15 million Ukrainian are displaced by Russia's war.
Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Philemon 1

Verses 1-99




The oldest known form is the briefest, To Philemon. That in the A.V. is from the Textus Receptus. Other forms are, Paul’s (or The holy Apostle Paul’s) Epistle to Philemon. One title runs, These sure things writes Paul to faithful Philemon. 1 1 The omission of one syllable in this Greek title (so as to read βαιὰ instead of (βέβαια) makes it run as a hexameter line, and gives the sense

Paul on a slender theme thus writes to the faithful Philemon .”

If we are right in this guess, perhaps this title was devised by a depreciator (pp. 147, 148) of the Epistle, and afterwards altered, at the expense of metre, by some wiser man.

See note on the title of Colossians.

1 3. Greeting

1. Paul ] See on Colossians 1:1 .

a prisoner ] To the Colossians he had said “ an Apostle .” Here he speaks more personally. Cp. for the phrase, or its like, Ephesians 3:1 , Ephesians 3:4 :1; 2 Timothy 1:8 ; below, ver. 9.

of Jesus Christ ] If he suffers, it is all in relation to his Master, his Possessor. See our note on Ephesians 3:1 . Outwardly he is Nero’s prisoner, inwardly, Jesus Christ’s.

Timothy our brother ] See notes on Colossians 1:1 . This association of Timothy (Timotheus) with himself, in the personal as well as in the public Epistle, is a touch of delicate courtesy.

Philemon ] All we know of him is given in this short letter. We may fairly assume that he was a native and inhabitant of Colossæ, where his son (see below, and on Colossians 4:17 ) lived and laboured; that he was brought to Christ by St Paul (ver. 19); that he was in comfortable circumstances (see on vv. 2, 10); and that his character was kind and just, for St Paul would suit his appeals to his correspondent; and that his Christian life was devoted and influential (vv. 5 7). In fact the Epistle indicates a noble specimen of the primitive Christian. See further, Introd . to the Ep. to Philemon, ch. 3.

The name Philemon happens to occur in the beautiful legend of Philemon and Baucis, the Phrygian peasant-pair, who, in an inhospitable neighbourhood, “entertained unawares” Jupiter and Mercury (Ovid, Metam ., viii. 626 724), “gods in the likeness of men” (see Acts 14:11 ).

Philemon, in legend, becomes bishop of Colossæ (but of Gaza according to another story), and is martyred there under Nero. Theodoret (cent. 5) says that his house was still shewn at Colossæ. See further Lightfoot, p. 372.

fellowlabourer ] See on Colossians 4:11 . Philemon, converted through Paul’s agency, had (perhaps first at Ephesus, then on his return to Colossæ) worked actively in the Gospel, whether ordained or no.

2. our beloved Apphia ] Read, probably, our (lit., the ) sister Apphia . The Vulgate combines the two readings, Appiæ sorori caris-simæ . We may be sure that Apphia was Philemon’s wife. Her name was a frequent Phrygian name (written otherwise Aphphia; other forms found are Apphê, Aphphê ), and had no connexion with the Latin Appia . See Lightfoot’s abundant evidence, pp. 372 4. We know Apphia from this passage only. Legend says that she was martyred with Philemon at Colossæ. See further above, p. 152.

Archippus ] Probably Philemon’s son and (Colossians 4:17 ) a missionary-pastor of Colossæ and its neighbourhood. Of him too we know nothing outside these allusions; his martyrdom, when he suffered with his parents, is a legend only. Lightfoot (p. 375) inclines to think that his pastorate lay at Laodicea, reasoning from the passage Colossians 4:15-17 . But would he not have lived at Laodicea, if so? And if so, would he have been saluted thus, in this letter referring wholly to the home, in closest connexion with his (assumed) parents, and just before a mention of “ the church in their house ”? On the other hand, Archippus may have had to do with the mission at Laodicea, perhaps as superintending pastor, while resident at Colossæ. Possibly he had lately undertaken such an extension of charge, and this might be referred to Colossians 4:17 . But (see note there) we incline to think that that verse refers to Archippus and to a recent appointment to ministry at Colossæ. See further above, p. 152.

See note on the Subscription to the Epistle, for a (late) mention of Archippus as “ the deacon ” of the Colossian Church.

our fellowsoldier ] In Christ’s great missionary campaign. Cp. Philippians 2:25 , and our note. For the imagery, cp. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ; 1 Timothy 1:18 ; 2 Timothy 2:3 , 2 Timothy 2:4 . Wyclif, “ archip oure euene knyet .”

the church in thy house ] Cp. Colossians 4:15 , and note. Philemon’s house was the Christian rendezvous of Colossæ, and his great room the worship-place.

3. Grace be unto you , &c.] Verbatim as in the received text of Colossians 1:2 ; where see notes. In this private Letter, written about a practical matter, as much as in the public and didactic Letter, all is hallowed with the blessed Name.

4 7. Thanksgiving and Prayer

4. I thank my God ] For the phrase precisely cp. Romans 1:8 ; 1 Corinthians 1:4 ; Philippians 1:3 (where see our note). All the Epistles of St Paul, save only Galatians , contain a thanksgiving in their first greetings.

My God: ” so Rom., 1 Cor., Phil., just quoted, and Philippians 4:19 . Profound personal appropriation and realization speaks in the phrase.

making mention of thee ] So Romans 1:9 ; Ephesians 1:16 , where see note; 1 Thessalonians 1:2 ; and cp. Philippians 1:3 . How often the names written in his Epistles must have been uttered in his prayers!

always ] Alford, Lightfoot, and R.V., connect this word with “ I give thanks ”; the Greek order of the sentence allowing it. Ellicott divides as A.V. The question, happily unimportant, is very much one of rhythm and balance, and we think this inclines to A.V. If so, he means that Philemon is habitually mentioned whenever his converts are present in his thanksgivings.

in ] Lit., “ on ; on occasion of, at the times of.

5. hearing ] doubtless from Epaphras, perhaps with Onesimus’ confirmation from his point of view. The Greek implies a process of hearing; the subject was continually present in conversation.

love ] See below vv. 7, 9. The whole letter is from love to love.

faith ] Some commentators (see Ellicott’s note, where the view is discussed and rejected) explain this as “ fidelity ” (as probably Galatians 5:22 and certainly Titus 2:10 ). But that meaning is rare in St Paul, and needs strong evidence for adoption in any given case. The ruling meaning, “ trust, reliance ,” is quite in place here.

toward … toward ] The “received” Greek text, retained here by Lightfoot, has two different prepositions, which we may render toward and unto respectively; “ toward ” the Object of faith, “ unto ” the objects of love.

toward the Lord … saints ] R.V. (and so Alford) reads the whole passage; “ thy love, and the faith which thou hast toward &c.,” making “ the faith ” only, not “ thy love ,” refer to both the Lord and the saints; (the man’s reliance on Christ coming out in a “work of faith,” called briefly “ faith ” see ver. 6 towards the saints). But Lightfoot, we think rightly, distributes the references of love and faith, cross-wise, to the saints and the Lord respectively. Cp. for support Colossians 1:3 , Colossians 1:4 , a passage written so nearly at the same time. No doubt the arrangement of the Greek, on this view, is peculiar. But in this domestic letter several natural liberties of language occur.

All saints : read, all the saints , with whom Philemon had to do. On the word “ saints ” see note on Colossians 1:2 .

