Re: Philemon 14

From: Edward Hobbs (
Date: Fri Jun 05 1998 - 13:41:54 EDT

Edgar Foster asked about Philemon 14.

As John Knox taught all of us, Philemon is filled with deliberately
ambiguous terms, for the purpose of saying both less and more.
GNWMH is one of them.

On the face of things, Paul asks the slave-owner (probably Archippus, not
Philemon, Knox argues) to receive his slave Onesimus back without penalty.
But he makes clear that he would really like to have Onesimus stay with
himself, and join in Paul's ministry (when he gets out of jail!), and
this (outrageous, expensive) wish is his real purpose in writing--to get
Onesimus set free. So while Paul is saying that he is doing something
quite easy to grant, he is (by use of ambiguities) asking much more.
Many of the ambiguous words are legal terms. Is Paul sending Onesimus back
to Archippus, or sending the case up (to a higher court judge)? He wants
to do nothing without the owner's consent -- or is it his legal judgment
in the case? Does he suggest the owner will have him back forever,
or give a receipt (freedom-papers) for him forever? Etc., etc.

I've written on this before; I urge Edgar (and everyone!) to read Knox's
beautiful little book (_Philemon Among the Letters of Paul_). Carleton
Winbery loves this book also, I know.

It has always seemed to me that Archippus is probably the military judge
for the area; but that is only a guess, based on the terminology in

Edward Hobbs

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