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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Philemon 1

:-. Address. Thanksgiving for Philemon’s love and faith. Intercession for Onesimus. Concluding request and salutations.

This Epistle affords a specimen of the highest wisdom as to the manner in which Christians ought to manage social affairs on more exalted principles.

Verse 1

prisoner of Jesus Christ — one whom Christ’s cause has made a prisoner (compare “in the bonds of the Gospel,” ( :-). He does not call himself, as in other Epistles, “Paul an apostle,” as he is writing familiarly, not authoritatively.

our ... fellow labourer — in building up the Church at Colosse, while we were at Ephesus. See my Introduction to Colossians.

Verse 2

Apphia — the Latin, “Appia”; either the wife or some close relative of Philemon. She and Archippus, if they had not belonged to his family, would not have been included with Philemon in the address of a letter on a domestic matter.

Archippus — a minister of the Colossian Church ( :-).

fellow soldier — ( :-).

church in thy house — In the absence of a regular church building, the houses of particular saints were used for that purpose. Observe Paul’s tact in associating with Philemon those associated by kindred or Christian brotherhood with his house, and not going beyond it.

Verse 4

always — joined by Alford with, “I thank my God.”

Verse 5

Hearing — the ground of his thanksgiving. It is a delicate mark of authenticity, that he says “hearing” as to churches and persons whom he had not seen or then visited. Now Colosse, Philemon’s place of residence, he had never yet seen. Yet :- here implies that Philemon was his convert. Philemon, doubtless, was converted at Ephesus, or in some other place where he met Paul.

love and faith — The theological order is first faith then love, the fruit of faith. But he purposely puts Philemon’s love in the first place, as it is to an act of love that he is exhorting him.

toward ... toward — different Greek words: “towards” ... “unto.” Towards implies simply direction; unto, to the advantage of.

Verse 6

That — The aim of my thanksgiving and prayers for thee is, in order that the, etc.

the communication of thy faiththe imparting of it and its fruits (namely, acts of love and beneficence: as :-, “to communicate,” that is, to impart a share) to others; or, the liberality to others flowing from thy faith (so the Greek is translated, “liberal distribution,” :-).

effectual byGreek, “in”; the element in which his liberality had place, that is, may be proved by acts in, etc.

acknowledgingGreek, “the thorough knowledge,” that is, the experimental or practical recognition.

of every good thing which is in you — The oldest manuscripts read, “which is in US,” that is, the practical recognition of every grace which is in us Christians, in so far as we realize the Christian character. In short, that thy faith may by acts be proved to be “a faith which worketh by love.”

in Christ Jesus — rather as Greek,unto Christ Jesus,” that is, to the glory of Christ Jesus. Two of the oldest manuscripts omit “Jesus.” This verse answers to :-, “thy love and faith toward all saints”; Paul never ceases to mention him in his prayers, in order that his faith may still further show its power in his relation to others, by exhibiting every grace which is in Christians to the glory of Christ. Thus he paves the way for the request in behalf of Onesimus.

Verse 7

For — a reason for the prayer, :-.

we haveGreek, “we had.”

joy and consolation — joined in :-.

saints are refreshed by thee — His house was open to them.

brother — put last, to conciliate his favorable attention to the request which follows.

Verse 8

Wherefore — Because of my love to thee, I prefer to “beseech,” rather than “enjoin,” or authoritatively command.

I might ... enjoin — in virtue of the obligation to obedience which Philemon lay under to Paul, as having been converted through his instrumentality.

in Christ — the element in which his boldness has place.

Verse 9

for love’s sake — mine to thee, and (what ought to be) thine to Onesimus. Or, that Christian love of which thou showest so bright an example ( :-).

being such an one — Explain, Being such a one as thou knowest me to be, namely,

Paul — the founder of so many churches, and an apostle of Christ, and thy father in the faith.

the aged — a circumstance calculated to secure thy respect for anything I request.

and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ — the strongest claim I have on thy regard: if for no other reason, at least in consideration of this, through commiseration gratify me.

Verse 10

I beseech thee — emphatically repeated from :-. In the Greek, the name “Onesimus” is skillfully put last, he puts first a favorable description of him before he mentions the name that had fallen into so bad repute with Philemon. “I beseech thee for my son, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus.” Scripture does not sanction slavery, but at the same time does not begin a political crusade against it. It sets forth principles of love to our fellow men which were sure (as they have done) in due time to undermine and overthrow it, without violently convulsing the then existing political fabric, by stirring up slaves against their masters.

Verse 11

Which ... was ... unprofitable — belying his name Onesimus, which means “profitable.” Not only was he “unprofitable,” but positively injurious, having “wronged” his master. Paul uses a mild expression.

now profitable — Without godliness a man has no station. Profitable in spiritual, as well as in temporal things.

