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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Philemon help?

(Note additional help on week 6 post) --

Philemon help?

Here is (from syllabus) the instructions on the Philemon paper. Read carefully, then read below for extra help. Remember, no research is required, but it would help:

.Biblical Perspectives Signature (SIGNature) Assignment
(final paper)
Due: three days after last class, by 11:59 p.m. Submit to


The signature assignment (final paper) for Biblical Perspectives is designated as a significant 5-7 page paper that is designed addresses the meaning of a biblical text. Using the skills gained in the course, develop a paper that combines an understanding of the historical, literary and contemporary worlds of the text. The text for this assignment is the New Testament book of Philemon.  (Don’t resign the class until you are done.  Resignation often comes too soon).


The paper is meant to demonstrate the student’s own analysis and ability to work with a biblical text and as such need not utilize other resources as in a traditional research paper.  This is a NOT a research paper; it is a SEARCH paper, where you search out what you think is the meaning/message of Philemon.
However, it could be hugely helpful (and improve your grade) to draw in one (or perhaps more) lessons from class to build your thesis.

Thesis:           The paper should include a clear thesis statement  (somewhere in your paper) in the form of “the book of Philemon is about…”  Note: by “about,” we mean not just “about” in the sense of storyline and characters—though you definitely include that somewhere in your paper, as well.    We mean what the book is ultimately “about”—life lesson, message, moral, sermon point or Contemporary World “app.”  Make it general; do not include characters from the story in your statement. Be as specific and concise as possible.
Body:            The body of the paper should demonstrate a recognizable structure that articulates why the thesis is viable. The body of the paper may take the form of a verse by verse analysis, follow the categories of historical/literary/contemporary worlds, or use any thematic analysis that is most useful.
Conclusion:    The conclusion should restate the thesis and the support in summary fashion. The conclusion is also a place for reflection on the implications of Philemon for your life and work. Apply it to your daily life/work.
Sign (Symbol):           Throughout this course we have been using one guiding sign for each night, corresponding to the theme of the evening.  Based on your study of the book of Philemon, develop your own sign/symbol that you feel adequately conveys the message of the book and explain it in a paragraph.  Papers will not be accepted without the sign and explanation.  (The sign is something you draw or create, not anything you find online or elsewhere)
Be sure to also include:  Evidence from the text re: whether the slavery (of Onesimus) and brotherhood of Philemon and Onesimus are literal, metaphorical, or both.   Evidence from the text re: whether Onesimus ran away.
Grading is based upon how well the thesis is stated and supported, by the clarity of the structure, by the depth of thought and by the quality of mechanics (spelling, grammar).

See the meaning of letter grades at FPU below.

All papers must be submitted to (instructions on next page).

 If there are red marks in every paragraph for grammar/spelling/mechanics, the paper will not pass. Big rules: no “you”/”your” words/language or contractions


A=Superior. The student has demonstrated a quality of work and accomplishment far beyond the formal requirements and shown originality of thought and mastery of material.

B=Above Average.
The student’s achievement exceeds the usual accomplishment, showing a clear
indication of initiative and grasp of subject.

C=Average. The student has met the formal requirements and has demonstrated good comprehension of the subject and reasonable ability to handle ideas.

D=Below Average. The student’s accomplishment leaves much to be desired. Minimum requirements have been met but were inadequate.
Don't forget your symbol...many do.
Here is some help on how to draw a diagram in WORD.

Here's a video on how to do it in Microsoft PAINT.

PHILEMON HELP? It would help to start collecting notes for your final paper on Philemon as soon as possible, as in a sense the whole class is preparing you to apply your "Three Worlds" skills to it.  I would start by reading it over (click here to read it a a few different translations) and listening to it a few times (audio below) and then going through the questions on pages 26 and 28 of your student guide (even though we will walk through those pages in class on Week 5),

Take a look at the "HOW TO STUDY A TEXT VIA THREE WORLDS" tab on our website, and consider using it as the lens for studying and writing your paper

Come up with a working written definition of what the book seems to be about.  Then you might want to branch out and watch some of the videos and commentaries linked below, remembering that they may not all get it "right," and you will see some things that the "experts" don't.  The commentaries will be helpful in understanding "historical world" background.  Pay careful attention to the instructions on the syllabus.  You do not have to cite any sources, but if you do, be sure you attribute them in your paper.

