Paul's Epistle to the Romans

 Tom Lowe (9-21-2009)

(55) Commendation of Phoebe

Romans 16:1–2


Scripture

1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.


Introduction to Chapter 16

The apostle commends to the Christians at Rome Phoebe, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea (vs. 1, 2). Then he sends greetings to Aquila and Priscilla, of whom he discloses has a high-level character; and he greets also the Church at their house (vs. 3-5). He mentions several others by name, both men and women, who were members of the Church of Christ at Rome (vs 6-16). He warns them to beware of those who cause dissensions and divisions, of whom he gives an appalling character (vs. 17, 18). Next, he praises the obedience of the Roman Christians, and promises them a complete victory over Satan, (vs. 19, 20). Several persons send their salutations, (vs. 21-23). To whose good wishes he adds the apostolic blessing; commends them to God; gives his own summary of the doctrines of the Gospel: and concludes with ascribing glory to the only wise God, through Christ Jesus (vs. 24-27).

The names which occur in this chapter are chiefly Greek; and the persons mentioned had probably been inhabitants of Greece, but had relocated to Rome for business purposes. Possibly some of them had been converted under the ministry of the apostle himself during his preaching in Corinth and other parts of Greece. It is remarkable that the name of Peter does not occur in this section; which is conclusive evidence, contrary to the Catholic Church, that Peter was not then known by Paul to be in Rome.


Commentary


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

I commend unto you Phebe our sister,
Phoebe [FEE bih] is introduced as a servant  of the church in Cenchrea… Other versions translate the word ‘servant’ as ‘deaconess.’ Still others have called her ‘minister’—inasmuch as in other scriptures where the Greek word “diakoneo” is used, it is translated ‘minister.’  We do not need to think of her as belonging to some special religious order. Any sister who serves in connection with a local assembly can be a “deaconess.”

The apostle Paul tells us very little about Phoebe, other than “she has been a helper of many and of myself, also” (Rom. 16:2). The Greek words he used to describe her suggest that Phoebe was a wealthy businesswoman. Many scholars believe she carried the written book of Romans to the congregation.

We know nothing about Phoebe except what these verses imply. She must have been a person of some wealth and position, a resident of the eastern seaport of Corinth, where she could afford aid and hospitality for Paul and others as they made the journey by sea between Corinth and Ephesus.

I commend unto you PhebeEvidently Phoebe was a sister in Christ; it may be that she came to believe in Christ after hearing the preaching of Paul. Paul greatly esteemed the work of women in the church, and this woman was highly respected.

“I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.”

Phoebe, whose name means radiant, was apparently a businesswoman from the city of Cenchrea, a close neighbor  of the seaport city of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf (see Acts 18:18[1]). She was a servant (Gr. diakonos) of the church in that location. Likewise she is said to be a succorer (Gr. prostatis) or befriender of many including Paul. Apparently Phoebe was a widow, or she would not have been able to travel so freely in the Roman Empire. This woman was preparing for a business trip to Rome, where she was a stranger and Paul seizes that opportunity, since as a private citizen he was not permitted to use the official Roman postal system, to send his epistle to Rome. That's why he advises the Romans “That ye receive her in the Lord … and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you.” Paul recommends her to the Christians he is aquainted with there: an expression of his true friendship with her. It was common then, as it is now, to carry 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[2], Acts 18:27[3]). This epistle, with the apostle's commendation, was designed 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.)

Since the apostle had not been to Rome previously to his writing this epistle, he could not have had a personal acquaintance with those members of the Church there, to whom he sends these friendly salutations. But it is likely that many of them were his own converts, who, in different parts of Asia Minor and Greece, had heard him preach the Gospel, and afterwards became settlers at Rome.

Our sisterPaul calls her our sister; a term of Christian endearment. He writes that she is a person with very good character. As a sister to Paul: Phebe our sister; not through natural birth, but by grace; not by marriage or by having a common ancestor, but in pure Christianity: his own sister by faith in Christ, loving Paul, and loved by him, with a pure and chaste and spiritual love, as a sister; for there is neither male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus; Galatians 3:28[4]. Both Christ and his apostles had some of their best friends among the devout (and upon that account honourable) women.

