Phoebe as an Example of Female Authority Exercised in the Early Church
The Apostle Paul’s glowing witness to the Deacon Phoebe in Rom.16:1-2 3 reflects a hard-working church leader who might have been surprised to discover that she is the first person in the history of the church, male or female, to be formally designated “deacon” by name in scripture. The example of Phoebe represents one of the ways authority was exercised in the life of the Church during the earliest generations of believers confessing that Christ, the source of authority, is Lord. In the collaborative ministry of Paul and Phoebe, we see an example of “the Lord himself working through the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.” Like many of the earliest Christians, Phoebe may have been a far-flung traveler and it is likely that she was Paul’s chosen courier for his Letter to the Romans; his gratitude expressed for Phoebe’s generosity, to himself and many others, rings true in the witness of scripture. In a patriarchal culture, where it was often assumed that women were properly to be considered an invisible component of society and justifiably under-reported, Paul acknowledges a “genuine pneumatic endowment” in the women co-workers he singles out for praise. Phoebe is remembered by Paul--and in the canon of scripture--as a sister, as a benefactor, and as a deacon. She is a useful New Testament figure to study since the witness of her authority is attested so early in the history of the Church that it transcends the differences between Eastern and Western traditions.
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Also Published In
- Power and Authority in the Eastern Christian Experience: Papers of the Sophia Institute Academic Conference, New York, December 2010
- Theotokos Press