Many Bible translations simply describe Phoebe as a 'helper' of many people, including Paul. In the Greek language, however, Paul gives her an honourable title, PROSTATIS. It means someone who protects other people. In ancient Greece, some rich and important people accepted the responsibility to protect people who were not citizens. It was their duty to protect the rights of these people in court. That is the true meaning of the title that Paul gives to Phoebe.
We do not suppose that Phoebe actually had that kind of legal responsibility in the court at Corinth. Usually in the ancient world, only men did those things. Rather, Paul is showing us the kind of help that Phoebe gave. In other words, she was a powerful woman, and that gave her opportunities to help other people with their problems. For example, she could speak to important people on their behalf. She had the skill to make arrangements for them; she had the knowledge to advise them wisely.
Today's Christians might not respect people with such skills. They might be jealous of them, or they might ask them to do more practical tasks. However, the Christians at Cenchrea, near Corinth, gave honour to Phoebe (16:1). They knew how often they had needed her help. The first Christians had many powerful enemies who tried to stop their work. Those enemies often used the legal system and the courts, as they did against Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17). Paul was very grateful to have Phoebe's help in such a situation.
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© 2018, Keith Simons.