Romans 16:1
I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
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(1) Phebe.—As the Roman Church is especially exhorted to receive Phebe, it has been inferred that she was one of the party to which St. Paul entrusted his Epistle, if not the actual bearer of it herself.

Our sisteri.e., in a spiritual sense—a fellow-Christian.

Servant.—Rather, a deaconess, keeping the technical term. Deacons were originally appointed to attend to the wants of the poorer members of the Church. This is the first mention of women-deacons, in regard to whom instructions are given to Timothy (1Timothy 3:11). The necessity for an order of deaconesses would gradually make itself felt where women were kept in a stricter seclusion, as in Greece and some parts of the East.

Cenchrea.—The port of Corinth, at the head of the Eastern or Saronic Gulf, about nine miles from the city.



Romans 16:1 - Romans 16:2

This is an outline picture of an else wholly unknown person. She, like most of the other names mentioned in the salutations in this chapter, has had a singular fate. Every name, shadowy and unreal as it is to us, belonged to a human life filled with hopes and fears, plunged sometimes in the depths of sorrows, struggling with anxieties and difficulties; and all the agitations have sunk into forgetfulness and calm. There is left to the world an immortal remembrance, and scarcely a single fact associated with the undying names.

Note the person here disclosed.

A little rent is made in the dark curtain through which we see as with an incandescent light concentrated for a moment upon her, one of the many good women who helped Paul, as their sisters had helped Paul’s Master, and who thereby have won, little as either Paul or she thought it, an eternal commemoration. Her name is a purely idolatrous one, and stamps her as a Greek, and by birth probably a worshipper of Apollo. Her Christian associations were with the Church at Cenchrea, the port of Corinth, of which little Christian community nothing further is known. But if we take into account the hideous immoralities of Corinth, we shall deem it probable that the port, with its shifting maritime population, was, like most seaports, a soil in which goodness was hard put to it to grow, and a church had much against which to struggle. To be a Christian at Cenchrea can have been no light task. Travellers in Egypt are told that Port Said is the wickedest place on the face of the earth; and in Phœbe’s home there would be a like drift of disreputables of both sexes and of all nationalities. It was fitting that one good woman should be recorded as redeeming womanhood there. We learn of her that she was a ‘servant,’ or, as the margin preferably reads, a ‘deaconess of the Church which is at Cenchrea’; and in that capacity, by gentle ministrations and the exhibition of purity and patient love, as well as by the gracious administration of material help, had been a ‘succourer of many.’ There is a whole world of unmentioned kindnesses and a life of self-devotion hidden away under these few words. Possibly the succour which she administered was her own gift. She may have been rich and influential, or perhaps she but distributed the Church’s bounty; but in any case the gift was sweetened by the giver’s hand, and the succour was the impartation of a woman’s sympathy more than the bestowment of a donor’s gift. Sometime or other, and somehow or other, she had had the honour and joy of helping Paul, and no doubt that opportunity would be to her a crown of service. She was now on the point of taking the long journey to Rome on her own business, and the Apostle bespeaks for her help from the Roman Church ‘in whatsoever matter she may have need of you,’ as if she had some difficult affair on hand, and had no other friends in the city. Possibly then she was a widow, and perhaps had had some lawsuit or business with government authorities, with whom a word from some of her brethren in Rome might stand her in good stead. Apparently she was the bearer of this epistle, which would give her a standing at once in the Roman Church, and she came among them with a halo round her from the whole-hearted commendation of the Apostle.

Mark the lessons from this little picture.

We note first the remarkable illustration here given of the power of the new bond of a common faith. The world was then broken up into sections, which were sometimes bitterly antagonistic and at others merely rigidly exclusive. The only bond of union was the iron fetter of Rome, which crushed the people, but did not knit them together. But here are Paul the Jew, Phœbe the Greek, and the Roman readers of the epistle, all fused together by the power of the divine love that melted their hearts, and the common faith that unified their lives. The list of names in this chapter, comprising as it does men and women of many nationalities, and some slaves as well as freemen, is itself a wonderful testimony of the truth of Paul’s triumphant exclamation in another epistle, that in Christ there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female.’

