There are certain parts of Paul’s letters that we typically pass over in silence. The long lists of greetings, in particular, are flyover territory for expository preachers. “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, …” The congregation is probably snoring already.
And yet such passages can, on occasion, furnish us with beautiful examples of coincidence without design. Consider this passing reference in Romans 16:3-4:
Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.
A nice compliment—but stay a while and examine what this means.
First, the fact that this greeting appears in the epistle to the Romans suggests that Prisca and Aquila are inhabitants of that city. Now flip to Acts 18:2, where Paul encounters “Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” So Prisca (a diminutive form of “Priscilla”) and Aquila were originally inhabitants of Rome, perhaps recently returned once the expulsion under Claudius ceased to be enforced. This is one point of coincidence.
Second, notice that Paul calls them “fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” What did they do to deserve that commendation? Again, from Acts 18, we find that Paul stayed with them (18:3), and when he left, they departed with him (18:18). From this, it would be a fair inference that they were fellow workers with him, though only Paul’s greeting in Romans makes this fact explicit.
Third, Paul says that they “risked their necks” for his sake. How so? See Acts 18:12-17, where Paul is dragged before the Roman tribunal and Sosthenes is beaten by the mob. If Aquila and Prisca were Paul’s fellow workers Christ Jesus in Corinth, it is clear that they, too, were exposed to dangers.
Fourth, Paul indicates that the churches of the Gentiles give thanks for them. Given the themes of the entire letter, this singling out of the Gentiles seems to have more than ordinary significance. And going back to Acts 18:2, we find that Aquila was a Jew, expelled from Rome when the emperor Claudius, exasperated with riots in the Jewish quarter that had something to do with a fellow named “Chrestus” (a common Roman misspelling of “Christus”), decided to evict the Jews. Yet they were working with Paul, who in this very city declared that he was turning from the Jews to the Gentiles and from that time forward conducted a highly effective mission among them (18:5-11). So Prisca and Aquila, though Jews, took part in the ministry to the Gentiles. And that is how they earned the thanks of the Gentile churches.
Once more, from this same list of greetings, consider Romans 16:1-3:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
Why commend a servant of the church at Cenchreae? Paul is writing, apparently, from Corinth. Perhaps Cenchreae is, then, in the neighborhood of Corinth. But we need not even consult a map (which would bear this out), as we find from the book of Acts that Paul himself, upon leaving Corinth, visited Cenchreae (Acts 18:18).
Thus the apparently barren lists of greetings furnish us with numerous points of indirect correspondence—consistency and even harmony, but without verbal borrowing—with the events in the historical narrative of Acts.