Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

Career Women of the Bible Sneak Peak: The Woman Who Wasn't Deceived

“Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (2 Timothy 2:14). For two millenia this verse has been used as an excuse to keep women out of leadership positions in the church and under the rule of men.  Even today fundamental groups use this verse to proof text their belief that women are more easily deceived than man and therefore, can’t be trusted to be leaders or even make decisions in their own homes about their own families. But three books after this verse in 1 Timothy, we meet a woman who was entrusted to make sure that the church she was the pastor of was not deceived by those touting false doctrine. Here is another sneak peak from Career Women of the Bible about a woman you never learned about in Sunday School or sermons: The Elect Lady of 2 John.

Church Overseers: The Elect Lady

She fell more than sat on the cushions after sending yet another charlatan out of her house. This one yelling that she was betraying the Messiah and would burn in hell forever for not accepting the stranger and his perverted version of the Gospel. She had the impression he was more disappointed in losing the luxuries her house could provide than losing the opportunity to teach. When she first opened her house for the church, there were not that many false preachers or people in it just to see what they could mooch off of her. Most of the itinerant preachers and evangelists were good honest people who really did want to tell the simple truth of Jesus Christ the Messiah. How he loved us all and loved to the point of death. How God in love raised Jesus back from the dead, and how Jesus’ followers were now to share that same love with everyone they met. She also missed the missionary couples who used to be more frequent visitors at her door. More and more the itinerant preachers were men who were single. And more and more of them were preaching against marriage because of the imminent return of Jesus. A servant came into the room with a young man who looked like he had just gotten off the road. She sighed. Another one. She rose to her feet, and said, “What can I do for you?” The man handed her a letter. “This is from the Elder,” the man said, “he told me to get it here as quickly as I could.” Her face lit up in a smile. Another believer, and better than that one from the Elder. She told her servant to get refreshments for the young man then bade the man to sit and tell her all about her old friend.

In John’s second epistle we meet another woman who is a church overseer, the elect lady: “The elder to the elect lady* and her children, whom I love in the truth,” (2 John 1). John wrote the elect lady to continue doing what she learned so long ago: “I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning–you must walk in it” (2 John 5-6). But he also warned her of deceivers that were trying to convince people Jesus never had a physical body, and not to let them into her house to deceive the church that met there. She was the one who safeguarded the flock of Jesus in her city, and the Elder trusted her to discern the deceivers from true followers of Christ and not let them confuse or lead astray any who meet in her house.

The phrase “elect lady” is an interesting one. “Lady” is used to translate the Greek word kuria, and this is the only time it appears in the New Testament (vv. 1, 5). Its male counterpart is kurios, which is translated as “lord” or “master.” The male form refers to the head of the household, a guardian, or trustee (See Galatians 4:1 where Paul used the word to describe someone who owned an estate and was a guardian or overseer). People who owned and oversaw slaves were also called kurios. Not only is this woman a lady with authority but she is eklektos: she has been called or chosen for her position of authority. In Beyond the Curse, Aida Besançon Spencer gives “elect lady” an alternate translation: “the woman chosen to be master” (p. 109). This woman is called “master” and “chosen,” and she is given instructions to safeguard the church against false teachings.

For centuries the church has told women that we are much easier to deceive than men because of one verse in Bible: “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (2 Timothy 2:14). It doesn’t matter that the writer of this epistle was giving instructions to a problematic congregation that was having trouble figuring out what being a Christian met, let alone living like one. It doesn’t matter that this verse is only one verse in the entire Bible, and that the Bible has quite a bit to say about wise women who made better decisions than the men in their lives did. Oh no this verse is in the Bible and therefore has to be taken literally for all time, amen.

But two books after 1 Timothy in 2 John we find a letter addressed to a woman encouraging her not to let false doctrine infiltrate the church meeting in her home. From the beginning of the church women guarded the church from those who would deceive the church, like the Elect Lady and Priscilla. Women today are called to do the same thing in their churches.

* There is a debate about who the elect lady is. Is she the overseer of the church or is “elect lady” a metaphor for the church? It would be redundant to address the church twice as “elect lady and her children.” In both 1 and 2 John, “the elder” uses “children” to designate the church he is writing to (1 Jn. 2:1). “Elect lady” is singular and “children” are plural also pointing to different set(s) of people. In 3 John the almost identical greeting is given as 2 John: “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth” (v. 1). Given the uniformity of John’s writing the elect lady then would be the overseer of a church that met in her house.

