Women in the Early Church:  Priscilla

Adapted from a sermon preached at Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Hallowell, Maine, May 29, 2022.  Scripture:  Acts 18:1-11, 24-26

*My thanks to the Rev. Tim Breen for his Bible Study on Priscilla and Aquila. It can be found here.

In researching information on Priscilla, I was especially drawn to a Bible Study that I found online, written by the Rev. Tim Breen, that considered Priscilla in terms of her working relationship with her husband, Aquila, labeling the two of them a “dynamic duo.”

The Bible has other dynamic duo couples—Abraham and Sarah, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, etc.  For each of these couples, both persons were significant.  Both contributed in meaningful and important ways.  It’s actually hard to think of one without the other.  That’s true for Priscilla and Aquila as well.

As a pair, they worked together—with Paul—to spread the good news, to share love and hope, to make real the Risen Christ in the lives of many, many people.  They were critical to the success of the early church.  If they had been writers whose letters or other written material had been treasured and kept, perhaps we would know them just as well as we know Paul. 

Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers native to Rome. After the persecution of the Jewish people under the Emperor Claudius, they made their way to Greece, where they encountered the Apostle Paul and tutored the dynamic evangelist Apollos. Their impact on these Christian leaders – and the bravery they demonstrated within the early church—became legendary, and Priscilla and Aquila are referenced in four different New Testament books. [Breen]

When I was reading up on Priscilla and Aquila, I found myself thinking about a documentary that I watched recently, about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Throughout the Supreme Court Justice’s long career, she pointed out and lifted up the significance of her husband in creating a partnership that allowed her the opportunity to be a wife and mother and a very successful lawyer, professor, and judge.  It’s too bad that this is not the model for every couple.

In Priscilla and Aquila, we encounter a couple from the first century who appear to model an equal partnership in marriage, a relationship that allowed each one to utilize fully their God-given gifts and talents, without suppressing any because of gender.

Why in the world does the Church Universal, in so many of its expressions, continue to practice in opposition to New Testament text, example and witness?

In Romans 16:3, Paul wrote, “Not only I, but all of the churches of the Gentiles are grateful for [Priscilla and Aquila].” Their lives were testimonies of God’s faithfulness to the refugee, the worker, the obedient, and the wise. And around the Mediterranean, their work was recognized. [Breen]  Perhaps “all the churches of the Gentiles” should be expanded to include the churches of Europe, Africa, Asia, the United States, and even Maine.  Perhaps all of us owe a debt to the powerful and creative work of Priscilla and Aquila.

This work, this ministry, was done in partnership. We may look to Paul as something of an amazing, miraculous one-man build-the-church-spread-the-church show.  But, he wasn’t a one-man show.  He had partners.  And, one of those partners was Priscilla.  From what we can gather in Acts and in those of Paul’s letters that survived, she was a remarkable woman who, in collaboration with her husband and other colleagues in this new faith, in this new way of life, was able to discover and fully put to use her gifts and talents, unhindered by any judgement regarding her gender.  She was a full partner, not part of the support crew.

And, in this way, she models for us what this work in the church is all about—partnership, collaboration, identifying and encouraging gifts and talents, building up the sense of the presence of Christ here, now and into the future, and beyond life itself.

In so many ways, this isn’t really dramatic, life-altering news for us in our little church in this little part of the world.  We already utilize whatever gifts and talents come our way, without regard to who exhibits those gifts and talents.  We are not the sort of Christians who go about suppressing the gifts of women while cheering on the talents of men.

Still, it’s important that we take time to acknowledge just how important this issue is, as we live in a world that has very much been influenced by the problematic practice and belief systems of Christians and Christian leadership that treat women as second-class citizens, who deny the full partnership of women and men in the Church, who ignore profoundly significant and clear examples of the leadership of women in the early Church.

I’ve asked it earlier in this series and I will continue to ask: How would things be different?  How could things not be?

Recently, we’ve learned the deeply unsettling extent of sexual abuse in churches and in the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and one that denies ordination and pastoral leadership to women.  Would such rampant and wide-ranging abuse happen/Could such abuse happen, if women were equal partners in ministry and in leadership?  It’s hard to imagine that such abuse on such a huge scale could happen, if women shared in ministry and in leadership, if women were partners as lifted up and outlined so clearly by the New Testament.

Let us hold in prayer our sisters and brothers in faith, and trust that they will soon recognize the biblical witness of equal partnership, as Paul did in his work with Priscilla and Aquila.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
This entry was posted in Bible and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s