I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
Note 1 at Ro 16:1: The only mention of Phebe in Scripture is here and in the subscript at Ro 16:27 (found in some Bibles). From these passages, we can see that Phebe was the one who delivered this epistle to the Romans. She had ministered to many, including Paul, and therefore Paul instructed the Romans to assist her in her business in whatever way they could.
Because the word "servant" in this verse has also been translated "deacon" in other scriptures (see note 2 at this verse), many believe that Phebe was actually a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea.
Note 2 at Ro 16:1: The Greek word that was translated “servant” here is the word “DIAKONOS.” DIAKONOS comes from the root word “DIAKO,” meaning “to run on errands,” and specified “an attendant, i.e. (genitive case) a waiter (at table or in other menial duties); specially, a Christian teacher and pastor (technically, a deacon or deaconess)” (Strong’s Concordance).
This word was used a total of thirty times in the New Testament. It was translated “deacons” three times (Php 1:1; 1Ti 3:8, and 12), “ministers” six times (1Co 3:5; 2Co 3:6, 6:4, 11:15, and 23), “minister” fourteen times (Mt 20:26; Mr 10:43; Ro 13:4, 15:8; Ga 2:17; Eph 3:7, 6:21; Col 1:7, 23, 25, 4:7; 1Th 3:2; and 1Ti 4:6), “servant” four times (Mt 23:11, Mr 9:35, Joh 12:26, and here), and “servants” three times (Mt 22:13; Joh 2:5, and 9).
So, it can be said that the dominant use of this word in the New Testament was to specify a minister or deacon. However, out of the six other times this word was translated “servant” or “servants,” it was definitely designating a person who performs menial tasks as a slave. Therefore, it cannot be stated emphatically from this verse that Phebe was or was not a deaconess or female minister.
History supplies us with information that there were female ministers “in the churches of Bithynia (see note 5 at Ac 16:7) as early as A.D. 100, for Pliny, in his celebrated letter to the emperor Trajan regarding the Christians, reports having examined ‘two old women’ of the Christian community ‘who were called ministers’” (“A Dictionary of the Bible” by John D. Davis, brackets mine).