Women Paul wrote to in Rome

Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2)

The apostle Paul cared about people and prayed for them all the time, it seems, even when they weren't an active part of his life at the moment.

Paul was writing this letter from the city of Corinth, just south of Athens in Greece. Far across the sea to the west was the city of Rome, the great capital of the empire. Although he had never visited the Roman church, many of the names that appear in this chapter were friends of his whom he had either met around the Roman Empire as he traveled, or heard about and wrote to as he shepherded each new church. These were "the saints which are at Rome," the people sanctified in Christ by the Holy Spirit, to whom he had addressed this letter.

Paul’s first commendation went to Phoebe, in Romans 16:1,

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.”

Phoebe’s name was pagan, honoring Apollos, suggesting she was Greek. She came from Cenchreae which was one of the two seaports of the city of Corinth, the commercial capital of the ancient world, and very cosmopolitan. Corinth was also corrupt, with a robust sex industry tied in with the worship of Aphrodite. 

The word “deacon,” used here, is the Greek word “diakonos,” which means servant, but has been transliterated into “deacon,” in English.

Deacons, in the sense of being specifically chosen to serve among the body of Christ, were first spoken of in Acts chapter 6, when the church was growing rapidly—to the tune of thousands in the first weeks. The twelve disciples, and even the other 110 or so people who had first received the Holy Spirit, were not enough to adequately serve the burgeoning church.

So the call went out, especially to the Greek converts, to select deacons from those who were known for their good reputation, their spiritual character, to be full of the Holy Spirit, full of practical wisdom and good judgment, and full of faith. From then on, people known to have wisdom and who were full of the Holy Spirit were specially chosen to serve their churches. Paul, later, gave further instructions for how to recognize deacons among the church body:

From his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

“…deacons are to be

  1. worthy of respect
  2. sincere
  3. not indulging in much wine
  4. and not pursuing dishonest gain
  5. They must
  6. keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience
  7. first be tested

If there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

In the same way, the women [who serve as deacons] are to be

  1. worthy of respect
  2. not malicious talkers
  3. temperate and trustworthy in everything 

A deacon must be

  1. faithful [In marriage: the phrase in Greek was used to describe both husbands and wives]
  2. manage [their] children and [their] household well.

Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Some believe Phoebe, as a deacon of the church, visited the sick, assisted the young women, and helped the poor. Other theologians read more deeply into Phoebe's role, as Paul linked overseers and deacons together in his letter to the believers in Philippi, and elders and deacons together in his letters to Timothy.

More on that in the next post.

All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.