Romans 16: Phoebe the Deacon?

Let me introduce you to our sister Phoebe.  She is a deacon in the church at Cenchreae.  I want you to welcome her in the Lord, as is proper for one of God’s people.  Please give her whatever practical assistance she may need from you.  She has been a benefactor to many people, myself included. (16:1-2)

Phoebe was a deacon?


Maybe that just means “servant,” like the KJV, the original NIV, the ASV says.

However, it seems there is something about the Greek word and the sentence structure that suggests the more formal words “deacon” or “deaconess” work better, as we find in the newest version of the NIV, the NLT, the CEV, and Wright’s KNT.  Also, her role as described in this passage above indicates this was more than just a great servant-hearted woman who worked behind the scenes to make the ministry of the church in Cenchreae work smoothly.  She was the “benefactor” of the Cenchrean church, likely meaning the church there met in her house.  She likely also provided a room for the many traveling missionaries; Paul indicates he had been privy to her hospitality.  All indications are that Phoebe was a well-to-do lady, maybe a business woman like Lydia the seller of purple cloth.  It was possibly this business that took her to Rome — no little expense — and Paul was taking advantage of that agenda.  Phoebe would have been carrying the letter to the Romans to the church there (depicted in the picture above even).  As was custom, she would have read the letter aloud to the church in Rome and been available to answer clarifying questions given that she had just been with the author.  Altogether, Phoebe was an esteemed leader in the early church known for her servant heart and at least this active effort to advance God’s kingdom.

This may be a realization that does not fit with what we have been taught in the past.  That is another perk to a comprehensive reading plan.  But this is an especially fitting way to end a letter that has focused on unmerited grace to all based on God’s love and calling, not one’s identity or status.

As we finish Romans today, what one major theme has really struck you this year as we read through this wonderful book?

Categories: Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Romans 16: Phoebe the Deacon?

  1. romans 5, keep on striking, even as today

    16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin:
    The judgement followed one sin and brought condemnation,
    but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification

    and finally i understood it.

    the gift did not reverse the effect of Adam’s doing.
    if someone is sick, receive grace and they will reign over sickness.
    if someone is lacking, receive grace and they will reign over poverty
    if someone is lost, receive grace and they will be found

    so i can say
    not good health, but healing
    not wealth, but supply and no lack
    not sinless, but cleansing

    not by works, but by faith in Christ and Christ’s alone by faith

    – grace and peace

  2. Pat

    The wonder of life with God the Spirit living in me because I am a believer. The wonder of being in control of fear because of God the Spirit living in me. The wonder of the strength God the Spirit provides me as I try to live for God my Father. Praise Him!!!

  3. Melanie

    Timeless themes of faith, hope, and love; freedom in Christ; everyday life as an offering of worship; gratitude and grace.

  4. Great themes to highlight everybody!

    I am so thankful and appropriately proud that this is the gospel message I get to share with the world. Praise God for His amazing grace (more than a song!), for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and the centrality of love.

  5. I am always struck by the same thing in this chapter. Paul was a master theologian, a writer, a thinker. He was driven by a goal to get to Spain. He was a technician who knew how to use his hands to make a living. He was bold enough to risk death over and over again on his journeys. He could speak well enough to capture crowds. But he wasn’t so driven, so focused, or so bookish that he failed to be a friend. As we see at the end of many of his letters, he developed relationships with many people on his journeys. The man was social!

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