Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Philemon help

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 may  help.   Motto:  "It's not a research paper; it's a search paper (YOU search out the meaning by evidence from the text)":

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


The signature assignment (final paper) for Biblical Perspectives is a 5-7 page paper that 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.


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.

Thesis:           The paper should include a clear thesis statement in the form of “the book of Philemon is about…”  (Note: by “about,” we mean what the book is ultimately “about”—life lesson, message, not just “about” in the sense of storyline and characters—though you definitely include that somewhere in your paper, as well).  Be as specific 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. 
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.

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…and grandpa, too).

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

 If there are red marks in every paragraph for mechanics, the paper can flunk. Big rules: no “you”/”your” language or contractions.

Don't forget your symbol/sign..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 in syllabus.

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 (video excerpt and complete audio  below  or  here or HERE) 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
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 (text links below, audio here):

  1. Philemon: Forgiveness that Leads to Reconciliation, part one
  2. Philemon: Forgiveness that Leads to Reconciliation, part 2 (Business / Partnership Metaphors
  3. Philemon: Forgiveness that Leads to Reconciliation, part 3 (A Slave, a Master, and Forgiveness)
  4. Philemon: Forgiveness that Leads to Reconciliation, part 4 (Radical Reconciliation)
  5. Philemon: Forgiveness that Leads to Reconciliation, part 5 (New Possibilites!)

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 alll.  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


When looking at "alternative" readings of Philemon, it is amazing how few even deal with the reality that the most obvious way to read  vv 15-16-- "a dearly loved brother, both in the flesh and in the Lord" --as
both a literal and spiritual brother.

Tim Gombis is so right:

My main contention in these posts is that commentators must take Paul’s reference to Philemon and Onesimus as adelphoi en sarki with greater seriousness.  It is highly unlikely that Paul regards the two as sharing in a common humanity.  It is far more likely that they are actual brothers.  This may demand a re-consideration of the scenario that eventuates in Paul’s letter, even though any modification to the consensus view need not be as dramatic as the view advanced by Callahan.  link

Even N.T. Wright, who specializes in Philemon; even making it the key to his new magnum opus on Paul,

acknowledges the "literal brother" interpretation, but does not even consider it or discuss it (in 1700 pages) other than to say:

"one writer [Callahan] has even suggested that Philemon and Onesimus were not master and slave, but actual brothers who have fallen out, but, this too, has not found support."  (p. 8)

Just because Callahan may have gone too far, must we throw interpretations out with bathwater?

Is Wright (surely!) aware that they could be master/slave and literal brothers, as Gombid develops (here) and suggests "this is the most natural reading."   Wright's work is indeed brilliant and seminal, but perhaps Moo has a point about him being too sure of his the degree that, though he is the nicest guy, he can seem dismissive:

I won’t list other instances, but Paul and the Faithfulness of Godcontains too many of these kinds of rhetorically effective but exaggerated or overly generalized claims. A related problem is Wright’s tendency to set himself against the world—and then wonder why the world is so blind as to fail to see what he sees. A key thread, for instance, is Wright’s insistence that the basic story Paul’s working with has to do with God’s fulfillment of his covenant promises to Abraham—a vital focus that “almost all exegetes miss” and that has been “screened out from the official traditions of the church from at least the time of the great creeds” (494). This problem is sometimes compounded by a caricature of the tradition with which he disagrees   Moo, full review

Don't get me wrong, I'm still getting the T-shirt...just saying (:

Another post from Gombis:

Several years ago I was teaching Bible study methods to undergrads and we were doing an exercise with the text of Paul’s letter to Philemon.  A student raised his hand and noted that according to the text it appeared that Onesimus was the brother of Philemon.
This sounded outrageous and obviously wrong, so I asked how he could possibly have arrived at that notion.  He directed my attention to vv. 15-16.  We were looking at the NASB:
For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
I hadn’t studied this letter all that closely previously, so I assumed that Paul’s indication that they were brothers “both in the flesh and in the Lord” must mean something else.  Other translations make this very assumption:
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord (NIV).
Maybe this is the reason that Onesimus was separated from you for a while so that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—that is, as a dearly loved brother. He is especially a dearly loved brother to me. How much more can he become a brother to you, personally and spiritually in the Lord (CEB)!
I told him that I’d need to look at that a bit more closely and get back to him at a later point (one of those unfortunate classroom moments when you don’t have a ready answer–ugh!).
As I dipped into commentaries over the subsequent weeks and months, I was increasingly disappointed by how commentators treated Paul’s expression.  The NIV’s and CEB’s renderings represent how nearly every major commentary I’ve looked at handles Paul’s

I have had similar experiences in college classes.  Often in  a class of fifteen, where most are reading the text for the first time, I ask "How many of you assumed Onesimus was a slave?"  Often, no hands go up.

