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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Philemon 1


[1] επιστολη πρ . φιλ . KL.

Verse 1

Philemon 1:1 . δέσμιος Χρ . Ἰησ .: to St. Paul an even more precious title than the usual official ἀπόστολος Χρ . Ἰησ .; cf. Philemon 1:13 , ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς τοῦ εὐαγγ ., “they were not shackles which self had riveted, but a chain with which Christ had invested him; thus they were a badge of office …” (Lightfoot) This title of honour is chosen, and placed in the forefront of the Epistle, not with the idea of touching the heart of Philemon, but rather to proclaim the bondage in which every true Christian must be, and therefore also the “beloved fellow-worker” Philemon. The title is meant, in view of what follows in the Epistle, to touch the conscience rather than the heart. Τιμόθεος : associated with St. Paul in Acts 19:22 , 2 Corinthians 1:1 , Philippians 1:1 , Colossians 1:1 ; his mention here points to his personal friendship with Philemon. ὁ ἀδελφός : often used by the Apostle when he desires to be especially sympathetic; here, therefore, the emphasis is intended to be upon the thought of the brotherhood of all Christians; this is significant in view of the object of the Epistle. Φιλήμονι : See Intr., § II. συνεργῷ : when they had worked together cannot be said with certainty; perhaps in Ephesus or Colossae. Probably what is meant is the idea of all Christians being fellow-workers.

Verse 2

Philemon 1:2 . Ἀπφίᾳ τῇ ἀδελφῆ : A Phrygian name, often occurring on Phrygian inscriptions. It is most natural to suppose that she was the wife of Philemon: but she must have occupied also, most likely, a quasi-official position in the Church; τῆ ἀδελφῇ , coming between συνεργῷ and συνστρατιώτῃ , suggests this, especially when one remembers the important part the ministry of women played in the early Church, cf. the labours, e.g. , of Mary, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, Persis, in connexion with whom the semi-technical term κοπιᾶν is used (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12 , 1 Timothy 5:17 , for the use of this word), and Prisca; on the whole subject see Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity , i., pp. 122 f., 161 f., 363 f. (1908). Ἀρχίππῳ : there is nothing to show that he was the son of Philemon, rather the contrary, for why should the son be addressed in a letter which dealt with one of his father’s slaves? The inclusion of his name must be due to the fact that he occupied an important position in the local church ( cf. the words which follow in the text), which was thus, in a certain sense, included in the responsibility with regard to Onesimus. Archippus occupied, apparently, a more important position than Philemon (see Colossians 4:17 , βλέπε τὴν διακονίαν ἤν παρέλαβες ἐν Κυρίῳ , ἵνα αὐτὴν πληροῖς , if Philemon had occupied any such official position mention would certainly have been made of it), but this would be most unlikely to have been the case if the latter had been the father of the former. It is more natural to regard him as the head of the local Church, who lived in the house where the members met for worship ( cf. Theodoret’s words, quoted by Lightfoot: ὁ δὲ Ἄρχιππος τὴν διδασκαλίαν αὐτῶν ἐπεπίστευτο ). συνστρατιώτῃ : only elsewhere in N.T., Philippians 2:25 , but for the metaphor cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 , 1 Timothy 1:18 , 2 Timothy 2:3-4 , καὶ τῇ κατʼ οἶκον …: Cf. Acts 12:12 , Romans 16:5 , 1 Corinthians 16:19 , Colossians 4:15 . Up to the third century we have no certain evidence of the existence of church buildings for the purposes of worship; all references point to private houses for this. In Rome several of the oldest churches appear to have been built on the sites of houses used for Christian worship; see Sanday and Headlam, Romans , p. 421, who quote this interesting passage from the Acta Justini Martyris , § 2 (Ruinart): “Quaesivit Praefectus, quem in locum Christiani convenient. Cui respondit Justinus, eo unumquemque convenire quo vellet ac posset. An, inquit, existimas omnes nos in eundem locum convenire solitos? Minime res ita se habet … Tunc Praefectus: Age, inquit, dicas, quem in locum conveniatis, et discipulos tuos congreges. Respondit Justinus: Ego prope domum Martini cuiusdam, ad balneum cognomento Timiotinum, hactenus mansi.”

Verse 3

Philemon 1:3 . χάριςεἰρήνη : Cf. Romans 1:7 , the usual Pauline greeting (exc. I. 2 Tim.); it is a combination of the Greek salutation, χαίρειν , and the Hebrew one, שׁלום . In the N.T. the word εἰρήνη expresses the spiritual state, which is the result of a right relationship between God and man. According to Jewish belief, the establishment of peace, in this sense, was one of the main functions of the Messiah ( cf. Luke 2:14 ), it was herein that His mediatorial work was to be accomplished. πατρὸς : see note on James 3:9 . The phrase ἀπὸ ΘεοῦΧριστοῦ expresses the essence of Judaism and Christianity.

