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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Philemon 1

Verses 1-3

Address and Salutation

Philemon 1:1-3

1Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ [Christ Jesus],1 and Timothy our [the] brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved [the beloved], and [our] fellow-laborer: 2And to our beloved Apphia [the beloved, and without “our”],2 and Archippus 3our fellow-soldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace [be] to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Philemon 1:1. Prisoner of Jesus Christ [in Greek, Christ Jesus]. [This does not mean a prisoner for him, but one whom Christ Jesus (i. e, his cause) has brought into captivity, has put in chains (Winer). That Paul announces himself as such, and not as an Apostle or servant of Christ, results not only from the confidential character, but the object and tendency of the entire letter. The apostolic title was unnecessary, because he writes as a friend to solicit a favor, and not as a teacher to expound and enforce the truth. Δοῦλος καὶ in some copies is a worthless reading. The allusion to his imprisonment was suited to awaken sympathy, and dispose Philemon to listen the more favorably to the sufferer’s request.—H. ] He prefers to entreat through love, rather than use the lofty tone of command; he would at the outset prepare the way for the request which he is about to make, by holding up to view his chains.—And Timothy the brother. See on Philippians 1:1, and the Introduction to the Pastoral Epistles. [Timothy was with Paul, at Rome, when he wrote this letter (Colossians 1:1); and, as ὁ shows, was not unknown to those addressed in the letter. He assisted the Apostle during his ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:22), and could have met with Philemon and other Colossians at that period, or could have become acquainted with them at Colossæ, if Paul visited that city, since Timothy was Paul’s companion in that journey (Acts 16:1; Acts 16:6). Koch regards the relation in ὁ as the universal one which makes every Christian the brother of all other Christians, and not any specific relation in which Timothy stood to Paul and the Colossians.—H.]—To Philemon, &c. It is uncertain on what ground Philemon’s claim to the honorary title of fellow-laborer was founded. Perhaps he was an elder of the church (Meyer); perhaps also Paul calls him such, because, as head of the church in his own house, he performed services more or less important for the kingdom of God. [The term fellow-laborer (συνεργός) was applied often to preachers of the gospel (2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25; Colossians 4:11); but as there is no evidence that Philemon sustained this relation, it is more probable that other and more private modes of co-operation are intended here. Priscilla is called συνεργὸς in Romans 16:3, who certainly was not a preacher. As suggested above, Philemon may have been so designated because he opened his house for public worship, and in various ways was so benevolent and active in ministering to the wants of the disciples of Christ. See on Philemon 1:7.—H.]

