Video Transcript: Paul The Letter Writer, Part 1: The Letter Opening

Unit 06 03 Paul the Letter Writer Part 1 The Letter Opening

Welcome to this presentation entitled Paul, the letter writer Paul's persuasive prose the case of Philemon. The goal of this presentation is to convince you that Paul is a skilled letter writer, and that he crafts his letter with the kind of persuasive ability that well, the modern reader typically misses. Well, perhaps we should get started with an example. And the example I want to give you is about a high school sweetheart, which will mean Jack and Jill. And this is I'm afraid a bit of a tragedy, but Jack and Jill get accepted at different universities. And so in the fall time and mid months, tears and sadness, they part company and go their separate ways. But they managed to keep their love life or lie their love life alive through the writing of letters. And even though they're not particularly conscious of it, their letters quickly developed by a rather fixed pattern, or style or structure. Well, this goes on for a few months. And finally, Jack comes up with some money and gets to travel to Jill. But alas, things really don't go that well. They don't really pick up where they last left off. And so when Jack parted company from Jill, he was a little bit nervous about their relationship. And so you'll understand that when the next letter came from Jill, he was very eager to see what it says. And it started off this way. She wrote the year Jack. Now that doesn't seem so significant to you, but it did to him because you see all of her previous letters didn't use the adjective deer, but the superlative deer wrist Jack. And so when he saw that lesson phatic dear Jackie, he got nervous. And so he quickly scan the contents of the letter, he didn't look in great detail, but just to briefly see what she said. And she wrote, I'm so busy here the professors give us tons of readings and assignments, way more than we ever had in high school. I have hardly any free time to spend with my new friends last week, my dorm night, and I went to cool concert and, and so on. And this maybe doesn't seem so significant to you. But it did to Jack, because all of her previous letters began the same way. She would start off by saying things like, I miss you. I can't wait to see you again. It's so stupid that we're at separate schools. And then after that kind of Lovey Dovey, catch up kind of talk, then she would go ahead and talk about the facts and figures of her life what was happening? Well, Jack is really getting nervous now. And so he jumps to the bottom of the letter and notices how she signs the letter. She writes love, Jill. And again, that may not seem so significant to you, but it did to him because you see, he had a pet name for her. He always called her Jilly. And she always used that pet name to kind of conclude, and and their previous letters. And so this time when he saw the word love Gil, he knew he was in deep, deep doo doo. Well, the point of this illustration is what is to show that information is communicated not just by what we say, but by how we say it. Or in this case, information is communicated not just by the content of the letter, but by changes in the form and the structure of the letter.


And in a very similar way, this is true for the apostle Paul, if you lay all of Paul's letters side by side, you see they have a rather fixed pattern or structure to them. And when Paul deviates from that structure, when he changes when he normally does, I suggest you it's never by accident or Fluke chance, but it's always deliberate. It's always conscious. More importantly, it's always linked in some way to the message that he under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was led to say, and so I'd like to suggest to you how we can be better readers of Paul's letters to understand first his form and his structure, so that we'll have eyes to see when he deviates and changes from that form and structure. It is significant for interpretation. Well, this isn't just an idea unique to me. There are some other scholars who have noticed this. I have one quote here, I think that is a helpful one for us to consider. Calvin Whitesell writes, once the letter writing conventions, which Paul used are understood, the alert reader will also find clues to Paul's intent in his creative use of those conventions as well. Let me unpack that, quote a little bit for you. First, he says once the letter writing conventions, now conventions, this is not a reference to like the Jaycees getting together in an annual way. Conventions are a fixed phrase a stereotyped formula unique to letters. For example, if you're going to write a letter, you don't have to think very hard about how it's going to start. It's going to begin by, say you saying, dear so and so that's a convention of our modern letter writing letters today. Namely, do you open it with the word dear, and ending it too, you also won't have to think very hard about it, you'll sign sincerely. That's another letter writing convention, a fixed formula, a stereotype phrase of letters today. And so, here ratelle is saying that we first have to understand the letter writing conventions of Paul's day. And we don't have them today. And so naturally, we're not so familiar with them. And so we have to kind of go back in time and look at letters in that day. Thankfully, we have many letters that have survived, particularly from Egypt, in order to understand the kind of popular letter writing conventions that Paul knew about and his readers knew about, and that the impossible employs in his letters. But then ratelle goes on to say, the alert reader, that adjective alert is important. If you're the sleepy reader, if you're the kind of reader who's not aware of these letter writing conventions, if you're the kind of reader of Paul, who doesn't recognize that he's a skilled letter writer, and he changes and adapts these things, well, then you're going to miss out on some key information, we have to be alert, we have to have eyes to see this literary feature in the apostles correspondence. And then he says the alert reader will also find clues to Paul's intent. I mean, isn't that the purpose of exegesis, to understand what the author in this case Paul was intending to write. And then finally, this last phrase is important in his that is Paul's creative use of those conventions. Paul doesn't just in a slavish way, copy exactly what all other letter writers of that day were doing. Paul is skilled enough, he is gifted enough to change to adapt to make alterations in such a way to his letters that they better or more persuasively communicate what he again under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was led to say. So there's a lot of important ideas. In this brief quote, it serves as a kind of a thesis statement for what I hope to prove to you in this presentation.


