We’re All Onesimus-Prison Epistles paper

We’re All Onesimus-Prison Epistles paper

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  Andrew Pierson  NWT-363: Prison Epistles Reconciled in Christ Dr. Ron Hall We’ re All Onesimus Topic: The Letter of Philemon My intent is to write this paper as a comprehensive overview of Paul’s letter of Philemon  addressing specific nuances I will elaborate on a little in my  Reasons for Interest  . In preparation for this paper I read and researched in excess of 70 pages of resource material as list in the  bibliography. Reasons: Interest in Topic Since Philemon is one of the shortest of the letters of Paul it is often overlooked and I would like to remedy that. (No. 1) It is clear Paul writes of relationships “ in Christ ”  in this letter. As Christians we exist in triangular relationships or triads that consist of others, ourselves and Christ. In other words: Being in Christ is foundational principle to our relationship to others as Christians. Nowhere is this more evident than in Philemon. Additionally, having come to a deeper understanding of Philemon through the course work it is hard not to see features such as (No. 2) paradoxes in the letter or fail to notice some of (No. 3) wordplay in the Paul’s Greek syntax. As such I would like to examine and investigate these and a few other nuances a little more closely. No. 1: Reconciled to Christ Three things stand out with remarkable clarity about Philemon: Its succinctness, its  pathos (Rupprecht 454) and its dominant theme of reconciliation in or through Christ. If a person is truly “in Christ” as Paul often writes of   their relationship with other believers and even non- believers is marked by love and compassion. Although there are no (major) theological treatise and nothing significantly new in its writing (Evans 689) it is an excellent exposition on what it is to be reconciled to other believers in Christ. It is about a slave named Onesimus who has run  Andrew Pierson  NWT-363: Prison Epistles Reconciled in Christ Dr. Ron Hall away from his master Philemon of Laodicea (Rupprecht 454) and is now in serious trouble with him (Evans 689). Runaway slaves could be put to death at the time of this writing. Onesimus is currently with and has been converted to Christianity by Paul. Paul now writes a pleading letter  back to Philemon to urge him to reconcile himself to Onesimus as a fellow Christian and a  brother instead of the former relationship of master and slave (Evans 698, Ridderbos 318, Wiersbe 271). Paul does not aid in Ones imus’ escape but instead is sending him back to his master with a letter of recommendation to receive Onesimus. Not only receive Onesimus back  but to do so as an equal. The fact that there was slavery at this time is not surprising. If Philemon was to accept Onesimus back and not punish him that would’ve at least been uncommon but for Philemon to do but accept him back as a brother “in Christ” would've been unheard of   (Evans 698, Ridderbos 318, Wiersbe 271). Paul at a minimum is asking that Onesimus be reconciled to the household without severe punishment (Rupprecht 454, 462). We do not know for sure how this turned out but it is believed that it may have had a positive outcome since we have as evidence Paul’s  letter to Philemon as part of the canon. We (I) need to assume things turned out in a positive manner and these men, these brothers were reconciled to one another. No. 2: Paradoxes The irony or paradox of Paul writing this letter from prison is that he is writing it on  behalf of a runaway slave. Two men that are/were being held against their will for what appear to  be sinful reasoning by their holders: Slavery and preaching the Gospel. By legalities, Onesimus should still be a slave but in reality he is currently free - illegally of course. Paul on the other hand has unjustly been made a slave to a prison (Evans 693, 694, Wiersbe 270) for preaching the Gospel as is noted in verses 1, 9 & 23. Because of the Gospel, Paul has become a slave to Christ and in so doing has also had his freedoms restricted under house arrest. Had Paul actually not  Andrew Pierson  NWT-363: Prison Epistles Reconciled in Christ Dr. Ron Hall  been in prison he could’ve rightfully taken custody of Onesimus and accompanied him back to Philemon in Colossae, under the circumstances he had to settle for writing a letter the eventually  be read by generations of people. Perhaps we should thank God Paul was in prison, had he not  been this letter probably would never have been written (Rupprecht 460). Philemon being the master and free is being asked to restrict his worldly legal rights by allowing Onesimus more freedom of movement as a fellow worker (Evans 693) and a fellow Christian or brother in Christ (Keener 646, Ridderbos 318). Paul is effectively asking Philemon and Onesimus to become servants/slaves of Christ. Paul who is in chains literally is freed by the thought of ultimate freedom from death the promise of the Gospel and Resurrection…the ve ry thing that he proclaims that has imprisoned him (Evans 693, 694, Wiersbe 270). By Philemon losing his slave he gained a brother. By Philemon’s temporary loss of Onesimus as a slave, Paul also momentarily gains fellowship and a brother while he is with Paul, hence Paul’s statement in (v.11), “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” (Evans 695). Philemon lost what was commonplace