Which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
This female servant of the church was also called a deaconess; so the question is, "Who is a deaconess?" It is clear, from the New Testament, that there was an order of women in the church known as deaconesses. They were a class of females whose duty it was to teach other females and to take the general oversight, of that part of the church; and their existence is expressly affirmed in early church history. They appear to have been experienced widows of a mature age, having a good reputation, and the skills to guide and instruct those who were young and inexperienced. A deaconess would have been a widow who met the qualifications given in 1 Timothy 5:3, 9-11[5], and Titus 2:4[6]. The Apostolical Constitutions, Book iii., says, "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 maid-servants who are called ministræ [that is, deaconesses] to the torture, in order to ascertain what is the truth." The reasons for 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 widows, who had borne children, 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. They were ordained to their office by the laying on of the hands of the bishop; It is evident, however, that they were confined to these offices, and that they were never regarded as an order of ministers, or allowed to preach to congregations, 1 Timothy 2:12 ;
1 Corinthians 14:34.

In the tenth or eleventh century the order became extinct in the Latin Church, but continued in the Greek Church till the end of the twelfth century.

CenchreaCenchrea was a sea-port on the east side of the isthmus (neck of land) which joined the Morea to Greece, and the Lechaeum was the sea-port on the west side of the same isthmus. These were the only two havens and towns of any note, next to Corinth, that belonged to this territory. As the Lechaeum opened the road to the Ionian Sea, so Cenchrea opened the road to the Aegean; and both were so advantageously situated for commerce that they were very rich. These two places are now usually designated the Gulf of Lepanto, and the Gulf of Ingia or Egina. It was on the isthmus, between these two ports, which was about six miles wide, that the Isthmian games were celebrated; to which St. Paul makes such frequent allusions. An organized church seems to have been formed here. 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 Lechæum 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.

____________________verse 1 notes_______________________

[1](Acts 18:18) “And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.” After remaining in Corinth yet a good while beyond the year and a half, he took Aquila and Priscilla and left for Ephesus. At this time we are told that he had shorn his head … for he had vowed a vow. Evidently, before leaving Corinth, he assumed a Nazarite vow and during the period of the vow allowed his hair to grow uncut and at the end of the period, cut his hair.
[2](2 Corinthians 3:1) “Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?” The apostle can not believe that a formal introduction to a church he founded should be necessary. Such letters of introduction constituted a common practice in New Testament times (see Acts 9:1–2; 18:27). Due to the prevailing social, political, and religious climate, such letters were both advisable and necessary. Paul here does not disparage their use. He can only be amazed that the Corinthian believers require it of him.
[3](Acts 18:27) “And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:”

[4](Galatians 3:28) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

[5](1 Timothy 5:3, 9-11) “3Honour widows that are widows indeed… 9Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, 10Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. 11But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry;” There were almost certainly no public “widowages” as there are orphanages in the first century. Those widows, cared for by the church, had to fall into certain guidelines and have certain responsibilities. The widow with no descendants is not to be taken into the number, or “added to the list” to be cared for by the church, unless they meet the following conditions: they must be over sixty years of age and must not be married more than once. Good works—to qualify for receiving the good works of others a widow must have performed good works herself.
There were two categories of good works:
(1) Brought up children. The grand duty and privilege of the homemaker (Tit 2:4–5) is the bearing and rearing of children (I Tim 2:15). Women given to good works are not deceived by the clever but satanic furor of the twentieth century of the role of women in modern life.
(2) Lodged strangers. The widow should be hospitable if she wants others’ hospitality now. The women should care for those neighbors or fellow Christians who are afflicted.
Younger widows are to be refused. Those under sixty years of age (vs. 9). They are not to be the responsibility of the church for they will usually wax wanton Gr katastrēniaō). This word carries the idea of having sexual desires to which she yields and marries again.
[6](Titus 2:4, 5 ) “That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” 4. They should teach the young women. Christian matrons have a responsibility to give their years of experience to the younger women. They are the best teachers of younger women. They will teach them to love their husbands … their children. This is a friendly companionship in which you do things together. Most homes could use a lot of this teaching. 5. Discreet means the same as “temperate,” and can mean sound-minded. Chaste or pure. Keepers at home (Gr oikourgos) means “working at home.” Again, Paul is no male chauvinist. God-ordained women are to work at home, but not as a maid or slave. Being a good homekeeper is not demeaning. There is no higher calling. Every man knows the transforming power in the home of a lovely, godly wife. Her power is felt in a much greater institute than a bank or political office when she influences the home and children for God. Obedient to their … husbands. What an awesome responsibility this puts on the husband to be a man of God and represent Christ in the home! Why are wives to live like this? That the word of God be not blasphemed. What an awful result when wives are out of place and unsubmissive.
[7](1 Timothy 2:12) “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” The home is the woman’s castle. In the church the situation is different (I Cor 14:34). This is God’s order and chain of command “in the house of God.” Proverbs 31 gives details of a wise woman’s place and function: properly performed, her children “call her blessed” and “her husband … praiseth her” (vs. 28).

