One of a number of divinely ordered institutions under the attack of the Devil today is marriage. On the one hand, men and women enter into relationships that belong to marriage outside the marriage bond; on the other hand those that enter into the responsibility of the marriage bond think nothing of divorcing when it suits them. Sadly what affects the world also affects the Church. Marriage in the West is on the decrease and divorce is on the increase. As regards marriage and divorce the words of the Lord are unequivocal: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10: 9). On being questioned further regarding this, the Lord enlarged on His previous injunction with these words: “Whosoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another, commits adultery against her. And if a woman put away her husband and shall marry another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10: 11, 12). Divorce and remarriage is adultery, and adultery is sin.
Another of the enemy’s attacks is to seek to destroy the distinctions that God has made between man and woman. Women even dress like men (and in some cases, men dress like women), but once again the words of the Lord come across the ages of time with stark clarity: “from [the] beginning of [the] creation God made them male and female” (Mark 10: 6). Again, Christianity has not been immune to the breakdown of the distinctions that God has made between the sexes. Thus we have women preachers, women teachers, and women priests. The outward distinction of the covered head in 1 Cor. 11 is said to be but the social order of a past day, without any relevance to the present time. Hence in many churches and meetings there is no distinction between male and female maintained, rather they claim “…there is no male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3: 28)––a gross misapplication of Scripture. The distinction is only set aside in Christ Jesus, only in the sphere of divine purpose and blessing––not in relationships on earth. For the apostle also speaks of Jew and Greek and of bondman (slave) and freeman. Philemon (a master) was never instructed to liberate his slave Onesimus––that distinction was to be maintained.
Now in the NT not only do we have the teaching in regard to marriage but a beautiful example of a married couple that illustrates the distinctive place of each of the sexes according to God.
Six times we have this couple mentioned by name. They are always mentioned together––never apart. Everything that they are presented as doing, they are presented as doing together. They are a great example of what Peter says in 1 Pet 3: 7: “fellow–heirs of [the] grace of life”. In all six examples they are named: three times the man’s name is put first and three times the woman’s name is put first. There is a perfect balance. Is this just fortuitous? Three of the references occur in one chapter, Acts 18, in which firstly we have Aquila and Priscilla, then Priscilla and Aquila and finally again Aquila and Priscilla. The other three occasions are Rom 16: 3 (Prisca and Aquila. Prisca being the diminutive for Priscilla just as we use Sue for Susan); 1 Cor. 16: 19, where we have Aquila and Priscilla, and finally, 2 Tim 4: 19 where we have Prisca and Aquila. Why is this so? There are spheres in which the man should dominate, and lead and we have three examples of this when we read of Aquila and Priscilla. There are also areas of service for which the woman is divinely suited and again we are given three examples of this where we read of Priscilla and Aquila. Yet in all six examples they are both mentioned as in all their service they are together.
We are first introduced to this couple in Acts 18: 2 where the husband is first named. We are told that Aquila was a Jew, of Pontus by race. Both have Latin names (Aquila means eagle; Priscilla means ancient). They had been forced to leave Rome where they used to live because of the edict of the emperor Claudius and had taken up residence in Corinth. Paul came to live with them because Aquila was a tentmaker. Every Jewish boy had to learn a trade, whatever his social class, and Paul was a tentmaker like Aquila. Work for the support of the household is the responsibility of the husband, not the wife and so Priscilla is mentioned secondly here simply as Aquila’s wife. Paul writes (2 Thess 3: 10) “if any man does not like to work, neither let him eat”. While Priscilla no doubt would help in the tent making, the responsibility for providing the household income was his, not hers.
In Acts 18:18 we find that Paul leaves Corinth and sets sail for Syria. Priscilla and Aquila go with him as far as Ephesus. The order of the names in recording this journey is reversed. They are still mentioned together, but the wife is named first. Journeys in those days were hardly ‘Mediterranean cruises’. In providing whatever little physical comfort that was available on such a journey the woman was in her true sphere. Both would be concerned with the care of the Apostle, but the woman would naturally take the lead in this and so she is named first. (An illustration perhaps of 1 Cor. 9: 5 where Paul who, unlike Peter, was never married, asks “have we not a right to take round a sister [as] wife, as also the other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?”)
