Monday, October 14, 2013

Philemon: key to "all of Paul"? apocalyptic? full of humor? -seeking comments on #3

Pictured here:  me...and  an amazing cohort of mine, the famous LA 68 gang of girls (missing Najwah)..who all wrote a paper on Philemon for me...because I predestined them to do it of their own free will
In one course we teach at FPU, the students have to write a paper on Philemon...
                  a  biblical book many of have never heard of, let alone read.

I sometimes ask if anyone's ever heard a sermon on Philemon.
I think I've had one taker.

Once they find out it's basically a one-page book, the questions are inevitably:

  • a 4-6 page paper on a  1 page book??  How can we do that?
But they soon discover that if one really wrestles with this book  it's hard to stop!

But first, I have to tease them by showing them this book from my collection:

Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke's "The Letter to Philemon" in the  Eerdmans Critical Commentary series.

It's basically a 559-page paper on a 1-page book of the Bible!(:

Here's a few thoughts from this (flawed) gem of a (big) book:

They summarize  Norman Peterson's take (though they surely consider it exaggerated) that Philemon
'can be considered the key to the whole of Paul's theology'. (p. 214)

Also under the discussion of Peterson, a good discussion of (also under the section on) Peterson, "the church is the place where already at the present time a beginning is made of the replacement of divisions, enmities and all forms of oppression by a new order of communal life." (214)  Elsewhere they note that many traditions (some Reformed etc) have refused to believe the church should ever do anything about slavery/inequality because the task in this current age is supposedly  evangelism and not social justice.

In a nice section (115-119) on rhetorical devices, they offer this:
"Humor is, according to Wilhelm Busch, 'where one laughs, in spite of it,' even in the face of grave situations...The dreadfully serious issue [of Philemon]...Obviously, bitterness is neither the only nor the best way of reacting to grave issues.  Indeed, Philemon has a hard choice to make, but the decision-making process is sweetened as much as possible--by humor."  (118-19)

I'll leave you guessing/discerning where the "jokes" are in this heavy short letter..
besides ...

I don't want to help any of my students write their paper (:

BUT if you are student of mine...or any reader around in the comments section below (post as "anonymous" if you don't have one of the designated accounts) any holy humor you find in Philemon..

(PS: click the tag "Philemon" below for other posts on Philemon)


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Dave. Even though I did not take this specific class with you, I am sure you did a great job. Here's the link to the post where I wrote about the book of Philemon in this class at Fresno Pacific University,

    I am not sure if I saw anything humorous in the book of Philemon. However, hearing people pronounce the book of Philemon sometimes is funny. I hear it as "Phil-e-moan" or "Phie-lee-moon." Just sounds funny to me mostly because we all think we pronounce it correctly. :-)

    1. Thanks, CS..i knew you weren't in that class w/me..but i knew you wrote those great posts on Phillymoon..that's why i tagged you (:


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!