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 Onesimus?

(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 dimension here.

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