Easton's Bible Dictionary
was written from Rome at the same time as the epistles
to the Colossians and Ephesians, and was sent also by Onesimus. It was addressed
to Philemon and the members of his family.
It was written for the purpose of interceding for Onesimus (q.v.), who had deserted
his master Philemon and been "unprofitable" to him. Paul had found Onesimus at
Rome, and had there been instrumental in his conversion, and now he sends him
back to his master with this letter.
This epistle has the character of a strictly private letter, and is the only one
of such epistles preserved to us. "It exhibits the apostle in a new light. He
throws off as far as possible his apostolic dignity and his fatherly authority
over his converts. He speaks simply as Christian to Christian. He speaks, therefore,
with that peculiar grace of humility and courtesy which has, under the reign of
Christianity, developed the spirit of chivalry and what is called 'the character
of a gentleman,' certainly very little known in the old Greek and Roman civilization"
(Dr. Barry). (See SLAVE)
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
is one of the letters which the apostle wrote during
his first captivity at Rome A.D. 63 or early in A.D. 64. Nothing is wanted to
confirm the genuineness of the epistle: the external testimony is unimpeachable;
nor does the epistle itself offer anything to conflict with this decision. The
occasion of the letter was that Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, had run away from
him to Rome, either desiring liberty or, as some suppose, having committed theft.
1:18 ) Here he was converted under the instrumentality of Paul. The latter;
intimately connected with the master and the servant, was naturally anxious to
effect a reconciliation between them. He used his influence with Onesimus, ver.
12, to induce him to return to Colosse and place himself again at the disposal
of his master. On his departure, Paul put into his hand this letter as evidence
that Onesirnus was a true and approved disciple of Christ, and entitled as such
to received, not as a servant but above a servant, as a brother in the faith.
The Epistle to Philemon has one peculiar feature --its aesthetical character it
may be termed --which distinguishes it from all the other epistles. The writer
had peculiar difticulties to overcame; but Paul, it is confessed, has shown a
degree of self-denial and a fact in dealing with them which in being equal to
the occasion could hardly be greater.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
fi-le'-mon, fi-le'-mun (Philemon):
This most beautiful of all Paul's Epistles, and the most intensely human, is one
of the so-called Captivity Epistles of which Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians
are the others. Of these four PHILIPPIANS (which see) stands apart, and was written
more probably after the other three. These are mutually interdependent, sent by
the same bearer to churches of the same district, and under similar conditions.
1. Place of Writing:
There is some diversity of opinion as to the place from which the apostle wrote
these letters. Certain scholars (Reuss, Schenkel, Weiss, Holtzmann, Hilgenfeld,
Hausrath and Meyer) have urged Caesarea in opposition to the traditional place,
Rome. The arguments advanced are first that Onesimus would have been more likely
to have escaped to Caesarea than to Rome, as it is nearer Colosse than Rome is,
to which we may reply that, though Caesarea is nearer, his chance of escape would
have been far greater in the capital than in the provincial city. Again it is
said that as Onesimus is not commended in Ephesians, he had already been left
behind at Colosse; against which there are advanced the precarious value of an
argument from silence, and the fact that this argument assumes a particular course
which the bearers of the letters would follow, namely, through Colosse to Ephesus.
A more forcible argument is that which is based on the apostle's expected visit.
In Philippians 2:24 we read that he expected to go to Macedonia on his release;
in Philemon 1:22 we find that he expected to go to Colosse. On the basis of this
latter reference it is assumed that he was to the south of Colosse when writing
and so at Caesarea. But it is quite as probable that he would go to Colosse through
Philippi as the reverse; and it is quite possible that even if he had intended
to go direct to Colosse when he wrote to Philemon, events may have come about
to cause him to change his plans. The last argument, based on the omission of
any reference to the earthquake of which Tacitus (Ann. xiv.27) and Eusebius (Chron.,
O1, 207) write, is of force as opposed to the Ro origin of the letters only on
the assumption that these writers both refer to the same event (by no means sure)
and that the epistles. were written after that event, and that it was necessary
that Paul should have mentioned it. If the early chronology be accepted it falls
entirely, as Tacitus' earlier date would be after the epistles. were written.