The clefts have closed, and the very line of demarcation is obliterated; and these clefts were deeper than any of which we moderns have had experience. It remains something like a miracle that the members of Paul’s churches could ever be brought together, and that their consciousness of oneness could ever overpower the tremendous divisive forces. We sometimes wonder at their bickerings; we ought rather to wonder at their unity, and be ashamed of the importance which we attach to our infinitely slighter mutual disagreements. The bond that was sufficient to make the early Christians all one in Christ Jesus seems to have lost its binding power to-day, and, like an used-up elastic band, to have no clasping grip left in it.

Another thought which we may connect with the name of Phœbe is the characteristic place of women in Christianity.

The place of woman amongst the Jews was indeed free and honourable as compared with her position either in Greece or Rome, but in none of them was she placed on the level of man, nor regarded mainly in the aspect of an equal possessor of the same life of the Spirit. But a religion which admits her to precisely the same position of a supernatural life as is granted to man, necessarily relegates to a subordinate position all differences of sex as it does all other natural distinctions. The women who ministered to Jesus of their substance, the two sisters of Bethany, the mourners at Calvary, the three who went through the morning twilight to the tomb, were but the foremost conspicuous figures in a great company through all the ages who have owed to Jesus their redemption, not only from the slavery of sin, but from the stigma of inferiority as man’s drudge or toy. To the world in which Paul lived it was a strange, new thought that women could share with man in his loftiest emotions. Historically the emancipation of one half of the human race is the direct result of the Christian principle that all are one in Christ Jesus. In modern life the emancipation has been too often divorced from its one sure basis, and we have become familiar with the sight of the ‘advanced’ women who have advanced so far as to have lost sight of the Christ to whom they owe their freedom. The picture of Phœbe in our text might well be commended to all such as setting forth the most womanlike ideal. She was ‘a succourer of many.’ Her ministry was a ministry of help; and surely such gentle ministry is that which most befits the woman’s heart and comes most graciously to the woman’s fingers.

Phœbe then may well represent to us the ministry of succour in this world of woe and need. There is ever a cry, even in apparently successful lives, for help and a helper. Man’s clumsy hand is but too apt to hurt where it strives to soothe, and nature itself seems to devolve on the swifter sympathies and more delicate perceptions of woman the joy of binding up wounded spirits. In the verses immediately following our text we read of another woman to whom was entrusted a more conspicuous and direct form of service. Priscilla ‘taught Apollos the way of God more perfectly,’ and is traditionally represented as being united with her husband in evangelistic work. But it is not merely prejudice which takes Phœbe rather than Priscilla as the characteristic type of woman’s special ministry. We must remember our Lord’s teaching, that the giver of ‘a cup of cold water in the name of a prophet’ in some measure shares in the prophet’s work, and will surely share in the prophet’s reward. She who helped Paul must have entered into the spirit of Paul’s labours; and He to whom all service that is done from the same motive is one in essence, makes no difference between him whose thirsty lips drink and her whose loving hand presents the cup of cold water. ‘Small service is true service while it lasts.’ Paul and Phœbe were one in ministry and one in its recompense.

We may further see in her a foreshadowing of the reward of lowly service, though it be only the service of help. Little did Phœbe dream that her name would have an eternal commemoration of her unnoticed deeds of kindness and aid, standing forth to later generations and peoples of whom she knew nothing, as worthy of eternal remembrance. For those of us who have to serve unnoticed and unknown, here is an instance and a prophecy which may stimulate and encourage. ‘Surely I will never forget any of their works’ is a gracious promise which the most obscure and humble of us may take to heart, and sustained by which, we may patiently pursue a way on which there are ‘none to praise and very few to love.’ It matters little whether our work be noticed or recorded by men, so long as we know that it is written in the Lamb’s book of life and that He will one day proclaim it ‘before the Father in heaven and His angels.’

