THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO PHILEMON
The Apostle Paul writes a personal and pastoral appeal to Philemon, a
beloved coworker, on behalf of Onesimus, Philemon's runaway slave.
Onesimus has arrived where Paul is imprisoned and has come to faith in
Christ. Since Paul remains in prison, this letter, which accompanies the
return of Onesimus to his master, illustrates Paul's skill in pastoral
care from a distance. Paul relies on careful rhetoric and the themes of
partnership in faith and of the mutual love of Christian community to
support his appeal for Philemon to do the right thing and receive
Onesimus back as a brother in Christ.
This letter reveals Paul's pastoral concern for a particular individual
and his confidence that the faith and love that Christians share in
Christ can be energized by discerning what it means to do a "good deed"
in particular instances. As is true for Philemon, so the partnership of
faith in Christian community offers the support and encouragement that
enables action that goes beyond even what is asked or imagined.
Paul's letter to Philemon is the eighteenth book in the New Testament.
As the shortest of Paul's letters (335 words), it is situated at the end
of the "Pauline corpus," which has been traditionally arranged not by
date but from the longest to the shortest (Romans through Philemon).
The opening word identifies Paul as the author of this letter. Although
he adds Timothy's name as a coauthor, within the main body of the letter
his appeal is repeatedly singular and personal (using "I" and "me"). At
one point he makes pointed reference to his "writing this with my own
hand" as he in effect writes an IOU to cover any losses that Philemon
may have experienced (19).
The dating of the letter depends on assumptions about the location of
Paul's imprisonment at the time of its writing. Dates between 55 C.E.
and 61 C.E. are possible. It is probably best to say we simply do not
know for sure where Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this letter.
Paul writes a letter asking Philemon to receive back his runaway slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ.
When reading Philemon, it is helpful to keep in mind that you are
eavesdropping on a letter that seeks to resolve a potentially explosive
situation. Paul appeals to a master, who has absolute economic and
personal rights over his slave, to do the "good deed" called for in
responsible Christian love. This is a situation of pastoral care in
which Paul brings to bear his own personal resources (as an apostle, as a
prisoner, and as a friend) and his skill in persuasive argument. Every
word is carefully chosen, and his appeal is artfully constructed for its
emotional and rational impact on Philemon.
AUTHOR: James Boyce, Professor of New Testament and Greek
1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,
2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:
3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,
5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;
the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging
of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
8 Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,
9 Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
11 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:
13 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:
14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.
15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to
me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
17 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.
18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;
19 I Paul
have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not
say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.
20 Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.
21 Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.
22 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.
23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;
24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.
25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.