>>>N.T. Wright's  sermon will be helpful, as are his comments about the letter here, and his study questions on pages 55-57 here). 

Newer video
Here below is his complete Tyndale commentary on Philemon:


Here's a "word cloud" representation of word frequency in Philemon.  What do you notice?:

Philemon  Word Cloud

(all New Testament word clouds here)

What's Philemon about?:

Three readings of the letter:


  • If, for your paper, you want to consider chiasm in Philemon, after searching out any such structures yourselves (which you are getting good at!) 



>>Here is a simple and helpful online commentary on Philemon

>>Here is an excellent one from IVP

>>several advanced online ARTICLES AND COMMENTARIES

The first three pages below are from "The Bible Background Commentary"(very helpful) and the last page is the text and study notes from "The NIV Study Bible."  They both cover some good historical and literary world background, which you may quote in your paper (not required), and which may help you decide the theme of the book.  

Click a page to enlarge and read.  Once you have a page open, you can click to magnify it.

Kurt Willems, an FPU seminary student, has posted a helpful 5 part series on Philemon ( audio here):

Philemon, Forgiveness That Leads to Radical Reconciliation

James Dennison:

Perhaps we should approach Philemon by first analyzing its structure. You will observe that the first three verses include the names of five persons: Paul, Timothy, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus. You will further observe that the last three verses (vv. 23-25) conclude with the names of five persons: Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke. Now observe also that the pattern of verses 1-3 is five names plus the phrase "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." This is precisely mirrored in verses 23-25: five names plus the phrase "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." The greeting or salutation of the epistle ends with the Lord Jesus Christ. The closing or conclusion of the epistle ends with the Lord Jesus Christ. A perfectly balanced inclusio structurally envelops the tender plea of the apostle on behalf of Onesimus. Paul, Timothy, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus—members of the church; Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke—members of the church. Within the church, something new is occurring!  LINK

Alternative views:

a)He might be a slave, but not a runaway.  He simply was asking Paul for help in being an advocate.  This view solves several problems with the traditional view, and this article  is helpful on Paul's style of persuasion/theme of the letter.  by Brian  Dodd: click here

  b)"This is not about a runaway slave at all.  Paul and Onesimus are literal brothers.":

There are several problems with the interpretation that Onesimus is a runaway fugitive slave.  There are other examples of letters written in the period that Paul was writing that implore slaves to return to their masters and that implore masters to receive their slaves back graciously.  Paul’s letter to Philemon does not follow the same pattern.
In addition, the epistle itself never says that Onesimus is a runaway or a thief, this is simply a presumption.  Finally, the entire argument that Onesimus is a slave is based on verse 15 and 16 where Paul uses the greek word doulos to describe Onesimus.  Certainly the word can be interpreted as slave, however, the word is used many other times in scripture and does not always mean that the one called doulos is a literal slave.  Sometimes doulos refers to a son or a wife, not a slave.  That one word is not a definitive identification of Onesimus.
What if Callahan’s interpretation is correct?  Onesimus not just a Christian, he is actually a blood brother to Philemon.  This interpretation means that the book of Philemon is about reconciliation in families rather than an admonition for the slave to remain obedient and the master to treat the slave fairly.  LINK: Philemon...Slave Master?

