Phoebe vs. John the Evangelist

Today in Lent Madness, two Biblical-era saints face off as Phoebe goes up against John the Evangelist. Will a woman who played an integral role in the early church prevail or will the author of the fourth Gospel advance?

In yesterday's action, Anna Alexander defeated Peter Claver 59% to 41% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen against the winner of John Wesley vs. Edith Cavell. This was fueled in part by the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia's unflagging support for one of their own. They even produced a video celebrating Anna's ministry which is worth your time whether or not you voted for her.

Finally, in case you somehow missed yesterday's stirring edition of Monday Madness, you can watch it here. Every week Tim and Scott wax eloquent on all things Lent Madness, keeping the Lent Madness faithful up-to-date on the latest news. It is indeed must-see penitential TV.


St. PhoebeAll that we know about Phoebe of Cenchreae comes from two short verses at the end of Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome. Notwithstanding such scant reference, she was quite an important figure and was key to interpreting the message of what many see as Paul’s most important letter.

Phoebe was likely a former slave and a Gentile convert. In spite of her humble beginnings, she rose to prominence as a freedwoman. Paul describes her as a “benefactor of many,” including himself. She probably supported the church in Cenchreae (a port about seven miles southeast of Corinth), perhaps even hosting the church in her house. In the letter to the Romans, Paul implies that she is functioning as his partner and currently supporting his mission to Spain.

Paul also describes Phoebe as a deacon. While formal offices were yet to be established when Paul was writing, the use of deacon in reference to Phoebe suggests that she was not only a financial supporter of the church but also a leader in the congregation. Her role included preaching and tending to churches, and Paul sent her as a missionary to Rome.

Paul’s confidence in Phoebe is perhaps clearest in the fact that he sent her as the bearer of the Letter to the Romans. Phoebe did not function as some glorified mail woman. As the deliverer of the letter, Phoebe had the responsibility to read the letter to the congregations and to help them understand what Paul was trying to say (modern interpreters of Paul know what a difficult task this could be). This was an enormous responsibility: Paul, writing to churches that he has never met and that likely had some misgivings about him, trusted Phoebe to be his faithful emissary.

Given that we still read Paul’s letter to the Romans to this day, it looks as though Phoebe was a wise choice.

Collect for Phoebe
Filled with your Holy Spirit, gracious God, your earliest disciples served you with the gifts each had been given: Phoebe as a deacon who served many. Inspire us today to build up your Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity, and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

David Creech

John the Evangelist

John the EvangelistJohn the Evangelist is the name traditionally given to the person who wrote the fourth canonical gospel. He is likely an amalgam of a few Johns present in New Testament scripture: John the Apostle, John the Revelator, and John the Presbyter. What matters most when it comes to John the Evangelist is not his historicity but rather the tradition that informs and sustains his identity.

As one of the sons of Zebedee (the so-called “Sons of Thunder”) and brother of James, John is a fisherman turned fisher-of-men. The gospels also reveal to us that John formed the triad of Jesus’ closest disciples along with Peter and his brother James. This triad was present both when Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter and during the Transfiguration. Christian tradition describes John as the “disciple Jesus loved,” which suggests a close relationship with Jesus. John is the one who takes the Blessed Virgin Mary into his care during and after the crucifixion and is among the first disciples to understand the significance of the empty tomb.

After the ascension of Jesus Christ, John is found in several places in the Book of Acts, including healing the lame man outside the beautiful gate, testifying before the Sanhedrin, and conveying the gift of the Holy Spirit to new converts through the laying on of hands. Tradition suggests that John was eventually exiled to Patmos, where he recorded his ecstatic visions in what we now know as the “Revelation to John” or “John’s Apocalypse”(commonly referred to as the Book of Revelation). Of the original twelve apostles, John is the only one to live to an old age and not die a martyr’s death.

John is often depicted in art holding a chalice with a serpent in it, which is likely tied to his willingness to drink from the cup Jesus was to drink from. There is also a legend that suggests that at some point during John’s ministry, someone passed him a chalice filled with poisoned wine. As John said a blessing over the cup, the poison rose from the cup in the form of a snake.

Collect for John the Evangelist
Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Marcus Halley

Phoebe vs. John the Evangelist

  • John the Evangelist (52%, 4,315 Votes)
  • Phoebe (48%, 3,974 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,289

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John the Evangelist: Jean Bourdichon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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276 comments on “Phoebe vs. John the Evangelist”

  1. It's 8:05 and I had to go to the website to get my Tuesday dose of Lent Madness. What gives? 38 people have already voted!

