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I was reading the Saint's Sermon on Philemon, and have a different take on why this particular book is appreciated by the Church, and why it was put in the Bible. To me, the whole book is a metaphor...Onesimus is mankind, and Philemon is Jesus/God/the Church. As we have free will, we're literally free to walk away from the Church and have a fine old time, enjoying life, and not worrying about anything. However, Paul wants us to--like Onesimus--voluntarily sign ourselves up for a life of servitude to our saviour, our God, and our religious rules and doctrines. As being a slave back then was the 'right' thing to do for Onesimus, being a slave to God (and the Church!) is the 'right' thing for Christians.
      —La Flambeau

saint’s rebuttal:

Wow, interesting call!  To further support your train of thought, recall that Paul starts off his epistles to the Romans, Philippians, and Titus with “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus....”  The term in these is usually translated in English as ‘servant’, but the Greek word douloV is the same word used in ‘slaves obey your masters,’ in Colossians 3:22 etc.  A similar phenomenon exists in the Old Testament, where Moses and David are called “servents of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 34:5, Psalm 18.1, etc.) but the same Hebrew word elsewhere is translated as “slave.”  Paul even says Jesus took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7).  But to back up your point, recall Galatians 3:28, where he says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Here I don’t think Paul was was referring to the physical world, but the spiritual, so there might be something to what you say on a higher level.

However, the Epistle of Philemon unquestionably was meant to address a physical situation.  If it was intentional to have the higher metaphor you intend, that’s open to debate.  Paul frequently does use ambiguous language to get the double meaning, so it’s not out of the question.  But you may have something with your logic on how it was chosen to be interpreted, and why it was kept.  The obvious implication—that Paul is potentially condemning an escaped slave to death and at least a life of continued servitude—is a pretty disturbing conclusion, so it makes sense that people would have to sugar coat this to make it more palatable.

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