Circumstances bkyond our control are not beyond God’s control, in fact not only do ‘all things work together for good’, Rom 8. 28, to them that love Him, but also, the things that happen to us if we serve Him will fall out ‘unto the furtherance of the gospel’, Phil 1. 12. This is well illustrated in the life and work of Aquila and Priscilla.
Aquila was a Jew born in the province of Pontus, a Roman colony in the north of Asia Minor, south of the Black Sea. Peter’s congregation at Pentecost had amongst it Jews from that province, Acts 2. 9, who heard the gospel in their own language. He later wrote to Christians there, 1 Pet. 1.1. Aquila like most Jews was given a Greek name; his means ‘eagle’.
Aquila’s father taught him tentmaking, following the Jewish tradition of teaching all sons a practical trade irrespective of what profession they might follow later, such as a lawyer, or a teacher. The tents were no doubt of a portable kind, as was the occupation. It led Aquila to Rome where he possibly met his wife. This is quite possible because Prisca, 2 Tim. 4. 19, is a Latin name, that of an old and venerated Roman family. This is not to say that she was a Gentile, for Jewish families usually became quite assimilated into the local population, and used local names. Her name means ‘old woman’. For some reason though she was known by the diminutive form of her name, that is to say Priscilla, which means literally ‘little old woman’! We shall assume that they were converted before they left Rome. Knowing Paul’s concern about going into partnership (fellowship) with unbelievers, it seems unlikely that he would join them in a business if they were unsaved, 2 Cor. 6. 14.
Their Departure from Rome
It was when they were in Rome that the emperor Claudius ordered the expulsion of all Jews from the city. Roman emperors were often anti-semitic, and glad of any opportunity to expel them. This time, according to a Roman historian, the Jews rioted over someone called Crestus. It is quite possible that this was in fact persecution against the Jewish followers of Christ. The end result however was that all Jews were ordered to leave the city, Aquila and Priscilla among them, Acts 18. 2. History informs us that in the event not all actually left, and later most who did leave were able to return, as later did Aquila and Priscilla, Rom. 16. 3.
Aquila and his wife decide to sail to Corinth, a busy, up-and-coming colony where they could continue their trade. They would probably have landed at Lechaeumi, Corinth’s western port, and walked to the city carrying their belongings. It was a city with an international reputation for immorality, yet it was where they had to live for the time being. With so many people leaving Rome perhaps this was the only sailing they could get. They soon found a place to live and settle down to the business of tentmaking.
Paul Finds Them
Soon afterwards someone else arrived in Corinth, this time landing at its eastern port of Cenchrae. Acts 18. 2 tells us that Paul ‘found’ Aquila, cf. 2 Tim 1. 17. How Paul came to be looking for him we don’t know, whether he was looking for believers, Jews or tentmakers, but we know that he ‘abode with them, and they wrought’, Acts 18. 3. Paul had already worked with his hands at Thessalonica, and would yet do so at Ephesus, When support from believers was unavailable, he not only supported himself, but was prepared to support fellow-workers also when necessary.
No doubt Paul would return home with Aquila and Priscilla after the synagogue meetings on the sabbath when the gospel had been preached. It was here that all the triumphs and tragedies of the work were discussed. It was here that the Lord Himself appeared to Paul to tell him not to be afraid, but to go on preaching because He had ‘much people in this city’, adding that his physical safety was assured, vv. 9-11.
Possibly Timothy and Silas moved in as well when they come down from Macedonia bringing news and gifts from the assemblies in that area. They too would come to know these good folk who would then become lifelong friends, v. 5.
Their Move to Ephesus
Eventually the work at Corinth was completed; a thriving assembly was now in existence, ft was showing all the signs of gift and had a zeal for the gospel. Paul took his leave of the city, sailing east towards Syria with Priscilla and Aquila. On the way he stopped at Ephesus. This was his first visit, for although he had earlier intended to enter that part of Asia where Ephesus was situated, the Holy Spirit had forbidden him, Acts 16. 6. He was well received in the synagogue at Ephesus, and the Jews there were keen for him to stay, but he insisted that he must go on to Jerusalem. However he promised that, God willing, he would return. He is however able to leave Priscilla and Aquila here to carry on a witness to the gospel. Acts 18. 18-22.
At Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla were to meet a challenge, but also see blessing. The challenge came in the form of the arrival in the city of a Jew very different by nature and background to themselves. He came, not like Aquila from a little-known province, or like Priscilla from antisemitic Rome but from Alexandria in Egypt, where there was a famous Jewish university. This man Apollos had been through the university, and it showed. He was eloquent and mighty in the scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, and spoke and taught accurately ‘the things concerning the Lord’, 18. 24-28. We might think this man was a Christian already, but the one important shortcoming in his spiritual development was that he only knew John the Baptist’s baptism, cf. 19. 3. Thus we might understand that he knew nothing of the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit. After he spoke in the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla took him home and even more accurately expounded the way of God to him. Although Apollos had been used to being taught by a professor, he was now taught by a tentmaker and his wife in their home. They were neither antagonistic to, nor intimidated by his educational background, The things that they themselves had been taught in public and in their home by the apostle Paul, they were now able to pass on accurately to Apollos.
Apollos leaves Ephesus for Corinth
By the time Apollos was fully instructed and ready to move on, this time to Achaia (and thus Corinth), there were other believers in Ephesus, for ‘the brethren’ wrote a letter of commendation for him. When he arrived in Achaia he ‘helped them much which had believed through grace: for he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ’, vv. 27, 28. Reading the beginning of chapter 18 we see that this is exactly what Paul had done there himself some time before! So then, the things that Aquila and Priscilla had taught him privately, he is now giving out publicly, using his knowledge of the scriptures to do so. Tentmakers had now become missionaries, without it ever being mentioned that either of them said a word in public!
Paul arrives back in Ephesus
Paul eventually arrives back in Ephesus and is able to carry on a great work there for the Lord, probably living again in the house of Priscilla and Aquila and whenever it is necessary, working with his hands, 1 Cor. 4. 11. It was from Ephesus that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, having heard of the sad state of affairs in the assembly they had left not three years before, to which also their friend Apollos (now back in Ephesus with them) had been such a help. He tells them that Priscilla and Aquila ‘salute you much in the Lord’. The expression ‘in the Lord’ is obviously meant to express their concern over the Corinthians’ lack of obedience to the Lord and His servants.
There was now an assembly meeting in their house, 1 Cor. 16. 19. Was this the Ephesian assembly, or another in the vicinity?
They leave Corinth (for Rome?)
Paul eventually leaves Ephesus for Corinth from where he later wrote his epistle to Rome. It seems his departure gave Aquila and Priscilla the opportunity to return to Rome again, for in Romans 16. 3 he refers to them and once more a church meeting in their house. As he asks the assembly at Rome who received the epistle to ‘salute the church that is in their house’, we may gather that there was another assembly in the vicinity of Rome.
In the same passage, he states that they are his ‘fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life laid down their own necks: whom not only I thank, but also all the churches of the Gentiles’, v. 4. There had been on the part of Priscilla and Aquila a willingness to risk their lives for Paul in an incident otherwise unknown to us, Paul gives his public thanks for this and adds the thanks of all the Gentile churches also. Not only would they give their time, energy and home to the Lord’s service, but were prepared if necessary to give their lives. What great devotion this couple showed.
From 2 Tim 4. 19 it seems that they still had one more journey to be recorded. Timothy is somewhere in Asia Minor, perhaps in or near Ephesus. Paul asks him to ‘salute Prisca and Aquila’. Had they once more been expelled from Rome, or had to leave because of some other reason? Whatever it was, we can be assured that they would take such a move, forced or otherwise as the Lord’s will, and leading to new opportunities. There is no mention of a church meeting in their house, but we know that they would be active in the Lord’s work, encouraging young men, teaching them, offering hospitality when necessary.
If they were unhappy at leaving Rome the first time, we can be sure that soon they came to understand that God was using them, and had planned their circumstances such that they could contribute to the furtherance of the gospel and the furtherance of the joy and faith of the saints, Phil. 1. 12, 25. Their efforts in helping the apostle Paul were of the highest order going far beyond most. They were devoted to the Lord’s service and servants in a way that only married couples can be, with the facility of a home and the opportunity to use that home to entertain saints and sinners alike. Let us all seek to emulate such servants of Christ.