The Standards for Measuring Bondage and Freedom:
duty and usefulness

Group 4 Presentation - March 12, 1999

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To understand standards of measuring bondage and freedom in Paul, Group IV examined three associated concepts: 1) Onesimon/onaimen (useful/be beneficial), 2) achreston/euchreston (not-useful/well-useful), and 3) to anevkonto/ kathekon (what is proper/fitting; duty).

Four key questions drove research on Onesimon/onaimen : 1) Is the Onesimus referenced in Philemon the same Onesimus mentioned in Colossians? 2) Does the authorship of Colossians affect the interpretation of the Philemon Onesimus connection? 3) Are there other strategic "word plays" in Philemon? 4) What is Paul saying to Philemon in verse 20?

Onesimon (Onesimus or the feminine Onesime) was a very common name generally, but not necessarily, associated with slaves. The name, which means useful, could belong to a former slave who had gained freedman status. Also, it was not uncommon for a child of a former slave to carry the name, although never having been a slave him/herself. The name is also used in fictional writings of the period to refer to a slave. This type of usage anticipates an audience readily familiar with the name and who by it cold quickly identify the character's role in the story. The same holds true for the characterization of the name in plays of the time and later. Although the original use of the name carries with it negative connotations, it was later used by prominent church officials, probably because of the positive place of the epistle in the Church. Among them is a bishop of Ephesus who Ignatius refers to in a letter written early in the 2nd century. Knox contends that the Onesimus mentioned in Philemon and Colossians later became Bishop of Ephesus, which explains why a seemingly obscure letter such as Philemon would be preserved (Dunn 328; Freedman 22). But if Philemon and/or Colossians were written in the late 50s and Ignatius' letter around 115 CE, the time difference means Onesimus would have had to have lived a very long life, which makes it a matter of speculation. It seems more likely, given the popularity of the name and its association with Paul, that it was selected by the Bishop of Ephesus and by later bishops. Later in the 2nd century a bishop of Beroea took the name as did two other bishops in the 4th century. In addition, a coin from the early 3rd century bears the inscription "grammaeus M. On esimos."

Onesimus appears once in Philemon (v. 10) and once in Colossians (4: 9). To those who assume Colossians was written by Paul or in the same time period, the Colossians reference suggests that Onesimus is geographically from Colossae and has the status of a Christian brother. Because Onesimus is referenced with such regard and given the task of "telling," it is speculated that Onesimus has already been freed by Philemon (Freedman 22). The assumption that Colossians refers to the same Onesimus also accounts for Onesimus' identification as a Phrygian (Freedman 22). Onesimus is mentioned by Ignatius in a letter to the Ephesians. When Bishop Onesimus from Ephesus visited Ignatius in Smyrna, Ignatius regarded him highly and described him as "unspeakable in love" (Lightfoot 15-16). In his Letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius referred to Onesimus by name and used the verb onaimhn in the same sentence, similar to their use in Philemon 20.

The question of authorship of Colossians is problematic for any definitive connection between the two citations of Onesimus. Those who believe Paul did not write Colossians cite the different writing styles, theology concerning believer participation in the resurrection of Christ prior to his second coming (Rom. 6:4 and Col. 2:12), and the Colossian concern with social relationships (Dunn 35; Ehrman 328; Meeks 125). The author of Colossians might have referenced Onesimus to strengthen the letter's Pauline credibility, though one wonders why Philemon was not mentioned; other inconsistencies also exist (Dunn 37; Koenig 186-187; Lohse 175-77). There are many theories, but there is not a consensus among scholars (Dunn 35-41).

The use of another derivative of oninemi in v. 20 again seems to be a play on Onesimus' name (as in v. 11). In fact, the entire verse is filled with double or triple meaning. First, Paul refers to Timothy as brother in v. 1, Philemon as brother in v. 7, Onesimus as brother in v. 16, and Philemon as brother again in v. 20. Second, Paul uses onaimhn, an unusual word derived from the same word as Onesimus (oninemi). Paul uses the middle optative form, which either indicates a contrary to fact situation or the emphatic sense of the verb. This is the only use of the verb and the only first person optative of any verb in the NT. It may be translated "May I have the benefit." Third, the combination of onaimhn en kuriw can be translated as an invocation. Thus, Paul seems to be praying that God will have some benefit of Philemon. Whereas some might have thought Paul uses Onesimus' name derivative to suggest Paul wants Onesimus in his own service, Paul may be focusing on the change he desires in Philemon, a change instigated by the Onesimus situation. Fourth, the verb anapauson, which means refresh or rest, was used in v. 7 with respect to Paul commending Philemon for his providing refreshment for saints who came to him. this could be translated as to make fit. Paul is asking Philemon to refresh Paul's compassions or heart. Fifth, heart/compassions (splagchna) has been used twice previously. In v. 7 Paul commends Philemon for refreshing the compassions or hearts of the saints. In v. 12 Paul refers to Onesimus as Paul's compassion or heart. Now Paul is asking Philemon to refresh Paul's heart/compassions. Once again, interrelationships are emphasized: Philemon and the saints; Philemon and Paul; Paul and Onesimus.

