Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
There is only one verse in the entire Bible which disallows a woman from teaching a man – 1 Timothy 2:12. Some Christians see this single verse as comprehensively declaring a universal and permanent ban on every woman teaching any man. This view, however, is called into question by other verses from scripture, especially Acts 18:26. This verse in Acts gives the Biblical example of Priscilla who, along with her husband Aquila, explained the doctrine of Christian baptism to Apollos. Some people, trying to justify their stance against women teachers and leaders, try to explain away the significance of this verse.
This article will briefly look at who Priscilla and Aquila were; and it will explore the meaning of the Greek word for “explain” used in the statement: “they [Priscilla and Aquila] . . . explained to him [Apollos] the Way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-26, NASB). This article will also answer the question: Did Priscilla, a woman, teach Apollos, a man?
Priscilla, Aquila and Paul
Priscilla (or Prisca) and Aquila are mentioned by name six times in the Greek New Testament. Significantly, in four of those occurrences, Priscilla’s name is mentioned first. This unconventional order of the wife’s name before her husband’s may be an indication that Priscilla’s ministry was more prominent than Aquila’s. [I have included all verses which speak about Priscilla and Aquila in endnote 2 below.]
Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, were devoted friends and ministry colleagues of Paul. At some point they even risked their lives for Paul’s sake (Rom 16:3-5).
Paul first met Priscilla and Aquila when he went to Corinth as part of his second missionary journey. Priscilla and Aquila had just arrived in Corinth from Rome. Paul spent eighteen months working together with them in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3,11,18); and they became firm friends. After Corinth, Priscilla, Aquila and Paul travelled together to Ephesus (Acts 18:18). Paul had confidence in the abilities of both Priscilla and Aquila as church leaders, and he left them in Ephesus to lead a church that met in their house (1 Cor 16:19). It was while Priscilla and Aquila were leading a church at Ephesus that they met Apollos.
Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos
Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. Acts 18:24-26 (NASB, my emphasis)
In Acts 18:24-26, Luke, the author of Acts, introduces his readers to Apollos. Apollos was a Jewish Christian from Alexandria. Alexandria was a renowned centre of learning in the ancient world and famous for its monumentally impressive and extensive library. Apollos is literally described by Luke as a “man of words”. This indicates that Apollos was an eloquent speaker, trained in rhetoric; or it may mean that Apollos was well read and highly educated. From Luke’s description of Apollos, both definitions fit well. Luke portrays Apollos as both an eloquent orator and as someone with a thorough (literally “powerful”) understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Apollos would go on to become an outstanding minister of the gospel (1 Cor 3:3-6 & 22).
Despite Apollos’ notable credentials, something was lacking in his theology. Apollos was ignorant of Christian baptism. Priscilla and Aquila recognised this lack, and as leaders of the local church, they took Apollos aside and explained to him “The Way”, that is, the Christian faith, more accurately.
The verb “explain” is plural in the Greek indicating that both Priscilla and Aquila were involved. However, the fact that Priscilla’s name is listed first, before her husband’s in Acts 18:26, seems to indicate that Priscilla was more active in giving the explanation than Aquila.
Many different verbs are commonly used in the New Testament in the context of someone communicating aspects of the gospel message and the Christian faith. Much of this type of communication would include some degree of teaching and instruction.
Some people quibble about the meaning of the word “explain” (ektithēmi) used in Acts 18:26. They claim that it does not mean “teach”. Didaskō is the Greek word usually translated as “teach” or “instruct”. BDAG (p241) defines didaskō as “(1) to tell someone what to do, tell, instruct; . . . and (2) to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting, teach.”
In chapter 19 of Acts – the chapter following the passage about Priscilla and Aquila’s “explaining” – Luke writes about Paul’s three month speaking ministry in the synagogue at Ephesus. Luke uses the cognates of three different verbs in reference to Paul’s speaking about the Kingdom of God: (1) parrēsiazomai-speak boldly/freely, (2) dialegomai-discuss/reason and (3) peithō-persuade (Acts 19:8-9). Luke does not specifically use the word teach-didaskō here, and yet there can be no doubt that during those three months at Ephesus Paul did in fact teach. He taught using discussion, reasoning and persuasion.
It is unreasonable to suggest that Paul’s ministry in Acts 19:8-9 did not include teaching simply because Luke did not use the word didaskō. It is equally unreasonable to suggest that Priscilla and Aquila’s explanation to Apollos did not include teaching just because Luke did not use the word didaskō. Priscilla and Aquila did in fact teach Christian doctrine to Apollos. This becomes clear when you look at the meaning of “explain” (epitithēmi) and the circumstances where Luke uses it elsewhere in Acts.
Luke is the only New Testament author to use the Greek word ektithēmi. He uses it four times, and only in the book of Acts. There are two basic meanings for the word ektithēmi. In its most literal sense it means to “place outside” or “expose”. In this sense, BDAG (p310) gives the first definition of ektithēmi as “withdraw support or protection from”. Luke uses the word in this sense in Acts 7:21 where he recounts Stephen speaking about the baby Moses who was placed outside and left exposed on the Nile.
