Friday, November 16, 2012

Trusting Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2)

In what city was Phoebe a deaconess? Cenchreae (Romans 16:1)

Paul’s longest and most influential letter is the Epistle to the Romans. After communicating doctrine throughout the book’s first fifteen chapters (Romans 1:1-15:21), the letter concludes with customary salutations (Romans 16:1-27), equivalent to modern “shout outs”. This section incorporates 26 names representing a hodgepodge of people; Paul greets Jews and Gentiles, men and women alike. The chapter is so thorough that some have posited that it constitutes a self contained letter.

The most extensive salutation is devoted to endorsing Paul’s associate, Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2).

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. (Romans 16:1-2 NASB)
This passage is a letter of recommendation. Letters of introduction, known as sustatikai epistolai, were common in the ancient world (Acts 18:27; II Corinthians 3:1, 4:2, 5:12, 10:12; III John 1:9-10; I Maccabees 12:43; II Maccabees 9:25). These affirmations were important as the ancient traveler had to rely on networking in an age where communication was far scarcer and slower than in modern times.

Paul’s endorsement features standard form and content. Efrain Agosto (b. 1955) outlines:

Romans 16:1-2 includes some typical terms from Greco-Roman commendation letter-writing: συνίστημι, synistēmi (“commend”); προσδέχεσθε, prosdechesthe (“receive”); and παραστητε, parastēte (“assist” or “help”). Paul clearly states Phoebe’s credentials for commendation. She is a “sister,” a διάκονος, diakonos (“servant”), someone “worthy [ἀξίως, axiōs]of the saints,” and a προστάτις, prostatis. Except for the final term, Paul uses language found elsewhere in his letters, including commendation passages (cf. “service [διάκονια, diakonia] to the saints,” I Corinthians 16:15; “receive [προσδέχεσθε, prosdechesthe] him in the Lord,” Philippians 2:29). Finally, the action Paul requests from the Roman churches on Phoebe’s behalf is ambiguous. She is to be welcomed and assisted in whatever she needs. Such ambiguity is also typical of Greco-Roman commendation letters. (J. Paul Sampley [b. 1935], Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook, 123)
Paul does add weight to the common formula. Arland J. Hultgren (b. 1939) explains:
Paul’s commendation has a fourfold structure, in which he (1) identifies Phoebe by name; (2) mentions her credentials (a sister and deacon); (3) expresses a desired action from his readers (to receive her and to assist her); and (4) adds further credentials (calling her a benefactor of many and of Paul). Typically the first three items (identification, credentials, and desired action) appear in Pauline commendations. But in this case Paul adds an additional statement concerning Phoebe’s credentials. That is especially appropriate in this instance, since it sets up reciprocity. Paul asks that the Roman Christians receive Phoebe and assist her, for she has assisted others, including Paul himself. (Hultgren, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary, 569)
Despite employing routine form and content, this unit and Phoebe herself have come under much scrutiny. The mystery surrounding Phoebe’s role has perplexed scholars attempting to reconstruct the flow chart of the early church. The enigma surrounding Phoebe has projected her into the debate regarding what ministerial activities she and other women are authorized to perform and has made her a highly controversial figure.

Though her name was common, Phoebe is mentioned only here in the New Testament (Romans 16:1-2). She is otherwise unknown. Her name means “bright” or “radiant”. It is the feminine form of Phoebus (φοἰβος), a famous epithet given to the god Apollo, “the Bright One”.

Slaves were routinely issued pagan names because figures from Greek mythology commonly substituted for the godfather during the naming process. When slaves became Christian they typically retained their pagan names if not their meaning. In view of this practice, some have speculated that Phoebe is a freedwoman.

Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) theorizes:

The name Phoibē suggests her pagan background and probably connotes her status as a freed slave (so Heinrich Schlier [1900-1978], Römberbrief 441). The name was of mythological origin, that of a Titaness, daughter of Heaven and Earth (Hesiod, Theognis 136), wife of Coeus, and mother of Leto, grandmother of Apollo (Phoebus) and Artemis. The name means “shining, beaming, bright”; it was commonly used in the Greco-Roman world of the time. (Fitzmyer, Romans (The Anchor Bible), 729)
At the very least, it can be inferred that Phoebe is a Gentile as a Jewess would not have used such a name.