6. that ] This word refers back to the “ prayers ” of ver. 4; ver. 5 being a parenthesis of thought. As in his other thanksgivings, so in this, he passes at once into prayer that the good he rejoices in may grow .

the communication ] R.V., “ fellowship .” The Greek word occurs Romans 15:26 ; 2 Corinthians 9:13 ; Hebrews 13:16 (and the verb, Romans 12:13 ; Galatians 6:6 ; Philippians 4:15 ); in the sense of charitable distribution, bounty. So it seems to be here. Philemon, comparatively wealthy, was the generous giver to his poorer fellow-believers.

of thy faith ] I.e., which thy faith prompts, and in that sense makes. Philemon’s faith was as it were the inward “distributor to the necessities of the saints,” while his hand was the outward. The phrase, so explained, is unusual, but other explanations are much further fetched.

may become effectual ] Operative (Ellicott), or effective (Lightfoot). He prays that Philemon’s life of practical love may “ tell ” around him. Wyclif, “ may be made opene .” This is from the Latin, which (see Lightfoot) depends on a slight variant (one letter only) in the Greek.

by the acknowledging ] Lit. and better, in the (true) knowledge . As the recipients and witnesses of his goodness saw more and more clearly the motive and spirit of it, they would have a truer insight ( epignôsis ) into the power of the Gospel; and “ in ” that insight would consist the deepest “effect” of Philemon’s goodness. On the word here rendered (R. V.) “ knowledge ,” see on Colossians 1:9 .

every good thing ] Every grace; the gift of love in all its practical manifestations.

in you ] Probably read, in us ; us Christians as such. So Ellicott, Alford, Lightfoot, and margin R. V.

in Christ Jesus ] Read, unto Christ (perhaps omitting Jesus ). “ Unto ” Him: i.e., to His glory, the true aim of the true life of grace. The servant is so to live that not only shall he be seen to be beneficent, but his beneficence shall be seen to be due to Another, whose he is. Perhaps these words go with “ the knowledge ” just above; as if to say, “your good shall be recognized to His glory.” But this collocation is not necessary.

7. we have ] Better, I had ; i.e., when the news reached me.

joy ] Another reading, ill-supported, has “ grace ; which would bear here the sense of thankfulness. One Greek letter only makes the difference.

consolation ] R. V., comfort , which is better. The Greek word commonly denotes rather strengthening, encouragement , than the tenderer “consolation”; and the word “comfort” ( confortatio ) fairly represents it (see on Colossians 2:2 ). The news of Philemon’s love had animated the Apostle.

in thy love ] Lit. and better, on (account of) thy love ; this life of “faith which worked by love” (Galatians 5:6 ).

the bowels ] Better perhaps, the hearts . So R. V. See our note on Philippians 1:8 . In the Greek classics the word here used means “the nobler vitals,” as distinguished from the intestines; and though the LXX. do not follow this usage, it fairly justifies us in adopting in English the “nobler” word, by which we so often denote “ the feelings .”

are refreshed ] Lit. and better, have been refreshed or rested . See the same verb, and tense, 2 Corinthians 7:13 . The cognate noun occurs, e.g. Matthew 11:28 . The tired hearts of the poor or otherwise harassed Christians had found, in Philemon, a haven of rest . See ver. 20 for the same phrase again.

by thee ] Lit., through thee, by means of thee . He was the agent for his Lord.

brother ] The word of holy family-affection is beautifully kept for the last. See on Colossians 1:2 .

8 21. A personal Request: Onesimus

8. Wherefore ] Because I am writing to one whose life is the fruit of a loving heart.

though I might be much bold ] Lit., “ having much boldness ”; but the insertion of “ though ” rightly explains the thought. “ Boldness : the Greek word, by derivation, means outspokenness , and its usage almost always illustrates this. See on 2:15 above, and our note on Ephesians 3:12 . He has the right to “ say anything ” to Philemon.

in Christ ] Whom he represents as apostle, and who also unites him and Philemon in an intimacy which makes outspokenness doubly right.

enjoin ] A very strong word. The cognate noun occurs Titus 2:15 ; “rebuke with all authority .” “Love must often take the place of authority” (Quesnel).

convenient ] Befitting ; the French convenable . So Ephesians 5:4 , where the same Greek (which occurs also Colossians 3:18 ; see note) is represented. In older English this was a familiar meaning of “ convenient ”; thus Latimer speaks of “voluntary works, which … be of themselves marvellous … convenient to be done.” See the Bible Word Book .

9. for love’s sake ] Lit., “ because of the love ; i.e., perhaps, “because of our love.” Ellicott, Alford, and Lightfoot take the reference to be to (Christian) love in general. But the Greek commentators (cent. 11) Theophylact and Œcumenius (quoted by Ellicott) explain the phrase as referring to the love of the two friends; and this is surely in point in this message of personal affection.

beseech ] The verb is one which often means “ exhort ,” in a sense less tender than “ beseech .” But see e.g. Philippians 4:2 for a case where, as here, it evidently conveys a loving appeal.

being such a one as ] Does this mean, “ because I am such,” or “ although I am such”? The answer depends mainly on the explanation of the next following words.

Paul the aged ] Paulus senex , Latin Versions; “and so apparently all versions” (Ellicott). So R.V. text. Its margin has “ Paul an ambassador ; and this rendering is advocated by Lightfoot in a long and instructive note. He points out that not only are presbûtês (“ an elder ,” which all mss. have here) and presbeutês (“ an envoy ”) nearly identical in form, but that the latter word was often spelt by the Greeks like the former. And he points to Ephesians 6:20 (see our note there), where “ the ambassador in chains ” expressly describes himself a passage written perhaps on the same day as this. So explaining, the phrase would be a quiet reminder, in the act of entreaty, that the suppliant was no ordinary one; he was the Lord’s envoy, dignified by suffering for the Lord.

But, with reverence to the great Commentator, is not the other explanation after all more in character in this Epistle, which carries a tender pathos in it everywhere? A fresh reminder of his dignity , after the passing and as it were rejected allusion to it in ver. 8, seems to us to be out of harmony; while nothing could be more fitting here than a word about age and affliction. The question whether St Paul was “an old man,” as we commonly reckon age, is not important; so Lightfoot himself points out. At all periods, men have called themselves old when they felt so; Lightfoot instances Sir Walter Scott at fifty-five. (St Paul was probably quite sixty at this time.) And it is immaterial whether or no Philemon was his junior. If he were Paul’s coeval, it would matter little. The appeal lies in the fact of the writer’s “failing powers,” worn in the Lord’s service; and this would touch an equal as readily as a junior. To our mind too the phrase, “ being such a one as ,” conveys, though it is hard to analyse the impression, the thought of a pathetic self-depreciation .

On the whole we recommend the rendering of the A.V. and (text) R.V. But by all means see Lightfoot’s note.

also a prisoner of Jesus Christ ] See on ver. 1. “ Also : the weakness of age was aggravated by the helplessness of bonds.

10. I beseech thee ] See on the same word just above.

my son … whom I have begotten ] Lit., “ whom I begot .” But English demands the perfect where the event is quite recent.

Son”: “begotten : cp. 1 Corinthians 4:15 : “I begot you, through the Gospel .” The teacher who, by the grace of God, brings into contact the penitent soul and Him who is our Life, and by faith in whom we become “the children of God” (Galatians 3:26 ), is, in a sense almost more than figurative, the convert’s spiritual father. The spiritual relationship between the two is deep and tender indeed. The converted runaway had taken his place with Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2 ; 2 Timothy 1:2 ) and Titus (Titus 1:4 ) in St Paul’s family circle .

See Galatians 4:19 for the boldest and tenderest of all his parental appeals.

Onesimus ] The name stands last in the sentence, in the Greek; a perfect touch of heart-rhetoric.

“The name was very commonly borne by slaves” (Lightfoot, p. 376). It means “ Helpful ,” “ Profitable ; and such words were frequent as slave-names. Lightfoot (p. 376, note) quotes among others Chrestus (“ Good ”), Symphorus (“ Profitable ”), and Carpus (“Fruit”). Female slaves often bore names descriptive of appearance; Arescousa (“ Pleasing ”), Terpousa (“ Winning ”), &c.

