Paul’s second missionary journey is described in the Book of Acts, beginning in the latter part of chapter 15, and continuing on through chapter 18. Barnabas, Paul’s traveling companion on their first missionary journey, wanted to take Mark along on this journey. But Mark had quit partway into the first missionary journey, and Paul thought it was not best for him to go. So Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus.
Paul wanted a reliable person who could endure persecution and hardship, so he chose a man named Silas to be his companion on this journey. At Lystra, Paul found Timothy and took him along as another traveling companion (Acts 16:1). Paul and his coworkers made their way farther northwest in the country today known as Turkey, and when they came to Troas, Luke joined the company of Paul, Silas, and Timothy as far as Philippi.
They went on to Macedonia (in northern Greece), establishing churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. From there they went to Achaia (in southern Greece)—first stopping at Athens, then spending a year and a half at Corinth where another church was established.
Corinth was one of the great cities of the Roman Empire. It lies on a narrow strip of land separating two seas. Land traffic between the north and south had to pass through Corinth, and much of the commerce between Rome and countries to the east passed through its harbors. The city was noted for its wealth, luxury, and immorality. The theater at Corinth in New Testament times seated 14,000 people.
Paul visited Corinth for the first time on his second missionary journey. The account is given in Acts 18. He became acquainted with a couple named Aquila and Priscilla. During his stay at Corinth for one and a half years, Paul lived with them in their home.
After his extended time in Corinth, Paul returned to Jerusalem and Antioch, stopping on the way at Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla went along with Paul as far as Ephesus. There they met Apollos, an eloquent Jew who became an influential leader in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:6) and in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8-12). Apollos would continue faithfully helping Paul for many years, as indicated in Paul’s concluding remarks to Titus (Titus 3:13).
When Priscilla and Aquila arrived in Ephesus with the Apostle Paul, they settled there for a period of time. The Church at Ephesus met at their house (1 Corinthians 16:19). When they met Apollos and discovered that he knew only “the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25), they instructed him more thoroughly in the Christian faith (Acts 18:24-26). Apollos was able to publicly contend with the Jewish leaders and refute their objections to the Christian teachings.
We first meet Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth during Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul had been ministering in the country of Greece, and had just come to Corinth from Athens, which was not far away. Our lesson in this issue of Bible Helps centers on a Christian couple described in Acts 18. We will note three main points:
- 1) Priscilla and Aquila are introduced (Acts 18:1-19)
- 2) Priscilla and Aquila become instructors (Acts 18:24-26)
- 3) Priscilla and Aquila are remembered (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19)
1. Priscilla and Aquila Are Introduced (Acts 18:1-19)
In Acts 18, Paul had just arrived in Corinth, and he was a discouraged man (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). He had been shamefully treated at Philippi. He was persecuted in Berea. He got a cold reception in Athens. The words “after these things” (Acts 18:1) refer to what happened in Athens. Paul had preached a message on Mars Hill, and Acts 17:32 says, “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.” Acts 17:34 says that a few people believed the message; but most who heard the message were not impressed.
Then Paul came to Corinth as a total stranger in a large and wicked city. The population of Corinth was about 700,000. It had a reputation for low morals. When people in the first century wanted to describe a person who was utterly morally corrupt, they would say, “He lives like a Corinthian.”
The religion of the Corinthians was centered on lust and sexual immorality. Their temple was dedicated to Aphrodite (the goddess of beauty). It employed more than one thousand prostitutes who came down to the streets of the city at night to practice their trade. Corinth was also a center of Greek culture. The people were living in luxury and pleasure.
Into this city came the Apostle Paul. He aimed to preach the Gospel in the local synagogue. His purpose was to know nothing among the people except “Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
When Paul came to this city, however, it seems that God had been there ahead of him. God had prepared not only a place for Paul to live, but also a means of providing financial support for him. Both these needs were met through the Jewish man, Aquila, and his wife Priscilla.
Aquila and Priscilla were busy one day at their trade of tent making, probably sewing the cloth outside their humble dwelling, when a stranger stopped to speak with them. He explained that he too was a tentmaker by trade. It appears that Paul was welcomed at once, and was invited to share in their labor and in their home. It must have been a joy for Paul to find this couple who were skilled in the same trade as he was, and who also shared his faith in the Lord Jesus.