Related Post
Career Women of the Bible: Church Overseers, Ministers and Patrons

Does It Really Mean "Helpmate"?

I had just started working on my thesis in seminary. Tired of being asked if I was going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife, I decided to write a biblical theology of single women in ministry, showing that Godde’s calling for a woman was not dependent on her marital state. My thesis advisor, Dr. Joseph Coleson (professor of Old Testament Studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary), looked at my outline and thesis proposal and told me that I needed to add a chapter addressing the Creation Story in Genesis 1:1–2:25. He thought that I needed to deal with the second creation account found in Gen. 2:5-25, where woman is created to be an ezer cenegdo to the man. If the Hebrew phrase simply meant, “helper” then could a woman hold a leadership position in the church, let alone a single woman? But if that isn’t what ezer cenegdo meant, then that would open up the vistas I needed to write and successfully defend my thesis. Defend, not in front of the professors at seminary, but to defend against those who say woman was created to be a wife and mother, and only a helpmate for her husband. Dr. Coleson said the translators who translated our Bibles into English know that “helpmate” is a gross mistranslation of the Hebrew phrase, and he did not see how they could look themselves in the mirror day-to-day keeping that misintepretation in the Bible. It is the only time I saw him angry. So what does this little Hebrew phrase mean?

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Company Girl Coffee: Twas the Week Before Christmas

Company Girl logoHappy Friday Company Girls! The coffee is on and hot!

Dreaming in the New Year

If it wasn’t for Home Sanctuary I don’t know how neglected this poor little blog would be. But the reason I haven’t written much is that I’m thinking and dreaming and planning for the upcoming year. I’m dreaming what I want my business to become and who My Right People are and how much I want to help the people who come to me. So in the busyness of the week of getting to head out to see my family in Oklahoma, I’ve been dreaming and planning and spinning possible futures in the back of my head. What are Right People? It’s a concept Havi at The Fluent Self (shes @havi on Twitter) came up with (and I will let her explain):

Thought 2: Your stuff doesn’t have to be helpful for everyone.

It doesn’t.

It just needs to be helpful for the people who need it in that form in that moment.

Those are your Right People. The ones who need your voice.

Anyone who doesn’t find it helpful? Probably not one of your Right People. Or not ready yet.

That person can go. Be there for the ones who do need what you have to say.

That’s what I really want to focus in on this year: My Right People instead of throwing stuff all over the wall and seeing what sticks. I want to envision My Right People and help them and make this a safe place for them. So that’s whay I’ve been doing business wise. You can find out more about Right people here and here.

We Loved Our Presents!

Let me preface this section by saying that The Hubby and I always travel at Christmas to see family. This year we’re heading to Oklahoma to see mine. Before we go we have our own Christmas and open our presents. So we always open our presents from each other early. They all came in this week and were wrapped, so we opened them Wednesday. Actually the really, really cool present I got My Hubby came in that day, and I couldn’t wait to see what he thought of it! I bought him this beautiful singing bowl from Fabeku Fatunmise at Sankofa Song whom I met on Twitter (he’s @fabeku). The Hubby loved it! And the bowl sings so beautifully! Tracy really got the hang of it last night and all of these gorgeous tones were washing over me. So glad I met Fabeku and learned about his sound healing ministry! He also included his CD, which I am going to have to wrestle out of The Hubby’s hands so I can listen it. He also loved his other gifts: Buckley Balls from Think Geek, and a space-age pen that writes underwater and in zero gravity. This pen has been going up with the astronauts since 1965. I love My Geek.

I will preface my gifts with I LOVE TO COOK. When you’re a person who LOVES TO COOK, pots and pans that are on their last leg and about to give up the ghost are very depressing. So I’d dropped a hint or two about new pots and pans. You should see them Company Girls. They are beautiful: triply, with one of the triplies being stainless steel. The triply insures they heat evenly and hold the heat. They are bright and shiny; they are begging to be cooked in. I finally have a 5 quart Dutch Oven! (My previous set claimed a Dutch Oven but….um…..no.)  Squeee! I am so in love. I also adore my other gift. After we first married, Tracy would leave little red bows hidden all over the place for me to find. Mainly around coffee stuff so he knew I would find it. 🙂 But then the red bows start collecting up and you don’t know what to do with them. My Honey came up with a solution; my second gift: The Red Bow Tree. It’s a beauitful fall resin tree with a little snow on the branches. So now when red bows start appearing in expected and unexpected places I have a place to put them. I always thought I never had a sappy romantic bone in my body, then My Hubby came along. Aah, the sap that man has turned me into. But it’s okay because he buys me kitchen stuff. 🙂