On Onesimus and his status see Introd . to this Epistle, ch. 3, 4

11. in time past ] In the Greek, simply, once .

unprofitable ] A gentle “play” on “ Helpful’s ” name; an allusion, and no more (for no more was needed), to his delinquencies. To Onesimus himself Paul had no doubt spoken, with urgent faithfulness, of his sin against his master. What the sin had been we can only guess, beyond the evident fact that he had run away. Vv. 18, 19, suggest that he had robbed Philemon before his flight, though the language does not imply more than petty crime of that kind.

Perhaps Philemon would recall the “unprofitable bondservant” of the Lord’s parable, a parable recorded for us by “the beloved physician” now at Paul’s side (Luke 17:10 ).

and to me ] “An after-thought … According to common Greek usage the first person would naturally precede the second” (Lightfoot). The words are a loving testimony to Onesimus’ devotion.

12. whom I have sent again ] Lit., “ I did send ; the “epistolary aorist,” as in Colossians 4:8 , where see note. How much lies behind these simple words; what unselfish jealousy for duty on St Paul’s part, and what courage of conscience and faith on that of Onesimus! By law, his offended master might treat him exactly as he pleased, for life or death. See Introd ., ch. 4, and Appendix M.

“No prospect of usefulness should induce ministers to allow their converts to neglect relative obligations, or to fail of obedience to their superiors. One great evidence of true repentance consists in returning to the practice of those duties which had been neglected” (Scott).

receive ] Welcome ; the same word as that in Romans 14:1 , Romans 14:3 , Romans 14:15 :7; and below, ver. 17.

But there is strong evidence for the omission of this word, and (somewhat less strong) for the omission of “ thou therefore .” This would leave, him, that is &c., as the true reading. If so, this clause should be linked to that before it; Whom I have sent back him, that is , &c. a bold but pathetic stroke of expression. Such a connexion seems better than that adopted by Lightfoot, who begins a new sentence with “ him ,” and seeks the verb in ver. 17.

mine own bowels ] Mine own heart ; see on ver. 7. The Greek might, by usage, refer to Onesimus as St Paul’s son ; as if to say, “bone of my bone.” But, as Lightfoot points out, this would be unlike St Paul’s use of the word everywhere else; with him, it always indicates the emotions . Cor, corculum (“ sweetheart ”), are somewhat similarly used in Latin, as words of personal fondness.

13. I would ] Lit., “ I was wishing ; the imperfect indicates a half-purpose, stopped by other considerations. Lightfoot compares for similar imperfects Romans 9:3 ; Galatians 4:20 .

me ] Lit., myself .

in thy stead ] On thy behalf ; as thy representative, substitute, agent. He assumes the loving Philemon’s personal devotion.

ministered ] as personal attendant; the habitual reference of the verb. Cp. e.g. Matthew 4:11 , Matthew 4:8 :15; Luke 17:8 , Luke 17:22 :26; John 12:2 ; 2 Timothy 1:18 .

of the gospel ] “For the hope of Israel,” and of the world, “he was bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20 ). Cp. Philippians 1:13 .

On the word “ Gospel ” see note on Colossians 1:5 .

14. mind ] Properly, “ opinion ,” decision . Latin Versions, consilium .

would I do nothing ] Lit., “ nothing I willed to do ” The A. V. represents the idiom rightly.

that thy benefit ] The primary reason, doubtless, was that it was Onesimus’ duty to return, and Paul’s to give him up. But this delicate subsidiary motive was not less real.

Thy benefit : lit., “ thy good ,” thy kindness . The reference seems to be to Philemon’s general kindness to his friend, of which the permission to Onesimus to stay would have been an instance. So Ellicott.

not as it were of necessity, but willingly ] It might seem that he almost suggests to Philemon to send Onesimus back to him . But this is not likely in itself, in view of the long and costly journey involved; and besides, he looks forward to visit Colossæ himself before long (ver. 22). What he means is that he sends back Onesimus, because to retain him would be to get a benefit from Philemon willing or not , and Philemon’s “good” had always been willingly given.

As it were ” softens the “ of necessity ; Philemon might not be unwilling, but there would be the look of his being so.

15. For ] He gives a new reason for Onesimus’ return. Perhaps it was on purpose for such a more than restoration that he was permitted to desert Philemon. So to send him back is to carry out God’s plan.

perhaps ] He claims no insight into the Divine purpose, where it is not revealed to him.

departed ] Lit., was parted . From one point of view, that of providential permission, the runaway was sent away. Chrysostom (quoted by Lightfoot) beautifully compares Genesis 45:5 , where Joseph says to his brethren, “ God did send me before you.”

for a season ] Lit., “ for an hour .” So 2 Corinthians 7:8 ; Galatians 2:5 .

receive him ] The Greek verb is often used of receiving payment; e.g. Matthew 6:2 , Matthew 6:5 , Matthew 6:16 . We might almost paraphrase, “ get him paid back ; as if he had been “ lent to the Lord .”

for ever ] Lit., “ eternal,” aiônion . The adjective tends to mark duration as long as the nature of the subject allows. And by usage it has a close connexion with things spiritual. “ For ever ” here thus imports both natural and spiritual permanence of restoration; “for ever” on earth, and then hereafter; a final return to Philemon’s home, with a prospect of heaven in Philemon’s company.

16. not now as a servant ] No more as bondservant . Not that he would cease to be such, necessarily, in law; St Paul does not say “ set him free .” But in Christ he was free, an and of kin.

a brother beloved ] Cp. 1 Timothy 6:2 for the same thought from the slave’s point of view. These simple words are an absolute and fatal antithesis to the principle, and so ultimately to the existence, of slavery.

“Christianity alone can work these holy transformations, changing a temporal servitude into an eternal brotherhood” (Quesnel). See further, Introd ., ch. 4, particularly pp. 163, 164.

specially to me ] Lit., most of all to me . Philemon’s beloved “ brother ” was Paul’s most beloved “ son .”

but how much more ] A verbal inconsistency, conveying a thought of noble warmth and delicacy. He had said “ most to me ”; but after all it is “ more than most ” to Philemon.

in the flesh ] A remarkable phrase, as if slavery were a sort of kinship. This thought appears, as a fact, in combination (and contrast) with the harshest theories of ancient slavery. Thus Aristotle ( Polit ., i. ii.; see Introd . to this Epistle, ch. 4) writes, “the slave is a portion of his master; as it were a living, though separated, portion of his body .” And again: “he shares his master’s reason, so far as to perceive it.” The Gospel would of course assimilate and enforce with all its power that aspect of the connexion.

in the Lord? ] In whom there is “neither bond nor free,” and in whom now master and slave were “one man” (Galatians 3:26-28 ).

17. count ] Lit., “ have ,” hold . The word is similarly used Luke 14:18 ; Philippians 2:29 .

a partner ] An associate, a fellow ; in faith and interests. The Apostle is altogether the man, the friend. Cp. 2 Corinthians 8:23 . Wyclif, “ as thou haste me a felowe .”

receive ] On the word, see note on ver. 12.

as myself ] As me ; and so as your “ fellow ,” in Christ. “After calling the slave … his brother, his son, his heart, what can this apostolic soul do further but call him his other self?” (Quesnel).

18. If he hath wronged thee ] Lit., But if he wronged thee , before, or when, he fled. See on ver. 11. Horace ( Sat ., 1. i. 78) says how the anxious master “fears lest his slaves should pillage him and fly” ( ne te compilent fugientes ).

oweth ] The slave might be trusted by his master with money for purchases; or he might work at a trade, or do casual service for others, his master claiming the proceeds. Thus he might be his owner’s debtor. See Smith’s Dict. of Greek and Roman Antiquities , art. Servus .

put that on mine account ] Latin Versions, hoc mihi imputa; Wyclif, “ asette thou this thing to me .” Such collections as the Philippians sent (Philippians 4:10-18 ) enabled him to offer this generous guarantee.