I need to ask : "How many of you assumed Onesimus was a Philemon's literal brother?"

Interesting that a far more popular (in the sense of "speaking to laypeople" and not in the academic journal world) writer than Wright, assumes the literal brother view, without even acknowledging the "traditional" view (emphases mine):

  Philemon is a marvelous example of the strongest force in the universe to affect control over someone -- grace. It takes up one of the most difficult problems we ever encounter, that of resolving quarrels between family members. We can ignore something a stranger does to hurt us, but it is very hard to forgive a member of our own family or someone close to us.
The key to this little letter is in the 16th verse. Paul says to Philemon that he is sending back Onesimus: 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. (Philemon 1:16 RSV)

The background of this story is very interesting. This letter was written when the Apostle Paul was a prisoner in the city of Rome for the first time. It was sent to Philemon, a friend Paul had won to Christ, who lived in Colossae. Evidently Philemon had a young brother whose name was Onesimus.

Some way or another, we do not know how, Onesimus got into trouble -- maybe he was a gambling man -- and became the slave of his own brother, Philemon. In those days, if a man got into trouble, he could get somebody to redeem him by selling himself to that person as a slave. Perhaps Onesimus got into debt, and went to his brother, Philemon, and said, "Philemon, would you mind going to bat here for me? I'm in trouble and I need some money."
Philemon would say, "Well, Onesimus, what can you give me for security?"
Onesimus would say, "I haven't got a thing but myself, but I'll become your slave if you'll pay off this debt." Now that may or may not have been how it occurred, but the picture we get from this little letter is that Philemon is the brother of Onesimus, and his slave as well.  -Ray Stedman, link

So glad Tim Gombis (fantastic writer)  posted this series on Philemon.  Most folks have never even heard the interpretation that Philemon and Onesimus are literal bothers, even though   "this is the most natural reading"  (Gonbis):




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?


humor in Philemon?
One book on Philemon says:
"Humor is, according to Wilhelm Busch, 'where one laughs, in spite of it,' even in the face of grave situations...The dreadfully serious issue [of Philemon]...Obviously, bitterness is neither the only nor the best way of reacting to grave issues.  Indeed, Philemon has a hard choice to make, but the decision-making process is sweetened as much as possible--by humor."  

click here, and read the short section giving examples  of humor/jokes in pp, 118-119


Sample signature paper excerpt.  Any mistakes?

Not since Moses’s day had there been a leader like Paul.  In a sense, Paul was the most important leader mentioned in the bible.  Not only was he an Apostle, but the most prominent  and clear headed one ever mentioned by God in his Word.   Maybe the most prominent character in Christianity’s history.  Due to his special calling, his ability to face prosecution and abuse, his status as an Elder and his great Faith, he ranks highly, even though he is not one of the original 12 Disciples, and wasn’t even mentioned in the Biblical texts that discuss Jesus’s earthly days.
In a way, you could compare him to today’s Pope, or the President of the United States—or more appropriately, the Senior Pastor of a large church or the Bishop of a denomination.  Think of him like a modern Saint, a person that has great Spiritual courage and skill.  A person that  loves God and His ways.  Which makes him all the more remarkeable in the way he treated Onesimus’s owner, Philemon.  Philemon was a humble man, that had a Church in his house, and that owned Philemon as a slave.    In its own unique way, the paradox of Paul the great leader being kind and compassionate to people of lower Economic status like Onesimus (a lowly Slave) shows that he was also a great sheperd not one who would Lord it over people.  He had no allusions of being the King.
Let's examine in detail the world of Paul, Philemon and Onesimus--the 3 key players in a story with abundent  lessons for our day.  In a funny verse, the Bible says "a dog returns to it's own vomit."     Thinking about an animal being attracted to there own vomit is a strong image and thought provoking. This remind's me of  the religous leaders Jesus confronted in the Temple.  One Sunday, my Pastor preached on this.  Matthew 11:15, " Jesus said, "My house shall be a House of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers."  When people think they're more imporatnt then others based on Religion or Race,  the affect is  divine anger.  I have thought alot about why Followers of God would ever think they are holier then other people.   Or how they could justify hating a person that was innocent or poorer then them.  It's a mystery to me, and a headscratching one at that.   I sometimes literally loose my mind over things like these.

Think about someone that dessecrated the Alter of a Church, or think's it's alright to have a prejudist attitude.  What an extordinary embarassment for priviledged people to act that way; witholding grace from a person that is in need.  Our professor talked about this one day when we did a practise for this signature assignment.
"Thirteen commandments" common errors in signature paper:

This sample is presented  primarily for mechanics/typos to give an example of a paper that might;ve been an A, but would flunk due to mechanics/errors alone.  Review the syllabus and rubric carefully .  Paper is here 

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