A figure of the early Church who deserves to be remembered
The name of Priscilla in the New Testament does not come up often in Bible study. Yet, as Ben Witherington III explains in “Priscilla—An Extraordinary Early Christian Life” (Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2019), perhaps she should. The apostle Paul himself, in Romans 16:3, notes she and Aquila, “risked their lives for me, and not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.”
Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, appear in the New Testament alongside Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1–4), in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16), and in Rome (Romans 16). A church even met in their house (1 Corinthians 16:19). Based on these references, Witherington is convinced that “Priscilla was not a mere patroness or supporter of men in ministry. She was a coworker and minister alongside Paul,” and the most frequently mentioned woman who worked with him to spread Christianity.
Priscilla played such a significant role in the New Testament that later readers were uncomfortable with her prominence as a woman in the Church. Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and enhanced his instruction in the way of the Lord (Acts 18:24–26). Apollos was an acclaimed Christian evangelist. As Witherington explains, the Western text of Acts removes Priscilla’s role as a teacher of this prominent male figure in the early Church.
The name Priscilla is a famous Roman name, adorning a catacomb along the Via Salaria. It was probably named for the wife of the consul Manius Acilius Galabrio, who was executed in the late first century C.E. after becoming a Christian. Though Priscilla, as a Jewess, would not have been related to this family, Witherington speculates she had some connection, possibly as a freed slave. Whether there is any connection or not, her important role in the Pauline outreach to Gentiles is not in doubt.
To read more about Priscilla in the New Testament, see Ben Witherington III’s Biblical Views column, “Priscilla—An Extraordinary Early Christian Life,” published in the November/December 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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A version of this post first appeared in Bible History Daily in November, 2019
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