Getting ready to leave

I’ve ran errands most of the week to get ready to leave: bank, Target, The UPS Store, library, etc. I need to go to the grocery store today to pick up a couple of items we’ll need over the weekend and clean house. I don’t want the cat sitter to be walking into a mess. We take off to OK next week, and I won’t have internet connection, but that’s okay because I will have a boatload of holiday baking to do. My Mom doesn’t like to bake that much, but I love to, and since we’re coming in early, I am going to do all the Christmas baking! Whoo-hoo! Then there’s all the eating, opening presents, eating, catching up with everybody, eating: you know how it goes.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Company Girl Coffee 9/11/09

I have been taking part in Home Sanctuary’s Small Things daily challenges for the last three or four months. Owner Rachel Anne Ridge comes up with really great small things to make your life better by creating sanctuary in your own home. Those of us who take up the challenges are Company Girls. I decided to start doing the Friday Company Girls post after procrastinating for three or four months. So here is my first post.

This last week was a little rough because I didn’t sleep well. A pattern that finally broke last night, thank goodness. Part of that was my fault: I was staying up too late. I didn’t get a lot of writing done this week, but I did get a lot of thinking done. Thinking about where I want to go, where I want this blog to go, and who in general do I want to be? A lot of this reflection is due to another wonderful blogger and her challenge this week: Jen Louden. Jen declared this Freedom from Self-Improvement Week. Self-improvement thrives on us thinking we are not good enough. That we  have to beat and guilt and discipline ourselves into doing the right thing. We threw that out this week, and started with the assumption that we are innately good. That there is nothing to fix. On Tuesday, Jen asked these two questions that I’ve been mulling over for this week:

Can I trust myself to be who I am?

Can I trust myself to want what I want?

I don’t. I don’t trust myself. I’ve been thinking a lot about that this week. How not trusting myself hampers me, kneecaps me, disables me. Especially with my writing. I always second guess myself. I always assume I’m not right and it’s going to go wrong. And this has to stop. I need to trust who I am, and I need to trust myself to do what I want to do: write and speak on the women of the Bible. That is what I want to do. I love these women, and I want their stories to be told, and to be straightened out. Several of these women have gotten bad wraps, been marginalized, and just been lied about through the centuries. Someone needs to set the record straight. Someone needs to say to those who can’t handle strong women, women leaders, and career women in the Bible, that yes they are there, and it’s time to stop maligning them on the one hand and stop ignoring them on the other. Their stories need to be heard, and I want to tell their stories. I can trust myself. I can trust myself to do this: to do what I want to do. Not what anyone else thinks I should be doing (mainly the critical judges in my head).

So that is where I have been this week. That is why this blog has offered such meager fare: I don’t trust myself. But I’m working on it. Other people trust me (like my incredible husband), and now it’s time for me to start trusting myself.

I got real cherry to top this week off: I found out I won one of the giveaways Jen did this week: I have a free pass to her virtual retreat in January! Whoo-hoo! Thanks Jen!

Reflections on Leaving Ordained Life

I recently finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. I’m so glad I read it. Although we left ordination for different reasons, our experience of leaving overlaps in a lot of places: The slamming realization that you can’t go on. The shame and guilt of not being able to suck it up and go on. The disorientation of what do I do now? Who am I? All those years for what? What will people think? What do I say?

The painful and brutal wilderness after making the decision. The loss of purpose. To her the loss of the institutional power and her collar and the identity it gave her. For both of us the loss of what to do now that we aren’t “chosen.” Handling being one of the masses instead of The Pastor and The Priest. Both of us have religious educations we can’t do much with outside of the church.

I was so excited when I read this in the wee hours a couple of weeks ago:

There was no sense of seeking another position at another church if my problem was with the institution, and besides, I did not want to move. How and where I lived had become more important to me than what I did for a living (emphasis mine).

Yes! That’s me! I have no desire to leave Chicago. I love the South Loop. I love the people. I love my view of Lake Michigan and watching the sailboats on the lake. I love that Grant Park in one block away. I love our condo and our life. To continue to be a Nazarene pastor, I would have had to move. I have felt guilty for that. But I have found someone else who felt the same way. “How and where I lived had become more important to me than what I did for a living.” Yes. For me too.

