The Book of Romans:
Background to the letter of Paul to the believers in Rome. Written around 57 AD Paul first arrived at Corinth on his way to Ephesus (Acts 18.) Having taking the collection up for the believers of the church in Jerusalem (after visiting the churches of Macedonia and Achaia and delivering the collection to Jerusalem, he was now on his third missionary journey (Acts 20: 1-3; 2 Cor. 8: 10-11; Rom. 15: 26-28).
ROMANS CHAPTER 16
Romans Chapter 16:1-2 I recommend to you Phoebe our fellow believer, who is a deacon of the assembly in Kenchreai, so that you will admit her into your company, the Lord’s company, in a manner worthy of the people devoted to God, and stand by her in whatever matters she needs you to help in. For indeed she became a presiding officer over many, and over me also!
We have no idea of Phoebe’s age, her family relationships or whether she had children. Paul gave the letter to Phoebe for her to take to Rome on his behalf for a specific project. His introduction of her to the church in Rome confirms the high esteem in which he holds Phoebe. He asks the believers in Rome to assist her.
The letter therefore, may have been written when Paul was at Corinth because Phoebe was a ‘deaconai’ of the church in Kenchreai, a very busy seaport that served the eastern port of Corinth. Paul’s host, Gaius (Rom 16: 23), was a prominent Christian leader at Corinth (1 Cor 1: 14’).
The Greek word, ‘diaconos’, is where we get the title today for someone who has been ordained a church ‘minister’ (it means ‘servant.’). We may, or may not have that in mind when we address a church leader as ‘Reverend’ or ‘Pastor’ or introduce or speak of someone as the Minister of such and such a church.
Rather than think of the word ‘servant’ when we say someone is a leader of a church she or he is a ‘minister’, generally, ‘ordained’. More often than not, a man, he is in charge or certainly is in some kind of leadership role in the church. Depending upon the denomination they may either be highly educated or consider they are ‘called’ to the position of church leader.
Further, ‘minister’ can be applied to one generally as a person having applied for credentials from a particular denomination set up for that purpose: to preside over its affairs and, where those credentialled with them are made accountable to them. The credentials bestowed come with varying degrees of autonomy, depending on the denominational by laws and set of doctrines they have agreed to adhere to.
‘Diaconos’ as well as carrying the original meaning of ‘servant’, also means ‘helper’ of any sort that is not a slave. Amongst Greek speaking people ‘servant’ or helper’ did not have the elevated position we come to recognise with ‘minister’ in our English speaking background. If you were to practice it a little bit when you greet your minister Sunday morning, out loud you could say, ‘good morning Reverend, or Good morning Pastor, while under your breath you could say ‘good morning servant’. Only then would you be able to get a feel of how it was commonly used back then in a culture that’s very survival depended on having many slaves and servants.
It will also help you to understand how the congregation heard it in the church in Rome and others living in the Greco Roman culture in the first century. ‘Diaconos’ is translated in various word in English 30 times in the New Testament.
Looking at others like Phoebe who was also called ‘diakonos’ we shall choose just a few here. However, when we only rely on the translators of the bible we hold in our hand we start to run into trouble. This is due to the gender bias that has been rampant in the church from its very inception.
Paul fought against it, and today, if you are in any kind of church leadership you will know it still exists as does discrimination of every sort, to the shame of the church, the household of faith and the blood bought freedom of all believers. Women, people of other races, deaf people, and other physically challenged people, are seldom invited to be in any other kind of leadership for various reasons due to blatant discrimination.
However, women have a double bind. In most church organisations, woman are barred from ever being in a position of ‘servant of all’, that is a church leader in her own right. Rather, they must be under what is generally termed (though nowhere is the term found in the bible) a man’s ‘covering’, be it their husband or male church leader. We touched on this erroneous notion, ‘under a man’s covering’ in our previous study, showing that some say ‘because of the angels’ that a woman needs protection, which is an erroneous translation of 1 Cor 14 . As we go on in this study, we will continue to take up the axe and chop away at the root of that tree of gender discrimination.
