Sunday, March 11, 2018

Women in the Early Church: Phoebe and 1 Timothy 3

Now I introduce and commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess (servant) of the church at Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord [with love and hospitality], as God’s people ought to receive one another. And that you may help her in whatever matter she may require assistance from you, for she has been a helper of many, including myself.-Romans 16:1-2 AMP

Phoebe is the first woman listed in Romans 16, but she gets only two verses of this chapter of Romans. We can tell a lot from these verses though.

Her name means “bright" or "radiant." She is a Believer, because Paul refers to her as “our sister.” He also calls her a deaconess, a servant of the Church in Cenchrea. Cenchrea was a port in Corinth.

The word deacon in Romans 16:1 is translated many different ways, depending upon which translation you read. It is translated deacon, deaconess, leader, and servant. They all come from the same Greek word “diakonos.” According to Strong’s Concordance, this word can mean servant, minister, waiter, administrator.

In 1 Timothy 3, Paul details the qualifications for a deacon in the Church.  At first glance, it looks like these qualifications are just referring to men. If they were just referring to men, why would Paul refer to Phoebe as a deacon? Upon looking at that passage a little closer, it seems like there may be an admonition to women as well in verse 11.

The women in like manner chaste, not slanderers, but sober, faithful in all things. -1 Timothy 3:11 (Douay-Rheims Bible)

Some translators translated the word women in 1 Timothy 3:11 as wives. This has led most people to believe that the verse was referring to the wives of the deacons. If you look in some Bibles, you will notice the word "
their" often in italics before wives, which means the translators added it for clarification. Many translators used the word women, but one translator, Weymouth, chose the word “deaconesses.” It reads like this: 

Deaconesses, in the same way, must be sober-minded women, not slanderers, but in every way temperate and trustworthy.

At the beginning of Romans 16, in verse 1, Paul commends Phoebe to the Church there at Rome. Naturally thinking, I thought that word meant "to send."  But I looked it up in the Greek just to be sure, and it doesn’t mean send. It means “stands with” as in the sense of supporting someone. Wow. That just changed the entire passage for me. Basically Paul was saying, I endorse her, so do whatever she asks you to do, and help her in whatever way she needs help.

In verse 2, he asks the Church to welcome her in a manner worthy of the Lord, and then to help her in whatever she needs help with, because she has been helper of many there, as well as a helper of Paul.  The word helper in the Greek word "prostastis."  Strong's concordance defines that word as " a female guardian, protector, patroness."  Thayer's Greek Lexicon also agrees with Strong's, but also adds in the definition " a woman set over others."

So, we can ascertain by these two verses that Paul endorses her, and that she is coming to the Church in Rome with purpose. He calls her a deaconess, which is a servant, as all people are called to be in the Body of Christ. But, what was she coming to do?

We don’t really know, but because of the tumultuous times in Rome, it was probably necessary for Paul to let them know who exactly she was. It was dangerous for Christians in Rome. Nero was emperor in Rome when this letter was written. He would eventually set fire to Rome, and then blamed the Christians for it. It could be dangerous for her traveling into Rome, and well as the Christians receiving her, who might not possibly know if someone was a Believer or not.

It is often presumed that she carried the epistle to the Romans, to the Church at Rome. The scriptures do not state that she was the carrier, but it would have made sense if she was going there anyway. Again, it was a dangerous time. If she was the carrier, what an awesome responsibility for her. Paul must have trusted her very much. The epistle to the Romans is a very important book of the Bible for Believers today. It was Paul's longest letter.  It is where we learn how salvation comes about in Romans 10. We learn about justification by faith and how we have peace with God in Romans 5. Such an important letter!!

We can learn many things about Phoebe, from just these two short verses in the Bible. She was brave. She was commended by Paul. But most importantly, she loved the Church, and went to great lengths to serve Her wherever she may be.

Many blessings to you as you continue to walk with the Lord in whatever places you serve,


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