Phoebe is referenced with no mention of a father, husband or sons. Paul ignores all other biographical data and emphasizes her role in the church at Cenchreae. Cenchreae was a port situated on the Saronic Gulf, on the southeastern side of the narrow isthmus that connects southern Achaia to northern Achaia (and Macedonia further north). This locale would provide plenty of opportunity for the practical expression of Christian compassion (Romans 16:2).

Located eight miles from the city, Cenchreae served as Corinth’s eastern port to the Aegean Sea; one of two Corinthian ports. The reference to Cenchreae supports the common belief that Romans is written at Corinth (Romans 16:1). Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth (Acts 18:1-18) and the apostle sailed from Cenchreae in traveling from Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:18). In all likelihood, Phoebe was well known in Corinth.

In his glowing recommendation, Paul asserts that Phoebe is a sister, a deacon/servant, a saint, and a helper (Romans 16:1-2). In describing her as “our sister” and “saint”, Paul informs that she is a fellow believer and appeals to their common bond: Christ. Early Christians commonly referred to women believers with the familial appellation “sister” (I Corinthians 7:15, 9:5; Philemon 1:2; James 2:15; Ignatius Epistle to Polycarp 5.1; II Clement 12:5, 19:1, 20:2; The Shepherd of Hermas Vision 2.2.3, 2.3.1).

Paul evokes Phoebe’s status as a diakonos, a shadowy term with a broad range of meaning. Paul uses the same designation earlier in the letter (Romans 13:4 twice). The intent of this term has sparked much discussion. The question is whether the word indicates a general use (“servant”) or the ecclesiastical office of “deacon”, albeit an undeveloped form of this position.

Luke Timothy Johnson (b. 1943) assesses:

Paul uses the language of “service” (diakonia) in a variety of ways, as we might expect for a term so broad in its possible applications. In this letter, he uses it for his own ministry of preaching (Romans 11:13), his collection for the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:31) and for the work of Phoebe (Romans 16:1). A separate ministry of “deacons” appears in I Timothy 3:8, 12, but the “gift of service” may extend beyond that office (see I Corinthians 16:15; II Corinthians 8:4, 9:1; Ephesians 4:12). (Johnson, Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 193)
Colin G. Kruse (b. 1938) adds:
He uses the same word he employs regularly to describe both himself and others as servants of God (II Corinthians 6:4), servants of the gospel (Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23), servants of a new covenant (II Corinthians 3:6), servants in the Lord (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7), and servants of Christ (Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:7; I Timothy 4:6). Only here in Romans 16:1 do we find anyone described as ‘a deacon of the church’, and this appears to be the earliest reference to such a ministry in ‘the church’. In Colossians 1:24-25 Paul does speak of the body of Christ, the church, of which he became a ‘servant’. All this suggests that the apostle recognized Phoebe as a servant of the church similar to his other colleagues and himself. (Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 553)
The diverging opinions on the term’s purpose are evidenced by the variance among translations. Many opt for the general meaning, “servant” (ASV, CEB, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NKJV) as it used of servants drawing water (John 2:5, 9). Others go with the more formal title, “deacon” (NIV, NLT, NRSV) or “deaconess” (AMP, RSV). Still other translations utilize broader designations like “leader” (CEV) or “key representative” (MSG).

Deacon was one of the first offices to emerge in the early Christian movement (Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:8; Ignatius Epistle to the Ephesians 2.1, Epistle to the Magnesians 6.1). Today, it is a loaded term as “Deacon” means different things depending on the denomination or person speaking. Paul’s casual use of the word shows that it has not yet developed the baggage it carries today.