‘Diaconos’ is translated ‘servant’ only 7 times and ‘deacon’ 3 times. The other 20 times it is translated ‘minister’. In the instances it is referring to an ecclesiastical office, ’
‘Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision’ (Rom 15: 8.)
Paul and Apollos, ‘misters by whom you [Corinthians] believed (1Cor.3: 5; 2Cor. 3: 6.)
[‘God], who also has made us [Paul and Timothy] “able ministers”’ (2 Cor: 6: 4)
Paul and Timothy –“ministers of God”. 11: 23 .
“Are they ministers”? [ie Jewish preachers, false apostles v. 13, vv 1 Cor 14: 34 who visited Corinth and was leading them astray];
Eph 3: 7 (‘where of I Paul “was made a minister”); 6: 21 (Tychicus, “a faithful minister”); Col 1: 7 Epaphras “A faithful minister”; 23, I Paul am made a minister’); 25’ I Paul am made a minister); Ch 4: 7 (Tychicus “ a faithful minister”); 1 Thess 3: 2 (Timothy, brother and minister of God”);
1 Tim. 4: 6 (put the brethren in remembrance of these things as “thou shall be a good minister”) Phil 1: 1 Paul and Timothy with all the bishops and deacons – men and women ‘deaconos’, servants”, and 1 Tim 3: 8, 12 (Let the “deacons be the husbands of one wife”).
Were we just to take a casual reading of the text without consulting the original Greek, we might be led to believe that ‘minister’ and ‘deacon’ relate only to male ministers. Returning to Phoebe, even though the same Greek word ‘diaconos’ is translated ‘minister’ in regard to Paul, Apollos, Timothy, Tychicus, and even including the ‘false Jewish apostles’ that Paul is here warning the Corinthian church. When it comes to Phoebe, rather than ‘minister’ the translators have chosen to us instead, ‘servant’.
‘I commend unto you our sister Phoebe, which is servant (minister, deacon) of our church” (KJV).
Other women who are ‘ministers’ are found in 1 Tim 3: 11, but we will come to that later in our study, allowing for the full equality of women with men in the church of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Gospel. However, given that the same word is translated ‘minister’ for all of those men mentioned above, surely Phoebe, a minister of the church at Cenchrea deserves the same status. Now, so that the church at Rome clearly understands who Phoebe is and to honour her, not for some title bestowed upon her, not even for any spiritual gifts she may display, but simply, “for her work’s sake”, although out of respect for her Paul adds more credit to her name when introducing her.
PHOEBE: ‘PROSTATIS.’: PATRON.
Not only was Phoebe ‘minister’ of the busy port city of Cenchrea, which is different for example to Stephanus and his household’, ‘who have devoted themselves to the service of the saints (1 Cor 16: 15) in as much as ‘diakanos’ is a specific service in Phoebe’s case. Paul says, ‘indeed she became a presiding officer over many, and over me also!’ The Greek word used here for ‘presiding officer’ or in KJV, ‘succourer’ or in other versions, ‘helper’ is ‘prostatis.’
Well you might ask, what is a ‘prostatis?’ The Greek word, ‘prostatis’ has the meaning ‘one standing before’, a ‘ruler’, a title used in ‘technical legal matters’.which they say, indicates that ‘Phoebe was abroad on such matters’. (the same verb form is used in ‘1 Tim. 3: 4, 5, 12; 5: 17) These terms, Patron and Presiding Officer are words that are terms that have little use for people living in the 21st century.
Nevertheless, Paul is commending Phoebe to the church in Rome by praising her, saying, ‘I commend unto you Phoebe, a minister and a ruler of many including myself.’ Other words that the translator could have used for ‘prostatis’ are ‘champion, leader, chief, protector, patron’. In keeping with the culture, it would seem then that Phoebe was Paul’s ‘patron’ at some time making him Phoebe’s ‘client’ (for more on this see the course notes Ephesians 5).
