Inkblots from Philippians

The following verses or partial verses from Philippians have in my experience been used in isolation from their literary context(s).  There are many of these “offenders” in Philippians!  The ones in bold are those I think could stand as “poster children” for the disease of “inkblotitis” (Dr. Greg Fay’s term).

Although I rarely use the NIV on this blog, its largely familiar wordings will serve illustratively here.  As you scan these, please consider how easy it is to think you understand of what they “mean” apart from the surrounding thoughts in their full context.

Chapter 1

I thank my God every time I remember you.

18b  The important thing is that . . . Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.[1]

Chapter 2

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: [2]

12b  continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. [3]

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, [4]

17a But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering . . . [5]

Chapter 3

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12b-14  I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. . . . 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

18-19  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. [6]

Chapter 4

2b  be of the same mind in the Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [7]

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

[1] 1:27 may be a “verse” that, when ripped from its context, hasn’t actually strayed too far from its original import in its current-day application.

[2] Here, I am passing over the famed 2:6-11 passage, although it, too, is frequently understood outside its Philippians context.  This text is considered by most scholars to be some type of ancient ode or hymn (whether originally sung or not, whether original with Paul or not) text.  Its exalted poetry is legendary, and it stands on its own to some extent, although it is imbued with additional/different meaning when seen within the contextual shape of Philippians.

[3] Here’s an exceptionally convicting bit of non-exegetical, personal history:  I once spoke a message—translated on the spot into another language, even—that forced a separate theology onto this passage, ignoring its own context altogether. The theology I was “pushing” was a good one, I’m convinced, but nonetheless was a theology unrelated to this particular context.

[4] Oh, the numbers of parents who have quoted this one to their grumbling children!

[5] I know a song, “Would You Be Poured Out Like Wine,” that came from this, but the rest of its words had nothing directly to do with Philippians, insofar as I can remember.  Now that I think about it, the song might have mixed two contexts, since it used the specific word “wine,” which is not used here.  Perhaps a little latitude for the songwriter who knew that the word “drink” doesn’t sing all that well?  Or perhaps the songwriter was leaning on historical rather than literary context (I’m not at all sure), understanding that wine was what was used in the “poured drink offering”?

[6] True confession:  I quasi-intentionally take this one out of context myself, and probably will continue to do so.  Although recognizing that these words find their most valid illumination within the context of Philippians, I feel that they succinctly state an important concept that all Christians would do well to take in.

[7] It might not do much harm to take this one out of context.  In suggesting that, I would lean a little on the “anything” and “every” language:  perhaps this is duly taken as more broadly applicable.  Yet its original meaning is to be found within the context of the letter to the Philippians.



Scripture is not all of the same ilk.  It is not all conceived the same, as though God were saying, to each biblical author, “Write X, and it will be a scriptural directive” for each sentence in the Bible, with equal weight.

The last post listed a few slogans that relate to scripture.  Another slogan I waited until now to mention is “command, example, and necessary inference.”  The implications of this phrase are a) substantial and b) numerous.  I’ll return to this saying below, but for now, please notice that it refers to different types of scriptural (supposed) injunctions.  I think this general idea of differentiating is very important.

It takes but a cursory look at, for example, a Psalm and a parable, to realize that the two are very different.
Compare an epistle and a passage from Exodus or 2Kings.
Then stroll over to Ezekiel, and compare it to a narrative in Mark’s gospel — which is quite a hike away, although a few apocalyptic images might be shared.

The following passage is taken from Book 2 of Greg Fay’s monograph about scripture and its mishandling/handling in the current day:

As you read and explore books of the Bible, it becomes obvious that the Bible contains different types of literature.  This is becauseP1160236, like a small library, the Bible is a collection of writings from a span of 1,500 years.  Containing such types as historical and theological narratives, legal and genealogical documentation, songs and poetry, proverbs and wisdom sayings, prophecy and oracles, parables and short stories, letters and speeches, among others; the Bible incorporates a wide variety of literary styles and types.  We call these differences in type of literature “genre.”  The genre naturally affects the way you read a particular book or document — if you  are familiar with the type, that is.  You don’t read an internet blog in the same way you read a published autobiography.  You don’t read a romance novel the same way as you do a medical textbook.  They are just different, and we make natural mental adjustments to get what we’re supposed to from the different kinds of texts. 

Because the Bible is full of different genres and sub-genres, and some of them are unfamiliar to us, it’s important to appreciate the impact of the literary type on the shape and content of a book.

Greg Fay, PhD, Inkblotitis:  Christianity’s Dangerous DiseaseBook 2:  Rediscovering the Books of God (2013), p. 124.

Above, I mentioned a tripartite quasi-slogan that became the marching orders of some hermeneuticians of the American Restoration Movement:  “command, example, and necessary inference” (CENI for short).  The common application of this trifecta, based on my observation of certain writings as well reactions to those writings, is that every command, every example, and every inference (that someone deems “necessary”) is to be read and acted upon equally.  In other words, if . . .

  1. Jesus said to John, “Love one another,” and
  2. John went fishing, and
  3. Something John said seemed to imply that something else was false, . . .

. . . then each of those items was to be treated with equivalent follow-up actions.  Now, #1 is a command (imperative).  #2 is an example.  #3 involves an inference.  So, as these hermeneuticians had it, I must love others, and I must go fishing, and I must “necessarily infer” what John was viewing as false,  labeling that same thing false, in the here and now.

But problems with the CENI paradigm occur right away:

  1. Not every command is equal.
  2. Not every “example” appears to be intended for following.
  3. Not every implication leads to the same inference.  (Not to mention that the “necessary” of the “necessary inference” is prepended by someone, and I don’t trust all the someones to determine what is necessary and what isn’t!  Neither should anyone else.)

Differentiation among various types (types of statements, types of genres) is important.

In seeking to interpret scripture, we need to understand and differentiate among literary genres experienced in all the books/documents, and we also need to discern, for instance, the difference between a command and an implication — and whether that implication might or might not be culturally/historically transitory.

Brian Casey, 2/2-10/15

Betsy said it

Her name is Betsy Kent, and she was a fixture in the University of Delaware’s Music Department while I was a grad student there.  Since she was a top-shelf accompanist, and a sweet person besides.  Everyone liked and appreciated her.  And once upon a time, she said something kind and affirming to me.

teacherBetsy said it, and I remember it.  She told me I “sounded like a teacher” when I spoke to the audience about the piece I was conducting.  I took it both as a compliment and as a sort of commission.  And I haven’t forgotten it.

Bill, a friend from different circles, also told me something like that once.  I gathered he thought it was unusual, and it was:  I tended to intersperse instructional comments while leading group worship.  He said my style was something like “didactic worship leading.”  I had mentioned that here more than 4 years ago and still haven’t forgotten it.  For better or worse, I was teaching while leading in worship.

A couple of days ago, matters in a college course I’m teaching degenerated to the point that I called this particular class the worst teaching assignment I’ve had in higher education.  To be fair to myself, most of the problem is attributable to the overall scenario, to the questionable raison d’etre for the course itself, and to certain students’ lack of experience and insight.  But I own some of it, too.  I could have done some things differently, and/or better.