Acts 18:2 explains that Aquila and Priscilla were among the Jews who had been expelled from the city of Rome because of an edict issued by Claudius, the Roman Emperor. Claudius was the third Caesar in succession, following Augustus and Tiberius. Although Claudius had been friendly to the Jews at first, he was easily persuaded by those around him; and for some reason, he banished all Jews from Rome. But his edict was only in effect for a few years. Later on in Paul’s ministry, Aquila and Priscilla were back in Rome again.
The account of Priscilla and Aquila being forced to leave Rome is one more example of God’s intending for good the very thing that men had intended for evil. In God’s provision for Paul’s work and lodging, these new friends—Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla—worked at the same trade. It was a trade that Paul had learned when he was growing up as a lad in Tarsus. He, as well as they, had learned the art of making tents (and other marketable goods) out of goat’s hair and leather.
In Acts 18:3 we read about the tent making trade. Aquila and Priscilla had likely conducted a tent making business in Rome, just as they were now doing in Corinth. Paul’s training as a tentmaker gave him a special bond with Aquila and Priscilla. Nothing is said about their being converted under Paul’s ministry, so it is generally assumed that they had already become Christians before meeting Paul in Corinth. At any rate, Paul found a home with Aquila and Priscilla; and with them he labored at his trade of tent making. Their fellowship must have included rich times of prayer and conversation as they worked together day after day.
Tent making was hard work. The goats’-hair cloth was coarse and thick; the hours were long; the returns were poor (2 Thessalonians 3:8). Tentmakers set up long looms, usually on the street in front of their houses. It is difficult for most of us to picture a whole street of tentmakers, another street of basket-weavers, and still another for silversmiths; but that is a typical Mid-East pattern.
Acts 18:4 indicates that with the help of Priscilla and Aquila, Paul began preaching every Sabbath in the local Jewish synagogue. His purpose was to convince his fellow Jews that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah for whom they were looking.
Paul’s ministry in Corinth bore fruit. Even though many of the Jews strongly rejected his message, Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and all his house believed along with many of the Corinthians. The conversion of the chief ruler of the synagogue was such a significant event that Paul himself baptized Crispus, as well as Gaius and the household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:14-16).
In verse 18, we learn that after eighteen months in Corinth, Paul sensed the need to go back to Jerusalem, and then to Antioch in Syria. Aquila and Priscilla traveled with him as far as Ephesus.
In verses 19-21, we are told that Paul came to Ephesus (on the west coast of Turkey), preached there briefly, and left Aquila and Priscilla in that city to minister there while he went on to Jerusalem. Paul was glad to report back also to the church in Antioch which had sent him on the journey. After Paul’s visit with the churches at Jerusalem and Antioch, he returned to Ephesus and spent three years (most of his third missionary journey) there.
2. Priscilla and Aquila Become Instructors (Acts 18:24-26)
The final verses of Acts 18 tell about Apollos, who came to Ephesus (verse 24). Aquila and Priscilla met Apollos in Ephesus. Apollos was a Jew. He was an eloquent man, and one who was well-versed in the Scriptures. The focus of these verses is on Apollos, a man who was born in Alexandria, a principal seaport in Egypt. Alexandria was a major center of learning and culture in the Roman Empire.
Apollos became a new partner in the early ministry of the church. He was a student of the Old Testament Scriptures, but lacked knowledge of the full Christian message. He actually knew only “the baptism of John” (John the Baptist). Communication was slow and limited in those days; thus, while Apollos knew the facts about Jesus’ life and teaching, he was not sure of the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. Apollos preached a message of repentance, but there was nothing about the joy of knowing the risen Lord, and the fresh coming of the Holy Spirit in his preaching.
After Aquila and Priscilla heard him preach in the synagogue, they invited him to their home, and “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (verse 26). Priscilla and Aquila realized that Apollos was in need of some further insight into the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and further explanation about God’s plan for redeeming humanity. Apollos knew the judgment of God’s holiness, but apparently he had not yet experienced the joy of God’s grace. He knew the purpose of the Christian life, but he had not yet experienced the power with which to accomplish that purpose; so they taught him the truth more fully and more accurately.
Some preachers and teachers would have assumed that they had no need to be taught further truths. But Apollos was an humble man who knew enough to know that he didn’t know everything! Apollos was teachable and open to further instruction; he did not say, “Me—learn from you? Who do you think you are, to tell me what to say?” The implication is that Apollos listened, learned, and became a better preacher and a better person as a result.
