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Women Of The Bible: Lesson #29 – Priscilla, Philip’s Daughters, Drusilla, Bernice and Phoebe

 PRISCILLA

Scripture references:  Acts 18:1–26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19 

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Priscilla and her husband were Christian Jews who met Paul in Corinth. The couple had moved to Corinthian when the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. Paul stayed with this couple, who apparently became Christians before meeting the apostle. When Paul left Corinth after a ministry of some two to three years, Priscilla and Aquila went with him to Ephesus. There they hosted a house-church in their home (1 Cor. 16:19), as they probably did in both Rome and Corinth.

Acts 18:24–28 gives us some insight into the ministry of this couple in telling the story of Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew. Apollos had heard the teaching of John the Baptist on the imminent appearance of the Messiah, and he had traveled to spread the message to Jewish groups in the cities of the Roman Empire. During Apollos’s presentation in the synagogue Priscilla and Aquila remained silent. Then they “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). This ministry of quiet instruction seems to have been one of the gifts of this couple.

As a Jewess Priscilla would have had no guarantee of direct access to the Lord. As a Christian she not only had immediate access to God through Christ, but she was also given the privilege of serving Him. Hosting a house-church, supporting Paul’s ministry, teaching and instructing, were all privileges that Priscilla enjoyed as a believer in Jesus. We can measure the closeness of her relationship to God by the commitment she and her husband showed to sharing the gospel message. They even moved their business from city to city to be with Paul and support his ministry.

Priscilla and Aquila were close to Paul. They shared a Jewish heritage and Christian faith. They also shared the trade of leather working. When Paul first came to Corinth, he plied this trade in the couple’s shop. The friendship they developed was deep and lasting. Aquila and Priscilla even accompanied Paul when he left Corinth to go to Ephesus. Paul not only trained the couple in ministry, but they kept in touch while apart. When together Paul added their names to the greetings he sent to Corinth. Later when Paul wrote letters to churches in cities where the couple lived, he was sure to say, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila.” Priscilla, with her husband, was surely one of Paul’s “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3).

In writing to Corinth from Ephesus, Paul sent greetings from the couple, calling them “my fellow workers in Christ” (Rom. 16:3). Priscilla and her husband welcomed fellow believers into their home and made it available for Christian gatherings.  The experience with Apollos, however, gives the most insight into the sensitivity the couple brought to ministry. Rather than correct Apollos publicly, Priscilla and Aquila sensed the faith that was in his heart. They took him aside privately to share the good news that the One of whom John spoke had indeed come. Guided by this caring couple, Apollos responded to the gospel and later “greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:27, 28).

PHILIP’S DAUGHTERS

Scripture reference:  Acts 21:8   Bible Search Tool

The text simply says that Philip had “four virgin daughters who prophesied.” We know nothing more about them, nor do we know whether remaining unmarried was important to the exercise of their prophetic gift.

What we do know is that the age of the Spirit truly had come. In Peter’s first sermon he quoted the prophet Joel’s prediction that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17).

Perhaps more significant is that these young women are second-generation Christians. Their father was a believer who had a significant ministry (Acts 6:1–6; 8:4–40). Now, some years later, we discover that his four daughters are following in their father’s footsteps.

Not everyone’s children will welcome and adopt their parents’ faith. Yet many do, if not in childhood and youth, as they mature. Our role as parents is to provide our children with authentic, dedicated Christian role models in the home, so that our children can see the truth and joy of real Christian discipleship for themselves. 

DRUSILLA

Scripture reference:  Acts 24:24  Bible Search Tool

Drusilla is mentioned only in this verse. She was the Jewish wife of Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. History however tells us more about her.

Drusilla was Herod the Great’s granddaughter. Just before Herod died, he ordered the death of boy children near Bethlehem in an attempt to rid himself of a child born “king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:16–18). Her father, Herod Antipas, had ordered the execution of John the Baptist. So while a Jew, her family had an unbroken record of hostility toward God.

Drusilla herself had married King Aziz of Emesa at age fifteen. Later she left him to marry Felix, without bothering to obtain a divorce. While King Aziz had been forced to convert to Judaism to wed Drusilla, no such conversion was asked of Felix. Felix himself was an ex-slave, who the Roman historian Tacitus condemned as a brutal man bent primarily on extorting a fortune from those he governed.