    1. Its high time women were recognized for the very important part they played in ministry and spreading of Christianity. The centuries old patriarchy can move over and share the gifts that women have given the church. Our daughters need to see it. Go Phoebe!

      1. One of first that we know of.

        Phoebe is not the only female leader of the Church mentioned in scripture. In Philippines 4 we find Euodia & Syntyche. In Romans 16 we find Junia, who Paul calls his kin & a fellow prisoner & says she was well known in the church & was in the faith before him; Mary, "who has worked hard for you,"; & Priscilla, who along with her husband, "who risked their necks for my life" according to Paul (Priscilla & her husband Aquila also show up in Acts 18 and II Timothy 4).

        Additionally, I have read that Pliny makes reference to Christian women involved in ministry as deacons in his letter to Tarjan written in AD 110.

          1. Right now they are considering allowing women to be deacons. This would be honoring our history and the order of deacons.

            One day they may also realize women make excellent priests....

          2. Phoebe! Phoebe! Only person in the NT named as a deacon. She remains an inspiration to those who are called to keep the holy huddle aware of their neighbors.

      2. Considering how little the early church valued women, Phoebe was probably even more important than we see in the Bible.

      3. The Christian religion is largely modeled upon a patriarchy. Good heavens. I can't imagine why anyone would want to turn Lent Madness into a gender battle, which is largely what it is becoming. This is highly distasteful. Vote for the deserving candidate. Progressivism isn't a religion. Christianity is.

        1. Thank you, Jenny. That's exactly the reason I chose Phoebe. At least she was one whole person, and not an unbelievably long-lived "John" who almost certainly could not have written all those books traditionally attributed to him.

        2. Thank you. I have been noticing this more and more. It should be the deserving person not because they are female. We need not be 'politically correct' in Lent Madness but in it for the fun and joy of learning about all these special filk called saints.

          1. I heartily and faithfully agree with James and Mariana. There isn't enough information for me to vote for Phoebe simply because she is a woman. Politics and religion do not make for "good bedfellows", and I would rather we focus the faithful work of the candidates, rather than vote for what I think they might have done.

          2. Hear Hear! I noticed this trend last year and almost skipped Lent Madness this year because of it. In male vs. female match-ups find it pretty easy to predict each winner based on the gender and race of the participants. Yesterday, for example, I pegged Anna as the easy winner before reading either contestant's summary. Same with Quiteria and Margaret of Scotland (89% - 11%...really?!) Today we have one of Jesus's top two Apostles leading an obscure former slave who happened to carry some letters for Paul by 51%-49% - 2 percent!!! I suspect what is happening is that Lent Madness is being abandoned by males who are wondering What's the point? For verification, check out the ratio of female to male replies to today's match-up. It's becoming a women's game, guys...might as well face it. Too bad...Lent Madness has been a great concept until now, but like much life these days, agendas are ruining it.

            In the name of full disclosure, I am male, heterosexual, politically conservative and married for 47 years to the same Episcopal deacon.

          3. I've made this comment on this page along with my vote. I'll add it here as well,
            in the context of this discussion.

            "Can I make a suggestion, in the interests of some fairer match-ups in future LMs.

            First-rounds match-ups should be between:
            — saints of the same gender as each other,
            — saints of a similar “profile” as each other, and
            — saints from a similar era as each other.

            As well, saints with serious PR issues in today’s church should have those issues addressed in their first-round biographies."

          4. Thank you James, Mariana,Claire, Rob and others for your thoughtful and eloquent comments. Sorry to be so late to say "I agree" - better late than not at all. Gender issues are important but not the only issues but we all know that!
            I love Lent Madness not only to learn more about the saints but for the community that has formed around LM. Love the comments, even when I don't agree 🙂 - I learn so much. Thank you, each and all.

          5. I appreciate this point being raised - this is my 1st year in the Madness, and I was disappointed in seeing a definite gender bias.

            That said, I voted for Phoebe because I value her as an exemplar of women's involvement in the early church and as proof of their importance even in the beginning. Her support was likely vital for the survival of the young church.

          1. It is worth noting that women’s voices from the early church weren’t heard precisely BECAUSE of patriarchy, not that those voices weren’t there. It’s time to change that, and open our ears to the full breadth of God’s creation. That seems pretty Christian to me.

      4. Yes, there are certainly spaces we should hold more sacred than others, and it's very disconcerting to see those spaces invaded. Which spaces are we holding, and for whom?

        Glad to see this conversation happening. If not here, then where? It's been all about men 23/7 so far, given the vast spaces afforded the subject. Time to get out from behind the rood screen, again, with a fresh set of eyes to see how far we have yet to go, which is nearly impossibly to see if you're comfortably seated.

