Phoebe (biblical figure)
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Church
Phoebe (Koine Greek Φοίβη) was a first-century Christian woman mentioned by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, verses 16:1-2. A notable woman in the church of Cenchreae, she was trusted by Paul to deliver his letter to the Romans. Paul refers to her both as a deacon (Gk. diakonon) and as a helper or patron of many (Gk. prostatis). This is the only place in the New Testament where a woman is specifically referred to with these two distinctions. Paul introduces Phoebe as his emissary to the church in Rome and, because they are not acquainted with her, Paul provides them with her credentials.
Paul's letter to the Romans was written in Corinth sometime between the years 56 and 58, in order to solicit support for an anticipated missionary journey to Spain. Although he had not yet visited Rome, Paul would have been familiar with the community and its circumstances through Priscilla and Aquila, who were in Corinth, having previously lived in Rome. Biblical scholars are divided as to whether Chapter 16, Paul's letter of recommendation for Phoebe, was intended for Rome, with whose Christian community he was not acquainted, or with the more familiar community at Ephesus.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.— Paul[Rom. 16:1-2]
Some scholars believe Phoebe was responsible for delivering Paul's epistle to the Roman Christian church.
Greek terms for her titles
Apostle Paul used the Greek diakonos (διάκονος) to designate Phoebe as a deacon. "Deacon" is a transliteration of the Greek, and in Paul's writings sometimes refers to a Christian designated to serve with the overseers of a church, and at others refers to "servants" in a general sense. In the letter to the Romans, apart from the debated case of Phoebe, it always refers to "servants" in the generic sense, as opposed to a church office. However, at this inaugural stage in the Church's formation it is no doubt premature to think of offices as being consistent or clearly defined, and Rosalba Manes argues that Paul's use of the term "deacon" suggests that, like Stephen and Philip, Phoebe's ministry may have extended beyond charitable works to include preaching and evangelization.
"Likewise the Women"
While some scholars believe Paul restricted the office of deacon to men, others do not, since, when describing the qualities that the office-holders called "deacons" must possess, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:11 gunaikas (Greek for "women") hosautos (Greek for "likewise"), translated "likewise the women." They, likewise, are to be "worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything." The "likewise" indicated that the women deacons were to live according to the same standards as the men deacons (see also the Apostle Paul's use of the term "likewise" in Romans 1:27, 1 Cor. 7:3,4,22, and Titus 2:3,6).
In classical Greek the word prostates (προστάτης) (feminine, prostatis) was used to mean either a chief or leader, or a guardian or protector, often in a religious context; it was later used also to translate the Roman concept of a patron. The Apostle Paul's use indicates that its range of meanings had not changed by New Testament times. This suggests that Phoebe was a woman of means, who, among other things, contributed financial support to Paul's apostolate, and probably hosted the house church of Cenchreae in her home, as well as, providing shelter and hospitality to Paul when in the town.
The Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates Phoebe with Lydia of Thyatira and Dorcas on January 27, the day after the commemoration of the early male missionaries Silas, Timothy and Titus and two days after the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The Episcopal Church does likewise. However, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod remembers her on October 25, while the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church place her feast day as September 3.
- Quient, Allison. "Phoebe: Helper or Leader?" Arise, 14 Mar 2013. Christians for Biblical Equality. 
- Campbell, Joan Cecelia. Phoebe: Patron and Emissary, Liturgical Press. 2015 ISBN 9780814684023
- Jewett, Robert. Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2007), p. 943
- See, for example, Borg, Marcus and John Dominic Crossan (2009) The First Paul: Reclaiming the radical visionary behind the church's conservative icon. London: SPCK (51)
- NIV footnote
- Manes, Rosalba. "Phoebe a woman of luminous charity", L'Osservatore Romano, January 2, 2018
- MacDonald, Margaret Y., “Was Celsus Right? The Role of Women in the Expansion of Early Christianity”, Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, ed. David L. Balch and Carolyn Oziak (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 166
- Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Deacon, Deaconess'". Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1997.
- "Deacon, Deaconess - Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology Online".
- Liddell, Scott & Jones, 1882, Lexicon, s.v.
- Further reading
- Household Names: Michael Peppard, "Junia, Phoebe, & Prisca in Early Christian Rome", 23 April 2018, Commonweal