:24-28).
How does your church measure up? Is your local body truly allowing each member to exercise their gifts to the furtherance of the Gospel (Rom. 12:4-8)? If so, that’s wonderful! If not, it is time to examine what shapes your perception of ministry. If it is God’s Word then everyone in your congregation should be serving according to the gifts given to them in the areas they are best suited for (1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:11-16), but if it is the culture that is shaping where you place them in ministry, you will be limiting God’s work both in the body of believers and the community you are a part of (Rom. 14:13-20).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 9/24/2017