Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

At Home with Priscilla and Aquila

Leaders in the Church at Ephesus

Apollos was an impressive speaker. He was eloquent, knowledgeable, fervent, and bold. Priscilla and her husband Aquila were in a synagogue in Ephesus listening to him speak about Jesus, but they noticed something lacking in his message. Apollos did not know about Christian baptism.

Ephesus was a large city, and there was a sizeable Christian community there. Of all the Christians in the city, however, it was Priscilla and Aquila who approached Apollos with the aim of explaining the “way of God” (i.e. theology) to him more accurately (Acts 18:26). That they approached him may well be an indication of the couple’s function as leaders, or elders, in the Christian community at Ephesus.

Priscilla and Aquila had previously spent a year and a half working and ministering alongside the apostle Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3, 11, 18). Then all three had set sail together for Ephesus.[1] Paul then left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus where they were equipped to minister, having spent so much time watching, listening, and learning firsthand from Paul (Acts 18:19 cf. Rom. 16:3-5). The couple were well able to teach Apollos who was himself a teacher (Acts 18:25) and an up-and-coming apostle (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4-6, 21-22; 4:6, 9).

Priscilla and Aquila’s Invitation to Apollos

Several English translations of Acts 18:26 state that Priscilla and Aquila invited Apollos into their home (NIV, HCSB, ISV, GWT, WNT).[2] Other translations, however, state that the couple took Apollos aside (ESV, NASB, NET). The Greek verb used here, proslambanō, is commonly used with both meanings “receive into one’s home”[3] and “take along/aside.”

Considering the culture of hospitality in ancient societies, and the importance of fellowship for the first Christians, the translation that Priscilla and Aquila invited Apollos into their home is probably the correct one. Accordingly, an early Syriac translation of Acts 18:26 has the couple inviting Apollos “to their own house.”[4] I strongly doubt the three held a conversation that took place in the corner of the synagogue or on the side of the road.

Priscilla and Aquila hosted a house church in their home. It is probable that, during his stay with Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos was present at their church meetings. Perhaps Christian baptism was one of the topics of discussion and instruction at this meeting.

After experiencing the hospitality and ministry of Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos wanted to keep moving and keep ministering. So the “brothers and sisters,” possibly the members of Priscilla and Aquila’s house church who were now acquainted with Apollos, wrote to the disciples in Archaia asking them to welcome him (Acts 18:27 NIV).

“Grateful to Them”

According to Luke’s description in Acts 18:24-25, Apollos had already been instructed in the way of the Lord when he arrived in Ephesus, and he was teaching accurately about Jesus. But with the hospitality, teaching, and the correction offered by Priscilla and Aquila, he now knew the way of the Lord even more accurately.[5]

Apollos and Aquila, as well as Luke who records this story, do not appear to be in any way concerned that Priscilla, a woman, took the lead in ministering to Apollos, a man. That she played a more prominent part is indicated by Priscilla’s name coming before her husband’s in Acts 18:26 (cf. 18:18) in the more reliable Greek manuscripts.[6]

A few years later, Paul would warmly greet his friends who were now leading a house church in Rome. Again, Priscilla is mentioned first before her husband. In fact, she is mentioned first in Paul’s list of 28 Roman Christians. First!

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house (Romans 16:3-5 NIV).

Paul did not have a problem with godly women, like Priscilla, being ministers and leaders. Rather, he and many others were grateful for their service.


Footnotes

[1] The fact that Priscilla and Aquila spent so much time at Corinth and then set sail for Ephesus from the Corinthian port town of Cenchrea (cf. Acts 18:18), means the couple probably knew Phoebe, a minister of the church at Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1-2). Priscilla and Aquila met Phoebe in Rome, if not before. (More on this here.)

[2] These acronyms stand for the New International Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, International Standard Bible, God’s Word translation, and the Weymouth New Testament.

[3] See proslambanō (definition 4) in Walter Bauer’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, revised and edited by F.W Danker, (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 883.

[4] “Acts 18:26,” John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible (Source.)

[5] See Did Priscilla Teach Apollos? for more on the two Greek verbs behind Apollos’ “teaching” and Priscilla and Aquila’s “teaching.”