Well, the first thing you have to do is we have to understand what Paul normally does in terms of his form and structure. And Paul has four basic elements to his letters, they consist of the opening section, the Thanksgiving section, the body or the letter body. And finally, the letter closing. And the first thing we have to do is we have to look at each of these sections more carefully. And we want to first understand what Paul normally does, because we don't understand what his usual pattern is, how are we ever going to be able to know when he deviates from that pattern where he does something different. And so let's spend the next little while beginning in the first part of Paul's letters, namely, the letter opening. And the letter opening has three parts. It consists of the sender, the recipient, and then the opening greeting. And I'm going to go a little bit deeper and just look at at each one of those in greater detail, that means we first start off with the sender, the very first part of the letter, the letter opening, and the first part of that letter opening, we call that the sender unit. So what does Paul normally do if we look at all of his letters, what is his typical or expected pattern? Well, he has four things typically, in the sender unit, he has first his name. Today, we always put our name at the end of the letter in that day, it was very common to put your name at the beginning of the letter. And actually, it's always Paul. And it almost always is first, except in a few cases, when you have a letter of petition. When you're writing to somebody who's in more powerful position than you are and perhaps asking them to do something on your behalf, you might honor them by inverting the word order. And so by Paul having his name first, He clearly doesn't write to his churches from a position of inferiority, rather, as we'll see from the title that he uses later on, right always a position of authority. Now mentioning the title, the second thing found after his name is indeed a title. And by far the most common title he uses is apostle, though in a couple of letters, he adds the term servant. Then third, he has a short descriptive phrase indicating the source of that apostleship. So the title is just given. Now he spells out where he got that position, and it's usually the short phrase of Christ Jesus, or sometimes the other person. prepositional phrase through the will of God. And then there's a fourth thing that Paul adds, and this isn't so common actually two letters of his day, he includes the name of a co sender. It's not rare. There are other examples in that day of authors include co senders, but it's not a very common or widespread practice. And this, of course, raises some question as to what purpose Paul might have and including co senators what function it has. And though there's some debate about that, I think a good case can be made that in some sense, it has an authenticating function, the idea of more than one witness and, and Paul usually chooses the CO sender with care, it's usually somebody who has some history or connection with the church to whom he's writing. And that proves that Paul has maybe insight information or more authoritative information about the church to whom he is writing. So those are the four major elements that Paul includes in his sender unit. And if we had to recreate, let's say, the last letter of Paul to the Laodiceans. You don't look surprised, do you? I mean, you did know that Paul wrote a letter to the Laodiceans that we don't have, there are other letters of Paul wrote that we don't have, for instance, he wrote four letters to the Corinthians not to our first Corinthians is actually the second letter. And our second Corinthians is actually the fourth letter. And we know that he wrote to the Laodiceans, because in his letter to the Colossians, he says, you guys read the letter I wrote to Laodicea, and have the Laodiceans, read the letter I wrote to you. And so if I gave you an assignment, and the assignment was recreate the hypothetical opening of Paul's last letters to the Laodiceans, that actually would be an easy assignment for you to do, he would say, I know how it begins, it would begin first with his name, Paul, then he would give himself a title and the most common title he would use is apostle, and then he has to give the source of that title, normally of Christ Jesus, sometimes additionally by the will of God, and then he would have a co sender. And we know and that time of his life when he was in house arrest in Rome, he had Timothy with them, and so will will will give him the CO sender Timothy, and call him our brother. By the way, Paul carefully distinguishes usually his position from that of his co sender, it's always Paul and apostle, and Timothy, the brother or in First Corinthians Paul an apostle and softness, the brother. So this is what Paul normally does. Well, now that we're armed with this information appalls normal or expected pattern, let's apply it to find Lehman. I've chosen fi Lehman for the simple fact that it's the shortest of Paul's letters. And it's the easiest for us to use in a brief presentation like this. So we look at the letter opening of Lehman. And we see if Paul does normal things, or anything unusual here. So it starts off with his name, Paul, and you said yourself, that's normal, that's expected and it is. And then the next thing comes is a title. But notice here we have something unusual, instead of the expected title apostle, or sometimes the additional title servant, we have the title prisoner.