Romans 16:1-2. I commend — Rather, recommend; unto you — That is, To your love and assistance; Phebe our sister — The bearer of this letter; a servant — Or deaconess, as the Greek word signifies; of the church at Cenchrea — Which seems to have been a church distant from that at Corinth. Indeed, this place, being situated on the Saronic gulf, was about seventy furlongs, near nine miles, distant from that city; therefore those Christians that lived there could not with convenience, at least generally, assemble with such as resided at Corinth. In the apostolic age, some grave and pious women were appointed deaconesses in every church; and it was their office, not to teach publicly, but to visit the sick, the women in particular, and to minister to them both in their temporal and spiritual necessities. The apostle calls Phebe his sister, because she was a true Christian, a genuine believer on the Lord Jesus, and consequently a child and heir of God, and joint heir with Christ. For the appellations of brother and sister, which the disciples gave to one another in the first age, were founded on their being all the children of God by faith, consequently the brethren and sisters of Christ, who acknowledged the relation by publicly declaring, Matthew 12:50, Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. That ye receive her — Entertain her, and treat her with affection; in the Lord — For the Lord Christ’s sake, and in regard to her relation to him, our common Saviour; as becometh saints — According to the duty which Christians owe one toward another, and as it is proper they should act who profess to be saints, separated from the world to the honour of Christ’s name; and that ye assist her — With counsel, and every necessary aid; in whatsoever business she hath need of you — This implies, that she had come to Rome on business of importance; perhaps to seek the payment of a debt owing to her by some of the inhabitants of Rome, or to complain of undue exactions by some of the emperor’s officers in the province. For she hath been a succourer of many — Probably supplying their wants, if not also entertaining them at her house. The word προστατις properly signifies a patron, a name which the Romans gave to persons who assisted with their advice and interest those who were connected with them as clients. Therefore, as Phebe had this name given her, it is reasonable to believe that she was a person of considerable wealth and influence. Or, we may suppose the name was given her on account of the offices she performed to many as a deaconess. The apostle’s direction implies, that all the faithful ought to be particularly attentive in giving assistance and relief to those who have been remarkable for assisting and relieving others.

16:1-16 Paul recommends Phebe to the Christians at Rome. It becomes Christians to help one another in their affairs, especially strangers; we know not what help we may need ourselves. Paul asks help for one that had been helpful to many; he that watereth shall be watered also himself. Though the care of all the churches came upon him daily, yet he could remember many persons, and send salutations to each, with particular characters of them, and express concern for them. Lest any should feel themselves hurt, as if Paul had forgotten them, he sends his remembrances to the rest, as brethren and saints, though not named. He adds, in the close, a general salutation to them all, in the name of the churches of Christ.I commend - It was common then, as now, to bear letters of introduction to strangers, commending the person thus introduced to the favorable regards and attentions of those to whom the letters were addressed; 2 Corinthians 3:1; Acts 18:27. This Epistle, with the apostle's commendation, was designed thus to introduce its bearer to the Roman Christians. The mention of Phebe in this manner leaves it beyond a doubt that she was either the bearer of this Epistle, or accompanied those who bore it to Rome. The Epistle was therefore written, probably, at Corinth. (See Introduction.)

Our sister - A member of the Christian church.

