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. According to Acts 18, Priscilla and her husband Aquila had travelled from Rome to Corinth when the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. 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. Cenchrea was roughly ten kilometres east from the centre of ancient Corinth. Because of this relatively short distance, Priscilla and Phoebe may have met on several occasions.
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. She may have even hosted the three in her home in her role as patron.
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 did not simply hand over letters to their recipients. Even if the recipient(s) could read, the carrier might read the letter aloud. What is more certain is that the carrier often passed on additional information and personal messages from the letter-writer.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is regarded as his magnum opus, and it was Phoebe who brought this letter to Rome. Perhaps she read it aloud to a congregation in Rome, but she most likely fielded questions from the Roman recipients about Paul and his letter. 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 fellow Jews and my fellow prisoners. They are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Romans 16:7.
As apostles (i.e. missionaries or emissaries), Andronicus and Junia would have travelled. Had they previously crossed paths with Phoebe?
Priscilla and Junia definitely knew each other. The two women were prominent in congregations in Rome and beyond and they may have had much in common. For instance, we know they had both jeopardised their safety because of their ministries.
Priscilla and Junia were probably in the group who assembled to hear Paul’s letter being read for the first time and to hear Phoebe’s commentary and personal messages from Paul.
When Phoebe arrived in Rome she may have stayed with Priscilla and her husband Aquila; the couple were known for their hospitality. And she may have found in both Priscilla and Junia kindred spirits. All three women, Phoebe, Priscilla and Junia, 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.
 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.)
 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.
 This scenario assumes that Phoebe was already a believer in the early-mid 50s and that there was already a church in Cenchrea. Or perhaps Phoebe became a believer during Paul’s visit to Cenchrea recorded in Acts 18:18. Paul described Phoebe as his patron (Rom. 16:2). Hospitality was one way of exercising patronage.
 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.
 Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned immediately after Paul asks the Christians in Rome to help Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-3). 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). 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).
© Margaret Mowczko 2016
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Depiction of the myrrh-bearing women on a twelfth-century sculpted capital in the Abbey of Saint Pierre, Mozac, France. (Wikimedia)
A List of the 29 People in Romans 16:1-16
At Home with Priscilla and Aquila
Phoebe: Deacon of the Church at Cenchrea
Junia: The Jewish woman who was imprisoned with Paul
1 Corinthians 16:16: Another submission verse that applies to women
More information on Priscilla is here.
More information on Junia is here.