achreston/euchreston A comparison of translations of these terms is the most instructive place to begin. Alsup translates them not-useful/well-useful. Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich translates them useless or worthless/useful or serviceable. Liddell/Scott translates as useless or unprofitable/ useful or serviceable. It is important to note that BAG and Kittle offer "useful" for chrestos. Thus, Alsup's not-useful/well-useful pairing takes into account the prefixes a and eu.

Philemon 11 is the only occurrence of achreston in the entire NT. Euchreston also appears in 2 Tim. 2:21 (in reference to honorable household utensils after being cleaned) and 4:11 (in reference to Mark , who is described as well-useful for the ministry. The questions that arise by the use of these terms in light of 1 Cor. 7:22-23 are a)Is Paul is saying that Onesimus is a household utensil to Philemon that has been sanctified or cleaned and was before not-useful and is now well-useful? b) Is Paul saying that Onesimus was not-useful as a slave but is well-useful as a brother in the ministry? c) Or is Paul saying both? It is noteworthy that closely associated with 1 Cor. 7 is the question of who can inherit. In Greco-Roman times, slaves and children could not inherit; but now (nuni de!) as teknon and doulos they have come of age and are legitimate heirs to the Kingdom of God.

Understanding of how achreston was used in the Hellenistic world comes from Epictetus. "Epaphroditus owned a certain cobler whom he sold because he was useless; then by some chance the fellow was bought by a member of Caesar's household and became cobbler to Caesar. You should have seen how Epaphroditus honored him" (Epictetus I, Oldfather, p. 132-3). Thus, it seems the worth of the slave was seen to be directly related to the worth of the master (in addition to the salve's usefulness to his or her master)! Thus, although the servant status of Onesimus might or might not remain constant, his value as a bound-one to Christ Jesus is radically different from his status as one bound to Philemon. It seems the play on words in Phlm. 11 not only tells but also shows the situation of Onesimus.

Ultimately, three questions are raised by this examination: 1) Was Onesimus useless because he could not do the work of Philemon or because he could not do the work of the Lord? 2) Does Paul write this letter because he desires Philemon to be made like Onesimus? Is a free man being called to release a servant or is a free man being called to become a servant? 3) Could the eu-prefix in euchreston be a Pauline ploy to evoke an eschatological understanding via its association with euangellion? Could this apparent word-innovation be Paul's not so subtle way of reminding Philemon that now in the eschaton a bound-one to Christ (such as is Onesimus) is WELL/GOOD-useful for the gospel (euangellion)?

to anekon/kathekon
Six questions drove research on to anekon/kathekon: 1) What is the fitting/proper thing/duty that Paul is bold enough in Christ to command of Philemon, but does not for the sake of love? 2) Is the fact that Paul uses to anekon, a PA Part. neuter singular, of significance? 3) What is the difference between what is fitting/proper and what is one's duty? Are these differences pertinent to understanding to anhkon in Philemon 8? How is to ankon more correctly translated? 4) Is there a difference between the Greco-Roman word for duty, kathekon, and the New Testament to anekon? Did Paul intentionally avoid the use of kathekon? Is Paul's use of to anekon meant to be christological and/or eschatological? 5) Is Paul's use of to anekon related to the "common-cause bond "understanding of koinonia? 6) Is Paul's use of to anekon as well as koinonia related to Paul's trying to communicate what it means to be an apostle or simply anyone who is caught up in the common-cause bond? How much is this language being shaped apostolically?

At first glance, New Testament references to to anevkon (from the verb aneko), found in Eph. 5:4, Col. 3:18 and Phlm. 8 , seem to have a meaning of what is proper, fitting. Excursus into definitions associated with what is proper and fitting raised the question of whether Philemon, as a bound-one to the common cause bond in Christ, could be duty-bound to return Onesimus in order for the ekklesia that meets in his oikos to live into its eschatological reality.

