Learning to Talk about Bondage and Freedom:
"koinonia", "splagchna" and Christian Parenesis
Group 3 Presentation - March 5, 1999
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Four topics were assigned to our group: Christian parenesis, speaking
about bondage and freedom in a Pauline way, "splanchna", and "koinonia".
Following is an abstract of our findings in these areas.
(1) In our work on Christian parenesis we again faced the basic
question of genre. Having surveyed the various elements of Greco-Roman
parenesis and petition letter formulae, we concluded that the question
centers in v.10. Does the usage of "parakalo" correspond to the genre of a
letter of petition (on behalf of Onesimus) or a parenetic letter (urging
Philemon to adopt a mode of behavior with regard to Onesimus)? In other
words, is this letter fundamentally about Onesimus or about Philemon?
Paul’s choice of prepositions in v. 10 favors the latter reading, “I
exhort you concerning my son....” The contrast of the terms "epitasso"
and "parakalo" in v. 8 also accords well with a parenetic reading.
(2) Upon rereading Philemon through the lens of the parenetic style a
few questions emerged. With regard to Paul’s language in vv. 1, 9
(shackled one) and vv. 10, 13 (shackles), is this a literal reference to
Paul’s accommodations or is it a metaphorical description of his
vocation in Christ? Perhaps it means both. The metaphorical element
could serve as an implicit example of the Christian life. If Paul can be
called “the shackled one of Christ Jesus” (vv.1, 9), what might that
imply for Philemon’s status and behavior in Christ with regard to
(3) Paul’s use of "koinonia" and "koinonos" (in vv. 6 and 17 respectively)
ought to be read in a concrete sense. Our language of “fellowship” is
too diluted and subjective to do justice to this word group. The word
“bond” or “alliance” better captures the concrete sense of "koinonia".
Moreover, in such passages as Phil. 1:6 and Acts 2:42-47 this "koinonia"
clearly involves financial support and the sharing of sustenance. This
embodied, concrete expression accords well with a parenetic reading of
Philemon. One of the historical questions left unresolved is, “Does
Philemon’s designation as a "koinonos" (v.17) imply that he was a
financial contributor to Paul’s mission?”
(4) Paul’s word "splagchna" in vv.7, 12, and 20 is a deeply imaged mode
of speaking about “the seat of the emotions.” Our study produced mostly
questions. Is this emotive language used for the purpose of persuading
Philemon to treat Onesimus in a particular way? What is the relation
between this word and the semantic complex of friendship language in the
Greco-Roman world? Might the meaning of the phrases in vv. 7 and 20 rest
as much in the verb “anapauo” as in the object? If so, 1 Cor. 16:18
might be seen as a parallel and thus justify reading an economic
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