Verse 4

Philemon 1:4 . πάντοτε : belongs to εὐχαριστῶ , cf. Ephesians 1:16 , Philippians 1:3 , Colossians 1:3-4 .

Verse 5

Philemon 1:5 . ἀκούων : probably from Epaphras, see Colossians 1:7-8 ; Colossians 4:12 (Lightfoot). τὴν ἀγάπην …: i.e. , the faith which thou hast towards the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love which thou showest to all the saints. “The logical order,” says Lightfoot, “is violated, and the clauses are inverted in the second part of the sentence, thus producing an example of the figure called chiasm; see Galatians 4:4-5 . This results here from the apostle’s setting down the thoughts in the sequence in which they occur to him, without paying regard to symmetrical arrangement. The first and prominent thought is Philemon’s love. This suggests the mention of his faith, as the source from which it springs. This again requires a reference to the object of faith. And then, at length, comes the deferred sequel to the first thought the range and comprehensiveness of his love.” πίστιν : not “faithfulness,” but “faith” (belief), cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13 , Galatians 5:6 , 1 Thessalonians 1:3 . πρὸςεἰς : the difference in these propositions is noteworthy, πρὸς refers to the “faith” to Christ-ward ( cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:8 ), εἰς to the love to the saints: both are developed in Philemon 1:6-7 . τοὺς ἁγίους : St. Paul intends Onesimus to be thought of here. The original significance of the title ἅγιος , as applied to men, may be seen in such a phrase as, “Ye shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ). To the Jew, like St. Paul, the corresponding root in Hebrew connoted the idea of something set apart, i.e. , consecrated to the service of God ( cf. e.g. , Exodus 22:31 [29]). The ἁγίοι constituted originally the ἐκκλησία ; and just as, according to the meaning underlying the Hebrew equivalent of the word ἅγιος , separation for God’s service was the main conception, so, according to the root-meaning of ἐκκλησία , it connoted the idea of the body of those “called out,” and thus separated from the world.

Verse 6

Philemon 1:6 . ὅπως : belongs to μνείαν σον ποιούμενοςPhilemon 1:5 is, as it were, in brackets. It would be more usual to have ἴνα here. κοινωνία : the reference is to identity of faith; the fellowship among the saints, cf. Philippians 1:5 . The word is used of a collection of money in Romans 15:26 , 2Co 8:4 ; 2 Corinthians 9:13 ; cf. Hebrews 13:16 . ἐν : see 2 Corinthians 1:6 , Colossians 1:29 . ἐπιγνώσει : the force of this word is seen in Philippians 1:9 . παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ : cf. Romans 12:2 ; Romans 16:19 , Colossians 1:9 . ἐν ἡμ . εἰς Χρ .: it is not only a question of men who benefit by “every good thing,” but also of the relationship to Christ; cf. Colossians 3:23 .

Verse 7

Philemon 1:7 . ἔσχον : the aorist expresses forcibly the moment of joy which St. Paul experienced when he heard this good news about Philemon. τὰ σπλάγχνα : regarded as the seat of the emotions. ἀν . πέπαυται : the compound “expresses a temporary relief, the simple παύεσθαι expresses a final cessation” (Lightfoot). ἀδελφέ : the place of the word here makes it emphatic, cf. Galatians 6:18 , Philippians 4:1 .

Verse 8

Philemon 1:8 . Διό : i.e. , because of the good that he has heard concerning Philemon; he must keep up his reputation. ἐπιάσσειν : “to enjoin,” or “command”; the word is used “rather of commanding which attaches to a definite office and relates to permanent obligations under the office, than of special injunctions for particular occasions” (Vincent). τὸ ἀνῆκον : the primary meaning of the verb is that of “having arrived at,” or “reached”; and, ultimately, that of fulfilling a moral obligation. The word occurs elsewhere in the N.T. only in Ephesians 5:4 , Colossians 3:18 .

