Skip to main content

Philemon 1-7

1-2: Paul begins his letter opening in what seems like his typical manner. Normally, though, he starts out by calling himself 'an apostle' or 'a slave.' In this case his deviation is significant. He calls himself a 'prisoner of Christ Jesus.' Paul is highlighting that he is in prison for the sake of the gospel. His relationship with Christ has caused him to make great sacrifices including being imprisoned. Calling himself a 'prisoner of Christ Jesus' would remind Philemon of the great sacrifice Paul and urge him to follow in his footsteps and make a sacrifice (as we will see later, this sacrifice is freeing Onesimus).

The next interesting thing to notice is that while Philemon was the primary recipient and the matters to be dealt with seem to pertain only to him and his family, it was secondarily addressed not only to the the rest of his family (Apphia was probably his wife and Archippus was likely his son) but to the church as a whole. This approach by Paul strongly critiques the individualism often found in western churches. The way Philemon acted in his private life was the concern of the entire community, and it was their roll to keep him accountable to do that which would bring maximum glory to God.

3: Paul opens with his usual blessing of grace and peace. He hopes that his letter mediates grace and peace to its recipients, and that they would then actively live it out.

4-7: 4-6 form what is called the 'introductory thanksgiving,' which was a standard part of Paul's letters. This one in Philemon breaks down into four parts.
  1. Paul expresses thanks for Philemon (vs. 4)
  2. Paul reports that he constantly prays for him (vs. 4)
  3. He explains why he gives thanks for Philemon, mentioning his faith and love (vs. 5)
  4. He tells Philemon the content of his prayer for him (vs. 6)
Another structural issue to notice is that we have a chiasm (a text of form ABBA) in vs. 5-7 of love (5a), faith (5b), faith (6), and love (7). With vs. 6, 7 being expansions on 5a, b. It also signals faith and love as matters of prominence to pay attention to through the rest of the letter.

4: Paul begins by saying that he is thankful for Philemon. It's a consistent thankfulness that he expresses with a high degree of regularity when he prays.

5: For most English readers, the TNIV (or NIV, NLT, NRSV) renders this verse the clearest, 'because I hear about your love for all his people and your faith in the Lord Jesus.' [1]
Paul thanks God for Philemon because he has heard reports of the vibrancy of his faith and the great love which he had towards his fellow Christians. It's this love for his people that Paul is going to be banking on in the rest of the letter when he makes his appeal.

6: Now Paul gives the content of his prayer for Philemon. This verse is notoriously difficult to translate. The best translation I have seen is the paraphrase that NT Wright gives, 'I am praying that the mutual participation which is proper to the Christian faith you hold may have its full effect in your realization of every good thing that God wants to accomplish in us to lead us into the fullness of Christian fellowship, that is, of Christ' (pp. 177-8). [2]

The foundation of this verse is the faith. Paul was praying that Philemon's strong faith which resulted in love expressed through the strong fellowship that was present in Philemon's house church would have positive results, namely that God would transform him in his thinking and living which would enable him and his community to attain full maturity in their relationships with God and each other. This prayer is significant given what Paul's going to ask Philemon to do, implicitly, later on in the letter. This letter is practice in living out the implications of our faith in community.

7: Here Paul begins his transition between the thanksgiving and the body of the letter. Paul is refreshed by hearing about the strength of Philemon's love towards his fellow Christians. To be able to host a church in his house and own slaves Philemon must have been a man of considerable means. It's noteworthy then, that he doesn't seem to have been above serving his community, and this probably doesn't refer to a single occurrence, but a lifestyle of humble service in love.

Paul describes Philemon in glowing terms, but that doesn't mean that he's done growing. We will find out in the body of the letter, the manner in which Paul intended to push this man of God to grow even more in his areas of strength.


[1] Literal translations like the ESV preserve the word order of vs. 5 more faithfully than the TNIV does, however, we have a case of chiasm here (see e.g., Moo pp. 387-8, O'Brien pp. 278-9), which most English readers are not adept at identifying and may result in misinterpretation.

[2] Paul does not have evangelism in mind in this verse (the ESV, NIV, and NRSV's phrase 'sharing of your faith' while literal, is potentially misleading).

Comments

  1. By the way, I look forward to your thoughts on Philemon commentaries. Or, at least I hope you'll post some thoughts.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Aquinas and Conclusion

When we reach Aquinas we come to the pinnacle of orthodoxy when it comes to the Trinity and Christology. Christology was important to Aquinas and he dedicated the first fifty-nine questions of Tertia Pars of his Summa Theologiae[1] to the topic. In many ways it is refreshing because he does not treat solely the more philosophical questions of who Jesus was that preoccupied theologians from the third century on. He also spent extended time on Jesus earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification which was a major innovation.[2] Of course every possible topic of Trinitarian and ontological speculation is also probed. For the sake of space we will only hit some highlights.

Aquinas is clearly in step with the tradition that can be traced from Nicea, through Augustine and the Lombard, to the heart of the Middle Ages. One thing to briefly note is that even in his densest argumentation, Aquinas was not trying to prove elements of his theology via rational argument as that…

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Irenaeus

Starting from Irenaeus, Christology, in some respects, moves on. A big part of this would have been due to the “gnostic” controversies. It became increasingly important to clarify the relationship between Father and Son and to minimize their distinctiveness, while still maintaining Jesus’ full humanity. From this point on, clashes over heresy about the nature of Christ and discussions related to Trinitarian theology dominate Christological discussion to the point that the original emphasis on Jesus’ Messianic identity fades to the background.[1] Maintaining the affirmation that Jesus was both human and divine was critical for Irenaeus and those after him because they saw that as the necessary grounds of salvation.[2]

Of particular interest to Irenaeus was the baptism of Jesus. What happened when he received the Spirit?[3] It was not the means by which the Word entered Jesus. He was not merely human before that point.[4] Rather it was a divinization of the human nature of Jesus, a nat…

End of Summer Review/Update

The school year is now upon us and I'll definitely not be posting the next two months. This summer didn't quite go to plan so I didn't get to do the blogging I was hoping to do. Specifically I was planning on blogging through 2 Thessalonians, but that didn't happen. It may happen late in the fall, but we will see. I may instead decide to pick up a different Pauline letter (perhaps 2 Corinthians). This is my last year of school  and by the fall of next year I should be back on a more regular blogging schedule.

A lack of blogging was not from a lack of productivity (although I'm sure my Pokemon Go playing did cut into my reading time a little bit). I've had a interesting summer learning about Medieval Christianity and specifically focusing on Peter Lombard and Thomas Aqunias. They'll both be featured in my next paper in Exploring the Christian Way which I hope to publish here in late January of 2017. 90% of the reading and 80% of the writing is done for that …