Brief Reviews, VOLUME 12

Paula Gooder – Phoebe: A Story [Review]

[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”083085245X” locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”222″]Struggling to Figure out
What Following Jesus Means

A Brief Review of

Phoebe: A Story
Paula Gooder

Paperback: IVP Academic, 2018
Buy Now:  [ [easyazon_link identifier=”083085245X” locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Amazon[/easyazon_link] ]  [ [easyazon_link identifier=”B07HGJ7FDX” locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Kindle[/easyazon_link] ]
Reviewed by Leslie Starasta
As 21st century readers, we are far removed from the life and times of early Christians. Sitting down to read the Bible, we consider it an ancient text to be studied and the inspired scripture that is central to our faith. Our ability to interact with the text by reading it in the privacy of our own homes or on a mobile device is vastly different from the first believers who heard the letters read while gathered in house churches.

Paula Gooder places the reader in exactly that location in her most recent work Phoebe: A Story. Phoebe, one of several women who are mentioned in passing in the New Testament, is glimpsed in Romans 16 where she is identified as “a deacon of the church in Cenchreae,” and noted to be “the benefactor of many people, including me [Paul].” Gooder takes this brief mention and skillfully pulls back the curtain to reveal what life might have been like for Phoebe and other Roman believers.

Author Paula Gooder is quick to point out that Phoebe: A Story is not a novel but a work of historical imagination (225). The large portion of the book given to extensive explanatory notes and an academic bibliography provides ample evidence this work is not fiction but is based on a lifetime of study and research which allows Gooder to provide a thorough depiction of life in Rome for the early believers. Every decision from the names used, biblical and historical figures mentioned, historical events included, and topics discussed is intentionally rooted in research in order to provide an accurate portrayal.

Beyond portraying the time period accurately, Phoebe: A Story provides the opportunity for readers to see scripture lived out in the context when it was originally penned. Her wide variety of characters including the juxtaposition of slaves, free Roman citizens, and Roman aristocracy provides the opportunity for a beautiful depiction of “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) which the characters remind each other of frequently. Numerous other scripture passages are woven into discussion between the characters as they struggle to figure out what following Jesus means. In particular, the detailed look at the consequences characters experienced for choosing to follow Christ, particularly members of the Roman aristocracy, provides a reminder that following Christ was not easy then or now. Readers of Phoebe: A Story will have their view and experiences reading the Bible enlarged by this work and will never read Romans 16:1-2 the same way again.

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities
and the life of the church." 

-Karen Swallow Prior

Enter your email below to sign up for our weekly newsletter & download your FREE copy of this ebook! 

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

Comments are closed.