Honourable persons would seek out patron-client contracts with those of higher status, especially to provide goods and services, material assistance and moral support, of those of higher status, persons more fortunate and influential persons, not normally available in their village or city neighbourhood. Phoebe was one such higher status persons that Paul had occasion to call upon at some time. Clients would repay their patrons by such intangibles as public praise, concern for their reputation amongst those of the client’s status, for the sake of their patron’s honour (Malina p. 100). Phoebe, therefore, was a local prestigious person living in the Port City of Cenchreae. In this city, there were many travellers and strangers.
PRISCILLA: CHURCH LEADER
Romans Chapter 16: 3-5 Greet Prisca and Aquila my coworkers of the Anointed One Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life – I thank them for this! – not just them but also the assemblies of the non-Jews, and greet the assembly that is in their house.
Here we have a couple, a wife and her husband, Jews originally from Rome, who Paul says risked their own lives to save his. A Jewish couple, they lived in Rome before all the Jews were kicked out.
JEWISH WOMEN OF THE FIRST CENTURY
Some people like to say that Jewish women at this time were not allowed to study the Torah; not allowed to speak in the street; not allowed to take part in the synagogue services. In the study notes (1 Cor. 11 and 14) we saw how certain evidence of original sources, such as the writings on grave stones and other original sources had been overlooked, until a Jewish feminist scholar Bernadette Brooten brought them to light. However, one only has to read the Gospels with an open mind.
The large majority of women featured in the Gospels are Jewish. They were out in the streets, travelling with Jesus, supporting him financially; hurrying about involved in the ministry of the Gospel, listening to his teachings: in other words, women disciples. Women invited Jesus into their home for teaching, and churches were held in the homes of women. Later on in this study when we are looking at the lives of women in Judaism, we will discover they were far from silent and they certainly did not veil their faces or stay in doors. To appreciate the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures we need a new image of women. The women in this Hellenistic culture were no exception.
The only women who were locked away behind closed doors were women of Athens and even then as my essay on Greek women shows it was not necessarily at all times. Surely, men have tried to control women’s movements by many means. In China they bound their feet. In Islam, some are covered in black with only their eyes showing; some even then have to wear thick netting over their eyes which eventually sends the women blind. In the East they locked them up in purdah. In India, widows (women who had been sexually active and a problem for the community and a problem if they returned home) were burnt on the funeral pyre of their husbands, None of these ‘traditions’ have been the choices of women; rather male anxiety surfacing concerning women’s movements and freedom has brought all these atrocious burdens upon them, down through the ages, in unenlightened times and in backward cultures.
PRISCILLA: TEACHER: MIGHTY IN THE SCRIPTURES
However, it appears that Priscilla was unaware of the supposed confines of Jewish women. Priscilla’s name is mentioned before her husband’s name 5 out of the 6 times they are mentioned in the New Testament (The more senior person was always greeted first and this was a strict protocol of the times’ The Source, Nyland p. 408). Priscilla taught Apollos in Ephesus a Jew, who it is said was ‘mighty in the Scriptures’ (?). Now she is at Ephesus with her husband teaching the church there. Paul is honouring her and her husband. Both Priscilla and Aquila were leaders in the early church and worthy of the praise.
PRISCILLA: FELLOW WORKER IN JESUS CHRIST KNOWN THROUGHOUT THE CHURCHES
Priscilla (fellow worker in Christ Jesus). 1 Cor 16: 19-20 The assemblies of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priska greet you warmly, along with the assembly at their house. All the fellow believers greet you. Give greetings all around with a sacred kiss.
MARY : A HARD WORKER IN THE CHURCH IN ROME
Romans Chapter 16: 6 Greet Mary, who worked hard for you.
I have no doubt we have all met women like Mary. There are many Mary’s amongst the Jews. The Jewish name is Miriam. I wonder what it was that she worked ‘hard’ in? There may be a Miriam that deserves some praise from you or perhaps the whole church needs to hear about it. People with the gift of ‘helps’ are like Miriam mentioned here. They work tirelessly without recognition or thanks. Next time you run into them, setting up chairs or cleaning or doing the dogsbody work no one else wants to do ‘greet them and without being patronising, thank them from the heart!.
GREET JUNIA: FAMOUS APOSTLE.