In a more metaphorical sense, ektithēmi means “to put forth, declare, explain”. (Perschbacher 1990:131) In this sense, BDAG (p310) gives the second definition of ektithēmi as “to convey information by careful elaboration”. This sounds a lot like teaching to me. Luke uses the word in this sense three times in Acts: of Peter in Acts 11:4, of Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:26, and of Paul in Acts 28:23. It is important to note that there is nothing at all trivial in these three instances where “explain” (ektithēmi) is used.
Peter’s Explaining in Acts 11:4
But Peter began and explained it to them point by point, saying . . . Acts 11:4 (NIV, my emphasis)
In Acts chapter 10, we read that the very first gentiles had become Christians and were baptised through Peter’s ministry. The apostles and brothers in Judea were disturbed by this turn of events and when Peter went to Jerusalem they “took issue with him” (Acts 11:3 NIV). Peter responds to their criticism, and in Acts 11:5-17 he explains (ektithēmi) the remarkable events that he had personally been involved with, “point by point” (NIV), or ”in an orderly sequence” (NASB). Peter does not merely relate his recent experiences, he persuasively presents his own conclusion (Acts 11:17-18). Peter’s speech about the inclusion of the gentiles in God’s plan for salvation was a huge turning point for the Christian church which up to that point was completely Jewish. And Luke uses the word ektithēmi in this context.
Paul’s Explaining in Acts 28:23
When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. Acts 28:23-24 (NASB, my emphasis)
In Luke’s final use of the word ektithēmi we read that Paul was explaining, testifying and trying to persuade many people about Jesus using the Old Testament scriptures. While Luke again does not use the word didaskō in this passage, we can see that Paul was in fact teaching his visitors about Jesus.
An Objection to Priscilla “Teaching”
Daniel B. Wallace disagrees that Priscilla “taught” Apollos. In his article Did Priscilla “Teach” Apollos? An Examination of the Meaning of ἐκτίθημι in Acts 18:26, he writes:
“The word [ektithēmi] is actually somewhat of a vanilla term, basically meaning “lay out,” or “expose.” It can be used in various contexts, but in collocation with information being passed on it tends to be restricted to simple explanation without concomitant urging or rhetorical persuasiveness.”
It is unclear why Wallace regards ektithēmi as a “vanilla term”, especially considering how Luke uses the word in Acts. It is highly unlikely that Peter told his audience the amazing events recounted in Acts 11:5-17 dispassionately, with no desire or intention to change the minds of those present. And in Acts 28:23 there is unmistakable evidence of “rhetorical persuasiveness”.
Wallace also states that:
“From the primary data and the lexical tools that interpret [ektithēmi], there was seen to be almost no unusual meaning, virtually no sense that could be viewed as approaching didaskō and its cognates in the NT. . . the force of ektithēmi never seemed to transgress into the realm of exhortation.”
I agree that it is a straightforward exercise to translate ektithēmi into English as there are “almost no unusual meanings”; however it is difficult to understand why Wallace believes its meaning cannot be viewed as approaching didaskō. “Explain” can often be practically synonymous in meaning to “teach” and “instruct”, whether in English or Greek. Furthermore, it is unclear why Wallace implies that didaskō involves exhortation and ektithēmi doesn’t.
Typically, most English dictionaries define explain as “make plain and comprehensible”. This is surely one of the major aims in teaching. I would be very happy if my teaching was described as explaining. To discount Priscilla and Aquila’s “explaining” as true teaching simply because Luke didn’t use the word didaskō is unwarranted; especially when considering the meaning and context of ektithēmi in the book of Acts.
Did Priscilla, with her husband, teach Apollos “the Way of God more accurately”, including the doctrine of Christian baptism? Did a woman, Priscilla, teach a man, Apollos? Yes, she did.
As church leaders, there would have been many occasions for Priscilla and Aquila to teach, either informally or in church meetings. Neither Luke nor Paul give any hint of censure or disapproval about Priscilla teaching Apollos, or her role as a church leader. In light of the fact that Priscilla did instruct a man in Christian doctrine, the blanket ban by some, of women teaching men, must be reassessed and redressed.
 “Paul always refers to her as ‘Prisca’, the more respectful form of her name; Luke always adds the diminutive ending in ‘Priscilla’.” (Payne 2009:64)
 The Scriptures which mention Priscilla and Aquila:
There he [Paul] met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them (Acts 18:2-3, NIV).
Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila . . . They arrived at Ephesus, where he [Paul] left them [Priscilla and Aquila]. . . . (Acts 18:18-19). Some translations such as the NIV repeat the names in Acts 18:19 for clarity, but the names are not repeated in the Greek texts.
He [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him The Way more accurately (Acts 18:26).
