Original Research - Special Collection: Marianne Dircksen Festschrift

Female leadership as demonstrated by Phoebe: An interpretation of Paul’s words introducing Phoebe to the saints in Rome

Robin Gallaher Branch
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 53, No 2 | a2443 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v53i2.2443 | © 2019 Robin Gallaher Branch | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 January 2019 | Published: 22 November 2019

About the author(s)

Robin Gallaher Branch, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, South Africa; and Department of Religion and Philosophy, Christian Brothers University, Memphis, Tennessee, United States


Who is Phoebe? Introduced to Roman believers by the apostle Paul, Phoebe appears only in Romans 16:1–2. Paul describes her via three nouns (sister, servant, succourer, King James Version [KJV]) and encourages the saints in Rome to welcome her and assist her in whatever she may need. Scholars speculate it was she who carried Paul’s letter to Rome, delivered it orally numerous times, and explained it during the delivery. In a sense, she was Paul’s ambassador, the one speaking for him and introducing him to believers in Rome in churches he did not found. This article covers four major areas. It shows the importance of Paul’s three descriptive nouns and examines the significance of her role as letter-carrier and presenter. Paul warmly commends Phoebe to like-minded Roman believers. She is a woman he trusts, esteems, and acknowledges as a local leader in Cenchreae. However, many translations diminish the force of what this article argues was her influence in the first century. Paul’s introduction of Phoebe bears significance today in terms of women in leadership and the Christian practice of according rightful recognition to a fellow labourer in the Lord. However, this outstanding woman seems to have been undervalued for centuries. Consequently, this article boldly seeks to shed light on Phoebe, an extraordinary early believer, and to carry on Paul’s practice of honouring her.


Phoebe; Paul and Women; New Testament Christianity; Church Leadership; Believer.


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