Mysteries and THE Mystery
The Rule of Four and The Da Vinci Code are currently number one and number two on the New York Times hardback fiction bestseller list. Both are erudite thrillers set in the exotic world of high art and even higher academia. One deals with the translation of an arcane medieval manuscript, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili—a mysterious text encrypted in elaborate codes and written in a hodgepodge of Latin, Greek, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The other deals with Caravaggio, an albino monk, the curator of the Louvre, Leonardo’s most famous drawing, Vitruvian Man, Fibonacci’s famous mathematical puzzles, and a bandwagon-load of silly, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about anti-matter, the Illuminati, the Gospel story, the Big Bang theory, and the Vatican. Both of these unlikely bestsellers seem to attempt to out-anagram, out-acrostic, out-chiastic, out-palindrome, and out-cipher-text each other. Millions of summer-reading lists are sure to include these heart-thumping, page-turning, and murder-solving brainy thrillers.
It is important to remember though that they’re just stories. Novels. Imaginative yarns. Speculative tales. Lies told for fun and profit. Fiction. They are artful artiface.
All this has gotten me to thinking. Indeed, the blockbuster popularity of these two tantalizing mega-myths has made me so bold as to attempt an exposition of a similarly ancient mystery. The intellectual puzzle I am particularly fascinated with is actually a New Testament postcard epistle—perhaps the most neglected text in the Pauline corpus. It is a text no less intriguing, no less literary, and no less complex than one of these fat summer brainteasers. It is the little letter to Philemon.
Over the next two Sundays, I will explore the mysteries of Onesimus, Archippus, Apphia, and the congregation at Laodicea. I will attempt to unravel the odd riddle of the letter’s chiastic structures. And I will attempt to derive essential, practical, and usable lessons for us today.
The best part about all this, of course, is the fact that this text is not simply true; it is Truth. It is not simply non-fiction; it is the very Word of God. Unlike the novels of Dan Brown, Ian Caldwell, and Dustin Thomason, this mystery is no tall tale; it is Gospel Revelation. And that makes all the difference.