Translations often demonstrate their bias in their rendering of Romans 16:1. Sojung Yoon exposes:

Διάκονος appears a total of nineteen times in the Pauline and Deutero-Pauline letters. Sixteen times the KJV and ASV translate it as “minister,” while in Philippians 1:1 and I Timothy 3:8,12 they translate it as “deacon.” and in Romans 16:1 as “servant.” Therefore one can say that the KJV and ASV imply that διάκονος refers to an official position within the church, since normally they translate it as “minister.” Only in Romans 16:1 do they translate διάκονος as “servant,” thus implying that Phoebe was not a leader in the church but a devoted lay person. The RSV translates διάκονος as “deaconness,” also differentiating Phoebe’s leadership from other male διάκονοι by making the masculine noun διάκονος feminine, a distinction not found in the Greek. (Holly E. Hearon[b. 1956], Distant Voices Drawing Near: Essays in Honor of Antoinette Clark Wire [b. 1934], 20)
Alvin J. Schmidt (b. 1932) chronicles:
Phoebe...was a diakonos, not “deaconess” as male theologians have mistranslated this work in many Bible versions. (The feminine form of diakonos) did not appear in literature until about 300 years after St. Paul addresses Phoebe in the Epistle to the Romans. The Apostolic Constitutions [a Syriac document of about A.D. 375] is the first known Christian writing to use the feminine form of diakonos). The word diakonos appears many times in the New Testament. In the King James Version (KJV) it is most often translated as “minister” when it speaks about a man holding this office. Three times the KJV translates the word as “deacon.” Only in one place does it use the word servant, and that occurs in Romans 16:1, where Phoebe in mentioned...Evidently, beginning with the KJV, English translators were overwhelmed by sexist values because the Miles Coverdale [1488-1569] edition, about seventy years earlier (1535), still translated diakonos in Romans 16:1 as “minister.” Closer to our time, the Revised Standard Version renders diakonos as “deaconess.” while the New International Version, like the KJV, has “servant.” (Schmidt, Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology, 180)
As Yoon and Schmidt allude, “deaconess” is an especially incorrect translation (AMP, RSV, J.B. Phillips [1906-1982]). Kristina LaCelle-Peterson (b. 1960) corrects:
The fact that Paul used the masculine nominative form of the word suggests that she held a particular recognized role of “deacon” or “servant” that carried the same responsibilities as when a man held that role. If Paul is not referring to a specific office that Phoebe held, we have to assume that he simply confused the endings, but that would be like using the wrong gendered pronoun (as in, Phoebe had his mission to fulfill). No educated person would do that, particularly not someone as articulate as Paul. When an English translation renders the word as deaconess it leaves the inaccurate impression that Paul is drawing a distinction of roles based on gender. (Fortunately this is less common in more recent translations.) (LaCelle-Peterson, Liberating Tradition: Women’s Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective, 62)
F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) concurs:
In a church context the word should be rendered ‘deacon’, whether masculine or feminine. That the duties of a deacon could be performed by either men or women is suggested by I Timothy 3:11, where ‘the women’ are to be understood as ‘deacons’ (like the men of I Timothy 3:3-10). (Bruce, Romans (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 252)
Scholarly opinion is as divided as the translators regarding the meaning of diakonos. Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) surveys:
She is a “deacon”...of the church in Cenchrea, which could refer to a general service to the church (NIV; NASB; Kazimierz Romaniuk [b. 1927] 1990:132-34) or an official office in the church (NRSV; REB; NLTL; C.E.B. Cranfield [b. 1915] 1979; James D.G. Dunn [b. 1939] 1988b; Leon Morris [1914-2006] 1988; Douglas J. Moo [b. 1950] 1996; Thomas R. Schreiner [b. 1954] 1998). Most accept the latter, for the term referred to that office (Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:8, 12), and women at times did hold the office (I Timothy 3:11). Moreover, this is the masculine noun (diakonos), and if it did indicate a general “serving,” one would have expected the feminine diakonia. In fact some have concluded that she was the pastor of the congregation (Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza [b. 1938] 1986:425-26; Robert Jewett 1988:148-50), but there is too little evidence that this term was used of the position of pastor over “overseer” in the first century. Most likely she held the office of “deacon,” but there is little evidence regarding what this office entailed...Most likely deacons dealt with the practical needs of the church, for example, caring for the needy...and financial oversight. (Osborne, Romans (IVP New Testament Commentary), 402-3)
The debate is not new, it has persisted for centuries. Colin G. Kruse (b. 1938) documents:
Some early church fathers believed that she fulfilled an official role. Origen [184-253] said: ‘This passage teaches that there were women ordained in the church’s ministry by the apostle’s authority...Not only that — they ought to be ordained into the ministry, because they helped in many ways and by their good services deserved the praise even of the apostle’. Pelagius [354-420] said, ‘Even today, women deaconesses in the East are known to minister to their own sex in baptism or even in the ministry of the Word, for we find that women taught privately, e.g., Priscilla, whose husband was called Aquila.’ Some recent commentators agree. (Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 553-54)
The majority of scholars assert that Phoebe served in some official capacity. Many have concluded that since Paul’s qualification “of the church” (Romans 16:1) connects diakonos to a specific church it also indicates a specific office. This is the first time “church” is used in Romans and in this epistle it always speaks of a local, not the universal, church (Romans 16:1, 4, 5, 16, 23).

