Thursday, July 15, 2010


Our next female person of interest in trying to understand the Apostle Paul's strict prohibitions on women in the Church is Phoebe (Phebe). Truly, Phoebe is an intriguing character. In just two verses, Paul's mention of her has sparked much debate throughout the centuries. In addition to the two verses, many Bibles, including the original 1611 version of the KJV, have a note as part of, or following verse twenty-seven, which says: "Written to the Romans from Corinth, and sent by Phebe, servant of the church at Cenchrea." To begin with, her name is actually Phebe, but try looking it up in a concordance as it appears in the KJV (Phoebe) and you will not find it. That is because the publishers were being "helpful" in using pronunciation symbols.

In Romans 16:1, Phebe is called "a servant." Herein lies the problem; the Greek word translated "servant" (diakonos) is the word from which we get the English "deacon." It appears in the Greek original about thirty times; seven of them are translated "servant," twenty of them are translated "minister," and the rest "deacon." The Church has no problem calling Phebe a servant because all Christians are to be servants. However, the term "minister" and the term "deacon" are considered by conservative assemblies as roles filled by men. This is not really difficult to understand. Pastors are often called Ministers. A Pastor is an Elder (aka. Bishop or Overseer) who has authority over the church, and therefore must be a man (1 Tim. 2:12; 3:2). Deacons, likewise, must be a man, for both offices require the person to be married to a woman. There is some indication from Paul's writings that a deacon is considered an "officer" of the church (Phil. 1:1). However, the original seven deacons appear to have been servants who were responsible for daily business of the church, allowing the Apostles to focus on prayer and study (Acts 6:4).

Whatever term we use when referring to Phebe, she obviously was a very special lady in that Paul spent two verses telling the church at Rome to welcome and assist her "in whatever business she hath need of you...." The post-script at the end of Romans, if it is accepted as accurate, indicates Paul trusted Phebe to personally carry his letter to Rome. His epistle to the Romans is the most thorough presentation of God's plan for the ages. It is Romans that tells us salvation is available to "whosoever will," and clearly presents what God is doing with His two groups of elect saints: the nation of Israel and the Church. While many of Paul's writings are to local churches or individuals, Romans is written to the entire world. He presents God's relationship to the Gentiles who are without excuse, to the Jews who have been partially blinded until the fullness of the Gentiles is come in, and to the Christians who, placing their trust in Christ, ought to live in this world until He returns. Trusting a woman with such a weighty responsibility shows great respect for her.

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