Bible Commentaries
Philemon 1

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, This letter affords a specimen of the highest wisdom as to how Christians ought to manage social affairs on exalted principles.

Prisoner of Jesus Christ - one whom Christ's cause has made a prisoner (cf. Philemon 1:13). He does not call himself, as in other letters, "Paul an apostle: he is writing familiarly, not authoritatively. Our ... fellow-labourer - in building up the church at Colosse, while we were at Ephesus. (See 'Introduction' to Colossians.)

Verse 2

And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: Apphia - Latin, 'Appia.' 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 (Colossians 4:17). Fellow-soldier (2 Timothy 2:3).

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

Verse 3

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 4

I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, Always - joined by Alford with "I thank my God."

Verse 5

Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; Hearing - the ground of 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. Colosse, Philemon's residence, he had never yet seen. Yet Philemon 1:19 implies that Philemon was his convert. Philemon, doubtless, was converted at Ephesus, or 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 first, as it is to an act of love he is exhorting him.

Toward ... toward - different Greek: toward [ pros (G4314) in 'Aleph (') G; but A C Delta, eis (G1519)]

... unto [ eis (G1519)]. Toward implies simply direction; unto, to the advantage of.

Verse 6

That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

That ... - the aim of my thanksgiving and prayers for thee, in order that the, etc. The communication of thy faith - the imparting of it and its fruits (namely, acts of love, as Hebrews 13:16) to others: or, the liberality to others flowing from thy faith [so koinoonia (G2842), "liberal distribution," 2 Corinthians 9:13. 'Aleph (') reads diakonia (G1248) for koinoonia (G2842); ministration.] Effectual by - Greek, 'IN:' the element in which his liberality may be proved by acts in, etc. Acknowledging, [ epignoosei (G1922)] - 'the thorough knowledge;' i:e., the practical recognition. Of every good thing which is in you - in thee and the church in thy house, thine helpers in good works. Lest Philemon should be overpraised, Paul gives share of the credit to Philemon's helpers. So 'Aleph (') G g. But A C Delta f read 'in US;' i:e., the practical recognition of every grace which is in us Christians, in so far as we realize the Christian character. That thy faith may by acts be proved to be 'a faith which worketh by love.' In Christ Jesus, [ eis (G1519)] - 'unto Christ Jesus;' i:e., to His glory. So C Delta G. But 'Aleph (') A omit "Jesus." This verse answers to Philemon 1:5, "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 toward others, by exhibiting every grace that is in Christians to the glory of Christ. Thus he paves the way for the request for Onesimus.

Verse 7

For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.

For - a reason for the prayer, Philemon 1:4-6. We have, [ eschomen (G2192): G] - 'we had.' But 'Aleph (') A C G [ eschon (G2192)], I had. Joy and consolation - joined in 2 Corinthians 7:4.

Saints are refreshed by thee - his house was open to them. Brother - put last, to conciliate his favourable attention to the request which follows.

Verse 8

Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, Wherefore - because of my love, I "beseech," rather than "enjoin," or authoritatively command.

I might ... enjoin - in virtue of Philemon's obligation to obedience as having been converted through Paul I might ... enjoin - in virtue of Philemon's obligation to obedience as having been converted through Paul. In Christ - the element in which his boldness has place.

Verse 9

Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. For love's sake - mine to thee: in contrast to the "boldness" [ parreesian (G3954)] which I forbear to use (Philemon 1:8). My "love" is reciprocal to "thy love" for which thou art so distinguished (Philemon 1:7). Being such an one - as thou knowest me to be; namely Paul (the founder of so many churches, an apostle of Christ, thy father in the faith) the aged (my age ought to secure thy respect for my request), and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ (the strongest claims I have on thee: if for no other reason, at least through commiseration gratify me). Lachmann better punctuates; a full stop at "I beseech thee." Connect, "being such an one ... I beseech thee for my son," etc. (Philemon 1:10.)

Verse 10

I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: I beseech thee - emphatically repeated from Philemon 1:9. In the Greek "Onesimus" is skillfully put last; the favourable description of him precedes 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; yet does not begin a political crusade against it. It sets forth principles of love to our fellow-men, sure (as they have done) in due time to undermine and overthrow it, without violently convulsing the existing political fabric, by stirring up slaves against their master. 'By Christianizing the master, the Gospel enfranchises the slave' (Wordsworth).

Verse 11

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: Which in time past was to thee 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 is so in no station. Profitable in spiritual as well as in temporal things (1 Timothy 4:8).