In addition we have the further facts, favorable to Rome, that Paul had no such
freedom in Cuesarea as he is represented in these epistles as enjoying; that no
mention is made of Philip who was in Caesarea and a most important member of that
community (Acts 21:8), and finally that there is no probability that so large
a body of disciples and companions could have gathered about the apostle in his
earlier and more strict imprisonment, at Caesarea. We may therefore conclude that
the Captivity Epistles were written from Rome, and not from Caesarea.
The external evidence for the epistle is less extensive than that of some of the
other epp., but it is abundantly strong. The play on the word Onesimus which Paul
himself uses (Philemon
1:11) is found in Ignatius, Ephesians, ii. This may not mean necessarily a
literary connection, but it suggests this. The epistle is known to Tertullian,
and through him we know that Marcion accepted it (Adv. Marc., v.21). It is in
the list in the Muratorian Fragment (p. 106, l. 27), and is quoted by Origen as
Pauline (Hom. in Jer., 19) and placed by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III,
xxv) among the acknowledged books.
It has twice been the object of attack. In the 4th and 5th centuries it was opposed
as unworthy of Paul's mind and as of no value for edification. This attack was
met successfully by Jerome (Commentary on Philemon, praef.), Chrysostom (Argum.
in Philem) and Theodore of Mopsuestia (Spicil. in Solesm, I, 149), and the epistle.
was finally established in its earlier firm position. The later attack by Baur
was inspired by his desire to break down the corroborative value of Phm to the
other Captivity Epistles, and has been characterized by Weiss as one of Baur's
worst blunders. The suggestions that it is interpolated (Holtzmann), or allegorical
(Weizsacker and Pfleiderer), or based on the letter of Pliny (Ep. IX, 21) to Sabinianus
(Steck), are interesting examples of the vagaries of their authors, but "deserve
only to be mentioned" (Zahn). In its language, style and argument the letter is
The date will, as is the case with the other Captivity Epistles, depend on the
chronology. If the earlier scheme be followed it may be dated about 58, if the
later about 63, or 64.
The apostle writes in his own and Timothy's name to his friend PHILEMON (which
see) in behalf of Onesimus, a runaway slave of the latter. Beginning with his
usual thanksgiving, here awakened by the report of Philemon's hospitality, he
intercedes for his 'son begotten in his bonds' (Philemon
1:10), Onesimus, who though he is Philemon's runaway slave is now "a
brother." It is on this ground that the apostle pleads, urging his own age,
and friendship for Philemon, and his present bonds. He pleads, however, without
belittling Onesimus' wrongdoing, but assuming himself the financial responsibility
for the amount of his theft. At the same time the apostle quietly refers to what
Philemon really owes him as his father in Christ, and begs that he will not disappoint
him in his expectation. He closes with the suggestion that he hopes soon to visit
him, and with greetings from his companions in Rome.
The charm and beauty of this epistle have been universally recognized. Its value
to us as giving a glimpse of Paul's attitude toward slavery and his intimacy with
a man like Philemon cannot be over-estimated. One of the chief elements of value
in it is the picture it gives us of a Christian home in the apostolic days; the
father and mother well known for their hospitality, the son a man of position
and importance in the church, the coming and going of the Christian brethren,
and the life of the brotherhood centering about this household.
Lightfoot, Col and Philem; Vincent, "Phil" and "Philem" (ICC); yon Soden, Hand
Commentar; Alexander, in Speaker's Commentary.
Charles Smith Lewis
apostle paul, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, book of philemon, christian slave, epistle to philemon, new testament, onesimus, paul, runaway slave, tychicus