Priscilla has become something of a feminist theological icon, on the rather slender grounds afforded in Acts 18 and St Paul’s Epistles.
On arriving in Corinth around 50 AD, Paul stayed and worked with a fellow tent-maker named Aquila, who, along with his wife Priscilla, had been forced to leave Rome by the Emperor Claudius’s persecution of the Jews.
In the Corinth synagogue most Jews strongly rejected Paul’s message, that Jesus was the Christ. Famously, Paul “shook the dust out of his garments, and said to them: ‘Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clear of it; henceforward I will go to the Gentiles.’ ”
So Paul went to live with one Titius Justus. Priscilla and Aquila, however, remained faithful to him over the next 18 months in Corinth, in testing circumstances.
For eventually the infuriated Jews dragged Paul before the proconsul Gallio to complain of his teaching. This official, though, loftily refused to concern himself with such a tedious internecine squabble.
When Paul departed from Corinth, he took Priscilla and Aquila with him to Ephesus, where he left them. Subsequently a Jew from Alexandria, named Apollos, arrived in Ephesus, and preached about Jesus.
Priscilla and Aquila discovered – an interesting sidelight, this, upon the uncertain bases of early Christianity – that Apollos “knew of no baptism except that of John”. They therefore befriended him, and “explained the way of God to him more accurately”. Subsequently, in Corinth, Apollos would rival Paul himself as a teacher of Christianity (1 Corinthians 1:12).
Around 52 AD Paul returned to Ephesus, where he stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, and wrote of “the church in their household”. (1 Corinthians 16:19).
Later, in Romans 16:3-4, Paul eulogises this couple, “who have worked at my side in the service of Christ Jesus, and put their heads on the block to save my life; not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles have reason to be grateful to them.”
Some modern scholars have excitedly observed that, in most of these texts, Priscilla’s name is placed before Aquila’s. There can be nothing new, however, in the proposition that women played a vital role in early Christianity.
The longest conversation in the Gospels is that between Jesus and the woman of Samaria (John 4). Jesus is surrounded by women both while He is travelling (Luke 8:1-3), and on his way to the Cross (Luke 23:27). After the Resurrection Mary Magdalen was the first person to see Him (John 20:14).
In Romans 16, Paul praises several women who had worked with him, including Junia, “foremost among the apostles”.
So the passages in which he degrades women (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:12-15) may well be later additions.
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