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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Philemon 1

Verse 1


1) Written by Paul, Philemon 1:1.

2) To Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and a church that was meeting in the home of Philemon, Philemon 1:23.

3) About Onesimus, a run-away slave of Philemon, Philemon 1:10-11.

4) About 64 A.D.

5) The occasion for the Epistle was that Onesimus, an unsaved, unprofitable slave of Philemon, had run away from home in Colosse of Asia Minor, crossed the Mediterranean Sea, gone to Rome, found Paul in prison, and had been saved. Paul sent Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, with the letter that reported the conversion of Onesimus and appealed for Philemon to receive him in mercy, as if it were the aged apostle returning. He, too, promised, or offered, to repay any money Onesimus may have absconded or taken when he ran away, Philemon 1:13-21.

1) "Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ " (Paulos: desmios Christou lesou) "Paul a chain-held prisoner of Jesus Christ." From this identity greeting this letter has been termed a prison epistle of Paul; It was perhaps the same imprisonment from which he also wrote the Ephesian letters, Ephesians 3:1.

2) "And Timothy our brother." (kai Timotheos ho adelphos) "And Timothy (our) brother," in the Lord and ministry -- Thus Timothy joined Paul in writing the letter and sending greetings.

3) "Unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlaborer." (Philemoni to agapeto kai sunergo hemon) "To Philemon, the beloved (brother) and our fellow-worker." As a fellow-worker Philemon had helped Paul and other missionary brethren both financially and by opening his home for church worship. The name Philemon means "affectionate." His home was in Colosse.

Verse 2

1) "And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier." (kai Apphia te adelphe)" And to Apphia the (beloved) sister" (kai Archippo to sustratiote hemon) "And to Archippus the fellow soldier of us." Archippus was a minister of the Gospel, Colossians 4:17.

2) "And to the church in thy house" (kai te kat’ oikon sou ekklesia) "And to the church (meeting) at thy house." New Testament churches often met in homes of the believers. Such verifies and indicates the local, physical, and visible nature of the church in action. 1) Aquila and Priscilla had a church in their house in Ephesus, 1 Corinthians 16:19; 1 Corinthians 2) Nymphas had a church in his house in Laodicea, Colossians 4:15; Colossians , 3) perhaps Jason, Acts 17:4-9; Acts , 4) Justus, Acts 18:7-8.

Verse 3

1) "Grace to you and peace" (charis humin kai eirene) "Grace to you all (the church) and peace." The continuing peace from God, Paul desired to rest on all the church meeting at Philemon’s house, John 14:27; John 20:21; Romans 5:1.

2) "From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (apo theou patros hemon kai kuriou lesous Christos) "From God our Father and Jesus Christ (our) Lord or Master." Paul acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus Christ over his life because of Grace and peace from God the Father -- through him, Romans 1:15-16; Ephesians 4:5.

Verse 4


1) "I thank my God" (eucharisto to theo mou) "I give thanks to my God." Paul’s God was personal to him, one to whom he could express affectionate gratitude, not an impersonal deaf God, like heathen gods, Psalms 115:5-8; 1 John 5:14-15.

2) "Making mention of thee always in my prayers" (pantote mneian sou poioumenos epi ’ton proseuchon mou) "Always making mention of thee in my prayers." John 1:16. Though an aged missionary saint, Paul still confirmed his faith in the power of prayer. Romans 10:1; Philippians 4:6. He, too, certified his undying concern for others, Romans 9:1-3; 1 Corinthians 9:22-27.

Verse 5

1) "Hearing of thy love and faith" (akouon sou ten agapen kai ten pistin) "Hearing of the faith and sincere love of you." The reputation of both Philemon and the church in his home had crossed the sea and reached PauI’s ears and heart in the Roman prison. They were good witnesses and light bearers for our Lord and His church, Matthew 5:16; Acts 1:8.

2) "Which thou hast" (hen echeis) ’Which thou, Philemon, and the church, hast or dost hold or embrace." Such testimony is a testimony and good example to others, 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9.

3) "Toward the Lord Jesus" (pros ton kurion iesoun) "To or toward the Lord Jesus Christ." This is the good kind of testimony for which the Thessalonian brethren were commended – 1 Thessalonians 1:8-9.

