In Romans 16:1-2, Paul notes that Phoebe had been a benefactor of many people including Paul. What does benefactor mean in this passage; is it a financial benefactor or did she offer help of another kind?
Romans 16:1-2 (NIV): I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.
The word προστάτις. translated here as 'benefactor', means a female patron.
Strong's Concordance adds to this: "a female guardian, protectress, patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources."
Paul tells us no more than than what we see here, but the context shows that Paul was saying more than that Phoebe was a patron of the church, but that many individuals owed her a debt of gratitude, including Paul himself. Elsewhere Paul was proud to remind his followers that he did not take their money, but Phoebe may have helped Christian travellers with accommodation or assisted in smoothing things over between the Christians and the Roman authorities.
PROBLEM: "she has been the benefactor of many people, including me." Does not say anything about being a patron of the church. Apart from that, throughout Paul's writings and in Acts we see that there are, at times, groups of women (Sometimes Greek) were benefactors and supporters of missions.
Next, I would suggest a better source for the meaning of Greek words 0ther than Strong's Concordance.
The most likely answer is that she was a benefactor both financially and in kind. She is described as a 'deacon', so was obviously part of the leadership of the church of Cenchreae in some way. Cranfield (International Critical Commentary) says she may possibly have been the (only) deacon of the church.
Paul asks the Romans to receive and help her, which means that she was the messenger entrusted with this important letter. That doesn't mean that she simply delivered it, but that she was also tasked with reading out to the church, and to explaining/answering questions about it if necessary. That she was willing and able to make the journey shows another way that she was able to be a benefactor - and also rather implies that she was of sufficient status and had sufficient finances to be able to take the trip.
Cranfield concludes that all this implies:
that Phoebe was possessed of some social position, wealth and independence.