Aquila And Priscilla
INTRODUCTION: There are only six references to the husband and wife team of Aquila and Priscilla in the New Testament, but the available details can reveal some interesting things about those who might be considered as lay people of the early church. There are no Bible references to either Aquila or Priscilla, without mention of the other. They worked together in a trade for their livelihood, and they worked together in the body, which is the church. Since Paul is such a prominent character in the New Testament, some detail of his activity will be included as he interfaced with the lives of Aquila and Priscilla. Because of the unique qualities of scripture, even just a few words in the original text can reveal important information. My Online Bible lexicon indicates that Aquila is translated from a word probably of Latin origin. Prisca appears only one time in the KJV, but the diminutive form, which is Priscilla, appears five times: and the original word is probably of Latin origin. As I prepared this study, I was impressed by the amount of long-distance traveling by some of the principal characters, during a time when transportation was rudimentary and slow by the standards of the 21st century. Communication was also basic, but the essential element was the Spirit of God working through frail human vessels to build his church, even as he continues to do to this very day.
A - FROM ATHENS TO CORINTH
Acts 18 "1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; 2 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. 3 And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. 5 And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. 6 And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles. 7 And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man's house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue."
COMMENTS: Verse 2 is the first mention in scripture of this couple by name, and there is no indication that Paul was their means of conversion to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. The text tells us that Paul had come to Corinth from Athens, which implies he would have traveled by land some fifty miles southwest. Aquila and Priscilla had recently come a much greater distance from Rome, probably traveling south and east on a sailing ship because a water route was practical for such a trip in those times. The text tells us that Paul "found a certain Jew", and "because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought." The text simply tells us that he stayed with them because they were of the same craft, and that Paul worked while he was with them. Paul may have "found" this "certain" Jew by seeking him out, or by coming upon him without specific intention. Use of the Greek word translated as certain, does not provide any certainty about how they met.
We also learn that Aquila had been born in Pontus, which is in the northeast of Asia Minor, a long distance away from Corinth, an from Rome. When Peter's preaching brought thousands of people into the church by faith on Pentecost, their were visitors from both Pontus and Rome who carried their new faith back to their homelands. Aquila and Priscilla were possibly already Christians when they opened their home to Paul in Corinth. Historical records for the edict of Claudius would place this time of Paul being in Corinth in circa 52 A.D. That would be approaching two decades after Peter's Pentecost sermon of Acts chapter two.
Paul spoke boldly each Sabbath in the synagogue about Jesus, and apparently hit a peak of fervor after Silas and Timotheus arrive from Macedonia, where Paul had previously been with them, first in Thessalonica, and then in Berea. Because of the Jews attitude in the synagogue, Paul said he would take his message to the gentiles, and "entered into" the house of Justus, one that worshipped God. The text does not detail whether this became a meeting place for Christian worship, or if Paul resided there, but the next passage leans towards it being only the former.
B - CORINTH TO EPHESUS
Acts 18 "18 And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow. 19 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; 21 But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus."
COMMENTS: The relationship of Paul with Aquila and Priscilla was apparently a close one, because when he left Corinth, they went with him. This could imply that they had continued to share their craft and there dwelling for the duration of Paul's time in Corinth. Cenchrea was the eastern port for Corinth, some nine miles east of the city, and the logical port for sailing to Ephesus, which was close to the western coastline of Asia Minor, here loosely called Syria. The voyage would have been easterly, taking about 8 to 10 days, depending on wind conditions. When Paul subsequently left Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla remain there.
C - APOLLOS AT CORINTH
Acts 18 "24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. 26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. 27 And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: 28 For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
COMMENTS: Apollos is a man well spoken of in the New Testament, though very sparingly. Secular history indicates that his birthplace of Alexandria was an international city in Egypt that was a center for learning, and apparently had a sizable population of Jews. The Greek translation of the Old Testament was completed in Alexandria long before the birth of Christ, after many decades of translation work. We do not have specific detail of the education of Apollos, or how long he had lived in Alexandria, but we are told that he was "an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures." The scripture goes on to say he was "instructed", he was "fervent in the spirit", he "taught diligently", and he knew "only the baptism of John." It seems that Aquila and Priscilla had attended synagogue in Ephesus, because scripture says, "And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." This working class married couple made time for private discipleship, and in so doing they showed a concern for building up others in the faith, even one who had superior academic learning. We are not given detailed points of the conversation, but Aquila and Priscilla set forth in detail the "way of God" more thoroughly and completely." They must have been effective in their manner, for the text states that Apollos went from Ephesus to Achaia, the principal city of which was Corinth. There he was much help to the disciples who had believed through grace; for he publicly convinced the Jews through scriptures, that Jesus was Christ. So, it seems that Aquila and Priscilla had been instrumental in helping this educated and articulate man understand the crucial importance of salvation by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, not through works of the law.