7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow people of my race and fellow prisoners. They are famous among the apostles. They were followers of the Anointed One before I was.
Well, by now, as you might have guessed, an argument has continued for centuries about whether Junia is a woman’s or a man’s name. It’s easy to guess the reason. Paul is calling a woman here an apostle. Another argument is that ‘apostolos’ here means something different! Ho hum, gets monotonous doesn’t it?
Junia was, along with Andronicus, her brother, or cousin or husband, famous among the apostles. Wow. I wonder what feats they performed to become famous. Certainly, Junia was well spoken of and well known at that time in the church as were other women.
TRYPHENA AND TRYPHOSA
12-13a Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who worked hard for the Lord.
More hard-working women in the good work of the gospel. So, you want to be a minister of the Gospel? Count the cost.: You have to become the ‘servant of all’- that’s all! Servants work hard and few thank them for their labour. People can be so very demanding, especially in the church.
13b Greet Rufus’s mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
There are women in the church like this. I was one myself to many youths who my son, Mark, and I brought home off the streets and whom we fed, clothed and housed. These mothers in the gospel are also ministers in their own right. Without them the church would lack. Greet them also. In Paul’s long list of greetings this is the only woman singled out as a mother.
JULIA AND NERO’S SISTER: CHURCH LEADERS IN ROME
Rom 16: 15: Julia, and Neros’ sister, and all the people devoted to God with them.
People devoted to God, all one in Christ, ‘with’ these two woman, presumably leaders in the church at Rome.
Greet one another with a sacred kiss. All the assemblies of the Anointed One send greetings.
Finally, verse 17, some good advice to the Church at Rome which all of us would do well to heed.
17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
CLAUDIA OF ROME: A FAMOUS WOMAN OF HISTORY
2 Tim 4: 21. Be keen to get here before winter. Euboulos greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the fellow believers.
Only one mention of Claudius’ name. Here is another famous family in the faith by all accounts. Some believe her to be the mother of Linus, mentioned here. This Linus was the Bishop of Rome, mentioned by Iranaeius, Greek Church Father, and Eusebius, ‘Father of Church History’. Martial, Latin Poet born in Spain, but a citizen of Rome from about AD 64-98, writes in an epigram of Claudia and Pudens, her husband.
Young’s Concordance says this is Princess Claudia, the daughter of a British king, Cogidubnus. (Found in a passage in the Agricola by Tacitus, Roman historian says this came from an inscription found in Chichester in England.) The name Claudius is Roman in origin. It is said, the king took the name Claudius from his imperial patron, Tiberius Claudius, and bestowed it on his daughter.
PROMINENT IN THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH: ‘WIFE OF GAIUS’
Gaius (Rom 16: 23), was a prominent Christian leader at Corinth (1 Cor 1: 14’). Though not specifically named or mentioned we can assume he had a wife and she was by his side in the ministry as most women married to men involved in the ministry are.
 Recommend: ‘”sunistemi”, carries connotations of praise’. The Source, New Testament with Extensive Notes on Greek Word meaning, translated with notes by Dr Ann Nyland, www.smithandstirling.com p. 406.
 All Scriptures quoted are taken from ‘The Source’, unless otherwise indicated.
 If you are interested to carry out your own study. However, I do recommend if you are serious about studying the Bible, that you purchase a complete and unabridged Concordance. Eg, ‘Strong’s as it has the numbering system which can take you into the original languages. Young’s also does the work. Back of the bible concordances are not the same thing and are practically useless for study if you are serious about it.
 In the middle of the 3rd century an order of ‘deaconesses’ (diakonis-sae) became common in the churches of the East but not the Western branch. Likely a placebo for women who wanted to be ‘ministers’ given that the term ‘deaconess’ is nowhere in the bible, but is of later origin
 Conybeare and Howson, ‘Life of St. Paul, p 240, in Bushnell, Para 365.
 Bruce, J. Malina, The New Testament World, Insights from cultural anthropology, John Knox, 2001, Kentucky.
The fear of man brings a snare. Obey God!