[6] In Acts 18:26 in Codex Bezae, also known as Codex D, Aquila’s name is first and Priscilla’s second. Stephanus adopted this reading in his Greek edition which influenced the King James Bible.
Priscilla is always mentioned with her husband, but other women ministers, including Phoebe, Euodia and Syntyche, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, and Nympha, are mentioned independently of men in the New Testament.

Postscript: August 29, 2021
On the Establishment of the church at Ephesus

“A Christian community was established in Ephesus in the 50s by Priscilla and Aquila, who had been left there by Paul on their journey from Corinth where they had met and ministered together (Acts 18:19). Paul then returned and spent two years there, enjoying a spectacular and fruitful ministry which saw the community grow but also provoked serious opposition.”
Ian Paul, Revelation (Tyndale New Testament Commentary, IVP Academic, 2018) p. 78.

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Related Articles

Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
Various articles on Priscilla here.
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
Were there women elders in New Testament churches?
The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Church Cultures that Include and Exclude Women Leaders
The Prominence of Women in the Cults of Ephesus
Phoebe: Deacon of the Church at Cenchrea
Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
A List of the 29 People in Romans 16:1-16

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

6 thoughts on “At Home with Priscilla and Aquila

  1. Another excellent post. I’ve always been kind of fascinated by the story of Priscilla teaching Apollos, especially since many Christians claim that a woman shouldn’t teach a man in spiritual or biblical manners. Priscilla proved otherwise and it’s interesting that she’s mentioned first before her husband Aquilla. Thank for another great topic. God Bless.

  2. Sunday morning, we awake to “Day One” on our radio, and the speaker was talking about Priscilla and Aquila as being TWO WOMEN. OK, so they both end in “a,” but what a nitwit!! I posted a note and asked him about it, and got back a notice that it has been corrected. Then I chewed him out for being lazy and Biblically illiterate. This guy is a pastor and seminary teacher!!

    I was waiting for him to call them a lesbian couple, but at least he hasn’t done that.

    I wish I would stop being stunned by such ignorance!!

    1. This idea (about Aquila and Priscilla both being women) was floated to me a few years ago, even though it says that Priscilla was “his” wife (Acts 18:2).

      Aquila’s name in the Greek text is Akulas (Ἀκύλας) which is declined in the same way as Thomas, Cephas, and Stephanas, etc. More on this here.

  3. It might be interesting to explore the topic of why Apollos didn’t know about baptism, despite an orthodox theology.

    In Baptist parlance, for example, such things are spoken as the difference between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge” –knowing not just what to think, but what to do about it.

    As a ministering couple leading a house church, taking in a traveling single male itinerant rhetorical evangelist, this is quite a marvelous scenario, and illustrative of the best in egalitrian evangelical theology.

    Great job, Priscilla and Aquila…and to you, as well, Marg!

    1. Hi Guy,

      Just as in the church today, there were many dodgy and semi-dodgy teachings in the very early church, and, in most cases, it’s hard to work out what these teachings entailed. “John’s baptism”, which is the baptism Apollos knew (Acts 18:25), comes up again in Acts 19:3ff, but this time it’s Paul which is correcting it, and not Priscilla and Aquila.

      Priscilla and Aquila also took in Paul, another travelling, single minister. Hospitality among the early Christians was a common.

      Ben Witherington notes the pattern of women who hosted both congregations and travelling ministers in the first century church (Lydia, Nympha, etc), and the importance of these women for the Christian message and mission. He writes:
      “Women converts of some means who offered occasional lodging and hospitality to fellow Christians became the equivalent of a ‘mother of the synagogue’ as their home . . . became regular meeting places of the converts in their areas. In a sense, the Church owed its continuing existence to these prominent women who provided both a place of meeting and the hospitality required by the community. . . . [Hospitality was] not only the physical support that kept the message going, but also the medium in which the message took hold and was preserved.”
      Women and the Genesis of Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 212-213.

      I saw the other comment you left, but I need to help my mother move and need to get going. I’ll try and respond when I have some free time and energy.

  4. Because I attended Protestant Evangelical churches when I was reborn, I was baptized once and thought it was “one and done”. Then I learned more about it and think it is just one example of immersing in a Jewish mikveh, which was done for many reasons repeatedly. One of the reasons is that it was done as the final step in the process of gentile proselyte conversion, when the person arose from the waters, they were thenafter considered a Jew, not a gentile. So I see this as a carry over.

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