The Bad: V 5-9 are basically a condensed version of 1 Timothy 3. Maybe this letter was written by the same author (who wasn’t Paul).
The Ugly: V 10-16 Once the author is done quoting the letter to Timothy, he goes off on a wild, racist tangent. He rails against the Jews (“they of the circumcision”), accusing them of false teaching and greed. Then he turns his anger on people from Crete (Cretian, not to be confused with cretin – a stupid, vulgar, or insensitive person), calling them liars, cruel animals, and lazy gluttons. He attacks Jewish myths (like the bible, perhaps?). And finally, he closes with a general rant directed towards anyone in the ‘out-group’ or who is an unbeliever. What incredible vitriol and hatred is packed into just six verses.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly are all intermingled in this short chapter. We get some Good guidelines for living (eg v 2 and 6-8, especially if they are removed from the religious context). We get some Bad (eg v 3-5); basically well-intended advice tainted with misogyny the religious concepts of sin and purity. And then the inevitable Ugly (v 10-11) – not only must slaves obey, but they must work extra hard for their masters just to provide Christianity with a good public image. And in other disgusting tidbits, pleasure is sinful and the world is evil (v 12), and clergy have the authority to ‘correct’ followers who don’t tow the party line (v 15).
Quotes: Christian pages and memes about this chapter are aimed at women, most suggesting that the women of the church should become a ‘Titus 2 Woman’. I feel icky now…
The Good: Well this one at least begins on a positive note (v 1-2).
The Bad: But then it veers off on a rant that is only too familiar to most of us. It goes like this – I was a miserable sinner. I used to (insert specific sins here). But then I found Jesus! (insert Christianese platitudes). (v 3-7).
The Ugly: And from there the rant progresses to the usual ‘shut-down the dissenters’ message – don’t listen to anyone who thinks differently from you or who asks for evidence. If people disagree, give them a warning and then if they don’t fall back into line, shun them. Because they are miserable sinners. (v 9-11).
The Bad: more boring Christianese platitudes.
The Interesting: A reader questioned the use of the word ‘saint’ in v 5. Apparently the word ‘saint’ appears 229 times in the Greek NT. I can’t say I’ve paid attention, but it’s a good question: how did Paul – or anyone at that time – determine that someone was a ‘saint’?
The designation is now a formal process, but it couldn’t have been back then. It seems that the definition of ‘saint’ depends on usage. Per Wikipedia, “saint” has a wide variety of meanings, depending on the context and denomination. The original Christian denotation was any believer who is “in Christ” and in whom Christ dwells, whether in Heaven or on earth. That makes sense in this passage, because Paul is clearly not referring to any particular person, but a group of people (believers). And the modern translations I am reading reflect that interpretation; the word ‘saint’ becomes “all of God’s people” in the NLT, and “all his holy people” in the NIV. The more restricted use of the word seems to have come into use beginning in 993, when Pope John XV became the first pope to proclaim a person a “saint”.
“This short letter was written by Paul to his slave-owner friend and fellow believer, Philemon. Paul was writing about Onesimus, who he had recently converted, and who happened to also be a runaway slave belonging to Philemon. Since Paul was in a position of authority among believers, this would have been a great opportunity for him (and God) to condemn slavery — if he (and God) had anything against it, that is. But apparently he didn’t. Instead he returned the slave to his owner without so much as a word against the institution of slavery.”
I couldn’t have said it better, so I won’t. But there’s one final indignity – the slaves’ name, Onesimus, means ‘useful’. Is that meant to be a cruel joke? This letter is pitched to believers as a story about forgiveness and reconciliation. That’s just sickening.