Engaging with N.T. Wright on Udemy

Probing Questions on Philemon

At the end of every N.T. Wright Udemy course, students are encouraged to answer a list of questions. These are the questions that accompany a study on the Letter to Philemon. Hopefully this can pique your interest to do the course. This one is FREE. Whoa.

  • What are the one or two key points from each lecture which help summarise what Prof. Wright is saying?

Lecture 1
The letter to Philemon is a window into the new world that is brought about by the Gospel of Jesus. The outworking of the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor) seems to be what is paramount for Paul in this letter. Paul’s primary focus is seeing reconciliation between two brothers of the faith first, before the challenging the institution of slavery.

Lecture 2
The letter from Pliny shows a completely different strategy formed by a different worldview from Paul. It shows a method that focuses on appealing to self-benefit and pride, and does not provide any opportunity for the existing social order to be challenged. This letter is used to contrast with Paul’s letter to Philemon, and underscore the “explosive impact of Christianity” in the world of the day.

Lecture 3
This lecture highlighted the importance of unity in the message of the Gospel — a commitment to koinonia — as full unity is proper to the people of the Messiah. Paul’s primary concern in this letter is reconciliation between slave and master. Paul appeals to Philemon to welcome and receive Onesimus as if Philemon was receiving Paul himself. Wright stresses that this demands costly humility and trust — a type that takes people to a place of shame and death, where Jesus was, so there can be a radical new birth. Further, Paul does not force this view onto Philemon, but rather approaches the situation in a way that encourages Philemon to think over the situation for himself, for him to come to the his own choice to act rightly.

  • What was totally a new idea for you?

An idea that I am still trying to process is the notion that Paul was challenging the institution of slavery, however, not in a direct manner. Instead, Paul put a time-bomb beside it, as Wright says, appealing to the bond that Philemon had with Onesimus, as a brother in Christ. Wright’s exposition seems to assert that it is reconciliation that will ultimately trump institutions such as slavery; perhaps, as such a worldview makes such institutions futile. In this way, Paul’s steps to minister reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus is like a foundational step in the abolishment of slavery. This appears so simple, but fundamentally radical. And very much the Jesus way.

A frustration that seems to exist in societies with a history of strong civil rights advocacy, is the notion that although there are laws and protections for certain groups, there is still no accompanying acceptance. Instead, there is a glossing over and no deep acknowledgement of painful narratives; rather, just a simple settling that affords no answer when people ask: “why can’t you just get over it?” I wonder: can hate be outlawed?

I think Jesus would advocate that it cannot. The remedy that we find in the Bible is helping people to realise that reconciliation can be found when we all acknowledge that we are children of God and clothed in Christ, first and foremost, before any other identity we form an allegiance with.

This is not to say that institutions such as slavery should not be challenged. However, the ministry of reconciliation should remain primary in our everyday, and *perhaps*, will make our fight against social injustices more effective and fruitful.

  • What was a powerful, insightful quote that you wish to remember and discuss?

“When we think of Jesus as Messiah, we think of him as the representative of his whole people; as the King who sums up his people in himself. So that what Paul longs to see in every community…the Messiah may be formed in you. He wants to see in this unity of jew and gentile, slave and free, male and female; he wants to see the full unity which is proper to the people of the Messiah.”

  • What methods would you use to teach a key thought or idea to others?

I would focus on what Paul calls the ministry of reconciliation and perhaps how that was such a radical idea for the time. I would also focus on how it is a ministry that Christians are still called to take part in.

  • What did you disagree with? Why did you disagree?

No real disagreements in this course.

  • What would you ask Prof. Wright about this section?

I would probably ask him to explain the differences between modern-day slavery and slavery of the ancient world a few times — to really understand the dynamics between Onesimus and Philemon.

I am passionate about exploring the Word of God and am so thankful we live in an age where quality resources are accessible. If you, too, are looking for ways to deepen your faith knowledge, N.T. Wright has a number of courses available on Udemy. This course can be found at: 

all for Your glory,