fe'-be (Phoibe; the King James Version Phebe): Described by Paul as (1) "our sister," (2) "who is a servant of the church that is at Cenchrea," (3) "a helper of many, and of mine own self" (Ro 16:1-2). (1) "Our (Christian) sister": Paul calls the believing husband and wife "the brother or the sister" (1Co 7:15), and also asks, "Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a sister?" (1Co 9:5 margin). The church was a family. (2) The Greek word translated "servant" is diakonos. "Servant" is vague, and "deaconess" is too technical. In the later church there was an order of deaconesses for special work among women, owing to the peculiar circumstances of oriental life, but we have no reason to believe there was such an order at this early period. If Phoebe had voluntarily devoted herself "to minister unto the saints" by means of charity and hospitality, she would be called diakonos. (3) The Greek word prostatis translated "helper" is better "patroness." The masculine is "the title of a citizen in Athens who took charge of the interests of clients and persons without civic rights" (Denney). Many of the early Christian communities had the appearance of clients under a patron, and probably the community of Cenchrea met in the house of Phoebe. She also devoted her influence and means to the assistance of "brethren" landing at that port. Paul was among those whom she benefited. Gifford thinks some special occasion is meant, and that Paul refers to this in Ac 18:18. The vow "seems to point to a deliverance from danger or sickness" in which Phoebe may have attended on him.
It is generally assumed that this letter was taken to Rome by Phoebe, these verses introducing her to the Christian community. In commending her, Paul asks that the Roman Christians "receive her in the Lord," i.e. give her a Christian welcome, and that they "assist her in whatsoever matter she may have need" of them (Ro 16:1-2).
S. F. Hunter