Phoebe (biblical figure)
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Eastern Orthodox Church
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|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 . A notable woman whose leadership of the church of Cenchreae has been deemphasized especially in some modern translations, she was trusted by Paul to deliver his letter to the Romans. In writing to the church that almost surely met in her home, Paul refers to her both as a deacon (Gk. diakonon masc.) 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.
Phoebe's exceptional character, noted[Rom. 16:2] by her status as a deacon and prostatis—one who should be esteemed highly "because of their work"[1 Thes. 5:12]— may be the reason Paul sent her to Rome where she delivered the letter to Rome. By referring to Phoebe as a prostatis, Paul solicits the attention and respect of the leaders in Rome's church, which also included other women, namely Prisca/(Priscilla)[Rom. 16:3], Mary[Rom. 16:6], Junia[Rom. 16:7], and Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis [16:12] .
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]
A literal translation
The Source New Testament offers a literal translation from the Ancient Greek of the Romans passage:
I recommend to you Phoebe our fellow believer, who is a minister of the assembly in Cenchrea, so that you will admit her into your company, the Lord's company, in a manner worthy of the people devoted to God, and stand by her in whatever matters she needs you to help in. For indeed she became a presiding officer over many, and over me also!
— Romans 16:1-2, The Source New Testament
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 refers to a Christian designated to serve with the overseers of the church.
Apostle Paul used the Greek prostatis (προστάτις) [pros-tat'-is]—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 
Overseer, elder, pastor
Some scholars believe Phoebe was responsible for delivering Paul's epistle to the Roman Christian church. According to Dean and professor of theology Denis Fortin, Phoebe served the church at Cenchrea in the same capacity that Paul, Apollos, Tychicus, Epaphras, Archippus, and Onesimus did elsewhere. He writes it is possible that not all churches had women diakonos, but some churches like Cenchrea did. He believes 1 Timothy 3:11 seems to imply that Timothy also had women diakonos in his churches.
Professor Philip Payne points out that Romans was written before any surviving reference to the office of “overseer” in a local church. Paul, wanting to describe the authority and responsibility Phoebe held in the church at Cenchrea, used the term "deacon" (diakonos [masculine] διάκονος)—the only officially recognized title for a local church leader that existed "at that time and/or place". If by “leader” (prostatis προστάτις) Paul identifies a church office here, Payne believes he was describing Phoebe using two titles for a church office that may have been equivalent to the later-documented titles “overseer,” “elder,” and “pastor.”
Payne concludes that Phoebe is the only person "unambiguously identified by name and given a title for local church leader in the New Testament". Furthermore, she may have been given two such titles, “deacon of the church of Cenchrea” and/or “leader (προστάτις) of many.” 
Deacon, or wife of a deacon?
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).
Bible translation gender issues
She may even have been a "minister", according to Denis Fortin who maintains that the KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV consistently translate diakonos as "minister" when the word is used in connection to a male person, but not so when it comes to Phoebe. He asks if modern negative attitudes toward women in ministry might have been shaped by biased translators of the Bible. In contrast, however, William Tyndale’s New Testament (published in 1534) consistently referred to Phoebe and all of Paul’s co-workers as "ministers" with no distinction between them. The same is true of the Geneva Bible (1560). Fortin suggest that if these translations had been followed for this verse when the King James Version was produced in 1611, perhaps today there would be less resistance toward women in ministry.
She is commemorated with Lydia of Thyatira and Dorcas in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on January 27 and on October 25 in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church is September 3.
- Quient, Allison. "Phoebe: Helper or Leader?" Arise, 14 Mar 2013. Christians for Biblical Equality. 
- White, L. Michael. "Paul's Mission and Letters". Website of the Frontline guide to (American) PBS television series From Jesus to Christ - the first Christians
- Haddad, Mimi. "Honoring Deacon Phoebe". Sojourners (God's Politics)  Writing the expert lead article before inviting reader comments.
- Nyland, A. The Source New Testament With Extensive Notes On Greek Word Meaning. Smith & Stirling Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-0980443004
- NIV footnote
- Thayer and Smith. "Greek Lexicon entry for Prostatis". "The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon", 1999.
- 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)
- Fortin, Denis. "Was Phoebe A Deacon, A Servant, Or A Minister?"  Writing the expert lead article before inviting reader comments.
- Payne, Philip. "Is It True That In The NT No Women, Only Men, Are Identified By Name As Elders, Overseers, Or Pastors, And That Consequently Women Must Not Be Elders, Overseers, Or Pastors?"  (where he answers questions about his book Man and Woman, One in Christ. Zondervan, 2009. ISBN 978-0310219880
- Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Deacon, Deaconess'". Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1997.
- Akin, Daniel L. "Deacon, Deaconess."