Verse 12

Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: Thou therefore [ su (G4771) de (G1161)] receive, [ proslabou (G4355)] - C Delta f, Vulgate. But 'Aleph (') A G omit. Translate then, 'him (I say) that is,' etc.

Mine own bowels - as dear to me as my inmost vitals. Compare Philemon 1:17, "as myself." I have for him the intense affection of a parent for a child (Jeremiah 31:20).

Verse 13

Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

I - emphatic. Since I had such implicit trust in him as to desire to keep him with me for his service, thou mayest.

I would have retained - different [ eboulomeen (G1014)] from the "would" [ eetheleesa (G2309)], Philemon 1:14; 'I could have wished,' 'I was minded' here: but 'I was not willing,' Philemon 1:14.

In thy stead - that he may supply all the services to me which you, if here, would render because of the love you bear to me (Philemon 1:19).

Bonds of the Gospel - my bonds endure for the Gospel's sake (Philemon 1:9).

Verse 14

But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

Without thy mind - i:e., consent. Should not be as - `as though 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 of showing he was so, his leave not having been asked.

Verse 15

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; Perhaps - speaking humanly, yet as believing that God's providence probably (for we cannot dogmatically define God's hidden purposes) overruled the past evil to ultimately, greater good to him. This thought would soften Philemon's indignation at Onesimus' past offence. So Joseph in Genesis 45:5.

Departed, [ echooristhee (G5563)] - 'was parted from thee:' a softening term for 'ran away,' to mitigate Philemon's wrath.

Receive him, [ apechees (G568)] - 'have him wholly for thyself' (note, Philippians 4:18). The same Greek, Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5.

Forever - in this life and in that to come (cf. Exodus 21:6). Onesimus' absence, however long, was but a short 'hour' [ pros (G4314) hooran (G5610)] compared with the everlasting devotion henceforth binding him to his master.

Verse 16

Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? No longer a mere slave (though still that), but above a servant, so that thou shalt have 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 - his spiritual father (Philemon 1:10); 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

If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. A partner - in the Christian fellowship of faith, hope, and love. Receive him as myself - resuming "receive him," Philemon 1:12. But see note there.

Verse 18

If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;

'But [ de (G1161)] if (thou wilt not "receive him" because) he hath wronged thee:' milder than 'robbed thee.' Onesimus confessed some such act to Paul.

Put that on mine account - I am ready to make good the loss to thee, if required. Philemon 1:19, Philemon 1:21 imply that he did not expect Philemon would demand it.

Verse 19

I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

With mine own hand - not employing an amanuensis, as in other letters: a special compliment of which Philemon ought to show his appreciation by granting Paul's request. Contrast Colossians 4:18. The letter to the Colossians, accompanying our letter, had only its "salutation" written by Paul's hand.

Albeit ... [ hina (G2443) mee (G3361) logoo (G3056)] - 'that I may not say,' etc. Thou owest unto me even thine own self - not merely thy possessions. For to my instrumentality thou owest thy salvation. So the debt which 'he oweth thee,' making myself responsible for it, is cancelled.

Verse 20

Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. Let me - `let me [emphatic: egoo (G1473) sou (G4675)] have profit [ onaimeen (G3685), referring to the name Onesimus, "profitable"] from thee, as thou shouldest have had from Onesimus:' for 'thou owest thine own self to me.'

In the Lord - the sphere of Philemon's being profitable to Paul. My bowels - gratify my feelings by granting this. In the Lord. 'Aleph (') A C Delta G f g read 'in Christ.' The element in which Paul's feelings are to be refreshed. The latter clause answers to the former of the verse.

Verse 21

Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say. Having confidence in thy obedience - to my apostolic authority, were I to "enjoin" it (Philemon 1:8), which I do not, preferring to beseech thee for it as a favour (Philemon 1:9).

Thou wilt also do more - toward Onesimus: hinting at his possible manumission, besides being kindly received.

Verse 22

But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

This prospect of Paul's visiting Colosse would 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 subsequently (Philippians 2:23-24).

Verse 23

There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;

The same persons send salutations in the accompanying letter, except that 'Jesus Justus' is not mentioned here.

Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner. He had been sent by the Colossians 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 Colossians 4:12; so "fellow-prisoner" here may mean merely a faithful companion to Paul in his imprisonment, putting himself in the position of a prisoner. So "Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner," Colossians 4:10, may mean. But see note there. Benson conjectures that on some former occasion these two were Paul's 'fellow-prisoners,' not at the time.

Verse 24

Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 25

Be with your spirit (Galatians 6:18; 2 Timothy 4:22).

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