However, one thing I can assure you of, and that is that in software, the Greek word diakonos is technically tagged as feminine in Romans 16:1.
Συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν, οὖσαν [καὶ] διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς,
Try this one out. Here are the results
- Case A
1) one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master, a servant, attendant, minister 1a) the servant of a king 1b) a deacon, one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use 1c) a waiter, one who serves food and drink
When a word behaves in this way, it is said to have a "common gender." It is both masculine and feminine at the same time.
I have been reading this article on Phoebe from SBL. HT Ecce Homo (It was nice to see so many articles on gender and translation.) I enjoyed reading this but I am not sure whether it adds to previous treatments of diakonos and prostatis. I saw Bruce Waltke today and I remember well the rousing discussion we had on whether an analysis of the related verb can elucidate the meaning of prostatis.
About prostatis, it does appear in other Greek literature as "protectress" or "presiding" so I am doubtful as to whether it is a hapax legomenon, in the true sense of the word. Perhaps someone could comment on that.
Also the masculline form of the word is common enough, prostates is used for the temple leader in the Septuagint, and for Christ, our defender in 1 Clement. The meaning falls somewhere in the range of ruler, leader, benefactor, succourer, and so on.
However, from the Wycliff translation on, it has been translated as "help" or "great help." There is some wordplay going on in the Greek that should be mentioned in this regard. Its a little too detailed for this post. In any case, I really like Rotherham's translation of Romans 16:1-2,
- And I commend to you Phoebe our sister, - being a minister also of the assembly which is in Cenchreae;
In order that ye may give her welcome in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and stand by her in any matter wherein she may have need of you; for, she also, hath proved to be a defender of many, and of my own self.
- 30 παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀδελφοί διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ πνεύματος συναγωνίσασθαί μοι ἐν ταῖς προσευχαῖς ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ πρὸς τὸν θεόν
31 ἵνα ῥυσθῶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀπειθούντων ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ καὶ ἡ διακονία μου ἡ εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ εὐπρόσδεκτος τοῖς ἁγίοις γένηται
32 ἵνα ἐν χαρᾷ ἐλθὼν πρὸς ὑμᾶς διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ συναναπαύσωμαι ὑμῖν 33 ὁ δὲ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης μετὰ πάντων ὑμῶν ἀμήν
16:1 συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν οὖσαν καὶ διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς
2 ἵνα αὐτὴν προσδέξησθε ἐν κυρίῳ ἀξίως τῶν ἁγίων καὶ παραστῆτε αὐτῇ ἐν ᾧ ἂν ὑμῶν χρῄζῃ πράγματι καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ προστάτις πολλῶν ἐγενήθη καὶ ἐμοῦ αὐτοῦ
30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to struggle together with me in prayers on my behalf to God.
31 that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my ministry which is for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,
32 so that I may come to you with joy by God's will and together with you be refreshed. 33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
16:1 I stand Phoebe with you, being a minister of the church at Cenchrea, 2 that you accept her in the Lord, in a manner worthy of the saints, and stand beside her in whatever matter she may have need of you; because she also has stood before many, even me.