This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Philemon 23-24 and the identity of the author of Acts

This is the first of a series on posts, which will determine the identity of the author of Acts. We begin with Phlm 23-24.
Ἀσπάζεταί σε Ἐπαφρᾶς ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, Μᾶρκος, Ἀρίσταρχος, Δημᾶς, Λουκᾶς, οἱ συνεργοί μου.
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
John Chrysostom wrote this about the list of names at the end of Romans:
I think that many even of those who have the appearance of being extremely good men, hasten over this part of the Epistle as superfluous, and having no great weight in it. ... For because it is a catalogue of names, they think they cannot get any great good from it.
The same can be said of commentators on Philemon, who fail to appreciate the importance of Phlm 23-24, their interests being directed elsewhere.

Every part of this letter was written to persuade Philemon to send back his slave, Onesimus. Crossan and Reed (In Search of Paul) are surely right:
At the letter's start, Paul writes no just to Philemon alone, but to "Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister,, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your House" (1-2). At the end, he sends greetings not just from himself, but from "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, ...Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers" (123-24). Everyone, hints Paul, is watching you, Philemon.
It is my contention that Paul has crafted Phlm 23-24 to persuade Philemon. He mentions that Epaphras was his fellow prisoner for much the same reason that he appeals to Philemon in Phlm 9 as "an old man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus". Paul points to his own sacrifice and that of Epaphras to pressure Philemon to make a small sacrifice himself. Paul is saying, "Epaphras and I are in prison for Christ, so releasing Onesimus is the least you can do". This could well explain why Paul mentions Epaphras first in the list of greeters. I will come back to the issue of name order when I discuss Luke in a later post.

In his effort to persuade Philemon, Paul puts his arm around him, and, stressing the close relationship that Paul and Timothy had with him, he calls him "our dear friend and co-worker" (Phlm 1). Paul continues in similar vein in Phlm 4-7. After making his appeal in Phlm 8-21, he announces that he expects to visit. Presumably he wants Philemon to consider how embarrassed he will be when Paul visits if he has not released Onesimus by then. After using the second person plural in Phlm 22, Paul significantly switches back to the second person singular in Phlm 23. Paul writes that Epaphras and the others send greetings, not to Philemon and Aphia and Archippus and the church, as we might expect, but to Philemon individually. Paul and his associates are here stressing their close relationship to Philemon by greeting him and him alone.

They further emphasize their close relationship to Philemon by using diminutive or familiar name forms.
"Epaphras" is a short form of the name "Epaphroditus"; Demas is short for "Demetrius", and "Luke" is short for "Lucius". Furthermore, "Mark" is a Latin praenomen, and if he was a Roman citizen, this name would be used only by family and close friends. "Aristarchus" is not an informal name, but this exception will be explained in a later post.

The predominance of informal name forms in Phlm 23-24 is striking, and must be due to the context in some way. We should therefore expect that Paul could elsewhere name these men differently. This point has been overlooked by the commentators, I think. I will argue later that Epaphras was Epaphroditus and that Luke was Lucius.

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