Claudius was the emperor of Rome from about 41-54 AD. Suetonius, a Roman historian, tells us that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 or 50 AD because the Christian and non-Christian Jews were rioting over the instigation of Chrestus. In Latin the word for Christ is Christus, most scholars feel that Christus and Chrestus would have had the same pronunciation. Approximately 20,000 people were affected by the expulsion, Priscilla and Aquila had been among those thrown out of Rome.
It is not clear if Priscilla and Aquila were already Christians when they met Paul or if they became converts after meeting him. There was no established Christian church in Corinth when Paul arrived and the Goddess Aphrodite was commonly worshipped. There was a temple for Aphrodite as well as a sactuary for Demeter and Kore. A synagogue, also found there, cannot be dated precisely. Corinth was a city known for having significant problems with sexual immorality. One of the Greek verbs meaning to practice fornication was korinthia-zomai. This was an issue that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 and 6:9-20.
Aquila and Priscilla shared a common trade with Paul, tentmaking and leather work, and he was alone in Corinth with no money. Paul was reluctant to ask the Corinthians for financial assistance as he didn't want the Gospel to be tainted by any suspicion that he was in it for the money. Aquila and Priscilla established him in their business and gave him the hospitality of their home. Their business was a valuable part of their ministry as it enabled them to travel and establish church houses in three different countries.
'After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.' Acts 18:1-3
Approximately 18 months later, the trio left Corinth together and travelled to Ephesus where Priscilla and Aquila stayed and established the church in their home while Paul continued on his missionary journey. They were a couple well respected within the early church for their faith, leadership, unconditional support and hospitality. Paul would return and stay three years with them again on a later missionary journey.
Ephesus was the largest city on the west coast of Asia Minor at the conjunction of river, land and sea routes, and was famous as a site for magic and miracles. Although other deities from the Roman pantheon were worshipped, dominance was held by the goddess Artemis of Ephesus. The sanctuary to Artemis at Ephesus is considered one of the seven wonders and is remarkably well preserved. The population at the time would have been approximately 250,000 and growing.
'And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow. And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.' Acts 18:18,19
It was in Ephesus that Priscilla and Aquila met the intelligent and well spoken Apollos preaching in the synagogue. Apollos had heard and believed the baptism of repentance of John. He was promoting his belief with eloquent preaching and exhortation and he had a thorough command of the Hebrew Scriptures. Aquila and Priscilla became friends and mentors to Apollos, instructing him in the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. They are credited with explaining the Gospel to him on a deeper, more spiritual level which helped Apollos become one of the most effective speakers of Christianity in his time.
'And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.' Acts 18:24-28
We meet them again in Romans 16:3-5, in Paul's letter which introduced Phoebe to the church in Rome and brought greetings to his friends and supporters. 'Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house' and in 1 Corinthians 16:19. 'The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house' - which accords the couple great respect from the other Christian churches. They are also mentioned in the last letter that the Apostle Paul wrote before his martyrdom to Timothy in Timothy 4:19 'Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus' - saying his goodbyes to the people who had taken care of him and been true friends for years.
Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned six times in the New Testament (Acts 18:2,18,26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19), it is interesting to note that in the odd numbered verses, Aquila's name comes first, while in the even numbered verses, Priscilla's comes first. It would seem to indicate that they were respected equally for their committment to the roles of church founders, supporters, teachers and missionaries. They were always opening their home and their business to assist the church.
It is generally felt that Aquila was very laidback - quiet, genuine and gentle - and that Priscilla was the more spiritually advanced and naturally gifted. He provided stability and she provided the spiritual force which moved them forward. Aquila and Priscilla were respected because they never held themselves in a position of superiority over anyone. They led with the light of their example of a loving and devoted couple with a very real capacity for soul. Their relationship was built on mutual respect and love and found its foundation in the birth of Christianity. They were not blessed with children.
It is obvious that Paul held them in the highest esteem, they risked their own lives for him. Paul was probably referring to the riot in Ephesus started by the silversmith, Demetrius (Acts 19:24-29). It is quite likely that Paul was staying with Aquila and Priscilla while in Ephesus and the mob would have gone straight to their home to seize the apostle. The mob's intention was to have a spectacle in the Colosseum. Paul make an allusion to this in 1 Corinthians 15:32 when he wrote 'If, as men do, I fought a wild beast at Ephesus, of what benefit is it to me?'. Unfortunately, there is no information on how Priscilla and Aquila saved Paul but we do know that the mob was unsuccessful.
After the riot and with the death of Claudius, Priscilla and Aquila returned to Rome and established a church in their home. They did not stay long in Rome this time because of the persecution of Christians by Nero and returned to Ephesus. According to the Roman Martyrology they died on July 8.