The third time these two are mentioned in this chapter is in verse 26. Apollo arrives in Ephesus teaching about the Lord, but with a limited knowledge. He knows only the baptism of John and thus nothing of the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord––the very fundamentals of Christianity. This couple hear him, and take him to them. What is needed for Apollos? Teaching. Who should take the lead in that? What does Paul say in 1Tim. 2: 12? “I do not suffer a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over man” (as distinct from woman). Hence the order of the names here is Aquila and then Priscilla. How absolutely perfect the Scriptures are!
The next mention is in Rom. 16: 3–5. Their togetherness here is emphasised by the Spirit of God in stating that they staked their own neck (singular, rather than ‘necks’ in the plural) for Paul. Again they are both identified as fellow-workmen of the apostle. He views them both as on the same level as himself in using the word ‘fellow’, even though in the ordering of God he was an apostle and they were not. Paul goes on to mention the assembly in their house. What does Paul say of the wife in general? She is to “rule the house” (1 Tim. 5: 14)––that is her sphere. Having the meeting in the house would involve much for Priscilla in practical arrangement and labour. While again no doubt Aquila would render help in every way, the responsibility for this ministration and service would primarily rest with the wife and she is named first. When the Lord was here there were women that had followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem, “minstering to him of their substance” (Luke 8: 2, 3: 23: 49, 55). Again in Matt. 8: 15, Peter’s mother-in-law ministered (acted as deacon) to the Lord and served Him. She ministered to His physical needs. (See also Matt. 27: 55 and Mark 15: 41).
In the next example (1 Cor. 16: 19) Aquila and Priscilla are again connected with “the assembly in their house” but this time the man is named first. Why is this when in the previous example the woman was first named? In this verse we have assembly greetings from the assemblies in Asia, and then more specifically, from Aquila and Priscilla and the assembly in their house. In regard to assembly matters the man is always to be dominant. In the convened assembly the woman is to be silent (1 Tim. 2: 11). Thus it is fitting that the apostle names the man first here, although this honoured sister is not without her part.
The final example is in 2 Tim. 4: 19–22. The woman comes first in the apostle’s salutation. In this final list from the pen of Paul of those who were fellow labourers, a woman (Prisca) leads the list of nine names and a woman (Claudia) terminates it. The salutation to Prisca and Aquila is linked to that of the house of Onesiphorus (being in the same sentence). The fact that it is the house of Onesiphorus indicates that Onesiphorus himself had died. This brother is only mentioned twice in the Scriptures: here and in 2 Tim. 1: 16–18. In the latter occasion Paul desires mercy for his house on account of the labours of Onesiphorus when in Rome. This suggests, but does not prove, that he had recently died. As there was no Social Security in those days the burden of the responsibility of the household would fall on the shoulders of his wife. Hence as the apostle couples the greeting to the house of Onesiphorus with that to this honoured couple, it seems most fitting that here the wife, Prisca, should be mentioned first in the greeting.
We can learn two important lessons from these six references to this married couple in the NT. From the fact that the man is mentioned first the same number of times as the woman, we can deduce that both have an equal part to play in the service of God, remembering that “neither [is] woman without man, nor man without woman, in [the] Lord” (1 Cor. 11: 11). Yet the fact that the order varies according to circumstances shows that their respective service is different so that God’s distinction from the beginning is in no way set aside: “ … God made them male and female” (Mark 10: 6). Sadly, professing Christians have thought nothing of doing just that. It is not hard to see, however, that if one Scripture is set aside, then there is nothing to stop other Scriptures being set aside as well. As someone wisely observed, a small deviation from Scriptures, if not checked, inevitably leads to wider and wider deviations. The Devil rarely launches a full frontal attack, but patiently chips away at the authority that God’s Word has over our souls. Today’s urge for so–called equality of the sexes is a reflection of Satan’s success.