Bondage, Freedom and Time
The eschatological "but now" in Paul:
"nuni de", "pros horan/aionion"
Group 1 Presentation - March 26, 1999
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The eschatological "but now" in Paul's writings is God's salvific event of Christ which breaks into the chronological time of the world. This event is expressed in Romans 3:21. Paul reflects on the sinful and hopeless state of humanity, made known by the law. Then Paul begins verse 21 with, "but now (nuni de) a righteousness of God, apart from the law, has been made known." Dunn writes, "Here [the eschatological nuni de] clearly marks a significant transition point... from one epoch to another, where a decisive new element has transformed the circumstance which previously pertained" (164). [James Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8. Vol. 38. Word: Dallas, 1988.]
How does the eschatological "but now" shape Paul's letter to Philemon? In Phlm 9, Paul describes himself as a "presbutes" (translated 'old man' or 'ambassador') and now (nuni de) a prisoner of Christ. Throughout his letters, Paul uses nuni de to show new freedom in Christ (Rom. 6:22; 7:6) and bondage in Christ, or at least to a Christ-like way of life (Col. 3:8). This freedom and bondage in Christ is a possibility only because of the eschatological "but now". Likewise, Paul's status as prisoner of Christ, at least figuratively, is a result of the eschatological "but now". Onesimus' life, too, is transformed by this "but now", as Phlm 11 states that Onesimus once was not useful, but now (nuni de) he is useful. How is Philemon's life reflecting the eschatological "but now"?
In his letter, is Paul asking (reminding?) Philemon that in all he does as a Christian should his actions reflect God's mighty act of redemption? 1 Peter 4:1-2 connects the eschatological "but now" with transformed human life that serves the will of God for the rest of its days instead of human desires. In Phlm 15, Paul again uses the language of time. Onesimus is separated for a little while (pros horan) perhaps so he could return as a brother forever (aionion). Paul certainly sees Onesimus as an eternal brother in Christ; does the eschatological "but now" direct Paul's sight to the eternal? Philemon's actions will reveal whether or not he also sees Onesimus as an eternal brother or a slave who was absent for a while. It seems that his action to receive Onesimus as a brother or a slave will indicate to some degree his own transformation.
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