I’m not that good a teacher, but I do think like one.

While a teaching orientation is ostensibly a good thing, it’s also a sort of hazard, and I feel I have to keep alert to see it and avoid it at times.  I can speak with some authority about musical pitch, driving on Interstate highways, some aspects of Christianity, salsa, and conducting (not the electrical kind).  On the other hand, I’m simply not knowledgeable enough to be holding forth on music of the Middle Ages, or Colossians, or Civil War history, or plumbing, or the possible, theological ties between the Hebrews’ esteemed Esther story and moral ethics or providence.  I have to watch it sometimes, because my gut feelings can sometimes come off like the authority of a knowledgeable teacher.  I am not alone in this — I’ve heard other teachers sound like they know something when they’re flat-wrong or just spouting opinions — but I had better think more about myself than about others.

It’s not enough to be a teacher at heart; one must have material worthy of imparting, and one must have students.  I ought to be alert to the fact that, much of the time, I don’t have much of a hearing, so I’d do well not to try to impart too much.

For the next two Sundays, I have the opportunity to teach, once again — on the tiny, frequently overlooked, almost-always- half-interpreted, chock-full-of-inspiration-and-meaning letter from Paul to Philemon.  Primarily because of the lead work of Greg Fay, I think I have something to offer with regard to Philemon.  But I have not learned it all, and I need to review it.  That will be the case with every subject I ever teach.  Always.

Forgive me for these somewhat disconnected musings, but I’m a little disconnected right now, in general.

Lord, be in my preparations and my understandings and my words and my heart.


In praise of exegesis (999a)

If you’ve got a detail in a score that’s hard to hear, that’s not an excuse for not hearing it!

– Ken Ward, The Bruckner Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1 (March 2008), p. 41

Spoken with reference to complex musical texts (a/k/a “scores”), the above is also easily applicable to investigating the riches of scriptural texts.

[This is blogpost #999a.  (#999b has now been inserted, but that’s a dull story.)  As I write, I have a rough idea of what #1000 will be, and then I’m going to take a break, probably posting some more “voices” from the past, things I read, etc. — but not doing much new, original writing for a while.  I have loose plans for some beginning to write three different series, but no one will see those for weeks or maybe months.]

Anyway, it seemed appropriate that this near-last (for a while) post be on biblical exegesis — a topic close to my head and heart.  This is no primer on exegesis; I wouldn’t be able to write one if I tried.  It is merely intended to 1) motivate by highlighting the importance of the topic, and 2) offer a few particulars.

wpid-2013-02-19_17-22-52_366.jpgI believe that Christians should be consistently engaged in seriously investigating — and submitting to — scripture texts.  Toward that end, to state a sort of conceptual baseline:  we may not elevate any scripture text out of its historical and literary contexts, in order to respect a specific religious tradition or an individual interpretation.  Neither may we discard a text for those reasons or any others.  (The problem comes not so much in the positing or the believing or the dreaming, but in the doing.)

I suppose that, given my book-oriented Christian upbringing, I ought to feel I’ve studied scripture more than most.  But the more I come to understand the exegetical mindset and mode, the less I think I’ve actually studied scripture exegetically in the past.

Exegesis is not a particularly “religious” word but has perhaps come to be associated more with the serious study and interpretation of biblical texts than other types of texts.  Exegesis is not hermeneutics, exactly, but the two are related.  Exegesis is inextricably associated with the enterprise of digging into a specific text, and using available means to understand that text on its own terms.

One way of envisioning this type of goal is articulated by Dr. Greg Fay in his forthcoming two-volume series on the Bible (and here, I’ve taken a couple liberties with his statement):

The challenge is to stop interrupting God when He’s speaking to us — digesting scripture fully, even holistically, in its historical, literary, and sometimes very personal contexts, as if we were present in the defining moments of God’s first conversations with his people.

One way of “interrupting God” is pasting a “verse” (yanked from here or there) on top of another “verse” that comes from a completely different context.  Or, as Gary Collier’s imagery has it, we get things mixed up when we put a bunch of different text-ingredients into a blender and press “puree.”  If on the other hand we get into a single text and attempt to understand what it is about, we stand to gain immeasurably.  We may use various ways and means, including reading and re-reading the text itself, reading multiple Bible versions in English, delving into the original languages, investigating the cultural/historical background in which the text was written, highlighting recurring words, analyzing the structure of the text, reading multiple commentaries, and more.  (A sample listing of some possible exegetical tools may be found here, and a portal to many others, in the red section of this page.  A Christian college offers a master’s-level concentration in Biblical Exegesis; oh, that this were a required concentration for the majority of those training for jobs in official Christian capacities.)

When you think of exegesis, you might think “Exodus,” when the people came out of Egypt. The literal roots of the word “exegesis” have to do with being 1) guided or led 2) out of something.  So many people seem to want to read onto or into (eisegeting) instead of drawing a well-founded interpretation out of (exegeting) a text.  This trend is as disconcerting from a broad perspective as it is unhelpful to the individual who wants to continue in the way of discipleship.  Initially, at least, exegetical study is the way to go.  It does not preclude a more subjective, devotional approach, but some solely devotional approaches can be wispy and not true to the text.  It can be very exciting to dig into the original texts more intentionally, peering over the obscurant mountain built by centuries of ignorance and decades of Christian marketing.

Effort is required in digging into texts, extracting their riches.  But as the writer said in relation to a musical score, having to expend some effort for the reward is no excuse for not expending said effort.  The details can be incredibly illuminating!

One aspect of digging into some texts involves, conveniently enough, digging!  (Excavating and exploring uncharted territory may add to the imagery here.)  Biblical archaeology (which is a bit of a clumsy term that refers to excavating sites of biblical significance, not to digging into the Bible itself) can be an enticing field, and I recently had opportunity to hear Dr. John Monson in an insightful (online) lecture on the value of “Physical Theology.”  I’d like to offer the following quotes as appetite-whetters, hoping you’ll click the link below when you have time to listen to a lecture online.

Increasingly, the academy and the church are propelled by the prevailing intellectual trends of our time.  Many scholars and theologians discount such concepts as reliable history and purposeful text, while the community of faith is often complacent toward biblical context as the Bible’s central role continues to decline.

The urgent quest for personal religious experience often displaces Scripture, not to mention the archaeological and linguistic material that can elucidate and enliven the biblical text.  It is a supreme irony that the Bible’s original context is often dismissed or discounted by the academy and the church precisely at the moment that corroborative evidence abounds like never before.  – Dr. John Monson, lecture, “Physical Theology: The Bible in its Land, Time and Culture,” Feb. 11, 2012, Lanier Theological Library lecture series (web-housed recording accessed 3/13/13)

Real (2) — doctrine and practice

I’ve been aware of so-called seeker-sensitive churches¹ for perhaps 20 years.  I’ve always thought that was a worthy goal, but have come to accept that being seeker-sensitive is elusive and even over-rated.  Every church I’ve ever visited has been “churchy” — inherently not “real” and not seeker-sensitive, and therefore not attractive to most outsiders.  To some extent, being “attractive” equates to being “real.”  (No one really likes fake.  No one is deeply drawn to facades and veneers.)

