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ON SOME OF THE SUBORDINATE CHARACTERS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
BY THE REV. WILLIAM BROCK.
I.-AQUILA AND PRISCILLA.
A SERIES of most interesting studies might be made out of the secondary or subordinate characters mentioned in Scripture. Behind the more prominent figures of patriarch, prophet, and apostle, we catch glimpses of many a true and noble nature passing across the scene for a moment, and then disappearing. Who would not fain know more of Zaccheus, of Lazarus, of Cornelius, of Philip the evangelist; who but would be glad to put together the scattered allusions in the Epistles to the deaconess Phoebe, or "Gaius, mine host," to Epaphroditus of Philippi, or Onesiphorus of Ephesus? The field of selection is large. We will at present call out of the throng one Christian pair, Aquila and Prisca, or, as she is usually called, Priscilla.
Husband and wife they come before us-" Aquila, and his wife Priscilla," the wife taking her part in the business, forward in the Christian service, and by no means, we judge, the weaker vessel. Their names, adopted perhaps for facility in travelling, are Latin ; but by nationality they were Jews, "born in Pontus," where the Jews abounded. They were great travellers. Sometimes you hear of them at Rome, then at Corinth, then at Ephesus, places separated as widely then, in point of time, as London, Bombay, and Hong Kong at the present day. And they travelled on business, like the Midianite merchants of the Old Testament, or the architects and masons of the Middle Ages, carrying their trade, where it was likely to be most in request, from one great commercial city to another.
"By their occupation they were tentmakers." Various explanations have been given of the Greek word which describes their business. "They were of ropemaker craft," is Wycliff's translation. Others have suggested "saddlers," "tapestry-weavers," and even "mathematical instrument makers." There is no reason however to go so far a-field. Tents were in great demand in a warlike, wandering age like that. At Rome they would be wanted for the army, and at Ephesus for sale to the shepherds of the interior. They were made of a rough black cloth, woven from the coarse hair of the goats which browsed over the broad highlands of Asia Minor. And Aquila and his wife were either weavers of this cloth, or else they bought the cloth from others and made their money by working it up into tents. There is reason to suppose that they were in comfortable circumstances. At Rome and at Corinth they had a house large enough to
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accommodate a small assembly of brethren; while at Ephesus they were ready to receive strangers, and to afford them substantial shelter. Altogether, when we meet them, they appear an industrious, intelligent, and thriving Christian couple, singularly free from the bigotry common to their countrymen; and we are now prepared by the help of the Acts and the Epistles to trace out the series of incidents which connect their personal history with the early annals of the Church.
1. Acts xviii. 1-3.* Paul has landed for the first time at Corinth in deep depression of heart, and, for once, without a single companion. He looks among the strange faces in the synagogue for some one to give him what he wants, work to do and a friendly roof over his head. Aquila and his wife come forward to greet the stranger. Their trade proves to be also his; their house and workshop are at his service, and he goes home with them at once. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Month after month Paul "reasoned in the synagogue," and preached in the house of Justus, till all the city was moved and the great Corinthian Church was gathered. But each night we imagine him finding his way back to that homely shelter, and taking counsel and comfort from those wise and faithful friends; and many a long day's trying work over the tough haircloth we see sweetened by the same companionship.
Was Paul the means of their conversion? Curiously enough, nothing is said about that. One is disposed to conclude that in their travels they had already met with Christian teachers and embraced the faith. Then this intimacy with the Apostle would serve to clear their views and confirm their resolutions, and they would be prepared to explain to others also "the word of God more perfectly." For eighteen months the three lived and laboured and prayed together; and then, sailing in one ship to Ephesus, they parted company for a time, Aquila and his wife establishing themselves there and Paul hastening on to Jerusalem..
2. Acts xviii. 24-26. A sensation in the synagogue at Ephesus! One of the great corn ships which traded between Alexandria and Asia Minor had brought over a young university man, Apollos, trained in all the learning of the Jews. He appears as the eloquent advocate of the Messiahship of Jesus. All were impressed; but with a peculiar interest must Aquila and Priscilla have listened to this new and unexpected champion of the Christian faith. They soon detected, however, startling differences between the teaching of Apollos and that of Paul. It proved in many respects defective. It stopped halfway. There was only a partial knowledge of the facts, and there was a corresponding weakness in the doctrines. The coming of the Holy Spirit was evidently unknown to Apollos, and perhaps even the resurrection of Christ. He was just where they themselves may have been before Paul came, "knowing only the baptism of John."
*It is suggested that the reader turn to the passages referred to, and peruse them before he passes on.