This next passage from a later time as recorded in Acts, gives an example of Paul expounding about Jesus, probably much the same as Aquila and Priscilla had done with Apollos. Acts 28:23 "And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening." It is very important to notice that whether it was the apostle Paul, or laity such as Aquila and Priscilla, the Old Testament (the Jewish scripture) was the authoritative source of verification that all that Jesus did and taught fulfilled the prophecies about God our Savior. In our era, the New Testament is the record of events surrounding Jesus, and the more complete explanation of the finished work by the Lamb of God, who is the source of eternal life for all who will believe and receive.
D - PAUL'S GREETING TO THE CORINTHIANS
1 Corinthians 16 "19 The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
COMMENTS: By Paul's testimony, as he writes to Christians in Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla have a church body in their home, and that most likely being in Ephesus. Perhaps they attended synagogue, where they had encountered Apollos, only until the time came for them to be more established in distinct Christian worship. The only cities specifically mentioned in connection with Aquila and Priscilla are Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus, with the province of Pontus noted as the birthplace for Aquila. There were likely people still in Corinth who knew Aquila and Priscilla from when they had lived there, and it is possible they heard some good words about this couple through Apollos after he left Ephesus and went to Corinth.
E - GREETING TO PRISCA AND AQUILA
2 Timothy 4 "19 Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick."
COMMENTS: Timothy had become the church leader in Ephesus, as indicated in 1Timothy; but Aquila and Priscilla were still there as Paul wrote a second letter to Timothy. Paul was specific in sending greeting to them in this second letter. There is no other new information given about them, unless we infer that they do not conduct a church in their own home, but now are part of the local church led by Timothy. . They may have been preparing to return to Rome after the expiration of the earlier edict by Claudius, and that could be part of the reason Timothy is the church leader. . Or, it could be that they continued to be employed in their trade, choosing to allow someone else to lead the church after it outgrew a home setting and required a full time pastor. For whatever reason, our last reference finds them back in Rome.
F - BACK TO ROME
Romans 16 "1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: 2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.
COMMENTS: It seems from this reference that Aquila and Priscilla were in Rome when Paul sent this letter, perhaps returning to their preferred city after expiration of the decree by Claudius to expel all Jews. It is possible that they were even Roman citizens, born of Roman citizen parents, and given Latin names. Paul declared in acts 22 that he was a free born Roman, which is an interesting detail found only in that reference. Paul again states that they have a church in their house, indicating their continued leadership in part of the Christian community in Rome. Paul speaks of this Jewish Christian couple with high personal regard and appreciation that they had "laid down their own necks" for his life; and credits them with being important even to the development of the greater church body among gentiles. The "wellbeloved" Epaenetus (the name means praiseworthy) is stated here as being the firstfruits unto Christ in Achaia. This is the only mention in all of scripture of this name, and it may lend support to the idea that Aquila and Priscilla were already Christians before they arrived at Corinth in Achaia, since our first reference implies that Paul made contact with them, before any other people.
G - SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS
The temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem according to the word of the Lord, after most Jews had been widely scattered outside the boundaries of Israel for more than a century: first from the northern kingdom, then from the southern kingdom. Jerusalem and the temple were once again the focal point for worship of the true God, through centuries more of foreign domination, until the appearance of Messiah. The Jews had been absorbed into various cultures as they were widely dispersed to other lands, and under foreign occupation in Israel. But they were not indistinguishable, and they continued to gain converts to Judaism. When Paul went to synagogues in various cities, there was often mention of his discourse with both Jews and Greeks (or gentiles). The Jewish scriptures had been translated into Greek, which made those inspired texts cross-cultural literature. Those Jews who truly sought after God with their hearts were used of God to be an influence on the gentile populace, even those gentiles who did not convert, because the Jewish practice was distinctive enough to be noticed by others. Christ had come in fulfillment of the law and the prophets, and great leaders of the church such as Peter and Paul would not have had as much fertile soil for the further spread of the word if not for the long-term Jewish influence on such a composite group of people as that portion of the world contained. The Holy Spirit was truly doing the work ahead of the efforts of the men who were given such privilege of leadership in the body of Christ; and since the closing of the canon of scripture, the Holy Spirit is still the active force. Christ is the true builder of the assembly of those called out by grace through faith, and all glory and honor is due to him alone. Jesus said, "I will build my church."
--- Reflections in prayer ---
Lord, I thank you that scripture records the ministry of this Christian couple who were dedicated Jews, who completed their faith by receiving Christ as their Messiah. They moved around to various cities, working together for their livelihood, while standing firmly on the word, and supporting leaders in the church. They also were willing to take an eloquent and learned man aside to expound from scripture, what they knew as the more complete way of God. Their manner seems to be one of accepting whatever role you had for them in your church, whether starting a church in their home, or allowing others to become leadership figures. Their consistent desire to see local churches established wherever they located is a testimony of the importance of the many parts of the body of Christ. Thank you Lord that by your Spirit, their type has been duplicated down through the centuries. May I be as faithful in the plans you have for me. Amen.
Published 25 January 2006