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Nobodies of the Bible: Priscilla and Aquila
Aquila, a Jew from Pontus, may have been a slave at one time, but by the time we meet him in the 18th chapter of Acts, he was a free man and prosperous enough to have married well. Priscilla, more formally called Prisca, was not Jewish. She came from an old Roman family. They probably became Christians in Rome. "
Together they provide a good model for Christian marriage and Christian lay people. Priscilla, almost invariably mentioned before Aquila, seems to have had the more dominant personality of the two and may have been considered the more important by the early church. In a society where women had second-class status, that could put a strain on a marriage, but Luke's writings make it clear in another context that Priscilla had great tact.
In about AD 49, Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome for rioting. The Roman historian Suetonius blamed the disturbances on a leader named Chrestus, whom we know as Jesus, unaware that he was not living in Rome at the time. Some unknown apostle had planted a church in Rome and had met with the same warm welcome among the Jewish community that Paul had encountered so many times. Priscilla and Aquila moved to Corinth, and Paul arrived there about a year later.
When he first arrived in Corinth, Paul had no means of support from the gospel and had to ply a trade in order to minister there. He and Aquila were both tent-makers, so Paul moved in with them and apparently worked in his shop, at least until Silas and Timothy brought a large gift from the church at Philippi. Scripture gives us some account of their movements after that:
- Paul left Corinth to go to Antioch about a year and a half later. Priscilla and Aquila traveled with him for a while on their way to Ephesus.
- Paul returned to Ephesus five years and wrote 1 Corinthians. According to 1 Corinthians 16:19, Priscilla and Aquila were in Ephesus. It seems most likely that had not remained there the entire five years.
- Later that year, Paul returned to Corinth and wrote Romans. According to Romans 16:3, Priscilla and Aquila were in Rome.
- When Paul finally got to Rome, he had left Timothy in charge of the church at Ephesus, and we learn from 2 Timothy 4:19 that Priscilla and Aquila were back in Ephesus.
Nowhere does Scripture identify them as members of Paul's staff or as traveling evangelists. Apparently they had branches of their tentmaking business in three cities and moved among them to oversee their enterprise, even though no scripture explicitly places them back in Corinth. In other words, they participated in church strictly as lay people.
It appears that at least some of the time the church met in their home. Hosting the church represents a commitment of both time and money. Christianity was unpopular with outsiders. Unbelieving Jews took violent offense. The pagan upper crust looked down their noses at all of the slaves and other social outcasts that made up so much of the church. The visible commitment of Priscilla and Aquila to the Lord must have entailed some risk to their social standing and may have cost them business.
Their most important service to the church, however, required them to confront the preacher when they got to Ephesus.
- They were spiritually discerning enough to recognize that Apollos was not a false teacher to be shunned, but a man of God needing instruction. The early church writers credited Priscilla with the actual initiative to provide that instruction.
- Priscilla was sensitive enough to approach him in private, not criticize him either publicly or behind his back.
- Priscilla and Aquila knew enough Scripture and doctrine to be able to speak to him on their own without waiting for Paul or Timothy or some other recognized leader.
- Therefore Priscilla and Aquila spent time in both study and teaching. Apollos was undoubtedly not their first pupil!
- Regardless of how many people they had instructed before, it was risky to approach Apollos, and required some courage.
- When Apollos decided to go to Corinth, surely Aquila was among the brothers mentioned in Acts 18:27 who encouraged him and wrote a letter of introduction for him.
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Priscilla and Aquila are excellent roles models for Christians today both as individuals and as a couple.
- They are always mentioned together, which shows partnership in ministry. It befits a married couple to work together. The strengths of the one offset any weaknesses the other may have. Collaboration rendered Priscilla and Aquila's combined ministry more effective than either would have been without the other's help.
- In their hospitality to Paul, in possibly having the church in their home, in approaching Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila showed a oneness of spirit that befits being one flesh.
- They took risks--economic risks, social risks, personal risks, even the risk of their own lives.
The church cannot function on the activity of professional ministers alone. Both the church universal and the local congregation depend on committed lay people like Priscilla and Aquila.