Prisca/Priscilla (Priska/Priskilla) and her husband Aquila (Akylas) were Jewish-Christian teachers and coworkers of Paul’s who supported and/or led churches in at least three cities: Rome (Rom 16:3-5), Corinth (Acts 18:2-3; 1 Cor 16:19-20), and Ephesus (Acts 18:19; 2 Tim 4:19). Priscilla was a common name in Rome, mentioned on some two hundred Greek inscriptions from Rome.
On the one hand, Milinovich thinks the “couple’s ability to transition through three major cities, each time holding a residence large enough to support a faith community, suggests they were relatively wealthy.”1 On the other hand, Lampe thinks the ability to travel is not an indication of considerable financial means.
Paul meets Prisca and Aquila when he arrives in Corinth from Athens:
There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome. Paul approached them, and because he worked at the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them (for they were tentmakers by trade). (Acts 18:2-3)
Prisca and Aquila once lived in Rome but were expelled when, in AD 49, Emperor Claudius evicted the Jews from the city because of quarrels over Chrestus (Christ) (Suetonius, Claudius 25.4).
Contrary to the traditional view that both were leather workers selling primarily to the military, they more likely sewed linen tents for private customers for use as tents on the beach, sunshades in the atrium, or market stalls (leather tents for the military were sewn mainly by imperial slaves and freedmen or by the soldiers themselves, many of whom were craftsmen, as attested in Vegetius de re militari 2.11 and inscriptions at Hadrian’s Wall).2
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak out fearlessly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. When Apollos wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he assisted greatly those who had believed by grace, for he refuted the Jews vigorously in public debate, demonstrating from the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)
Paul’s acceptance of Apollos as a coworker (1 Cor 1:10-12; 3:1-8) attests to the teaching ability of Prisca and Aquila.
In Rom 16:3 Paul tells the Roman church to greet the couple, implying they are back in Rome. Perhaps they returned to Rome after Claudius’s death in AD 54 (Romans was written in AD 55-57). Paul calls them coworkers (synergos). Paul does not call Christians in general coworkers (cf. Rom 16:9 [Urbanus], 21 [Timothy]; 1 Cor 3:9 [Apollos]; 2 Cor 8:23 [Titus]; 1 Thess 3:2 [Timothy]; Phil 2:25 [Epaphroditus]; 4:3 [Clement]; Col 4:11 [Jesus/Justus]; Phlm 1 [Philemon]; 24 [Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke]). In 1 Cor 16:16-18 he urges the congregation to be subject to his coworkers, indicating the term refers to a leadership position. Hence, Prisca and Aquila held a leadership position. In Rom 16:4 we read that the couple risked their lives for Paul’s life and that all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. We are not told when or how the couple risked their lives for Paul’s life. Perhaps they did so during the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41; cf. 1 Cor 15:32; 2 Cor 1:8-11). We are also not told why all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Is it because they saved Paul’s life and Paul went on to be a blessing to all the churches of the Gentiles? Is it because they opened their homes to churches in Corinth (Acts 18:2-3; 1 Cor 16:19-20), Ephesus (Acts 18:19; 2 Tim 4:19), and Rome (Rom 16:5)? Was it because of their own missionary activity?
Even if one finds the authenticity of 2 Timothy questionable, Aquila and Prisca’s identity as known associates of Paul who were apparently reasonably mobile is well established by other sources. If Aquila and Prisca were known to and appreciated by “all the churches of the Gentiles,” as Paul states in Rom 16:3–4, any alleged pseudepigrapher of 2 Timothy would risk exposure by greeting them in 2 Tim 4:19. This risk would have been magnified if the letter had indeed been delivered to and read in Ephesian churches, some of which could very plausibly have contained associates of Aquila and Prisca. Consequently, even if one doubts 2 Timothy’s status as a genuine Pauline letter, it seems likely that the letter’s ostensible location of Aquila and Prisca in Ephesus is veracious.3
Prisca’s name precedes Aquila’s in all the biblical texts except Acts 18:2 and 1 Cor 16:19. She held some kind of special prominence. Was she more active in church life? Was she the more prominent teacher? Was she of a higher social status? Was she converted before her husband? Whatever the answer, she was at least as involved in the ministry as her husband. Later copyists may have struggled with her role. In some textual variants her formal name Prisca is diminished to Priscilla or the order of the names is changed.
Church tradition of the 6th century claimed that the house-church of Prisca and Aquila was the basis of the later Roman “title”-church, “Prisca,” on the Aventine. There is no proof for this connection or for any relation to the Roman catacomb “Priscilla”.4
Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.
Lampe, Peter. “Aquila (Person).” Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Lampe, Peter. “Prisca (Person).” Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Milinovich, Timothy. “Prisca.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.
Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.
Stark, J. David. “Aquila.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.