I also feel called to minister, right here, in the South Loop. This is where I am called to be. This is where I am called to live, to walk, to shop. This where I am called to pastor, to minister, and to worship. I always said flippantly that if The Church of the Nazarene wouldn’t let me do what God called me to do, I would leave. I just didn’t realize how hard, painful, and disorienting it would be. Like Barbara, I didn’t realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in being “a pastor.” I didn’t realize how angry and bitter I would be to realize I spent 13 years working my ass of to be ordained, only to be ordained for four years. Were those wasted years? May be not. It’s nice to know I’m not the only who has felt these things and wondered the same thoughts.

It is time to move on. Like her I love the idea of being part of the priesthood of all believers and the freedom that gives me. And I need to stop being scared of that freedom.

Related posts

A Year of Loss and New Beginnings

(There are affliate links in the post.)

Me, Working at Home, and the Bible

Girls in Cairo weaving

Girls in Cairo weaving

Since I struck out for the freelance life almost three years ago, I’ve wondered if I’m actually working. I work from home, I stay in my PJs to all hours of the afternoon, and I don’t make a lot of money. When people ask me what I do, and I say, “I’m a writer,” I wonder if that’s a “real job.” After all you actually have to take showers and work a specific amount of hours to have a “real job” right? Not to mention you get a regular pay check at a “real job.”

I’ve also been at odds with myself over housework. Because I’m the one who’s home a lot, I do most of the housework. It’s nice to break up sitting around on the computer with doing a load of laundry or picking stuff up. And who hasn’t put off writing a blog post to clean out the fridge? (OK, My Hubby wishes I did this.) I used to find all sorts of house stuff to do when I was in school too. It’s amazing what needs to be cleaned right now when you need to parse Greek verbs or write a soul-bearing blog post.

Then something happened last year. Something devastating: I actually wanted to to do housework, and figure out how to be a decent homekeeper. This feminist-who-did-not-want-to-be-an-absolute-clean-freak-like-her-mother freaked out. You can reading about my freaking out here.

And through all of this it never hit me what a total hypocrite I was. You see I’m writing this book called Career Women of the Bible. In the Bible most of the work was done at home, and women did a substantial amount of the work for the family to survive including house repairs, all the food preparation, making sure the children didn’t wander off into wadis or be trampled by sheep or goats, and they spun thread and wove all the textiles the family and the household needed. In fact women’s work–textiles–drove the ancient economy. Women wove and their men traveled and sold the textiles. They sent back the money from the textiles to their wives, and the wives spent it how they saw fit.*

So here I am being this big advocate that yes women worked and had actual careers in the Bible, and most of that work was done at home. In fact, most men worked from home because work and home hadn’t been divided by the Industrial Revolution yet. Even if you lived in a town or city, your shop or business was run out of your home. Home, work, and family were interwoven.

I realized what a disconnect I was having a couple of weeks ago when I read What Does “Workers at Home” Really Mean? I was cheering what Sandra was saying when it hit me. I was not practicing what I preach. All the women in the Bible I applaud, preach about, teach about, and storytell about worked from their homes. Their weaving drove ancient economy, and they were in charge of the family’s largest resource: food. The women apportioned the food and made it last from one harvest to the next.

The matriarchs were in charge of small moving businesses, and their weaving probably helped the family buy the thing they needed while roaming around Canaan and Egypt. Not to mention their weaving literally sheltered the family: they wove the goat’s hair in thread and wove the panels for the tent. (Women’s work was also setting up the tents and tearing them down.) Rahab was a prostitute yes, but she also ran an inn (most likely in her own home), and there is flax on her roof for weaving. The Proverbs 31 woman has girls who weave for her, and she sells the textiles. She also buys and sells property. Priscilla and Aquila made tents, and Lydia did travel for her business: she was a merchant of the purple cloth that only royalty could buy.

In addition, the early church met in people’s homes. We know Priscilla and Aquila had churches meet in at least in three of their homes spread over Asia and in Rome. The first church in Europe met in Lydia’s home. Homes were the hubs of hospitality and grace. Homes are where the first Christians heard of God’s love and grace, ate together, and celebrated the Eucharist together.

