Prisca (Pricilla) and Aquila

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There are three references to Prisca (Priscilla) in the Pauline letters (1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:25; 2 Tm 4:19) and another three in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 18:23, 18, 26). In the Pauline letters she is called Prisca, whereas in Acts she is called Priscilla, which is the diminutive of Prisca. Among the individuals connected with Paul's evangelizing work, Priscilla and Aquila stand out because they are always mentioned together as a married couple. A Judeo-Christian couple, originally from Pontus in northern Asia Minor, they converted to Christianity most likely in Rome. Priscilla is usually named before her husband, which may imply that she had a stronger personality or that she was the more active of the two.

By examining the historical and social setting in which their mission took place, a more comprehensive view emerges of the couple's evangelizing activities. They moved from Rome to Corinth, as a result of the Emperor Claudius's edict, probably in 49 a.d., of expulsion against the Jews (Acts 18:12). In Corinth they met Paul. They hosted him in their home, offering him not only a place to stay but also employment in their tent-making workshop (Acts 18:2). When Paul left Corinth for Ephesus, the couple accompanied him (Acts 18:18). In Ephesus they hosted a community in their house and were actively involved in instructing Apollos "more accurately" about Jesus (Acts 18:26). The earliest reference to the couple is 1 Cor 16:19 when Paul, probably writing from their home in Ephesus, associates the couple in greeting the Corinthians. In the letter to the Romans (16:25) they head the long list of people greeted by Paul. Paul speaks highly of them and calls them "my co-workers in Christ Jesus." The title "co-worker" is given by Paul to a limited number of people associated with his missionary work, and Prisca and Aquila are the only married couple given this title. As close friends of Paul, they even "risked their own necks" (Rom 16:3) for him; how or when is unknown. Since only Roman citizens would be sentenced to decapitation, one wonders whether this phrase hints to death by decapitation, thus revealing the social status of the couple as Roman citizens. Their willingness to face dangerous situations for a common cause strengthened the bond between Paul and the couple. Paul says then: "To whom the Churches of the Gentiles give thanks." Though of Jewish origin (at least Aquila), the couple was supportive of Paul's mission to the Gentiles in Corinth and Ephesus.

The church that met in their home in Rome was probably a mixed assembly of Gentiles and Jews. Gentile Christians felt welcomed by Prisca and Aquila and were grateful to them. In 2 Tm 4:19 Paul, imprisoned in Rome, sends greetings to Aquila and Priscilla who are in Ephesus. If 2 Tm is an authentic letter of Paul, it provides additional information about Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, and if it is not written by Paul, it evidences how renowned Priscilla and Aquila were in the post Pauline era. Taking advantage of the sophisticated transportation system of the Roman Empire, Priscilla and Aquila traveled extensively and established themselves in some of the most bustling cities of the empire, like Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. In these cities they opened their house to host other Christians. In early times of Christianity the house was the gathering place to celebrate their liturgy and to support one another. Of the four times (Phlm 2; Col 4:10; 1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:4) in which the house churches are mentioned in the NT, two of them refer to Aquila and Priscilla's house in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:19) and Rome (Rom 16:4). The apocryphal Acts of Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila when Paul enters their house in Ephesus. The Acts of Aquila mentions Clement and Niketas as the sons of this couple and describes the relationship of Aquila and Priscilla with Peter in Rome. Some archaeologists relate the church of St. Prisca in Rome to the site of the house of Prisca and Aquila on the Aventine.

Feast; Feb. 13 (Eastern Church), July 8 (Western Church).

Bibliography: m. barbero, A First-century Couple, Priscilla and Aquila: Their House Churches and Missionary Activities, (Ph.D. Dissertation. The Catholic University of America; Washington, DC, 2001); murphy-o'connor "Prisca and Aquila: Traveling Tentmakers and Church Builders," Bible Review 8:6 (1992) 4051.

[m. barbero]