..and then we encounter these verses which have caused many varied interpretations.  Verses 15-16.  Callahan translates them as, “For on this account he has left for the moment, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as though he were a slave, but, more than a slave, as a beloved brother very much so to me, but now much more so to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”[1]
First, there is a grammatical question about how to translate this phrase which many have rendered “no longer as a slave.”  Callahan dissects the greek and he argues that the phrase is more accurately translated, “no longer as though he were a slave.”  Even with Callahan’s translation, the question remains:  Why did Paul choose to use the word slave if Onesimus wasn’t a slave?
The word used is doulos and according to Callahan’s research, it “was a term of both honor and opprobrium in the early Christian lexicon.”[2]
It was thought to be an honor to be called a doulos tou theou or a slave of God.  In fact, Paul calls himself a slave of Christ in several of his letters including Romans, Philippians, and Titus, as do other authors of the epistles of James and 2 Peter.
It is also true that the term slave signified subjugation, powerlessness, and dishonor, one who does not have liberty or agency on one’s own.
Callahan argues that Paul is using the term doulos to capture both dimensions of the human condition and is perhaps even making a connection with the Christ hymn in Philippians 2 where he quotes an ancient hymn that exalts the Christ who humbles himself to be nothing, powerless, and empty of the divine dimension, like a slave to the human condition.
Callahan argues that Paul is simply calling Onesimus a slave in the same way that he describes himself as a slave.  Onesimus is also a doulos tou theou, a slave of God.
If this is the case, then Paul uses language that indicates Onesimus and Philemon are related, in fact that they are brothers in the flesh.  Reconciliation and love between brothers was a special concern for several ancient writers and philosophers.  One Roman philosopher named Plutarch writes of the importance of repairing a breach between brothers, even if it comes through a mutual friend...

-LINK: Philemon...Brother?

NOTE also: metaphorical terminology by Paul re: slavery in Galatians 4:7:
"So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir"... actually a verse quite similar to Philemon 16 (first clause the same, second clause family language)
"no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother."



Philemon and Onesimus as (half) bothers AND slave/master

c) Philemon isn't the slaveowner at all, it is Archippus.  Note: see this note in your class Bible..
Note that grammatically, the letter  we call Philemon might be addressed not to the first mentioned (Philemon), but the last-mentioned (Archippus).  Verse 1, 2:

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister,] to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house..

See Colossians 4.  Note same writer (Paul) and  many similar names as the "Philemon" letter.  What is the task Paul wants Archippus to fulfill?  Could it be to release Onesimus? 

Colossians 4.Tychicus will tell you all the news about me; he is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant[b] in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are[c] and that he may encourage your hearts; he is
coming with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here.
10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him. 11 And Jesus who is called Justus greets you. These are the only ones of the circumcision among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant[d] of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills. 13 For I testify for him that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters[e] in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you
complete the task that you have received in the Lord.”
18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.[f]


Philemon, an allegory?

Consider the following passage (Philemon 8-18) with these analogies in mind:

  • Paul (the advocate) : Jesus
  • Onesmus (the guilty slave) : us (sinners)
  • Philemon (the slave owner) : God the Father

Martin Luther:  "Even as      Christ did for        us            with            God the Father,
                 thus also         St. Paul does for Onesimus   with           Philemon"
Accordingly, though I (Paul) am bold enough in Christ to command you (Philemon) to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.   LINK: Philemon, an allegory?

From Paul Copan:


Though critics claim New Testament writers keep quiet about slavery, we see a subtle opposition to it in various ways. We can confidently say that Paul would have considered antebellum slavery with its slave trade to be an abomination — an utter violation of human dignity and an act of human theft. In Paul’s vice list in 1 Timothy 1:9,10, he expounds on the fifth through the ninth commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). There Paul condemns “slave traders” who steal what is not rightfully theirs.4

Critics wonder why Paul or New Testament writers (cp. 1 Peter 2:18–20) did not condemn slavery and tell masters to release their slaves. We need to first separate this question from other considerations. New Testament writers’ position on the negative status of slavery was clear on various points: (a) they repudiated slave trading; (b) they affirmed the full human dignity and equal spiritual status of slaves; (c) they encouraged slaves to acquire their freedom whenever possible (1 Corinthians 7:20–22); (d) their revolutionary Christian affirmations, if taken seriously, would help tear apart the fabric of the institution of slavery, which is what took full effect several centuries later — in the eventual eradication of slavery in Europe; and (e) in Revelation 18:11–13, doomed Babylon (the world of God-opposers) stands condemned because she had treated humans as “cargo,” having trafficked in “slaves [literally ‘bodies’] and human lives” (verse 13, NASB). This repudiation of treating humans as cargo assumes the doctrine of the image of God in all human beings.

