Acts (Part 30) - Where's Priscilla?

06/17/2011 08:38

In Acts 19 we read of Demetrius, a silversmith who clearly saw that the gospel Paul preached threatened his economical, religious, and political world (19:23-27). It is interesting that this concept so clearly understood by him and the pagans of his day is beyond the grasp of 21st century America. Today in this country, many seem to think that religion should be a private manner. We are allowed by our freedoms to believe whatever we want. We’re just told that we should keep our beliefs to ourselves so that we don’t interfere with anyone else’s ideas. The obvious problem is that Christianity is not only some conception of God, it is a philosophical construct that not only infuses all of life with meaning, but, for the Christian, is the basis for every idea, communication, and action. Christianity cannot be relegated to the closet and still be Christianity. Christians especially must recognize this and live their lives as light and salt in the world.

In the first six verses of chapter 20, we find that Luke joins Paul’s traveling company. In verse 4, Luke also lists those who are accompanying Paul. But in the list, there is no mention of Priscilla and Aquila. The reason that immediately comes to mind is that instead of continuing to accompany Paul (as they did from Corinth to Ephesus), they have remained in Ephesus. But later in chapter 20, Luke makes no mention of Priscilla and Aquila as Paul meets with the Ephesian elders (something surely the detail-minded Luke would include concerning these two whom Luke has already so prominently featured). 

We have a clue as to their whereabouts provided back in Acts 19:21-22. In those verses, Paul outlines his coming trip. He plans on going to Macedonia, Achaia, Jerusalem, and then Rome. Paul sent some disciples ahead to Macedonia. It is probably at this time that Priscilla and Aquila, who had lived in Rome before they met Paul in Corinth, decide to travel to Rome and lay some groundwork in anticipation of Paul’s arrival following his trip to Jerusalem. And we have confirmation of this decision of theirs in the book of Romans, which Paul wrote when he reached Achaia (Corinth). In Romans 16:3, Paul sends his greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, who therefore must have been already in Rome.

As a side note, because of the travels that we notice of Priscilla and Aquila, we should take time to review this, the only hard evidence we have available for who wrote the book of Hebrews. Let’s review what we know from the book of Acts concerning the travels of Priscilla and Aquila.

In Acts 18:1-2 Paul arrives in Corinth during his second missionary journey. There he meets and stays with Priscilla and Aquila (P&A) who have recently come from Rome, having been expelled along with the rest of the Jews by then emperor Claudius. In Acts 18:18-19, we find that P&A travel with Paul to the work at Ephesus. Although Acts 18:19-20-23 tell us of Paul’s trip back to Jerusalem, then to Antioch, and then to Asia Minor, P&A continue the work in Ephesus, waiting for Paul’s return. It is while P&A are in Ephesus without Paul that Apollos comes from Alexandria to preach a message of John’s baptism to the Ephesians. P&A take Apollos aside in Acts 18:24-28 to explain the gospel more fully. That is, they provide for him the detail of how Christ fulfilled old covenant Messiah prophecy.

Paul returns to Ephesus. From that city he writes the letter we know as 1 Corinthians. Included at the end, Paul provides the Corinthians with a greeting from P&A (1 Cor 16:19). So we know that P&A continue with Paul during Paul’s work in Ephesus. Paul then announces his plan to visit Macedonia and Achaia before heading to Jerusalem. But Paul also mentions that after Jerusalem, he will visit Rome (Acts 19:21). Since P&A are from Rome and know people there, they decide to return to Rome, in anticipation of preparing the way for Paul’s eventual arrival. Paul’s letter written from Corinth to the Romans includes a greeting to P&A (Romans 16:3) and thus confirms their arrival in that city. 

In the last chapter of Acts we read that Paul finally makes it to Rome, but not as he may have planned. He is there as a prisoner. P&A are no longer in Rome (probably having left after hearing of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem). P&A have gone to Ephesus. We know this because while Paul is in Rome under house arrest, he writes a letter to Timothy (elder in Ephesus) and sends a greeting to Priscilla and Aquila (2 Timothy 4:19). In that same letter of 2 Timothy, Paul urges Timothy twice to come to him as soon as he can (2 Timothy 4:9, 21).