19. I Paul have written it ] Lit., “ did write it; ” an “epistolary aorist” (Colossians 4:8 ); “the tense commonly used in signatures” (Lightfoot). Here, surely, he takes the pen (cp. Colossians 4:18 ) and writes his indebtedness in autograph, with a formal mention of his own name; then, he gives the pen back to the amanuensis.

“A signature to a deed in ancient or mediæval times would commonly take the form … “ I so-and-so” (Lightfoot).

I will ] The “ I ” is emphatic in the Greek.

albeit I do not say ] Lit., and better, that I say not, not to say .

thou owest unto me … besides ] As if to say, “I am restoring to you Onesimus, made new ; this far more than clears any loss he cost you when he fled; thus you are indebted , even in money’s worth, to me; and besides you owe me yourself.”

thine own self ] The converted man “comes to himself ” (Luke 15:17 ) as never before. “It is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ); as it were a new self. Under God, this is due to the human bringer of the converting word; and so to him, under God, the convert feels instinctively a moral indebtedness; he owes him help and service in the new life.

20. Yea ] So (in the Greek) Matthew 15:27 ; Philippians 4:3 .

brother ] Again the word of love and honour, as in ver. 7.

let me have joy of thee ] We may render, less warmly, “ Let me reap benefit of thee .” So the Geneva Version; “ Let me obteyne this fruit of thee .” But the Greek usage of the verb before us here, in the optative , in which it often conveys a “ God bless you ,” favours the text. He does not merely ask to be served, but to be made very happy. Tyndale renders, “ Let me enioie thee .”

Latin Versions, Ita, frater, ego te fruar; which Wyclif, mistaking, renders, “ so brother I schal use thee .”

in the Lord ] All is “ in Him ” for His living members.

refresh my bowels ] Refresh , or rest, my heart . See on ver. 7 above.

in the Lord ] Read undoubtedly, in Christ .

21. thy obedience ] The obedience of love, as to a father and benefactor. Cp. Philippians 2:12 . Not love of authority, but a tender gravity in a case so near his heart, speaks here.

I wrote ] Better, in English epistolary idiom, I have written .

also do more than I say ] He means, surely, that Philemon will emancipate his slave-brother. But he does not say so in set terms. “The word emancipation seems to be trembling on his lips, and yet he does not once utter it” (Lightfoot, p. 389). See further Introd ., ch. 4.

22. He hopes to visit Colossæ

22. But withal ] Here is a different matter, yet not quite apart from the main theme. “There is a gentle compulsion in this mention of a personal visit to Colossæ. The Apostle would be able to see for himself that Philemon had not disappointed his expectations” (Lightfoot). And more; would not the joy of the prospect make “obedience” on Philemon’s part doubly willing?

prepare ] The verb is in the singular.

a lodging ] The Greek may mean either “ lodging ” or hospitality . General Greek usage is in favour of the latter. The “ hospitality ” would no doubt be gladly provided in Philemon’s own house; but St Paul, with his unfailing courtesy, does not ask this.

I trust ] I hope . He makes no prophecy, where none is authorized. Even when (as Romans 15:24 , Romans 15:28 ) he speaks positively of his plans, it is with an evident reservation of “if the Lord will.” The prospect of Romans 15:0 had by this time been much modified.

through your prayers ] which “move the hand of God,” being all the while part of His chain of means. For St Paul’s estimate of the power of intercessory prayer see e.g. Romans 15:30-32 (a close parallel); a Cor. 1:11; Philippians 1:19 . Neither for him nor for the Colossians did the deep peace of self-resignation mean Stoic apathy, nor, surely, even the “indifference” of the Mystics.

I shall be given unto you ] With a noble naïveté he recognizes his own dearness in the eyes of his converts; he does not affect to think that his return would not be “ a gift ” to them.

Lightfoot cites Acts 3:14 , Acts 25:11 , for the use of the Greek verb in connexion with a person .

23 25. Salutations

23. There salute thee ] Cp. Colossians 4:10 .

Epaphras ] Cp. Colossians 1:7 , and note.

my fellowprisoner ] Cp. Colossians 4:10 , and note. This passage is in favour of explaining the term there also to mean “a visitor who is so much with me as to be, as it were, in prison too.”

24. Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas ] Cp. Colossians 4:10 , Colossians 4:14 , and notes.

This group of names (with the names of Archippus, ver. 2 above, and Onesimus, ver. 10) links this Epistle to that to Colossæ, in time and place of writing, and in destination. See Paley’s acute remarks ( Horœ Paulinœ , ch. 14) on the subtle tokens of independence in the two lists and so of literary genuineness. See also Salmon, Introd. to N. T ., pp. 467. 468.

my fellowlabourers ] A favourite word with St Paul; see above, ver. 1.

Demas stands here among the faithful. But see on Colossians 4:14 .

25. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ ] So Romans 16:20 , Romans 16:24 ; 1 Corinthians 16:23 ; 2 Corinthians 13:13 ; Galatians 6:18 (where the whole formula is verbatim as here); Philippians 4:23 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:28 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:18 ; Revelation 22:21 . Cp. 2 Timothy 2:1 .

The grace ” is in short the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in His saving presence and power; Himself at once Gift and Giver. So the Epistle closes, as it began, “ in Him .”

with your spirit ] Not “ spirits ”; as if Philemon and his house had, in Christ, “one spirit,” one inner life. See further, Appendix N. The same phrase occurs Galatians 6:18 and (in the true reading) Philippians 4:23 ; where see our note.

Amen ] The word is probably to be retained here. So R.V. text. It is properly a Hebrew adverb, meaning “ surely; ” repeatedly used as here in the O. T. See e.g. Deuteronomy 27:15 , &c.; Jeremiah 11:5 (marg. A.V.).

The Subscription

Written from Rome , &c.] Lit., To Philemon it was written from Rome by means of (i.e., of course, “ it was sent by hand of ”) ( the ) domestic Onesimus . Obviously, the statement is true to fact. On the antiquity of this and similar Subscriptions see note on that appended to Colossians.

A few mss. (of cent. 8 at earliest) have, (The) Epistle of the holy Apostle Paul to Philemon and Apphia, owners of Onesimus, and to Archippus the ( sic ) deacon of the Church in Colossæ, was written from Rome by means of (the) domestic Onesimus.


A. Prof. Ramsay on St Paul’s Route (Acts 18:19 ), and on the Chasm at Colosssæ

B. The Epistles to the Colossians &c., and the First Epistle of St Peter (P. 24)

C. Dr Salmon on Gnosticism and the Colossian Epistle (P. 33)

D. The Literature of “Tendency” (P. 40)

E. Essenism and Christianity (P. 35)

F. Christ and Creation (Colossians 1:16 ).

G. Developments of Doctrine in Colossians (Colossians 1:16 )

H. “ Thrones and Dominions ” (Colossians 1:16 )

I. Hooker on the Church (Colossians 1:18 )

K. Peter Lombard on Baptism (Colossians 2:12 )

L. The Disputed Reading of Colossians 2:18

M. Master and Slave at Colossæ (P. 154)

N. Dr Maclaren on the last words of Philemon (Philemon 1:25 )

A. PROF. W. M. RAMSAY ON ST PAUL’S ROUTE (Acts 18:23 , Acts 19:1 ), AND ON THE CHASM AT COLOSSÆ. (Pp. 18, 19, 21.)

In an important book just published (Spring, 1893), The Church in the Roman Empire , Prof. W. M. Ramsay, of Aberdeen, whose authority is special on the geography and archæology of Asia Minor, has discussed these two problems.

