Monday, February 1, 2021


Phoebe, Paula Gooder

This is a wonderful book that is a delight to read. New Testament scholar Gooder has brought to life, through an imagined story, Phoebe the church deacon referenced in Romans 16:1. Phoebe has just arrived in Rome, carrying Paul’s letter to the churches there, and quickly meets Prisca and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia, Herodion and others mentioned in Romans 16.

In doing so, she brings together facts from the bible, weaves in knowledge of early church life and the Roman world, and then creates a possible story around it all.

Gooder attempts to answer possible questions like: Who was Phoebe? Why was she so keen to come to Rome to start preparations for Paul’s planned trip to Spain? How do the Christians in Rome react to Paul’s letter? And what is life like for the average Roman, Christian, slave, and merchant?

Of course, much is imagined and needs to be read that way. However, it is also well researched and explained. In fact, one third of the book is Gooder’s extensive notes collated by chapter. These are excellent and give further explanation to references in the book. She explains what she has done and why, giving both biblical and doctrinal notes, and historical evidence about the time. I read the relevant notes after each chapter and it seemed a good way to balance the information she explained.

While it is an imagining, it is an encouraging one. People are converted, changed by the message of Jesus and the writings of Paul. You get an insight into what conversion meant in a society that cared about status - both for slaves and also for nobles. Peter makes an appearance, as does Timothy. Followers recount their memories of Jesus. The church meets, prays and cares for the needy.

Much of what concerns me about biblically anchored fiction is the way it draws the reader into a dramatic narrative based around bible characters, extending what we actually know into a drama. But the way Gooder has done this avoids all that: there is no intrigue, no arch enemies and no impossible love stories. As such Gooder has written a biblical fiction I am much more comfortable with, even while knowing it is is still fiction.

An encouraging and enjoyable book.

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