And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. Acts 18:2
Vocation—resurrected and restored during the time of the Protestant Reformation—was long ago used in the spread of the gospel. A simple trade—tent making— brought together a devout Jewish couple with the apostle Paul. Their names were Aquila and Priscilla—used by God to encourage Paul and assist in the work of the missionary program.
Aquila was originally from Pontus, a Roman province east of northern Galatia, its northern border being the vast Black Sea (Acts 18:2). Pontus attracted others interested in the gospel that were present at Pentecost (2:9). Additionally, Peter mentions the “elect” from Pontus in the opening benediction of his first epistle (I Pet. 1:1-2).
Interestingly, in the six references to Aquila and Priscilla in the New Testament, three of those references mention Priscilla first (Acts 18:8; Rom. 16:3; II Tim. 4:19). While it may be unnecessary to analyze this pattern, it is worth noting the possibility of Priscilla’s personality possessing strength and energy because of her being named ahead of her husband in these instances.
Nonetheless, Priscilla dedicated herself to supporting Aquila in his trade of tent making, walking by his side in their travels throughout the empire. Not a blind following, but a commitment to supporting the gospel ministry throughout the various church communities where their imprint was made.
Perhaps marrying in Rome, Aquila and Priscilla made their home and built their trade in a city that housed some 20,000 Jews during the early reign of Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54). Over halfway through his reign (c. AD 49), Claudius evicted the Jews from Rome, demonstrating a leeriness of the Jewish people and their customs (certainly a personality trait of Claudius, a man consumed with skepticism and paranoia). In God’s providence, the decision of this ungodly emperor set off a series of travel stops for these simple tent makers.
From Rome they set sail for Corinth, the center of commerce and trade, but also the ‘sin city’ of the Roman Empire. Strategically located along the isthmus, it brought in traffic of all kinds at the southern point of Achaia (Greece) where the Adriatic and Aegean merged with the tempestuous Mediterranean. The city had a reputation for immorality, to such a degree that “to Corinthianize” became associated with fornication, a term coined to describe a perverse and gaudy lifestyle. In this metropolis Aquila and Priscilla settled to carry out their trade.
Shortly thereafter and certainly not coincidentally, the apostle Paul was traveling south to Athens on his second missionary journey. As he observed a city overtaken in idolatry, he experienced disappointment and dejection with the philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34). Leaving Athens, the next target was Corinth.
The forty-five-mile trek from Athens to Corinth was one of foreboding, for Paul was still reeling from the Athenian indifference to the gospel, but also realizing the monumental task before him: preaching the gospel to the Corinthians. Additionally, Paul’s great burden of reaching the Corinthians was heavier, for he was traveling alone (Acts 17:14-15).
For this reason Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (I Cor. 2:3).
God certainly prepared Paul for this providential meeting with fellow tradesmen, for he had spent ten years after his conversion honing this skill in his native Tarsus (Acts 9:27-30; Gal. 2:1). Tent making was necessary for Paul on the mission field. He worked so that he could both eat and give to those in need, be a positive example to the Christians, and to reduce his burden on the churches (II Thess. 3:8-10). His usual schedule was making tents in the morning, and preaching and teaching in the evenings (Acts 19:9; 20:33-35).
Tent making for Paul was more than just necessary work in Corinth. We know from the New Testament that Paul worked in Galatia, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Ephesus in this trade (I Thess. 2:9; II Thess. 3:7; Acts 20:31-35; I Cor. 4:12; 9:6). His skill was used for the benefit of church planting, and tent making must be included in Paul’s preparation which made him “all things to all men” (9:22).
As a Roman citizen, he had a high social status, freedom to travel, and right of appeal (Acts. 16:37; 25:11).
As a Greek intellectual, he understood the language, culture, and religions of those to whom he preached the gospel (Acts 17:28; 21:37).
As a Jew, he had knowledge of the Scriptures and could apply them to their fulfillment in Christ (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:14).
In addition, as a tent maker, he could appeal to the common man, showing by his work ethic the reason for our vocation and its pointing to the source of all things. Jesus Christ, the source of not only our daily bread, but of our lives, requiring us to be crucified with Him (Gal. 2:20). In this way, new converts would have been led to the lordship of Christ.
Through God’s leading of Paul in the tent-making trade, he was led to specific tent makers, and it would have been immediately evident that they had much more in common than simply their skill in making tents (Acts 18:3).
In their early discussions it became clear that they shared a love for Jesus Christ. It seems that Aquila and Priscilla had an understanding of the gospel prior to meeting Paul, for their origins were Rome and Pontus. The Roman church can be dated further back than the churches established on the missionary journeys; therefore, it seems likely that Aquila and Priscilla were members of a Christian community in Rome prior to coming to Corinth (Rom. 16).