property but gained something much more of value in return …a new member into the family (Kingdom) (Hendriksen 220). What was lost  physically for the moment was regained ten-fold spiritually for eternity. At the time Onesimus ran away, spiritually he as worth little until he reaches Paul. When he returned he was priceless. Philemon’s loss is a gain for all Christians since Onesimus’ s tory now helps all Christians and has done so for the last 2000 years. Ironically, this is the same as when we lose our old lives of sin in exchange for the much more valuable gift from Jesus Christ-eternal life. To lose the world is to gain God, to gain the world is to lose God. Undergirding this all is the work and sovereignty of God. The real truth is neither Paul, or Onesimus was truly guilty of a crime of immorality or moral violation and are in bonds because of dubious reasons/reasoning. Paul was preaching the  Andrew Pierson  NWT-363: Prison Epistles Reconciled in Christ Dr. Ron Hall word of the Lord and Onesimus was a slave against his will. They are paradoxes that our day and age have a hard time getting their heads around. The more I see paradoxes like these in the Bible, the more it amazes and astounds me. Loss is gain and gain is loss in God’s equations.   No. 3: The Greek and Wordplay The first thing that stands out in the Greek perhaps more so than the English are the words revolving around slavery, imprisonment or the general idea of on being restrained, whether it be to a man or God. It is obvious Paul is being very deliberate in his use of words (as he always does) to maintain a consistency of thought and to bludgeon home a point to his reader. The following verses contain these concepts in some form. Verse 1: (a) desmios  / δέζμιος     Χριστοῦ    Ἰησοῦ    / Prisoner of Christ Jesus ;   (b)  sonergo / ζσνεργῷ   ἡμῶν  / fellow-worker of us (Aland et al 560, Rienecker et al 658) or a wordplay on the idea of being a servant or slave in Christ and also a brother.   Verse 6:   koinonia/  κοινωνία   τῆς πίστεώς   /fellowship of the faith. Paul is speaking here of a fellowship or a mutually beneficial social intercourse. This is something that will not be possible if Onesimus is to remain in bonds and subjugated. This we will see surface again five verses later in the verse 11 wordplay of useless. A former state in which Onesimus was only a slave but not a brother in contrast to his current state of being useful to both Paul and Philemon in his capacity to provide fellowship or koinonia (Evans 695, Keener 646, Ridderbos 318). Verse 7: We see two intersecting terms in this verse (a)  paraklesin/  παράκλζιν    para meaning alongside and klesis(in)  meaning to call or literally to call alongside. The obvious connection here is the comparison to the Holy Spirit’s other title as the  Paraklete  one of the cognates of  parakleto . We see a manifestation or fruit of the Spirit here in the form of consolation or comfort in the fellowship between these men mentioned in an indirect manner by Paul. As they are all Christian and dwelling in Christ it  Andrew Pierson  NWT-363: Prison Epistles Reconciled in Christ Dr. Ron Hall would not be surprising to see comfort and a refreshing internal feeling of (b) anapepautai/  ἀναπέπασηαι   (Aland et al 561, Rienecker et al 659) because of their fellowship in Christ they are comforted by the Spirit and their stomachs are not “tied in knots” , instead   they are relaxed and at peace  because of Philemon’s love . This is an obvious appeal to the pathos of Paul’s reader(s) : Philemon and   us. Verse 9:   Again we see   desmios/δέζμιος  : a prisoner  …or   idea of being detained by authority. Verse 10:   desmois / δεζμοῖς  :  bonds… the idea of a restraint on someone. Verse 12 : splagchna/ ζπλάγτνα   or bowels (Aland et al 561, Rienecker et al 660)  being the seat of emotion in the Hellenized world Paul is essentially saying that he is sending Onesimus as if he would be sending his own heart (Evans 697). Paul is emphatically trying to convey how important it would be for Philemon to take Onesimus back as a brother for the sake of Paul himself (Wiersbe 271). Verse 13 : (a) diakone / διακονῇ  - “ you be serving ” - the idea of serving something greater than oneself or acting as a servant. (b) Here we now see Paul say something unique and profound contrasting Philemon’s s tatus as a free man and slaveholder, Onesimus’ as a runaway slave and Paul as a prisoner or a person in bonds: En tois desmois tou euaggelion / ἐν ηοῖς δεζμοῖς ηοῦ   εὐαγγελίοσ - “ in the bonds or restraint of/for the Gospel  ”.  This one floored me. The one who is detained unjustly  in prison (Paul) for preaching the Gospel, which is a righteous thing to do, is saying this at the very core of this letter to Philemon. He is asking Philemon to please release a slave or detainee for being held unjustly …and Paul does it in a way that is morally reasonable. That is profound. He cares more about Onesimus’ freedom and well-being than his own.   Verse 16 : (2x) doulon/  δοῦλον    –  slave. Verse 17 : Again we see the idea of fellowship or unity in Christ with koinonon   /κοινωνόν. We also see another plea to Philemon about the value of Onesimus being equal to that of Paul with the statement that Philemon needs to accept him back as he would accept Paul or    Auton os eme   /αὐηὸν ὡς ἐμέ  - or literally, him as
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