Priscilla and Aquila: Models of Equality and Submission In Marriage and Ministry
William Dwight McKissic
Romans chapter 16 (sixteen) reveals the fact that there was a husband-wife missionary team in the early church who held a warm spot in the heart of the Apostle Paul. After Paul expressed a word of commendation to the Roman Church concerning the bearer of the Roman Epistle (Phoebe), he then expressed greetings to twenty-six persons by name. It is interesting to note that the first persons Paul sent greeting to in the Roman congregation was a woman by the name of Priscilla and her husband Aquila. Paul expressed greetings and appreciation to Priscilla and Aquila because they were fellow workers, risk takers and cross-cultural missionaries. Priscilla and Aquila enjoyed and experienced a healthy marriage and successful ministry because of their commitment to cross-gender equality and mutual submission. Couples in ministry today would do well to model their marriages and ministry after Priscilla and Aquila.
Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned six times in the New Testament (Acts 18:2, 18,26; Romans 16:3; I Corinthians 16:19; II Timothy 4:19). The two are always mentioned together. This suggests to me that couples in ministry ought to work so closely together that you can’t hardly mention one without mentioning the other. Three times where their names are mentioned, Priscilla’s name is mentioned first (Acts 18:18; Romans 16:3; and II Timothy 4:19). The other three times where their names are mentioned Aquila is mentioned first (Acts 18:2, 26; I Corinthians 16:19).
Priscilla must of played a prominent role in the life of the early church and in the ministry that she shared with her husband because it was most unusual for a wife’s name to be mentioned before her husband’s name in the Greco-Roman world. Both Luke ( the author of Acts) and Paul mentioned Priscilla’s name before Aquila. There are three reasons commentators give for Priscilla’s name being mentioned first: (1) Some speculate that she was converted before Aquila (2) Some say she was from an aristocratic prominent family in Rome (Her name seems to inidciate this). (3) Her contributions to the early church were equal to or greater than Aquila. Whatever the reasons were, it is significant, noteworthy and most unusal for a woman’s name to be mentioned before her husbands at this juncture in history.
Paul greeted this couple as his “fellow workers.” Paul shared a common secular profession with this couple. They all were tentmakers (Acts 18:3). Paul shared a common religious faith with this couple. They were all “in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3). They all shared a common ministry and sometimes traveled and ministered together (Acts 18:18). Paul called them fellow workers. They were workers not shirkers. Priscilla and Aquila together taught Appolos a deeper understanding of their house at Ephesus (I Corinthians 16:19) and at Rome (Romans 16:5). This was long before the days when there was any such thing as a church building. Aquila and Priscilla’s home served as a meeting place for a group of Christian folk. They housed Paul in their home at Corinth (Acts 18:3) and instructed Appolos in private, perhaps at their home in Ephesus (Acts 18:26). Priscilla and Aquila sent “heartily” greetings by Paul to the Christians at Corinth. Paul said this couple risked their necks for his life. Perhaps this was associated with the riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41). Aquila was Jew (Acts 18:2) and probably Priscilla as well. Yet, they were able to reach the gentiles for Christ.
It is quite obvious that Priscilla played a prominent role in the early church as a missionary, teacher, co-host, and leader of the church in her house. She was a “fellow worker”of Paul. One thing is for certain. She didn’t operate independent of Aquila. Nor did Aquila operate independent of her. They were co-equals and mutully submissive. Therefore, they enjoyed a successful marriage and ministry.
Priscilla, was afforded an opportunity to function with great freedom in ministry because she was empowered by her husband and supportive and submissive to him. Paul said with regard to church corporate gatherings, “that the head of every man is Chist and the head of woman is man and the head of Christ is God” (I Corinthians 11:3). Although Jesus was equal with God, He didn’t mind submitting to God (Philippians 2:5-8) so that there wouldn’t be conflict in the “godhead”.
In order for there not to be conflict in the church and in the home, God has granted a constitution for the church and the home and given the headship to the husband or male in the home and in the church. Aquila and Priscilla are great models for how homes and churches can operate with equality and submission for the unity of the church and home. The roles of elders and Senior pastors according to I Timothy 3:1-7 has been assigned to males. However, the biblical principle of mutual submission in interpersonal relationships and the example of Priscilla and Aquila dictates that males in leadership in home and in the church would be wise to empower and release the gifted and godly sisters that God has given to the church for the maximum impact on the church and community (Ephesians 5:21; I Peter 5:5).
In conclusion, there are at least seven lessons couples in ministry can learn from Priscilla and Aquila.
(1) Spend time in the company of an experienced minister (Paul).
(2) Spend time sharing with a lesser-experienced minister (Appolos).
(3) Do ministry where you can when you can (in a house).
(4) Greet people heartily (I Corinthians 16:19).
(5) If unmarried pray for a ministry partner.
(6) Your mate can make or break your ministry.
(7) Minister across socio-economic – ethnic lines.
(8) Put your neck on the line for ministry (Fight for the faith).