Romans, Lessons 28-29: Paul’s Appeal and a study on Deaconesses by way of Phoebe

DeaconessesPaul shared his plans to visit Rome on his way to Spain.  But first, he needs to deliver the monetary aid to the Jerusalem Christians, and so he makes a request of the Roman Christians.


A Final Appeal

Read Romans 15:30-32

  • What does Paul ask of the Roman Christians, in general?


  • What does Paul ask for specifically?


Lesson 28, the Prayers


  • When a congregation prays for someone in the Prayer of the Church, what takes place?


  • What does Paul reveal about God in his appeal?


Read Romans 15:33

  • Discuss: If God is “the God of all peace,” why does Paul ask for the church at Rome to pray for him?


Deaconess Phoebe

Read Romans 16:1-2

“sister”: Greek, adelpha, literally, “brotheress,” which means sister.

“servant”: Greek, diakonon, deaconess, the word for “deacon” (diakonos) but with a feminine-gendered ending.  As brothers and “brotheresses” (sisters) are not interchangeable, neither are deacons and deaconesses.

  • What is Paul doing with Phoebe (“I commend”) in relation to the congregation at Rome?


  • What may Phoebe be doing for Paul to introduce her in such a way?


Letters of recommendation were common in antiquity and it was customary to commend or introduce the courier of the letter, especially if he was unknown to the receivers of the letter.  See 2 Maccabees 9:25 and 2 Corinthians 3:1.  Paul wrote Romans while in Corinth with Cenchreae a port city, about 5 miles east of Corinth.  So Phoebe could easily be the courier.

“patron”: Greek, prostatis, helper.  Phoebe may have been a patron as we understand the word, but maybe not.  The point is she was a helper and assisted Paul in some way.  What we don’t know is how.


The Role of Men and Women in the Church

To understand the role of the deaconess, we first need to understand the roles of men and women in the Church.  For this, we turn to 1 Timothy.

Read 1 Timothy 2:12-14

  • What does Paul tell Pr. Timothy about the role of women in the Church?


  • What is his reasoning?


  • Thus, what may a deaconess not do and why?


Lesson 28, The Roles of Men and Women in the Church


The Characteristics for a Man to be an “Overseer”

Paul now lists a series of characteristics for a man to serve as a pastor (“overseer” and “elder”).

  • When Paul tells Pastors Timothy and Titus about the characteristics for a man to serve as a pastor but not any congregations, what does Paul presuppose?


Read 1 Timothy 3:1-7

  • Paul requires a pastor to be “able to teach” but does not mention what! If the pastor must be able to teach, when did he learn what he needs to be able to teach?


Lesson 28, Husband of One Wife


Note: We will later find Paul using this same wording, but in reverse, with older deaconesses who are widows.  Paul’s meaning then will be a “one-man woman,” which would not disbar a woman for having married a second time after her first husband died.


Lesson 28, Requirements for a Man to be an Overseer



Read 1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12-13


Lesson 28, Requirements for a Man to be an Deacon


  • A deacon must “hold to the mystery of the faith,” yet not be required to teach it. What is going on here?


  • What does this reveal about the “testing ground” before a man will later serve as a pastor?



Read 1 Timothy 3:11

“Their wives”: Literally “wives” or “women” without “their.”  Here, the word in the Greek, gunaikas, can refer to the wives of the deacons or to deaconesses, referring to them as “women.”

The question is, “Why are ‘women’ mentioned in a section on deacons?”  By location, and Paul’s use of “likewise,” they are, in some way, involved in diaconal service within the life of the congregation.  At this point, it could be either the wives helping their deacon husbands or women serving as deaconesses.

However, if Paul meant “the wives of deacons,” why does he mention needed qualifications for deacons’ wives but not for the wives of overseers?  Besides, Paul didn’t write “their wives”; he wrote, “Women/Wives, likewise, are to be worthy of respect…”


Lesson 28, Requirements for a Woman to be an Deaconess


  • What do we learn when we look at the required qualifications and extrapolate from there the differing scope of responsibilities within the Church for pastors, deacons, and deaconesses?


Read Titus 2:3-5

“older women… younger women”: Literally the “the old women” and the “the new women.”  This equates to how mature a woman is in the Faith.  Those who are mature (“old,” may be older, but not necessarily) are to teach the new Christian women, who may or may not be young.

“working at home”: oikouros, an adjective; literally, “home-tending.”  This is not what the “new woman” is to do but a character trait that she is to develop.

  • What are the mature women in the Faith to teach the new women in the Faith?


  • Why not have men or pastors teach this? (see Ephesians 5:22-26)


Lesson 28, Old Women Teaching New Women


Read 1 Timothy 5:3-16

  • Whom may Pr Timothy “enroll” among the older widows and for what purpose?


Lesson 28, Deaconesses--Older Widows


The order of deaconess first takes concrete form in the “Didaskalia Apostolorum” (circa 235).  “For there are houses to which you [the bishop] cannot send a deacon [who is a male] to the women because of their non-believing husbands, but you may send a deaconess.”   A deaconess, first, assisted the bishop in the baptism of women by anointing their bodies and ensuring others did not view their nakedness.  Beyond this duty, the Didaskalia says the deaconesses taught the newly baptized women, serving as spiritual mothers and encouraging them in holy living.  Also, deaconesses visited Christian women in the homes with a non-believing husband, women who were ill, bathed women who were recovering from illness, and served women in need.

A Concise List of Women’s Roles in the New Testament

  • worked within the local congregation: Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Romans 16:6, 12)
  • worked to promote the Gospel: Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3)
  • provided physical aid for the poor and the widows in the congregation: Tabitha (Acts 9:36, 39)
  • performed works of mercy: Widows (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
  • provided hospitality for the Apostle Paul: Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:14-15), Priscilla in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3), and possibly the mother of Rufus (Romans 16:13)
  • with her husband, Acquila, Priscilla privately corrected Apollos’ misunderstanding of the Gospel (Acts 18:26)
  • faithfully lived the Christian faith: Lois and Eunice (21 Timothy 1:5)
  • teach the new women in the Faith to them develop a home-tending character (Titus 2:3-5)
  • served as deaconesses: Phoebe (Romans 16:1)
  • prophesied, which is speaking the Word of God to others: Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:9)


Link to the last Lesson in this series.

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