Titus and Philemon

Good morning! Today’s texts of Titus and Philemon are purported to be brief letters of Paul to several followers. The book of Titus is like Timothy in the sense that it gives encouragement for a younger disciple to lead a worthy life. The letter to Philemon concerns the status of Onesimus, a slave who is well-regarded by Paul due to their ministry together. Though the former book encourages slavish obedience for the sake of orderliness, Philemon restores some sense of the Christian faith being a force for freedom and justice.

Titus has been given the charge of organizing church elders on the island of Crete, selecting righteous leaders according to conditions of public righteousness laid out in chapters 1-2. He is also tasked with resisting rival factions of Christ-followers, particularly those who believe circumcision is necessary for Christian faith. Paul sets for suggestions of moral living for male and female, old and young, calling them to set a blameless example for all. Women are called to be submissive to men, slaves to slaveholders, and civilians to rulers and authorities—in all things cooperating with the status quo. The table-turning Jesus of the gospels, who questioned “the way things are” and challenged religious, political power is nowhere to be found in this passage. Chances are, the Jesus from earlier in the New Testament would not recognize such compliant “go-alongs” as his disciples.

In Paul’s other letter, the recipient Philemon is a slave-owner of Onesimus, who has left him behind in order to accompany Paul in his missionary journeys. Paul opens with sweet commendation of Philemon’s love and faith, but then Paul challenges Philemon to deal mercifully with Onesimus upon the latter’s return to his master. Several times Paul identifies himself as “a prisoner of Christ Jesus”, probably referring to literal imprisonment but also suggesting a Christian’s bond to Christ above all other concerns. Paul also suggests that the service of Onesimus to Christ has helped to make Onesimus less of a slave and more of “a beloved brother”. In this letter at least, Paul seems to be advocating for emancipation from “the way things are” in light of Jesus’ gospel. Happy reading!

Read Titus and Philemon. (Note that the link here is only to TItus 1-3. For copyright reasons, you will need to click the button at the bottom of the linked page to read further chapters.)

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Hebrews 1-5. Thanks for reading!

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