Which is a servant - Greek," Who is a deaconess." It is clear from the New Testament that there was an order of women in the church known as "deaconesses." Reference is made to a class of females whose duty it was to "teach" other females, and to take the general superintendence of that part of the church, in various places in the New Testament; and their existence is expressly affirmed in early ecclesiastical history. They appear to have been commonly aged and experienced widows, sustaining fair reputation, and suited to guide and instruct those who were young and inexperienced; compare 1 Timothy 5:3, 1 Timothy 5:9-11; Titus 2:4. The Apostolical Constitutions, book iii. say, "Ordain a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministries toward the women." Pliny in his celebrated letter to Trajan, says, when speaking of the efforts which he made to obtain information respecting the opinions and practices of Christians, "I deemed it necessary to put two maidservants who are called "ministrae" (that is "deaconesses") to the torture, in order to ascertain what is the truth." The reasons of their appointment among the Gentiles were these:

(1) The females were usually separate from the men. They were kept secluded, for the most part, and not permitted to mingle in society with men as is the custom now.

(2) it became necessary, therefore, to appoint aged and experienced females to instruct the young, to visit the sick, to provide for them, and to perform for them the services which male deacons performed for the whole church. It is evident, however, that they were confined to these offices, and that they were never regarded as an order of ministers, or suffered "to preach" to congregations; 1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 14:34.

Of the church ... - This is the only mention which occurs of a church at that place. It was probably collected by the labors of Paul.

At Cenchrea - This was the "sea-port" of Corinth. Corinth was situated on the middle of the isthmus, and had "two" harbors, or ports: "Cenchrea" on the east, about eight or nine miles from the city; and "Lechaeum" on the west. Cenchrea opened into the AEgean sea, and was the principal port. It was on this "isthmus," between these two ports, that the "Isthmian" games were celebrated, to which the apostle refers so often in his epistles.


Ro 16:1-27. Conclusion, Embracing Sundry Salutations and Directions, and a Closing Prayer.

1. I commend unto you Phœbebe our sister, which is a servant—or "deaconess"

of the church which is at Cenchrea—The word is "Cenchreæ," the eastern part of Corinth (Ac 18:18). That in the earliest churches there were deaconesses, to attend to the wants of the female members, there is no good reason to doubt. So early at least as the reign of Trajan, we learn from Pliny's celebrated letter to that emperor—A.D. 110, or 111—that they existed in the Eastern churches. Indeed, from the relation in which the sexes then stood to each other, something of this sort would seem to have been a necessity. Modern attempts, however, to revive this office have seldom found favor; either from the altered state of society, or the abuse of the office, or both.Romans 16:1,2 Paul commendeth Phebe to the Christians at Rome,

Romans 16:3-16 and sendeth salutations to many by name.

Romans 16:17-20 He warneth them to take heed of those who cause

divisions and offences.

Romans 16:21-24 After sundry salutations,

Romans 16:25-27 he concludes with praise to God.

This chapter is in the nature of a postscript. The apostle begins it with the recommendation of a certain woman to them. She went upon some occasion to Rome, and by her (as some have supposed) this Epistle was sent to the church there.

Phebe: the poets called the moon Phoebe, as they did the sun Phoebus. This name is likely to have been imposed by her parents, being Gentiles.

Our sister; i.e. in Christ, and by the profession of the same faith: see Jam 2:16.

Cenchrea; a port or haven belonging to Corinth, on the east side towards Asia: there was another on the west side towards Italy, called Lechea. By reason of this double haven, Corinth was called by the poets, Bi maris. Here Paul paid a vow, which he had made, Acts 18:18. Here also he preached and converted many, amongst whom this Phebe (as is probable) was one. When he saith, she was

servant of the church, it is not meant she was a deaconness, or one of the college of widows, of whom he speaketh, 1 Timothy 5:9. But she served the church, in harbouring and succouring the saints that were driven out of their country; yea, as appears by the next verse, she was a succourer of the ministers of the gospel, and of the apostle himself. We read, Luke 8:3, of some that ministered unto the Lord of their substance; there the same word is used. And this Phebe seems to have been employed in the same works; she ministered unto Paul as Onesiphorus did, 2 Timothy 1:18; there the same word is used again.