On the first, his conclusion is adverse to Bp Lightfoot. He holds (pp. 91, &c.) that Acts 18:23 , taken with 19:1, is most naturally explained by supposing St Paul to travel from the southern “Galatian country,” the region which included Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, not from the region commonly called Galatia, in the centre of the peninsula 1 1 Both districts were included in the Roman Provincia Galatia . See Ramsay’s Map of Asia Minor. ; and so to take not “an enormous circuit through Cappadocia and North Galatia” to Ephesus, his goal, but the direct route, which would pass through Derbe, Lystra, &c., and would lead him by Apamea, Colossæ, and Laodicea on the Lycus, to Ephesus. This theory is elaborately, and we think convincingly, supported in chh. 5, 6, of the book. The question of Colossians 2:1 is discussed pp. 93, 94, as “the one difficulty in this journey from which the North Galatian theory is free.” He writes as follows:

“In the first place, the journey, so far as it traversed new country, was evidently rapid and unbroken; for there is no allusion to preaching in new places, but only to the confirming of old converts, until Ephesus was reached. It is therefore quite possible that St Paul might have spent a night either at Colossæ or at Laodiceia, and yet that he might several years afterwards write to the Christians there as persons who had never seen his face. Moreover, though trade and vehicles regularly took the road through Apameia and Laodiceia, foot-passengers might possibly prefer the shorter hill road by the plain of Metropolis and the Tchyvritzi Kleisoura … This path would take them by way of Eumeneia and the Cayster valley, and would save a day’s journey.”

The interesting question whether there once existed a natural tunnel over the Lycus “in Colossæ,” is discussed by Prof. Ramsay, pp. 472 476. His conclusion is that Herodotus is our only unmistakable ancient authority for the existence of such a tunnel just there, and that Strabo, who also speaks of an underground course of the Lycus, appears to correct rather than support him. For Strabo says that the Lycus runs underground for the greater part of its course . Now as a fact the “springs” of the Lycus, at the head of the Colossian glen, appear by recent exploration to be not true springs, but the outflow of the river after a long underground course from the upland lake Anava 1 1 Those who know the Jura country will recall the similar immense “source” where the Orbe rushes from the five miles of cavernous tunnel through which it has descended from the Lac de Joux. The Aire, in Yorkshire, shews the same phenomenon on a smaller scale. ; and this would explain Strabo’s statement, while that of Herodotus may be regarded as an inaccurate account of the general phenomena of the limestone channels of the district. As to the deep gorge, or “cutting,” found by Hamilton at the site of Colossæ (see our p. 19), Ramsay remarks (p. 476) that “the gorge, as a whole, has been an open gap for thousands of years; on that all are agreed who have seen it … We must admit the possibility that incrustation … may have at a former period completely overarched it for a little way. But such a bridge would not justify Herodotus, who describes a duden ” [a disappearance of the river] “more than half a mile long.”


Weiss ( Einleitung in das N.T ., pp. 271, 272) discusses the question of a kinship between Ephesians (and Colossians ) and the First Epistle of St Peter, which announces itself as a Circular to the Churches of Asia Minor. He points out the following among other parallels of thought, topic, and expression between Ephesians and the Petrine Epistle:

( a ) Ephesians 1:4 (“chosen in Him before,” &c.): cp. 1 Peter 1:2 . ( b ) Ephesians 1:19 (“the inheritance”): cp. 1 Peter 1:3-5 . ( c ) Ephesians 1:20-21 [cp. Colossians 2:15 ] (“the connexion of the [Death,] Resurrection, and Ascension with the subjection of all heavenly powers”) cp. 1 Peter 3:22 . ( d ) Ephesians 2:3 (the contrast of the past and present position and condition of the Jewish [?] converts) cp. 1 Peter 1:14-15 . ( e ) Ephesians 2:18 (“access” to God through Christ) cp. 1 Peter 3:18 . ( f ) Ephesians 2:20 (“the Corner-stone”) cp. 1 Peter 2:6 . ( g ) Ephesians 3:5 (Angels watching the course of man’s redemption) cp. 1 Peter 1:11 . ( h ) Ephesians 4:11 (all gifts to be used for “service”) cp. 1 Peter 4:10 . ( i ) Ephesians 4:11 (“shepherds” a designation of Christian ministers) cp. 1 Peter 5:2 . Ephesians 5:21-9 [cp. Colossians 3:18-1 ] (family duties in the Christian aspect, especially on the principle of submission) cp. 1 Peter 2:18-7 , 1 Peter 5:5 . Ephesians 5:10 (resistance to “the diabolos ”) cp. 1 Peter 5:8 . We may compare too the curious verbal similarity, in the Greek, between Colossians 2:5 and 1 Peter 5:9 .

Such correspondences indicate a probable communication between the writers, or at least that one knew the other’s writings; and a general likeness in the needs and characteristics of the Churches addressed. Weiss inclines to date the First Epistle of St Peter earlier than Colossians and Ephesians . But the internal evidence seems to us insufficient for such a conclusion. Surely the tone of 1 Peter betokens the imminence of a great persecution far more than that of the Ephesian group of Pauline Epistles; and this speaks for a later date. No one can read St Peter attentively without feeling that in his First Epistle he shews all along the powerful influence upon him of his “beloved brother Paul” (2 Peter 3:15 ), as regards the form and expression of his message. But such a connexion and influence cannot decide the historically delicate question of precise relative date of the two writings.

Prof. Ramsay (The Church , &c., ch. 13) prefers a late date for 1 Peter , placing it after the fall of Jerusalem. He thinks that St Peter’s death may have taken place long after St Paul’s. But these contentions, on the evidence given, seem to us at best not proven.


“The third objection [to the genuineness of Colossians ] is the Gnostic complexion of the false teaching combated, … which, we are told, could not have characterized any heresy existing in the time of St Paul. But how is it known that it could not? What are the authorities which fix for us the rise of Gnosticism with such precision that we are entitled to reject a document bearing all the marks of authenticity if it exhibits too early traces of Gnostic controversies? The simple fact is that we have no certain knowledge whatever about the beginnings of Gnosticism. We know that it was in full blow in the middle of the second century … But if we desire to describe the first appearance of Gnostic tendencies, we have, outside the New Testament books, no materials; and if we assign a date from our own sense of the fitness of things, we are bound to do so with all possible modesty … With respect to the history of [the] undeveloped stage of Gnosticism, I hold the Epistle to the Colossians to be one of our best sources of information; and those who reject it because it does not agree with their notions of what the state of speculation in the first century ought to be, are guilty of the unscientific fault of forming a theory on an insufficient induction of facts, and then rejecting a fact which they had not taken into account, because it does not agree with their theory.”

“I am sure no forger could devise anything which has such a ring of truth as the Epistle to the Colossians.”

