Chiasm in Philemon?

Having just finished my read through of Genesis (I know you can’t tell by looking at my posts), I decided to camp out in the little book of Philemon.  After reading it through a couple of times, I have begun to question: Has Paul built this letter into a chiasm?  Here is what I’ve found (if in fact it is actually in the text):

A.  1:1-3 and 23-25 — Listing and mention of fellow laborers and prisoners.  Repetitions: “colaborers”, “prisoners”

B.  1:4-7 and 20-22 — Philemon’s service to the church.  Repetitions: “prayer”, “hearts…refreshed through you”, abundance in Christ (6) and abundance of response (21)

C.  1:8-9 and 17-19 — The basis of Paul’s appeal.  Parrallels: partner (17) and “the basis of love” (9), “doing what is proper” (8) and “charge what he owes to me…I could also mention that you owe me your very self”

D.  1:10-12 and 15-16 — Familial relationship with Onisimus.  Repetitions/Parallels: Paul to Onesimus (10) and Philemon to Onesimus brother (16), “formerly useless to you” (11) and “no longer as a slave” (16)

E.  1:13 and 14  — Center of the Chiasm: Paul’s appeal for Onesimus’ help by Philemon’s willing permission. 

Repetitions/Parallels that Don’t Exactly Fit:

  • Paul’s Prayer (6) and his writing (19) don’t quite fit in the form
  • “Confidence” in v. 8 and 21
  • “our fellow soldier” seems only to find echo in the “command” mentioned in v. 8

If indeed Paul has fashioned this letter “in his own hand” (19) so that, notwithstanding the misfits above, his appeal would fall in the center of his book, what should we pick up from that?  My guess is that (assuming chiasm), Paul’s intent is in highlighting this portion of his multifaceted, often dubious, and possibly manipulative letter to Philemon. 

Further Study: What devices does Paul use to convince Philemon?  Should Philemon be read in concert with Colossians or not?  Do the repetitions/parallels that don’t fit portent to a different strategy?

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11 Responses to Chiasm in Philemon?

  1. With Onesimus delivering both this letter and the one to Colossae (meeting in Philemon’s home?), I don’t know how you read/interpret Philemon without the input of Colossians. I’ve always envisioned the letter to the larger church being read, having been delivered by this runaway slave – who is now the pink elephant in the room – and everyone gathered wondering what will Philemon do. Paul’s personal letter to Philemon in essence gives the man a loving way out of the social/economic/political? dilemma’s he faced.

  2. jantoine says:

    I also have found a chiasmus in Philemon. I need to find my notes. I might post it online as well. But for now, you can have a pick at some rhetorical feature in Acts, here: http://jantoine.wordpress.com/2009/02/23/a-rhetorical-reading-of-acts/

  3. ljhooge says:

    Hey there. I have a chiasmus blog and was wondering if I could place this chiasmus on my blog – giving you and this site the credit of course … ???

    http://biblicalchiasmus.wordpress.com/

    • joewulf says:

      Sure thing @ljhooge. You’ve got some great material up there! I’ll be visiting it more in the future!

  4. ljhooge says:

    Thank you. I’ll probably get it your chiasmus up sometime during the next week. … :-)

  5. […] came across a chiasmus for Philemon at the blog “studywithme” the other day.  It was posted by Joey Wulf.  It inspired me to take a look at Philemon […]

  6. Ben D says:

    I have seen others’ mention this. I am preparing a colloquium study for my undergrad and I was drawn to Philemon; likely due to the fact that nobody preaches on it! I have not yet fully begun my inductive analysis on it (using Traina’s methodical inductive study) but I am going to toy with the idea that by virtue of Paul’s use of “prisoner in Christ” “brother” & “fellow worker”, it might be an example of chiasm OR inclusio; book-ending a passage with similar/exact text. Just food for thought…I’d love the conversation. Regardless of the method, for sure (and sometimes more than one could be argued with support), we need to seek this answer: Why did Paul pen the text in this manner? What is it teaching us about God, or the Christian virtue being expressed/taught? Great little site…I’m glad to have found it!