Philemon 1:2. And to Appia.Ἀπφίᾳ is the Greek form for the later Appia [as the similar word is written in Acts 28:5] Chrysostom conjectures that she was the wife of Philemon, and the mention of her in this connection speaks indeed for that supposition. So, too, Bengel, who suggests a reason why she is named here: uxori ad quam nonnihil pertinebat negotium Onesimi. [Unless she had been specially related to Philemon, her name would naturally have stood after the one which now follows.—H.]—And to Archippus (comp. Colossians 4:17). The honorable manner in which Paul mentions Archippus at this beginning of the Epistle would naturally make on him a favorable impression, and dispose him to support, as an ally, the request of Paul, of which he is hereby informed. It is, however, entirely uncertain whether he was deacon, bishop of the church, teacher, or a friend only of the family. According to the wholly unsupported view of some, he was the son of Philemon. [From his being mentioned thus in a private letter, it is evident that he bore some more special relation to Philemon than that simply of a partaker of the common faith. We can hardly doubt that he filled some office among the Christians at Colossæ; and from the earnest terms of the charge which Paul addresses to him in Colossians 4:17, it seems not improbable that this office was that of a pastor or preacher: “And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry (διακονία) which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.” The same expression (πληροῦν διακονίαν) occurs in Acts 12:25, where it is used of Barnabas and Saul with reference to their work as preachers in the Apostle’s first missionary circuit. There is a tradition that Archippus suffered martyrdom at Chonæ (now Khonas), not far from Laodicea.—Our fellow-soldier (συστρατιώτῃ) associates him with Paul and Timothy, as the sharer of similar dangers and hardships (2 Timothy 2:3), and implies more than συνεργός, a fellow-laborer in ordinary ways and efforts for the spread of the gospel. Without this distinction the two appellations could not well be applied to the same person, as e. g. to Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25. The military sights and sounds which surrounded the Apostle at Rome, when he wrote to Philemon and to the Philippians, made it so much the more natural for him to employ such terms.—H.]—And to the church [or, congregation] in thy house (τῇ κατοἶκόν σου ἐκκλησίᾳ). We are to understand this not of the family of Philemon by itself, nor of the entire church at Colossæ, but of that part of the church which was accustomed to assemble in the house of Philemon, and in connection with the members of his household. From Colossians 4:15; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19 it is evident that several ἐκκλησίαι κατοἶκον existed in one and the same city, which were more or less independent of each other. The abodes of the wealthier Christians, or of those who had large apartments, furnished most naturally the places of union for the believers in their immediate vicinity. This little house-congregation of Philemon also receives the greeting of Paul, and becomes in this way indirectly drawn into the affair of Onesimus. [It will be seen that this view does not imply by any means that all the members of Philemon’s family were converts, of had a personal connection with the church.—[Σου, after κατοἶκον, in thy house, refers to Philemon, and not to the nearer name, because Philemon is the leading person, and is always meant in this Epistle when this pronoun occurs (Philemon 1:4; Philemon 1:6-7). In assemblies such as these messages from the Apostles were announced or read (Colossians 4:15-16); hymns were sung (Colossians 3:16) and prayers offered (1 Timothy 2:1); the Scriptures were read and explained (1 Timothy 4:13); the Lord’s supper commemorated (Acts 2:46; Acts 20:11); and in the weekly meetings, at least, probably collections were taken up when some exigency required it (1 Corinthians 16:2, unless παρἑαυτῷ implies that the contribution was private). Scenes like this Onesimus must frequently have witnessed under his master’s roof; though his heart was not touched and won to the gospel till he heard the truth again in a foreign land. See Philemon 1:10.—H.]

Philemon 1:3. Grace be with you, which is the ordinary salutation, as in Philippians 1:2. [Van Oosterzee follows Luther here; but it is better to render: Grace to you, &c, in exact conformity with the Greek. The verbal idea after χάρις would be the optative εἴη, and not ἔστω. Comp. χάριςπληθυνθείη in 2 Peter 1:2, and ἔλεοςπληθυνθείη Jude Philemon 1:2. See Win., Neutest. Gr. § 64. 46, and Buttmann, Neutest. Sprach., p. 120. Ellicott decides for εἴη in such cases. The form is essentially the earnest expression of a wish or a prayer, and not an ascription of praise, or an authoritative benediction. Paul does not arrogate to himself any right to confer the blessing which he invokes, or profess to stand in any such relation to the church as would make him officially God’s representative in that respect. The laws of language, and not prelatical traditions, should govern our decision here. The elliptical doxologies are different, and there no doubt the annunciative or mandatory “be” would be correct rather than “may be” in optative and salutatory phrases like the present. See Buttmann, Neutest. Sprach., p. 120. Our English version does not treat this class of passages consistently; for while it inserts “be” in some of them (as 1Co 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1), it omits it in others (as here, and in Rom 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1Ti 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). The Vulgate has: Gratia vobis et pax, without any verb. Paul never employs the classical form of salutation, viz., χαίρειν or εὖ πράττειν, but substitutes for that, χάρις καὶ εἰρήνη, &c. This rejection of the customary form, and the invention of a new one, could hardly have been without a motive. The Greek formula, as containing a virtual prayer to the heathen gods, had in it a taint of heathenism, and before a long time something more consonant to a just Christian feeling might be expected to take its place. It is singular, certainly, that James only (in his Epistle, Philemon 1:1, and in Acts 15:23) employs the other expression. It occurs also in Acts 23:26, but in a letter which one Roman officer writes to another. The colloquial καίρειν (2 John, Philemon 1:10-11) was in various respects a different usage.—Ἀπὸ θεοῦ, κ.τ.λ., from God our Father, &c. The terms differ in this, that the former marks the relation which God sustains to all men; the latter, that which he sustains to his spiritual children, or such as believe on Christ. καὶ, though it does not occur here, connects the titles with this distinction in some other passages; comp. Galatians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:24.—H.]


