Power Couple

Power Couple

If you read through the New Testament long enough, you’ll start to notice a certain married couple crop up quite often. Priscilla and Aquila were a globe-trotting ministry couple with an interesting backstory and who left an inspiring legacy.

A few fun facts before we jump into their history. The name Priscilla is actually a nickname for Prisca, meaning “Little Prisca.” The frequent appearance of the less formal nickname might suggest her warm and gentle nature.

The husband and wife are always mentioned by name together. This uniquely equal partnership in ministry is emphasized even further by the fact that Priscilla is mentioned first half the time. This would go against the usual custom of always naming the husband first.

So what does Scripture have to say about this couple? First we turn our attention to their introduction at the beginning of Acts chapter 18:

18 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

In only a few verses we learn quite a lot about this couple. Aquila and his wife have been uprooted from their home in Rome due to the excommunication of all the Jews by the emperor Claudius. Before we have even met them, they have already experienced some intense hardship and persecution. Being relatively new to Corinth themselves, they have set up shop as tentmakers and most certainly found a community with the other believing Christians. When Paul arrives in Corinth, they generously open their home to Paul who not only lives with them in their home, but shares in their tentmaking business with them.

Time passes and the three have obviously formed a special bond because when Paul travels on to Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla go with him (Acts 18:18). While Paul soon moves on to Antioch, Aquila and Priscilla stay behind in Ephesus and establish a church in their home (1 Cor 16:19). The couple were busy about the work of the kingdom, increasing in their knowledge of God’s word and being diligent in discipleship. God uses their leadership to impact an up-and-coming leader in the church when Apollos comes to town. In Acts 18:24-26 we read:

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[d] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
Apollos seems to be on the fast-track to being an extremely effective minister of the gospel but he was missing some key information. Rather than calling him out in a public setting, our friends pulled Apollos aside and spoke to him privately, instructing him in the ways he needed to learn. This shows us not only how learned in the Scriptures they were, but that they were a gracious couple who understood the qualities of good discipleship. They wished to build up, not to shame Apollos. Showing good discernment, they saw what correction was necessary and how to do it properly. From what we can tell, their influence was exponentially helpful because from Ephesus, Apollos was eventually sent out to Achaia [uh-KAY-yuh] where “he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:27b-28).

Acts 18 gives us the most information about Priscilla and Aquilla but there are still a few clues we can glean from some of Paul’s letters.

In Romans 16:3-4, Paul sends his greetings to Prisca and Aquila, his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” So, after their time in Ephesus, it appears as though the couple made their way back home to Rome and were now part of the community Paul was writing to. We can only imagine the bravery this required to return home after being exiled years before. But it seems this couple were not strangers to bravery and risk. In the same greeting, Paul tells how they “risked their necks for my life.” We aren’t told any specifics of what happened. Did they risk their finances? Their reputation? Their very lives? In any case, their sacrifice was noteworthy enough for Paul to mention it in his letter. Between housing Paul during those early days in Corinth, and when they risked it all for his life, Priscilla and Aquila were clearly very important to Paul. Their ministry had a powerful impact on him personally.

But their influence was far-reaching. In Romans 16:4 Paul goes on to say, “not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.” In the time we have known them, this couple has traveled from Rome to Corinth to Ephesus, back to Rome, and then finally back to Ephesus (as we learn from Paul’s final letter to Timothy in 2 Tim 4:19). Along the way they have clearly answered Jesus’s call to make disciples and to teach God’s commands, to the point that all the churches of the Gentiles have been touched by their ministry. What a legacy they have left! They showed generous hospitality, shared in the work of the ministry by opening their home as a church, demonstrated skill in gentle correction and leadership, obediently followed God’s leading during multiple moves, and took great risk for the sake of their brother in Christ. It might even be fair to say their influence has extended to this church of Gentiles as well.

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