I remember my very good friend Greg, when “pastoring” (or perhaps attempting to pastor, in my non-pastor-driven-paradigm church), trying to probe some of the congregation’s practices.  I took it that he wanted us to examine some of our particular veneers.  Impersonating a non-existent visitor, he challenged, “Why do they sing like that?!” (perhaps especially targeting those who had never been in another denomination’s²  gatherings).  We needed to realize how odd we were in the singing arena — not necessarily to change things there, but at least to realize who we were and what outsiders’ impressions could be.

There are many aspects of a congregation’s identity and praxis that deserve some introspection, too, and maybe some scrutiny.  Not every specific should be tenaciously guarded.

Believing the above, although I have been lonely at many points, I have continued to probe my religious heritage.  I believe the inheritance of the Stone-Campbell movement — and actually, it can no longer be classed a “movement” — is worthy of love and respect, although it has veered off some of the better courses it originally set for itself.  (If you didn’t at least scan footnote #2 when its number came up above, would you please do so now?)


It strikes me now, in considering and writing about “real,” that an intersection of the doctrine and practice of 1) “The Journey” and that of 2) a run-of-the-mill Church of Christ congregation might be instructive, if not intriguing.  So, here, I’ll paste in The Journey’s web statements and offer commentary from a CofC perspective.  The CofC, as some of you know, doesn’t have a standard “faith statement” or creed — although “vision” and “mission” statements, plus some thinly veiled creeds, have been cropping up in bulletins and on websites for years.  Truth be told, there’s a tacit set of doctrines that could be seen as a baseline “creed.”  We just don’t generally hold them forth as such.³

Onward to The Journey’s “faith statement.”  I’m no theologian and not even much of a church historian, but I have enough experience in the CofC to formulate a few responses to some of this.  The original statements will be in bold; my comments will be in italics.

1.  The Journey believes that God is infinitely creative, so we express our faith in infinitely creative ways.  We’re Spirit-led without being weird and mission-minded without diluting the message of Jesus.  We’re not scared of culture or seduced by it. Our approach to church isn’t traditional, but our commitment to Jesus shapes everything we believe, say, and do.

The CofC would say most of that these days, but the nicely qualified “Spirit-led” wouldn’t have been a CofC phrase until the 70s or even 80s.  Many congregations today would still shy from such a statement, irrationally fearing that attributing leadership to deity would be tantamount to denying scripture’s instructional place.  “Hogwash,” you say?  Yep.

Not diluting the message of Jesus would resonate with most of “us” in the CofC, and congrats to The Journey for claiming, and doing (based on my limited experience), just that.  

The CofC is typically much more “scared of culture” than The Journey, and has tended not to be seduced by it.  In other words, The Journey aims to hold these two in appropriate tension, whereas the CofC has traveled the more counter-cultural path more often.  Now, to be counter-cultural can be evidence of either a scaredy-cat or a courageous man, and I’ve seen both.  Inasmuch as I’m on target here about the relationship of acknowledging and using culture (acculturating?) on the one hand, and seduction by culture on the other, The Journey is clearly more balanced.  I would also hazard that it is more relevant than most CofC groups, although perhaps not without a culture-related pitfall here & there.

Further on the “traditional” concept:  I find a sense in most CofC congregational leaders that “traditional” is not all that bad.  Some think they’re not very traditional (most of these are, anyway, no matter what they think), but whatever … most of them go through their church stuff sitting and standing comfortably within RM tradition — and in some ways within mainline Christian tradition, as well.  “Traditional” almost always, at some point, collides with “relevant.”

2.  We believe God has given us a book (the Bible) that is true and can be trusted. It was written by men but inspired by God – and every part of it points to Jesus.  Everything that’s described below may be helpful, but when the dust settles, the Bible is our statement of faith.

This statement would meet no disagreement in the CofC.  I myself would pick at minor points:  1) the Bible is better described as a library of various books/documents, not as a single book; and 2) I might have opted for “written by men who were specially inspired by God.

Pickiness aside, the idea that the Bible is the ultimate guide for faith and practice, seen here in updated, more understandable wording, certainly constitutes common ground for these two groups.  And oh, how I wish more churches would get serious about this principle.

In the eyes of cynical seekers, belief in the truth of the scriptures might smack of blindness, i.e., not being rational or real.  This is where “real” must take a back seat to relevance, though, and The Journey does a good job of not retracting.  To believe in the truth of the scriptures is to believe you have something authentic and relevant to offer people.

3.  We believe in God.  He created everything, including you and me.  He is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-present and worthy to be loved with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Again, no disagreement here.  (Well, OK, grammatically speaking, I take exception to the notion that we all have one collective heart, soul, mind, and strength; I would have put that in the singular or left out the “our” altogether.)

4.  We believe God is revealed fully in Jesus, who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross for our sins, and was supernaturally raised from the dead.  This planet hasn’t seen the last of him.

Standard stuff, adhered to by most evangelical (not necessarily mainliners; some of those are out of the closet with their theological liberalness these days) Christians.  “Supernaturally” is a good word that gets at the heart of the matter, neither clouding it with the word “miraculous” nor skirting it by not mentioning the resurrection at all.  I particularly like the second sentence and think Paul and Jesus would smile at it, too.  This is at once an engaging, “hip” expression and a biblically true one.  Way to go, Journey.

5.  We believe the Holy Spirit is God in his power and presence, drawing people to him, saving us, and empowering us with gifts to work for him and fruit in our attitudes and relationships that testify to him.

I’m very impressed by this statement.  I infer, first, a wise, spiritual openness to the miraculous working of God.  Second, I perceive a stopping short of requiring that one must accept that God works now just as he did when initially confirming the deity of Jesus (in, say, the years 33-63 or so).

I find nothing in this statement that most thinking CofCers would disagree with.  To argue that the Holy Spirit is a definable “third” of the “Godhead” — which The Journey does not do here — is always scripturally a bit tenuous, but to affirm that the Holy Spirit is God at work is requisite to biblically based faith and practice.  

6.  We believe all human beings are spiritually lost, wandering around trying to make sense of this life and consistently messing it up.  Only through Jesus can we be found, and this is very much what God wants.  If we submit to Jesus’ leadership as Lord, we will be saved; if we continue on our own path, we will end up separated from God forever.  This is something God does not want.  That’s why Jesus came, and it’s also why…

First sentence:  check.  Second:  check.  Third (“If we submit …”):  big check.  Hold that thought, and skip the rest of this paragraph if you’re not interested in the Stone-Campbell Movement or the Church of Christ.  The phrase “if we continue on our own path” could be found in many conservative, dyed-in-the-wool CofC sermons, as the preachers attempt to paint a simplistic picture.  In other words, they want pew-sitters to believe that it’s all very easy:  1) if they continue on their own paths, left to their own devices (read:  the devices of other religious groups or their own misunderstandings of religion or the Bible), they are hell-bound.  And 2) on the other hand, if seekers will simply accept the RIGHT path (read:  the one that lines up with my opinions and interpretations), everything will be fine.  Let alone that the bulk of the given CofC preacher’s interpretations might be biblically sound; this sometimes amounts to little more than arrogant posturing.

