by Ken Cayce

Ken Cayce All rights reserved.


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Philemon Explained

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Book of Philemon Explained

Title: The title of this letter is the name of the addressee, taken from (verse 1).

Authorship: There is little doubt that Paul wrote this epistle, since he refers to himself at least three times (in verses 1, 9 and 19). Its canonicity was widely recognized in the early church, particularly by Ignatius, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Marcion, and in the Muratorian Canon. Even destructive critics do not question its authenticity.

The letter from Paul to Philemon was of a very personal nature. Paul was a prisoner at the time (verses 1 and 9), so this is one of the four "prison epistles," along with Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, which Paul wrote during his first Roman imprisonment. According to (Colossians 4:7-9), Onesimus accompanied Tychicus to Colossae, so Paul must have written to the Colossians and to Philemon at approximately the same time. Suggested dates range from 60-63 A.D.

Background - Setting: This epistle is the story of three main characters, Onesimus, Philemon and Paul and their interaction. Onesimus, a slave in Colossae, had evidently robbed Philemon, his master (verse 18), and run away. During his flight, Onesimus encountered Paul in Rome, and through his ministry came to faith in Christ.

Subsequently, Onesimus became a helper to Paul (verses 12-13). But Paul recognized Onesimus's duty to his master, so sent him back to Philemon, along with Tychicus, who carried Paul's letter to the Colossian church at the same time (Col. 4:7-9).

In the letter, Paul implores Philemon to receive Onesimus, not as a slave, but as "a brother beloved" (verse 16). Paul himself, in a gracious act of Christian love, assumed Onesimus's debt in full: "Put that on mine account" (verse 18). Though very brief, the epistle is a valuable addition to the New Testament record for three reasons:

1. It reveals more of the apostle's own character than most of his letters;

2. It gives important insight into the institution of slavery in the ancient Roman world; and

3. It serves as a vivid picture of the truth of Galatians 3:28, that in Christ "there is neither bond nor free."

We know from this letter, that Philemon was probably a man who had some wealth. At least he had a nice home, and it was believed it was large enough that the church had been held in his home.

Historical - Theological Themes: Philemon provides valuable historical insights into the early church's relationship to the institution of slavery. Slavery was widespread in the Roman Empire (according to some estimates, slaves constituted one third, perhaps more, of the population), and an accepted part of life. In Paul's day, slavery had virtually eclipsed free labor. Slaves could be doctors, musicians, teachers, artists, librarians, or accountants; in short, almost all jobs could be and were filled by slaves.

Slaves were not legally considered persons, but were the tools of their masters. As such, they could be bought, sold, inherited, exchanged, or seized to pay their master's debt. Their masters had virtually unlimited power to punish them, and sometimes did, so severely for the slightest infractions. By the time of the New Testament, however, slavery was beginning to change. Realizing that contented slaves were more productive, masters tended to treat them more leniently. It was not uncommon for a master to teach a slave his own trade, and some masters and slaves became close friends. While still not recognizing them as persons under the law, the Roman Senate in A.D. 20 granted (or allowed them), to purchase their freedom. Some slaves enjoyed very favorable and profitable service under their masters and were better off than many freemen because they were assured of care and provision. Many freemen struggled in poverty.

The New Testament nowhere directly attacks slavery; had it done so, the resulting slave insurrections would have been brutally suppressed and the message of the gospel hopelessly confused with that of social reform. Instead, Christianity undermined the evils of slavery by changing the hearts of slaves and masters. By stressing the spiritual equality of master and slave (verse 16; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1-2), the Bible did away with slavery's abuses. The rich theological theme that alone dominates the letter is forgiveness, a featured theme throughout New Testament Scripture (compare Matt. 6:12-15; 18:21-35; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). Paul's instruction here provides the biblical definition of forgiveness, without ever using the word.


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Philemon 1

Philemon 1

Philemon Chapter 1

Philemon 1:1   Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer,

Philemon 1:2   And to beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house:

Philemon 1:3   Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon 1:4   I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,

Philemon 1:5   Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;

Philemon 1:6   That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

Philemon 1:7   For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.

Philemon 1:8   Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,

Philemon 1:9   Yet for love™s sake I rather beseech , being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

Philemon 1:10   I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

Philemon 1:11   Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

Philemon 1:12   Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

Philemon 1:13   Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

Philemon 1:14   But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

Philemon 1:15   For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;

Philemon 1:16   Not 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?

Philemon 1:17   If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.

Philemon 1:18   If he hath wronged thee, or oweth ought, put that on mine account;

Philemon 1:19   I Paul have written with mine own hand, I will repay : albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

Philemon 1:20   Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.

Philemon 1:21   Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

Philemon 1:22   But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

Philemon 1:23   There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus;

Philemon 1:24   Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow laborers.

Philemon 1:25   The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ with your spirit. Amen.