I commend unto you Phebe our sister
This chapter chiefly consists of commendations and salutations of persons, and begins with the former. It was usual to give letters of commendation of a member of one church to those of another; see ( 2 Corinthians 3:1 ) ; The person who is here recommended was, as appears from the subscription of this epistle, if that may be depended on, the bearer of this letter, and is described by her name, Phebe; as she dwelt at Cenchrea, it is probable she was a Grecian, as is her name. Pausanias F5 makes frequent mention of one of this name in Greece. With the Heathen poets, Pheobus was the sun, and Phoebe the moon. Though it is not unlikely that she might be a Jewess, since there were many of them in those parts; and this was a name in use among them. We often read F6 of R. Ishmael (ybap Nb) , "ben Phoebi", which I take to be the same name with this. She is recommended as a sister, "our sister"; not in a natural, but spiritual relation; one that was a member of the church at Cenchrea, and in full communion with it; for as it was usual to call the men brethren, it was common to call the women sisters. Elderly men were called fathers, younger men brethren; elderly women were styled mothers, and younger women sisters, who were partakers of the grace of God, and enjoyed the fellowship of the saints:
which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.
This place was a seaport of the Corinthians, distant from Corinth about seventy furlongs, or eight or nine miles: it was on one side of the Isthmus, as Lechea was on the other F7; (See Gill on Acts 18:18). In the way to this place from the Isthmus, as Pausanias relates F8, was the temple of Diana, and a very ancient sculpture; and in Cenchrea itself was the temple of Venus, and a wooden image; and near the flow of the sea was a Neptune of brass. But now, in this place, was a church of Jesus Christ; and since it was so near to Corinth, it shows that churches in those early times were not national, or provincial, but congregational. Of this church Phebe was a servant, or, as the word signifies, a minister or deacon; not that she was a teacher of the word, or preacher of the Gospel, for that was not allowed of by the apostle in the church at Corinth, that a woman should teach; see ( 1 Corinthians 14:34 1 Corinthians 14:35 ) ; and therefore would never be admitted at Cenchrea. Rather, as some think, she was a deaconess appointed by the church, to take care of the poor sisters of the church; though as they were usually poor, and ancient women; that were put into that service, and this woman, according to the account of her, being neither poor, nor very ancient; it seems rather, that being a rich and generous woman, she served or ministered to the church by relieving the poor; not out of the church's stock, as deaconesses did, but out of her own substance; and received the ministers of the Gospel, and all strangers, into her house, which was open to all Christians; and so was exceeding serviceable to that church, and to all the saints that came thither: though it is certain that among the ancient Christians there were women servants who were called ministers. Pliny, in an epistle of his to Trajan the emperor, says F9, that he had examined two maids, "quae ministrae dicebantur", "who were called ministers", to know the truth of the Christian religion.
F5 Graec. Deseript. l. 2. p. 125. l. 3. p. 190. l. 4. p. 276.
F6 Misn. Sota, c. 9. sect. 15. T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 9. 1. & 35. 2. Jucbasin, fol. 24. 2. & 54. 2.
F7 Plin. Natural Hist. l. 4. c. 4. Ptolem. l. 3. c. 16.
F8 in Corinthiacis, p. 88.
F9 Epist. l. 10. ep. 97.