were-priscilla-phoebe-and-junia-friends

Priscilla, Phoebe and Junia are three women mentioned in the New Testament who were associated with the apostle Paul. Their ministries sometimes involved travel which enabled the women to meet. Did these women become friends?

Priscilla and Phoebe in Corinth and Cenchrea

Priscilla was a close friend of Paul. From Acts 18, we know that Priscilla and her husband Aquila had travelled from Rome to Corinth when the emperor expelled the Jews from Rome.[1] Soon after, in around 50 AD, Paul met the couple in Corinth, and he stayed and worked with them. After some time, Paul left Corinth for Syria via Ephesus, and Priscilla and Aquila went with him. The three set sail from the Corinthian harbour of Cenchrea (Acts 18:18).

There was a church in the port town of Cenchrea. And a woman named Phoebe was patron and deacon (or minister) of that church.[2] Cenchrea was roughly ten kilometres east from the centre of ancient Corinth. Because of this relatively short distance, Priscilla and Phoebe may have met several times.

If Phoebe was at Cenchrea when Paul, Priscilla and Aquila were there, I can’t imagine she would have missed the opportunity to meet and farewell the three as they set off for Ephesus.[3]

Priscilla, Junia and Phoebe in Rome

A few years later, Paul entrusted a letter to Phoebe. There was no state-run postal service available to the average person in those days, so people often relied on trusted friends to carry their letters. Letter-carriers, typically, did not simply hand over letters to their recipients. Even if a recipient could read, carriers usually read letters aloud. Sometimes the letter-writer would coach the carrier in how to read (or “perform”) the contents of the letter with rhetorical affectations. The letter-writer might also provide the carrier with additional information and instructions regarding the letter.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is regarded as his magnum opus. It was Phoebe who brought this letter to Rome. She was the first to read it aloud to a congregation and she, most likely, fielded questions from the Roman recipients. Among the recipients were Priscilla and Junia.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (in around 56-58 AD), Priscilla and her husband had returned to Rome, and Paul sent greetings to them.

Say hello to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life. I’m not the only one who thanks God for them, but all the churches of the Gentiles do the same. Also say hello to the church that meets in their house. Romans 16:3-5a CEB

Paul also sent greetings to Andronicus and Junia, another couple in the Roman church:

Say hello to Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and my fellow prisoners. They are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Romans 16:7 CEB.

As apostles (or missionaries) Andronicus and Junia would have travelled.[4] Had they previously crossed paths with Phoebe?

What is certain is that Priscilla and Junia knew each other. The two women were colleagues of Paul and were prominent in congregations in Rome and beyond. The two women probably had much in common. For instance, we know they had both jeopardised their safety because of their ministries.

Priscilla and Junia could well have been in the group who had assembled to hear Phoebe read and explain Paul’s letter for the very first time.

Kindred Spirits?

When Phoebe arrived in Rome she may have stayed with Priscilla and Aquila.[5] And she may have found in both Priscilla and Junia kindred spirits. These women were already part of Paul’s network. Did they form their own network too?

Did the women keep in touch? Did they send their own letters to each other? Did they become firm friends? I hope so.

I’m grateful that it is easier than ever to keep in touch with fellow Christian ministers all over Australia and all over the world. I’m especially grateful for certain women in my network who are kindred spirits. I don’t see these women often enough, but they are never far away, thanks to the internet.

So at the end of 2016, here’s a shout out to just a few of the wonderful women who make me stronger. Bev, Bronwen, Desiree, Gail, Jen, Karina, Lesley, and Lyn, you are in my thoughts and prayers. I value your friendship, encouragement, and ministry.


Endnotes

[1] The Roman historian Suetonius wrote that Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49 AD: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.” (Life of Claudius 25.4). Is “Chrestus” a misspelling of “Christ”? (More on this here.)

[2] In his letters, Paul typically uses the Greek word diakonos (“deacon”) for an agent or minister with a sacred commission. Deacons in the New Testament church had a different range of ministries to many deacons today. More information on the role of deacons in the apostolic and post-apostolic church is here.

[3] This scenario assumes that Phoebe was already a believer in the early-mid 50s, and that there was already a church in Cenchrea.

[4] The word “apostle” is translated from the Greek word apostolos which has a similar range of meanings as “missionary” which is derived from a Latin word missionis.

[5] Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned immediately after Paul asks the Christians in Rome to help Phoebe (Rom. 16:2-3). This help would have included offering Phoebe a place to stay. Priscilla and Aquila seem to have been hospitable people. Paul stayed with them for a while in Corinth (Acts 18:3, 18). Eusebius tells us that Paul stayed with them in Asia Minor, too, presumably in Ephesus (Church History 2.18.9). Apollos may also have stayed with them in Ephesus (Acts 18:26). Furthermore, the couple hosted and led congregations in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19; cf. 2 Tim. 4:19) and in Rome (Rom. 16:5).

Image Credit

Statue of a Roman woman, c. 100–110 AD. Source: Wikimedia.


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At Home with Priscilla and Aquila
Did Priscilla teach Apollos?
Junia in Romans 16:7
Phoebe: Deacon of the Church at Cenchrea
Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
Paul’s Greeting to Women Ministers