The Bible tells us tantalisingly little about Priscilla: just enough to piece together about 17 years of the life of an amazing woman (see Acts 18; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19), but leaving plenty to ask her when we meet in heaven!
Her real name was Prisca, Priscilla being the diminutive — ‘little Priscilla’; a feisty little lady, perhaps! She and her husband Aquila are always mentioned together.
Was she like her husband from Pontus, on the Black Sea coast of what is now Turkey? Or did she fall in love with the dashing stranger who arrived at the synagogue when she was a young girl in Rome?
What we do know was that together they were exiled from Rome in about AD 50, when Claudius issued an edict banning all Jews from there. It is easy to read over the statement without picturing the young couple in their dilemma. Do they travel with any money and goods they have and risk attack by bandits? Or do they leave all they have in Rome and rely on the goodwill of their fellow Jews for hospitality wherever they may travel? Certainly the tools of their tent-making trade must go with them.
Then the decision where to go, doubtless divinely guided, as they made their way from west to east of Italy, then across the Adriatic to the coast of Greece, before the second overland leg of the journey to the east coast and their destination of Corinth.
The Roman roads meant that the actual travel was reasonably comfortable (did they walk or have some form of transport?), but the inns were known for being dirty and dangerous.
Given that sea captains preferred to travel within sight of land whenever possible, did they have to take the long route all around the coast of the Adriatic? We can only conjecture what dangers they encountered, remembering Paul’s account of his own shipwreck and encounters with bandits. And we can imagine the lack of comfort and privacy for a woman aboard what would almost certainly have been a merchant ship that accommodated passengers.
Once in Corinth they had to start from scratch, establishing their business of tent-making, Priscilla working alongside her husband. We do not know for sure that they had become believers before they left Rome, but, as Luke does not mention their coming to faith in Acts 18, we presume they welcomed the apostle Paul as a brother in Christ, as well as a fellow tent-maker.
How much the young couple must have learned from their guest, as they listened to him in the synagogue and later in the house of Justus, and then followed up with questions as together they plied their trade!
Paul must sometimes have been an uncomfortable house guest, as he came into trouble from the Jews, but their lives had become intertwined with his. So, after about two years, when Paul left Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila uprooted themselves for the second time, this time by choice, and took the voyage across the Aegean with him to settle in Ephesus.
What a woman! House-moving is counted as one of the most stressful activities of modern life. What was it like in the first century to start again in yet another country?
As Paul left soon afterwards, we wonder if he particularly wanted this couple who had been with him for two years to be a blessing in Ephesus after he had gone. If that was his hope, it was well fulfilled.
In the synagogue they heard Apollos, the eloquent newcomer from Alexandria, fervent in spirit, competent in the Scriptures and accurate in his teaching about Jesus, as far as it went. We can imagine Aquila and Priscilla discussing at home the teaching of this newcomer and voicing to each other their concerns.
Boldly but sensitively they took action, taking Apollos aside to teach him the way of God more accurately. They must have handled the situation well, as Apollos went on to be a great blessing to the church.
It would seem that when Paul returned to Ephesus they were still there, and by this time were hosting the church in their own home. Paul writing his letter to the Corinthians passes on the greetings of the churches in Asia and ‘hearty greetings in the Lord’ from Aquila and Priscilla. The picture is emerging of a couple who did not do things by halves — even their greetings were hearty.
Can we assume that Aquila and Priscilla were still in Ephesus at the time of the riot in the amphitheatre? Were they among the brethren who would not let Paul go in among the hostile crowd? Maybe. What we do know is that, at some time, they together risked their lives to save him.
By around AD 55-56, when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, Priscilla and Aquila were back in Rome, presumably because they had heard of the death of Claudius and felt it was safe to travel, maybe to meet up with family from whom they had long been parted.
They are the first in the list of those to be greeted, and Paul makes it clear that they ‘risked their necks’ to save him. Wouldn’t we like to know how that happened and what was the part of this spirited woman in this dangerous escapade? Like so much else, that must wait for heaven.
They were not back in Rome long before once again their home was open for the meetings of the church. They may have come home, but their zeal was unabated. Only those who have hosted a church in their home know the commitment and energy needed week by week.
Nor did they settle after all their dangerous travels. By the time Paul was writing his final letter, his second to Timothy, they were back in Asia again and Paul sends his greetings. Seventeen years after we first meet her, Priscilla is still at her husband’s side.
Her name is never mentioned without his and he is never mentioned without her. Always together, side by side serving the Lord, in three different countries, exiled from Rome, together on dangerous journeys by sea and land, together in the workshop, handling issues that needed sensitivity, putting their lives in danger to save Paul, hosting the churches.
Let us thank God for such a woman and for such an example of godly marriage. Priscilla did not need to be independent to live a fulfilled life. She and Aquila lived an inter-dependent life and there was huge scope for all of her talents to develop to the full.
The church of Jesus Christ needs such couples in the 21st century, couples who will together live boldly for the Lord, doing whatever it takes to serve Christ and their fellow believers.
Should you be a single woman feeling this is out of your reach, remember we also have the example of Lydia, the independent entrepreneur working between two continents, running her own home in first century Philippi and also serving the church. Thank God for the gift in his Word of strong, female role models for Christian young women!
Next month’s article is on Eunice, whose marriage was so different.
Daphne Swanson is married to Andrew and lives in Northern Cyprus