I commend unto you Phebe our sister,.... This chapter chiefly consists of commendations and salutations of persons, and begins with the former. It was usual to give letters of commendation of a member of one church to those of another; see 2 Corinthians 3:1; The person who is here recommended was, as appears from the subscription of this epistle, if that may be depended on, the bearer of this letter, and is described by her name, Phebe; as she dwelt at Cenchrea, it is probable she was a Grecian, as is her name. Pausanias (e) makes frequent mention of one of this name in Greece. With the Heathen poets, Pheobus was the sun, and Phoebe the moon. Though it is not unlikely that she might be a Jewess, since there were many of them in those parts; and this was a name in use among them. We often read (f) of R. Ishmael , "ben Phoebi", which I take to be the same name with this. She is recommended as a sister, "our sister"; not in a natural, but spiritual relation; one that was a member of the church at Cenchrea, and in full communion with it; for as it was usual to call the men brethren, it was common to call the women sisters. Elderly men were called fathers, younger men brethren; elderly women were styled mothers, and younger women sisters, who were partakers of the grace of God, and enjoyed the fellowship of the saints:

which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. This place was a seaport of the Corinthians, distant from Corinth about seventy furlongs, or eight or nine miles: it was on one side of the Isthmus, as Lechea was on the other (g); See Gill on Acts 18:18. In the way to this place from the Isthmus, as Pausanias relates (h), was the temple of Diana, and a very ancient sculpture; and in Cenchrea itself was the temple of Venus, and a wooden image; and near the flow of the sea was a Neptune of brass. But now, in this place, was a church of Jesus Christ; and since it was so near to Corinth, it shows that churches in those early times were not national, or provincial, but congregational. Of this church Phebe was a servant, or, as the word signifies, a minister or deacon; not that she was a teacher of the word, or preacher of the Gospel, for that was not allowed of by the apostle in the church at Corinth, that a woman should teach; see 1 Corinthians 14:34; and therefore would never be admitted at Cenchrea. Rather, as some think, she was a deaconess appointed by the church, to take care of the poor sisters of the church; though as they were usually poor, and ancient women; that were put into that service, and this woman, according to the account of her, being neither poor, nor very ancient; it seems rather, that being a rich and generous woman, she served or ministered to the church by relieving the poor; not out of the church's stock, as deaconesses did, but out of her own substance; and received the ministers of the Gospel, and all strangers, into her house, which was open to all Christians; and so was exceeding serviceable to that church, and to all the saints that came thither: though it is certain that among the ancient Christians there were women servants who were called ministers. Pliny, in an epistle of his to Trajan the emperor, says (i), that he had examined two maids, "quae ministrae dicebantur", "who were called ministers", to know the truth of the Christian religion.

(e) Graec. Deseript. l. 2. p. 125. l. 3. p. 190. l. 4. p. 276. (f) Misn. Sota, c. 9. sect. 15. T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 9. 1. & 35. 2. Jucbasin, fol. 24. 2. & 54. 2.((g) Plin. Natural Hist. l. 4. c. 4. Ptolem. l. 3. c. 16. (h) in Corinthiacis, p. 88. (i) Epist. l. 10. Ephesians 97.

I {1} commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:

(1) Having made an end of the whole discussion, he comes now to familiar commendations and salutations, and that to good consideration and purpose, that is, that the Romans might know who are most to be honoured and to be considered among them: and also whom they ought to set before them to follow: and therefore he attributes to every of them individual and singular testimonies.

Romans 16:1-2. Recommendation (συνίστημι, comp. 2 Corinthians 5:12, et al.; see Jacobs, ad Anthol. IX. p. 438; Bornemann, ad Xen. Symp. iv. 63, p. 154) of Phoebe, who is held to be the bearer of the epistle,—a supposition which there is nothing to contradict. In the twofold predicate, ἀδελφ. ἡμῶν (our, i.e. my and your Christian sister) and οὖσαν διάκ. κ.τ.λ., there lies a twofold motive, a more general and a more special one, for attending to the commendation.

