The Jewish Rabbi Jehuda wrote that ‘He who does not teach his son a trade is much the same as if he taught him to be a thief’. This was in addition to any academic training that a son might have been given. So, one of the most famous rabbis of them all, Hillel the Elder, supported himself by manual labour. The apostle Paul’s trade was tent-making and it was in his pursuit of this occupation in Corinth that he found Aquila and his wife Priscilla, 1 Cor. 4. 12. Like him, they had recently arrived in Corinth, Acts 18. 2.
Paul found that he already had a lot in common with Aquila: they were both Jews; both tentmakers; both from the same part of the world and both had recently arrived in Corinth. Whether Aquila and Priscilla had faith in Christ when Paul met them, we do not know, (however see Acts 2. 9 and 1 Pet. 1. 1), but if not, they soon did! Paul lodged with them and they were occupied together working with the tough goats’ hair fabric to make tents. What wonderful evenings they must have had, drinking in the apostle’s teaching after a busy day of work and/or evangelism. For the year and a half that they were with Paul under the same roof, they must have learned a lot. They eventually left Corinth with Paul, arrived with him at Ephesus, where he left them, Acts 18. 19, and went on himself to Jerusalem.
After Paul had left Ephesus, Apollos, a Jew from Alexandria, arrived in the city and began teaching in the synagogue. He obviously knew his Old Testament (‘mighty in the scriptures’), knew of the introduction of Jesus by John the Baptist and knew how to put his message over effectively. He was eloquent, fervent and bold in his speaking. As soon as Aquila and Priscilla heard him speaking in the synagogue, they were very happy with what he said as far as it went, but they immediately realized that there was something missing. They took him home and explained the full facts of the gospel, no doubt telling him what Paul had told them, ‘the way of God more perfectly’, Acts. 18. 24-26. Since Priscilla and Aquila were the hosts for the assembly meetings in Ephesus, Apollos must have had an opportunity to meet the saints as well and he was eventually in fellowship with them.
Aquila and Priscilla were still in Ephesus when Paul wrote his First Epistle to the Corinthians from that city, 1 Cor. 16. 19. However, when Paul eventually wrote to the believers at Rome, he sent his greetings to, and makes special mention of his fellow-workers, Aquila and Priscilla, Rom. 16. 3, who by then had obviously returned to Rome, since the ban on Jews had been lifted. He said that they had ‘for my life staked their own neck’, 16. 4 JND. While giving no details of this incident when they risked their lives for Paul, possibly in Ephesus, he was certainly thankful for this self-sacrificial act, but he said that all the Gentile assemblies were also indebted to them. In Rome, once again they were hosts of an assembly for its gatherings, 16. 5.
They are last mentioned some ten years later, when Paul sends his greetings to them via Timothy, 2 Tim. 4. 19. We do not know for sure where Timothy was, but he must have been somewhere in Asia Minor, where Paul had last left him in Ephesus, 1. Tim. 1. 3. So Priscilla and Aquila had moved again! These peripatetic helpers had now been active in Corinth in Achaia, Ephesus in Asia Minor and Rome in Italy – great Gentile Christian centres.
What kind of people were they? Priscilla is the more informal version of her proper name Prisca (cp. Sue and Susan), 2 Tim. 4. 19; Rom. 16. 3 RV, JND. She was obviously happy to be called by either, so she was not unfriendly, but someone who could be easily spoken to, who did not stand on ceremony. She was an industrious sister, engaged with her husband in the tent-making business, Acts 18. 3, as well as looking after her lodgers and making the necessary arrangements when the assembly gathered in her home for its meetings. When Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in the New Testament, her name often appears first. This must tell us that in the usual male-dominated society of the day, she stood out. Of course, she acted in private not in public in the spiritual realm. While she was silent in assembly meetings, she had a lot to say otherwise!
Aquila is never mentioned as a public speaker, but in private he was certainly able to teach the likes of Apollos, albeit with his wife’s help! They are always mentioned together and so, as a couple, served the Lord, leaving us a wonderful example, ‘being heirs together of the grace of life’, 1 Pet. 3. 7. They are the kind of people whose presence is indispensible in a local assembly. No mention is made of any children, but they used all their time and effort for the gospel and the assembly. For them the disappointment of unexpectedly losing their home and business in Rome eventually turns to the delight of being useful in the Lord’s service.
Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 29a.
Along with the other Jewish residents of Rome, Aquila and Priscilla had been expelled in AD 49 following civil unrest, probably due to orthodox Jews objecting to the gospel. They would be allowed to return some five years later.
Tarsus and Pontus in the east of modern-day Turkey.
This verse has led some to suggest that there was more than one assembly in Rome.