Now it becomes interesting. As we turn our attention to the book of Hebrews, we notice that at the end, the author sends greetings to the letter’s recipients from “those who come from Italy” (Hebrews 13:24b). From this greeting we know that the letter is written to the Jews (Hebrews) of Rome. Additionally, the Hebrews author provides information about Timothy and then states that he/she will soon travel with Timothy to Rome (Hebrews 13:23). Therefore, the author must be with Timothy in Ephesus. So now we know both from where the letter was written (Ephesus) and to where it would be sent (Rome). We also know the timing of the letter because Timothy is traveling to Rome in response to Paul’s request for him to come. (We also know from other scholarship the approximate timing of the letter ~AD 66—the same time period as 2 Timothy ~AD65-66.) And finally, based on the tone of the letter, we know that the author of Hebrews knows the people of Rome.

Armed with those facts, we turn our attention to those we know of in the New Testament who could satisfy these bits of travel and location certainties in order to qualify as the writer(s) of Hebrews. We find that of all New Testament figures, only Priscilla and Aquila qualify. P&A had lived in Rome on two occasions, satisfying the clue that the author of Hebrews was familiar with the Roman recipients. P&A were in Ephesus at the exact time of the writing of the book of Hebrews, satisfying the clue that the author wrote the book from Ephesus. And P&A were intimately familiar with both Timothy and Paul, having traveled with Paul in his work, satisfying the clue that the author of Hebrews was both familiar with Timothy and would have reason to travel with him to Rome. No other person of New Testament note has the facts of reason and opportunity for the writing of Hebrews.

Hebrews could have been written by either one of them. But the book missing its salutation provides another clue. Missing salutations were not as simple as a page coming loose and falling out of a book. The manuscript was written on a scroll. The whole book of Hebrews could fit on one scroll. That the salutation is missing appears more intentional than accidental. Imagine living at that time and having a letter passed to your church, among many others, that is supposed to contain words of spiritual worth and instruction. Now imagine the highly male-dominated culture reading the opening salutation and finding the letter written by a woman. Perhaps many would not continue reading. Surely later councils, arguing about which books would be included in the canon would surely rule against the one whose author was only a woman. It would seem that a very logical, very good reason why Hebrews is missing its salutation is precisely because a woman wrote it. To uphold the value of the letter amid the male-dominated society, it appears copyists, impressed by the Holy Spirit, deliberately began their manuscript copying after the salutation to protect the document’s perceived integrity. We find then that of all possible authors, our hardest evidence weighs far and away in favor of Priscilla.

Back in Acts 20, as Paul and his fellow travelers begin their voyage to Jerusalem, they stop first at Troas, where they stay for seven days. On their last day there, they meet together for some final exhortation from Paul. Luke relates the account in verses 7 through 12. During Paul’s long talk very late into the evening, a young man named Eutychus, who had been sitting on the window ledge of the upper room, fell asleep and fell out of the window. Though the even sounds humorous, the immediate result wasn’t. The man was “taken up dead” (20:9) from the fall. Paul (and probably the rest) rush to the man. Paul bends over him, and through the Holy Spirit’s interaction, Paul announces that his life is in him—clearly a miracle performed.

The interesting aspect of this story is that Luke knows he wants to include the event, but seems to do it in such a way as to play down its miraculous wonder. After reviving the youth, Paul is said to go up, eat a little, and continue talking. Only after this almost useless bit of information does Luke get back to saying people were relieved because the youth was able to go home alive.

Luke’s vagueness about the miracle isn’t really vagueness at all. Luke is trying to communicate something more than just another miracle being performed. Notice the details of this scene. They are breaking bread. Although this could simply be a meal, it is also the terminology of communion—the Lord’s Supper. There is a long discussion late into the night. They are in an upper room. A miracle is performed. And all this occurs before Paul is to be arrested in Jerusalem. Does any of this sort of sound familiar?

Of course these elements are duplicated from Luke’s Volume 1 climax—Christ’s Last Supper in an upper room in which he spoke long into the night prior to his arrest in Jerusalem. It is not that Luke wants us to see Paul exactly as a Jesus figure. Paul is not Lord and Savior. Luke’s point in both his volumes was to show the Holy Spirit’s leading of all events. What Paul would encounter in Jerusalem IS NO MISTAKE. It is no accidental occurrence of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is absolute direction by the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s will and way.