As a child, I hated group projects in school. My grade? Dependent on someone else’s lack of motivation? NO THANK YOU!
I have to admit that my view of group projects hasn’t improved much since becoming an adult. There is always a slacker — or someone who has their own ideas — how annoying!
But Paul understood the importance of group projects, of working together, of fellow workers in Christ.
Because of this, Paul’s letters are filled with lists of group project members, requests for the presence and help of others, and praise for those who were fellow workers in Christ.
Phoebe is one of the women who makes Paul’s list of fellow workers — of a group project member. As a matter of fact, Phoebe receives a special honor. In Romans 16:1, she is described by Paul as a “sister” and as a “deacon” or “minister” in the church at Cenchreae. This is a huge deal! Paul, in the first century, a former Pharisee, coming out a patriarchal system, lists a woman as a minister or as an official office holder in the life of the Church!
Of course, Phoebe’s position as a deacon is passionately debated; if you don’t believe me, just Google it. The word that Paul uses for “deacon,” the Greek of which is “diakonos,” is a word that can mean servant in general when translated.
The early Church adopts this general term and impregnates it with special meaning, so it can mean servant for the early Church. However, it can also mean a specific office, the office of “deacon,” within the life of the Church. Therefore, many english translations choose to translate this term as “servant” instead of “deacon” to describe Phoebe. This would mean that she was not an office holder in the early Church but rather a simple servant of the Church.
But let me briefly put forward four quick arguments to see Phoebe as a deacon:
- Paul’s use of this Greek word is primarily, if not exclusively, tied to being a minister in the work of God, not a general servant.
- Paul ties this particular instance of this word to a local church — strengthening the argument that this is an office or at least a specific ministry.
- The early church (late 3rd/early 4th century) saw Phoebe as a “deacon” listing a woman named “Sophia” as a deacon and as a “second Phoebe” (for a full discussion of this see Elizabeth McCabe’s Society of Biblical Literature article, A Reexamination of Phoebe as “Diakonos” and “Prostatis”).
- If Phoebe had been a man, I wouldn’t have needed reasons 1-3.
I recognize that some readers may disagree with this position and that a quick Google search will provide enough ammunition to share in the comments; however, I think that Phoebe’s record — both by Paul’s own words and the view of the early Church — speaks for itself.
It’s tragic that the translators of many English translations consistently translate Paul’s use of “diakonos” as “deacon” or “minister,” but translate the same Greek word in Romans 16:1, referring to Phoebe, as “servant.” It is equally tragic when we “translate” or view the work of men and women with the same lenses within the Church today — valuing one as ministry and the other simply as service. I realize that this is a nuance, but nuances are important!
This is not an argument for women to be pastors or elders, nor is it an argument opposed to that — that can be a topic for another day. It is simply an argument that we should see the ministry of women, the work of women within the church, and the offices that they hold within the life of the Church with the same respect, honor, and appreciation that we have for the ministry and offices that men hold.
At the end of the day, there is no “women’s work” or “men’s work;” there is only the work of Christ that must be done to demonstrate his love to the world!
I have had the privilege of working with some amazing women who are workers, servants, ministers, office holders, whatever you want to call them. They are amazing people, and they have my utmost respect. To try to list them all would be impossible — from the women that taught me Sunday School, to my college mentors, to professors at seminary, to the women that strived for the Kingdom of God with me in the churches at which I have had the privilege to work.
We worked on constitutions and bylaws together.
We cleaned the sanctuary together.
We wrote Sunday School curriculum for children and adults together.
We planned worshipped services together.
We folded bulletins together.
We prepared church meals together.
We went on mission trips together.
We served on teams, committees, and boards together.
The list could go on and on, and the benefit and knowledge that I have gained from the women with whom I had the privilege of serving alongside — well, that continues to go on and on as well.
For tomorrow, I have asked one of these women, Jen Woyke, to write a blog post about being a co-worker in Christ. I had the privilege of working alongside Jen in numerous capacities, and I have had the opportunity to take a Church History Sunday School class from her that rivaled any class I took in college and seminary. We served on boards together and went on a mission trip to Cameroon together. Upon returning from that trip, she preached a Sunday morning sermon that I am not ashamed to say was one of the best sermons preached during my time at Faith Baptist Church.
Her hard work, commitment, and knowledge has benefited me and the Kingdom in countless ways. And she is only one of scores of women that I have had the privilege to minister beside. Any of them could have written tomorrow’s post, and those who read it would have benefited tremendously from it. I hope that each of these women will sense my deep appreciation for them as they read this post and tomorrow’s post.
March is International Women’s Month! It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me. I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.
My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:
- to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
- that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
- that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life
Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”