Session 12 - Priscilla (Prisca) and the Role of Women as Teachers of Men
He [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue.
When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained
to him the way of God more adequately. Acts 18:26
- Women as teachers of men in the New Testament.
- Few deny that women taught other women in the New Testament
church (and taught young men who had not reached maturity see II
Timothy 1:5 for an indirect reference of Christian women teaching young
men). Whether and in what situations Christian women taught Christian
men is more debated.
- Paul instructs Timothy that the women in the church in Ephesus should
learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach
or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (I Timothy
2:11, 12 we will return to study this passage in more detail during
a later session)
- Nevertheless we appear to have evidence that Christian women did prophesy
(and therefore perhaps teach Christian men) in the New Testament church.
- Just as there were female prophetesses during Old Testament times
(Miriam in Exodus 15:21, Deborah in Judges 4:4 5, and Huldah
in II Kings 22:14 20) Philips four daughters prophesied
in Acts 21:9.
- Joel, quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, states that your
sons and your daughters will prophesy. (Acts 2:17) Remember
that prophesy was perhaps more proclaiming the word of God than predicting
- Paul appears to assume that women prophesy in I Corinthians 11:5.
- Perhaps the most clear evidence of a Christian woman teaching a Christian
man, however, is Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, who taught
Apollos (Acts 18:26). What was the role of Priscilla as a teacher of this
- Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila Co-workers in Christ
- Acts 18:1 3
- We are first introduced to this Jewish couple when Paul visits
the Corinthian church on his third missionary journey. Though Aquila
was originally from Pontus (an area along the coast of the Black sea
and the site of a strong Jewish settlement), he and his wife had recently
arrived from Rome.
- In this passage, unlike others, Aquilas name is given before
- We are uncertain if this couple were Christians when Paul met them
in Corinth. They may have already been converted and may have been
asked to leave Rome because of their faith (Claudius may have focused
upon Christian Jews making a disturbance over Christ.)
- From this text it appears that the couple works together as tentmakers.
- Acts 18:18 22.
- In this section, as Paul is preparing to return to Jerusalem he
is accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.
- What are we to make of the fact that Priscilla is mentioned first,
as she is mentioned first in this passage and passages thereafter?
Some suggest that Priscilla is mentioned first because it was Aquila,
not Paul, who took the Nazarite vow in Cenchrea With
him Priscilla and Aquila, having shorn his head in Cenchrea.
Yet this appears to be a stretch of interpretation (for the center
of the narrative is Paul).
- That she was the more important partner in the marriage is another
possibility, but perhaps too much should not be made of her being
- Acts 18:24 26
- Apollos possessed knowledge of Christian teachings, yet it is unclear
whether he would have been considered a Christian before meeting Priscilla,
Aquila and Paul.
- He had a thorough knowledge of the scripture (18:24)
and this would have been knowledge of the Old Testament.
- In addition, he had been instructed in the ways of the
Lord, so he was not simply preaching on the basis of the
Old Testament. Given the later description, he must have been
greatly influenced by the teachings of John the Baptist.
- He knew Jesus and taught accurately about Him. (18:25)
- He clearly had not received the Holy Spirit and only knew the
baptism of John (18:25, 19:1 7). So in one sense he may
have not been considered a Christian.
- On the other hand he was called a disciple (19:1) and this
clearly means Christian disciple.
- Therefore Apolloss status is unclear. If he was a Christian,
he was not in the fullest sense a Christian.
- Even so, he was a learned man and was probably
trained in rhetoric and philosophy. If he had been influenced
by his background in Alexandria, his method of philosophy would
probably had been a type of Gnostic philosophy (somewhat similar
to the famous Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, Philo). For our
purposes, Apollos was not a person with no knowledge of scripture
and ignorant of Jesus. He also was a learned man with
considerable skill in rhetoric (or argument).
- The emphasis of the passage is upon Apollos, a scholar
who took instruction from probable blue collar Christians.
- It appears clear that Priscilla (as well as Aquila) instructed
this learned man who had considerable background in the Christian
faith (but who was not fully a Christian).
- The Greek word is ektithemi which means to expound,
to declare. The root word tithemi is used in Mark 4:21 to mean
putting a light on a stand. This is not a passive word.
- We have no good explanation why Priscilla is listed first,
but we may assume that she took an active part in the instruction
of Aquila. That is, this Christian woman undertook the instruction
of one of the most intelligent and skilled disciples of Jesus.
- Priscilla and Aquila worked as a team, but that does not undermine
the work of Priscilla as a team member. At the least, we must
assume that she was as active in the instruction of Apollos as
was Aquila (she did not sit listening on the side and asking if
Apollos wanted another cup of coffee).
