I recently did a somewhat tongue-in-cheek miniseries on the “papacy” of Aquila and Priscilla. Although I was spoofing the papacy, it also had a basis in fact. Now I’m going to make the same point sans the satire.
I’ll begin with a brief bibliographical précis. F. F. Bruce wrote a useful study of Aquila and Priscilla in chap. 6 of The Pauline Circle (Eerdmans 1985). Peter Lampe wrote a more expansive and up-to-date treatment of Aquila and Priscilla in chap. 18 of From Paul to Valentinus (Fortress 2003), in which he makes use of both Biblical and archaeological evidence. He also has additional background information in chap. 2. His treatment has been sifted, supplemented, and updated by Robert Jewett in his comments on Rom 16:3-5. Cf. Romans: A Commentary (Fortress 2003), 954-60.
Paul Barrett has a helpful analysis of Rom 16 in his commentary. Commentaries on Acts 18:1-3 (e.g. Darrell Bock; David Peterson), 1 Cor 16:19 (e.g. Joseph Fitzmyer; Brian Rosner/Roy Ciampa), and 2 Tim 4:19 (e.g. William Mounce; Philip Towner) provide collateral information.
Aside from the specifics of Aquila and Priscilla, there are general background studies on 1C house churches, 1C ecclesiology, and “urban elites” who patronized the nascent Christian movement. Cf. Cf. R. Beckwith, Elders in Every City (Paternoster 2003); W. Meeks, The First Urban Christians (Yale 1983); D. Gill, “Acts and the Urban Elites,” D. Gill & C. Gempf, eds. The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting (Eerdmans, 1994), 105-118; B. Blue, Acts and the House Church,” ibid. 119-222; B. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows (Eerdmans 2003).
From this sort of information, we can draw the following conclusions:
1. The church of Rome wasn’t founded by Peter. Indeed, the church of Rome wasn’t founded by any apostle.
2. The church of Rome was informally founded by Roman Christians.
3. Aquila and Priscilla were among the founders (or cofounders) of the Roman church.
4. There was no single church of Rome in the 1C. Rather, the 1C church of Rome was a loose association of independent house-churches. As Barnett summarizes the data in Rom 16:
There are at least three house church groups:
Verse 5: “the church in the house [of Prisca and Aquila]”
Verse 14: “the brothers with [Asyncritus et al]”
Verse 15: “the saints with [Philologus and Julia et al]”
It is possible, however, that a dozen other “clusters” are implied by individuals, couples or groups named by Paul. Beyond that there may have been synagogue-linked groups to which Paul’s main opponent’s belonged.
As many as six Jewish-led house-groups are implied. These Jewish names [Rom 16:3,6-7,10-11,13] confirm that some Jews reentered Rome after the death of Claudius in AD 54 when his decree of AD 49 expelling Jews from Rome would have lapsed.
P. Barnett, Romans (Christian Focus 2003), 366-67.
5. Aquila and Priscilla probably hosted a church in Rome before the expulsion of Jews and Jewish Christians, then returned to Rome, after the Claudian edict had lapsed, to restore the church of Rome.
6. Priscilla was probably a Roman noblewoman who used her wealth and family connections to sponsor the nascent Christian movement. Priscilla and Aquila were Pauline missionaries and church-planters.
7. Given his role as a Pauline missionary, Aquila is probably a Christian elder or “bishop” (in the NT sense of the term). Indeed, he may have been a Jewish elder before he became a Christian elder–since Christian eldership is a carryover from Jewish eldership.
Since they hosted Christian gatherings in their various homes, they were in charge of the proceedings, in their head-of-household capacity. In addition, Priscilla was a Roman aristocrat, who outranked the plebian class. And, of course, they would have instructed the faithful in Christian doctrine and ethics.
As such, we could designate Aquila as the first pope and Priscilla as the popessa. Likewise, since they headed “the church of Rome,” this made them vicars of the heavenly head (Christ).
That usage is admittedly anachronistic, and I myself don’t subscribe to the papacy. Since, however, Catholic apologists never hesitate to retroject later unscriptural developments back into the 1C, I’m simply responding to them on their own grouds. If they reisist the application of papal terminology to Aquila and Priscilla, then they need to ditch the anachronism of a monarchical episcopate in 1C Rome.
Of course, if Peter came to town, there’s a sense in which he could pull rank on Priscilla and Aquila. But that’s true of any apostle who happened to be there.
BTW, mainstream Catholic scholars like Raymond Brown (Priest and Bishop) wouldn’t have any problem with what I’m saying. It’s only lay Catholic apologists, many of them converts to Rome, who resort to retrograde arguments for the papacy.