Much better to do as The Journey has done, calling attention to Jesus’ leadership.  Leadership is a word I haven’t often seen in connection with “lordship,” and I find it both helpful and relevant, although it would be a trifle light if not accompanied by the theological underpinnings of what it means to have a Lord.

Style points there, by the way, with the ellipsis that leads the reader to #7!

7.  We believe in the church. It’s a community where people can find Jesus and follow him fully. The church isn’t perfect, but Jesus its leader is. God doesn’t want us doing this spiritual life in isolation; that’s why he created the whole church thing in the first place – and he’s still totally committed to it. The church is incredibly important because we have a much better chance of succeeding in our spiritual journey when we’re surrounded by other people who are moving forward in theirs.

The CofC would go with this, mostly.  Although on paper it would agree, it might not have thought to emphasize the imperfection of the human church.  Often, the CofC has been found (and can still be found) calling attention to its rightness, its supposed doctrinal purity.  Again letting alone that there are many right things in the CofC, and, I happen to think, more than in most other religious groups, it is downright repulsive to brag.  The CofC should get over its insistence that it is “right” and merely keep trying to restore, to reform, to draw ever closer to God’s revealed will.

The Journey gets an A for #7 (and really, for the entire series of statements).  It’s attractive to acknowledge that the church is imperfect and to call folks to community.  It’s also compelling to portray God as “committed” to church in this age.

In my next post, I’ll share some thoughts about the reality of music in The Journey church and in other, would-be seeker-friendly churches….


¹ I’m leaving the ill-begotten “seeker-targeted” and “seeker-oriented” labels alone.  “Seeker-sensitive,” however, is either neutral or good.

² Still … STILL, there are many in the Church of Christ (or Churches of Christ, or churches of  Christ — take your pick — they are used interchangeably) who stubbornly refuse to believe it is, in point of fact, a denomination.  I don’t expect ever to sacrifice the scripture-based ideal in my heart — that there be no sectarian denominations.  The Lord’s church transcends this humanly conceived, and humanly perpetuated, group.  I happen to believe that many — perhaps most — who call themselves members of the Church of Christ are also part of the Lord’s universal church.  But, c’mon, guys, reality is that the Church of Christ, even without an earthly HQ, is a Yellow-Pages-identifiable sub-group.  It has many other hallmarks of a denomination.  Its denominational language and the obvious loyalties of some of its adherents betray its status.

³ It is not my purpose here to advocate for creeds.  Far from it.  I think creeds run the risk of superimposing man’s mob-mentality word on top of God’s.

Galatians mini-structures

[This is the 5th in a text-based series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The entire series, which includes other types of posts as well, may be accessed through this link.]

If you became overwhelmed with the detail level of the prior two posts, you are not alone — I did, too.  Today’s material is no light fare, either, but the rewards for digesting it are great.  Today, I’ll be sharing two small-scale textual structures presented by New Testament scholar Greg Fay, and one I found on my own.  These are chiastic or inclusio-type structures.

Mini-structure No. 1:  3:1-9 (Greg Fay)

A          3:1     You foolish Galatians …

   B        3:2      (“works of the Law, hearing of faith”) (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως)

C    3:3    “Are you so foolish” (opening of resultant question)

Beginning                ἐνάρχομαι  (enarchomai)
by the Spirit           πνεύματι   (pneumati)

3:3b                 D                  [are you] now

by the flesh             σαρκὶ  (sarki)
completed?             ἐπιτελεῖσθε   (epiteléisthe)

C’        3:4  “Have you suffered so many things in vain, if indeed it was in vain?”

   B’        3:5    (“works of the Law, hearing of faith”) (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως)

A           3:6-9  (identifying of peoples/groups)

  1. Speaking transparently here … for me, the A sections above are not all that readily seen as book ends, but for Dr. Fay, they made sense as section markers.  It is not always the individual words that form relationships; sometimes, it’s an antithesis or a concept or even a sound (think homonym and pun).
  2. Moving inward toward the B sections, the mirroring is clarified:  the Greek expressions “works of the law” (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου) and “hearing of/with faith” (ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως) are identical in both 3:2 and 3:5.
  3. The C sections (3:3 and 3:4) are not as conceptually related but are both pointed questions asked of the audience.
  4. The syntax of the even more pointed question in 3:3b may not be apparent in English translations, or even in an interlinear Bible.  The center of the chiasm appears to be the word νῦν (now/at present); the time reference.  Flanking this single word are the mirror expressions a) spirit vs. flesh and b) having begun vs. completed.

The significance of the above isn’t as great as, say, grace vs. law, the relationship of old and new, and more.  However, the structure does make clear the pointed way Paul was addressing the issues in the Galatian region.  I (i.e., not necessarily Dr. Fay) might suggest that the thrust here is to move the Judaizing Galatians forcefully to serious consideration of the negative implications of trust  in the flesh and law of the Old Covenant.

In writing this post, I have spent nearly an hour refreshing myself on the above chiasm, which is one that I was already convinced of, based on prior study.  The lasting reward found in such discoveries is compelling, though — so much so that I think I’ll try a conceptual paraphrase of v.3 on my own here!

Are you so ridiculously deluded?

You started out in the Spirit; that’s established.
What about now?  
You have a choice to make in the present.
What is it going to be now? 

Will you make a choice to continue in an ongoing, fleshly system?

Or will you decide to continue on the better voyage you had embarked on, in God’s Spirit?

~ ~ ~

Mini-structure No. 2:  2:15-17 (bc)

I have great respect for New Testament scholars that are able to read Greek fluently and to determine from the primary sources things that are not always clear to English readers.  Although most of what I have recently studied and learned from Galatians was a step removed from the sources, I did some work with the Greek text myself, and I was delighted to discover the chiasm below on my own:

A  We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;

   B  nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law

C  but through faith in Christ Jesus,    διὰ πίστεως, εἰς Ἰησοῦ| Χριστοῦ

C’  even we have believed in Jesus Christ,   εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν,

    B’  so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since (that) by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.  But if, while  seeking to be justified in Christ,

A’  we ourselves have also been found sinners,

Remembering that chiasms and inclusio-/sandwich-type structures are by no means all that the Spirit used, through the conduit of Paul, in communicating to the Galatians, I immediately thought it logical and likely that the propositio (“proposition” to be proved, 2:15-21) would include a more formal, intentional rhetorical device such as the chiasm.

For me, the key to locating the center of this passage was the elementary observation that “Christ Jesus” was mirrored a few words later with “Jesus Christ.”  Next, the prepositions jumped out at me; I am learning that Paul sometimes (and perhaps particularly in the early letters to Thessalonika and the Galatian region?) intentionally used prepositions serially in structuring certain emphatic thoughts (cf. 1 Thess 1:10).