G. Salmon, D.D., A Historical Introduction to the Books of the New Testament , pp. 469, 472, 475.


Tendenzschriften, “Tendency-literature ,” is a term familiar in modern historical theology. It denotes the writings which betray an artificial and diplomatic intention; narratives for instance written less to record events than to justify movements or theories, and letters not really dictated by circumstances of the hour, but fabricated to explain or to defend. Such has been held by some modern critics to be the true character of the Acts of the Apostles; a narrative written long after date, to heal and obliterate a supposed energetic opposition of “Petrines” and “Paulines.” Such has been the account given of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and even of that to the Colossians 1 1 See above, p. 38. ; letters fabricated as by St Paul, but in reality polemical attacks upon forms of teaching later than his time. An answer to such attacks upon canonical books may be given in part by a comparison of them with books undoubtedly of the “ Tendency ” order. Such a book, a favourable example of its class, has lately (1892) been given to the world, after a long oblivion in the recesses of a tomb in Egypt. It is The Gospel of Peter 1 1 The work referred to does not bear the name; its first pages are still lost. But there is practical certainty that the identification is correct. For an excellent popular account of it see Mr J. Rendel Harris’s book, The newly-recovered Gospel of Peter . . This narrative of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection bears probable traces of a Docetic “tendency”; i.e. it appears to be written with a purpose of adaptation to the theory that “Jesus” was only temporarily “possessed” by “Christ,” who forsook the Man at the Cross, so that “Christ” suffered only in appearance ( δοκεῖν ). It is instructive to see how such “tendency” was, as by a literary law, associated, in those early days, with imaginative weakness. The spirit of uncontrolled yet weak romance comes in at once. The Cross is made to speak; the Risen One issues from the Tomb with a stature which touches the sky . To the literary student this suggests the reflection that the early Christian generations were wholly unskilled in the subtle art of successful historical imagination. To forsake facts, and their record, in favour of compositions bearing an artificial purpose; to personate, with an intention, the writer of another age; was inevitably, at that stage of literary development, to fall into manifest historical absurdity.

Bishop Alexander, of Derry, in a sermon (1890) before the University of Cambridge (since incorporated in his Primary Convictions , New York and London, 1893), has admirably expounded the literary Phenomena of St Luke 24:0 , and has pointed out the literary reasons or accepting it as a record of fact. The “management of the supernatural” in narrative is one of the great problems of literature; Sir Walter Scott, in the Introduction to The Abbot , has condemned his own attempts to solve that problem in The Monastery . But “the supernatural” moves freely in the transparent narrative of St Luke. Is it unfair to say that St Luke was either a literary artist who more than rivalled Hamlet and The Monastery, or a photographer of facts? It is assuredly true that such a manner is good proof that he was not a “tendency-writer” of the second century.


It has been maintained, sometimes by unfriendly sometimes by friendly critical students of Christianity, that Essenism and the Doctrine of Christ were closely connected, and that our Blessed Lord Himself, and John the Baptist, and James the Lord’s Brother, were in some sense Essenes. The prima facie case is plausible. John the Baptist was an inhabitant of the desert, roughly clothed, an ascetic in diet, and a baptizer. James is said to have abstained from wine, and from flesh-meat, and from the use of oil and of the razor. Our Lord laid the utmost stress upon the vanity of the Pharisaic ritualism, and in some mysterious words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 19:12 ) seemed to countenance a possible law of celibacy. His infant Church held goods in common (Acts 4:34 , Acts 4:35 ), and despised wealth. But these and some other traits of actual or possible likeness are shewn by Lightfoot ( Colossians , pp. 158 179) to be entirely negatived by much greater unlikenesses. John the Baptist is a desert solitary, not a member of a desert community, and he nowhere preaches an ascetic life, or a life in community. The account of the asceticism of James is late in date, and probably coloured by imagination; and the Acts and Epistles which suggest that the Judaizing Christians claimed in some sense, rightly or not, his support, shew him as a man whose natural sympathies would be with the Pharisees rather than with the Essenes. Our Lord, unlike the Essenes, rebuked a distorted observance of the Sabbath; mingled freely in human social life; powerfully vindicated the sacredness of marriage and fatherhood; fully observed the Mosaic ceremonial, including the Passover; asserted the resurrection of the body; and, last not least, claimed for Himself the Messiahship, whereas no trace of the Messianic hope appears in our accounts of Essene doctrine. And whereas the Essene “despaired of society, and aimed only at the salvation of the individual,” our Lord, in the Divine largeness of His teaching, at once put the utmost stress on the regeneration and holiness of the individual, and laid the foundations of a regenerated society in His doctrine of the relation of His followers, in Him their Head, to the whole circle of human life.

F. CHRIST AND CREATION. (Colossians 1:16 .)

“The heresy of the Colossian teachers took its rise … in their cosmical speculations. It was therefore natural that the Apostle in replying should lay stress on the function of the Word in the creation and government of the world. This is the aspect of His work most prominent in the first of the two distinctly Christological passages. The Apostle there predicates of the Word [the Son] not only prior but absolute existence. All things were created by Him, are sustained in Him, are tending towards Him. Thus He is the beginning, middle, and end of creation. This He is because He is the very Image of the Invisible God, because in Him dwells the Plenitude of Deity.

“This creative and administrative work of Christ the Word [the Son] in the natural order of things is always emphasized in the writings of the Apostles when they touch on the doctrine of His Person … With ourselves this idea has retired very much into the background … And the loss is serious … How much more hearty would be the sympathy of theologians with the revelations of science and the developments of history, if they habitually connected them with the operations of the same Divine Word who is the centre of all their religious aspirations, it is needless to say.

“It will be said indeed that this conception leaves … creation … as much a mystery as before. This may be allowed. But is there any reason to think that with our present limited capacities the veil which shrouds it ever will be removed? The metaphysical speculations of twenty-five centuries have done nothing to raise it. The physical investigations of our own age from their very nature can do nothing; for, busied with the evolution of phenomena, they lie wholly outside this question, and do not even touch the fringe of the difficulty. But meanwhile revelation has interposed, and thrown out the idea which, if it leaves many questions unsolved, gives a breadth and unity to our conceptions, at once satisfying our religious needs and linking our scientific instincts with our theological beliefs.”

Lightfoot, Colossians , pp. 182, 183.

“From dearth to plenty, and from death to life,

Is Nature’s progress, when she lectures man

In heavenly truth; evincing, as she makes

The grand transition, that there lives and works

A soul in all things, and that soul is God.

The Lord of all, Himself through all diffused,

Sustains, and is the life of all that lives.

Nature is but a name for an effect

Whose Cause is God. He feeds the secret fire

By which the mighty process is maintain’d …

[All things] are under One. One Spirit, His

Who wore the platted thorns with bleeding brows ,

Rules universal Nature. Not a flower

But shews some touch, in freckle, streak, or stain,

Of His unrival’d pencil. He inspires

Their balmy odours, and imparts their hues,

And bathes their eyes with nectar, and includes

In grains as countless as the seaside sands,

The forms with which He sprinkles all the earth.

Happy who walks with Him! whom what he finds

Of flavour or of scent in fruit or flower,

Or what he views of beautiful or grand, …

Prompts with remembrance of a present God.”

Cowper, The Task , Book vi.

The views outlined by Bishop Lightfoot, in the passage quoted above, are pregnant of spiritual and mental assistance. At the same time with them, as with other great aspects of Divine Truth, a reverent caution is needed in the development and limitation. The doctrine of the Creating Word, the Eternal Son, “in” Whom finite existence has its Corner-stone, may actually degenerate into a view both of Christ and Creation nearer akin to some forms of Greek speculation than to Christianity, if not continually balanced and guarded by a recollection of other great contents of Revelation. Dr J. H. Rigg, in Modern Anglican Theology (3rd Edition, 1880), has drawn attention to the affinity which some recent influential forms of Christian thought bear to Neo-Platonism rather than to the New Testament. In particular, any view of the relation of Christ to “Nature” and to man which leads to the conclusion that all human existences are so “in Christ” that the individual man is vitally united to Him antecedent to regeneration, and irrespective of the propitiation of the Cross, tends to non-Christian affinities. It is a fact never to be lost sight of that any theology which on the whole gives to the mysteries of guilt and propitiation a less prominent place than that given to them in Holy Scripture, tends to a very wide divergence from the scriptural type. Here, as in all things, the safety of thought lies on the one hand in neglecting no great element of revealed truth, on the other in coordinating the elements on the scale, and in the manner , of Divine Revelation.