 

2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.

That ye receive her in the Lord,
Whenever the early Christians traveled from one church to another, they carried letters of introduction. This was a real courtesy to the church being visited and a help to the visitor.

"Receive her in the Lord"—that you acknowledge her as being in the Lord, or as being a servant of the Lord, and a genuine disciple of the Lord Jesus; simply put, give her a Christian welcome. Compare 16:2 to Philippians 2:29: “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation.” Receive him to yourselves and keep on holding him in high honor.

The words “in the Lord”, may be connected either with ‘receive’, ‘receive her in a religious manner, and with religious motives’; or with the pronoun, ‘‘her’ in the Lord’, her as a Christian.’ The apostle will go on to present two considerations to enforce this exhortation; first, regard for their Christian character; and, secondly, the service which Phebe had rendered to others.

as becometh saints

So the apostle here introduces Phoebe and asks that she be welcomed as a true believer in a manner worthy of fellow believers; the proper way that Christians should treat their brethren.

This expression describes the manner in which they ought to receive her, and suggests the motive for doing it. The words as becometh saints may mean, ‘as it becomes Christians to receive their brethren,’ or, as saints ought to be received.’ In the former case, (saints) are those who received, and in the latter, those who are received.

And that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath ("may have") need of you:

He further asks that she be assisted in every way possible—“And that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you (probably, some private business of her own)”. They were not only to receive her with courtesy and affection, but to aid her in any way in which she required their assistance. The words in whatsoever business are to be taken very generally, in whatever matter, or in whatever respect.

And that ye assist her—this phrase, as it is used in the Greek is a legal one; hence it is supposed that some kind of legal business called her to Rome.

For she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.
The Geneva Bible, translates the last clause, “for she hath gyuen hospitalitie unto many, and to me also.” Tyndale had “she hath suckered many,” and this was retained in the Great Bible and the Bishops’ Bible. The KJ translators followed the Greek more closely, which states that “she has been a prostatis of many and of myself.” The word is the feminine form of prostatēs, which means leader, protector, guardian, patron, a benefactor, even ruler or administrator; it is a highly honorable title. Arndt and Gingrich translate, “she has been of great assistance to many, including myself.”

She hath been a succorer of many—this would result from her office as a deaconess. Among those ministered to was the apostle himself. She had possibly shown great kindness in various ways to the apostle, and to other Christians; probably by receiving them into her house; by ministering to the sick, etc. Such persons have a claim on the respect and Christian kindness of others. It follows that her commendation is that she has given herself to the ministry of helping others, including Paul himself. Perhaps she was the tireless sister who was always showing hospitality to preachers and other believers in Cenchrea; it was only reasonable then that she should be assisted.

The LORD will reward all those, who like Phobe, help the poor and the sick: “1Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. 2The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. 3The LORD will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness (Psalms 41:1-3).” David makes a statement of fact and then gives proof for that statement. The psalmist concluded the preceding psalm by calling himself poor and needy (40:17). This one he begins by commending those who considereth the poor, who regard the afflicted affectionately. The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive. God will give length of days to anyone who considers the plight of the poor.

 

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