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co- workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them (Romans 16:3-4).
The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house (1 Corinthians 16:19).
Greet Priscilla and Aquila . . . (2Timothy 4:19)
Non-Biblical and speculative ideas about Priscilla and Aquila:
Tradition holds that Priscilla and Aquila were both martyred; however the accounts of their martyrdom are vague, sketchy and contradictory.
Some theologians, such as Adolph von Harnack and Ruth Hoppin, speculate that Priscilla may have been the author of the book of Hebrews. An interesting article about this subject, here.
In the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Aquila and a man named Nicetas are listed as the first bishops of Asia.
An Orthodox Church tradition states that Aquila was one of Jesus’ 70 disciples in Luke 10:1-24. (This is unlikely.)
 Twice Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila as his ministry colleagues (“co-workers”) (Rom 16:3-5; 2 Tim 4:19).
 Seutonius wrote that Claudius had expelled all the Jews (which included Priscilla and Aquila) from Rome in AD49. Priscilla and Aquila later returned to Rome (probably from Ephesus) after the death of Claudias.
 Aquila, Priscilla and Paul were all tentmakers by profession. During Paul’s third Missionary tour, Paul stayed with Priscilla and Aquila at Ephesus for three years. They were all still living in Ephesus when Paul passed on Aquila and Priscilla’s greeting to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 16:19. Aquila and Priscilla returned to Rome by AD57 where they became church leaders again. Paul had no problem with a godly, capable woman being a church leader.
 The Greek does not specify that Priscilla and Aquila invited Apollos into their home, which is what the NIV translation indicates (Acts 18:26 NIV). The verb proslambanō in Acts 18:26 is the same verb in Mark 8:32 where Peter took Jesus aside. This verb is used in a variety of ways and can mean: ”to take to oneself, assume, take as a companion or associate … to take food … to receive kindly or hospitably, admit to one’s own society and friendship …” (Perschbacher 1990:354)
 In its earliest days, Christianity was often referred to as “The Way”. (See Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 24:14,22; etc.)
 Exethento (from ektithēmi) 3rd person plural aorist middle indicative.
 The order of Priscilla’s and Aquila’s names is significant. In his account of the joint ministry of the Paul and Barnabas, Luke switches the order of the names of Paul and Barnabas, listing first whoever was more well-known or more active in ministry at that particular time. (See Acts 13:7, 42-50; 14:1, 3, 12, 14, 23; 15:2, 12, 22, 25, 35-36.)
 All of the following words are used in the New Testament to describe the transmission and teaching of the gospel and Christian doctrine: Parrēsiazomai means “speak openly, boldly or freely”; peithō means “persuade”; martureō means “testify” or “bear witness”; legō or laleō simply means “speak” or “talk”; dialegomai means “discuss” or “reason”; parakaleō means “exhort” or “encourage”, keryssō means “proclaim” or “preach”; euaggelizomai means “proclaim the good news or gospel”; ektithēmi means “put forth” or “explain”; disdaskō means “teach”; etc.
 Strong defines ektithēmi as “declare” and “expound”. (Strong’s number 1620)
 As previously stated, BDAG (p310) defines ektithēmi as “to convey information by careful elaboration”.
 King Lemuel’s mother is another Bible woman who taught a man. The teaching of this woman has been recorded in Scripture and thus has the authority of Scripture. [More on King Lemuel's mother here.]
Scriptures marked (NIV) are taken from: The Holy Bible, New International VersionCopyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scriptures marked (NASB) are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”
Aland, Barbara, et al (Ed), The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition, Stuttgart: Biblia-Druck for the United Bible Societies, 1998.
Anon (attributed to Clement of Rome), Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, James Donaldson (ed), Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf07.ix.viii.iv.html accessed 9/09/2010
Bauer, Walter, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, revised and edited by F.W Danker, University of Chicago Press, 2000. [Known as BDAG for short.]
Belleville, Linda L., “Women Leaders in the Bible” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Heirarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothous (ed), Leicester:InterVaristy Press, 2004.
Blue, B. B., “Apollos” in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne (ed), Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Payne, Philip B., Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
Perschbacher, Wesley J., (Ed) The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990
Strong, James, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, McLean, Virginia: Macdonald Publishing Company, n.d.
Wallace, Daniel B., Did Priscilla “teach” Apollos? An Examination of the Meaning of ἐκτίθημι in Acts 18:26, Bible.org. http://bible.org/article/did-priscilla-teach-apollos accessed 08/09/2010
© 11th of September, 2010; Margaret Mowczko
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Paul’s (gender-inclusive) Qualifications for Church Leaders
Junia and the ESV
Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders at Philippi
Masculine and Feminine Leadership (1 Thessalonians 2)
Old Testament Priests and New Testament Ministers
Tags: Bible women, Biblical equality, can a woman be a pastor, can women teach men, complementarian arguments, New Testament Women, Paul and Women, Priscilla, women in ministry debate, Women in the early church
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