And I didn’t think “real work” could happen in my home. I was wondering if I was really working and could honestly say I work just because I don’t go to an office and keep certain hours. I am a working woman in my home just like all the women of the Bible. Like them I am also a homekeeper. I am in charge of one of the things that cost us the most money: food. I shop and provide our meals. I love it. I love to cook, and I love to feed people. Nothing shows love like cooking. I also want my home to be a place to live in, be comfortable in, have people over, and not look like a couple of tornadoes go through it a week. So I pick up, do laundry, sweep, and mop, so that I don’t have to do a manic clean-out just to have somone over for dinner. For some reason I think Sarah, Deborah, Martha, and Priscilla would approve.

*For an extensive record of women and the textile industry read Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times. In fact, this is must read to really understand how intertwined the home and business were in the ancient world. “Cloth for the Caravans” is the chapter that deals with women weavers sending their wares out on caravans for trading. The letters between the husbands and wives they recovered are great!

(There are affliate links in this post.)

You Gotta Love Serendipity

I just read something I really, really needed from Havi Brooks’ awesome site The Fluent Self (If you don’t read her, go subscribe. Now.) Her latest post is “Avoidance! Oh, and getting out of it”:

You’re avoiding the thing that’s holding all your dreams? Good grief! Of course you are! That symbolic weight? It’s that much potential for hurt and disappointment.

If you weren’t avoiding it on some level, I’d be worried about you. If you could do the thing easily and painlessly, without having to spend years and years working on your stuff to get there… I’d probably assume that it didn’t mean everything to you.

It’s not this: “Even though I thought this meant everything to me, I’m still avoiding it so clearly I don’t really care about it.”

It’s this: “Wow, this means everything to me… so of course I’m avoiding it.”

This is where I’ve been with my writing. It is my dream to write. My whole world is wrapped up in that. But lately I have been wondering at my own avoidance. Does it mean this is what I should be doing? Is this really not what I want to be doing? May be I should just be satisfied with writing as a hobby and get a “real job.”

Then I read this post. And Havi is absolutely right. The reason I am avoiding this is because it really is my heart’s dream. It’s huge. It’s monumental. Of course I’m scared to death. Of course I’m avoiding it. Because there is so “much potential for hurt and disappointment.” Of course there is reisitance and fear: this dream is everything to me.

Instead of beating myself up and berating myself, I need to continue to take Havi’s advice:

To say to yourself:

“Of course I’m afraid. It makes sense that I’m afraid. This fear is a temporary part of where I’m at right now. And even though I’d really like to not need to have it around anymore, this is where I am right now.

I am allowed to have this fear.

This is me noticing how much space my fear takes up. This is me reminding myself that my fear is only one part of who I am. It is not all of me. It is of me, but it is not me.”

Because so much space opens up right after you’ve softened the resistance and the fighting with yourself.

Every time I interrogate myself (”Why am I so tired? Why can’t I write this blog post? How come I don’t feel like doing yoga?”), my reaction is resistance.

Every time I notice what I’m feeling and give myself permission to feel it (”Wow, I guess I need some rest. I’m allowed not to always be in the zone”), I feel safe. Safe and comforted.

Invariably, I remember what it’s like to not be fighting with myself.

Instead of fight myself, I need create a safe space within myself for this fear. And in this space I will feel safe enough to create. I feel a lot better knowing what this fear and avoidance are about. It’s about this being my dream, and not that I’m wrong about what I should be doing. My “real job” is writing. It is exactly what I should be doing.

Geeks in Love: Belated Valentine's Edition

Our first Valentine’s together my then-boyfriend, Tracy, and I stayed in. Valentine’s Day fell on Wednesday, and as I lived in Kansas City, and he lived in Chicago, I flew in the following the weekend. It was cold; the high was 2° F. On Saturday night we had a very lovely dinner at Gioco’s, but for the rest of the weekend, we watched movies. And if you think we watched sappy love movies, then you would be wrong. The movies we watched included Donnie Darko, Being John Malkovich, and Groundhog Day. We’re just not geeks, we’re macabre geeks.

The following Valentine’s Day we were married. He had gotten me addicted to Mythbusters. In one episode Carrie was wearing a T-shirt. A T-shirt that said “Geek” written in Greek letters. I looked at Tracy and said (OK I yelled), “I have to have that T-shirt!” And not just because I’m a geek. I fell in love with Greek in college. For close to 15 years I have called myself the Greek Geek (I’ve always had the the name Greek Geek Inc. in the back of my mind, in case I ever started a business). So when I saw the T-shirt, I really had to have it. My Geek bought it for me for Valentine’s Day. You just don’t get much more geeky than that. Or so I thought.

