Easton's Bible Dictionary
useful, A slave who, after robbing his master Philemon
(q.v.) at Colosse, fled to Rome, where he was converted by the apostle Paul, who
sent him back to his master with the epistle which bears his name. In it he beseeches
Philemon to receive his slave as a "faithful and beloved brother." Paul offers
to pay to Philemon anything his slave had taken, and to bear the wrong he had
done him. He was accompanied on his return by Tychicus, the bearer of the Epistle
to the Colossians ( Philemon
1:16 , 1:18
The story of this fugitive Colossian slave is a remarkable evidence of the freedom
of access to the prisoner which was granted to all, and "a beautiful illustration
both of the character of St. Paul and the transfiguring power and righteous principles
of the gospel."
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
(profitable, useful) The name of the servant or slave
in whose behalf Paul wrote the Epistle to Philemon. He was a native, or certainly
an inhabitant, of Colosse. ( Colossians
4:9 ) (A.D. 58.) He fled from his master end escaped to Rome, where he was
led to embrace the gospel through Paul's instrumentality. After his conversion
the most happy and friendly relations sprung up between the teacher and disciple.
Whether Paul desired his presence as a personal attendant or as a minister of
the gospel is not certain from verse 13 of the epistle.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
o-nes'-i-mus (Onesimos, literally, "profitable," "helpful"
4:9 ; Philemon
(1) With Paul in Rome:
Onesimus was a slave (Philemon
1:16) belonging to Philemon who was a wealthy citizen of Colosse, and a prominent
member of the church there. Onesimus was still a heathen when he defrauded his
master and ran off from Colosse. He found his way to Rome, where evil men tended
to flock as to a common center, as Tacitus tells us they did at that period. In
Rome he came into contact with Paul, who was then in his own hired house, in military
What brought him into contact with Paul we do not know. It may have been hunger;
it may have been the pangs of conscience. He could not forget that his master's
house in Colosse was the place where the Christians met in their weekly assemblies
for the worship of Christ. Neither could he forget how Philemon had many a time
spoken of Paul, to whom he owed his conversion. Now that Onesimus was in Rome--what
a strange coincidence--Paul also was in Rome.
The result of their meeting was that Onesimus was converted to Christ, through
the instrumentality of the apostle ("my child, whom I have begotten in my bonds,"
1:10). His services had been very acceptable to Paul, who would gladly have
kept Onesimus with him; but as he could not do this without the knowledge and
consent of Philemon, he sent Onesimus back to Colosse, to his master there.
(2) Paul's Epistles to Colosse and to Philemon:
At the same time Paul wrote to the church in Colosse on other matters, and he
entrusted the Epistle to the Colossians to the joint care of Tychicus and Onesimus.
The apostle recommends Onesimus to the brethren in Colosse, as a "faithful and
beloved brother, who is one of you," and he goes on to say that Tychicus and Onesimus
will make known to them all things that have happened to Paul in Rome. Such a
commendation would greatly facilitate' Onesimus's return to Colosse.
But Paul does more. He furnishes Onesimus with a letter written by himself to
Philemon. Returning to a city where it was well known that he had been neither
a Christian nor even an honest man, he needed someone to vouch for the reality
of the change which had taken place in his life. And Paul does this for him both
in the Epistle to the Colossians and in that to Philemon.
With what exquisite delicacy is Onesimus introduced! 'Receive him,' says the apostle,
'for he is my own very heart' (Philemon
1:12). "The man whom the Colossians had only known hitherto, if they knew
him all, as a worthless runaway slave, is thus commended to them, as no more a
slave but a brother, no more dishonest and faithless but trustworthy; no more
an object of contempt but of love" (Lightfoot's Commentary on Col, 235).
1. Onesimus Profitable.
The apostle accordingly begs Philemon to give Onesimus the same reception as he
would rejoice to give to himself. The past history of Onesimus had been such as
to belie the meaning of his name. He had not been "profitable"--far from it. But
already his consistent conduct in Rome and his willing service to Paul there have
changed all that; he has been profitable to Paul, and he will be profitable to
2. Paul Guarantees.
Onesimus had evidently stolen his master's goods before leaving Colosse, but in
regard to that the apostle writes that if he has defrauded Philemon in anything,
he becomes his surety. Philemon can regard Paul's handwriting as a bond guaranteeing
payment: "Put that to mine account," are his words, "I will repay it." Had Philemon
not been a Christian, and had Paul not written this most beautiful letter, Onesimus
might well have been afraid to return. In the Roman empire slaves were constantly
crucified for smaller offenses than those of which he had been guilty. A thief
and a runaway had nothing but torture or death to expect.
3. The Change Which Christ Makes.
But now under the sway of Christ all is changed. The master who has been defrauded
now owns allegiance to Jesus. The letter, which is delivered to him by his slave,
is written by a bound "prisoner of Jesus Christ." The slave too is now a brother
in Christ, beloved by Paul: surely he will be beloved by Philemon also. Then Paul
intimates that he hopes soon to be set free, and then he will come and visit them
in Colosse. Will Philemon receive him into his house as his guest?
4. The Result.
It cannot be imagined that this appeal in behalf of Onesimus was in vain. Philemon
would do more than Paul asked; and on the apostle's visit to Colosse he would
find the warmest welcome, both from Philemon and from Onesimus.
bible commentary, bible reference, bible study, carried epistle by apostle paul, christian, history of, onesimus, slave of philemon, tychicus accompanied