NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN (Lesson III)
16:3-5 Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, who’ve worked together with me for Christ Jesus. They risked their own lives to save mine. I am thankful to them, and all the non-Jewish churches are thankful to them. Also, give greetings to the church that meets in their house. Give greetings to my dear friend Epænetus. He was the first person to follow Christ in Asia.
As mentioned before, Aquila and Priscilla were Jews driven out of Rome, between 41 and 53 AD while Claudius ruled as emperor, who died in 54 AD. Since Paul wrote this letter sometime after 56 AD, there is every reason to believe that Aquila and Priscilla returned to their home in Rome. They were very good friends of Paul’s since they ministered with him and organized a church to meet in their house.1 They were also friends with young Timothy along with Onesiphorus in Ephesus.2 Paul makes it clear that they were committed to what Jesus said was the greatest act of love for a friend.3 In fact, Paul once described Epaphroditus to the Philippians, this way: “He risked his life and nearly died working for the Messiah, in order to give me the help you were not in a position to give.”4 Paul then mentions Epænetus of whom nothing else is known except he was Paul’s initial convert in Asia. The fact that Paul addressed him in this fashion suggests that he was an experienced senior Christian who held a position of responsibility under the leadership of Aquila and Priscilla. So it is clear that this first group of people were very precious to Paul.
It’s highly possible that Paul not only mentioned these precious friends by way of giving them the honor they deserved but also as models for other Christians to follow. Wouldn’t it be nice if we are remembered by those who served along with us in the church with such stellar accolades? But since many serve quietly and unnoticed, if they are not called out down here for their bravery and service, they will be so recognized when the saints go marching in through the New Jerusalem’s pearly gates.
Again, Chrysostom says that Paul is the champion of women’s rights in the ministry. He notes that Paul points out her gracious hospitality and financial assistance, holding her and other women in admiration because they all gave blood, sweat, and tears, along with making all their resources available to everybody. In fact, Chrysostom notices how noble were all the women Paul named in this section. They were in no way hindered by their gender from following the path of virtue, and this is only to be expected. “For in Christ Jesus, there is neither male nor female.”5”6
Chrysostom continues with his admiration of these lay people who were so helpful to the Apostle Paul in his ministry. He adds that Priscilla was noble enough to make their home a church, both by converting everyone in it and by opening it to strangers. Paul would not refer to someone’s house as a church unless there was much Godliness to be found in them. This serves as an example of how married couples can become worthy of admiration by treating their home as God’s home. In the case of Priscilla and Aquila, it didn’t matter that their professions were that of tent-makers, the same as Paul, which was not held in high esteem back in Paul’s day since it was a common occupation. Chrysostom also notes how Paul calls Epænetus “beloved,” which is high praise indeed. Paul did not use a word like this to show favoritism. Rather, it was the result of admiration and reflection. Moreover, he was the first convert in Asia, which was a reference to an area in the Roman province where Ephesus served as the capital. Since we see that it was most likely that all these people were of humble birth, Paul shows what true nobility is and honors them accordingly.7
John Calvin notes what Paul says about Prisca (meaning “prime, venerable, classic“).8 and Aquila was his way of honoring those who were faithful and worthy. This was done because faithfulness should be honored because it is the recognition that they who did more good than others might have authority. Calvin also makes the point that with Prisca being a woman, Paul did not hesitate to include her the honor he gives to those were of the highest standards in the church. The modesty of Paul clearly shines here for he did not disdain having a woman as his associate in the work of the Lord; nor did it seem to matter that some may look at here as only the wife of Aquila.9
Calvin also makes the point that Prisca and Aquila had risked their lives to preserve the life of Paul. No wonder he was so thankful for their service. But he wasn’t the only one, all the churches admired this couple. Could it be that Paul was using them as an example to influence the Romans? Calvin also notes that by calling those who met in their house for worship, was something worthy of being noticed. According to Calvin, Paul could not have more splendidly complimented their house than by giving it the title of “Church.”10