διάκονον] feminine, as Dem. 762. 4 : διάκονον, ᾗ τις ἐχρῆτο. The designation by the word διακόνισσα, not used in classical Greek, is found only subsequently, as frequently in the Constitutt. apost. See, on these ministrae, as they are called in Pliny, Ep. x. 97, the female attendants on the poor, sick, and strangers of the church, Bingham, Orig. I. pp. 341–366; Schoene, Geschichtsforsch. üb. d. kirchl. Gebr. III. p. 102 ff.; Herzog, in his Encykl. III. p. 368 f. Very groundlessly Lucht, because this service in the church was of later date (but comp. Romans 12:7; Php 1:1), pronounces the words οὖσανΚεγχρ. not to belong to Paul, and ascribes them to the supposed editor. Respecting the χῆραι, 1 Timothy 5:9, see Huther in loc.

Κεγχρεαί, eastern port of Corinth, on the Saronic Gulf. See Wetstein. Comp. on Acts 18:18.

ἵνα αὐτὴν, κ.τ.λ.] Aim of the commendation.

ἐν κυρίῳ] characterizes the προσδέχεσθαι as Christian; it is to be no common service of hospitality, but to take place in Christ, i.e. so that it is fulfilled in the fellowship of Christ, in virtue of which one lives and moves in Christ. Comp. Php 2:29.

ἀξίως τῶν ἁγίων] either: as it is becoming for saints (Christians) to receive fellow-Christians (so ordinarily), or: “sicut sanctos excipi oportet,” Grotius, Chrysostom. The former (so also Fritzsche and Philippi) is the correct explanation, because most naturally suggesting itself, as modal definition of the action of receiving.

καὶ γὰρ αὐτή] nam et ipsa, for she also on her part (not αὕτη, haec).

προστάτις] a directrix, protectress (Lucian, bis accus. 29; Dio Cass. xlii. 39; Dindorf, Soph. O. C. 459, and Praef. ad Soph. p. LXI.; Lobeck, Paralip. p. 271). She became (i.e. se praestitit, Kühner, ad Xen. Anab. i. 7. 4) a patrona multorum through the exercise of her calling. Paul might, indeed, have written παραστάτις, corresponding to παραστῆτε (Xen. Mem. ii. 1. 32; Soph. Trach. 891, Oed. C. 559; comp. ἐν νόσοις παραστάτις Musonius in Stob. fl. p. 416, 43); but he selects the word which is conformable to her official position, and more honourable.

καὶ αὐτοῦ ἐμοῦ] and of myself, my own person (see on Romans 7:25). Historical proof of this cannot be given. Perhaps Paul had once been ill during a sojourn with the church of Cenchreae.

