Women of the Bible: Phoebe

by: Rick B

June 29, 2014
Romans 16:1 tells us she was a deacon in the early church

Romans 16:1 tells us she was a deacon in the early church

Phoebe was a very trusted Christian missionary.  Church meetings were held in her home in Cenchreae.  Paul said she was a deacon in the church and a patron of many.  Because she was so trustworthy, the apostle Paul asked her to deliver a letter to the Roman church (Romans 16:1-2.)  She was a very important Christian in the early church.

This is part of my series on Women of the Bible.  (For more information, you may want to see my first post of the series.)  What do you make of this reference?

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3 Responses to Women of the Bible: Phoebe

  1. ji on June 29, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    Phoebe is a “servant” (KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, ESV) or a “deacon” (NRSV, NLT). So it depends what bible translation one uses, and how the Greek word should be translated. It is not established that she was a deacon in the sense of being ordained to the priesthood.

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  2. Daniel Smith on June 30, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Phoebe, Epaphras, Tychicus, and Timotheus are all described as diakonos, servants. The text of the New Testament does not give any indication that Phoebe’s position is any different from any other servant. Please don’t beg the question of women’s’ ordination. If the New Testament supports the diaconate, Phoebe was a deacon.

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  3. Rich Brown on June 30, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    Generally speaking, it’s a questionable enterprise to use modern definitions (in this case for “deacon”) and plop them down in the mid-1st century of the Christian (or Common) Era. This mention of Phoebe comes in Romans (as does a mention of a woman named Junia as an apostle), one of the letters many scholars agree is among the seven authentically written by Paul (1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Romans, and Philemon). When they were written in the 50s and 60s there really was no institutional “Christian Church,” as such, but rather a growing fellowship probably referred to as “The Way.” It was Jewish and, thanks especially to Paul, beginning to expand among Gentiles. All the rest of the New Testament would be written later on.

    By the time Colossians and Ephesians were written (probably by Paul’s disciples) a decade or two later, and certainly by the time the rest of the letters popularly attributed to Paul and others were written by other disciples (anywhere from 80 to around 135 CE) Christianity was becoming increasingly institutional and, just as importantly, adopting the highly patriarchal nature of the surrounding secular culture of the Roman Empire. Women were eventually pushed out of leading roles in the church. The earlier roles of missionary, prophet, teacher, and deacon were institutionalized along with the new “offices” of elder (presbyter), bishop, and eventually archbishop.

    It would take around 1,900 years for secular culture to become egalitarian in regard to men’s and women’s roles, at least in the West. At the same time a growing number of Christian denominations (although certainly not all) adopted that mindset from secular society and opened ministerial roles (and priesthood ordination) to women. And now even more recently as Western secular society is recognizing same-gender orientation, a few churches are doing for LGBT folks what a few decades ago was done for women.

    Given current events, is it too brazen to ask if the LDS leadership will (or perhaps “can”) adopt the historical/theological perspective I’ve outlined above or view priesthood ministry as the same yesterday, today, and forever?

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