On Paul’s recommendation of Priscilla and Aquila, John Bengel says we should observe the politeness of the Apostle in writing the salutations; the friendly feeling of believers in joining theirs with his. Bengel notes that Prisca is the better rendering based on strong evidence from history. He points out that this holy woman from Italy was given the Latin name Priscilla, which is a diminutive,11 but in the Church, the name, Prisca, is more dignified. The name of the wife is put here before that of the husband, because she was the more distinguished of the two in the Church,12 or even because in this passage a woman named Phœbe was already mentioned. For Bengel, the inclusion of all these proper names of believers, Roman, Hebrew, and Greek show the riches of God’s Grace in the Final Covenant exceeding all expectation in teaching and other areas of ministry.13
Bengel continues by pointing out that Paul not only thanks those willing to risk their own necks for his safety, but gives thanks to all the churches of the Gentiles. Bengel notes that Paul does not lump them together, but individually distinguishes them by their own respective graces. But Scripture never praises anyone so as to give them any reason for self-pride, but for praising God and rejoicing in Him for His gifts to them. Bengel believes that not only will the saints at Rome be grateful for their service but we may all find plenty of reason to give thanks to Aquila and Priscilla, even if we do so in the hereafter.14
Albert Barnes supports what we already know about Aquila and Priscilla since they are mentioned by Luke and Paul.15 When Paul first met them at Corinth. Aquila was a Jew, born in Pontus, who resided at Rome, and who left Rome and went to Corinth after Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from the city of seven hills. In all likelihood, they were converted under the preaching of Paul. Paul then was given room and board by them. That way, they enjoyed the advantage of his private instruction. Upon the death of Claudius, after the decree for the expulsion of the Jews was repealed somewhere between 49 and 53 AD,16 it is obvious that they returned to Rome.17
Henry Alford is taken by the fact that the ministry of Aquila and Priscilla,18 as well as some other Christians,19 held assemblies for worship in their houses, which were all saluted and sent salutations as part of the one body of Christ.20 Alford goes on to reference a passage from a work called, Acta Martyrum (Acts of the Martyrs), which tells us that when a man who was known for his ability in teaching doctrines of the church, after settling down in a town would often form a circle of friends from the church to come to his home for the purpose of teaching them insightful exposition on God’s Word. This makes the passages in Paul’s epistles concerning churches in the house of Aquila and others a valid part of church history.
Justin Martyr also alluded to this upon his visit with a church administrator in Rome who asked him where did people assemble for worship, he told him, “Wherever they can and will.” Justin went on to say that people would think that they all gather in one place for worship but that was not the case. That’s because since God is not confined to one spot but that His invisible presence fills heaven and earth, and in all places He is worshiped by the faithful. Justin then added that whenever he came to Rome it was his custom to find a place to stay where those believers he mentored before wanted him to teach them some more, and they were accustomed to gathering together in small groups for the study of the Word.21
1 1 Corinthians 16:19
2 2 Timothy 1:16-18; 4:19
3 John 15:13
4 Philippians 2:30
5 Galatians 3:28
6 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 30
7 Ibid. Homilies on Romans 31
8 So called in 2 Timothy 4:19 This would be like calling a lady named Cynthia (Prisca), Cindy (Priscilla) in our day.
9 Acts of the Apostles 18:2, 18, 26; Whether Aquila was a layman or not, the Apostle connects his wife with him in the work of cooperation with him in his ministerial work. They both taught Apollos. It is somewhat singular, that the wife, not only here but in several other instances, though not in all, is mentioned before the husband. Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit., footnote 
10 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Acts of the Apostles 18:2
12 Ibid. 18:18
13 See Ephesians 3:20
14 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 364-365
15 Acts of the Apostles 18:2, 26; 1 Corinthians 16:19
16 Roman historian Paulus Orosius (375-418 AD) – a student of Augustine of Hippo, in his writings placed the repeal in 49 AD or upon its expiration date in 53 AD due to Roman senator and Proconsul Lucius Junius Gallio’s health, who eventually died in 65 AD.
17 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 1 Corinthians
19 Colossians; Philemon
20 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p.130
21 General History of the Christian Religion and Church: From the German of Dr. Augustus Neander, Translated by Joseph Torrey, Volume First, Crocker & Brewster, London, 1847, Section Third, p. 290-291