4) "And toward all saints" (kai eis pantas tous hagious) "And with reference or relation to all saints." the love and faith of these brethren seem to have been reflected through their affection and refreshing help toward Paul and other missionaries, Philemon 1:7.

Verse 6

1) "That the communication of thy faith " (hopos he koinonia tes pisteos soul "So as the common fellowship (fellowship in common things) of the system of faith of you" -- This refers to financial or material help or support Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:18.

2) "May become effectual " (energes genetai) "May become operative or workable" Philippians 4:10-16. Financial and material help to needy missionaries, mission projects, orphans, and widows, is a most effectual way to demonstrate love and faith, James 2:15-16.

3) "By the acknowledging of every good thing ’ (en epignosei pantos agathou tou) "By means of a full knowledge of every good deed of you." The needy are encouraged in the love and faith of God’s people by expression of their love in physical ways, Philippians 4:18; Acts 20:35.

4) "Which is in Christ Jesus" (en hemin eis Cheiston) "in our midst with reference to Christ" It appears that the church meeting in Philemon’s home had been led to communicate (contribute) to the needs of Paul and brethren with him in Rome, to establish a good reputation and influence. This demonstrated their love indeed for Christ John 13:34-35.

Verse 7

1) "For we have" (gar - eschon) "For I had or we have experienced."

2) "Great joy and consolation in thy love" (charan pollen aki paraklesin epi te agape sou) "Much joy and consolation over the love of you." True love for others had been Philemon’s motive in opening his home for church worship, study, and service, Romans 12:9-10.

3) "Because the bowels of the saints" (hoti ta splagchna ton hagion) The term "bowels of the saints" refers to "affections" of the saints, which the Greeks believe to be in the bowels, instead of the heart. 1) The Hebrews taught that the heart was the seat of affections; 2) the Greeks taught it was the bowels; and 3) some American philosophers have suggested that it is in the liver, because it is the organ first upset in a disappointment in love.


J. L. Brown

To chide a courting teenage son who was arguing with his aged father that the Bible could be wrong on the idea of loving with the heart, Eld. J. L. Brown wrote the following hypothetical love letter and asked that his son give it to the sweetheart he claimed he loved with his liver:

"As the clouds above the river,

So I love you with my liver,

My heart is cold, it has no charm,

But my liver’s big and warm.

Like the wild bee in the clover,

Can’t you see it’s bileing over?

Will you grant its strong demand

For your liver and your hand?

If a thing like this you’ll do,

I`II grant hand, and liver, too!-

4) " Are refreshed in thee, brother" (anapepautai dia sou, adelphe) "Have been refreshed in thee, brother." 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; Acts 28:14-15. These passages certify that obeying the Word of God in faith and love causes men to be refreshed and take courage, Joshua 1:6-7; Joshua 1:9; Psalms 27:10; 1 Corinthians 15:58.

Verse 8

1) "Wherefore, though I might be much bold" (dio pollen en Christos parresian echon) "Although I might be having much boldness or forwardness in Christ" Paul indicated that he might direct Philemon in stronger language than he was about to use.

2) "In Christ to enjoin thee " (en Christo epitassein soil "In Christ to charge thee." To direct Philemon’s behavior toward Onesimus, since Paul was an apostle and Philemon a more mature brother in Christ.

3) "That which is convenient" (to anekon) "The thing convenient" or "that which is befitting or becoming." The befitting or becoming thing PauI was concerned that Philemon should so was to accept Onesimus, the returning slave in Christ, as if he were the great apostle himself, Romans 12:10.

Verse 9

1) "Yet for love’s sake" (dia ten agapen) "Because or on account of mutual divine love." The triangle of persons involved had all become children of God, possessions of His high and holy love - Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus were that triangle, 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:7.

2) "I rather beseech thee" (mallon parakalo) "I rather beseech (thee)." This is a low-key approach to a touchy problem - that of the proper manner of physical treatment of a run-away slave, mortgage property of Philemon. John 13:34-35. Paul asked Philemon, on the basis of mutual experimental love in Christ, to accept Onesimus.

3) "Being-such an one as Paul the aged" (toioutos on hos Paulos presbutes) "Being such an one as Paul, an old man, or one grown old." Appeals and pleas were more becoming to an old man than a hard, bold charge. To this language Paul resorted.

