This Epistle affords a specimen of the highest wisdom as to the manner
in which Christians ought to manage social affairs on more exalted
1. prisoner of Jesus Christ--one whom Christ's cause has made a
prisoner (compare "in the bonds of the Gospel,"
He does not call himself, as in other Epistles, "Paul an apostle," as
he is writing familiarly, not authoritatively.
our . . . fellow labourer--in building up the Church
at Colosse, while we were at Ephesus. See my
2. Apphia--the Latin, "Appia"; either the wife or some
close relative of Philemon. She and Archippus, if they had not belonged
to his family, would not have been included with Philemon in the
address of a letter on a domestic matter.
Archippus--a minister of the Colossian Church
church in thy house--In the absence of a regular church
building, the houses of particular saints were used for that purpose.
Observe Paul's tact in associating with Philemon those associated by
kindred or Christian brotherhood with his house, and not going
4. always--joined by ALFORD with, "I thank
5. Hearing--the ground of his thanksgiving. It is a delicate
mark of authenticity, that he says "hearing" as to churches and persons
whom he had not seen or then visited. Now Colosse, Philemon's
place of residence, he had never yet seen. Yet
here implies that Philemon was his convert. Philemon, doubtless, was
converted at Ephesus, or in some other place where he met Paul.
love and faith--The theological order is first faith then
love, the fruit of faith. But he purposely puts Philemon's
love in the first place, as it is to an act of love that he is
toward . . . toward--different Greek words:
"towards" . . . "unto." Towards implies simply
direction; unto, to the advantage of.
6. That--The aim of my thanksgiving and prayers for thee is,
in order that the, &c.
the communication of thy faith--the imparting of it and its
fruits (namely, acts of love and beneficence: as
"to communicate," that is, to impart a share) to others; or,
the liberality to others flowing from thy faith (so the
Greek is translated, "liberal distribution,"
effectual by--Greek, "in"; the element in which his
liberality had place, that is, may be proved by acts in, &c.
acknowledging--Greek, "the thorough knowledge," that is,
the experimental or practical recognition.
of every good thing which is in you--The oldest manuscripts
read, "which is in US," that is, the practical
recognition of every grace which is in us Christians, in so far
as we realize the Christian character. In short, that thy faith may by
acts be proved to be "a faith which worketh by love."
in Christ Jesus--rather as Greek, "unto Christ
Jesus," that is, to the glory of Christ Jesus. Two of the oldest
manuscripts omit "Jesus." This verse answers to
"thy love and faith toward all saints"; Paul never ceases to mention
him in his prayers, in order that his faith may still further
show its power in his relation to others, by exhibiting every grace
which is in Christians to the glory of Christ. Thus he paves the way
for the request in behalf of Onesimus.
7. For--a reason for the prayer,
we have--Greek, "we had."
joy and consolation--joined in
saints are refreshed by thee--His house was open to them.
brother--put last, to conciliate his favorable attention to the
request which follows.
8. Wherefore--Because of my love to thee, I prefer to
"beseech," rather than "enjoin," or authoritatively
I might . . . enjoin--in virtue of the obligation to
obedience which Philemon lay under to Paul, as having been
converted through his instrumentality.
in Christ--the element in which his boldness has place.
9. for love's sake--mine to thee, and (what ought to be) thine
to Onesimus. Or, that Christian love of which thou showest so bright an
being such an one--Explain, Being such a one as thou
knowest me to be, namely,
Paul--the founder of so many churches, and an apostle of Christ,
and thy father in the faith.
the aged--a circumstance calculated to secure thy respect for
anything I request.
and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ--the strongest claim I
have on thy regard: if for no other reason, at least in consideration
of this, through commiseration gratify me.
10. I beseech thee--emphatically repeated from
In the Greek, the name "Onesimus" is skilfully put last, he puts
first a favorable description of him before he mentions the name that
had fallen into so bad repute with Philemon. "I beseech thee for my
son, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus." Scripture does not
sanction slavery, but at the same time does not begin a political
crusade against it. It sets forth principles of love to our
fellow men which were sure (as they have done) in due time to undermine
and overthrow it, without violently convulsing the then existing
political fabric, by stirring up slaves against their masters.
11. Which . . . was . . .
unprofitable--belying his name Onesimus, which means "profitable."
Not only was he "unprofitable," but positively injurious, having
"wronged" his master. Paul uses a mild expression.
now profitable--Without godliness a man has no station.
Profitable in spiritual, as well as in temporal
12. mine own bowels--as dear to me as my own heart
"as myself." The object of my most intense affection as that of a
parent for a child.
