Romans 16:1-16/ Let’s Talk About Phoebe (Sermon notes and Audio)

Posted on October 19, 2014


This is the sixty-second in a series of verse-by-verse expositions of the book of Romans. This message was delivered at Hillcrest Baptist Church on the morning of October 19, 2014. This message explores the topic of Phoebe, and her role in the church. We look at the Biblical requirements for the office of deacon, and whether or not Phoebe was a deacon in the church. This post contains an audio recording of my message, along with my sermon notes and a study outline. Please note that the sermon notes are not a full transcript.

AUDIO – Listen Now:


Romans 16_1-16




Romans 16:1-16


Phoebe was a faithful servant for whom Paul apparently has much respect.

This is the only mention of Phoebe in Scripture, yet much has been said about her. Who was she? Or more specifically, what position did she hold in the church?

Paul calls her a servant of the church, and a few translations use the word deacon. Indeed, the Greek root word is the same word as is translated deacon in other passages.

There is a trend today of ordaining women deacons in the church, and Phoebe is typically used as the prime example to defend that position. Despite the trend today, the offices of pastor and deacon (according to the Bible) are clearly reserved for men.

So what about Phoebe? Did she hold some official position of authority in the church? Was she a deacon? Or is the word used in a more generic fashion?

It is not uncommon for Paul to recognize the work of faithful women.

Philippians 4:2

Phoebe was one of these women (Romans 16:1), and Paul even entrusted her with the delivery of this letter.

The underlying Greek is the same word as for deacon, but it is translated at least twice as often in the New Testament as servant. This generic usage is actually more common than the more specific usage of the translation as deacon.

There is simply no indication that she held the official position of deacon in the church. She was a faithful servant as so many women are. To call her a Deacon reads much more into the text than is actually there. That is always dangerous.

Some would point to Galatians 3:28

That verse, and entire passage of Scripture is talking about nothing more than our common salvation in Christ. There is absolutely no justification for stretching it beyond that meaning.

1 Timothy 3:12 clearly establishes the qualifications for the office of deacon, as does Acts 6:3

These texts make it clear that the office of deacon is reserved for men. Any interpretation of Phoebe as a deaconess creates an unnecessary and unwarranted contradiction in Scripture. Further, the entire doctrine of male headship and accountability, and the family foundation for the church, necessitate that it is a male’s position.

Women have a call to minister to and teach other women.

Titus 2:3

Some eastern churches at around 110ad had deaconesses to specifically attend to the needs of female members. Their role was limited. Their duties were to take care of the sick and poor, to minister to martyrs and confessors in prison, to instruct catechumens, to assist at the baptism of women, and to exercise a general supervision over female church-members.

Now certainly that doesn’t sound at all objectionable, and it wouldn’t be. . . had they not been ordained into official ministerial positions within the church. Such an ordained position carries with it a distinct level of authority and accountability in the chuch, which was in violation of Scripture.

No such position is created in Scripture, it is man’s own creation. It doesn’t take people long to start trying to do things their own way instead of Gods way. We have no first century evidence of the office of deaconess. Even if there were, that wouldn’t make it right if Scripture speaks against it.

Such segregation is not only uneccssary, it is unbiblical. It would essentially create two churches under one roof. However, God created women to be partners and helpers, not to be separated from men.

Genesis 2:18

Genesis 2:22-24

Consider this, the Deacons of acts were specifically men, yet a major part of their ministry was to women.

Acts 6:1-3

There is no Biblical justification for women deacons. The clear and undeniable fact is that one of the specifically listed biblical requirements includes being a married man.


That she could not have been a deacon, does not negate the fact that Phoebe was a Godly woman and a faithful servant (as so many women are today). She had earned the trust, respect and admiration of Paul, and he expected others to treat her accordingly.

In fact, Christianity was at odds with the predominant culture in Paul’s day. Christianity elevated women to an entirely new level. While the world viewed women as nothing more than property, the Word of God gave women a voice, and saw them as worthy of love and protection, and place them on equal standing with Christ. Remember, different roles in no way denotes inequality.

Then, as now, women played vital roles in the work of the church and the spreading of the Gospel.

Then, as now, the role of women in the work of the church is an absolute necessity. Without them, God’s church would be incomplete and ineffective. Men and women have specific strengths and weaknesses, which compliment each other. With this in mind, Paul considered Phoebe (as well as other women) to be fellow servants of Christ. He was adamant that the Roman church would receive her and treat her with love and respect, assisting her with whatever she needed.


Moving on, we see that Paul had many contacts, and he always kept tabs on the churches.

  • 35 people are named
  • 9 were with Paul in Corinth (8 men and 1 woman).
  • 24 were in Rome (17 men and 7 women).
  • 2 households are named.
  • There are 2 unnamed women.
  • There are some unnamed brethren.

These were all faithful servants, dear to the heart of Paul. Paul doesn’t lump them together, but names them 1 by 1.

Love is specific. Jesus sets the example, as He calls His sheep by name.

John 10:3 2

Timothy 2:19

The Good Shepherd always displays His intimate knowledge of His sheep. As such, we should seek to follow the examples given, that our love and attention to the brethren be as personal and specific as possible.

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