The woman walking up the Roman Road hugged a secret. Hidden beneath her robe was the future of Christian theology. For she bore with her a letter to the church in Rome that would spell out, like no other document ever written, the implications and significance of the gospel.
Paul had turned to her out of need. While in Corinth he had written a letter to the distant Roman church. He could not slip the letter into an envelope, lick a couple stamps and drop it into a mailbox; there was no postal service. Instead, he must find someone to carry the letter. As F. W. Boreham points out, Paul could write the letter but at that time could not carry it. Phoebe could not have written the letter, but she could carry it. As Christians we need one another.
What do we know about Phoebe? Not much. Paul mentions her in just one place (Romans 16:1, 2): "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea [the port of Corinth], that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well."
This day, January 27th, is remembered in honor of Phoebe and two other early Christian women, Dorcas and Lydia. All three shared one pre-eminent quality: they helped others.
Dorcas was known for her assistance to the poor. So highly regarded was she, that when she died, the saints of Joppa appealed to Peter. He prayed over her and God raised her from the dead.
Lydia was a seller of purple cloth. After Paul shared the gospel with her, Lydia and her entire household were baptized--his first convert in Europe. She insisted Luke and Paul stay at her house. Her prosperous home became the original church at Philippi.
As these three individuals of the New Testament show, middle class women were already beginning to play an important role in the Christian world.
- Boreham, F. W. "The Lion and the Mouse." Cliffs of Opal. London: Epworth, 1948.
- Tenney, Merrill C. Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Southwestern Co. 1972.
- Various internet sources.