Next:  there are four different forms of the same verb (justify) found in 2:16-17, and this usage strikes me (I may be off-base here) as emphatic.  One can’t help but notice the relationship of the two notions of justification.  Being justified by faith in Christ is being established as distinct from being justified by works of the Law.  Note the textual mirroring in these expressions from the first and last parts of 2:16:

hoti ou dikaioutai anthropos ex ergon nomou

[that is not justified a man out of works of the law]

hoti ex ergon nomou ou dikaiothesetai pasa sarx

[since out of works of the law will not be justified all flesh]

Important/corresponding elements in the above include

  • man/flesh
  • “out of works of the law” (identical above and below)
  • “not” (ou in Greek) preceding the verb “justified”
  • the fact that these two are “hoti” (“that”) clauses, which are generally significant in exegesis and have been translated differently — “that” is most often used, but this word may also be rendered as “because” or “since”

Again, the hyper-emphasis of this chiasm is the centrality — both textually and theologically central! — of faith in Jesus Christ/Christ Jesus.  Below, for the Greek-literate, is the entire text of 2:16 (the fourth dikaio* verb is found in 2:17).  Note the convincing textual mirroring in the bold expressions — “belief of/in Jesus Christ” is set against “Christ Jesus believed.”  As with Greg’s chiastic layout of 3:1-9 above, the textual direction of 2:15-17 could be a forecfully personal thrust designed to require the Galatians to enlist, with Paul, on the side of faith in Jesus Christ.  The seemingly simple words kai hemeis (and we) are found between the two “faith in Christ” expressions.

εἰδότες [δὲ] ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος
ἐξ ἔργων νόμου
ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ,

καὶ ἡμεῖς

εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν,
ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ
καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου,
ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου
οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ.

~ ~ ~

Mini-structure No. 3:  3:26-29 (Greg Fay).  I had previously highlighted 3:26-29 in this prior, more devotionally oriented post but cannot resist doing so again!  Greg Fay has noted that this passage may be the conclusion to which the overall argument is headed (and the center of 3:1-4:10, pre-epistolary “request”).

A   Sons of God (υἱοὶ θεοῦ) through faith in Christ Jesus

B    Immersed, put on (clothed with) Christ

C    Neither Jew, Greek, etc.
C’   One in Christ Jesus

B’   Of (belong to) Christ

A’  Sons (seed — σπέρμα) of Abraham, heirs of promise (ἐπαγγελίαν κληρονόμοι)

~ ~ ~

One additional example of textual structuring to be pointed out here is not chiastic (concentrically formulated) but is rather a repetitive use of a single preposition in a relatively short section of the letter:

Five ὑπὸ (under) phrases from 3:22-4:5

  • under sin
  • under law
  • under a guardian (paidadogos, paidadogon)
  • under guardians (epitropous) and managers (oikonomous)
  • under basic forces of the world
  • under the law


This concludes the more exegetically/textually oriented material on Galatians.  

The concepts dealt with in the three concluding posts in this series on Galatians are of serious significance to most of the Christian world.  I’m under no illusion that the opinions of the scholar I’ll be quoting (or my own choices of the quotes or emphases of the concepts, for that matter) represent the crux.  However, if you’ve merely skimmed most of this material on Galatians to date, I sincerely hope you will pore over the upcoming, three final posts that deal with the relationship of Old and New.  

Galatians words and notes (2)

[This is the 4th in a text-based series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The entire series, which includes other types of posts as well, may be accessed through this link.]  wpid-2013-02-19_17-22-52_366.jpg

Below are some additional, selected textual notes on Galatians, following up on yesterday’s first list.  These are representative of my  notes made from consultation of works of Robertson, Fay, Witherington, and others, and from personal study.

  • 4:13-15 — it must be a visible flesh-ailment — likely the eyes (or possibly head, neck, hands, lower legs/feet, which would have been typically visible in this age).  If eyes, it speaks of a Galatian act of supreme kindness:  the eyes were considered most valuable of all organs. cf. 5:11 “large letters.”  Whether eyes or not, it is a “weakness of the flesh,” i.e., not a fever or demon or some internal condition.
  • 4:14
    • nor rejected (ουδε εξεπτυσατ). First aorist active indicative (basic, single-action past tense) of ekptuw, an old word meaning “to spit out” (Homer), to spurn, to loathe.  Found here only in the NT.   Clemen (Primitive Christianity, p. 342) thinks it should be taken literally here since people spat, as a prophylactic custom, at the mere sight of invalids, especially epileptics.  But Plutarch uses the word of mere rejection.
    • “As an angel of God” (ως αγγελον θεου), as Christ Jesus. In spite of his illness and repulsive appearance, whatever it was.  Not a mere, generic “messenger” of God here, but a very angel, even as Christ Jesus.  Cf. Acts 14:12, Lystra — Paul at first welcomed as Hermes, god of oratory.  However, that narrative is hardly conceptually applicable here in Gal (due to antagonism from Jews from Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium).  -Robertson
    • Possible word-play with αγγελον (angel) — possibly refers to famous story of Phrygian hill country in which there were consequences of not welcoming (or alternately welcoming) the gods when they came incognito (Ovid’s Metamorphoses 8:626ff)
    • Acts 13-14 “welcomed as a messenger of God” “More to the fore perhaps is the fact that Paul has just exhorted them to become as he is, namely Christlike, and now he is reminding them of how they treated him ‘as Christ Jesus’ when he first visited. In short, these remarks are meant to strengthen the appeal for imitation.” – B. Witherington
  • 4:19
    •  I am in travail (ωδινω). I am in birth pangs. Old word for this powerful picture of pain. In N.T. only 3x:  here, 4:27 and Revelation 12:2.
    • “Until Christ be formed in you” (μέχρις οὗ μορφωθῇ Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν) — future temporal clause with mexri ou (until which time) and the first aorist passive subjunctive of morpow, late and rare verb, in Plutarch, not in LXX, not in papyri, only here in N.T. This figure is the embryo developing into the child. Paul boldly represents himself as again the mother with birth pangs over them. This is better than to suppose that the Galatians are pregnant mothers (Burton) by a reversal of the picture as in 1 Thess. 2:7.  – Robertson
  • 4:28 — “but you, brothers, according to Isaac of promise children (tekna) are” — cf. the wording of 3:29
  • 4:30 — Cast out (ekbale).  Second aorist active imperative (basic past tense without focus on results of the action) of ekballw.  Quotation from Genesis 21:10 (Sarah to Abraham) and confirmed in Genesis 21:12. Strong negative (ou me with future indicative). “The law and the gospel cannot co-exist.”
  • 5:1-12
    • 1-6 sets out declaration of liberty
    • 7-12 are a more free, “collection of pointed remarks, rhetorical questions, proverbial expressions, threats, irony, and a joke of stark sarcasm” (-Witherington)
  • 5:1
    • 5:1b is either the end of a section, transitional, or beginning of new section. No transitional particle to connect it to preceding and (probably) uses dative case unusually.  Many textual variants.  Possible English readings include these:
      • For freedom Christ has set us free. (NET)
      • It was for freedom that Christ set us free; (NASB)
      • It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (NIV)
      • Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, (KJV)
      • We have freedom now, because Christ made us free. (NCV)
      • Christ has set us free to live a free life. (MSG)
    • The expression “for freedom” is a “dative of goal, destiny or purpose” — e.g., C.K. Barrett.  In other words, our freedom is the goal/purpose of Christ’s having set us free.
    • This grammatical construction also found in “sacral manumission procedures” of Ancient East
    • Be not entangled again (μη παλιν ζυγω). “Stop being held in by a yoke of bondage.” Common word for ensnare by trap. The Judaizers were trying to lasso the Galatians for the old yoke of Judaism.  “Yoke of slavery” strongly implies the “different gospel.”
  • 5:7 — Compare 5:12 imagery “cut in on” — see also 1Thess 2:17 — “late verb” but possibly early, intentional uses by Paul — both very negative.  Wigram has “incision” as a secondary meaning. “Cut or strike in, hence, to impede, interrupt, hinder; incision, e.g., a trench cut in the way of an enemy.”
  • 5:10 — Subjunctive (tense of possibility/contingency/uncertainty).  It seems unlikely that Paul knew precisely who the leader of the Judaizers was.
  • 5:12 — Phillips and others have another possibility, based on Jewish law that excludes the castrated eunuch–that the Judaizers (doubly ironically! -bc) would be completely cut off from the Galatian Christians.  In other words, the ones who want to require cutting to be part of the church would, Paul says, “cut themselves off” from the whole organic church, and in doing so, would be doubly cut.  In other words, they would be cut off metaphorically from the church and also castrated symbolically, thereby cutting themselves off from Judaizers, too.
  • 5:16
    • peripateite — walk in step (also a key term in 1Thess — another early letter).
    • ου μη τελεσητε — strong double negative — you will really not fulfill the flesh
  • 6:1 — trespass (paraptwmati).  Literally, a falling aside, a slip or lapse in ancient papyri (rather than a willful sin).  Koine word, also in Polybius and Diodorus.
  • 6:2 a) “Keep on bearing” — present active imperative of bastazw, old word, used of Jesus bearing his Cross in John 19:17.  Or b) fulfill — Some MSS have future indicative (anaplhrwsete) — this variant reading is very uncertain.  Others have first aorist active imperative.
  • 6:7-8 Longenecker says the hortatory unit is self-contained in 6:7-8.  1) introductory formula, 2) proverb, 3) maxim, 4) Paul’s explanation – flesh-spirit dichotomy.  The import of this oft-quoted (and often generalized, perhaps falsely) passage may be that God’s just, covenantal plan must not be mocked: Spirit/Promise/Faith must be the course. 
  • 6:15 — καινη κτισις — query:  what might this expression “new creation” mean here, considering the book-level context?
  • 6:16 — What is the Israel of God”?  I have long thought it was obvious that this expression had nothing to do with old Israel, but could there be a duality here?  Could the expression refer jointly to those Gentile believers who “line up” (stoichesousin) in thinking no circumcision matters, and also the Jewish believers, i.e., if they are really of God  in following promise, spirit, new covenant?
  • 6:17 — old word from stizw, to prick, to stick, to sting.  Slaves had the names or stamp of their owners on their bodies. It was sometimes also done for soldiers. There were devotees also who stamped upon their bodies the names of the gods whom they worshipped. In a round-up, cattle are given the owner’s mark. Paul gloried in being the slave of Jesus Christ. This is probably the image in Paul’s mind since he bore in his body brandmarks of suffering for Christ received in many places ( 2 Corinthians 6:4-6 ; 2 Corinthians 11:23 ), probably actual scars from the scourgings (thirty-nine lashes at a time). If for no other reason, listen to me by reason of these scars for Christ and “let no one keep on furnishing trouble to me.”


