July 19, 2011

Prisoner For Christ XVIII: Reconciled To and In Christ

My intent in this short junket of three posts is to create a comprehensive overview of Paul’s letter of Philemon addressing specific nuances I will elaborate on a little in my "Reasons: Interest in Topic". In preparation for this series I read and researched in excess of 70 pages of resource material as list in the bibliography. Clearly more than the letter itelf. Some of the sources (and I highly recommend them) are The Expositor's Commentary: Ephesians-Philemon, Herman Ridderbo's  Paul: An Outline of His Theology, William Hendriksen's New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Philippians, Colossians and Philemon and Robert W. Wall's IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Colossians & Philemon. For Greek students or those interested in the original languages I will also recommend The Nestle-Aland Greek-English Bible and Rienecker & Rogers' A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament.

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 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 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 Onesimus’ 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.

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