Sometimes I write in order to process thoughts. Spoiler alert: my current answer to a question I’m pondering is “we don’t know.”
In the process of reading and considering the account of Corinth in Acts 18, someone raised this question: Were Priscilla and Aquila already Christians, or possibly still Jews, when Paul met them in Corinth? I thought about it a little more, and I think it’s a good question, so I have a few thoughts about it. But first, the text:
After this, he left Athens and went to Corinth, where he found a Jewish man named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul came to them, and being of the same occupation, stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and tried to persuade both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:1-4, HCSB)
So, we have Paul arriving in Corinth, a major city, where the duo, Aquila and Priscilla, had already set up shop.
The expulsion of the Jews from Rome by the emperor is mentioned.
Aquila is identified text as a Jew.
Priscilla is not identified as a Jew, but it would be reasonable to assume she was also, at that point, and in at least the ethnic-heritage sense. On the other hand, it has been noted that, later in Acts 18, as well as in Rom 16:3 and in 2Tim 4, her name appears first, and she might have been more articulate and/or more advanced in Christian faith. It’s therefore easy for me to imagine that, in Corinth, she was ahead of her husband faith-wise.
Were both Aquila and Priscilla Jewish by faith when Paul met them, or were they already Christian?
Could Prisca/Priscilla (the latter form is diminutive, nicknamey) have been moving in/toward Christian faith while still in Rome, with Aquila lagging behind?
Could Paul have easily latched onto this pair (with whom he shared a trade learned while he was a Jew) while they were both yet Jewish in faith?
Now, for some context. I wondered whether the Acts text hints one way or the other. I perceive these items highlighting the Jewish faith in Acts 18:
- mention of the Jews’ having left Rome
- focus on the synagogue and its leaders
In addition, the occurrences in Ephesus—immediately subsequent in Acts, and the first, involving these same two people—involve not one, but two spotlights on “partial knowledge.” Partial knowledge is just what a Jew-before-faith-in-Jesus has, so perhaps there is a contextual hint there that Priscilla and Aquila had partial faith as Paul (and we) meet them, too.
This larger scriptural context may or may not shed much light on the early days in Corinth, but it does make me muse a little . . . maybe ol’ Aquila, at least, wasn’t fully Christian until after Paul had been in Corinth a few months (see 18:11). Or maybe both of them weren’t full-believers yet. With hindsight, and with observations of historical progressions and patterns based on other sources, we might develop an opinion one way or the other. Luke’s first audiences probably would not have been able to do that.
Both historical and textual sources leave me wondering. The answer is probably a flat “We don’t know when A & P became Christian.” Now, the next question is “Does this matter, and if so, why?”
I think it matters because
Investigative questions like this are interesting. Personally, I both need and want this kind of stimulation. Many others of you are also interested in this kind of thing, I know. It could very well be that this matter has already been well researched via historiographical, archaeological, and textual data, and my “answer” herein may be proven lacking. Although I am attempting to bring exegetically based reasoning to bear here, I know virtually nothing of archaeology, and I haven’t even thoroughly considered the little I do know of early Christian history in the 40s and 50s. Most of what I’ve written above is speculative and perhaps not much more than “interesting.”
But it also matters because
One of the pervasive themes of Acts is the spread of the Christian message outward from Jerusalem and Jews, showing The Way’s progression from being a Jewish-originated sect to being a world-altering faith-group. Maybe the stories of Aquila and Priscilla—and Apollos, too—serve as part of the larger picture of motion from Jew to Greek, and from Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus as Messiah to some (e.g., Crispus the synagogue-presider, 18:8), who came to believe in Him.
Questions like this matter because it causes us to come face to face with the chronological and geographical realities that shaped the early Christian movement.
B. Casey, 1/7/16