- There is no mention, however of spiritual authority.
Even if Priscilla is mentioned first, that does not necessarily
mean that she took the lead in teaching Apollos.
- Romans 16:3, 4; I Corinthians 16:19; II Timothy 4:19; There are three
other references to Priscilla and Aquila in the New Testament.
- In Romans 16:3, 4 Paul sends greetings to them and describes them
as fellow workers who have risked their lives for him. They apparently
host a house church in Rome. Priscilla is mentioned first.
- House churches were key to Christian missions during
the first century (as they are today in many countries).
- Women played a major role in these house churches.
- Paul also notes that they are co-workers, the only ones mentioned
as co-workers in Romans 16 (suggesting they had a special relationship
- In I Corinthians 16:19 Paul sends greetings from them and again
mentions the church which meets in their house. Aquila is mentioned
first. It is fairly clear that both had considerable status in the
Ephesian Christian community
- In II Timothy 4:19 Paul sends greetings to them. Priscilla is mentioned
- None of these verses shed additional light on the role of Priscilla
- The daughters of Philip, an interlude. Acts 21:8, 9
- The context of this passage suggests that the evangelist Philips
four unmarried (virgin) daughters prophesied under the inspiration of
the Holy Spirit. They did not prophesy outside the New Testament church.
- The mention of these daughters by Luke in the way he mentions them
suggests that he was an eye witness to their prophesy (in other words,
he provides no other reason for inserting this passage).
- It is doubtful that their virginity was related to their prophesy (as
perhaps in Greek religion). They probably did not belong to any order
of virgins (as may have existed later in the church).
- Perhaps they were a source to Luke as historian.
- Priscillas primacy
- The mention of the wife of a husband and wife team first would
have been unusual during New Testament times, but not exceptionally so.
She is not always mentioned first.
- Priscilla may have been the first converted.
- She may have come from a more upper class family than Aquila (this
occasionally did happen with Latin epitaphs when the wife had a higher
- Perhaps the important point is that both were most important members
of the New Testament church, they traveled frequently, and they were joint
missionaries (at times when a couple is sent to the mission field, we
only mention the husband as the missionary).
- Priscilla as teacher.
- It would be difficult to discount the role Priscilla took
in teaching Apollos. We do not know the specifics of her teaching nor
do we know in what way she and Aquila interacted. What we do know is that
Priscilla and Aquila worked as a team. Remember, the focus of Acts 18:24
- 26 was not Priscilla nor Aquila, but rather Apollos.
- More traditional interpretations focus upon:
- The fact that Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos privately in
their home, not in the public assembly.
- The belief that the teaching by Priscilla of Apollos does not usurp
the authority of Aquila nor Apollos as men.
- The fact that bible study is a relatively new phenomenon
and not an act of worship per se (begun in 1788 by the Presbyterians
in England). Bible study is therefore an optional matter and not addressed
by I Corinthians 11:14 or I Timothy 2.
- The belief that women cannot teach nor hold authority over men
in ecclesiastical (or church) settings. They may speak up in class
(though some may disagree with even this act). They may teach children
(Titus 2:3 5).
- The possibility of a distinction exists between the woman as a
teacher and the teacher. In other words, if a man
is in charge of the teaching setting, a woman may teach.
- Those who support a more expanded view of women as teachers focus upon:
- The belief that the I Timothy passage must have been specific to
the situation in Ephesus (given the many other passages which not
only permit but also command women to be teachers).
- The fact that I Timothy 2:12 actually commands these women not
to teach at all (the injunction is not limited to men but the second
portion of the passage refers to having authority over men
we will return to I Timothy 2 later in this discussion).
- The recognition that women have much to contribute to the spiritual
growth of the church through their knowledge of scripture and therefore
it makes no sense that they would be limited in their role as teachers.
Priscilla clearly had the ability and used the ability.
- The belief that the role of teacher is not the same as the authoritarian
role of women over men which appears to be of concern to Paul. Women
can teach men and yet not hold authority over them.
- Smith FL: Male Spiritual Leadership. Nashville, Tennessee, 21st Century
- Gender and Ministry: The Role of the Woman in the Work and Worship of the
Church: Freed-Hardeman University Preachers and Church Workers Forum
1990. Huntsville, Al., Publishing Design, Inc., 1990
- Willis W: Priscilla and Aquila Co-workers in Christ, in Osburn CD
(ed.): Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity. Volume II. Joplin MO, College
Press, 1995, pp. 261 - 276