Charmed by Phoebe

A review of Paula Gooder’s latest book

For people like me, who have worked in the Christian church all our working lives, the Apostle Paul can be a bit like a slightly embarrassing family heirloom.  We know it is precious, but we don’t really want it on display.  Seen in its original context the heirloom would assume more sensible proportions, and maybe even look more attractive.

At this point, enter Dr Paula Gooder, with her fine scholarship, brilliant research and articulate imagination.  In the person of Phoebe, a Deacon from the church in Cenchreae, she introduces us to Paul, his world and his philosophy as effortlessly as if we were stepping from a time machine.  In the pages of her book you will smell the streets of Rome, sit at the back as the early church pray, laugh and cry together, and watch as the Gospel changes lives of great and small alike.

If I had one word to describe Phoebe, it would be charm. In the person of this exquisitely drawn character, Paula introduces us to the New Testament world as never before.  This is a New Testament theology with a heartbeat and a backstory.  It will appeal to both Bible scholars and Bible enthusiasts alike.  Few are likely to read Paul’s letters in the same way after meeting Phoebe.  I know I will not, and I hope one day Paula Gooder will introduce me to some more of Phoebe’s friends.