366. Conybeare and Howson, in their Life of St. Paul, (p. 240), call attention to the use, in connection with Phoebe’s name, of two words associated together in technical legal matters, in Paul’s recommendation of her, which indicates that she was abroad on some important business with the courts,¾possibly in behalf of the church. Yet with all this, our translators found no difficulty in leveling her down to the “servant” class. But Paul calls her, not a “deaconess” but a “deacon,” a “minister.” In the Apostolical Constitutions (a third century document of the Church) “deaconesses” are referred to; but here we have the “deacon” or “minister” of the Church. Paul uses precisely the same form of the word that he does in such passages as 1 Timothy 3:8, 12. This goes a long way toward proving that when he gave directions as to ordaining “deacons” he made no distinction as to sex, in his own mind. To be sure, he had to caution Timothy about ordaining any men who were polygamous (women were not likely to have two husbands), which gives such passages more of a masculine twist than they otherwise would have had.
367. What Paul says of Phoebe as a prostatis (translated “succourer,” literally meaning “one standing before”), proves that she was of no inferior order in the Church. Had the words been given the strong cast into which they are run, when (supposedly) spoken of men only, in 1 Timothy 3:12, we should be reading here about Phoebe, in our English Bibles: “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, minister [or deacon] of the church which is at Cenchrea; . . . for she hath been a ruler of many and of myself also.” This is the noun form corresponding to the verb translated “rule” in the Timothy passages (1Timothy 3:4, 5, 12; and 5:17), where Paul is supposed to be commanding that these men “rule well” their own households. We have only to say that if these men are to “rule” their households, then Paul tells us that Phoebe ruled himself and many others; but if it be impossible to concede that Paul was ruled by a woman, then it is equally impossible, by every law of truthful and just translation, to prove that these passages in Timothy instruct men to “rule well” their households. The translators cannot have it both ways. The Greek noun used of Phoebe, prostatis, means a “champion, leader, chief, protector, patron.” Phoebe held the same relation to the church at Cenchrea, that Paul says church officials should hold to their own children and household,¾that is, they should take good care of them; these passages have no direct reference to rule, or government. In Tit. 3:8, 14, the word is translated “maintain.” When a man is told to “stand before,” his family “well,” men translate the word “rule.” When the Bible tells us that Phoebe is a “stander-before” they translate “succourer.”