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Philemon and the origins of the New Testament

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posted on Dec, 11 2009 @ 03:26 PM
I re-read Philemon today and thought about this again. I hope someone may find it interesting.

What I'm about to share with you, I was taught by a very good man named Dr. Brady Whitehead who is the most learned Bible scholar I have ever personally known. I am not able to fill in all the gaps as well as he did but I'll give you what I can remember and let you think about it yourself.

This is a good piece of theoretical scholarship and may give you a little better understanding of the small book of Philemon.

Philemon is very short, it doesn't contain any major theologies, or teaching for the church and seems much like a personal correspondence of Paul. So the question is; why was it included in the New Testament?

It was written while Paul was in prison to Philemon who was one of Paul's students, and a fellow worker in the church. He writes on behalf of Onesimus who seems to have been converted to the faith by Paul while he was in prison. v10.

Onesimus was a slave who had probably either ran away or struck Philemon both of which would have given his master the right to have him killed. Paul, or Onesimus, or maybe both together decide that it would be best for Onesimus to return to Philemon and reconcile himself.

So Paul sends this letter asking Philemon to be merciful and to receive Onesimus not as a servant, but as a brother. He alludes that he would really like for Philemon to return Onesimus to him so that he could help him with his work. Onesimus was apparently educated and able to write (a task Paul was having problems with due to his poor eyesight) but he says that he trusts that Philemon will do the right thing. He also mentions that he wants to come and visit when he is able to do so and asks Philemon to prepare a room for him.

That is a short but I think fair summary of the whole letter.

Again we come to the question of why was this included in the New Testament?

Well that takes us to the Pauline Corpus. We know that sometime in the latter part of the 1st century that someone collected a lot of Paul's writings and put them together in a collection to be shared with the churches. These letters were circulating before the Gospels and included 1&2 Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Colossians, Ephesians, Phillipians, Philemon, 1&2 Timothy and Titus.

We are not sure who put the Pauline Corpus together, again we are delving into theoretical scholarship here, but Onesimus might very well be a good candidate for our compiler. We know that later on Onesimus became a very key figure in the early church and was even Bishop of Ephesus, he was Martyred around the year 95.

So we know that Philemon pardoned him and sent him back to Paul where he likely served as a scribe and also helped distribute his letters to the churches. This would have put him in the prime position to be the person who compiled the Pauline Corpus which as you see above makes up a large portion of the New Testament.

Coming back to the question - why is Philemon in the New Testament - a good answer might lie in this assumption that if you were Onesimus and you were carrying around letters from Paul and you made a collection of them. You would probably want to include the letter that he wrote on your behalf that gave you your freedom.

Isn't this just like God? To use a slave, a sinner, a renegade whom He has redeemed as an instrument of inspiration to all the world. So it's possible that without this little letter, we may not have had the New Testament as we know it today.

Thanks for reading. I hope it is meaningful for you. When I first heard it, it struck me very profoundly.

*Edit Spelling

[edit on 12/11/2009 by sagestranger]

[edit on 12/12/2009 by sagestranger]


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