Deaconess, Witness to the Faith
Born1st century
Died1st century
Venerated inCatholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Church
Church of the East
Anglican Communion
Lutheran Church
FeastSeptember 3 (Catholic Church & Orthodox Churches)
October 25 (Lutheran Church)

Phoebe (Feben[1], Phebe[2]) [Koine Greek: Φοίβη;[3] Latin: Phœbē,[4] Church Slavonic: Фива (Fiva),[5][6] Armenian: Փիբէին (P̕ibēin)[7]] was a first-century Christian woman mentioned by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, verses 16:1–2. A notable woman in the church of Cenchreae, she was trusted by Paul to deliver his letter to the Romans.[8] Paul refers to her both as a "servant" or "deacon" (Greek diakonos) and as a helper or patron of many (Greek 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.


Map showing ancient Cenchreae

Paul's letter to the Romans was written in Corinth sometime between the years 56 and 58 69 in order to solicit support for an anticipated missionary journey to Spain.[9] Although he had not yet visited Rome, Paul would have been familiar with the community and its circumstances through Priscilla and Aquila, who were in Corinth, having previously lived in Rome. Biblical scholars are divided as to whether Chapter 16, Paul's letter of recommendation for Phoebe, was intended for Rome, with whose Christian community he was not acquainted, or with the more familiar community at Ephesus.[9]

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[10]

The name Phoebe means "pure", "radiant", or "bright"; and was the name of a Titan in Greek mythology.[11]

Some scholars believe Phoebe was responsible for delivering Paul's epistle to the Roman Christian church.[12]

Phoebe is the only woman named as deacon in the Bible.[13]

Greek terms for her titles


Apostle Paul used the Greek diakonos (διάκονος) to designate Phoebe as a deacon. "Deacon" is a transliteration of the Greek, and in Paul's writings sometimes refers to a Christian designated to serve as a specially-appointed "assistant" to the overseers of a church,[14] and at others refers to "servants" in a general sense. In the letter to the Romans, apart from the debated case of Phoebe, it always refers to "servants" in the generic sense, as opposed to a church office.[15] However, at this inaugural stage in the Church's formation it is no doubt premature to think of offices as being consistent or clearly defined, and Rosalba Manes argues that Paul's use of the term "deacon" suggests that, like Stephen and Philip, Phoebe's ministry may have extended beyond charitable works to include preaching and evangelization.[16][17]

"Likewise the women"

While some scholars believe Paul restricted the office of deacon to men, others do not based on their interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:11. When describing the qualities that the office-holders called "deacons" must possess, Paul wrote gunaikas hosautos, which is translated by some as "likewise the women." The "likewise" could indicate that female deacons are to live according to the same standards as male 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).[18][19] The predominant view holds that this verse refers not to female deacons, but instead to the wives of deacons. See, for example, the KJV rendering: "Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things."[20]


In classical Greek the word prostates (προστάτης) (feminine, prostatis) was used to mean either a chief or leader, or a guardian or protector, often in a religious context; it was later used also to translate the Roman concept of a patron.[21] The Apostle Paul's use indicates that its range of meanings had not changed by New Testament times. This suggests that Phoebe was a woman of means, who, among other things, contributed financial support to Paul's apostolate,[16] and probably hosted the house church of Cenchreae in her home, as well as, providing shelter and hospitality to Paul when in the town.[17]


The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and Episcopal Church in the United States of America place her feast day as September 3 (the latter designating it a Lesser Feast).[22]

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod remembers her later, on October 25. The Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates Phoebe with Lydia of Thyatira and Dorcas on January 27, the day after the commemoration of the early male missionaries Silas, Timothy and Titus and two days after the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

See also


  1. ^ "Parallel Bible: Romans - Chapter: 16". Textus Receptus Bibles. Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  2. ^ "Parallel Bible: Romans - Chapter: 16". Textus Receptus Bibles. Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  3. ^ "Read the Bible text ::". Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  4. ^ "Vulgate - Douay-Rheims - Knox Bible side by side". Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  5. ^ Послание к Римлянам святого апостола Павла на церковно-славянском языке гражданским шрифтом.
  6. ^ "Святая Фи́ва Кенхрейская (Коринфская), диакониса". (in Russian). Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  7. ^ "ԱՍՏՈՒԱԾԱՇՈՒՆՉ". Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  8. ^ Quient, Allison. "Phoebe: Helper or Leader?" Arise, 14 Mar 2013. Christians for Biblical Equality. [1] Archived 2013-05-14 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ a b Campbell, Joan Cecelia. Phoebe: Patron and Emissary, Liturgical Press. 2015 ISBN 9780814684023
  10. ^ Rom. 16:1–2
  11. ^ Jewett, Robert. Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2007), p. 943
  12. ^ 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)
  13. ^ Macy, Gary. "John Nobili, SJ, Chair of Theology, Santa Clara University". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  14. ^ "διακονος meaning #2: "one who gets someth. done, at the behest of a superior, assistant to someone" William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 230."
  15. ^ NIV footnote
  16. ^ a b Manes, Rosalba. "Phoebe a woman of luminous charity", L'Osservatore Romano, January 2, 2018
  17. ^ a b MacDonald, Margaret Y., “Was Celsus Right? The Role of Women in the Expansion of Early Christianity”, Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, ed. David L. Balch and Carolyn Oziak (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 166
  18. ^ Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Deacon, Deaconess'". Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1997.
  19. ^ "Deacon, Deaconess - Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology Online".
  20. ^ KJV footnote.
  21. ^ Liddell, Scott & Jones, 1882, Lexicon, s.v.
  22. ^ Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018. Church Publishing, Inc. 2019-12-17. ISBN 978-1-64065-235-4.

Further reading