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Published Date: February 8, 2024

Published Date: February 8, 2024

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When Is Teaching Not Teaching?

Editor’s Note: This is a CBE 2023 Writing Contest Honorable Mention.

As an author and writer, I often get asked to speak at church meetings, which is something I particularly enjoy. For Lent 2023, I contacted local church leaders from a variety of denominations to ask whether I could speak about Lent and my novels, which are in the genre of biblical fiction. A local pastor contacted me, and we arranged a Thursday afternoon for me to go along to a church group to speak. The pastor, who was present the whole time, was very encouraging and thanked me warmly afterwards.

A few weeks later, I spoke to a member of the church who attended the meeting. They told me I could not have spoken on a Sunday, as women are not allowed to preach or teach in church on a Sunday or in some of their home groups — though they can in other groups, such as the one I attended. This shocked me, not only because of the warm reception from the pastor, who had invited me to the church and said nothing to me regarding this restriction but also because prohibiting women from teaching in churches is not as prevalent in the UK as it is in certain churches in the USA.

Digging a little deeper, I asked whether I had taught at the meeting, and my friend told me I had not; I had simply talked about my books. But I had spoken about Jesus’s death and resurrection—how Jesus had female disciples, how he interacted with them, and what happened afterwards, as seen in Acts. To me, this was teaching about the Bible and, dare I say, theology, regardless of it being a Thursday afternoon in a home group rather than in church on a Sunday. What is the difference?

This question is important because, to those who believe women should not teach men, it limits what women can say to different groups on different days. Was I simply talking about my books, or was I teaching? Does it depend on the day of the week or the venue? I was struck with similarities to how the Biblical character Priscilla and her husband Aquila are viewed in relation to Priscilla’s teaching.

Who Were Priscilla and Aquila?

Prisca is often referred to by her pet name Priscilla and, along with her husband Aquila, is mentioned six times in the New Testament (Acts 18:2, 18–19, Romans 16:3–5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19). They are always spoken of together, showing how close they were and how Paul viewed both as his co-workers.

It was usual in Roman society to name the husband first, but Priscilla is named before Aquila four times. Maybe she was of a higher social standing, or maybe she was more prominent in the church than Aquila.[1]

Why Were They Important to Paul?

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. (Romans 16:3–5, NIV)

Paul gives us a tantalising insight into their lives, calling them his co-workers. I would love to know the circumstances of how they risked their lives for him, but the mere fact that they did so shows they were a brave couple who risked everything for the gospel.

They were Greek-speaking Jews, and we know Aquila was from Pontus (nowadays in northern Turkey); it is likely Priscilla was from there too. When we first hear about them, they had been expelled from Rome under Emperor Claudius in the AD 40s and made their way to Corinth. As many leaders of the church were expelled during this time, it is likely they were already in church leadership.[2]

Settling in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, they set themselves up as tent makers, presumably a skill they brought with them from Rome. Based on what we know of living arrangements at the time, it is possible that they had a small shop with a workroom and living quarters at the back, which became the focus of a church meeting.[3] It was here in the spring of 50 AD that they met Paul, who stayed and worked with them in their business. 

In AD 52, they sailed to Ephesus alongside Paul, who soon left them for Jerusalem. With Claudius’s death in AD 54, they would have felt safe returning to Rome, and this may be when they returned. This fits in with their mention in Romans, written in the mid to late AD 50s. Paul’s prayer for himself was to go to Rome, and considering their close working relationship, they may have gone on ahead to prepare the church for his coming.[4]

Teaching Apollos

Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately. (Acts 18:24–26, NIV)

Apollos arrived in Ephesus and met with Priscila and Aquila, who noticed that there were gaps in his knowledge and understanding of his faith. Whatever the gaps were, they took him aside (or into their home) and explained more fully the doctrines of the Christian faith. Priscilla is mentioned first in this context, and she may have taken the lead. People from Pontus were often regarded as ignorant and stupid, and Apollos was from Alexandria, the seat of learning. He showed his true character, and he had no problem receiving instruction from a woman from Pontus.

Much is made of the words “they took him aside and explained” concerning Priscilla’s teaching. Especially in the light of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12, which appear to state that women should not teach or have authority over a man.

They took him aside. Where? Probably not the synagogue or in the street, but somewhere private, like their own home. Some people point out that this was an informal setting, and therefore, Paul’s prohibition for women to teach was not relevant here. But there were no formal church buildings as we would think of today, and their home was likely where the church met (1 Corinthians 16:19).

The authority of Paul’s teaching did not change whether he spoke to crowds in the marketplace, in prison, in a lecture hall, or in a house church. It also did not change whether he spoke on the sabbath or not. The validity of Paul’s teaching is never called into question, no matter the venue or day of the week.[5]

In the New Testament, there are several Greek words used to show the teaching and expounding of the Christian faith. In Acts 18:26, the Greek word, ektitēmi, is often translated into English as “explain.” Another word often used is didaskō, usually translated as “teach.” Is Priscilla “explaining” the gospel to Apollos a lesser act than “teaching” it, or does it carry the same weight and authority?[6]

Luke is the only writer in the New Testament to use ektitēmi, and he uses it four times in Acts. Two of these are used to describe how Peter and Paul spoke to a group (see Acts 11:4 and 28:23). Are these occasions on which Peter and Paul spoke less important because of the word “explain” (ektitēmi) rather than “teach” (didaskō)?

It’s also worth asking how the early church viewed Priscilla and Aquila. The fourth-century theologian John Chrysostom highlights Priscilla as the one who taught Apollos the way of the Lord, and how she, more than Aquila, made their home a church. This shows that early in church history, Priscilla’s teaching of Apollos was recognised for what it was. . . teaching.[7]

Putting It All Together

Let’s go back to the beginning and the question of whether my Thursday talk was “teaching” or not. I did a similar talk on a Sunday morning in another church during the sermon slot. Should we class this as preaching, teaching, or explaining—and does it matter? If I show you how to knit, it makes no difference whether you say I explained it to you or taught you. If you could not knit before and you can now, the result is the same—regardless of the day of the week. It is nonsense to say that my speaking on a Thursday is less important than my speaking on a Sunday. It is nonsense to call my teaching anything other than teaching simply because of my gender.

Photo by Matej Kastelic on Shutterstock.

[1] Joan Taylor and Helen Bond, Women Remembered: Jesus’ Female Disciples, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2022), 148.

[2] Joan Taylor and Helen Bond, Women Remembered: Jesus’ Female Disciples, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2022), 151–152.

[3] Nijay K. Gupta, Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church. (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2023), 129.

[4] Joan Taylor and Helen Bond, Women Remembered: Jesus’ Female Disciples, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2022), 162.

[5] Marg Mowczko, “At Home with Priscilla and Aquila,” accessed February 12, 2024,

[6] Nijay K. Gupta, Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church. (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2023), 135.

[7] Nijay K. Gupta, Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church. (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2023), 137.

Related Resources

Video: Why Pastor Priscilla Ends Christian Patriarchy
Resolving Five Complementarian Protests to Priscilla the Pastor-Teacher
Women in Scripture and Mission: Priscilla