C.E.B. Cranfield (b. 1915) comments:

It is perhaps just conceivable that the word διάκονος should be understood here as a quite general reference to her service of the congregation; but it is very much more natural, particularly in view of the way in which Paul formulates his understand it as referring to a definite office. We regard it as virtually certain that Phoebe is being described as ‘a (or possibly ‘the’) deacon’ of the church in question, and that this occurrence of διάκονος is to be classified with its occurrences in Philippians 1:1 and I Timothy 3:8, 12. And, while it is true that the functions of a διάκονος are not expressly indicated in Philippians 1:1 or in I Timothy 3:8ff or in the present two verses, there is nothing in any of these passages in any way inconsonant with the inherent probability that a specialized use of διάκονος in New Testament times will have corresponded to the clearly attested specialized use of διακονειν and διακονία with reference to the practical service of the needy, and there are some features, for example, what is said about Phoebe in Romans 16:2b, which would seem to afford it some support. (Cranfield, Romans 9-16 (International Critical Commentary), 781)
David L. Bartlett (b. 1941) argues that Phoebe is best described as a “minister”: designated as a diakonos. This Greek word often means “minister,” even as Paul applies it to himself (see, for instance, I Corinthians 3:5; II Corinthians 3:6, 6:4, 11:23). Clearly Phoebe has a role of some importance in the early community, and “minister” is probably a better translation than “deacon.” Sometimes a “minister,” or diakonos, is a person who carries out a commission from another. (In II Corinthians 11:15, Paul refers to false apostles as “deacons” or “emissaries” from Satan.) Phoebe may be Christ’s emissary in the church at Cenchreae, as Paul has been Christ’s emissary in Corinth. In Philippians 1:1, “deacons” are apparently local church leaders, though they may not yet be officers in any institutionalized way. Older translations sometimes called Phoebe a “deaconess,” but the Greek word gives not reason to think that she has a leadership role reserved for women. She is a “deacon” or “minister.” (Bartlett, Romans (Westminster Bible Companion), 140)
James D.G. Dunn (b. 1939) states unequivocally, “Phoebe is the first recorded ‘deacon’ in the history of Christianity (Dunn, Romans 9-16 (Word Biblical Commentary), 887).”

If Dunn is correct, there is still great discussion as to what a deacon’s duties entailed. Women holding the office were known to conduct baptisms for women and to preach. The degree to which the term designated an actual office at the time Paul wrote Romans is also unclear.

It is for this reason that many, even those who object to women in ministry, have no problem conceding that Phoebe served as a deacon. Wayne Grudem (b. 1948) explains:

It does not matter very much...whether Phoebe is called a faithful “servant” or a “deacon” in Romans 16:1. In neither case does this passage show that she had any teaching or governing authority in the church. Teaching and governing the whole church are functions given to “elders,” not deacons, in the New Testament (see I Timothy 3:2, 5, 5:17; Titus 1:9; also Acts 20:17, 28). (Grudem, Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses to the Key Questions, 154-55)
The word translated “helper” is as contested as “deacon” (Romans 16:2 NASB). It is prostatis, which literally means someone who stands in front of something else. The word is translated variously “been helpful” (NLT), “helper” (ASV, NASB, NKJV, RSV), “she’s helped” (MSG), “succourer” (KJV), “benefactor” (HCSB, NIV, NRSV), “patron” (ESV) and “respected leader” (CEV). The terminology represents distinguished service. The word connotes great honor. The Roman emperor even boasted that he was the state’s supreme benefactor.