A couple of weeks ago after being tagged a couple of times, I finally filled out the 25 Random Things About Me meme going around on Facebook. I mentioned that I love dead languages (I’ve also had Hebrew and Aramaic), but I still need to learn Latin. So what did My Hubby get me for this Valentine’s Day? Yes, that’s right: everything I need to start learning Latin. There’s Latin Made Simple: A complete introductory course in Classical Latin (Made Simple (Broadway Books)), The Bantam New College Latin & English Dictionary, Revised Edition, Easy Latin Crossword Puzzles, and Carpe Diem: Put A Little Latin in Your Life. Suffice it to say, I have started learning my fourth dead language.

Later that night in bed it hit me (that’s when everything hits me), I realized that he was once again supporting me and encouraging me to do what I wanted to do. One of my top three musts in getting married was that my husband would support my career. I got that must in spades. He totally supports and encourages me to continue writing and continue pursuing my dreams (even if I haven’t started bringing in a decent income yet. That bothers me more than him. OK, it doesn’t bother him at all; it bothers me a lot). In life, in career, in pursuing my dreams, and even when it comes to learning yet one more dead language, he supports me just as I support him in all those things (except for learning dead languages: he learns computer languages). That may not be geeky, but it sure does help to make a good marriage.

(There are various and sundry affliate links in this post.)

The next biblical woman to be written about (drumroll)

Is Jael. She had the most votes. Esther and Abigail tied for second, and I will be writing them about them later. A post will be appearing on Jael a little later today. (I really need to eat something.) I have done some writing on the other women you suggested. The articles are scholarly; the sermons not so much. If you have any suggestions to make the scholarly articles more readable, please let me know.

Articles:

Career Women of the Bible:The 12th Century B. C. E. Career Woman (Deborah)

Career Women of the Bible: Standing Between Life and Death (Zipporah and Huldah)

Career Women of the Bible: Teachers, Elder, and Co-Workers (Priscilla)

Sermons:

Everyone Has a Story (Deborah and Jael)

God Uses Harem Girls (Esther)

Career Women of the Bible: Phoebe

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well (Rom. 16:1-2). Paul trusted Phoebe enough to entrust his letter to the Romans to her. She is a woman Paul highly commended and respected. She is a “sister,” “deacon,” and “benefactor” to the church at Cenchreae as well as a sister and benefactor to Paul.

Paul uses the word, diakonos to describe Phoebe. The odd thing about Paul using this word to describe Phoebe is that it is the masculine form used to describe a woman. The feminine form is diakona. Most versions translate diakonos as “servant” here, but when it used to describe men, it is translated as “deacon.” It is also paired with “of the church of Cenchreae” This is the only place in the New Testament where diakonos is followed by a specific congregation in a genitive construct: she was the deacon of the church in Cenchreae. This is the only place linking a specific person’s ministry with a specific church. This seems to indicate that Phoebe served as a deacon or pastor in the church at Cenchreae.

Paul uses another word to describe Phoebe: prostatis. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. It is also another word that is translated so that its main meaning is not obvious in the translation. The normal translation is “helper” or someone who has helped. In secular Greek sources, the basic and most obvious translation of the word is patron or benefactor, and women in this role, are well attested in the Roman world. Women who were benefactors in the Roman world supported the arts and temples, as well as philosophers and debaters. Phoebe was a wealthy woman who served the church out of her means as the women in Luke 8 served Jesus out of theirs.

Aida Besançon Spencer has also suggested that prostatis could be derived from the verb proistemi, which means to “to stand, place before or over,” or “to help by ruling” (Before the Curse, 115). The times the verb appears in the New Testament it has the meaning of ruling or governing (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thes. 5:12-13). In the Pastoral Epistles this word is used to describe bishops and deacons governing their households well. In other Greek sources, such as Josephus, the masculine form of the verb is used to describe rulers and leaders like Moses, Herod, and Agrippa (ibid). This word could mean that Phoebe was a ruler or another overseer in the church.

Phoebe was an independent woman who had her own means, and served the church in a leadership role. Paul comes very close to commanding churches he had no hand in planting, and Christians, most of whom had never met him, to welcome her and provide anything she needed because she was both a deacon and a benefactor/ruler in the church. She was not only the benefactor and leader in the church at Cenchreae, but Paul himself had also benefited from her generous rule.

Find out more about The Career Women of the Bible.