Phoebe the Letter Carrier?

Phoebe the Letter Carrier? May 12, 2013

We know from Rom 16:1-2 that a deaconess named Phoebe carried Paul’s letter to the Roman churches. However, what was her role in undertaking such a task? Did she just hand on the letter like a FedEx delivery lady, did she read the letter to them, did she answer questions about the letter, or did she even expound the letter (see my earlier thoughts here).

Peter Head of Tyndale House is doing some research on letter carriers in the ancient world (see an interview with him here about it) and Ian Paul has a good summary on his blog about Peter’s take on the issue. After laying out the options, Ian Paul states:

Where does that leave Phoebe? It appears as though she was not in fact the lector of Romans, and so Wright’s statement that she was ‘it’s first expositor’ is perhaps an overstatement. However, it remains the case that Phoebe was known to Paul, had a role of church leadership, and was entrusted by Paul with a key letter on which the next phase of his ministry depended. The phrasing of Romans 16.1–3 makes it clear she fulfilled the usual role of letter carrier, and as such she would have had an important role in answering questions and ensuring that the letter was understood correctly—so a better phrase might be ‘authoritative interpreter.’ In both his paper and his blog comments, Peter Head confirms his support of this perspective.

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