  7. holyhoosier says:

    I posit the use of the structural relationship (primary) in the letter to Philemon is inclusio. Further study should seek to answer the question: “Why is the letter constructed in this manner, and what does it reveal to us about God?” For now, here is some supporting analysis for inclusio.

    Perhaps the slightest two letter word in this entire letter, which is actually a phrasing nuance of the author, will reveal the most to us in regard to this question: “in” (v. 23). Paul uses similar book-ending statements (prisoner of Christ/prisoner in Christ); however, he offers a nuance in the second by use of the phrase “prisoner in Christ” when referring to Onesimus. As one author states, “He (Onesimus) is no longer a slave, but a brother. And that means that Onesimus has accepted the Gospel of Christ.”(1) We could infer, therefore, the strength of God and that which is being conveyed to Philemon – as well as the church that meets in his home – is not in what Paul says, but in what Paul does not say.

    I conclude, therefore, in looking at this epistle from the standpoint of it being structured primarily as inclusio, but also identifying the supporting structure of cruciality in v. 16 – with the repetitious use of “slave” – that the letter to Philemon is technically structured as inclusio with cruciality (cruciality being the supported structure but offering insight into the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and teaching).

    Just a thought! Any takers?

    (1) Chapman, M. D. (2007). The shortest book in the Bible. Expository Times, 118(11), 546-548.

  8. David Cronkhite Pasadena URCNA says:

    Chiasm

    Genesis 1:15
    Then God made two great lights: the greater light
    to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.
    &
    Revelation 22:5
    There shall be no night there: They need no lamp
    nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.

    Genesis 2:9
    The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge
    of good and evil. Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden.
    &
    Revelation 22:1
    And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding
    from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street,
    and on either side of the river, was the tree of life…

    Genesis 2:12
    And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.
    &
    Revelation 21:18
    The construction of its wall was of Jasper, and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.
    The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones.

    Genesis 2:22
    Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man
    He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
    &
    Revelation 21:9
    “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”

    Genesis 3:8
    And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden
    in the spirit of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves…
    &
    Revelation 20:11
    Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it,
    from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.

    Genesis 3:13
    The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
    &
    Revelation 20:2
    He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the
    Devil and Satan and bound him for a thousand years, and
    cast him into the bottomless pit and shut him up and set a
    seal on him so that he should deceive the nations no more
    till the thousand years were finished.

    Genesis 3:20
    And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
    Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.
    &
    Revelation 19:7
    The marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.
    And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright….

    Genesis 4:17
    And he built a city and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methushael, and Methushael begot Lamech. Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah and the name of the second, Zillah. And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron. And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah. Then Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice, Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech! For I have killed a man for wounding me, even a young man for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy sevenfold.”
    &
    Revelation 18:21
    “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore. The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.” After I heard these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.”

    Genesis 7:1
    Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen
    that you are righteous before Me in this generation.
    &
    Revelation 18:4
    Come out of her, my people lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.
    For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.

    Genesis 7:18
    The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth, and the ark moved about on the surface of the waters. And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered.
    &
    Revelation 17:9
    “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short space. The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind and shall give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings and those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” Then he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.”

    Genesis 9:4
    But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
    Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning.
    &
    Revelation 17:6
    I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints
    and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.

    Genesis 9:22
    And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away and they
    did not see their father’s nakedness.
    &
    Revelation 16:15*
    Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches,
    and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.

    Genesis 11:9
    Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD
    did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence
    did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
    &
    Revelation 16:16*
    And he gathered them together into a place
    called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.

    Genesis 19:24
    Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord out of the heavens…. and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace.
    &
    Revelation 14:9
    …, he himself shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God…….He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever.

    Genesis 22:13
    Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, blessing I will bless you, and multiplying, I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.
    In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
    &
    Revelation 14:1
    Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder.

    End

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