Coming next:  Mini-structural elements (chiasmus and more) in the Galatians text.  

For more detailed insight into the minutiae of Galatians words, try Robertson’s Word Pictures, available free on the WWW.

Philemon wrap-up (8)

This post brings to a conclusion one of the more ostensibly imbalanced treatments of my 2.5-year blogging history.  By that I mean I’m not sure I’ve ever given anywhere near eight posts–more than 4,000 words–on any subject that originally amounted to only 335 words in its entirety.

Because it is impossible, as far as I know, to paste into WordPress a fully formatted, word-processor document, I’ll not be able to share my friend Greg Fay’s chiastic Philemon layout in all its clear, color-coded glory.  Instead, I’ll paste in each section in proximity with the other section to which it relates, adding my own comments in italics. In other words, instead of trying to show that vs. 4-5 relate to vs. 20-22 by formatting, I’ll simply put them next to each other, so the syntax will be “all messed up”–but in reality, it may be clarified!

~ ~ ~


1-3 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus and Timothy the brother, To Philemon the beloved and our fellow-worker, and Aphia the sister, and Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church at your house.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

23 Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus greets you.  [And so do] Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow-workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Above, note the personal greetings, of course, and the bookends:  the repeated use of the words “grace” and “Lord Jesus Christ.”  In addition, a clue is found in the word “fellow.”  The Gk. here is not koinonia and does not even use the same prefix, yet the notion of “together” is seen in both these words.



I thank [euxaristo] my God always
  making mention of you in my prayers, hearing
    of the love
      and the faith
        which you have
      toward the Lord Jesus
    and for all the saints,
  [praying] that the fellowship of your faith might become active through the knowledge of every good [thing] which is in you for Christ.
For I had much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints are refreshed by you, brother.


Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord.
Refresh my heart in Christ.
    Confident of your obedience, I have written to you, knowing that you will do even more than what I say.
And, at the same time, also prepare for me the guest room.
For I hope that through your prayers, I will be freely given [xaristhasomai] to you.

The emboldened words show the bookends here: xaristhasomai and eucharisto.  Precise, literal translation is often difficult, and these words are no exceptions, which is why English-readers almost never perceive this connection.

Looking at v. 5 now, in the first indented set, the (implied) praying is a connection.  As mentioned in a prior post, the construction of this mini-chiasm in v. 5 introduces ambiguity:  love is typically thought of as horizontal, i.e., toward other saints/Christians, while faith is held in the Lord Jesus. Here, the converse may also be a possibility.

The “benefit” Paul desires in 20 relates to the refreshing of hearts in 7; further on this point, the hearts of the saints become connected to the refreshing of Paul’s heart in 20.  Also, note the connection to v. 12–Onesimus is Paul’s heart.



Therefore, having much boldness in Christ to order you to do what is proper,
   on account of love,
   I rather appeal to you,
being as I am, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.


If, therefore, you consider [have] me as a partner, receive him as [if he were] me.

   And if he’s done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
   I, Paul, am writing with my own hand, “I will pay it back”—
lest I remind you that you owe me your very self

These parallel sections begin with “therefore” (Gk. “inferential particles” –G.F.).  Here, Paul has emphasized personal aspects—his age, his captivity, his own hand, and his name.  There also seems to be a sort of financial connection—“on account of love” (8) being related structurally to what Onesimus may or may not owe to Philemon, and what Philemon “owes” to Paul (18-19).

The nature of the appeal Paul makes is in evidence here, as well:  it is based primarily on relationship and not on authority, although an apostolic “authority clause” is also present (8).



I appeal to you for my child
who was born to me while I was in chains, Onesimus—
      the one formerly useless to you
      but now useful to you and to me—
   whom I am sending to you,
this one, he is my heart,


no longer as a slave, but above a slave,
      a beloved brother,
especially to me, but how much more to you,
both in the flesh and in the Lord.

