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Paul’s Partners (5): Aquila and Priscilla (1)

David Williamson, Newtownabbey

In recent papers we have considered Barnabas and Timothy. In the next two articles we will look at a Godly couple to whom Paul was infinitely indebted.

Before we do so we should observe the appreciation Paul had for sisters. Paul often gets a bad press because of his teaching in 1 Corinthians 14 concerning the silence of women in the local church. Yet, if we take an unbiased view of his writings we quickly discover that he was no chauvinist! He refers to many sisters very positively in his writings. La Sor notes, "For a woman-hater, Paul certainly had a long list of female fellow-workers!".

Sisters have a role to play which is as important as that of brothers in the assembly. However it is not a public role and this much is made very clear in the New Testament

Their Unity

There are six occasions in the New Testament when reference is made to Aquila and Priscilla, and on each occasion both names are mentioned together. This couple is viewed as a unit! How were they united?

They were united in marriage

This made them one in the eyes of God. "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh" (Eph 5.31). A new unit is set up in marriage. A very practical lesson is that those who are married should function as a unit.

They were united as Christians

It is evident that Aquila and Priscilla were both Christians. The Bible does not condone a believer marrying an unbeliever for it would be impossible to enjoy unity in a spiritual sense! In 2 Corinthians 6.14 Paul asks, "…what communion hath light with darkness?". For those who are younger, the lesson is simple. Do not allow your affections to grow toward unbelievers – such attraction must be nipped in the bud.

They were united in service

The greatest evidence of their unity was their devoted service for God. For example, they shifted their home from Corinth to Ephesus to support Paul, and they opened their home for use by Paul, Apollos, and the local church! This essential service would have been impossible had they not been one in aim and ambition. The importance to the work of the Lord of devoted young couples can hardly be over-estimated. One foundation principle is that the couple must be united in the Lord’s interests – this was undoubtedly the case with Aquila and Priscilla.

Of the 6 references to the couple, most translations agree that 4 mention Priscilla first, and the remaining 2 mention Aquila first. Why is Priscilla (the female) mentioned first so often? One reason is that the primary service rendered to God by this couple was the use of their home! The use of the home would undoubtedly put extra stress and work onto the lady of the house – so Paul and Luke recognise her devoted service.

We should not forget that there are many zealous sisters who serve the Lord faithfully in their own sphere. Largely their work is unrecognised. However, we can be assured that no work for the Lord will go unrecognised or unrewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Their History

There are many theories put forward as to the history of this couple. The Scriptures do not give us very much information but there is enough to paint a rough picture as follows.

Geographically

The birth-place of Aquila was a Roman province called Pontus which was on the southern coast of the Black Sea, where Turkey is today. In Acts 18.2 Aquila is in Corinth and we are informed that he had been "born in Pontus", and was "lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome)". So Aquila was born in Pontus, at one stage lived in Rome, and had arrived in Corinth.

The sovereign purpose of God was being worked out in the life of these believers. They were brought together (likely in Rome), then an edict by Claudius Caesar brought them from Rome to Corinth just in time to be of benefit to Paul! As Solomon noted, "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will" (Prov 21.1). The words of Cowper are very true:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm
.

Socially

Why was Aquila residing in Rome at all? One theory is that he had been a slave, taken from Pontus to Rome, but was now a freedman. By way of contrast, it is generally thought that Priscilla came from an ancient and well-connected Roman family. If so, we have one of the great triumphs of the gospel worked out in the marriage of this couple – the removal of social distinctions!

It is sad to note that the worldly practice of making distinctions between rich and poor can creep in among saints! The gospel is the great leveller of humanity and everyone who has properly understood it should not place undue emphasis on social status in the world. James reminds us of this problem in his letter "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (2.1-13).

Religiously

Aquila was a Jew. Nothing is said of Priscilla. There seems little doubt that both were saved before they met Paul. We have no record of either of their conversions but their actions speak for themselves! Aquila may have heard the gospel in Acts 2 where we read that on the Day of Pentecost there were "dwellers...in Pontus" there. While there is no way of knowing how they became Christians, there is evidence that they were Christians! It is by a person’s life that the reality of their conversion becomes manifest.

Their Industry

Both husband and wife were involved in the trade of tent-making. Through this occupation contact was made with Paul who was also "of the same craft" (Acts 18.3). In 1 Corinthians 9 we learn that Paul was determined not to take financial support from the Corinthians (vv.14-15). Although he states clearly that he had the right to such support, he felt it better in the circumstances to waive that right. He determined to work for his living while at Corinth and therefore be independent of financial support.

We can imagine Paul arriving in Corinth and looking for work. Eastern cities followed a different layout to our towns. Similar trades were usually grouped together in the same area of the city. Thus, Paul probably searched out the tent-makers and made known that he was looking for work. He was informed about Aquila, a tentmaker, just arrived from Rome, who was looking for a helper! Imagine the delight of both when they discovered that they not only shared the same trade but the same Lord! So we read that "because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers" (Acts 18.3).

Could anyone deny that God was behind such a meeting? In an immoral and idolatrous city like Corinth, God had prepared for Paul a job, a lodging place, and fellowship with Christians! God had Paul in his place, and He had Aquila and Priscilla in their place! It is not important whether our role is public or private. What is important is that we fulfil the role God has given us, whatever it may be. In 1 Corinthians 12 this truth is illustrated by the human body and its members. Each member of the human body has a distinct function but it operates for the good of the whole body. The more prominent members are no more necessary than the hidden members. So, in the local assembly every believer has a function which is both unique and essential for the good of the whole.

To be continued.

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