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Priscilla and Aquila

Priscilla and Aquila were highly esteemed co-workers of the Apostle Paul in teaching the gospel to the early church.

Ancient Corinth
Ancient Corinth

Priscilla and her husband Aquila met the apostle Paul when he came to Corinth in approximately 50 C.E. The three would prove to become steadfast friends, traveling companions, and ministry coworkers. But our story begins about a year earlier, when in 49 C.E., according to Suetonius, Emperor Claudius expelled from Rome all Jews who followed “Chrestus,” likely a misspelling of “Christ.” Included in that number were Aquila and Priscilla, who traveled to Corinth and opened a leather-works business (Acts 18:2). When Paul met them, they were already followers of Jesus. They later traveled with Paul to Ephesus and remained there to support the young church. While in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila instructed the gifted preacher Apollos more accurately about the gospel, particularly about baptism (Acts 18:26). Later, when Claudius’s edict was rescinded, they returned to Rome (Rom 16:3-4).

Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned by name six times in the New Testament, always together as a couple (Acts 18:2-3, Acts 18-19, Acts 26; Rom 16:3-5; 1Cor 16:19; 2Tim 4:19). They exercised leadership among the fledgling churches and were held in high esteem. Their partnership highlights one model of ministry in the early church (see Rom 16:7; 1Cor 9:5). Paul calls them his “coworkers” in preaching the gospel, praises their willingness to risk their necks to help him (Rom 16:3-4), and twice notes that churches meet in their homes (Rom 16:5; 1Cor 16:19).

“Prisca” is a Latin name meaning “venerable”; the diminutive form of her name is “Priscilla.” She may have held a higher social status than her husband Aquila, for her name appears before his four times (Acts 18:18, Acts 18:26; Rom 16:3; 2Tim 4:19), in contrast to the usual custom of leading with the husband’s name. All named women in Acts are wealthy, with the exceptions of Mary (Jesus’ mother) and Rhoda, thus increasing the likelihood that Priscilla had some means, although we should not imagine her as a middle-class Westerner. The name order might also signal Priscilla’s superior teaching capabilities, for when Acts 18:26 notes that the couple taught Apollos, her name appears first. Some scholars argue she is the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews. Most ancient women were not identified by their occupation; however, Acts 18:3 states that they (Aquila and Priscilla) shared the same trade with Paul.

“Aquila” is a Latin name meaning “eagle.” At some point, he traveled from Pontus, his home in northern Asia Minor (modern Turkey) near the Black Sea, to Rome. He was a tentmaker and thus in the artisan class; often freed slaves held such jobs. But Paul was also a tentmaker, and he was a free-born Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-28), indicating that both free men and former slaves worked as artisans. While most artisans were members of trade guilds, Jews usually did not join because guild members honored their guild’s patron deities at regularly held banquets.

  • Lynn H. Cohick

    Lynn H. Cohick is Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. She studies Jews and Christians in the settings of Hellenism and the Roman Empire, as well as women in the ancient world. Her publications include Philippians in The Story of God Commentary (Zondervan, 2013); Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (Baker Academic, 2009).