These passages are exceedingly significant!  As I’ve indicated previously, the delay tactic is clearly seen in v. 10 as Paul “waits” before finally mentioning Onesimus’s name.  The connection between 10 and 12 is clear:  Onesimus is Paul’s spiritual child and is also his “heart,” both depictions pointing up a rather extreme personal attachment.  The attachment is further borne out in the last phrase of 16:  both physical/human and spiritual relationship are referenced.

Back to 10-12 now . . . moving inward, the next sections show a kind of physical direction—Onesimus’s having come to Paul, so he could be spiritually begotten, and then his being sent away from Paul to Philemon.  This travel appears to me to foreshadow the overall thrust of the letter, which will be seen even more clearly in the next section.

The pun on Onesimus’s name (11) is more than a play on words; it hints at a spiritual directive, which, again, will hence be seen.  That Onesimus would to this point be seen as useless to Philemon is no surprise; after all, the slave Onesimus ran away and probably stole.  Yet despite his earlier wrongs, Onesimus has a new identity and is now useful, which is the meaning of his name.  This new identity is seen in the related passage (center of 16):  put plainly, he is now a brother.  The expression “beloved brother” seems to cap the commendation of the “new” Onesimus to Philemon, in case there could be any doubt at this point.

One more item in this marvelous pairing . . . note the chiastic relationship of the concept of chains, both for Paul (10) and in Onesimus’s former slave relationship (16a).

And now we move to the final section.  Considered in a western, linear fashion, this whole presentation would be assumed to be messed up; I’m ending with the center.  But seen as Paul (and the Spirit of God!) intended, this coming “center” is really the end of the line. . . .



whom I would like to have kept [to have] for myself,
so that he might minister to me for you in the chains of the gospel.
But without your consent, I did not want to do anything,
      so that not according to constraint your good thing might be but according to free-will.
For perhaps for this reason he was separated from you for an hour, 
so that you might have him back forever,

There is more than one way to delineate and organize these verses, but the differences are not ultimately all that significant, in my estimation.  I have chosen 14b as the center of the letter’s overall structure; one other possibility has vss. 13-14 forming a longer center.

In the outer phrasings of 13-15 there is a sense of ownership of Onesimus–first, Paul’s desire to have “kept” the new brother (hold that thought).  Then in 15, first there is the lack of ownership that resulted from Onesimus’s having run away . . . followed closely by a new proposition from Paul:  that Philemon could now newly, more deeply, possess relationship with Onesimus, their new brother.

Note also in 13-15 that there are three “so that” (Gk. ‘ina) clauses.  What seems apparent—and this is based as much on the whole of the letter’s message as on verses 13-15a in particular—is that the middle instance (the “so that” expression in 14b) stands at the epicenter of the letter’s single, overall chiastic structure.

Paul is asking not only for Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother, but he is asking more.  He is asking that Philemon do the previously unthinkable.  He is asking that Philemon enable Onesimus to continue ministering to Paul for the sake of evangelization.[1]

Paul is asking, in 14b, that Philemon willingly (operative word!), lovingly release Onesimus back to Paul.  Onesimus is now a personified “good thing,” and Philemon’s “good thing” will be to release, of his own will, Onesimus to return to Paul.

~ ~ ~

At the time he wrote this letter, Paul could have been captive in such a city as Ephesus (not in Rome until his second imprisonment)[2].  A few years down the road, someone named Onesimus was a leader in the church in Ephesus.  I like to think that this was the case, and that Onesimus had in fact been released to live in Ephesus with Paul for a time, remaining there for the rest of his life.  Having come across the theory that Onesimus might have been influential in having the letter to Philemon included in subsequent collections of scripture, I might further theorize that if Onesimus lived out his days in just such a central city, where he clearly would have first- and second-hand knowledge of the letter to the Ephesians and the both letters to Timothy, not to mention the ones to Philemon, Colossians (and Laodiceans), it would be easy to believe that Onesimus was uniquely used by the Lord in the process of collection an ultimate canonization of many of Paul’s writings.

To close this study of Philemon, I will share a quotation from Greg Fay’s book-in-progress on reading scripture.  In the following, Greg does what I believe he has the right to do, having exegetically, soundly interpreted the scripture:  he applies it to current day.  I hope that I, together with all those I contact in the Kingdom, will be true to God’s scriptures–not applying them carelessly, but seeking earnestly to uncover their original contexts and intended messages.  Then we may apply the scripture to our current-day situations!

I want extreme community.  I want to participate in it, which means I want to know, respond to, and share the grace of God in Christ.  I want to have faith in the Lord Jesus and be a lover of all saints, regardless of skin-color, social-status, or savings account.  I want to treat those who have wronged me with the depth of refreshing faith and love that Paul asks of Philemon—an active sharing of my faith that will help them find real the extreme community of Christ that begins to share in Christ’s own love and com­munity with the Father.  I won’t always feel like it, and I will sometimes fail miserably.  But God’s word spoken to us through the book of Philemon envisions and calls for no less.

. . .

From Philemon—among other things—the word of God is

love beyond boundaries,

forgiveness beyond hurts,

community beyond differences, and

purpose beyond failures.

Now, read Philemon again, and seek to live it as you follow Christ.

– Gregory L. Fay, PhD, Inkblotitis:  How To Read the Bible to Miss Get God’s Point (manuscript)

[1] The only ambiguity for me in this choice resides in 15a, where the expression “might have him back forever” might be interpreted in more than one way.  My current choice is that this means “Philemon, even though you won’t have him physically forever, you now have a lasting, eternal relationship with Onesimus, and this will enable you to do, in good conscience and in love for me, what I am asking.”

[2] The likes of F.F. Bruce have written about such possibilities.  Caesarea has also been considered an option for the place of Paul’s captivity.  Scholars are divided on this question.

Philemon wrap-up (5)

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. . . continued . . .

Here are more textual discoveries, notables, and inquiries into the fascinating text of Philemon.

Note the use of the word “brother” in both v. 7 and v. 20.  Further on the relationship between these two verses:  the joy, comfort, and refreshing of the hearts (all in 7) may be related to the benefit Paul desires from Philemon and the refreshing of his heart (20).

The relationship between Paul and Philemon, whom he refers to as “beloved one,” is the basis for Paul’s logic, his request, and his expectation.  Philemon is beloved (1) and Onesimus is beloved (16), too.  Remember how shocking this would all be to Philemon as he read the letter.  The very idea that a runaway slave who had likely stolen was deemed “beloved”!

Note further the “love” theme:

  1. Philemon loves the saints (5).
  2. Paul has experienced Philemon’s love (7).
  3. As Paul is now “elderly” and a prisoner, he is in a position to receive love—“ images that amplify the application of love and present Paul as someone who should be respected, listened to, and perhaps ministered to or helped” (G. Fay).

We might ask why the latter portion of v. 9? Why might Paul express himself & describe himself in this way? As Greg has suggested, “Perhaps there’s more to the intentions of the letter than meets the eye at this point.”

The thanksgiving and petition in 4 and 9, respectively, are common Pauline markers, delineating text sections and/or showing points of emphasis.

