John Paul Heil, «The Chiastic Structure and Meaning of Paul’s Letter to Philemon», Vol. 82 (2001) 178-206
This article proposes a new chiastic structure for Paul’s letter to Philemon based on rigorous criteria and methodology. The center and pivot of the chiasm, ‘but without your consent I resolved to do nothing, so that your good might not be as under compulsion but rather under benevolence’ (v. 14), is a key to explicating the letter’s supposedly unclear purpose. Paul wants Philemon to give his former slave Onesimus back to Paul as a beloved brother and fellow worker for the gospel of Jesus Christ, because of Philemon’s response to the grace of God evident in his faithful love for the holy ones as a beloved brother and fellow worker of Paul.
Although chiastic structures of Paul’s letter to Philemon have been proposed in the past, none has proven to be entirely satisfactory1. Not convincing as true chiasms, they have failed to disclose the real purpose of the letter2. We wish to propose a more compelling chiastic structure and to utilize its rhetorical function to reveal more precisely the purpose and meaning of this shortest and subtlest of Paul’s letters3.