Verse 9

Philemon 1:9 . τοιοῦτος ὢν ὡς : “ τοιοῦτος can be defined only by a following adjective, or by οἷος , ὅς , ὅσος , or ὤστε with the infinitive; never by ὡς ” (Vincent). It seems, therefore, best to take τοιοῦτος ὤν as referring to … μᾶλλον παρακλῶ , which is taken up again in the next verse; ὡς ΠαῦλοςἸησοῦ must be regarded as though in brackets; τοιοῦτος ὢν would then mean “one who beseeches”. πρεσβύτης : this can scarcely be in reference to age, for which γέρων would be more likely to have been used; besides, in Acts 7:58 , at the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the term νεανίας is applied to St. Paul. Lightfoot in his interesting note on this verse, says: “There is reason for thinking that in the common dialect πρεσβύτης may have been written indifferently for πρεσβευτής in St. Paul’s time; and if so, the form here may be due, not to some comparatively late scribe, but to the original autograph itself or to an immediate transcript”; and he gives a number of instances of the form πρεσβύτης being used for πρεσβευτής . If, as seems very likely, we should translate the word “ambassador” here, then we have the striking parallel in the contemporary epistle to the Ephesians 6:20 , ὑπὲρ οὗ πρεσβεύω ἐν ἁλύσει . Deissmann ( Licht vom Osten , p. 273) points out that both the verb πρεσβεύω , and the substantive πρεσβευτής , were used in the Greek Orient for expressing the title of the Legatus of the emperor. Accepting the meaning “ambassador” here, the significance of the passage is much increased; for Christ’s ambassador had the right to command, but in merely exhorting he throws so much more responsibility on Philemon. The word “ambassador” would be at least as strong an assertion of authority as “apostle”; to a Greek, indeed, more so. δέσμιος : perhaps mentioned for the purpose of hinting that in respect of bondage his position was not unlike that of him for whom he is about to plead; cf. the way in which St. Paul identifies himself with Onesimus in Philemon 1:12αὐτόν , τοῦτʼ ἔστιν τὰ ἐμὰ σπλάγχνα , and Philemon 1:17ὡς ἐμέ . Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ : belongs both to πρεσβύτης and to δέσμιος , cf. Philemon 1:1 , Ephesians 3:1 ; Ephesians 4:1 , 2 Timothy 1:8 .

Verse 10

Philemon 1:10 . ὃν ἐγέννησα : cf. Sanhedrin , xix. 2 (Jer. Talm.), “If one teaches the son of his neighbour the Law, the Scripture reckons this the same as if he had begotten him” (quoted by Vincent). Ὀνήσιμον : one would expect Ὀνησίμου it is attracted to ὃν … instead of agreeing with τοῦ ἐμοῦ τέκνου . He is to be ὀνήσιμος in future, no longer ἀνόνητος . ἄχρηστον : ἅπ . λεγ . in N.T., but used in the Septuagint, Hosea 8:8 , 2Ma 7:5 , Wis 2:11 ; Wis 3:11 , Sir 16:1 ; Sir 27:19 . As applied to Onesimus the reference must be to something wrong done by him; the fear of being punished for this was presumably his reason for running away from his master. νυνὶ δὲ : a thoroughly Pauline expression, cf. Philemon 1:9 , Romans 6:22 ; Romans 7:6 ; Romans 7:17 ; Romans 15:23 ; Romans 15:25 , 1 Corinthians 5:11 , etc. εὔχρηστον : only elsewhere in N.T. in 2Ti 2:21 ; 2 Timothy 4:11 .

Verse 12

Philemon 1:12 . ὂν ἀνέπεμψά σοι : the aorist, in accordance with the epistolary style. It is clear from these words that Onesimus himself was the bearer of the letter, cf. Colossians 4:7-9 . On St. Paul’s inistence that Onesimus should return to his master, see Intr. § III. αὐτόν : note the emphatic position of this word, cf. Ephesians 1:22 . ἐμὰ : again emphatic in thus preceding the noun.

Verse 13

Philemon 1:13 . ἐγὼ : a further emphatic mode of expression. ἐβουλόμην : βούλεσθαι connotes the idea of purpose, θέλειν simply that of willing. The differences between the tenses ἐβουλόμην and ἐθέλησα (Philemon 1:14 ) is significant; “the imperfect implies a tentative, inchoate process; while the aorist describes a definite complete act. The will stepped in and put an end to the inclinations of the mind” (Lightfoot). κατέχειν : “to detain,” directly opposed to ἀπέχῃς in Philemon 1:15 . Deissmann ( Op cit. , p. 222) points out that κατέχω is often used in papyri and on ostraka of binding , though in a magical sense. ὑπὲρ σοῦ : “in thy stead,” the implication being that Philemon is placed under an obligation to his slave; for the force of ὑπὲρ as illustrated on the papyri, etc., see Deissmann’s important remarks on pp. 105, 241 ff. of his work already quoted. διακονῇ : used in the Pauline Epistles both of Christian ministration generally (Romans 11:13 ; 1 Corinthians 12:5 ; Ephesians 4:12 ) and in special reference to bodily wants, such as alms can supply (1 Corinthians 16:15 ; 2 Corinthians 8:4 ). ἐν τοῖς δεσμ . τοῦ εὐαγγ .: i.e. , the bonds which the Gospel had tied, and which necessitated his being ministered unto. τοῦ εὐαγγελίου : see Mark 1:14-15 and cf. Matthew 4:23 ; Christ uses the word often in reference to the Messianic Era. “The earliest instances of the use of εὐαγγέλιον in the sense of a book would be: Did. 8, 11, 15 bis ; Ign. Philad . 5, 8 (Sanday, Bampton Lectures , p. 319).

