St. Phoebe — A Benefactor to Many

The feast of St. Phoebe, who was mentioned in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, is Sept. 3.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), “Saint Paul Writing His Epistles”
Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), “Saint Paul Writing His Epistles” (photo: Public Domain / Public Domain)

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is [also] a minister of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a benefactor to many and to me as well. ―Romans 16:1–2

The only reference to Phoebe in the Bible occurs in the last chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Although the mentioning is brief, much can be inferred from the two verses offered. Many claim that the words surrounding Phoebe’s name strongly suggest that it was Phoebe herself who actually delivered Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. His written introduction of Phoebe to the Romans is intriguing to ponder. It is full of warmth and praise, encouraging a wonderful, accepting, and generous welcome, as if she were a holy one (a “saint”).

Because she is from the Church in Cenchreae (a port in Greece a few miles from Corinth), it becomes very plausible that she was Greek. Her ability and willingness to travel all the way from Cenchreae to Rome shows that she had an outstanding belief in the ways of Christ. Such a long and arduous journey had to have been made by someone who was open to adventure and deeply committed to the mission.

Phoebe is mentioned as being a “minister” (in some translations, a “deaconess”). The duties of a minister or deaconess at that time in Church history are not clear, but it’s safe to assume that the role entailed generous involvement and support one way or another.

Paul also used the word “benefactor” (or “helper”) to describe Phoebe. One can imagine some possibilities: No husband is mentioned, so perhaps she was unmarried and had the time to devote herself to the needs of the early Church. Perhaps she had the financial means to give monetary assistance. Perhaps she offered her home as a place of worship.

Phoebe is an excellent example of how women have crucial roles in the Church. Whatever talents they have, there is a way to bring them to the altar.

Finding St. Phoebe in the Bible

St. Phoebe’s memorial is Sept. 3, and many women might turn to her for help with church ministries.  The four passages below may be used as a devotional to get to know St. Phoebe a little better. Prayerfully meditating on and journaling about one passage a day might inspire you to refresh or take up a new ministry at your church. 

  • Day 1) Romans 16:1–2
  • Day 2) Acts 18:18b
  • Day 3) Philippians 1:1
  • Day 4) 1 Timothy 3:8–13