Why is Phoebe important in the Bible?

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This is a great question. Phoebe is mentioned in the book of Romans 16:1-2. She is called a helper of Paul in most translations (prostatis), but the better translation is patron.

Part of the confusion over this word is because it is a hapax legomena; this is to say that the word is used only once in the New Testament. With the lack of other usages, it is hard to know the best way to translate this word. However, we can confirm that “patron” is the best translation, because there is a contemporary inscription honoring Junia Theodoria, who was a great patroness living in Corinth. This contemporary usage is great proof.

If this is the correct reading, the implications are great. First, Phoebe was Paul’s patroness. For this, she needs to be recognized, just as Paul has done in Romans 16:1-2. We also need to underline that she was a woman, a point, which is sometimes neglected in a male-dominated world.

Second, what makes Phoebe great is not so much that she was a patroness, since patrons and clients had a quid pro quo relationship in the ancient world, but because she was a servant. She used her resources to benefit others with no thought of reciprocation. This is probably why Paul has to tell the church at Rome to receive her and help her in whatever she may need.



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