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Published Date: April 22, 2022

Published Date: April 22, 2022

Women in Scripture and Mission: Priscilla

Portrait courtesy of Cara Quinn from knowyourmothers.com.

Women in Scripture and Mission: Priscilla

Published Date: April 22, 2022

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Priscilla
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Priscilla

Priscilla and Mutuality in Marriage, Work and Ministry 

Priscilla worked together with her husband Aquilla as teachers, missionaries, and church planters. As Jewish Christians, they established on of the first place of Christin worship in Rome.1 However, when persecution broke out against Jews in Rome in AD 49, they moved to Corinth and planted a house church. Paul stayed and worked with them as tentmakers in Corinth (Acts 18:1-4), where they became close friends. Paul mentioned them six times in scripture and when reporting back to their sending church in Rome, he says, “they risked their lives for me” (Rom 16:1). 

From Corinth they moved to Ephesus where they began another church. In Ephesus they noticed that Apollo, another well taught and renowned Jewish Christian speaker, did not fully understand the gospel. Together they brought him into their home and instructed him (Acts 18:24-26). They later returned to Rome, where ancient Christian tradition holds that Priscilla and Aquila were killed in further persecutions against Christians in AD 64.2

Priscilla’s Name Listed First

Changing Marriage Patterns

Scripture often lists Priscilla’s name first. This is interesting because Roman customs paralleled the Western custom that list the man’s name first, as in “Mr. and Mrs.” Scholars agree that this unusual ordering signifies Priscilla’s importance. At the least, scholars think Priscilla is from an aristocratic family, related to the Roman senator Pudens. Aquilla is likely of the lower freedman status.3 

An aristocratic woman marrying someone of a lower class was a new movement in the Christian church. Understandably, Christ’s equalizing message attracted a great many women to the young and growing church, so much so that it became the target of jokes. However, the influx of Christian women made finding Christian men of the same class for marriage difficult. So, church leaders began to seek ways to change Roman law so that women of the senatorial class could marry slaves or freedmen.4 Priscilla and Aquilla may be early examples of this changing pattern.

Priscilla Leading in Ministry

While it is likely true that Scripture sometimes lists Priscilla’s name first due to her higher social status; Linda Belleview recognized a pattern of spiritual leadership. Luke and Paul cite Aquilla’s name first when introducing them in general or when referring to their tent-making work (Acts 18:2; 1 Cor. 16:19). However, they mention Priscilla’s name first when discussing issues of ministry (Acts 18:18; Rom. 16; 2 Tim 4:19), including the teaching of Apollo. Priscilla is the primary teacher who taught a gifted leader in their house church—the very church Paul restricts women unschooled in Scripture from usurping authority to domineer over men (1 Tim. 2:12).5 This switching of names speaks to the couple’s mutuality in leadership and indicates her appropriate use of authority. It also suggests that Priscilla took the lead in ministry.6

Priscilla: Author of Hebrews?

Since the time of the early church, Christians have suggested different authors for the anonymous book of Hebrews. In the last hundred years, scholars have begun to conclude that Priscilla could very well be this author. Factors that speak to this theory are: 

  • Priscilla’s obvious leadership ability
  • Priscilla’s aristocratic upbringing and education
  • Her close relationship with Paul and Timothy
  • Her ability to teach recognized teachers such as Apollo 

The fact that the author is anonymous though claims to have been a close companion of Paul and Timothy, lends credence to a woman author who did not want to hinder the book’s receptivity.

Additional Resources

To learn more about Priscilla, including the translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, see: “Priscilla Speaks,” by Mimi Haddad in Mutuality: Making Peace with Paul.

To learn about leaders working together in mutuality, listen to: Leaders Working Together Across the Gender Divide: Insights form Priscilla and Aquila, by Jeanne Porter.

To learn about Priscilla’s teaching and leadership, see “Equality in Ephesian Leadership,” by Dalaina May in Mutuality.

To see a thorough look at Priscilla’s life, see: “Priscilla, Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews?” By Mimi Haddad.

Ruth Hoppin has spent several decades studying the evidence of Priscilla’s authorship of Hebrews. See her work at:

Priscilla and Plausibility: Responding to Questions about Priscilla as Author of Hebrews” by Ruth Hoppin in Priscilla Papers, April 30, 2011.

The Book of Hebrews Revisited: Is Priscilla the author? And How Does this Epistle’s Theology Relate to Gender?” by Ruth Hoppin.

Priscilla’s Letter” by Estella B. Horning.

See the book review on the novel, “Priscilla: The Life of an Early Christian” in Priscilla Papers.

Notes

  1. Elizabeth Gillan Muir, A Woman’s History of the Christian Church: Two Thousand Years of Female Leadership (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019), 7. 
  2. Muir, A Woman’s History., 7. 
  3. Muir, A Woman’s History, 7. 
  4. Muir, A Woman’s History, 10. 
  5. See CBE listed articles to discuss the basis for this translation. 
  6. Linda L. Belleview, “Women Leaders in the Bible,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Cynthia Long Westfall, and Christa L. McKirland (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021), 83.