Philemon 1
Pulpit Commentary
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,
Verse 1. - A prisoner of Christ Jesus. He writes a private letter, as friend to friend, and therefore does not describe himself by his official title of apostle. Having to plead the cause of a slave, he begins by putting himself into a similar position as the "bondman of Jesus Christ" -"to obtain thereby the more ready compliance" (Chrysostom). By such a reverend bondage he beseeches Philemon, "and the bondage of Paul was liberty to Onesimus" (Scipio Gentilis). Timothy, etc. He was, then, with St. Paul at the time of writing; therefore at Rome; and this fixes the date of composition at all events before that of the Second Epistle to Timothy, when the apostle was again at Rome (2 Timothy 1:17; 2 Timothy 4:6, 16). Fellow-worker with St. Paul in promoting the spread of the gospel, either by his wealth and influence, less probably by preaching. The time when would be that of St. Paul's long stay at Ephesus and its neighborhood (Acts 19:8-22).
And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:
Verse 2. - Our beloved Apphia. Codices A, D*, E*, F, G, and א (Sinaiticus) read adelphe (sister) for agapete (beloved), and also Jerome, Griesbach, Meyer; which also has been adopted in the Revised Version. The name Appia, or Apphia, is either the Roman Appia Hellenized, which was the conjecture of Grotins (see Introduction), or more probably a native Phrygian name, from Appa or Appha, a term of endearment. The name does not occur elsewhere in Scripture. The word ἀδελφῆ is not unlikely to have been added by way of explanation. St. Paul has used it in five other places, and always in the same sense, viz. Romans 16:1, 15; 1 Corinthians 7:15; 1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Timothy 5:2. Most commentators, and particularly Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theophylact, among the ancients, infer that Apphia was the wife of Philemon. Otherwise, why mention her name here? Archippus; comp. Colossians 4:17, where he is said to have received a διακονία, i.e. a ministry or service, in the Church. This word, when used without a determining genitive, denotes service to others in a general and undefined sense. But more commonly with some limiting word; as διακονία λόγου, office of teaching (Acts 6:4); διακονία τοῦ θανάτου, office or function of death (2 Corinthians 3:7). The general view is that Archippus was the presbyter who ministered to that congregation which assembled at the house of Philemon, though Ambrose and Jerome, with other commentators ancient and modern, think that he was the bishop. Grotius, however, takes him to have been a deacon. (It is a very precarious inference that he was a son of Philemon and Appia.) Probably he was fulfilling a temporary mission only in Colossae, and that would be the διακονία in the passage cited. Epaphras, a resident in Colossae (Colossians 4:12), is spoken of as having been the founder of the Church there (Colossians 1:7, 8), and as still being responsible for it (Colossians 4:13). Primasius calls Epaphras bishop and Archippus deacon; and so Grotius. It may be that these theories err in ascribing too rigid and technical a meaning to the terms of ecclesiastical service at this early stage of their employment. Epaphras was, however, at this time in Rome with St. Paul (Colossians 4:12, 13), and it is possible that Archippus was filling his place temporarily. It will be safer to call him (with Bishop Wordsworth) a presbyter. It is, as we have said, an unsupported idea of some writers ancient and modern (Theod. Mopsuest., Michaelis, Rosenmuller, Olshausen, Lightfoot) that he was the son of Philemon (but see below). Our fellow-soldier; i.e. of himself and St. Timothy, as engaged in the same warfare for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Timothy 1:18). The same term is applied in Philippians 2:25 to Epaphroditus, and also the συνεργός of Ver. 1. And to the Church in thy house. Mede (so Chrysostom and Theodoret also) understands this as meaning "and to the whole of thy family" (which is a Christian one) - a suggestion quite worth considering. For a separate letter "to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae" (Colossians 1:2) was brought by the same messengers, and it would seem natural that, in a matter so personal to Philemon, salutations should be confined to his own family. The phrase is used more than once (see Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19, which seems rather to point the other way; but especially Colossians 4:15, "Nymphas and the Church which is in his house," which, since it was in Colossae itself, seems almost conclusive for that meaning). The Ecclesia domestica was very familiar in the apostolic times. Theodoret states that the house of Philemon was still pointed out as late as the fifth century.
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 3. - Grace to you, and peace. The secular formula of salutation was χαίρειν (Acts 23:26); in Latin, multam or plurimare salutem ant plenissimam. St. Paul's formula was almost invariably as above, "Grace to you, and peace" (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; Galatians 1:3; and others). To Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2) and Titus 1:4, "Grace, mercy, and peace."
I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,
Verse 4. - I thank my God always. We ought, therefore, to thank God, not only for gifts bestowed upon ourselves, but also for those bestowed upon others. This is an habitual phrase of St. Paul (comp. Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:3). "It is to be noted that for the thing on account of which he gives thanks, he at the same time prays" (Calvin). For no good work is ever so complete in us that it does not need to be "continued and ended" in us by God. Making mention of thee in my prayers. The foregoing remark attain applies. Grotius observes that "we learn from this that all addresses to God may be called prayers προσευχὰς, even those in which nothing is asked but thanks are given." But this is apparently not such a case; the petition which St. Paul offered for Philemon being stated in Ver. 6. And thus Chrysostom explains the passage. "Always" may be connected with "I thank," or with "making mention," preferably the former (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Calvin, Lightfoot).
Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;
Verse 5. - Hearing of thy love, and of the faith ... saints. He would hear of these instances of Philemon's faith and love naturally through Epaphras (see on Ver. 2). Refer "faith" to "the Lord Jesus" and "love" to "all the saints" (a chiasmus, or cross-reference). Note that the phrase is πρὸς (i.e. erga, towards) τὸν Κύριον, but εἰς (i.e. upon) τοὺς ἁγίους; perhaps because Christ cannot now be reached by bodily efforts, but only aspired towards by the soul; while the poor can actually be reached and ministered unto. "Ye have the poor always with you, but me ye have not always" (Matthew 26:11). All Christians are called "saints" in the Scriptures, as Ephesians 1:1, and invariably. What a reminder to them of their "holy calling" (2 Timothy 1:9)! Meyer notes, however, that it is not uncommon with St. Paul to vary the preposition (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16).
That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
Verse 6. - Render thus: So that the community of thy faith [with other Christians, whom you may be able to serve] may show itself in act, causing full acknowledgment [from the world without] of every good work for Jesus Christ that is in you (Revised Version is not clear here); literally, may become working. Not a theoretical or merely quiescent faith. He was to confess Christ before men (and see James 2:22). "For whatever good thing is in us makes manifest our faith" (Calvin). In you. Bishop Wordsworth reads ἡμῖν, "us" - the body of Christians, following A, C, D, E, K, L, with many Fathers and versions.
For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
Verse 7. - We have great joy and consolation. The preferable reading is, as in A, C, F, G, N, and Revised Version, I had much joy and comfort (see Ver. 5). "Plenius inculcat et edocet, quare dixerit, gratias ago," etc. (Jerome). The bowels of the saints; hearts (Revised Version). Either