This prior knowledge would have encouraged, refreshed, and sustained Paul as he battled the challenges of spreading the gospel in Corinth (Acts 18:9-11; II Tim. 1:16).
Imagine these three tent makers for a moment. Laboriously working the thread through the canvas, and discussing the things of God. While the Corinthians were passionate about athletic competition (I Cor. 9:24- 25), we can be fairly certain that Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla cared nothing about reliving the latest chariot race as they toiled. Rather, they edified each other as they recounted their experiences and testified of God’s faithfulness and mighty works of salvation. These testimonials confirmed that the Lord was blessing their work.
After a period of eighteen months together in Corinth, Paul crossed the Aegean Sea, taking Aquila and Priscilla to Ephesus, the largest city in Asia Minor (Acts 18:11, 18). His purpose was to complete his second missionary journey, returning to Antioch to report on the establishment of the new churches (18:21-22). While Paul bid them farewell, Aquila and Priscilla remained in Ephesus for a time, and God used their testimony and knowledge to correct the theology of a brilliant man there.
His name was Apollos. He had previously studied in and come from the great city of Alexandria (Acts 18:24). His love for learning brought him to Ephesus, and he was given permission to speak in the synagogue. He certainly had gifts: eloquence of speech, knowledge of the Scriptures, aptness to teach, boldness in his delivery (18:24-26); but a key component was missing: “the things of the Lord.” Apollos was preaching the “baptism of John,” but was missing the finished work of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
How puzzled Aquila and Priscilla must have been as they sat and listened to Apollos. To preach without Jesus Christ is a contradiction in terms; yet, it was not surprising that such a practice was common in a place like Ephesus. Many religious sects converged here, and one of them was a Jewish group that hung on to the message of John the Baptist, showing ignorance of the work of Christ.
Therefore, a learned man like Apollos needed correction from the pew. How humbling! Patiently and faithfully, Aquila and Priscilla showed him the complete gospel of salvation, and Apollos received it in the same spirit in which it was given. In this way God used lowly tent makers to bring a brilliant man to fuller faith.
After their stay in Ephesus, these tent makers were back in Rome. After the death of Claudius in AD 54, Nero came to power. Paul’s final chapter in Romans (written in AD 57) brings greetings to Aquila and Priscilla along with several others in the Roman community (Rom. 16:3). Here Paul identifies them as his “helpers in Jesus Christ,” but then in the next verse says, “Who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Rom. 16:4). The specifics are beyond us, but we see clear dedication and compassion of this couple for their dear friend Paul, putting their own lives in jeopardy for him.
The specific travels of Aquila and Priscilla demonstrate the promotion of peaceful travel in the Roman Empire. The Romans wanted to maintain peace within as they continued to expand without. To this end travel became more common and safe, and Aquila and Priscilla benefited. So did the gospel. The Word went forth as Paul and other missionaries traveled the innovative roads built by the Romans.
The great paradox of this time in the history of the church is that a polytheistic, pagan empire protected the very religion that was a threat to its polytheism. And so the seeds were planted.
Aquila and Priscilla played a small yet significant role in the “photosynthesis” of the first century (I Cor. 3:9-10). Through their travels, they refreshed missionaries, corrected the theology of Apollos, and through it all ministered and testified to the truth of the resurrected Lord. Lowly tent makers they were, and yet, their vocation was part of God’s plan to glorify His name and benefit the church.
The home of Aquila and Priscilla was also significant. We read that their home was used for the purpose of the church coming together in Corinth and Rome for worship (I Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:5). They also used their home to provide safety for Paul and nurse him back to health. This fact strengthens our confidence that they were used mightily by God in the service of the church.
From Rome to Corinth to Ephesus, and back to Rome (AD 49 to 57). Finally, one more trip is revealed in Scripture: a journey all the way back to Ephesus. The final reference in the New Testament to Aquila and Priscilla is a greeting Paul brings to them in II Timothy 4:19: “Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.” As was written in a previous SB article (April 1, 2021), Paul writes this letter from a cold, dark dungeon in Rome as he anticipated execution under cruel Nero. He wrote to his beloved “son” Timothy (Phil. 2:22), who was faithfully laboring in Ephesus. This letter can be safely dated to AD 67.
As Paul writes this final letter, prepared to retire his pen and lay down his life for the glory that awaits, he remembers his dear friends Aquila and Priscilla. I imagine him shivering in that cold dungeon in Rome, yet remembering with fondness those crisp mornings in Corinth making tents. And now he writes one final greeting to these Christians whom he loved.
Whether they made any final journeys after Ephesus we are unaware, but we can be confident they continued faithfully in whatever the Lord had planned for them. An eternal reward, to be sure, was planned for them.
Now, together with Paul and the church of all ages, they sit round about the throne of the King, saying, “Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power unto the Lord our God” (Rev. 19:1). No more toiling about with tents, for God’s eternal tabernacle is with them.