4) "And now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ"’ (nuni de kai desmios Christou lesou) -What is more, now and continuing hereafter a prisoner of Jesus Christ." Paul affirmed that he had permanent bond obligations to Jesus Christ, Galatians 2:20.

Verse 10

1) "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus" (parakalo se peri tou emou teknou Onesimon) "I appeal to you concerning or on behalf of my child (in the faith) Onesimus." Paul also referred to Onesimus not only as a child of his, but also as a faithful and beloved brother from Colosse, Colossians 4:9. This Onesimus, run away slave of Philemon in Colosse of Asia Minor, had found Christ, through Paul, now in a Roman prison.

2) "Whom I have begotten in my bonds" (hon egennesa en tois desmois) "Whom I begat in my bonds or chains." Paul testified of Onesimus’ conversion as a "begetting,” from a sinful slave of Philemon, to a beloved brother. As an instrument through whom Onesimus was saved, Paul referred to himself as having begotten Onesimus, as also he did brethren of the Corinth church. In this sense he often referred to converts as his sons or children, 1 Corinthians 4:15. Chains and bonds of the Roman prison could not chain or bind the power of the gospel or seal the mouth of His witness, Paul. Acts 16:30-31; Romans 1:15-16.

Verse 11

1) "Which in time past was to thee unprofitable" (ton pote soi achreston) "The one formerly useless to thee." It appears that as slave-property of Philemon, Onesimus had been a bad investment 1 Peter 2:10; Ephesians 2:12.

2) "But now profitable to thee and to me" (nuni de) "but now and hereafter, continually" (kai soi kai emoi euchreston) "both to you and to me he is a useful one." The gospel of Jesus Christ can take the unprofitable, the worthless, the slave to sin, and transform, quicken him into a new creature, useful for the Master’s service; Luke 15:11-32; John 4:7-39. The once worthless Samaritan woman won many to Christ after her conversion. Blessed thought!

Verse 12

1) "Whom I have sent again" (on anepempsa soi) Whom I have sent back to you." The term "sent" (Gk. pempso) indicates a sending by "request," not by I. commissioned authority" as indicated by the Greek term "stello." Only the church has the commissioned authority to send one to preach or do divine service in the Lord.

2! "Thou therefore receive him" (auton) "Receive him. The brutal beating that a run away slave usually faced upon his return to his master was a thing Paul would have Onesimus escape from Philemon.

3) "That is mine own bowels" (tout’ estin ta ema splagchna) "This ne is of my own bowels or affections." Onesimus, once an’ enemy to Christ, rebellious, stubborn, obstinate, and useless, had in conversion been changed to a new creature who had affections for Christ of the same nature that PauI had, 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 9:1-3; Romans 10:1-4.

Verse 13

1) "Whom I would have retained with me" (on ego eboulomen pros emauton katechein) "Whom I resolved, or seriously considered, to keep or hold with me." In honor, Paul preferred to have Onesimus return home to Philemon that he might not be accused of using the power of the gospel in changing others to his own profit, arbitrarily, Romans 12:10.

2) "That in thy stead" (hina huper sou) "In order that on your behalf."

3) "He might have ministered unto me" (moi diakone) "He might minister to me." This ministry refers to help in providing common things such as food and clothes and perhaps medical care, 1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Corinthians 6:4-9.

4) "In the bonds of the gospel" (en tois desmois tou euangeliou) In the chains or bonds of the gospel." From these gospel bonds, Paul did a common ministry to the churches, and to us, in writing the Prison Epistles (Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy).

Verse 14

1) "But without thy mind would I do nothing" (choris de tes " ses gnomes) "But apart from thy consideration" (ouden ethelesa poiesai) "not one thing was I willing to do." Paul was not willing to take advantage of the continued common services Onesimus was giving him without the willing consent of Philemon.

2) "That thy benefit should not be" (hina me to agathon sou he) "in order that the good of you" -- The good things I might continue to receive from the servant of you, or at your expense, might not be.

3) "As it were of necessity" (os kata anagken) "As if it were of absolute necessity “ 1 Corinthians 9:7.

4) "But willingly" (alla kata ekousion) "but by way of voluntary ministering from you." Man is a man of accountable free and voluntary decisions both before and after conversion. However, his marital, family, or civil obligations are not canceled in salvation, 1 Corinthians 7:10-13; Romans 13:1-7; Titus 2:9; 2 Corinthians 8:12.