(1) their bodily wants, the cravings of their hunger; or

(2) their hearts and affections, supplied and satisfied by the good deeds of Philemon.

This is another peculiarly Pauline expression (see 2 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 7:15-these two are very similarly used in Vers. 7, 12, 20 - and three other places). "To refresh the bowels is (in Paul) to be taken as meaning a lightening of troubles, so that they may rest with minds free from all sorrow and annoyance" (Calvin). Brother. How persuasively the sentence is turned! An old commentator remarks, "Paul does not yet come to his request, but prepares and softens beforehand the mind of Philemon" (Scipio Gentilis). This course of proceeding is exactly what Quintilian prescribes to an advocate, "His velut fomentis, si quid erit asperum, praemolliemus, quo facilius aures judicum admittant" ('De Institut. Orat.,' 4:3).
Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,
Verse 8. - Render: Although I have abundant freedom [boldness, or. even license] in Christ to enjoin upon thee that which is fitting. It was only in Christ, and by his authority as an apostle, that he could claim to come between a slave and his master. Secular warrant for doing so he had none. Such authority and license, however, he would not use on this occasion. He prefers to rely wholly on the respect and personal attachment felt towards him by Philemon, for the granting of his request, which he now proceeds to state.
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.
Verse 9. - Being such a one as Paul the aged; a veteran. Theodoret comments thus: "For he who hears Paul, hears the preacher of the whole world, the traverser of land and sea, the chosen vessel, and other things besides he is.... He adds also 'the aged,' showing the gray hairs which have grown during his labors." "Non aetatem, sed offieium" (Calvin). Presbutes may mean "an ambassador" - "the ambassador of Christ Jesus, and now also his prisoner," as in Ephesians 6:20 (and see Ephesians 3:1 and Ephesians 4:1 of the same Epistle. A prisoner of Jesus Christ; i.e. for his cause. The apostle was in custody at Rome, owing to a long suspension of his trial, for causes not known to us. "Have regard for Paul; have regard for my bonds, which I wear as a preacher of the truth" (Theodoret). "Great reverence is due to these who endure sufferings for the most honorable causes" (Grotius).
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
Verse 10. - I beseech thee for my son ... Onesimus; my child (Revised Version). The name of Onesimus could not have been a pleasing one in the ears of Philemon. Note with what caution and almost timidity it is at length introduced. He does not interpose for the ingrate with apostolic dignity, but pleads for him with fatherly love. He puts himself side by side with him, and calls him his son. Some of the old commentators conclude, from Colossians 4:9, that Onesimus was a native of Colossae, and thence discuss whether he could have been a slave born in Philemon's house of a slave-mother, or whether he was sold in his youth by his father - a custom so common to the Phrygians (as to the Circassians in later times) as to have been noticed by Cicero.
Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
Verse 11. - Who was aforetime unprofitable ... to me. The play upon words seems unmistakable, and is peculiarly Pauline. Onesimus means "useful," or "profitable;" ἄχρηστος, "unprofitable," and εὔχρηστος is emphatic, "very profitable." "Useful he is named, but in time past he was (I confess it) not useful, but useless; in future, however, he will be of great use to us both." Compare with this the corresponding passage of Pliny's 'Letter to Sabinianus,' given in the Introduction. "Unprofitable" is a figure of speech, a euphemism, for "useless and even injurious." St. Paul makes the best of Onesimus's fault that it will in justice allow. But an old commentator says bluntly that Onesimus was "damnosus fuga et furto." How could he have been, in his unconverted state, otherwise than "unprofitable" to his master? "Olim paganus," says a Lapide, "jam Christianus; olim fur, jam fidelis servus; olim profugus, jam redux."
Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:
Verse 12. - Whom I sent back [to thee, according to A, C, D*, E, אָ] (aorist for present); but the decision reflects the struggle. It had not been altogether easy for the apostle to part with the youth, whom he might not see again. The whole Epistle is full of this strong and yearning affection. Thou therefore receive him. Do thou also act as becomes a Christian; receive him as my son. "Wonderfully efficacious this method for appeasing the anger of Philemon! For he was not able to rage or to do anything harshly against one whom Paul had called his own bowels" (Estius). A, F, G, and א omit "receive," as also Tischendorf. The Revised Version omits this clause.
Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:
Verse 13. - I was wishing; I would fain have kept (Revised Version). The story tells itself if we read between the lines. What steadfast adherence to principle on the part of the apostle, when the help of Onesimus would have been so welcome to him in his weak health, and his position as a prisoner! Philemon could hardly fail to think more favorably of Onesimus, when he saw how much importance the apostle attached to his services. In the bonds of the gospel. "Which I am enduring for the sake of the gospel" (see Ver. 9) - a variation of phrase from Ver. 9 (and of our Lord's words, Mark 8:35; Mark 10:29).
But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.
Verse 14. - But without thy mind I would do nothing. The "would" of Ver. 13 is ἐβουλόμην; the "would" here is ἠθέλησα. The former denoted natural but indeterminate impulse; the latter deliberate conclusion of the will (cf. Romans 7:15, 16). Mind; i.e. knowledge and decision. "Why was he unwilling? For many causes.