When Paul was tried before Felix at Caesarea after a riot in Jerusalem, Drusilla was about twenty years old. Rather than settle the case, Felix put a decision off, at least in part because Felix “hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him” (24:26).

However, the time Paul was forced to spend in Caesarea not only gave Luke time to locate the eye-witnesses who provided the details of the account of Christ’s life recorded in Luke’s Gospel, but also gave Paul the opportunity to witness to Felix and Drusilla. Luke tells us that he “reasoned [with them] about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25).

What an opportunity for the young Drusilla, already steeped in the guilt of her sins. Yet, Drusilla gave no indication that she felt anything but hostility toward Paul, and she rejected the forgiveness offered in the gospel. Drusilla seems to have been like so many people. She was guilty enough not to want to be confronted about righteousness, young enough not to be concerned about the judgment to come.

While we do not know what happened to Felix, history tells us that some twenty years after listening to Paul, Drusilla was near Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted. It was too late when she tried to flee that great catastrophe. And too late to escape the judgment of which Paul had warned her two decades before.

BERNICE

Scripture reference:  Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30  Bible Search Tool

Bernice was another woman who wore royal robes. She was much like Drusilla although the two women disliked each other intensely.

They shared a family heritage. Bernice was actually Drusilla’s sister, the granddaughter of Herod the Great, and the daughter of Herod Antipas.

They shared a reputation for immorality. While Drusilla had abandoned her husband to bigamously wed the Roman governor of Judea, Bernice was reputed to have had an incestuous relationship with her brother, Agrippa. Bernice had married a man named Marcus, then her uncle Herod, who was king of Chalcis. She was then consort to her own brother for some years, after which she married Ptolemy, king of Cilicia. She returned to her brother, but later became the mistress first of Vespasian, then of his son, Titus, both of whom became emperors of Rome.

The two women also shared a gift—God’s gift of a wonderful opportunity to hear the gospel. Drusilla heard the gospel from the apostle Paul when her husband, Felix, governed Judea. When Felix’s successor, Festus, became governor, King Agrippa and his sister Bernice visited him. Agrippa eagerly accepted the invitation to hear the prisoner Paul tell his story. Paul presented the gospel before the new Roman governor, Agrippa, Bernice, and all their entourage.

During the brief time Paul spoke, all the listeners faced a choice on which the direction their life on earth and eternal destiny hinged. Festus left thinking that Paul was mad. Agrippa left after making a joke about being “almost persuaded.” And Bernice left to continue on a path of immorality that scandalized even the pagans in the Roman Empire.

PHOEBE

Scripture reference:  Romans 16:1-2   Bible Search Tool

While we have only two verses on Phoebe in the New Testament, it’s clear that she was a significant person in the early church.

These two verses tell us several things about Phoebe’s relationship with Paul.

Phoebe is Paul’s sister in the Lord (Rom. 16:1). Writers of the New Testament Epistles typically address other believers as “brother” and “sister.” All Christians have a relationship with God in which He is our Father. It is appropriate, then, that fellow Christians are brothers and sisters, whatever their age, social status, or gender. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Phoebe had been Paul’s “helper” (Rom. 16:2). The word translated “helper” here is prostatis, a word used in classical Greek of trainers who dedicated themselves to assist an athlete competing for a prize. Here it suggests that Phoebe was a person who committed herself to stand by Paul and do all she could to assist him in his mission. The use of this word indicates that her contribution was significant, not peripheral.

Paul does not hesitate to commend Phoebe to the Romans. The text suggests that Phoebe was traveling to Rome on a church mission. Some think it was Phoebe who carried Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. The apostle had complete confidence in Phoebe and in her mission.

We know little about Phoebe. We don’t know what she looked like. We have no idea how old she was. We don’t know her social class, nor whether she was married, widowed, or single.  What we do know is that Phoebe was a committed Christian, who had earned the trust of Paul and of her fellow believers in Cenchrea.

Perhaps we don’t need to know anything about Phoebe’s looks or personal life. What really counted with Paul and her fellow believers was the depth of her commitment to Christ and her readiness to use her gifts to serve Him and His people.