The First Century Church According to a Forgotten Female Leader | Sojourners

The First Century Church According to a Forgotten Female Leader

A review of “Priscilla: The Life of an Early Christian,” by Ben Witherington III.

THE NOVEL BEGINS with a nightmare from the 10th year of Nero’s reign, 64 C.E. “Rome was burning, would not stop burning ... the screams of adults and children, burning.”

Priscilla, or Prisca, is just waking up from a bad dream. An early Christian believer from “Roma,” wife of Aquila, a leatherworker like “Paulus,” and a house church leader (Acts 18:18-28; Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), Prisca is now a widow with an adopted daughter. The nightmare encourages her to record her life story.

Author Ben Witherington III is a professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and a prolific writer. With his imagination, New Testament mentions of Prisca, and knowledge of the culture and politics of the Roman Empire, Witherington creates a dramatic account of the first century church, as told by an early leader.

He first portrays Prisca as a young freedwoman adopted by her childless mistress. She is named Priscilla after her adoptive mother and given Roman citizenship. The elder Priscilla was a Jewish adherent, so devout that she traveled to Jerusalem for the feast of Shavuot (in Greek, “Pentecost”), taking her adopted teenage daughter with her. By coincidence, the festival that year ushered in the descent of the Spirit and the birth of the church. Thus Prisca became part of the Jesus movement from the beginning.

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