Philemon 1:1; Philemon 1:1. [In inverting the names (Jesus Christ for Christ Jesus as in the Greek), our English version is not consistent with itself; comp. Philemon 1:6; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Galatians 4:14. The variation is without any motive, and must be an oversight. Paul adopts this order oftener than any other writer of the New Testament, though not so often as Ἰησοῦς ΧριστόςOur before brother in the A.V. is too restrictive, and the Greek article for which it stands suggests probably a different idea; see Notes on the text.—Ἀγαπητῷ is simply beloved, and should not be strengthened, as in the A. V. here and in Romans 12:19; 1 Corinthians 10:14, and several other passages. Our before this epithet should be dropped here and carried forward to the next clause. Luther’s translation avoids these slight errors, except the first.—H.]

Philemon 1:2; Philemon 1:2. Griesbach, Meyer, and others read ἀδελφῆ instead of ἀγαπητῆ (T. R.), on the testimony of A. D.1 E.1 F. G. If this reading be genuine, ἀδελφῇ sister, must naturally be taken in the Christian sense of the word. [The appeal to the external witnesses is hardly decisive. Lachmann adopts ἀδελφῇ. Tischendorf has ἀγαπητῇ in his second and fourth editions, but has been undecided. Meyer urges with some reason that ἀδελφῇ may be the true word, and ἀγαπητῃ a copyist’s repetition of the epithet applied just before to Philemon. The Sinaitic Collatio shows τη αδελφη. On the whole, it would be premature as yet to correct the common text.—Omit our, and change the position of beloved.—H.]

Verses 4-7

Expression of Christian Sympathy and Recognition

Philemon 1:4-7

4I thank my God [always],3 making mention of thee always [omit here “always”] in my prayers. 5Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward [unto] all [the] saints; 6That the communication [or, fellowship] of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you [us]4 in [unto, for] Christ Jesus. 7For we have [or, I had] great joy5 and consolation in thy love, because the bowels [hearts] of the saints are [have been] refreshed by thee, brother.


Philemon 1:4. I thank my God, &c. (comp. Rom 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Colossians 1:3). A thankful acknowledgment of the good already received would incline the heart of Philemon to hear the request which is to follow with so much the greater favor. [In thus thanking God for what Philemon was, we see the Apostle’s habit of recognizing the graces of Christians as the fruits of grace. For other similar instances, see Romans 1:8; 1Co 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3. In speaking of God as my God (τῷ θεῷ μου), he expresses a tender sense of his reconciliation to Him, and of his consciousness of an interest in His love.—H.]—Always (πάντοτε) must be connected not with the following μνείαν, κ.τ.λ. (so Luther), but with εὐχαριστῶ. See Colossians 1:3. [Ellicott adopts the other connection both here and in Colossians 1:3. But our author’s view is that of most interpreters, as Koch, De Wette, Meyer, Wiesinger. Paul evidently combines the verb and adverb in 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; and if there be any doubt here and in Colossians 1:4, the rule certainly should prevail over an apparent exception, and especially when the sense which adhering to the rule affords is equally good.—πάντοτε of itself may precede or follow the word qualified. See Gersdorf’s Beiträge, P. 498. Lachmann and Tischendorf insert no comma after πάντοτε, because their rule is not to separate a verb and participle, and not because they would here connect πάντοτε and the participle.—H.]—The participial clause which follows (μνείαν σου ποιούμενος, κ.τ.λ.), making mention of thee in my prayers, states the occasion on which he expressed these thanks. Everything which he heard of Philemon gave him abundant reason, agreeably to his own precept, to accompany his prayer with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). Notandum quod, pro quo gratias agit, pro eodem simul precatur. Nunquam enim tarnda est vel perfectissimis gratulandi materia, quamdiu in hoc mundo vivunt, quin precibus indigeant, ut det illis Deus non tantum perseverare usque in finem, sed in dies etiam proficere. Hœc enim laus, quam mox Philemoni tribuit, breviter complectitur totam christiani hominis perfectionem. Calvin.—[The prayer of the Apostle in this instance consisted at the same time of thanksgiving (εὐχαριστία) and intercession (μνείαν σου).—H.]