  2. John for me: As a teacher of English, I'll go with the writer and the man with my brother's name.

    1. They are both saints already. And, as much as Paul's writings have been a source of comfort and challenge to me, I agree with those who think Phoebe was saint to put up with Paul. However, for his influence on the Church, I'll go with John, the writer of the fourth Gospel.

    2. Yes, but it's much more than a suggestion. Mainstream New Testament scholars are almost unanimous in saying that the sexist stuff in the epistles were not by Paul himself, but the product of later writers, probably after Paul's death.

    3. It is daunting when the world is too much with Lent Madness. But it is mad, after all, and we do learn and we share our passions and foibles and typos. People can vote for any reason, whimsical or political or scholarly. It's worth the moments that make me grind my teeth, because I encounter so many inspiring saints--in the blogs and in the comments. It's an amazing community. Hope all will hang in there.

      1. I love Paul, my favorite books of the Bible are his writings and I remember the story of Phoebe. So Come on Phoebe.

    1. I'm for Phoebe. In addition for what you all say, her prominence suggests that whatever misogyny we read in Pauline epistles might not have actually been his opinion (or his authentic writing).

    2. And don't forget Lydia of Philippi! Phoebe's financial support of the church also reminds me that Susanna and Mary Magdalene and other women were Jesus' financial backers.

    3. Could you explain about "carrying Paul's word" being suspect, Mary? I'm not sure I understand. Thanks.

  3. There are great passages in the Gospel of John, but for me they do not have the same voice when Jesus speaks as the other Gospels. They often feel contrived to make some early Church point. So, although there is not much information on Phoebe, I liked her support of the early Church and of Paul, while apparently managing not to be martyred.

    1. agree that the voice we hear in John's Gospel is John's interpretation of Jesus's role, not Jesus voice, and certainly unlike the voice in the other three gospels, but I am voting for John because of the Letters, especially the first one "God is Love..."

  4. Probably because we know so much more about John, he gets my vote.
    But it seems the quiet ones we know so little about are also great.

  5. I find the Gospel of John’s prologue to be a profound and beautiful work of spiritual poetry. He has my vote.

  6. Unfair matchup! Apostles should only compete against other apostles. Poor Phoebe gets my vote.

  7. Thank God for the witness of Phoebe's story getting past those who would squash evidence of women in ministerial leadership roles in the Church. Paul's confidence in her has provided necessary insight into Paul's words (I hope). Go Phoebe!

    1. Yes indeed! I voted for Phoebe for much the same reason, evidence of the leadership of women in the earliest days of Christianity.

  8. Both well written defenses! I voted for Phoebe because, as the defender of John points out,this could be an amalgam of numerous John's referred to in Scripture. To get any Scriptural reference women had to be and act exceptionally well, with courage, strength and faith in Jesus, larger than faith in his followers. Go Phoebe!

      1. LOL. Agree. Is this where we get the line about women having to be “Twice as good but paid half as much”?? So (Phoebe x 2)/0.5= (John x 4) ?
        Go Phoebe.

  9. It doesn't seem fair to put a little known person against a big name. I voted for Phoebe because she's the underdog. Not such a good reason, I admit, but that's who I am!

  10. John already has his halo. He deserved it. Now it is Phoebe’s turn. A woman to have accomplished those things in that time period deserves a halo. It’s our job to give her one.

    1. Jill,
      I agree! This is as good a reason as any to vote for Phoebe.
      I am just reviewing "The Passover Plot" (1964!!), and The Lost Gospel of Jesus, the Book of Q. I am really wondering who wrote the material and formed all this exegesis. I so need the spiritual one to cut through all the jabber. I read, I learn, I pray, I hope. Just wondering if the editors then were of the same make-up as many of today's. If an editor read the written musings my father hoped to put into a book they might wonder just what in the world had been said. I don't think any of the John's had editorial control over the writings.

    2. Agreed! Drinking my am coffee, I reflected on the possible difficulty of Phoebe's life and her dedication . . . how unfamiliar I am with Phoebe . . . how far we still need to go in today's world. I imagine we all vote for our daily favorite for a variety of reasons . . . let's not make this enlightening and fun contest about pitting male against female. I vote for something that speaks to me personally each day.

  11. Figuring the more familiar John would get most of the votes, I voted for Phoebe, who was very brave to carry, read AND interpret one of Paul's letters. But, I see she is running a close second. Hurray for Phoebe.