Verse 14

Philemon 1:14 . With the thought of this verse cf. 2Co 9:7 , 1 Peter 5:2 . ὡς κατὰ ἀνάγκην : “St. Paul does not say κατὰ ἀνάγκην but ὡς κατὰ ἀνάγκην . He will not suppose that it would really be constraint; but it must not even wear the appearance ( ὡς ) of being so. cf. 2 Corinthians 11:17 , ὡς ἐν ἀφροσύνῃ ” (Lightfoot).

Verse 15

Philemon 1:15 . ἐχωρίσθη : a very delicate way of putting it. πρὸς ὥραν : cf. 2 Corinthians 7:8 , Galatians 2:5 . αἰώνιον : there is no reason why this should not be taken in a literal sense, the reference being to Onesimus as ἀδελφὸν ἀγαπητόν , not as δοῦλον . ἀπέχῃς : cf. Philippians 4:18 , although the idea of restitution is prominent here, that of complete possession seems also to be present in view of αἰώνιον and ἀδελφὸν ἀγαπ ., but see further Intr., § III.

Verse 16

Philemon 1:16 . οὐκέτι ὡς δοῦλον : no longer in the character of a slave, according to the world’s acceptation of the term, though still a slave (see, however, the note on Philemon 1:21 ); but the relationship between slave and master were in this instance to become altered. πόσῳ δὲ μᾶλλον …: i.e. , more than most of all (which he had been to St. Paul) to thee. With the thought of the verse cf. 1 Timothy 6:2 .

Verse 17

Philemon 1:17 . ἔχεις …: for this use of ἔχω cf. Luke 14:18 , Philippians 2:29 . κοινωνόν : for the idea see Romans 12:13 ; Romans 15:26 f., 2Co 8:4 ; 2 Corinthians 9:13 , Galatians 6:6 , Philippians 4:15 , 1 Timothy 6:18 , Hebrews 13:16 . προσλαβοῦ αὐτὸν ὡς ἐμέ : cf. τὰ ἐμὰ σπλάγχνα in Philemon 1:12 . An interesting parallel (given by Deissmann, op. cit . pp. 128 f.) occurs in a papyrus of the second century, written in Latin by a freedman, Aurelius Archelaus, to the military tribune, Julius Domitius: “Already once before have I commended unto thee my friend Theon. And now again, I pray thee, my lord, that he may be in thy sight as I myself” (ut eum ant’ oculos habeas tanquam me).

Verse 18

Philemon 1:18 . εἰ δὲ τι : as Lightfoot says, the case is stated hypothetically, but the words doubtless describe the actual offence of Onesimus. ἐλλόγα : only elsewhere in N.T. in Romans 5:13 ; it occurs on the papyri (Deissmann, op. cit. , p. 52), “to reckon unto”; here, in the sense: “put it down to my account”.

Verse 19

Philemon 1:19 . ἐγὼ Παῦλος : “The introduction of his own name gives it the character of a formal and binding signature, cf. 1 Corinthians 16:21 , Colossians 4:18 , 2 Thessalonians 3:17 ” (Lightfoot). ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί ἀποτίσω : ἔγρ . epistolary aorist, cf. 1 Peter 5:12 , 1 John 2:14 ; 1Jn 2:21 ; 1 John 2:26 . Deissmann ( op. cit. , p. 239) calls attention to the large number of papyri which are acknowledgments of debt (Schuldhandschrift); a stereotyped phrase which these contain is, “I will repay,” usually expressed by ἀποδώσω ; in case the debtor is unable to write a representative who can do so expressly adds, “I have written this for him”. The following is an example: “… which we also will repay … besides whatever else there is ( ἄλλων ὧν ) which we owe over and above … I, Papos, write it for him, because he cannot write”. See also Deissmann’s Neue Bibelstudien , p. 67, under χειρόγραφον . It seems certain from the words ἔγραψα … ( cf. also Philemon 1:21 ) that St. Paul wrote the whole of this epistle himself; this was quite exceptional, as he usually employed an amanuensis; the quasi-private character of the letter would account for this. See, further, Lightfoot’s note on Galatians 6:11 . ἀποτίσω : a stronger form than the more usual ἀποδώσω . As a matter of fact St. Paul, in a large measure, had repaid whatever was due to Philemon by being the means whereby the latter received his slave back, but see Intr. § III. ἵνα μὴ λέγω σοι : a kind of mental ejaculation, as though St. Paul were speaking to himself; the σοι does not properly belong to the phrase; cf. 2 Corinthians 9:4 . καὶ σεαυτόν : the reference is to Philemon’s conversion, either directly due to St. Paul, or else indirectly through the mission into Asia Minor, which had been the means whereby Philemon had become a Christian; in either case St. Paul could claim Philemon as his spiritual child in the sense that he did in the case of Onesimus (see Philemon 1:10 ). μοι προσοφείλεις : “thou owest me over and above”. See farther, on ὀφειλή , Deissmann, Neue Bibelst. , p. 48, Licht vom Osten , pp. 46, 239.

