By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Women in the Early Church

  • Phoebe means “bright” or “radiant,” the feminine form of the Greek God Apollo.
  • Paul refers to her as “our sister” meaning she was a Christian. (She was obviously a Gentile Christian having been named after a Greek god.)
  • Phoebe belonged to the church at Cenchrea, a seaport located about seven miles from Corinth. Paul had sailed from this port when he went from Corinth to Ephesus years earlier.
  • Phoebe is called a “deaconess,” but it is not known whether that was an official position or a term for general service. In either event, she was a worker in the church.
  • Phoebe was entrusted to carry Paul’s letter to the Romans.
  • The Romans were asked to receive her “in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints.”
  • They were to help her in whatever she needed. (Non-canonical documents indicate that Phoebe was possibly Paul’s patron and had agreed to cooperate with Paul as the patroness of the Spanish mission. She went to Rome, not only to deliver his letter, but also to create the logistical base for the Spanish operation. She would have attempted to unify the Roman house churches so that they would be able to cooperate in the support of the mission. When that mission didn’t happen, it is possible that she supported Paul during his years of captivity in Rome.)
  • She was obviously a woman of means, being able to travel to Rome (no doubt with a retinue of servants).


1 Morris, Leon. "The Epistle to the Romans." The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1988. p.534.

Best, Ernest. "The Letter of Paul to the Romans." The Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: At the University Press, 1969.

Black, Matthew. "Romans." The New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1981.

Duling, Dennis and Norman Perrin. The New Testament. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1994.

Edwards, James. "Romans." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992.

Gaebelein, Frank. "Romans." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1985.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.

Smith, Robert. "Matthew." Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1989.

Bible Characters