A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 16:1-16. Paul’s commendation and greetings.
‘I think’ wrote Chrysostom, ‘that many even of those who have the appearance of being extremely good men, hasten over this part of the epistle as superfluous… Yet’, he went on, ‘the gold founders’ people are careful even about the little fragments…it is possible even from bare names to find great treasure.’ Brunner went further and called Romans 16 ‘one of the most instructive chapters of the New Testament’, because it encourages personal relationships of love in the church. Chrysostom and Brunner are right. Even in the genealogies of both the Old and the New Testaments, and in Paul’s list of those who send or receive greetings, there are truths to ponder and lessons to learn.
1). A commendation (1-2).
1. *I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.*
It seems very likely that Phoebe was entrusted with the responsible task of carrying Paul’s letter to its destination in Rome, although other business was apparently taking her to the city as well, perhaps commerce or ‘quite probably a law suit’. (Dunn. This opinion is based on the fact that *pragma* (2) is used of a lawsuit in 1 Cor.6:1). So she needed a ‘letter of commendation’ to take with her, which would introduce her to the Christians in Rome. Such letters were common in the ancient world, and necessary to protect people from charlatans. They are several times mentioned in the New Testament (E.g. Acts 18:27; 2 Cor.3:1). In his testimonial for Phoebe Paul asks the Roman church both *to receive her*, giving her a worthy Christian welcome and hospitality, and *to give her any help she may need*, as a stranger in the capital city, presumably in connection with other business.
Before and after these requests Paul supplies some information about Phoebe, ‘so placing on each side of the needs of this blessed woman’ writes Chrysostom, ‘her praises’. Indeed, he goes on, ‘see how many ways he takes to give her dignity’. First, he calls her *our sister*, ‘and it is no slight thing to be called the sister of Paul’. Secondly, he acknowledges her as *a servant (‘minister’, REB) of the church in Cenchrea* (1), which was Corinth’s eastern port at the head of the Saronic Gulf. This general meaning of *diakonos* may be correct here. On the other hand, we know that the office of ‘deacon’ already existed, in however undeveloped a form (E.g. Phil.1:1; 1 Tim.3:8, 11). So RSV and NIV margin call Phoebe a ‘deaconess’, and Professor Cranfield regards this not only as ‘very much more natural’ but as ‘virtually certain’. Thirdly, *she has been a great help to many people*, including Paul (2). This phrase renders *prostatis*, which can mean ‘patroness’ or ‘benefactress’. Phoebe was evidently a woman of means, who had used her wealth to support the church and the apostle.
Tomorrow: Romans 16:3-16). 2) Many greetings.