Phoebe (biblical figure)

Saint Phoebe
Born 1st Century
Died 1st Century
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion
Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Church
Lutheran Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast September 3 - Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Church
October 25 - Lutheran 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[2]

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]

The name Phoebe means "pure", "radiant", or "bright"; and was the name of a Titan in Greek mythology.[3]

Some scholars believe Phoebe was responsible for delivering Paul's epistle to the Roman Christian church.[4]

Greek terms for her titles


Apostle Paul used the Greek diakonos (διάκονος) to designate Phoebe as a deacon. A transliteration of the original Greek, it is the same word as used elsewhere by Paul to refer to deacons. The word deacon in Paul's writings sometimes refers to a Christian designated to serve with the overseers of the church, while it more often 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.[5] However, Rosalba Manes finds 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.[6][7]

"Likewise the Women"

While some scholars believe Paul restricted the office of deacon to men, others dispute that assertion. For example, when describing the qualities that the office holders called "deacons" must possess, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:11 that the 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 have similar qualifications to 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).[8][9]


Apostle Paul used the Greek prostatis (προστάτις)—translated as "benefactor" in the NIV. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon translates it: a female guardian, protectress, patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources[10] [11] The term has also been compared to patrona.[12] This suggests that Phoebe was a woman of means, who, among other things, contributed financial support to Paul's apostolate,[6] and likely hosted the house church of Cenchreae in her home, as well as, provide shelter and hospitality to Paul on those occasions when he stayed in the town.[7]


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.

See also


  1. Quient, Allison. "Phoebe: Helper or Leader?" Arise, 14 Mar 2013. Christians for Biblical Equality.
  2. 1 2 Campbell, Joan Cecelia. Phoebe: Patron and Emissary, Liturgical Press. 2015 ISBN 9780814684023
  3. Jewett, Robert. Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2007), p. 943
  4. 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)
  5. NIV footnote
  6. 1 2 Manes, Rosalba. "Phoebe a woman of luminous charity", L'Osservatore Romano, January 2, 2018
  7. 1 2 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
  8. Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Deacon, Deaconess'". Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1997.
  9. "Deacon, Deaconess - Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology Online".
  10. Thayer and Smith. "Greek Lexicon entry for Prostatis". "The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon", 1999.
  11. "Prostatis - New Testament Greek Lexicon - New American Standard".
  12. Judge, Edwin A., “The Early Christians as a Scholastic Community,” Journal of Religious History (1960), 4-15, 125-137
Further reading
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