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P & A Tent Makers

The Jews in Rome were fighting with one another about the person of Jesus Christ. Was He the Messiah, or was He not? To end this religious disturbance, Emperor Claudius issued an edict expelling all Jews from Rome.  “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] banished them from Rome” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, 1981 Edition, p. 481).  Priscilla and Aquila, Jewish Christians, packed up their business and moved to Corinth.

It is fortunate that their tent making business was portable and could be set up in elsewhere. Tent making at that time was a respected and profitable business. Priscilla and Aquila appear to have been joint owners of the business, and it is likely they set up shop in central Corinth.

How large was their shop? Historians say that prosperous tent makers hired subcontractors: weavers, leather workers and assemblers. After a time in Corinth, their shop probably expanded and employed a number of workers. Expositor’s Commentary states that Priscilla and Aquila “owned a tent making and leather-working firm, with branches in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1981 Edition, Vol. 9, p. 481).

What kind of tents did they make? Several kinds of tents were commonly made at the time: black goat hair tents, small leather tents for soldiers, woven linen canopies for shade, and umbrellas. Consistently the commentaries mention goat hair tents, and if their tent making business produced goat hair tents along with leather/skin tents, they would have employed leather workers, spinners, weavers, and those skilled at sewing woven panels into tents.

Goat hair tents are still manufactured today (“The Goat Hair Tent”). Commentators state that the skills required to make today’s woven tents are the methods that have been passed on from craftsmen in ancient times.

However, the kind of tents manufactured by the business is not what’s really important in their story. The tent making profession linked Priscilla and Aquila with the apostle Paul and opened for them a remarkable interval of Christian service. Paul met them when he applied to work as a journeyman tentmaker in their shop. He came to Corinth on a missionary journey and planned to support himself as a tentmaker. What a God-ordained association: Paul was led to tentmakers, Christians, who were probably converted in Rome. Theirs must have been a productive friendship as Paul refers to them as “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3).

Nowhere in Paul’s letters does he ever mention concern for how the couple functioned as business partners, how they treated him or how they served as hosts of the churches that met in their homes. When Paul left for Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila went with him. Commentators suggest they left Corinth to open a branch in Ephesus. They may have left as a business decision, but they traveled with Paul. Scripture does not give the reason they relocated to Ephesus or what financial aid they gave Paul in his ministry there.

Priscilla and Aquila remained in Ephesus four or five years and hosted a congregation of believers in their home (1Cor. 16:19). They were probably present or involved in helping Paul during the riot provoked by Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 19:21-41). Paul may have had this frightening episode in mind when he wrote that Priscilla and Aquila “risked their own necks for my life.”

While in Ephesus, they met the great Jewish orator, Apollos, who spoke fervently from the scriptures about God’s way and the baptism of John. They quietly instructed him about the essentials of the Christian way so that Apollos was able to speak with greater accuracy and completeness.  Apollos later became an apostle and an eloquent preacher of the gospel.

Commentators such as Richard Longnecker (Expositor’s,  p.481) suggest that Priscilla may have had important Roman connections. She may have been a citizen. Aquila may have been a freed slave or of lower social standing than his wife. Her name may be first because of her social standing or her financial backing of the tent making business. We don’t know.

We do know that Priscilla and Aquila returned to Rome after Claudius died and hosted a church of believers in their home. We know their names are always linked together in business, in marriage and in Christian service. They were an exemplary couple who fulfilled the roles God prepared for them. They made an inestimable contribution to Christianity by supporting the work of the apostle Paul, by caring for believers, and by preparing Apollos for his powerful ministry.♦ Mary Hendren


Tradition holds that Priscilla and Aquila were both martyred; however the accounts of their martyrdom are vague, sketchy and contradictory.

About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

One response

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