Verse 15

1) "For perhaps he therefore departed for a season" (tacha gar dia touto echoristhe pros hora) "For this reason perhaps he departed for a period" - for the reason Paul was about to suggest. ,

2) "That thou shouldest receive him forever" (hina aionion auton apeches) "in order that thou mightest have (him) to thyself forever." A converted slave was more likely to become closely attached to a Christian master than to run away to an unsaved Master. Christ raises the value of every life redeemed by Him. Galatians 4:3; Galatians 4:6-9; Galatians 5:1; Colossians 3:22-24.

Verse 16

1) "Not now as a servant" (ouketi hos doulon) "no longer as a servant - a mere servant, a bondsman."

2) "But above a servant, a brother beloved" (alla huper doulon adelphon agapeton) "But beyond a bondservant - a beloved brother" 1 Peter 2:18-20.

3) "Specially to me" (malista emoi) "Specially to me" - He was more than a bondservant. He evidently offered love and spiritual followship to Paul, in addition to the common ministry of Paul’s physical needs.

4) "But how much more unto thee" (poso de mallon soil "Yet, by how much more to you."

5) "Both in the flesh and in the Lord?" (kai en sarki kai en kurio) "Both in (the) flesh and in (the) Lord." In two ways Onesimus had become more profitable to Philemon 1:-1) In the flesh he was ready to be a better servant, and 2) In the Lord he was a brother, perhaps to help in the work of the church which met in Philemon’s house, Philemon 1:2; 1 Timothy 6:1-3.

Verse 17

1) "If thou count me therefore as a partner" (ei oun me echeis koinonon) "If therefore you hold me to be a partner or comrade in ministerial mission service," 1 Corinthians 3:9; a partner or comrade in a common mission service, as 2 Corinthians 8:23.

2) "Receive him as myself" (proslabou auton hos eme) "take him to yourself as it if were me." This is the spirit of kindness and forgiveness of Christ against those have done Him wrong, Ephesians 4:32; Luke 6:33-36.

Verse 18

1) "If he hath wronged thee " (ei de ti edikesen) "If moreover (in). anything he hath done you wrong or damage." Upon a slaves running away from his master, he often did it through intentional destruction of some of his property.

2) "Or oweth thee ought " (se he opheilei) "or owes you anything." Again a slave upon running away would often steal from his master. Isaiah 53:3-6. Yet, all these sins were willingly borne by our Savior, John 10:17-18.

3) "Put that on mine account" (touto emoi elloga) reckon or bill or compute it to me, to my account" As Jesus Christ offered himself a sacrifice to pay for all our sins and all our iniquities, so Paul offered to repay Philemon for any material debt Onesimus owed him, if Philemon would only receive Onesimus as a beloved brother, Titus 2:14; Paul thus showed the spirit of Christ who became our goat to bear all our iniquities, while condemned by his enemies, Leviticus 16:21-22.

Verse 19

1) "I, Paul, have written it with mine own hand" (ego Paulos egrapsa to eme cheiri) "l, Paul, wrote this, with my own hand." Paul sealed his pledge of fiscal repayment of any loss Philemon may have had because of Onesimus’ departure, with his personal signature.

2) "I will repay it" (ego apotismo) "I will repay or make restitution.” How like our Lord who gave himself a ransom for all," Paul was, 1 Timothy 2:5.

3) "Albeit I do not say to thee" (hina me lego soi) ’lest I say to thee or in order that I not tell you (as I might)." Paul continually, like his Lord, sought the welfare of others. 1 Corinthians 10:24.

4) "How thou owest unto me" (hoti prospheileis) "How you or that you owe to me" - You are obligated to me - in the arbitrary worldly manner of obligations. Leviticus 19:13; Romans 13:8.

5) "Even thine own self besides" (kai seauton moi) "Even thyself to me." It appears that Paul was the Person who had rescued Philemon from the slavery of sin and rebellion, against God and led him to be an heir of God and joint-heir of Jesus Christ, Romans 8:17-18.