  12. Good Morning! The original Reader from Paul's letter to the Romans must get my vote today.
    I feel her pain, since its seems that I get a Reading from Romans quite often
    as a Lector.

  13. Although I voted for John, I feel sorry for Phoebe as I think this was an unfair match in his favor

  14. Sitting at an unbelievable 0 for 4, I am feeling that today may finally be the day I make the correct call.

    JOHN THE EVANGELIST folks. John is credited with my favorite Gospel. And I my name is John too.

  15. I had to give my vote to Phoebe. One of my best friends named her daughter Phoebe, after the deacon in Rome and Phoebe Palmer, a nineteenth century Methodist evangelist. I love celebrating strong women of Christ!

    1. Ann, I do too. As a woman, I feel that sometimes we are not adequately represented in the stories of God's people. This is why I too voted for Phoebe, she represents a strong woman in Christ, and she represents the stories of God's people yet to be told. We are now the torch bearers for women of faith, and may our saintly foremothers be with us. Men are good people too! #Miriamledthedancing

  16. Thought the little known Phoebe should be honored. If she went from a slave to deacon of the church, she must have been quite something! Besides she delivered Paul's letter to the Romans and explained it! Wow!

    1. Yes, and we do know one important thing that Phoebe did NOT do. She did not apparently embrace the error of ethnic stereotyping like John did. However else gifted he may be (and I am certainly indebted to him) John left us with the predicament of dealing with all of his "the Jews" did this, "the Jews" did that. Phoebe did her work powerfully and well without apparently claiming "the Men" as a group are squelching women's ministry.

  17. I voted for Saint Phoebe the Deacon because of the impact in my life of ordained women, especially women in the full and equal order of the Diaconate.

  18. As a religious studies professor I'm too annoyed by the inaccuracies in the bio of John to vote for him. But just remember, kids. John the Evangelist MAY have been John the Apostle (if he lived to be reeeeeeeally old) but there's no way he was also John of Patmos.

    1. I agree, Jenny. If we conclude that everyone in the New Testament sharing the same name was the same person, then Simon (Peter) would have stayed with himself when he visited Joppa and stayed in the house of Simon the tanner!

    2. I love the gospel of John but agree 100% with my fellow Jennifer about the bio. Wince.

      My vote for Phoebe today reflects my concern for communicating our best understanding of the Christian message. Kinda her thing, too!

    3. Thank you for pointing this out. It's what bothered me about this. When I vote for Phoebe I'll feel I'm actually voting for a person.

    4. My priest growing up was adamant that the Book of Revelation was *not* written by the Evangelist. While the Evangelist is important, this "amalgam" does more to muddy his identity than to clarify his works.

    5. Thank you! Yes, I was also disappointed in John's bio. But I have degrees in Theology and Scripture.
      And as a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, I voted enthusiastically for Phoebe, as I am hoping for the reinstatement of ordained women deacons soon.

    1. I voted for Phoebe also, in consideration of her personal growth, from slave to freedwoman and deaconess, and her spiritual journey in accompaniment of Paul. She seemed to be so fundamental in the growth of the early church, with her housing meetings, supporting fellow believers, and assisting Paul to such a high degree. A woman doing all this, in the first century, is quite admirable.

  19. When gossip travels it is very different from the first person to the say the third person repeating the same story. That is how I feel about Phoebe. A wonderful person I am sure but carrying Pauls word that came from God is suspect.
    I chose John the Evangelist because he took Blessed Mary into his care during the crucifixion.

    1. Having walked and read the Stations of the Cross just a couple days ago, I must go with the newly declared son of Mary, the disciple Jesus loved. Though I’ve long been intrigued with the idea that many of the Johannine passages may have referred to Magdalene, I voting for the miraculous mish-mash that is St John, for all his/her/their service to Jesus and His followers.

  20. Phoebe -- she not only had to read Paul's letter to the Romans to others (a feat that any Lay Reader can attest to as being very difficult) -- but she had to be ready to answer questions about what he meant (a feat any teacher of Paul's letters can find impossible given we are in a very different time and culture). While I love the poetry and imagery of John's Gospel and letters, Phoebe's task was much more impressive.

  21. Is Oliver sleeping in this morning? I always look for his comments first, though I'm happy to see our 6-yr-old, Pailet!

  22. My favorite gospel as well. An outlier, mysterious, perfect for Lent. I am happy to tip my hat to the person or team who authored it.

  23. I'm going with Phoebe to give the woman a chance. John the Evangelist will always have a place in our faith, but we hardly ever hear about the works of Phoebe and her sisters. Go Phoebe!