Philemon 1:5. Ἀκούων, hearing (not ἀκούσας merely, having heard), perhaps from Onesimus himself, who might easily have spoken with Paul concerning the good in the house and the heart of Philemon. [Epaphras, who was a Colossian and then at Rome (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12), may have brought similar tidings, or have confirmed them.—This participle (ἀκούων) states the ground of εὐχαριστῶ in Philemon 1:4, not of μνείαν σου ποιούμενος. The reason for his giving thanks would not be named at all, unless it be found in this clause; and as we see from other passages (Romans 1:8; Ephesians 1:16; Colossians 1:4), to leave the act unexplained would be contrary to Paul’s usage.—H].—Of thy love and faith. By the former term, we are to think not so much of love to men in general, as rather of Christian love to the brethren; by the latter, not of fidelity, which would conflict with the usual signification of this word, especially when it is connected with ἀγαπῇ, but of that living faith of the heart of which Jesus Christ is the object.—Which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward [unto] all the saints (ἥν ἔχεις πρὸς τὸν Κύριον Ἰησοῦν καὶ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους). With most interpreters we prefer to regard these words as a Chiasm, and construe them as if they stood: τὴν πίστιν, ἣν ἔχεις πρὸς τὸν Κύριον Ἰησοῦν, καὶ τὴν , ἣν ἔχεις εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους. [Render: the faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and the love which thou hast unto all the saints.] “There is nothing strange,” says Winer, (N. T. Gr., p. 365) “in such a Chiasm.” It is in favor of this view that the change of preposition (πρός, εἰς) can be fully explained only in this way, and further that it becomes then unnecessary to understand πίστιν in an unusual and impossible sense, as is unavoidable if this word refers also to εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους. That in this case the love is mentioned as a fruit before faith as the root, can surprise no one. As Bengel says: “Primo loco ponitur amor, quia ad amoris specimen hortatur Philuemonem, cui ordo fidei et amoris pridem erat notus.” By this reference to Christian love for the brethren as universal, unqualified in its nature, a claim is indirectly asserted for Onesimus, the newly-converted brother, for a share in that love.—[The foregoing is the almost universally accepted view. So Theodoret, Calvin, Grotius, Estius, Bengel, Koch, Rothe, De Wette, Wiesinger, Alford. Yet a few critics still, chiefly in order to avoid such a transposition of the words, render πίστινfidelity, instead of faith; and thus would have the word denote qualities which Philemon could exercise at the same time towards Christ and towards his followers. But πίστις has this sense very rarely in the New Testament, and never when coupled, as here, with ἀγάπη; comp. Eph 1:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 1Ti 1:14; 2 Timothy 1:13; see also Colossians 1:4. Meyer, it is true, objects to the passages referred to, as irrelevant, because the order in which the terms occur there is πίστις, ἀγάπη; and hence different from that here. But no writer is so mechanical as to place his words always in the same order, and ἀγάπη, as the fruit of faith, may be mentioned first, as naturally as πίστις, the antecedent or source of love. Especially may the love be named first in this instance, because, as Calvin suggests, Paul would expect Philemon in effect to manifest his love to Onesimus as evidence that he had a genuine faith in Christ. Ellicott argues that τὴν πίστιν may belong, in its ordinary sense, both to πρὸς τὸν Κύριον Ἰησοῦν and to εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους, i. e., faith toward the Lord Jesus, which is evinced at the same time unto the saints. But that view leaves τὴν without any specified object to which the love is directed (since ἣν ἔχεις would strictly carry forward τὴν πίστιν only), and (which is still more decisive) overlooks the manifest relation in which this passage stands to Colossians 1:3-4, where the terms in question are distributed without ambiguity. The Apostle says there to the Colossians: “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you; since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints.” That Epistle was written at the same time with this; and it is hardly possible that the expressions so nearly coincident should not be intended to convey the same meaning.—Ἁγίοι, קְדוֹשִׁים, saints, designates Christians as holy or consecrated, i. e., to the service of Christ or God. As used in the New. Testament, the appellative belongs to all who profess to be disciples, and does not distinguish one class of them (as the Roman Catholics pretend) as superior in point of excellence to the rest of men. It refers to the normal or prescribed standard of Christian character rather than the actual one; for we find it applied sometimes to those who were censured for their want of a correct Christian life. Thus, for example, those addressed by this title in 1 Corinthians 1:2 were among those whose conduct the Apostle condemns so severely in 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 11:21.—H.]