Verse 20

1) "Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord" (nai, adelphe, ego sou onaimen en kurio) "Yes, brother, may I have help of thee in the Lord?" Paul pleaded with Philemon to receive Onesimus, the returning slave, with mercy and compassion, thus joining Paul in helping establish Onesimus in the faith and service of Jesus Christ

2) "Refresh my bowels in the Lord" (anapauson mou ta splagchna en Christo) "Refresh the bowels (affections) of me’ in the Lord. " Here again PauI used the term "bowels" as a symbol of the seat of affections, Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:12. While the Hebrews referred to the heart as the seat of love, hate, and affections, the Greeks used the bowels in the same manner. Paul’s use here, in this accommodating sense is to by all means, save some, 1 Corinthians 9:22-26; Luke 10:27; 1 Corinthians 16:18; 2 Corinthians 7:13.

Verse 21

1) "Having confidence in thy obedience" (pepoithos te hupakoe sou) "Having trusted to the obedience of thee" or "having faith that you would do what I requested." Hebrews 13:17; 1 Corinthians 11:1.

2) "I wrote unto thee" (egrapsa soil "I wrote to thee." In Christian faith and confidence Paul wrote to Philemon, 1 John 5:14.

3) "Knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.” (eidos hoti kai huper ha lego poieseis) "Perceiving that even beyond what things I say thou wilt do," James 1:22.

Verse 22


1) "But withal prepare me also a lodging" (hama de kai etoimaze moi zenian) "At the same time also prepare lodging for me." The common truth of fellowship Paul had formerly had with Philemon and the church in Colosse, he desired soon to enjoy again.

2) "For I trust that through your prayers" (elpizo gar hoti dia ton proseuchon humon) "For I hope that through your prayers." The instrumentality of prayer was a power in which Paul hoped for liberty from prison to go to Philemon once again, James 5:17-18.

3) "I shall be given unto you " (charisthesomai humin) all be given to you (of your own accord)" Acts 12:5-12. As Peter had been delivered in answer to prayer so Paul hoped that he might be.


The cashier of a New York bank could not make his account balance by many thousands of dollars. He alone had charge of the books. He had never used a dollar of the bank’s funds, nor could he detect any error in the accounts. It was in the era of embezzlements and defalcations. On the morrow the bank examiner would examine his accounts and declare him a defaulter. As the account now stood, the result was inevitable. On the following morning in agony he entered the directors’ room, and for one hour upon his knees, urged his case before God. Calm came to his troubled heart. As if led by an invisible hand he went from his knees to the safe and took out a blotter long unused. It opened upon pages of accounts which had evidently not been copied. This providential discovery made the account balance, vindicated the cashier, and showed the faithfulness of God who has said, "Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will answer thee."

Verse 23

1) "There salute thee Epaphras" (aspazetai se Epaphras) Epaphras greets thee, or sends greetings." He was a friend, perhaps former member of the Corinth church, working with Paul in the mission ministry, Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12.

2) "My fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus" (ho sunaichamalotos mou en Christo lesou) "the fellow captive of us in the Lord." This Epaphras* was a fervent laborer and prisoner with Paul, said to be "one of you," in Paul’s letter to the church of Colosee, Colossians 4:12.

Verse 24

1) "Marcus" (Markos) "(also) Mark," Acts 12:12; Acts 12:25; 2 Timothy 4:11.

2) "Aristarchus," (Aristarchos), of Thessalonica, Acts 19:29; Acts 27:2; Colossians 4:10.

3) "Demas" (Demas) Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:10.

4) "Lucas" (Loukas) Beloved physician, personal physician and companion of Paul in the mission field, writer of Luke and the book of Acts of the Apostles, Acts 16:12; Acts 20:5; Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11.

5) "My fellow laborers" (hoi sunergoi mou) "My fellow workers” With Paul at the time he wrote this letter were Epaphras and these four other brethren, including John Mark and Luke, two of the Gospel writers, and Demas of Thessalonica who deserted him some two years later, I 1 Timothy 4:10. Aristarcus was also from Thessalonica of Macedonia, Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; Acts 27:2.

Verse 25

1) "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" (he charis tou kuriou lesou Christou) "The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." This is Paul’s benediction of God’s unmerited favor upon Philemon and the church in his house. He desired grace to abound abundantly upon them, Romans 5:17; Romans 5:20.

2) "Be with your spirit, Amen." (meta tou pneumatos humon) "(Be) in close association, comradeship with the spirit of you all." 2 Timothy 4:22; 2 Peter 3:18.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Philemon 1". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. 1985.