Paul, along with Peter, did not call for an uprising to overthrow slavery in Rome. On the one hand, they did not want people to perceive the Christian faith as opposed to social order and harmony. Hence, New Testament writers told Christian slaves to do what is right. Even if they were mistreated, their conscience would be clear (1 Peter 2:18–20). Yes, obligations fell to these slaves without their prior agreement. So the path for early Christians to take was tricky — very much unlike the situation of voluntary servitude in Mosaic Law.
A slave uprising would do the gospel a disservice — and prove a direct threat to an oppressive Roman establishment (e.g., “Masters, release your slaves”; or, “Slaves, throw off your chains.”). Rome would quash flagrant opposition with speedy, lethal force. So Peter’s admonition to unjustly treated slaves implies a suffering endured without retaliation. Suffering in itself is not good; but the right response in the midst of suffering is commendable.
Early Christians undermined slavery indirectly, rejecting many common Greco-Roman assumptions about it (e.g., Aristotle’s) and acknowledging the intrinsic, equal worth of slaves. Since the New Testament leveled all distinctions at the foot of the cross, the Christian faith — being countercultural, revolutionary, and anti-status quo — was particularly attractive to slaves and lower classes. Thus, like yeast, Christlike living can have a gradual leavening effect on society so oppressive institutions such as slavery could finally fall away. This is, in fact, what took place throughout Europe: Slavery fizzled since “Christianized” Europeans clearly saw that owning another human being was contrary to creation and the new creation in Christ.5
President Abraham Lincoln, who despised slavery but approached it shrewdly, took this incremental strategy. Being an exceptional student of human nature, he recognized that political realities and predictable reactions to abolition required an incremental approach. The radical abolitionist route of John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison would (and did) simply create a social backlash against hard-core abolitionists and make emancipation more difficult.6


Was Paul’s sending Onesimus back to his alleged owner Philemon a moral step backward? Was it more like the oppressive Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, which insisted on returning fugitive slaves to their masters — something prohibited in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 23:15,16)? Some charge that Paul was siding with Hammurabi against the Old Testament.

Reading a New Testament epistle such as Philemon is like listening to only one party in a phone conversation. We only hear Paul’s voice, but plenty of gaps exist that we would like to have filled in. What was Paul’s relation to Philemon (“dear friend and fellow worker” and “partner” Philemon 1,17)? What debt did Philemon owe Paul? How had Onesimus wronged Philemon (if he even did)?7

Many interpreters have taken the liberty to help us fill in the gaps. The typical result? They read too much into the text. The common fugitive-slave hypothesis (that Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon’s) is quite late, dating back to the church father John Chrysostom (347–407 A.D.). However, genuine scholarly disagreement exists about this interpretation. For one thing, the epistle contains no “flight” verbs, as though Onesimus had suddenly gone AWOL. And Paul revealed no hint of fear that Philemon would brutally treat a returning Onesimus, as Roman masters typically did when they caught their runaway slaves.

Some have plausibly suggested that Onesimus and Philemon were estranged Christian (perhaps biological) brothers.8 Paul exhorted Philemon not to receive Onesimus as a slave (whose status in Roman society meant alienation and dishonor); rather he was to welcome Onesimus as a beloved brother: “that you might have him back for good —no longer as a slave, butbetter than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 15,16, emphasis added).
Notice the similar sounding language in Galatians 4:7: “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (NASB, emphasis added). This may shed further light on how to interpret the epistle of Philemon. Paul wanted to help heal the rift so Philemon would receive Onesimus (not a slave) back as a beloved brother in the Lord — not even simply a biological brother. To do so would follow God’s own example in receiving us as sons and daughters rather than slaves.

Even if Onesimus were a slave, this still did not mean he was a fugitive. If a disagreement or misunderstanding had occurred between Onesimus and Philemon, and Onesimus had sought out Paul to intervene or arbitrate the dispute, this would not have rendered Onesimus an official fugitive. And given Paul’s knowledge of Philemon’s character and track record of Christian dedication, the suggestion that Onesimus’s coming back was Hammurabi revisited is off the mark. Again, if Onesimus were a slave in Onesimus’s household, Paul’s strategy was this: Instead of forbidding slavery, impose fellowship.9

In summary, Jesus and New Testament writers opposed oppression, slave trade, and treating humans as cargo. The earliest Christians were a revolutionary, new community united by Christ — a people transcending racial, social, and sexual barriers — which eventually led to a slavery-free Europe a few centuries later.  link

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