Priscilla: Mother of Teachers
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus. He had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul visited with them. Because they practiced the same trade, he stayed and worked with them. They all worked with leather. (Acts 18: 1-3)
After Paul stayed in Corinth for some time, he said good-bye to the brothers and sisters. At the Corinthian seaport of Cenchreae he had his head shaved, since he had made a solemn promise. Then, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, he sailed away to Syria. (Acts 18:18)
He [Apollos] began speaking with confidence in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they received him into their circle of friends and explained to him God’s way more accurately. (Acts 18:26)
The churches in the province of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you warmly in the Lord, together with the church that meets in their house. (1 Corinthians 16:19)
Say hello to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life. I’m not the only one who thanks God for them, but all the churches of the Gentiles do the same. (Romans 16:3-4)
Say hello to Prisca and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. (2 Timothy 4:19)
Priscilla and Aquila: Teachers and Church Planters
We know quite a lot about Priscilla, (or Prisca), thanks to her many mentions by name in scripture. Priscilla and Aquila were among some of the most impactful church planters and teachers in the early church and some of Paul’s closest friends. They are known to have planted churches in Rome, Ephesus and Corinth. Priscilla and Aquila’s journey can be traced through scripture and Priscilla’s role as a teacher is well documented and should be appreciated given the impact her teaching has had on Christianity. Paul records that she and Aquila taught Apollos, a fellow Jew and preacher who was educated in the scriptures but had not yet heard the full message of Jesus (Acts 18:24-26). Many scholars have defended the fact that Priscilla is the most logical candidate to be the author of the book of Hebrews given her background, education and experience. The reality is, with a close look at scripture and mounting historical evidence, if Priscilla had been male, the book of Hebrews would have been attributed to her long ago.
So the question becomes: given today's scholarly research, why are we not discussing the possibility of a female writing a book of the New Testament? What implications would this have to the church’s stance that women cannot teach or be pastors or priests in much of Christianity? How could this knowledge be liberating for women? If the global church were to recognize and accept the evidence that, despite the absence of an official greeting, all signs of the authorship of Hebrews point to Priscilla, what would this mean to the establishment of much of the church today?
Priscilla’s Epistle: Connecting the dots
Ten reasons why we can faithfully assert that Priscilla is the most likely author of Hebrews:
1. Priscilla’s education
Historical evidence has shown that Priscilla was a Roman from a patrician family who converted to Judaism and later married Aquila (a Jewish freedman). As a member of a higher class, her Roman education would have involved learning Greek, rhetoric and the philosophy of the day, setting her up to be an excellent oral and written communicator tuned into the culture she was a part of.
2. Priscilla was a teacher
We know Priscilla was a teacher because Paul calls her one in Acts 18:24-26, and explains her impact on Apollos’ teaching. It is not a stretch to imagine that her sermons would have been recorded by scribes, especially in the early church where communities of new believers were rapidly multiplying. Some scholars have noted the shift in tone in chapter 13 suggests the postscript of Hebrews was added later to turn what could be a sermon into a letter similar to Paul’s for wider distribution. 
3. The intended audience was Greek speaking and not Hebrew speaking
In the 2nd century Clement of Alexandria reasoned that Paul must have been the author (who would have written it in Hebrew) and that Luke later translated it to Greek. . Origin dismissed this, citing the book’s Greek writing style and sophisticated thought was in line with the ancient philosophy of Rome at the time and inconsistent with Paul’s writing and thought patterns. Still the King James Version attributed authorship to Paul in the title of Hebrews and this has perpetuated false belief of authorship over time. The idea of Paul as a potential author has now been thoroughly rejected due to significant differences in literary style and is no longer a topic of debate. 
4. Clues in the postscript (Hebrews 13:22-25)
From the postscript we know that the author is a leader alongside Timothy which links the author of Hebrews to Paul. The author was also geographically located in Italy, where Priscilla and Aquila were members of a house church in Rome.