Romans 16:1 f. Συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν φοίβην. αυνίστημι is the technical word for this kind of recommendation, which was equivalent to a certificate of church membership. Paul uses it with especial frequency in 2 Cor., both in this technical sense (Romans 3:1, Romans 5:12), and in a kindred but wider one (Romans 4:2, Romans 6:4, Romans 7:11, Romans 10:12; Romans 10:18). τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν: our (Christian) sister, 1 Corinthians 7:15; 1 Corinthians 9:5. The spiritual kinship thus asserted was a recommendation of itself, but in Phœbe’s case Paul can add another. οὖσαν καὶ διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς: who is also a servant of the Church in Cenchreæ. It is not easy to translate διάκονος, for “servant” is too vague, and “deaconess” is more technical than the original. Διακονία was really a function of membership in the Church, and Phœbe might naturally be described as she is here if like the house of Stephanas at Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:15) she had given herself εἰς διακονίαν τοῖς ἁγίοις. That is, a life of habitual charity and hospitality, quite apart from any official position, would justify the name διάκονος. On the other hand it must be remembered that the growth of the Church, under the conditions of ancient society, soon produced “deaconesses” in the official sense, and Phœbe may have had some recognised function of διακονία assigned to her. Cenchreæ was on the Saronic gulf, nine miles . of Corinth: as the port for Asia and the East, many Christians would pass through it, and a Christian woman who gave herself to hospitality (Romans 12:13) might have her hands full. ἐν Κυρίῳ: no mere reception of Phœbe into their houses satisfies this—their Christian life was to be open for her to share in it; she was no alien to be debarred from spiritual intimacy. ἀξίως τῶν ἁγίων: with such kindness as it becomes Christians to show. καὶ παραστῆτε αὐτῇ (Jeremiah 15:11): after the Christian welcome is assured, Paul bespeaks their help for Phœbe in whatever affair she may require it. He speaks indefinitely, but his language suggests that she was going to Rome on business in which they could assist her. καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ: in complying with this request they will only be doing for Phœbe what she has done for others, and especially for Paul himself. προστάτις (feminine of προστάτης) is suggested by παραστῆτε. Paul might have said παραστάτις, but uses the more honourable word. προστάτης (patronus) was the title of a citizen in Athens who took charge of the interests of μέτοικοι and persons without civic rights; the corresponding feminine here may suggest that Phœbe was a woman of good position who could render valuable services to such a community as a primitive Christian Church usually was. When she helped Paul we cannot tell. Dr. Gifford suggests the occasion of Acts 18:18. Paul’s vow “seems to point to a deliverance from danger or sickness,” in which she may have ministered to him. It is generally assumed that Phœbe was the bearer of this epistle, and many even of those who regard Romans 16:3-16 as addressed to Ephesus still hold that Romans 16:1-2 were meant for Rome.

Ch. Romans 16:1-16. A commendation, and many salutations

1. I commend] Lit. But, or now, I commend. The particle marks transition to a new subject.

Phebe] Strictly, Phœbe.—Nothing is known of Phœbe beyond the information in this passage. It is probable that she was the bearer of the Epistle to Rome; for no other bearer is mentioned, and the prominence of this notice of her suggests a special connexion with the writing. See further below.—The early Christian converts seem to have had no scruple in retaining a pre-baptismal name even when the name (as in this case) was that of a heathen deity. Cp. Hermes, (Romans 16:14); Nereus, (Romans 16:15); and such derivative names as Demetrius (3 John 1:12).

a servant of the church] Plainly the word “servant” here bears more than a menial reference: Phœbe was in some sense a dedicated helper of the community at Cenchreæ, and very probably a person of substance and influence.—There is good evidence of the existence in the Apostles’ time of an organized class of female helpers in sacred work; for see especially 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Just after the apostolic age the famous Letter of Pliny to Trajan indicates that such female helpers (ministræ) were known in the Bithynian Churches; and for two centuries from the time of Tertullian (cir. a.d. 210) allusions to them are frequent, and shew that they were largely employed both in the relief of temporal distress, chiefly among women, and also in the elementary teaching of female catechumens. They were regularly set apart by imposition of hands. As a rule, they were required to be of mature age, (rarely of less than 40 years,) and in most cases they appear to have been widows and mothers. By the 12th century the Order had been everywhere abolished. (See Bingham’s Antiquities, Bk. II. ch. xxii.)—We must not assume that Phœbe was a deaconess in the full later sense of the word; but that her position was analogous to that of the later deaconesses seems at least most probable.

The church:”—here in the very frequent sense of a local community of Christians.

Cenchrěa] In the Gr. Cenchreæ: the Eastern port of Corinth. Cp. Acts 18:18.—See Introduction, ii. § 1.

Romans 16:1. Φοίβην, Phœbe) The Christians retained the names borrowed from the heathen gods, as a memorial of the heathenism, which they had abandoned.—οὖσαν διάκονον, who is a [servant] minister) without the office of teaching. She might have been considered as a minister in respect of this very errand, on which she was sent.—Κεγχρεαῖς, at Cenchrea) near Corinth.