The concept of duty is expressed in Greco-Roman society by means of the terms kathekw (PAI 1s), kathekei (PAI 3s), and kathekon (PA Ptcp). The participial form, to kathekon, was used by Stoic writers since Zeno and seems to turn what is proper/fitting into a field of study. Because Stoic writers are so essential to our understanding of the general meaning of duty in the Greco-Roman world, Epictetus was examined. His use of the term indicates that duty in the Stoic sense had to do with carrying out one's relations in whatever roles one found oneself such as son, brother, father and/or citizen. One's duty should always be approached with a view toward the whole of society. It is noteworthy that his language to describe the connectional/relational nature of the person to the whole is strikingly similar to Paul's Body of Christ language in 1 Cor. 12:12-31. New Testament use of to kathekon is seen in Ro. 1:28 and Acts 22:22; Clement also used the term in 1 Cl. 3:4; 41:3.

The concept of duty or obligation in Judaism is primarily associated with the term hovah. It is used interchangeably with mitzvah, meaning simultaneously law, commandment, duty and merit. Mitzvah is law and duty; it is the law originating in God and the sense of duty in man. In Jewish thought, man is to take upon himself, of his own free will, the "yoke of commandments." This raises the question of whether this be the image of a bound-one that Paul is evoking in the Philemon text? Also, duty in Judaism is the incentive to moral action, and a morality-based duty is evidently different from one that is based on pleasure. According to a Talmudic dictum "Greater is he who performs an action because he is commanded than he who performs the same action without being commanded." This raises the question of whether this could be the mindset of Paul. Finally, in Judaism, the morality of an action is determined more by the motivation of the one who performs it than by its consequences. Again, such a mindset may be operational behind the douloß language in Philemon.

The Stoic duty codes do not address the issue of slavery directly. Slaves are not considered as persons with responsibility. For example, Epictetus 1.13.4. lays out the proper relationship between master and slave. He does not advocate the freeing of the slave, but instead urge the master to be patient with the slave, even when does not do as told. He advises the slave to keep his gaze on the laws of the gods, rather than the wretched earthy laws. The only one truly enslaved is one who forgoes freedom, i.e., who does not live as a wise person. Thus, anyone who lives as a wise person, is not a slave, regardless of his legal status.

Ultimately, it seems that to anekon means duty according to a christological interpolation of Stoic (and perhaps Jewish) understanding of duty. This seems particularly likely in view of the image of being BOUND that Paul seems to intentionally evoke by his use of to anekon in such a close relationship to koinonos-- one(s) in a "common-cause bond. If this is the case, Paul probably means for to anhkon to be understood as meaning "what one is bound to do as is required (or is the natural thankful response) by one who has been incorporated into the saving, life-giving Body of Christ--a fellowship of brethren who share a common-bond in the death and resurrection of the One who bring oneness to the koinonia!

This is interesting to consider in light of Galatians 3:28. Paul seems to view the Stoic ideal through christological glasses. Consequently, in reference to masters and slaves, he might be saying, "YES! Anyone who is living into the reality of our freedom in Christ is no longer a slave, not really. For all social and cultural barriers and constraints no longer have the power to break us apart. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. So there is no more master (kurios) and slave (doulos) in the oikos. We are all one with one Lord and it is our duty in Christ to Act like it!!"

Thus, there are social/cultural consequences for the christological understanding, but Paul is careful to first have the Christian community put on the christological lens prior to reasoning with them about how it is they are to behave. He urges Philemon and the congregation who meet in his house to do this by connecting duty (what one is bound to do, in this case as a Christian) to the koinonos-- one(s) in a "common-cause bond."

In his letter to the Romans, Paul establishes an intimate relationship between gratitude and duty. "Paul's acknowledgment of indebtedness is immediately translated into a sense of gratitude. The debt or obligation he feels does not represent a burden which inhibits him; rather, recognition of debt is synonymous with giving thanks." (Bosch, p. 138) Thus, in Christ, all (slave and master) are free, but also slaves to God. This same theme is echoed in Phillipians 2: 3-13 and in Christ's washing of the disciple's feet. It is in these passages we get a stunning image of what it means to be a doulos. Similarly, Goppelt's commentary on I Peter helps us to see that the key to understanding Paul's use of to anhkon is to understand the directive in the context of a kerygmatic development, which is very much eschatological. As Goppelt told John Alsup, "Eschatological existence in history is when we live out our existence in the vitality of the resurrection." Ultimately, this is what it is to be a slave in Christ, because it is out of the resurrection that God's new creation comes into being.

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