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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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 (video excerpt and complete audio  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

(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 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


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?

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