The fact that Aquila and Priscilla were able to teach Apollos is a compliment to all three of them. Apollos was humble enough to receive instruction, and Aquila and Priscilla knew the Scriptures well enough to be of great help to the preacher from Alexandria.
3. Priscilla and Aquila Are Remembered (Romans 16:3-5, etc.)
Paul mentions Priscilla and Aquila with friendly greetings at the close of three of his epistles.
In Romans 16, Paul names 26 persons in this final chapter of the book—Christ-loving individuals that lived in the great city at the heart of the mightiest empire on earth. Of all the names mentioned in Romans 16, two of them are the couple chosen for this lesson on character portraits in the Bible. Priscilla and Aquila are named as Paul’s “helpers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3).
Paul had met this hospitable and thoughtful couple in Corinth, stayed in their home, and frequently went in and out from their house. I would imagine that Paul seldom left the city without Priscilla and Aquila coming to him and saying, “Paul, you’re going away; here is some money and a little package of food to help you on the way; God bless you.” Priscilla and Aquila were Paul’s “helpers in Christ Jesus.”
In Romans 16:4, Paul says that they even “laid down their own necks” for his sake. In some way, Priscilla and Aquila took a risk, and exposed their lives to great danger for the purpose of protecting Paul. Paul remembered their deeds of kindness, and in the final verses of his letter to the Christians at Rome he was quick to praise them for it.
Romans 16:5 indicates that just as they did in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila offered their home as a place for the church to meet in Rome. Their home was the place for the assembly of God’s people. There were no separate church buildings until the third century after Christ. Christians simply gathered in homes for worship and prayer, and for fellowship.
In 1 Corinthians 16:19, there is another greeting for Aquila and Priscilla, and for the believers who were meeting in their home. The home of Aquila and Priscilla must have been marked by hospitality.
The final reference to Aquila and Priscilla comes from the Apostle Paul very near the close of his life. Once more, in 2 Timothy 4:19, Paul remembered the generosity and the kind deeds of Aquila and Priscilla. Hospitality begins not with elaborate architecture and fine furnishings, but with hearts that are open to receive others.
No matter how limited one’s skills and academic training might be, the person who lives a holy life and maintains wholesome attitudes can be useful in the Lord’s kingdom. God uses men like the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther, but He uses more persons like Aquila and Priscilla—quiet persons, people who seldom speak publicly, yet are interested in promoting the Gospel message by whatever helpful means they can provide. A careful review of the names of persons mentioned in the New Testament will reveal that the majority of God’s work is carried out by common, ordinary, almost unknown people.
As we think about some of the portraits of godly men and women in New Testament times, we think of individuals who left all for Christ and the church. They lived primarily not for this world, but for the world to come.
David Livingstone literally gave his life away for Christ in Africa. When Livingstone died, they brought his body back to England and buried it in Westminster Abbey. As the crowds thronged the streets to pay tribute to him, one older man was standing alone, weeping as if his heart would break.
The man had been a childhood friend of David Livingstone. When Livingstone decided as a young man to go to Africa, this friend of his told him he was out of his mind. He said, “I’m going to stay in London and get rich; you can go to Africa.”
The friend did stay in London. He got rich and lived in luxury. Now, he had only a few friends. But David Livingstone had gone to Africa and become one of the most dearly loved Christian missionaries ever.
On the day that Livingstone was buried, the old-time friend stood by, and cried sadly. He said, “I put the emphasis on the wrong world!” And indeed he had.
Each of us needs to be careful that we don’t put the emphasis on the wrong world. If we are living for self, and merely for the things of this world, one of these days we will come to the end of the journey, only to look back on a wasted and misspent life.
All of us, through the years, have imitated models. These may have been our parents, perhaps brothers and sisters, or teachers, and others whom we admired. People are very real to us when we like what we see in their lives. We learn from such people, and we give thanks. As we conclude this study, we should keep in mind that there are those today who are looking to us as models. We trust the Lord is pleased with what they see.
Aquila and Priscilla befriended Paul when they first met him. At some point, they saved his life from danger. They gave their home as a meeting place for the local church, and though they themselves were ordinary tentmakers, they were the means of leading an eloquent preacher into a fuller knowledge of Christ. Aquila and Priscilla were persecuted refugees who had lived in Rome, and were engaged in mere common labor. But God used them in wonderful ways to help some of the key leaders of the early church.