The following letter is part II of a creative writing assignment from my course in Pauline literature. The task was to write a letter from Phoebe to Paul on how the Christians in Rome received his letter. The letter had to follow first-century ancient letter format. Enjoy!
Phoebe, a servant of Christ Jesus and deacon of the church in Cenchreae – along with all the brothers and sisters who are with me.
To Paul, an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ by the will of God the Father:
Grace and peace to you from God, the Father of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.
I thank God as I remember you in all my prayers, because of the gospel that you preached throughout Achaia by the will of God, which has the power to set both Jew and Gentile free. In my prayers, I am reminded of your endurance and dedication to the Gospel of Christ and it is through His Gospel that I am persuaded to live every day as you do in our Lord Christ Jesus.
It pleases me greatly to deliver news that calls for praise and joy. The holy saints in Rome have received me in Christian love just as you have requested, and they have been eager to fulfill any needs that arise, which, in turn, has caused me to do the same for them. Your letter has been read by a very spiritually gifted reader and the saints have since focused their efforts into being a more unified people, which was not the case upon my arrival. Thanks be to God!
Upon my arrival, I was, in fact, greeted in Christian love; however, there were two separate welcoming parties just as you supposed there might be. After several days and across numerous gatherings of both Jew and Gentile, your letter was received. The letter revealed that there was ignorance and foolishness on both sides of the division and once understanding was achieved, harmony began to surface and judgement between the two began to quiet. I will briefly address both sides for you; first the Jew and the Gentile.
The Jewish-Christians have argued that they have labored intensively over what the Gentiles have so easily accessed, namely peace with their God. I have heard them say, over fellowship, that this is the first generation of Christians built upon many generations of traditions that the Gentiles don’t even lift a finger to understand. Sadly, my earlier days in fellowship with the Gentiles had confirmed that the Jewish-Christian claim against them was valid.
The Gentiles were guilty of being shamefully prideful toward their Jewish brothers and sisters. Your letter has said to the Gentiles what the Jewish-Christians were trying to say to them all along, only with the love of Christ. Specifically, it was where you reminded the Gentiles to honor the root by respecting the branches of which they have been grafted in. The reader, gifted as he was, communicated this lovingly to them and the Spirit pricked the hearts of those listening enough to quiet their pride and return them to the fear of the Lord. Again, the Jews were trying to say this all along. However, the Jews were not completely innocent because they failed to fulfill the law to love each other, just as you have also stated elsewhere in the letter.
On the other hand, the Gentile-Christians have argued that they have been unfairly judged by the Jewish Christians. Apparently, the Jews have falsely suggested to the Gentiles that the law allowed them to be seen as more righteous in Christ’s eyes than the Gentiles because the Gentiles came to Christ apart from the law whereas the Jews kept the law until Christ’s arrival. Therefore, they boast that their reward will be greater and that their needs in the present should take precedence over that of the Gentiles.
Fortunately, these specific words of yours addressed the issue at hand, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar.” Unfortunately, some of the Gentiles saw this as a victory and began to boast; but this too was remedied with the words that both Jews and Greeks are under sin.
In addressing (and resolving) the above issues, both sides were brought low, one in front of the other. Unfortunately, because of this, your letter was cut short and all agreed that the reading was to be finished over the course of several future gatherings. This letter proved to be difficult for many.
When the saints reassembled, the response was positive. I imagine this was most likely because both Jew and Gentile had some time to be shamed on their own, thereby preserving a small measure of honor in front of the other. This time, the gatherings met in the spirit of forgiveness and an eagerness of unity was soon had. Thankfully, the latter portion of your letter was an exhortation for all to love thy neighbor as thy self, which is something I have personally witnessed them doing. It is for this reason alone, that is, by the genuine acts of love that I have experienced here among the unified Christians in Rome that I give you reason to praise God and rejoice!
Although I plan to travel back to the beloved saints in Cenchreae, I have chosen to stay a while longer in Rome. Perhaps after the winter has passed I will return.
All of the brothers and sisters in Rome send their greetings and they look forward to your visit. Prisca and Aquilla greet you in love as well as Epaenetus.
Greet Timothy for me, along with Lucius and Jason and Sosipater and please send my greetings to Gaius who cares deeply for the whole church.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you – ἀμὴν.
– author – Kendell Linh Healy