This text identifies Phoebe with the function of “deacon.” Diakonos in Greek can serve as either masculine or feminine and could be understood simply in terms of a regular pattern of service undertaken by Phoebe on behalf of her local church. The term here in Romans 16.1 is variously translated “servant" (NASB, NIV, and KJV); “deacon” (NRSV); and “deaconess” (RSV). According to one commentator (James Dunn), if it was the case of a regular pattern of service, then it would have been expressed differently in Greek, by the usage of the verbal form of the term (diakoneo) or the more generic term for service (diakonia). Diakonos paired with the participle of the verb “to be” points to a more recognized ministry or position of responsibility within the congregation (pointing to deacon as the proper translation). Phoebe’s duties as a deacon are not revealed in this brief introduction. At this stage in Paul’s writings, the understanding of ministry and office was not well defined. The form of ministry mentioned depended on the context and the needs of the particular congregation.
In looking at verse two, there are the curious translations of the term prostatis. It has been translated figuratively as “helper or support” (see NASB; NIV; KJV; RSV;
The term could very well be related to the term “ho proistamenos” (the one who leads – Romans 12.8). One who stood at the head of and cared for a congregation, as the proistamenos did, would be compared to a patron who perhaps provided a meeting place along with social and political clout. Phoebe obviously had a position of prominence in her community. It has been speculated that she may have owned a house there and, as a wealthy, influential person was in a position to assist missionaries and other Christians who traveled to and from