Now, perhaps you're a bit skeptical, and I understand why you're saying to yourself, well, da, he wrote prisoner because while he was a prisoner, in other words, you're wondering whether I'm reading too much into this change. But I have a comeback for you. Paul was also a prisoner when he wrote Ephesians, he was a prisoner. And he wrote Philippians, he was a prisoner wrote Colossians, he was a prisoner, and he wrote Second Timothy, and in none of those letters, does he use the word prisoner? Only in fire Lehman? And so this raises the question that Paul has deliberately changed his title, and it somehow Anderson's significant for the rest of the letter that he's about to write. So how might that be? How should we understand this change not as something by accident or Fluke chance, but as a conscious choice by the apostle and skilled letter writer that he is, he's thinking about how this will better function, how this will better serve his persuasive purposes in this letter? Well, I want to suggest to you that well, first of all, Paul, many times in this letter refers to himself as a prisoner. It's not just in this opening verse one, but it's also four other times in this letter. In verse nine, Paul says I Paul, now a prisoner of Christ Jesus, in verse 10, he talks about an Islamist, whose father I became Ally was a prisoner or in prison. In verse 13, Paul says, I was hoping to keep him in order that he might serve me on behalf of my imprisonment for the gospel. And then finally, Get the letter he refers to a path for my fellow prisoner. Oh, and by the way, Paul says that I tell you that I am a prisoner. You see, this is a very short letter and yet five times in this brief correspondence, Paul highlights the fact that he is a prisoner. Now, what function might this have what is called Game by these repeated references to his imprisonment? Well, some scholars at least the few have eyes were the alert reader to notice this change think that perhaps Paul is trying to bring out a sympathy vote, Paul is going to ask Funnyman for a favor, and now he highlights the bad situation he's in and thereby puts pressure on him to accede. I want to suggest to you that it's a slightly different purpose. If we read the letter carefully, Paul nutso suddenly suggest that he would like an isthmus that's the slave but the letter of Funnyman is all about for anesthetist to be be returned to him so he can continue to help Paul in his imprisonment. You see, Paul was under house arrest in the city of Rome. And he wrote, finally, amen. And even though obviously under house arrest, he couldn't go out and evangelize. He could still carry on his ministry. He could carry on his ministry because he could receive visitors from the various churches that he had founded, and he could send out his helpers, his emissaries and of course, Paul could still keep on writing letters. So Paul had also to say a prison ministry. He wasn't really in prison. He was a Roman citizen, so he was more under house arrest. And I'm not thinking about a prison ministry to fellow prisoners. But Paul was under house arrest and he continued his ministry through his helpers, people like Timothy and now apparently also people like on this service. And so Paul, in this letter writes not only for Philemon to forgive the runaway slave, but I think Paul is not so suddenly hinting for Philemon to turn around and send the forgiven slave back to Paul, as Paul says, so he can continue to serve me on your that is your Philemon behalf in my imprisonment. And Paul foreshadows Paul anticipates this request. Already at the very beginning of the letter before he says anything. He highlights his imprisonment at the very, very beginning. So that's in the forefront of his readers minds, as Philemon receives this letter and thinks about the requests that Paul is getting. So the bottom line I'm suggesting to you is, Paul changed the title not by accident or Fluke chance, but he deliberately changed it to Apostle, probably not so much to evoke a sympathy vote, as it were to kind of set the stage for the implicit request of the letter, namely that Philemon send an SMS back and help Paul in his ministry from prison. Well, if you're not so convinced, if you're still skeptical, that's okay, I've got lots more examples, I'm


