Book Review: PHOEBE by Paula Gooder

Genre: Historical/Christian
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: standalone


The gripping first novel from renowned New Testament scholar Paula Gooder, which brings alive first-century Christianity and the apostle Paul as never before.

Sometime around 56 AD, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome. His letter was arguably his theological masterpiece, and has continued to shape Christian faith ever since. He entrusted this letter to Phoebe, the deacon of the church at Cenchreae; in writing to the church that almost surely met in her home, Paul refers to her both as a deacon and as a helper or patron of many. But who was this remarkable woman?

In this, her first work of fiction, Biblical scholar and popular author and speaker Paula Gooder tells Phoebe’s story – who she was, the life she lived and her first-century faith – and in doing so opens up Paul’s theology, giving a sense of the cultural and historical pressures that shaped Paul’s thinking, and the faith of the early church.

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


PHOEBE is the December book pick for my book club. As we formed at the previous church I attended, we felt it was high time we read a Christian book.

This is very much a novel (none of us wanted a heavy non-fiction book over this very busy period!) and I admit I was sceptical going in as a lot of the Christian novels I’ve read I’ve found pretty uninteresting. However, I was pleasantly surprised with this one.

This imagines what the life of the early Roman Church would have been like, and uses that to explore the troubles facing them from the authorities, internal difficulties, but also the hope they had. Plus it used those circumstances to unpack some of the theology within the letter (I am now interested to re-read the letter!)

It’s very much fiction – we have one line in the Bible mentioning Phoebe (and we also don’t know for certain if she brought the letter!) However, other people from the Bible, mentioned in greetings and Acts come in and out of the story (Peter, for example, and Prisca and Aquilla.) The book never pretends to be truth, but rather is using what we know from scholarship (both historical and theological) to provide another way of thinking about the letter and the context it was written in.

There are lots of notes explaining the theology and choices at the back of the book, but I didn’t have a chance to read them before the meeting. (Something to read another day!)

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