13. I--emphatical. I for my part. Since I had such
implicit trust in him as to desire to keep him with me for his
services, thou mayest.
I would have retained--different Greek from the "would,"
"I could have wished," "I was minded" here; but "I was
in thy stead--that he might supply in your place all the
services to me which you, if you were here, would render in virtue of
the love you bear to me
bonds of the gospel--my bonds endured for the Gospel's sake
14. without thy mind--that is, consent.
should not be as--"should not appear as a matter of necessity,
but of free will." Had Paul kept Onesimus, however willing to gratify
Paul Philemon might be, he would have no opportunity given him of
showing he was so, his leave not having been asked.
15. perhaps--speaking in human fashion, yet as one believing
that God's Providence probably (for we cannot dogmatically define the
hidden purposes of God in providence) overruled the past evil to
ultimately greater good to him. This thought would soften Philemon's
indignation at Onesimus' past offense. So Joseph in
departed--literally, "was parted from thee"; a softening term
for "ran away," to mitigate Philemon's wrath.
receive him--Greek, "have him for thyself in full
possession" (see on
The same Greek as in
for ever--in this life and in that to come (compare
Onesimus' time of absence, however long, was but a short "hour" (so
Greek) compared with the everlasting devotion henceforth binding
him to his master.
16. No longer as a mere servant or slave (though still he is
that), but above a servant, so that thou shalt derive from him not
merely the services of a slave, but higher benefits: a servant
"in the flesh," he is a brother "in the Lord."
beloved, specially to me--who am his spiritual father, and who
have experienced his faithful attentions. Lest Philemon should dislike
Onesimus being called "brother," Paul first recognizes him as a
brother, being the spiritual son of the same God.
much more unto thee--to whom he stands in so much nearer and
more lasting relation.
17. a partner--in the Christian fellowship of faith, hope, and
receive him as myself--resuming "receive him that is mine own
18. Greek, "But it (thou art not inclined to 'receive
him' because) he hath wronged thee"; a milder term than "robbed thee."
Onesimus seems to have confessed some such act to Paul.
put that on mine account--I am ready to make good the loss to
thee if required. The latter parts of
Phm 19, 21,
imply that he did not expect Philemon would probably demand it.
19. with mine own hand--not employing an amanuensis, as in other
Epistles: a special compliment to Philemon which he ought to show his
appreciation of by granting Paul's request. Contrast
which shows that the Epistle to the Colossian Church, accompanying this
Epistle, had only its closing "salutation" written by Paul's own hand.
albeit, &c.--literally, "that I may not say . . . not
to say," &c.
thou owest . . . even thine own self--not merely thy
possessions. For to my instrumentality thou owest thy salvation. So
the debt which "he oweth thee" being transferred upon me (I making
myself responsible for it) is cancelled.
20. let me--"me" is emphatic: "Let me have profit (so
Greek 'for joy,' onainen, referring to the name
Onesimus, 'profitable') from thee, as thou
shouldst have had from Onesimus"; for "thou owest thine ownself to me."
in the Lord--not in worldly gain, but in thine increase in the
graces of the Lord's Spirit [ALFORD].
my bowels--my heart. Gratify my feelings by granting this
in the Lord--The oldest manuscripts read, "in Christ,"
the element or sphere in which this act of Christian love naturally
ought to have place.
21. Having confidence in thy obedience--to my apostolic
authority, if I were to "enjoin" it
which I do not, preferring to beseech thee for it as a favor
thou will also do more--towards Onesimus: hinting at his
possible manumission by Philemon, besides, being kindly
22. This prospect of Paul's visiting Colosse would tend to
secure a kindly reception for Onesimus, as Paul would know in person
how he had been treated.
your . . . you--referring to Philemon, Apphia,
Archippus, and the Church in Philemon's house. The same expectation is
expressed by him,
Php 2:23, 24,
written in the same imprisonment.
23. The same persons send salutations in the accompanying
Epistle, except that "Jesus Justus" is not mentioned here.
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner--He had been sent by the Colossian
Church to inquire after, and minister to, Paul, and possibly was cast
into prison by the Roman authorities on suspicion. However, he
is not mentioned as a prisoner in
so that "fellow prisoner" here may mean merely one who was a faithful
companion to Paul in his imprisonment, and by his society put himself
in the position of a prisoner. So also "Aristarchus, my fellow
may mean. Benson conjectures the meaning to be that on some
former occasion these two were Paul's "fellow prisoners," not
at the time.
25. be with your spirit--