Tentmaker, missionary, preacher, and host to congregations in her home, Priscilla’s missionary work stretched from Rome to Ephesus, perhaps to Syria. Paul said she “saved his neck,” was a coworker, and labeled her synergos, that is, a fellow leader, placing her the same category as Titus, Timothy, Mark and Luke. (Rom 16:3-4a)
Priscilla (also known as Prisca) and her husband Aquila were among several married couples who were missionaries in the early years of Christianity. Historians explain, however, that Priscilla and Aquila were different from other married couples in that her name is listed before his in Biblical passages, suggesting that she was the better known in Christian circles.
We pick up Priscilla’s story in Rome. By then she and Aquila were baptized Christians. There is speculation that she and Aquila, both Jews, were former slaves, perhaps from the same slave-holding family. By the time we meet them, they had married and were supporting themselves as tentmakers. They are considered the most prominent couple involved in the first-century expansion of Christianity.
Sometime around 50 CE, Emperor Claudius expelled Jews from Rome and they went to Corinth, where they met Paul, also a tentmaker. The three lived and worked together in both of their occupations: tentmakers and missionaries. Paul particularly notes Priscilla and Aquila’s work converting gentiles, because they had helped start and nurture many of the local Christian churches. (Romans 16:3-5a)
Priscilla’s level of authority may be seen in a conversation with Apollos, a first century Jewish Christian who worked with Paul. After hearing Apollos speaking boldly in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and taught him a more accurate message. (Acts 18:26)
The couple also worked with Paul in Ephesus and at some point returned to Rome. A rough estimate of their journeys suggests that Priscilla and Aquila traveled well over two thousand miles in their ministry, an extraordinary amount of territory to cover.
For several New Testament women, a central part of their story includes physical healing, the removal of demons, forgiveness of sins, or spiritual cleansing. It does not appear that Priscilla or Aquila had any of those conversion experiences. It may well be that Priscilla and Aquila did not meet Jesus before his death and resurrection. Instead, it is likely that they were among the early Christians who did not have a physical encounter with him. This couple may be among the first generation whose faith was stirred by the stories of Jesus’s miracles. They may be the proto-type for the millions of believers who have kept Jesus the Christ’s story alive.
According to historian Ben Witherington III, “[P]riscilla played an important ministerial role in the Pauline outreach to Gentiles. Not just Paul, or even just the Gentile Churches of the first century, but all of early Christianity owes her a great debt. Her story needs to be known.”
In the Roman Catholic Church, Priscilla and Aquila’s feast day is July 8; the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod commemorate them on February 13.
Biblical Sources, all NSRV:
Acts 18:1-3: After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers.
Acts 18:18 After staying there [Corinth] for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.
Acts 18:26 He [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.
Romans 16:3-5a: 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4 and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Greet also the church in their house.
1 Corinthians 16:19: The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord.
2 Timothy 4:19: 19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.
“Sts. Aquila and Priscilla, Disciples of St. Paul,” Vatican News, July 8, 2020, https://www.vaticannews.va/en/saints/07/08/sts–aquila-and-priscilla–disciples-of-st–paul-.html (accessed March 4, 2021).
Ben Witherington III, “Biblical Views: Priscilla-An Extraordinary Early Christian Life,” www.baslibrary.org/print/133576 (accessed October 1, 2020).
Jane D. Schaberg and Sharon H. Ringe, “Gospel of Luke,” in Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, Women’s Bible Commentary (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 544.
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “Prisca and Aquila,” www.baslibrary.org/print/118844 (accessed October 1, 2020).
Wil Gafney, “Priscilla, Pastor Preacher, Apostle” https://www.wilgafney.com/2020/07/26/priscilla-pastor-preacher-apostle/ (accessed March 15, 2021)
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
©Suzanne O’Dea, 2021