In the precise form presented in Colossians the revelation of the Creative Work of the Son is new in St Paul’s Epistles. But intimations of it are to be found in the earlier Epistles, and such as to make this final development as natural as it is impressive. In 1 Corinthians 8:6 we have the “one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him; ” which is in effect the germ of the statements of Colossians 1:0 . And in Romans 8:19-23 we have a passage pregnant with the thought that the created Universe has a mysterious relation to “the sons of God,” such that their glorification will be also its emancipation from the laws of decay; or at least that the glorification and the emancipation are deeply related to each other. Nothing is wanted to make the kinship of that passage and Colossians 1:0 evident at a glance, but an explicit mention of Christ as the Head of both worlds. As it is, His mysterious but most real connexion with the making and the maintaining of the Universe is seen lying as it were just below the surface of the passage in Romans .

H. “THRONES AND DOMINIONS.” (Colossians 1:16 )

We transcribe here a note from our edition of Ephesians in this Series; on the words of Ephesians 1:21 :

“Two thoughts are conveyed; first, subordinately, the existence of orders and authorities in the angelic (as well as human) world; then, primarily, the imperial and absolute Headship of the Son over them all. The additional thought is given us by Colossians 1:16 , that He was also, in His preexistent glory, their Creator; but this is not in definite view here, where He appears altogether as the exalted Son of Man after Death. In Romans 8:0 , Colossians 2:0 , and Ephesians 6:0 … we have cognate phrases where evil powers are meant.… But the context here is distinctly favourable to a good reference. That the Redeemer should be “exalted above” powers of evil is a thought scarcely adequate in a connexion so full of the imagery of glory as this. That He should be “exalted above” the holy angels is fully in point. 1 Peter 3:22 is our best parallel; and cp. Revelation 5:11 , Revelation 5:12 . See also Matthew 13:41 ; “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels.”

“We gather from the Epistle to the Colossians that the Churches of Asia Proper were at this time in danger from a quasi-Jewish doctrine of Angel-worship, akin to the heresies afterwards known as Gnosticism. Such a fact gives special point to the phrases here. On the other hand it does not warrant the inference that St Paul repudiates all the ideas of such an angelology. The idea of order and authority in the angelic world he surely endorses, though quite in passing.

“Theories of angelic orders, more or less elaborate, are found in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs , (cent. 1 2); Origen (cent. 3); St Ephrem Syrus (cent. 4). By far the most famous ancient treatise on the subject is the book On the Celestial Hierarchy , under the name (certainly assumed) of Dionysius the Areopagite; a book first mentioned cent. 6, from which time onwards it had a commanding influence in Christendom. (See Article Dionysius in Smith’s Dict. Christ. Biography ). “Dionysius” ranked the orders (in descending scale) in three Trines; Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; Dominations, Virtues, Powers (Authorities); Principalities, Archangels, Angels. The titles are thus a combination of the terms Seraphim, Cherubim, Archangels, Angels, with those used by St Paul here and in Colossians 1:0 .

“Readers of Paradise Lost , familiar with the majestic line,

‘Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Pow’rs,’

are not always aware of its learned accuracy of allusion. The Dionysian system powerfully attracted the sublime mind of Dante. In the Paradiso , Canto xxxviii., is a grand and characteristic passage, in which Beatrice expounds the theory to Dante, as he stands, in the Ninth Heaven, in actual view of the Hierarchies encircling the Divine Essence:

‘All, as they circle in their orders, look

Aloft; and, downward, with such sway prevail

That all with mutual impulse tend to God.

These once a mortal view beheld. Desire

In Dionysius so intensely wrought

That he, as I have done, ranged them, and named

Their orders, marshal’d in his thought.’

Cary’s Dante .”

I. HOOKER ON THE CHURCH. (Colossians 1:18 .)

“That Church of Christ which we properly term His body mystical, can be but one; neither can that one be sensibly discerned by any man, inasmuch as the parts thereof are some in heaven already with Christ, and the rest that are on earth (albeit their natural persons be visible) we do not discern under this property whereby they are truly and infallibly of that body. Only our minds by intellectual conceit are able to apprehend that such a real body there is, a body collective, because it containeth a huge multitude; a body mystical, because the mystery of their conjunction is removed altogether from sense. Whatsoever we read in Scripture concerning the endless love and the saving mercy which God sheweth towards His Church, the only proper subject thereof is this Church. Concerning this flock it is that our Lord and Saviour hath promised: ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hands.’ They who are of this society have such marks and notes of distinction from all others as are not object unto our sense; only unto God, who seeth their hearts and understandeth all their secret thoughts and cogitations, unto Him they are clear and manifest. All men knew Nathanael to be an Israelite. But our Saviour, piercing deeper, giveth further testimony of him than men could have done with such certainty as He did, ‘Behold indeed an Israelite in whom there is no guile.’ If we profess, as Peter did, that we love the Lord, and profess it in the hearing of men … charitable men are likely to think we do so, as long as they see no proof to the contrary. But that our love is sound and sincere … who can pronounce, saving only the Searcher of all men’s hearts, who alone intuitively doth know in this kind who are His? And as those everlasting promises of love, mercy, and blessedness, belong to the mystical Church, even so on the other side when we read of any duty which the Church of God is bound unto, the Church whom this doth concern is a sensible known company. And this visible Church in like sort is but one.… Which company being divided into two moieties, the one before, the other since the coming of Christ, that part which since the coming of Christ partly hath embraced and partly shall hereafter embrace the Christian religion, we term as by a more proper name the Church of Christ.… The unity of which visible body and Church of Christ consisteth of that uniformity which all several persons thereunto belonging have, by reason of that one Lord, whose servants they all profess themselves; that one faith, which they all acknowledge; that one baptism, wherewith they are all initiated.… Entered we are not into the visible before our admittance by the door of baptism.… Christians by external profession they are all, whose mark of recognisance hath in it those things (one Lord, one faith, one baptism) which we have mentioned, yea, although they be impious idolaters, wicked heretics, persons excommunicable, yea and cast out for notorious improbity.… Is it then possible that the selfsame men should belong both to the synagogue of Satan and to the Church of Jesus Christ? Unto that Church which is His mystical body, not possible; because that body consisteth of none but only … true servants and saints of God. Howbeit of the visible body and Church of Jesus Christ, those may be, and oftentimes are, in respect of the main parts of their outward profession.… For lack of diligent observing the difference, first between the Church of God mystical and visible, then between the visible sound and corrupted, sometimes more, sometimes less; the oversights are neither few nor light that have been committed.”

Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity , iii. 1.

K. PETER LOMBARD ON BAPTISM. (Colossians 2:12 .)

Peter Lombard ( ob . a.d. 1160), known among medieval theologians as “ the Master of the Sentences ” ( Magister Sententiarum ), or simply, “ the Master ,” writes as follows in his Treatise on Theology called Sententiœ ( Lib . iv., Distinctio iv., §§ 3 7):

It is asked, how is that text to be received, As many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ .… In two manners are we said to put on Christ; by the taking of the Sacrament, or by the reception of the Thing ( Res ). So Augustine: ‘Men put on Christ sometimes so far as the reception of the Sacrament, sometimes so far as the sanctification of the life; and the first may be common to the good and the evil; the latter is peculiar to the good and pious.’ So all who are baptized in Christ’s name put on Christ either in the sense of ( secundum ) the reception of the Sacrament, or in that of sanctification of the life.

