A Retake On "The Book Of Philemon"
Gentle Reader, please consider this "retake" on the translation and interpretation of St. Paul's epistle to Philemon. This "book" or "letter" is usually taken to be little more than a diplomatic request by Paul on behalf of the run away slave Onesimus. It is that, but much more! Have your Bible handy as you read this, and those who are so able, your Greek N.T.
v. 1 Like all of Paul's sermons / epistles, this one is also written into the context of the Eucharistic assembly. Thus Philemon is "beloved" and "brother" both weighted Eucharistic terms.
v. 2 It is addressed to the church in his house. Church, is never an abstract with Paul. It either refers to the Eucharistic assembly in the act of worship, or the universal church of heaven and earth.
v. 3 This is not a pro forma greeting, or a religious way to say: hello. But I am certain that it is a liturgical element that Paul employs, knowing where this letter will be read aloud. In the worshiping assembly.
v. 4 I don't think we can take verse 4 at face either. When Paul thanks / eucharistizes God it is not something disconnected from the church's worship. Nor are his prayers for Philemon. Rather Paul is speaking of his own celebration of the Eucharist taking place on the Lord's day, the same day his words are being read in Philemon's local assembly. And in this context he includes Philemon in the church's prayers, even as we include intercessions today.
But in the church of Jesus Christ there are no independent assemblies, but one, unified and ongoing worship of the Father in Spirit and Truth.
v. 5 is also Eucharistically charged. The words "love," "faith" and "saints" used this way together bespeak the holy Christian faith, as it is practiced in holy worship by and among the saints. Nor is "saints" merely a nice way of speaking of Christians. But it is the name / title given to the baptized who particpate in the Lord's Body. Which is "the Lord Jesus Christ and all his holy ones."
v. 6 "sharing" is the wrong word here. The greek is "koinonia" refers to holy communion, which is the practice of the "faith". The Word and Sacrament together energize God's people in knowledge and inspire them to every good work. This is the fruit of eucharistic faith.
v. 7 Again in v. 7 the three terms: love, brother, and saints point to a benefits gained (joy and comfort) from Paul's Eucharistic association with Philemon.
v. 9 Paul is not "an old man" as things are normally translated, but a Presybter. This is a techinical term for the church's clergy. Paul, as all the apostles, are the pre-eminant clergy of the church.
v. 13 Nor was Onesimus simply one who "serves" Paul (ESV), but I would prefer to call him Deacon, as he is one who "deacons" for Paul. Deacons served (and still do) as subordinates of the presbyters (celebrant, pastor) in the church's worship.
v. 16 Onesimus is not a simply a "brother" or "colleague." But a baptized communicant.
v. 17 "Partner" is not the right word (ESV). But "fellow communicant" is.
v. 20 Again Philemon is addressed by his proper Eucharistic title: Brother.
v. 21 Nor do I think "guest room" or "lodging" is the right word or notion. A "xenos" in N.T. speak is a fellow Christian who is travelling, and wishes to be welcomed to the table of the church he is visiting. Cf. Hebrews 13:2.
v. 23 As stated many times "greet" / "aspodzomai" is not a holy way of saying: tell the folks there I said hi. Greetings is a specifically Eucharistic term, equivalent to our Pax Domini in the liturgy of the Sacrament.
v. 25 is a liturgical preface. As the liturgy of the word is about to conclude (which Paul well knows, since he taught the churches the form of Christian worship), and the liturgy of the sacrament about to begin, both in Philemon's house church, and Paul's divine service (be it occurring in prison), Paul provides the liturgical preface. It is a signal to proceed to holy communion.
This understanding and interpretation of "the book of Philemon" gives the hearer a very different take on what it means to be a Christian, than its normal sterile and scientific explanation, which is a diplomatic letter from Paul to Philemon, regarding poor Onesimus and his future. It is that, but within a fully Christian context, which is to say, a fully Eucharistic context. For this is what the church is and does.