Referring again to yesterday’s sermonette on v. 6–could the expression “fellowship of faith” be intentionally ambiguous?  Remember the possible, subtextual ambiguity in the the chiasm of v. 5 (love for others and faith toward Jesus / faith toward others and love of Jesus).  Might one of the thrusts here be that the community of Philemon’s faith and love must become energized/activated toward Onesimus?  Must koinonia extend to Onesimus as it does to Paul, since Onesimus is Paul’s “heart” (12)?

What a rich, inspired letter!  More to come. . . .

Philemon wrap-up (4)

. . . continued

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Anyone who doubts that a small group could spend eight weekly sessions studying Philemon would also logically doubt that someone could “wrap up” this study in more than a few paragraphs.  Believe it or not, the fourth installment of this “wrap-up” will not be the last!  I’m only calling this whole thing “wrap-up” because for me, it is wrapping up a more personal series of studies with friends.  In the blogosphere, this is becoming more of a bona fide (although largely by proxy) exegetical study than a wrap-up, I suppose.

In the following textual discoveries and notables in the text of Philemon–for which I am again indebted, almost entirely, to my friend Dr. Greg Fay–chiastic structural relationships are assumed.  Let anyone who doubts the significance of the presence of such structures be convinced!

  1. In v. 4 — “thank” is eucharisto.  In v. 22 — “freely given” is “charisthasomai.”  This connection is not often evident in English renderings.  This pairing of verses also both employs the word “prayers.”
  2. I haven’t yet seen a clear, chiastic connection between v. 5 and v. 21 or anything down there toward the end of the letter.  However, v. 5 itself may involve implicit concepts as well as what’s on the surface:  love is structurally tied to “all the saints,” and faith is tied to “the Lord Jesus.”  Yet, note Greg’s inquiry related to the possible ambiguity in the ordering of the words:  “So could the circular shape intentionally blur the lines?  Either way, the implication is telling.”  By this he means that we may also consider that we have love toward the Lord Jesus and, in a sense, faith in our fellow saints. This latter possibility may be seen to connect to the overall message of the letter, as Paul is expressing an implicit faith in Philemon and, by extension, in the house-church community–faith that they will do what he asks with regard to Onesimus.
  3. Further etymological connections include the expression “in Christ,” found both in v. 6 and v. 20.

Verse 6 merits special consideration since it has often been misused and poorly translated.  Let it be clear that this verse has nothing directly to do with evangelistic efforts.  Paul is not here suggesting that Philemon, or anyone else among the Colossian saints, “share his faith” with an unbeliever.  The intended import of this passage becomes more clear as the reader becomes more familiar with the thrusts of the letter; it seems to me that Paul is hinting here at what he will later suggest more strongly, if not explicitly:  that Philemon’s faith-partnership with Paul would become active in a very specific way regarding Onesimus.  I have wondered, then, whether this “activeness” (root word is energes, and the expression in v. 6 might well be rendered “that your faith-partnership will become energized …”) relates to the strong, influential request for active response in v. 21:  ” . . . knowing that you will do even more than I what I say.”

“Every good thing” in v. 6 appears to be a direct reference to Onesimus, as it is in v. 14.  Previously, Onesimus was a bad thing; now, in Christ, is not to be considered a good one!

To be continued. . . .

Philemon wrap-up (3)

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. . . continued from yesterday . . .

This beautiful letter is of course about Philemon and Onesimus, but it is about more than the two of them. It is about grace, about Christian togetherness, about relationship and identity in Jesus, and more.  Its inclusion in the canon appears to be no accident!

Looking at the opening greeting can give us some important, initial clues as to the meaning and intent.  Paul does not just say “Paul to you, greetings.”  Adjectives and expansions of the basic form give us clues into the situation and purposes of the letter.  Paul’s letters are, by the way, not “epistles” in the truest sense.  They are letters, and by that I mean they were 1) occasional and 2) non-formal-literary in nature.  They were intended for a specific audience and not for broad publication.  The structure of the writing tends to indicate that they were personal letters and not carefully crafted orations that Paul thought would be widely read.  The occasional aspect, when phrased that way, may get some of our backs up, because the word seems to downplay the significance of the writing.  In using the word “occasional,” though, I in no way intend to denigrate the purpose–me gonoito! Rather, I am attempting to help myself and others to hone in on the specific situation–the historical context–that gave rise to, or occasioned, the letter.

The community dimension is implied in the address to Philemon, (his wife) Apphia, (his son) Archippus,¹ and their house church.

Greg Fay has pointed out these things regarding the introduction to the letter, which is found in verses 1-7.

  1. “A clear, repetitive emphasis on community and partnership in the cause of Christ thus fills the Address.”
  2. “Close scrutiny of the language of Philemon as a whole reveals the concept of Christian relationship or community to be the pivotal idea on which the theology of the letter depends.  Paul clearly and forcefully identifies Onesimus as having a new, spiritual son-like, useful, emotional, vital, beloved, serving relationship with himself—in other words, Onesimus is now a devoted Christian.  Paul shares a similar relationship with Philemon.”
  3. “As Paul will explain, Onesimus has been reborn and has become a child of Paul and, more importantly, a child of Christ—he is now a “saint.”  If Philemon loves all the saints, he will now also love Onesimus, necessarily.  The argument turns on Onesimus’s change of identity (“. . . my child Onesimus, whose father I became . . .  Formerly, he was useless to you, but now . . .”)  There is a then and a now, and they are not the same.  The implication is unassailable and unyielding.  But notice that Paul doesn’t draw the implication here; he simply builds the literary and theological context for the purposes of his letter. 

To be continued . . .


¹ That Apphia and Archippus had some special standing in the household is clear.  That they were wife and son, respectively, to Philemon is not explicit.  Archippus is also mentioned in the letter to the Colossians.

Philemon wrap-up (2)

(. . . continued)

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Step Two in investigating a NC letter is to divide the Middle into sections.  As I tried to show yesterday, the Middle or Body of this short letter to Philemon is found in verses 8-20.

We may note that verses 8-9 and 20 appear to be transitional—moving into, and out of, the Middle.

V. 10 begins the official Request with introduction to the background information:

I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.

The background information is found in 11-14, and the Request (there is almost always a Request in letters of this type) is completed in v. 17:

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.

The Body is bolstered by what Greg Fay calls “Paul’s personal voucher” in 18-19:

If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it.  I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.

The transitional v. 20, then, summarizes and transitions to a rather cryptic (to our eyes, anyway) bit of persuasion in v. 21: Summarizing Conclusion

Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord!  Refresh my heart in Christ.

Note that there is no formal Disclosure in Philemon, although this literary element is found in other letters.

The Petition verb is found in 10:  “appeal”

The Addressee is “you” (8) . . . although we will mention later that there may be additional understood addressees

The Background is given in 10-16.

“Divine authority” phrases are found in 8 and 9:  “bold enough in Christ to command you”; “as an old man and now a prisoner of Christ”

The explicit, desired action is a bit oddly syntactically separated by intervening material:

a.       “for Onesimus”  in 10

b.      “. . . welcome him as you would welcome me” in 17

This separation, I suspect, is quite intentional, and I’ll attempt to show the reason soon.

( to be continued . . .)