Early witnesses to the faith

Daily Reading for January 27 • Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe, Witnesses to the Faith

In Phoebe we have evidence that women were traveling missionaries, deacons, and leaders, whose authority and importance were recognized by Paul as well as by Christian communities in the fifties. We may be surprised at the terms Paul uses in reference to this woman, but apparently the Romans would not have been. Paul does not qualify or justify his language describing Phoebe, the way some interpreters and even translators have since Paul first recommended her. She is a “deacon” (diakonos), which is grammatically masculine and is used in the New Revised Standard Version. . . .

As a delegate from Paul and emissary to the church he addressed, Phoebe seems to have performed the same functions as Timothy and Titus did to the communities at Thessalonica, Philippi, and Corinth. That she exercised these functions with regard to Rome could possibly have made her authority all the greater, since the church was so significant. That she is recommended to the church at Rome using the terms “deacon” and “benefactor-patron” without apology implies that such roles for women were acceptable in the churches. . . . Phoebe is further called “our sister,” a designation used generally by Christians from earliest times. This familial term suggests the wide-ranging effect of modeling the community on the household, the family of God. Phoebe’s status as a partner in the Gospel already gives her full mature identity in the new society of believers.

From Women in the New Testament by Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 2001).

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