Prisca’s House Church

We know very little about the early church, but both the letters of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament make it clear that the first congregations were meeting in homes. Moreover, in many of these a woman was hosting the worship service and the communion meal. Going to church in the first few decades was like having a meal with friends in the home of the person whose house was large enough to accommodate the party.

Some of these, like Priscilla (who Paul refers to as Prisca), were clearly church leaders during the time of Paul's ministry. At the end of three letters attributed to Paul we find a greeting to Prisca and Aquila, her husband. In Romans Paul adds: “who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life.” (16:4) In 1 Corinthians Paul adds a greeting to “the church in their house.” (16:19)

The author of the gospel of Luke and Acts tells us, in Acts 18, that Priscilla and Aquila had left Rome and come to Corinth because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave the capital. Paul stays and works with them (they were all tent-makers), as he preaches in the synagogue trying to convince Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ. When Paul is rejected by the Jews in the synagogue, he begins a house church in the home of Justice, a Gentile who had been attending the synagogue. Acts says that Crispus, a synagogue official, also joins this new house church. 

Priscilla and Aquila are apparently part of this congregation, because Acts also reports that more than a year and a half later Priscilla and Aquila accompany Paul when he sails from Corinth to Syria. They also travel with him to Ephesus, but remain there when Paul sails to Caesarea on his way to Jerusalem. In Ephesus, Acts reports, when Apollos arrives from Alexandria and begins teaching about Jesus in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila take him aside to “explain the Way of God to him more accurately.” Then they write letters to prepare the way for Apollos to continue preaching among the churches in Achaia. 

It is striking that in Paul's letters and in Acts the reference is often to Prisca (or Priscilla) and Aquila, for this is a Jewish couple and traditionally the husband's name would be mentioned first. This is an early example of a couple involved in the church's ministry, and clearly the wife is not just baking cookies for the coffee hour after worship. She and her husband host worship, feed guests, risk their lives, counsel a visiting preacher to correct his message, and help maintain the network of house churches that are receiving guest preachers, like Paul and Apollos.

We should remember Prisca and Aquila, and all those who supported Paul and other preachers in these early house churches, with gratitude. © Robert Traer 2016