This week we are studying most of the New Testament mentions of Priscilla, or Prisca: Acts 18:1-3, 18-21, 24-26, and Romans 16:3-4, as part of our five-week series on women called to special work in the early church. And by extension, perhaps, the possibilities for women’s calls in the contemporary church. [The other texts that mention Priscilla / Prisca, by the way, are 1 Corinthians 16:19 and 2 Timothy 4:19. Some notes on the texts, mostly the Acts one, are here.] Here are a few questions we might want to consider in our study / discussion of these texts:
When we think of the work of “ministry,” what do we think of? Who do we think of as doing that work? What has been our experience of that? Where have we had that experience? What would we say we are “used to”?
When we think of work, in general – not only “ministry” work, but other kinds of work – again, what do we think of? And who do we think of as doing it? What has our experience been?
How do we see our experiences in the areas of “ministry,” and of “work” more generally, influencing the way we read these texts? What assumptions do we seem to make about “ministry,” and “work”? In particular, what assumptions do we seem to make about what kind of people can do “ministry,” or “work”?
Even more particularly, since gender seems to be a special focus of the texts this week, do we notice any assumptions we make, related to gender, when it comes to these areas of human experience? How might these assumptions influence the way we read these Bible texts, do we think? Can we think of any experiences or information that would lead us to re-examine our assumptions? What experiences or information would that be, do we think?
What do we learn about Priscilla / Prisca and Aquila directly from these texts? [Here, it might be worthwhile to read through the texts and make a list of what the texts actually say about these people.] What other things do we feel we know about them, based on that textual information?
Do we have any additional impressions, or thoughts and feelings, about Priscilla and Aquila from any other sources (like sermons, or Sunday school or Bible study lessons)? What are those, and where did they come from?
Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together in the text of the New Testament. Does this tell us anything about them, do we think, and if so, what do we think it tells us? Why do we think that?
[Maybe more personal, or imaginative] If we were to meet Priscilla and Aquila in person, do we feel we would like them? Why, or why not? Do we feel they would like us? Why, or why not?
[Also more personal, but maybe a little less so] Priscilla is sometimes identified as an inspiration or an example, particularly for women. Can we see why? What do we think about that? Does she seem inspiring to us? Why?
What do we understand to be going on in the story in Acts 18:24-26? Why might this story have been an important one for the author to include? [We might want to look at Acts 19:1-7 as well, and perhaps remember that Apollos is mentioned several times in 1 Corinthians 1:12, chapter 3, 4:6, and 16:12. A bit further on, 16:19, Paul mentions Aquila and Prisca.] What do we think Priscilla and Aquila might have needed to explain to Apollos? Can we tell from this text?
[Maybe more personal, or theological] What might Priscilla and Aquila think they need to explain to us “more accurately,” do we think, in connection with our ideas around Jesus, “the Way of the Lord,” and baptism?
[Definitely more personal] Have we ever felt we needed to explain something related to religion to someone “more accurately”? What were the circumstances, what happened, and how do we feel that went? Why? What did we learn from that?
Another set of possibilities: the participation of Priscilla, along with Aquila, in the activity of “explaining” something doctrinal to Apollos “more accurately,” has been advanced as grounds for arguing that women “taught” in the early church. It has been rejected as grounds for that argument, too. In part, this is because the Greek verb translated “explain” in our text is different from the Greek verb translated “teach” in 1 Timothy 2:12 – that’s just a fact. People who argue for excluding women from “teaching” in the contemporary church draw their main, but not their only, textual warrant from 1 Timothy 2:12. The argument is effectively settled in some parts of the church. In some places, such as the PC(USA), it’s been settled in favor of allowing women to “teach” (insofar as “teach” means preach, and be ordained). In others, just the opposite. The argument is actively being disputed in some other parts of the church. We could talk about some of this if we wanted to, or found ourselves pulled in that direction.
My personal sense of the matter is that an indispensable element of such a conversation will be looking more carefully than we sometimes do at several other, actually prior questions: what kind of text we understand “the Bible” to be; what it means for us that “the Bible” is “inspired” or “God-breathed” – that is, what that implies, and what that does not imply; how we understand ourselves to “hear the Word of God in Scripture,” and in particular, what mix of prior instruction, background knowledge, spiritual preparation, and divine intervention allows us to do this; what we understand ourselves to mean by “the authority of Scripture,” how that looks in our day-to-day lives, how we think it ought to look, and how we think it relates to “the authority of Jesus Christ.” In short, I think this is both a hermeneutical discussion and spiritual one. Such a hermeneutical and spiritual conversation will be profound. Such a profound conversation will be long. We may find, in fact, that it never really ends.
So, if we want to get into this, which I can’t honestly want to discourage, I think I should say that in advance.
Image: “The Conversation,” Camille Pissarro, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons / Google Art Project