Our Sister Phoebe by Scarlett Stough
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. For indeed she has been a benefactor of many---and of me also.” (Romans 16:1-2 Holman Christian Standard Bible.)
The Apostle Paul entrusted Phoebe with his letter1 to the church in Rome. She had proved her trustworthiness many times as she served as servant (diakonos)2 and benefactor (prostatis)3 [the KJV translates this word “succuror”; the NIV translates it “a great help”] for the congregation in Cenchreae. Paul knew if anyone could be depended upon to get this important message to the Christians in Rome, that person was Phoebe.

He added to his letter a brief commendation of Phoebe to the church at Rome. He wanted to be sure they would treat her with respect and assist her as she carried out his instructions. They were asked “to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need….” (Romans 16:2 NIV)

Phoebe was only one of many women who “worked hard in the Lord” (Romans 16:3-15) in her time and down through the years into our time. Whatever responsibilities or opportunities God offers us, we can look to Phoebe as a model of dependability, trustworthiness, humility, compassion, and courage. What kind of courage and faith in Jesus would it take for a woman to set sail from the port of Cenchreae and then take the overland trip to the city of Rome?

Phoebe did whatever needed to be done when she had the opportunity and the means. She set us an example of a faith-filled and dedicated servant of the Lord.

[Editor’s Note: When reading commentaries, consider whether the comments are verifiable facts, educated guesses, or the commentators’ opinions.]

1. The New International Version Study Bible commentary on the study note on 16:1: “ ‘our sister‘ In the sense of being a fellow believer. ‘Phoebe.’ Probably the carrier of the letter to Rome. ‘servant‘.  See the NIV text note[Or deaconess]; one who serves or ministers in any way. When church related, as it is here, it probably refers to a specific office--woman deacon or deaconess. ‘Cenchrea‘. A port located about six miles east of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf.”

2.Jewish New Testament Commentary, a companion volume to the Jewish New Testament by David H. Stern, copyright 1992, David H. Stern. Published by Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., Post Office Box 615, Clarksville, MD 21029, USA

“Phoebe, shammash of the congregation. She was either its only ‘shammash’, or one among several. It is possible that the Greek word ‘diakonos’, with the root meaning ‘runner of errands,’ should be taken here to mean ‘servant’ or ‘worker’ in a general sense, as is usually the case in the New Testament. But there is good reason to think that in this instance it is a technical term denoting someone ordained to a recognized office in the congregation and having the duty of caring for its practical affairs, as at Ac 6:6. The usual English term for this office is ‘deacon’ which transliterates the Greek word; and the closest Hebrew equivalent is ‘shammash’ (Yiddish ‘shammes’), the person who handles the day-to-day practical tasks of keeping a synagogue going.”

“In an age where feminism is an issue, it should be noted not only that this woman held a prominent office in the Cenchrean congregation, but that the word ‘diakonos’ is a masculine, not a feminine, form. Phoebe was a ‘deacon’ not a ‘deaconess’ (as some English versions render the word). See I Ti 3:8-13 for the qualifications of a ‘shammash.’

3. Reference: The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, copyright 2001 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

“Strong’s 4368 ‘prostatis’ [“a great help” in the NIV] is the feminine form of ‘prostates’ and denotes a protectress, a patroness. It is used metaphorically [editor’s note: would they say that if the name had been masculine?] of Phoebe (Rom. 16:2) and is a word of dignity. It indicates high esteem with which she was regarded, as one who had been a protectress of many. ‘Prostates’ was the title of a citizen in Athens, who had the responsibility of seeing to the welfare of resident aliens who were without civic rights. Among the Jews it signified a wealthy patron of the community. SEE: BAGD-718c; THAYER-549c.” 

For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: Servant of the Church