5. No other documented church leaders exist
The inner circle of church leaders alongside Paul is well documented in history and in scripture. There is no reason to think that an unknown or unnamed leader exists that would fit the qualifications mentioned in the postscript as well as Priscilla does.
6. The interchangeable use of “I” and “we”
In 1900, Adolf von Harnack proposed that Hebrews was written by Priscilla partially because of the unique interchanging between “I” and “we” that fits the ministering couple Priscila and Aquila perfectly. Hebrews is written in a way that assumes familiarity with it’s audience suggesting the original hearers would have understood the meaning behind “I” and “we” as referring to Priscilla herself or Priscilla and Aquila together.
7. Awareness of women from scripture
The theology and voice of Hebrews differs significantly from the other epistles. There is a focus on the nature of relationships, particularly of mothering relationships. From the mention of Sarah in Heb. 11:11 to the mention of Moses’ parents having compassion on him as a baby, Pharoah’s foster mother and Rahab to name just a few, there is significant attention to the emotion behind the actions of the women unique to the epistles and scripture in general (Heb. 11:23, 24, 31). 
8. A feminie voice
There is a strong sense of empathy from the writer of Hebrews and attention to the details of stories and issues traditionally understood as femine concerns. The author expresses not just the compassion of Christ but compassion for Christ (Heb. 5:7-9). There is perceptiveness of emotion that reflects the pastoral nature of one who is not only sympathetic to suffering but empathizes through what reads like personal experience. 
9. The loss of the author’s name so early in the letter’s history
We have over 14,000 letters in existence today from the ancient world, and many are originals. There is no record in any of these letters losing their prescript where the author is traditionally mentioned. This has led scholars to believe that authorship was omitted intentionally when copies were circulated to secure acceptance of the letter into the mainstream church movement.
10. No author can be agreed upon
Every attempt at assigning a male author has resulted in a contradiction that rules them out. From Paul to Apollos to Barnabas to Aquila scholars have never fully agreed on authorship. Each of these candidates have alibis and contradictions that disqualify them from being contendors. A male author cannot be found and this is simply because there isn't one.
Why does investigating the authorship of Hebrews matter for us today?
Keeping this discussion alive matters because women’s voices must be heard and recognized.
By uncovering these voices of women in history we are allowed to imagine their lives and their leadership in a way that honors them in the fullness of truth and creates space for women to imagine stepping into similar roles of leading themselves.
In the case of Priscilla as the Mother of Teachers, we have an opportunity to see not only more of her story but an opportunity to honor her legacy as an early church mother and leader in Christianity whose voice has shaped our history and can shape the future of women in the church today.
- Have you ever considered who the author of Hebrews is before? What have you been taught previously about the authorship of Hebrews?
- What would it change or not change in your church context if there was proof that Priscilla wrote the book of Hebrews?
- Does imagining a female writer change how you read Hebrews?
- Practice lectio divina for Hebrews 12:1-2. What stands out for you? What speaks to you from meditating on this passage?
About the art
Illustrated with a sophisticated and muted color palette, Priscilla stands out against a dark background as I imagine she would have stood out in her time. She is a woman whose wisdom and perseverance as a leader in a turbulent society is seen in her experienced face. Familiar with the ways of Rome and exposure to the upper class of society, she is elegant yet approachable in traditional clothing and hair style typical of her time.
- Mary Rose D’Angelo, “Hebrews,” in Women’s Bible Commentary: Twentieth-Anniversary Edition Revised and Updated, eds. Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe & Jacqueline E Lapsley (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 608.
- Pamela Eisenbaum “Father and Son: The Christology of Hebrews in Patrilineal Perspective” in A Feminist Companon to the Catholic Epistles and Hebrews, eds. Amy-Jill Levine & Maria Mayo Robbins (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 149.
- Eisenbaum, “Father and Son,” 150.
- D’angelo, “Hebrews,” 608.
- Ruth Hoppin, Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Fort Bragg, CA: Lost Coast Press, 2009), 27.
- Hoppin, Priscilla’s Letter, 25.
- Hoppin, Priscilla’s Letter, 3.