“Others there are … who receive the Thing and not the Sacrament … Not only does martyrdom ( passio ) do the work of baptism but also faith and contrition, where necessity excludes the Sacrament …

“Whether is greater, faith or water? Without doubt I answer, faith. Now if the lesser can sanctify, cannot the greater, even faith? of which Christ said, ‘He that believeth in me, even if he were dead, he shall live’ … [Augustine says,] ‘If any man having faith and love desires to be baptized, and cannot so be, because necessity intervenes, the kindness of the Almighty supplies what was lacking to the Sacrament … The duty which could not be done is not reckoned against him by God, who hath not tied ( alligavit ) His power to the Sacraments …’

“The question is often asked, regarding those who, already sanctified by the Spirit, come with faith and love to baptism, what benefit baptism confers upon them? For it seems to give them nothing, since through faith and contrition their sins are already forgiven and they are justified. To which it may be truly replied that they are indeed … justified, i.e. purged from the stain ( macula ) of sin, and absolved from the debt of the eternal punishment, but that they are still held by the bond of the temporal satisfaction by which penitents are bound in the Church. Now when they receive Baptism they are both cleansed of any sins they have contracted since conversion, and are absolved from the external satisfaction; and assisting grace and all virtues are increased in them; so that the man may then truly be called new … Baptism confers much benefit even on the man already justified by faith; for, coming to it, he is now carried, like the branch by the dove, into the ark. He was within the ark already in the judgment of God; he is now within it in that of the Church also …

“Marvel not that the Thing sometimes goes before the Sacrament, since sometimes it follows even long after; as in those who come insincerely ( ficté ). Baptism will begin to profit them (only) when they afterwards repent.”

These remarks of a great representative of Scholastic Theology are interesting in themselves, and are instructive also as a caution, from the history of doctrine, against overstrained inferences from the mere wording of, e.g. Colossians 2:12 , as if it were unfaithful to history to interpret such language in the light of facts and experience. The great risk of such overstrained exposition is that it tends to exalt the Sacrament at the expense of adequate views of the Grace, and so to invert the scale and relation of Scripture.


Must we read ( a ) “ The things which he hath not seen ,” or ( b ) “ The things which he hath seen?

The documentary evidence may be briefly stated thus:

i. For the omission of “ not ”:

Uncial MSS .: א ABD, the first three of which are, with C, the oldest copies we possess. א B were probably written cent. 4, A cent. 5. D probably belongs to cent. 6.

Cursive MSS .: those numbered 17, 28, 67 in the list of cursive copies of St Paul’s Epistles. These belong to centt. 10 and 12. MS. 67 omits “ not” by correction only; the correction is perhaps as late as cent. 15.

Versions : the Old Latin (perhaps cent. 2) in three of its texts out of the five which contain the Epistle; the Coptic Version called the Memphitic (perhaps cent. 2); and two others.

Fathers : Tertullian (cent. 2, 3); Origen (cent. 3), but somewhat doubtfully 1 1 He cites the text three times. Two of these occur where his Greek is known only through a Latin Version, and one of these two gives “ not .” In the third, we have the Greek. Μὴ is inserted by the (last) critical Editor, De la Rue. ; the commentator Hilary (cent. 4), quoted as Ambrosiaster, as his work is included with the works of Ambrose. Jerome and Augustine (cent. 4, 5) both notice both readings.

ii. For the retention of “ not ”:

Uncial MSS .: C K L P, the first of cent. 5, the others of cent. 9. Besides, the reading οὐ (not μὴ ) is given by a corrector of א , who dates perhaps cent. 7, and by correctors of D, who date perhaps cent. 8.

Cursive MSS .: all with the three exceptions given above; i.e. more than 290 known copies, ranging from cent. 9 to cent. 15 or 16.

Versions : the Syriac Versions (the earliest is probably of cent. 2); one text of the Old Latin; the Vulgate (Jerome’s revision of the Latin); the Gothic, Æthiopic, and others.

Fathers : Origen (in one place; see further above); Chrysostom; Jerome (with deliberate preference); Augustine (likewise); Theodore of Mopsuestia; Theodoret, “and others” (Lightfoot).

The late Dean Burgon ( The Revision Revised , p. 356, note ), thus summarizes the evidence, and remarks upon it:

“We have to set off the whole mass of the copies against some 6 or 7: Irenæus (i. 847), Theodorus Mops. ( in loc .), Chrys. (xi. 372), Theodoret (iii. 489, 490), John Damascene (ii. 211) against no Fathers at all (for Origen once has μὴ [iv. 655] 1 1 See just above on this point, in our statement of the evidence for “ not ”. (Editor.) ; once has it not [iii. 63]; and once is doubtful [i. 583]). Jerome and Augustine both take notice of the diversity of reading, but only to reject it. The Syriac versions, the Vulgate, Gothic, Georgian, Sclavonic, Æthiopic, Arabic, and Armenian (we owe the information, as usual, to Dr Malan) are to be set against the suspicious Coptic. All these then are with the Traditional Text: which cannot seriously be suspected of error.”

It must be added that Lightfoot ( in loco ), and Westcott and Hort ( N.T. in Greek , ii. 127), suspect the Greek text of Colossians 2:18 of corruption, and suggest or adopt ingenious emendations. The rendering of the clause in question thus altered would be, “ treading the void in airy suspension ,” or, “ treading an airy void .” We venture to think the reasons for suspicion inadequate.


We have conjectured the possibility that Onesimus’ legal position might not be quite so bad as that of the slave of a Roman master. But the difference was probably a vanishing one in fact. Dr E. C. Clark, Regius Professor of Laws in the University of Cambridge, kindly informs the Editor that “little is known of the administration of ordinary justice in the Provinces. But almost all except serious cases seem to have been left to the native local authorities. I should think that no treatment of a slave by his master could come under the cognizance of a Roman governor; and I see no reason to suppose that the local authorities would be more likely to interfere than the Roman magistrates in similar cases at Rome. Power of life and death would be, I imagine, the rule. The introduction of the theory of a Law of Nature may have led to a few ameliorations in the slave’s condition mediately, i.e . through the individual action of humane Emperors. But these modifications of the old barbarity have been overrated. I doubt whether any prohibition of the arbitrary killing of a slave was regularly made before the time of Hadrian. Philemon would have power, most likely, to treat Onesimus exactly as he pleased .”


In his excellent Expository Commentary on our two Epistles (3rd Edition, 1889) Dr Alexander Maclaren writes as follows:

“The parting benediction ends the letter. At the beginning of the Epistle, Paul invoked grace upon the household ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Now he conceives of it as Christ’s gift. In Him all the stooping, bestowing love of God is gathered, that from Him it may be poured upon the world. That grace is not diffused, like stellar light, through some nebulous heaven, but concentrated in the Sun of Righteousness, who is the light of men. That fire is piled on a hearth, that from it warmth may ray out to all that are in the house.…

“The grace of Christ is the best bond of family life. Here it is prayed for on behalf of all the group, the husband, wife, child, and the friends in their home-Church. Like grains of sweet incense sprinkled on an altar-flame, and making fragrant that which was already holy, that grace sprinkled on the household fire will give it an odour of a sweet smell, grateful to men and acceptable to God.

“That wish is the purest expression of Christian friendship, of which the whole Letter is so exquisite an example. Written as it is about a common everyday matter, which could have been settled without a single religious reference, it is saturated with Christian thought and feeling. So it becomes an example how to blend Christian sentiment with ordinary affairs, and to carry a Christian atmosphere everywhere. Friendship and social intercourse will be all the nobler and happier, if pervaded by such a tone. Such words as these closing ones would be a sad contrast to much of the intercourse of professedly Christian men. But every Christian ought by his life to be, as it were, floating the grace of God to others sinking for want of it, to lay hold of; and all his speech should be of a piece with this benediction.

“A Christian’s life should be ‘an Epistle of Christ,’ written with His own hand, wherein dim eyes might read the transcript of His own gracious love; and through all his words and deeds should shine the image of his Master, even as it does through the delicate tendernesses and gracious pleadings of this pure pearl of a letter, which the slave, become a brother, bore to the responsive hearts in quiet Colossæ.”

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Philemon 1". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.