sure I can convince you by the end of our presentation. And so we move on now to the next part of the letter opening. And that is the recipient, the person or people who get this document. And again, we first see what Paul normally does, so that we can better appreciate when he does something unusual or something different. So what does Paul normally do? Well, he normally has two parts to the recipient. First he has the, the the name of the church and the region where it's located so to the church of so and so. And, of course that will change from place to place depending where the church is located. But then secondly, he has what I call a positive descriptive phrase, he calls his readers or identifies them with a short phrase that goes something like this in God our Father in the Lord Jesus Christ, or in Christ Jesus or loved of God and called to be holy. And this is a positive phrase, because when Paul identifies the reader, if I would say about you that you're a person who's in Christ Jesus, so if I would identify you as loved of God, your shoulder should kind of come up because in a sense, I've I've praised you I've acknowledged a relationship you have with God and or Christ. And so this is what Paul normally does, he first has to the church of so and so and then this positive descriptive phrase. Well, now that we're armed with what Paul normally does, let's go to Philemon and see whether he does what he normally does or something unusual. And we read here to Philemon, our beloved friend and fellow worker and at the our sister to archivists, our fellow soldier and to the church that meets at your house. Well, there are a number of things here that are unusual about this recipient. The first thing that we notice is Paul uses the adjective be loving To describe finally even in Greek even if you don't know Greek you'll recognize this word a GOP a toasts, that key biblical word for love. Now again, you're the skeptic and you're saying, Wow, come on, brother, why No, you're you're reading way too much into this change. I mean, Christians are into love. And so no wonder Paul identifies him as a love or beloved person. However, I want to suggest to you, despite your objection that the word love or beloved, that root word occurs a lot in this short letter. Now, I have here an image of an ATM machine, because I want to give you an analogy, I think of what Paul is doing an ATM machine, my wife and I often come driving up and we pull up our car beside and we deposit something in and we deposit something into the bank because one day we hope to do something different, we hope to withdraw it hopefully with some interest. And I'm going to suggest to you that Paul in the early part of Lehman, in a sense, deposits something not not money, but praise. As every time I hear the word love I go to Ching, I hear the cash register go. As Paul deposits praise. He identifies his reader, Philemon as a person who has been loved by Him, and one who also shows love to others. So our verse is verse one be the opening the letter or Paul identifies him as a god BETOs loved. But that word occurs two more times in the introduction to the letter in the Thanksgiving section in verse five, Paul says, Your love to change, did you hear the cash register, go for all the saints. And notice where Paul directs that love. He says, not so much your love for God and our Christ. Not that Funnyman doesn't love God or Christ. But Paul highlights your love for the saints. I mean, the saints, our fellow Christians, fellow Christians, like Paul hasn't said yet, this runaway slave of yours who has become a Christian, and I'm going to ask you something about and then before Paul gets to the body of the letter in verse seven, he also again deposits phrase he says, Your love has refreshed the hearts of the saints to change. Did you hear the cash register go again, as yet another time Paul identifies by Leeman as the kind of person who acts in a loving way toward other Christians. Paul doesn't specify what that what it is that Funnyman does, but I'm sure it's a lot more than five even going around, you know, hugging people saying, I love you, man. I mean, he's he's doing something tangible. He's probably providing housing or maybe employment, or money or food, but he's doing something concrete in order to demonstrate love toward fellow Christians. Well, after three times, depositing this praise, identifying Philemon as one who has received love from Paul and Timothy and extended that love toward other Christians. Then we get to the body of the letter in verse nine, and it's withdrawal time. Paul says,