(1) Because grave penalties were denounced by Roman law upon those who received or retained fugitive slaves.

(2) That he might not seem to keep back something which was due to Philemon, perhaps to his injury; of which, perhaps, Philemon might have complained.

(3) Because Onesimus himself chose to go back, in order that he might show conclusively that he had net embraced the Christian religion that he might withdraw himself from the power of his lawful lord.

(4) That the gospel might not be by this means slandered, as if under the pretext of it slaves might withdraw themselves with impunity from their lords" (Estius and others). Thy benefit - goodness (Revised Version) - as it were of necessity, but willingly. Philemon would not really have had the choice of granting or refusing given to him, had St. Paul kept Onesimus still at Rome, and merely written to inform him of the fact. His consent might then fairly have been said to be extorted, not freely given. This latter word is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον (unique phrase) so far as the New Testament is concerned, though it is found in Numbers 15:3 of the LXX., as in Xenophon and other classical writers. In Hebrews 10:26 and 1 Peter 5:2 the adverb ἑκουσίως is found.
For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
Verse 15. - Therefore; for this purpose (final cause). Departed for a season. He was therefore parted from thee for a time (Revised Version). Forever; everlastingly (accusative, not an adverb). The relation of master and slave would have been in any case, and would still be, terminated by death. But it was now replaced by a new relation of Christian brotherhood, which would be permanent - a great advantage. So Calvin, Grotius, and many others. Meyer's objection does not seem of much weight (compare the Perpetua mancipia of Exodus 21:6; Deuteronomy 15:17). Baur thinks that in this verse he has reached the core of the Epistle - the ethical truth which it seeks to embody (but see Introduction: "Authenticity and Characteristics").
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?
Verse 16. - Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved. So great a difference had his Christian calling and profession made to him and to others. Both in the flesh and in the Lord. A hysteron proteron. The apostle is pleading on behalf of Onesimus this new bond of Christian relationship, which was in the Lord, that it should bring about a renewed fullness of personal relation. In the flesh, because "in the Lord."
If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.
Verse 17. - If thou count me therefore a partner; if thou holdest me for a friend - by our friendship entreat this. The strongest form of entreaty possible to be used. Κοινωνία in Acts 2:42 refers to the Holy Communion, and in 1 Corinthians 10:16-21 partakers of it are plainly called by implication κοινωνοὶ ( παρτακερσ, or, as we should say, "communicants." But here the sense is apparently as above; literally, a partner.
If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;
Verse 18. - [But] if he hath wronged thee [at all]. It would have been needlessly irritating to Philemon to go into the details of Onesimus's offences. No doubt St. Paul had had an account of them from the repentant youth, but he had far too much tact to occupy himself and Philemon in the discussion of details. The hypothetic form avoids the whole of these. It suffices that he assumes the responsibility of repayment. Owes thee anything. As a matter of moral right at the bar of conscience. For in a secular court the slave could be neither debtor nor creditor, properly speaking, as against his master. This offence was probably embezzlement or purloining while in service. A, C, D*, F, G, א read (elloga), reckon it to me.
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.
Verse 19. - I Paul have written - write it (Revised Version) - with my own hand, I will repay it. Thus St. Paul took upon himself legally the repayment of the debt. "Prioribus verbis proprie cautio [a bail or security] continetur: his autem constituti obligatio. Hoc Latine dicitur pecuniam constituere: de quo titulus est in Digestis Ἀναδέχεσθαι dicunt Graeci" (Scipio Gentilis). Albeit I do not say to thee, etc.; "though I do not remind thee [while so saying] that thou owest even thyself to me!" Philemon owed to the apostle that debt of which the obligation outweighed every other - the help by which he had been led out of spiritual darkness and brought to the knowledge of the truth. St. Paul was (as we must conclude from this allusion) the "spiritual father" of Philemon - a phrase he himself uses in 1 Corinthians 4:15.
Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.
Verse 20. - Yea, indeed, brother, let me have joy of thee. This word ὀναίμην is from the same root as the word "Onesimus," and the apostle, more suo, relaxing into his friendly familiar manner after the grave and touching language of the last few verses, plays upon the word. Let me have profit of thee - let me have Onesimus of thee. In the Lord (comp. 1 Corinthians 10:31). The phrase is twice repeated in this verse, and is very characteristic of St. Paul. But A, C, D*, F, G, I, read en Christo in the second clause. א has been altered, χω for κω, second.; "refresh my heart in Christ" (Revised Version).
Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.
Verse 21. - I wrote unto thee; write (Revised Version; see Ver. 19), or perhaps referring back, as in Ver. 19, to the request in Ver. 17. The strong, fervid, and repeated appeals of the apostle had not been caused by distrust of Philemon, nor of their own efficacy, but were the natural outcome of the strong interest he felt in the case of Onesimus, and the desire he felt to replace him in the favor of his master; partly also, perhaps, to the warmth and fervor of his natural character, which uttered itself involuntarily in forcible expressions.
But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.
Verse 22. - Lodging. There was this one additional inducement that could be brought to bear upon the mind of Philemon, viz. the expectation of speedily seeing him in person, and this, in conclusion, he uses. "I do not think that the apostle was so rich or encumbered with such great packages that he needed a lodging prepared beforehand, and was not content with a narrow dwelling-place, but thought the most spacious houses scanty for the accommodation of his small body; but that, while Philemon was expecting [the apostle] to come to him, he would the more do what he had requested" (Jerome). Meyer makes much of the improbability that St. Paul, starting from Rome, should bespeak a lodging in Colossae. Yet he suggests that it was perfectly natural that, starting from Caesarea, the apostle should take Colossae on the road to Rome. But the one seems almost as probable as the other. The apostle, on his release, had, so far as we know, no definite plans; the cities of Asia Minor were familiar to him, and he would naturally prepare to go wherever the first pressing occasion, that of Onesimus, called him. N reads ἀσπάξεται, "salutes."
There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;
Verses 23, 24. - Salute. The salutations correspond generally to those with which the Epistle to the Colossians closes, but they are fuller, as is natural, in the longer Epistle. The order is in - Colossians:





Jesus Justus



Demas Philemon:





Lucas My fellow-prisoner. The word occurs elsewhere only in Romans 16:7, besides the parallel passage in Colossians 4:10. As to Epaphras, see above. Marcus, having once forsaken the apostle (Acts 13:13; Acts 15:37-39), had now returned, and was with him in Rome. Aristarchus was "a Macedonian of Thessalonica," and had accompanied St. Paul in his memorable voyage to Rome (Acts 27:2). Demas was now the "co-worker" of the apostle at Rome, but at a later period he had departed unto Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10), and we know nothing of his subsequent history. Tradition (Epiph., 'Haer.,' 41:6) relates that he also apostatized from Christianity; but the apostle's phrase, though a strong one, does not necessarily mean this. Lucas (see 2 Corinthians 8:18).
Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
Verse 25. - The grace. A omits ἀμήν Theodoret has appended the following to his commentary: "It is fitting that those who have obtained the privilege of handing on the holy doctrine should so teach servants to submit themselves to their lords, that through all things Jesus Christ may be praised, to whom with the Father and the most Holy Spirit belong glory and greatness now and always and forever. Amen."

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