Verse 12

mine own bowels — as dear to me as my own heart [Alford]. Compare :-, “as myself.” The object of my most intense affection as that of a parent for a child.

Verse 13

I — emphatical. I for my part. Since I had such implicit trust in him as to desire to keep him with me for his services, thou mayest.

I would have retained — different Greek from the “would,” :-, “I could have wished,” “I was minded” here; but “I was not willing, :-.

in thy stead — that he might supply in your place all the services to me which you, if you were here, would render in virtue of the love you bear to me ( :-).

bonds of the gospel — my bonds endured for the Gospel’s sake ( :-).

Verse 14

without thy mind — that is, consent.

should not be as — “should not appear as a matter of necessity, but of free will.” Had Paul kept Onesimus, however willing to gratify Paul Philemon might be, he would have no opportunity given him of showing he was so, his leave not having been asked.

Verse 15

perhaps — speaking in human fashion, yet as one believing that God’s Providence probably (for we cannot dogmatically define the hidden purposes of God in providence) overruled the past evil to ultimately greater good to him. This thought would soften Philemon’s indignation at Onesimus’ past offense. So Joseph in :-.

departed — literally, “was parted from thee”; a softening term for “ran away,” to mitigate Philemon’s wrath.

receive himGreek, “have him for thyself in full possession” (see on :-). The same Greek as in :-.

for ever — in this life and in that to come (compare :-). Onesimus’ time of absence, however long, was but a short “hour” (so Greek) compared with the everlasting devotion henceforth binding him to his master.

Verse 16

No longer as a mere servant or slave (though still he is that), but above a servant, so that thou shalt derive from him not merely the services of a slave, but higher benefits: a servant “in the flesh,” he is a brother “in the Lord.”

beloved, specially to me — who am his spiritual father, and who have experienced his faithful attentions. Lest Philemon should dislike Onesimus being called “brother,” Paul first recognizes him as a brother, being the spiritual son of the same God.

much more unto thee — to whom he stands in so much nearer and more lasting relation.

Verse 17

a partner — in the Christian fellowship of faith, hope, and love.

receive him as myself — resuming “receive him that is mine own bowels.”

Verse 18

Greek, “But it (thou art not inclined to ‘receive him’ because) he hath wronged thee”; a milder term than “robbed thee.” Onesimus seems to have confessed some such act to Paul.

put that on mine account — I am ready to make good the loss to thee if required. The latter parts of :-, :-, imply that he did not expect Philemon would probably demand it.

Verse 19

with mine own hand — not employing an amanuensis, as in other Epistles: a special compliment to Philemon which he ought to show his appreciation of by granting Paul’s request. Contrast :-, which shows that the Epistle to the Colossian Church, accompanying this Epistle, had only its closing “salutation” written by Paul’s own hand.

albeit, etc. — literally, “that I may not say ... not to say,” etc.

thou owest ... even thine own self — not merely thy possessions. For to my instrumentality thou owest thy salvation. So the debt which “he oweth thee” being transferred upon me (I making myself responsible for it) is cancelled.

Verse 20

let me — “me” is emphatic: “Let me have profit (so Greek ‘for joy,’ onainen, referring to the name Onesimus, ‘profitable’) from thee, as thou shouldst have had from Onesimus”; for “thou owest thine ownself to me.”

in the Lord — not in worldly gain, but in thine increase in the graces of the Lord’s Spirit [Alford].

my bowels — my heart. Gratify my feelings by granting this request.

in the Lord — The oldest manuscripts read, “in Christ,” the element or sphere in which this act of Christian love naturally ought to have place.

Verse 21

Having confidence in thy obedience — to my apostolic authority, if I were to “enjoin” it ( :-), which I do not, preferring to beseech thee for it as a favor ( :-).

thou will also do more — towards Onesimus: hinting at his possible manumission by Philemon, besides, being kindly received.

Verse 22

This prospect of Paul’s visiting Colosse would tend to secure a kindly reception for Onesimus, as Paul would know in person how he had been treated.

your ... you — referring to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and the Church in Philemon’s house. The same expectation is expressed by him, :-, :-, written in the same imprisonment.

Verse 23

The same persons send salutations in the accompanying Epistle, except that “Jesus Justus” is not mentioned here.

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner — He had been sent by the Colossian Church to inquire after, and minister to, Paul, and possibly was cast into prison by the Roman authorities on suspicion. However, he is not mentioned as a prisoner in :-, so that “fellow prisoner” here may mean merely one who was a faithful companion to Paul in his imprisonment, and by his society put himself in the position of a prisoner. So also “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner,” :-, may mean. Benson conjectures the meaning to be that on some former occasion these two were Paul’s “fellow prisoners,” not at the time.

Verse 25

be with your spirit — ( :-; :-).

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Philemon 1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.