I appeal to you more because of love. Do you catch that? In fact, the Greek word orders stresses the love part. In Greek, the because of love comes before the main verb, more literal translation is more because of love, I appeal to you. In other words, I've praised you as a person who loves fellow Christians. Now I'm going to appeal to that love that you extend that love toward a particular Christian, namely a runaway slave who has become a believer under my care, namely on estimates. And if you still don't quite believe that this is significant when you get to verse 16. And there's some debate, of course, about the meaning of Philemon. But most scholars agree that verse 16, although it's open to some debate, this verse, this is where the heart of the request of the letter is found. Paul says that you receive this lay this this this person in this room is no longer as a slave but better than a slave as a not just a brother but as an a God, a toasts as a beloved brother, the very same term that Paul used to identify Philemon at the beginning of the letter now is used in the key request, as Paul says, I want you to treat this runaway slave in the same way as a beloved brother. Well, there's another way in which the letter opening I think has been changed or adapted by Paul and enhances his persuasive purpose. If you go back to the letter opening, you see that it's a lot more than just Philemon who is the recipient of this letter even though it's written to Philemon first and foremost, it's also written to apparently at via most people believe that's funny man's wife, written to Archippus probably not his son but the interim pastor of the cult. Washington church. Philemon is the wealthy patron who allows his home to be used by the Colossian church. And the pastor of the Colossian. Church, his name is is a papyrus, he has left Kalasa and going all the way to Paul in Rome. And now Paul has left Epaphras has left the pastor Archippus, the interim pastor in charge while he's gone. And then finally, Paul writes a letter to the church that meets at your house. So actually, even though on one hand, the letter is written to Philemon, the singular is used, mostly through the letter, Paul, deliberately, in a couple of strategic places, has the plural. And I want to suggest to you that a request made in public is a lot harder to turn down that a request made in private. When when you ask somebody to do something in public, well, then everybody's eyes are on that person. And they're looking at him and and seeing how they're going to respond. Have you ever been to like a fun raising dinner, you maybe go to a right to life event, and you sit around the table with your family and your friends. And then at the at the banquet? The speaker says something like, now you take those pledge cards and you go home and the privacy of your home? You know, they don't ever say that do they? Do they say they say fill it out right there at the table right in front of your family and friends. You see, it's harder to turn down a request made in public than one made in private. And so I'm suggesting to you that Paul deliberately makes this very personal and difficult request a public matter. So now everybody in the Colossian church are looking at Philemon and say now, what's he going to do? Paul has asked him to do something for this runaway slave? And is he going to listen to the apostle or not? This is another part of Paul's deliberate, careful, persuasive strategy. And the question is whether we're one of those alert readers who have eyes to see what Paul is doing in this particular case.


So far, we've looked at the letter opening. And we've looked at the first two elements, we have yet the third one to look at in the letter opening. And that's the greeting. And again, we first have to look at what Paul normally does, so that we can have eyes to see and understand when he does something different. So what did Paul normally do? Well, it has three elements. The first element is grace and peace. That's what many pastors use in different traditions at the opening, or sometimes the closing of a service, grace and peace. And I want you to understand how each of those terms is significant. Maybe we'll do the second one first, because that probably is the easiest to understand. The word peace, of course, is a Greek word since Paul is writing to Philemon in Greek, but it's also a common Jewish word. Even if you don't know Hebrew probably heard the Hebrew word shalom. And Shalom was used not only to say goodbye, but also to say hello. And so it looks as if Paul in his opening letters, uses a traditional Jewish greeting Shalom. Now what about the word grace? Well, in Greek, the word grace is Haris Haris, and it sounds suspiciously similar to a very common by far the most common greeting used in secular letters. And letters by non Christians, they always or almost always begin with the Greek word, Hall rain, Hall rain. And so it looks as if Paul has taken a secular Greek greeting Hall rain, and he's Christianized that into the word Haris. And then he takes a typical Jewish greeting. And so now Paul results in a truly biblically inclusive greeting, grace and peace. Well, the second element in this greeting is very simple. It's to you, the recipients of, of this grace and peace. And then thirdly, we have the Divine Source, who is the originator? Where does this grace and peace come from? And it's always from both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And by the way, the grace and peace at the beginning of the letter are echoed in a key aesthetic fashion at the end of the letter, where you have grace and peace at the beginning, and then suddenly you get peace. And lastly, Grace, because Paul is marking the boundaries of the letter and everything in between is then either the Thanksgiving or the body section. So that's what Paul normally does Grace and peace to you from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Well, that's what Paul normally does. And we apply that to Philemon, we see grace and peace with it all that's normal. There's no question They're to you that's expected. And then we finally see from God or Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. So actually Paul hasn't changed at all the opening greeting of Philemon. However he does in other letters. If you want a good example of how Paul expands the opening greeting, take a moment and look at Galatians 1325. We haven't got time to deal with it here. But there Paul emphasizes Christ redemptive work as a pre emptive strike before he addresses this subject in the body of the letter. He already in the letter opening has an expansion of his greeting, which highlights the salvific work of Christ in contradiction to the Judaizers who are saying that Jesus or belief in Jesus isn't quite enough. You also have to be circumcised, you also have to pay more attention to the law, and so forth and so on.

Last modified: Thursday, December 9, 2021, 1:19 PM