Douglas J. Moo (b. 1950) defines:

The Greek word prostatis is found only here in biblical Greek. It comes from a verb that means (1) “care for, give aid to,” or (2) “direct, preside over.” If Paul is applying to the noun this first meaning of the verb, he would simply be characterizing Phoebe as a “helper” of many Christians...But if we use the meaning of the cognate verb to define prostatis, Pauline usage would favor a different rendering. For Paul seems to use the verb only to mean “direct,” “preside over.” Noting this, some recent scholars have argued that Paul intends to characterize Phoebe as a “leader” of the church. But it is difficult to conceive how Phoebe would have had the opportunity to be a “leader” of Paul. Moreover, the fact, that Paul designates her as the leader “of many” rather than as the leader of “the church” (contrast Romans 16:1) suggests that the term here does not denote an official or even semi-official, position in the local church. The best alternative, then, is to give to prostatis the meaning that if often has in secular Greek: “patron,” “benefactor.” A “patron was one who came to the aid of others, especially foreigners, by providing housing and financial aid and by representing their interests before local authorities. Cenchreae’s status as a busy seaport would make it imperative that a Christian in its church take up this ministry on behalf of visiting Christians. Phoebe, then, was probably a woman of high social standing and some wealth, who put her status, resources, and time at the services of traveling Christians, like Paul, who needed help and support. (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 915-16)
Leander E. Keck (b. 1928) concurs:
The word here surely means more than “a good friend” (REB), for it appears to be the Greek equivalent of the Latin patrona, one who “came to the aid of others, especially foreigners, by providing housing and financial aid and by representing their interests before local authorities”...Acts 16:14-15, 40 suggests that Lydia served as Paul’s patron in Philippi. Phoebe, then, was a “benefactor,” from whose generosity Paul too benefitted (Gaius was another; Romans 16:23). Like Lydia and Gaius, Phoebe had financial resources; what sort of business took her to Rome is not indicated. By making her role in the church a reason to welcome her in Rome, Paul, in effect, says, “She deserves it.” Having assisted travelers like Paul, she would now be given assistance herself. (Keck, Romans (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 369-370)
Some have seen Paul’s use of prostatis as further evidence of a position of leadership. The word is derived from the same root (proistemi) as the word Paul uses for “leads” in Romans 12:8.

Alan F. Johnson (b. 1933) glosses:

The word “help” (Greek prostatis) in Romans 16:2 is found only here in the New Testament and its sense is not entirely clear...The word is found eight times in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and thirteen times in the first-century Jewish writer Josephus [37-100], in each of the twenty-one cases with reference to a person who holds a publicly recognized service-oriented leadership role, the word may be stronger than simply a benefactor...Its choice here by Paul seems to clearly affirm that Phoebe has not only some social position, wealth, and independence, but that she is recognized as an official leader in the church as well. (Johnson, Romans (Everyman’s Bible Commentary), 259-60)
Thomas R. Schreiner (b. 1954) counters:
That Phoebe is being called a leader here is improbable for three reasons. (1) It is highly improbable that Paul would say that Phoebe held a position of authority over him. He says that about no one except Christ, not even the Jerusalem apostles (Galatians 1:6-7, 11), so confident is he of his high authority as an apostle (cf. I Corinthians 14:37-38; Galatians 1:8-9; II Thessalonians 3:14). (2) There seems to be a play on words between the word prostatis and the previous verb paristēmi, in Romans 16:2. Paul says to help (paristēmi) Phoebe because she has been a help ( prostatis) to many, including to Paul himself. It fits the context better understand Paul as saying “help Phoebe because she has been such a help to others and to me.” (3) Although the related masculine noun prostatēs can mean “leader,” the actual feminine noun (prostatis) does not take the meaning “leader” but is defined as “protectress, patroness, helper.” (John Piper [b. 1946] and Wayne Grudem [b. 1948], Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, 219-220)
Whatever her official position, Paul’s argument is clear: Phoebe has helped others and deserves any assistance the Roman Christians can provide. She has good kharma. In making this assertion, Paul is diplomatically reiterating his previous charge to contribute “to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality (Romans 12:13 NASB).”

It is uncertain what assistance Phoebe might need. Rudolf Schumacher (b. 1884) was the first to espouse that the language (pragma, Romans 16:2) connotes a lawsuit (Schumacher, Die beiden letzten kapitel des Römerbriefes, 49). While others have adopted this stance, it is far from certain.