Verses 1-20. - K. Commendation of Phoebe, and salutations to Christians at Rome. Verses 1, 2. - I commend unto you Phoebe our sister (i.e. fellow-Christian), who is a servant of the Church that is in Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, worthily of the saints, and assist her (παραστῆτε, literally, stand by her) in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she too hath been a succourer (προστάτις, corresponding to παραστῆτε) of many, and of mine own self. This Phoebe was probably the bearer of the Epistle. She appears to have had business, perhaps of a legal kind, that took her to Rome; and St. Paul took advantage of her going to send the letter by her, desiring also to enlist the aid of her fellow-Christians at Rome in furtherance of her business, whatever it might be. Her having business at Rome, and her having been "a succourer of many," suggests the idea of her being a lady of means. Her designation as διάκονος of the Church at Cenchrea probably implies that she held an office there corresponding to that of deaconess, though there is no reason to suppose the distinguishing term διακόνισσα to have been as yet in use. Her function, and that of others (as perhaps of Tryphena and Tryphosa, mentioned in ver. 12 as "labouring much in the Lord"), might be to minister to the sick and poor, and to fulfil such charitable offices as women could best discharge. Cf. 1 Timothy 3:11, where γυναῖκας, mentioned in the midst of directions as to the qualifications of men for the office of deacons, probably denotes women who fulfilled similar duties. Cf. also Pliny's celebrated letter to Trajan (circ. A.D. 107), in which he says that he had extorted information as to the doings of Christians, "ex duabus ancillis, quae ministrae dicebantur." The Latin ministra answers exactly to the Greek διάκονος. Cenchrea was the port of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf; and it appears from this passage that there was a Church or congregation there, as well as one or more in Corinth itself. It is an interesting conjecture that St. Paul, in speaking of Phoebe having been a succourer of himself as well as of others, may refer to an illness of his own at Cenchrea, during which she had ministered to him, and that his shaving his head at Cenchrea because he had a vow (Acts 18:18) may have been during, or on his recovery from, that illness. Romans 16:1I commend (συνίστημι)

See on Romans 3:5.


The bearer of the epistle. The word means bright. In classical Greek an epithet of Artemis (Diana) the sister of Phoebus Apollo.

Servant (διάκονον)

The word may be either masculine or feminine. Commonly explained as deaconess. The term διακόνισσα deaconess is found only in ecclesiastical Greek. The "Apostolical Constitutions" distinguish deaconesses from widows and virgins, prescribe their duties, and a form for their ordination. Pliny the younger, about a.d. 104, appears to refer to them in his letter to Trajan, in which he speaks of the torture of two maids who were called minestrae (female ministers). The office seems to have been confined mainly to widows, though virgins were not absolutely excluded. Their duties were to take care of the sick and poor, to minister to martyrs and confessors in prison, to instruct catechumens, to assist at the baptism of women, and to exercise a general supervision over the female church-members. Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Romans 16:12) may have belonged to this class. See on 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Conybeare ("Life and Epistles of St. Paul") assumes that Phoebe was a widow, on the ground that she could not, according to Greek manners, have been mentioned as acting in the independent manner described, either if her husband had been living or she had been unmarried. Renan says: "Phoebe carried under the folds of her robe the whole future of Christian theology."


More correctly, Cenchreae. Compare Acts 18:18 Corinth, from which the epistle was sent, was situated on an isthmus, and had three ports, Cenchreae on the east side, and Lechaeum on the west of the isthmus, with Schoenus, a smaller port, also on the eastern side, at the narrowest point of the isthmus. Cenchreae was nine miles from Corinth. It was a thriving town, commanding a large trade with Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, and the other cities of the Aegean. It contained temples of Venus, Aesculapius, and Isis. The church there was perhaps a branch of that at Corinth.

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