Mutuality in Marriage: Priscilla and Aquila?

If you’ve spent any time in church (or in the New Testament text) you’ve heard of the famous couple, Priscilla and Aquila.

Narratives centered on co-laboring couples like the Priscilla-Aquila team have always excited me because mutuality in ministry is something I envisioned for my marriage from even before I met my husband. Weirdly enough, I didn’t have many marriages (in this sense) that I could relate to, as so many wives I knew were so great at being the cutest (and I mean that sincerely) arts-and-crafts/Pinterest kind of wives who baked cookies from scratch, made parenting look easy, and had dinner ready when their husbands came home hungry and tired from a day of ministry. While I genuinely think that’s impressive and a beautiful reality for many women, it just wasn’t me…or my reality. I’ve never done a serious Pinterest project or even thought too much about having kids of my own. In fact, I dreamed I would be the person coming home hungry and tired from a day of ministry…

I remember the heavy feelings of insecurity I felt because of this. Was I not “wife-material”…or as they call it in some circles—a “Proverbs 31 wife”?

Instead, I would read commentaries for devotionals and lift weights at the gym on my spare time. I never got around to doing the things Christian sub-culture tells you a wife should do. When I was single, I constantly worried: what was marriage supposed to look like for me? Was I not supposed to initiate Bible studies with my husband? Teach him what I’ve learned? Once I knew I was “called to ministry” I wondered how that would look vocationally—was it appropriate for me to pursue this if I married a guy who didn’t? On top of this, I can be pretty independent, opinionated, and assertive…qualities that are typically valued highly in men, not women. Was I supposed to change my personality completely? How would I even start to do that?

Needless to say, things changed when I met Taylor. He didn’t care at all about having a “Proverbs 31 wife”; in fact, he liked the qualities about me that I had begun to feel insecure about.

During one of our first conversations, we talked about all the things we both wanted to accomplish in our careers, in our education, in our spiritual growth, and in our ministries. The closer we got to each other (and to marriage) the more excited we both became about the idea that we get to co-labor in ministry, education and life. In fact, the fact that we were on the exact same page and on the same playing field was part of the reason we decided to get married in the first place.

During this time, we had both been working for a campus ministry organization in New Orleans. I was working almost full time with the ministry, particularly in leading discipleship groups with the women while Taylor was volunteering fewer hours doing the same thing with the guys. We also both have a passion for teaching, so on the nights when the ministry got together as a big group, Taylor and I both tag-teamed on teaching the lesson for the night, which for a few months was the book of 1 Samuel. We had a ton of fun doing that.

One particular night, however, the leaders got together to prepare for the next few weeks, and a fellow coworker who had been hired to help run the ministry made a comment to us after he had repeatedly heard students refer to my husband and I as, “Kat and Taylor.”

“Why does everyone say it like that?” he asked in the middle of a meeting.

“Say what…like what?” I asked.

“Kat and Taylor. Why does everyone call you Kat and Taylor?” He emphasized.

“Ummmm. I don’t know. What else are they supposed to call us?” I asked.

“Well, it should be Taylor and Kat.” He stressed.

Huh?

It took me a second. What in the world was the difference?

Taylor and I went home after that meeting and chatted for a bit about how weird…and comical that comment was.

But, I’ll admit. I found myself thinking about it the following few days. Why did this man care…care enough to say something? Considering the fundamentalist camp he’s involved in, I knew what he was implying: the husband is supposed to lead the relationship, thus his name should come first when speaking of them in conversation.

In fact, this man felt so strongly about this that he even felt the need to correct us.

Naturally I wondered, is this rooted biblically, or is it simply tradition masked as biblical truth?

Well, to answer this question, I did a little digging and visited our favorite co-laboring couple in Scripture: Priscilla and Aquila.

Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple from Rome. We pick up their story in Acts 18 when Paul meets them as refugees in Corinth. They had immigrated there after the edict of Claudius, which kicked all the Jews out of Rome. Corinth had a distinctive business and social environment, as it was smack dab in the middle of really important trade routes. Workshops and guilds dominated the structure of the city, which sets the stage for Aquila and Priscilla’s business partnership with Paul. Luke makes it clear in chapter 18 of Acts that all three of them, not just Aquila, practiced the same trade, and that aside from working with them, Paul stayed with them during his time at Corinth, which was 18 months. There’s no doubt that their involvement with Paul was vital to his ministry in Corinth.

After their time in Corinth was up, Paul, Aquila and Priscilla eventually left together en route to Ephesus. The couple stayed in Ephesus while Paul continued on his journey. What’s interesting is that Luke decides to linger the narrative on Priscilla and Aquila and the episode they encountered with Apollos. The narrative tells us that Apollos was a well-educated Jew, eloquent and effective when he spoke. While Apollos knew about Jesus, he had only been aware of the baptism of John. Luke tells us concerning this, “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they received him into their circle of friends and explained to him God’s way more accurately” (emphasis mine). Again, Luke is pretty clear about who taught Apollo the more accurate way—not just a man, but also a woman. Some suggest women should not teach; particularly not teach men, but here we see an instance where Priscilla did just that.

Considering this, I’d like to pose a thought/question concerning Paul’s letters: how are we to read this Acts narrative that assumes women had equal footing to exercise authority over men in comparison to a seemingly contradictory remark by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12?

My suggestion is this: perhaps Paul, in his letter written specifically to Timothy, was addressing a specific issue in a specific congregation—the one Timothy was the pastor of (for more on the this check out this post).

When we read Paul’s letters, we have to remember that we are reading one part of a conversation. It’s similar to listening to someone talk on the phone. If you walk into a room and hear a friend telling someone in a conversation, “go inside and don’t go outside again until tomorrow,” we would need to understand the context of why this person is telling someone on the other line to do this. We wouldn’t automatically start telling everyone this is what they must do, but we’d first try and understand the situation. This is how we are to be true to Paul’s letters (and everything else in Scripture)—what are they saying, to whom are they saying it and why are they saying it? In essence, this is what we do when we read the Old Testament, the Gospels, and all the epistles, particularly when we read verses that address issues like slavery, for example. Understanding context is foundational to doing proper exegesis, and this is how we can understand a passage like 1 Timothy in light of a narrative like Aquila and Priscilla’s…

Anyways, we know that they made a tremendous difference as far as ministry goes, as Paul addresses them two other times in his letters. His mentioning of them at the end of the letter to the Romans is particularly special, “Say hello to Priscilla and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life. I’m not the only one who thanks God for them, but all the churches of the Gentiles do the same. Also say hello to the church that meets in their house” (emphasis mine). In the first century, those who led churches in their homes functioned as that churches pastor, or pastors in this case (many scholars also attribute this role to Lydia in Philippi—but that’s for another post). Paul shows no distinction of hierarchy when addressing the couple, but that they both led the church, they both risked their lives for Paul, and they both were coworkers with him in ministry.

So back to my original question…was that man’s comment about our name order rooted biblically, or is it simply tradition masked as biblical truth?

Well, besides everything I’ve already mentioned, a final thing to note is: out of the six times that Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in Scripture…FOUR of them mention Priscilla’s name first.

…and in ancient writings, the names that are written first hold way more weight than they do even now. Not only was Priscilla a co-laborer with her husband, but the ordering of the text shows us that she was the more distinguished among the two and deserving of high praise…

So I would say…no, the man’s comment was not rooted biblically at all…and whether it’s Kat and Taylor or Taylor and Kat, our only hope as a couple is to be as effective and hardworking in ministry as our favorite co-laboring, refugee couple in the first century, Priscilla and Aquila…or Aquila and Priscilla…however you decide to order it.

 

*For more on exegesis and reading Scripture in context, check out this great resource.

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