Phoebe as presiding officer and deacon

Reading  Paul’s  Letter to the Romans, 16.

1 I commen to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae,

2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

From Prof Nasrullah on Phoebe as deacon:

Someone asks the important question: “When did the exclusion of women from deaconship and priesthood started to be practiced by the church?” and follows up buy noticing that Paul talks here about “Sister Phoebe,deacon of the church at Cenchreae.” We can ask whether all earliest Christ-followers excluded women from religious leadership (certainly not the case, as we see in Romans 12!) and whether all forms of Christianity today do (not the case!). There is not one trajectory of women’s leadership (for example, first they were leaders, then they were not); the story is complicated, even if we know that women were excluded from leadership in some early Christian communities.

It’s hard to know how to define early roles like diakonos, translated deacon. In Romans 16, we have many roles stated (co-worker, presiding leader, apostle) and attributed to both men and women throughout Paul’s letters. Even though we don’t know whether the term “ordained” is the best one to use, given the diversity of practices in ancient Christianity and the diverse ways that women AND men gained leadership,



Prof Nasrullah  on the term ‘benefactor’:

It’s always great to turn to the Greek if you can: here someone writes “feminine of προστάτης: guardian, champion, but also one who stands before a god.” The fuller definition from Liddell, Scott, Jones is below. How do we decide which translation is best? “Benefactor” makes sense: we know of many women benefactors of the Jesus movement (Shelly Matthews talks about this in this book: First Converts). We could also choose the word “president” or “presiding officer” since this word is used in inscriptions that talk about religious organizations. Translation is an act of interpretation! We have to decide which we think is best, and then take responsibility for why we think it is best.

προστα?́τ-ης , ου, ὁ, (προΐστημι)
II. leader, chief, esp. of a democracy,
2. generally, ruler.
3. president or presiding officer
III. one who stands before and protects, guardian, champion,
2. at Athens, etc., patron who took charge …
3. = Lat. patronus,
IV. θεοῦ π. one who stands before a god to entreat him, supplian
V. Medic., prostate gland, Herophil. ap. Gal.UP14.11(v.l.).


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