Regardless of her gender, position and whatever needs she might have, it can be certain that Phoebe is special and a leading figure in the church at Cenchraea.

Which part of the letter was most important to the Romans, the teaching or the greetings? Is the recommendation of Phoebe an afterthought? When have you received a letter of recommendation? Who vouches for you? Who have you known that fits Phoebe’s description? Who are the leading women in your church? Can women serve as deacons there? In your opinion, what functions should a woman not perform? Is there anything that God cannot accomplish through a woman?

Though it is not stated in the letter, the prevailing opinion is that Phoebe is the bearer of the Epistle to the Romans. (To acknowledge her as courier in the letter might be considered stating the obvious.) The Roman Empire had no public postal system and many believe that she is delivering the correspondence while conducting “whatever business” she is tending to (Romans 16:2). Subscriptions in some ancient manuscripts even indicate as much (337, 424, 1881, Majority text). This theory is also attested in early Christian documents, e.g. Pseudo-Constantius, The Holy Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (on 16:1); dated 405.

Margaret Y. MacDonald (b. 1961) notes:

It was quite common for ancient letters to include praise of their bearers, and sometimes letters were written for the sole purpose of commending their bearers. Paul’s instructions concerning Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 appear to reflect this conventional practice (cf. I Corinthians 16:15-18). It is impossible to be certain whether this commendation is made only to guarantee that the Romans offer her the best kind of hospitality or whether Paul intends that she might play a specific role in the life of the Roman community. (Ross Shepard Kraemer [b. 1948] and Mary Rose D’Angelo, Women & Christian Origins, 207-208)

Phoebe is accustomed to serving and her toting Paul’s epistle fits her character. A courier would have need of food and lodging and thus her being the bearer of the letter would account for Paul’s instruction to the Romans (Romans 16:2). At the very least, Phoebe and the letter arrive at roughly the same time.

As courier, Phoebe would be expected to interpret the letter and supplement content, filling in the gaps. This would make her the first commentator of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

Robert J. Karris (b. 1938) describes:

It is highly likely that Phoebe not only carried Paul’s letter to the Romans to the house churches but also read it to them. You see, Phoebe was likely among the five percent of the population who could read. Further, in reading Romans, she surely had to know what it was about. Ancient letters (and manuscripts) did not have spacing, chapters and verses, and subheadings. I give a simple example. Suppose I put a recent headline in capital letters without spacing: FLORIDAKEYDEERREBOUNDS. Without too much effort you read: Florida key deer rebounds. But is “key” an adjective meaning “principal”? Does “key” refer to the Florida Keys? Is “key deer” a technical name for a species of deer? The reader would have to know answers to these questions in order to read this simple sentence out loud meaningfully. Just think of the skill Phoebe must have if she is to navigate successfully through all the elements of scholastic diatribe that Paul used in composing his letter! (Karris, Galatians and Romans (New Collegeville Bible Commentary: New Testament), 94)
Phoebe is Paul’s representative to the leaders of the house churches. In a very real sense, Paul and Phoebe endorse one another. In authenticating her, Paul gives his own work credibility. Paul trusts Phoebe implicitly. Some have speculated that he is sending her to set up operations in Rome and to financially support a mission to Spain (Romans 15:24, 28). More importantly, Paul entrusts Phoebe with his opus, his most complete work. Its survival is evidence of her success.

Brendan Byrne (b. 1939) praises:

Brief though it is, Paul’s commendation of Phoebe is an important indication of the leadership roles exercised by women in the early Christian communities. It is also not without significance that the document many have judged to be the most influential in Christian history (Paul’s letter to Rome) was entrusted to this woman on the long and risky journey to its destination, its ultimate reception very much dependent upon the impression she herself was to make on the recipient community. (Byrne, Romans (Sacra Pagina), 448)
Phoebe is entrusted with nothing less than the gospel. As are we.

Does it matter whether or not Phoebe held an official office? What does having a formal title mean to you? What is the bigger responsibility, being a deacon or bearing the letter to the Romans? What have you been entrusted with?

“This is a staggering fact. God has entrusted to people like us, redeemed sinners, the responsibility of carrying out the divine purpose in history.” - George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982), The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God, p. 134