Verse 20

Philemon 1:20 . ναί : cf. Philippians 4:3 , ναὶ ἐρωτῶ καὶ σέ . ἀδελφέ : an affectionate appeal, cf. Galatians 3:15 ; Galatians 6:1-18 . ἐγώ : “The emphatic ἐγώ identifies the cause of Onesimus with his own” (Lightfoot). σου ὀναίμην : ἅπ . λεγ . in N.T., it occurs once in the Septuagint ( Sir 30:2 ), and several times in the Ignatian Epp. (Ephesians 2:2 , Magn. ii. 12, Rom. Philemon 1:2 , Pol. i. 1, vi. 2). Ὀν . is a play on the name Onesimus, lit., “May I have profit of thee”; Lightfoot says that the common use of the word ὀναίμην would suggest the thought of filial offices, and gives a number of instances of its use. It is the only proper optative in the N.T. which is not in the third person (Moulton, Grammar of N.T. Greek , p. 195). ἀνάπαυσον : see note on Philemon 1:7 . ἐν Χριστῷ : St. Paul refers to the real source from which the ἀναπαύειν gets its strength.

Verse 21

Philemon 1:21 . τῇ ὑπακοῇ σου : a hint regarding the authority which St. Paul has a right to wield. ἔγραψα : see note on Philemon 1:19 . ὑπὲρ ἅ : as it stands this is quite indefinite, but there is much point in Lightfoot’s supposition that the thought of the manumission of Philemon was in St. Paul’s mind; “throughout this epistle the idea would seem to be present to his thoughts, though the word never passes his lips. This reserve is eminently characteristic of the Gospel. Slavery is never directly attacked as such, but principles are inculcated which must prove fatal to it.” λέγω : note the tense here, a very vivid touch after ἔγραψα .

Verse 22

Philemon 1:22 . ἅμα i.e. , at the same time that he does what he is going to do for Onesimus. ἑτοίμαζέ μοι : Lightfoot’s remark that “there is a gentle compulsion in this mention of a personal visit to Colossae,” does not seem justified in view of the stress that St. Paul lays on Philemon’s action being wholly voluntary, see Philemon 1:10 ; Philemon 1:14 ; it is more probable that this is merely an incidental mention of what had been planned some time before, namely another missionary journey to Asia Minor and Greece (see Philippians 2:24 ), without any thought of influencing Philemon’s action thereby. ξενίαν : only here and in Acts 28:23 , in the N.T.

Verse 23

Philemon 1:23 . συναιχμάλωτος : lit. “a prisoner of war,” used metaphorically like συνστρατιώτης , see note on Philemon 1:2 ; cf. Romans 16:7 , where the word is used in reference to Andronicus and Junius.

Verse 24

Philemon 1:24 . Μάρκος : i.e. , John Mark, cf. Acts 12:25 ; Acts 15:37 , Philippians 4:10 ; he and Aristarchus were Jewish-Christians (Colossians 4:11 ). Δημᾶς , Δουκᾶς : Gentile Christians ( cf. Acts 16:10 ; Acts 20:5-6 ; Acts 21:15 ; Acts 27:2 ); the former name is a contraction of Δημήτριος (Colossians 4:14 ; 2 Timothy 4:10 ).

Verse 25

Philemon 1:25 . Ἡ χάρις : cf. Galatians 6:18 , 2 Timothy 4:22 . ὑμῶν : the reference is both to those addressed by name in the opening of the Epistle, as well as to the members of the local Church, see Philemon 1:2 . This final verse is a reiteration of the grace pronounced in Philemon 1:3 .

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Philemon 1". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.