Theo Preiss' “Life in Christ and Social
Ethics in the Epistle to Philemon
Life in Christ
Offered by DN.
Theo Preiss, a pastor in the French Reformed Church, wrote a series of
essays centering on the idea of the connection between juridical and
participatory or mystical ideas in New Testament theology. These were
gathered into one volume in Studies in Biblical Theology Series
entitled Life in Christ. The second essay, “Life in Christ and Social
Ethics in the Epistle to Philemon,” makes some special contributions to
the discussion of our seminar. Its essential content is thus.
When engaging the question of social ethic, the Christian must
realize that no general program, however fine and practical, will ever
realize what the gospel proclaims: the new heavens and the new earth
where righteousness dwells. Only the gospel itself can penetrate to the
personal center and permeate personal relations. It is to this human
center that Paul speaks in the letter to Philemon.
The Jewish idea of the shaliakh, “the messenger is as the one who sends
him,” must be seen not only in Paul’s authority as apostle of Christ,
but also now in Onesimus’ standing as the shaliakh of Paul. When with
Paul Onesimus is the representative of Philemon and when with
Philemon the representitive of Paul. Thus, “fraternity, unity in Christ,
seizes upon the relation of slave and master, shatters it and fulfills
it upon quite another plane” (p. 40). Because the “master” in whom we
are “brothered” and incorporated is himself the slave of all, fraternity
simultaneously shatters old relation of master and slave and fulfills it
by making all slaves as their master. This is no mere program; it is the
gospel penetrating to the human center.
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