Philemon 1:6. That the communication of thy faith may become effectual. That (ὅπως) connects this clause immediately with Philemon 1:4, and includes at once the contents and the object of the intercession, concerning which the Apostle has already declared at what time it takes place and under what circumstances it is called forth. So Chrysostom, Winer, De Wette, Meyer would refer this verse directly to Philemon 1:5, and find indicated here the aim or tendency of ἣν ἔχεις, i.e., of the faith which Philemon has, which seems to us by no means necessary, and affords a sense least clear and simple. [Having stated that he prayed so constantly for his friend, Paul would naturally mention what it was that he desired in his behalf; and would be understood most readily as pointing out that object. For an exact parallel to this connection, see Ephesians 1:16, where the language is almost identically the same that we have here, and where the telic clause (ἳναθεός, κ.τ.λ.) can refer only to μνείανπροσευχῶν μου. It is Paul’s habit, in fact, whenever he speaks of praying for others, to specify the blessing or result which he would secure for them; comp. Romans 1:10; Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9; Colossians 4:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:11. To deny that ὃπως in this place goes back to Philemon 1:4, makes προσεωχῶν μου an exception to that practice.—H].—1. The communion (or fellowship) of thy faith (ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου, communio fidei tuœ), i. e., the faith which thou dost possess and manifest in common with us (so Luther, Bengel, and others). No grammatical objection lies against this view, though controverted by Meyer and others (comp. Philippians 1:5; Philippians 2:1, and other passages). The objection also that nobiscum in the case has to be read arbitrarily into the text, we cannot admit to be valid, especially when we see that ἐν ἡμῖν follows so immediately. See other views enumerated and considered in Meyer on this passage.—[The explanation thus stated is the one generally adopted. It is peculiar to this view that it limits the Christian unity to a single point, viz., that of the community of faith (=κατὰ κοινὴν πίστιν in Titus 1:4), and thus fails to recognize the entire contents of the κοινωνία or fellowship of believers as unfolded by other related passages. On the whole, no single expression in the Epistle is so uncertain as this. It may be well to mention some of the other principal opinions. (1) May not κοινωνία τῆς πίστεως mean fellowship or participation in the traits of character or virtues, in the blessings, pursuits, hopes, which result from faith (genit. subjecti or auctoris) in the Redeemer, and which makes those who profess this faith co-partners (κοινωνοί) with each other? This use of the genitive would be similar to δικαιοσύνη πίστεως (Romans 4:13), righteousness or justification on which faith secures, and χαρὰ τῆς πίστεως (Philippians 1:25), joy which springs from faith, and the like. Meyer objects that the genitive after κοινωνία (except where it is that of a person) in the N. T. usage points out properly the object in which the participation consists. But this relation of the two nouns is not a necessary one; for nothing is more common than the genitive of cause or source after the governing noun. In this instance we may infer the object of participation from the idea of the word itself, just as in Galatians 2:9 we infer it from the subsequent clause (κοινωνίας ἵνα, κ.τ.λ.). Such essentially must be the use and meaning of κοινωνία in 1 John 1:6; 1 John 1:1, though in John’s writings the subjective part, the community or kindredship of character, seems to prevail over that of the personal benefits of the common faith. The train of thought then would be this: Having such evidence (ἀκούων, κ.τ.λ.) that Philemon was a sharer in the grace of the gospel, the Apostle prays that his friend’s participation in the blessings of Christian fellowship, founded on his faith and evinced as so real by his love, may become more and more perfect by his full comprehension of all the duties and virtues (παντὸς ) which honor the Christian name (εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν). Approximations to this same idea of a copartnership which links all believers to each other, with variations in the language, will be found in 1 Corinthians 9:23; Ephesians 3:6; Ephesians 4:13; Coloss. Philemon 1:12; 1 Timothy 6:2; Hebrews 3:1; 1 Peter 5:1. (2) The participation of thy faith enjoyed by others, i. e., in the fruits of this faith, his charities and other acts of piety. So Meyer, whom Ellicott follows. But in the preceding verse it is the love which is shown to the saints, while Christ is the object of the faith; and hence with that meaning we should have expected κοινωνία τῆς , rather than of πίστεώς σου. Besides, if we must refer ὃπως, κ.τ.λ.. to εὐχαριστῶ, the Apostle in that case appears as offering thanks for acts of Philemon yet to be performed (γένηται); and if, as others prefer, we refer ὃπως (see above) more strictly to προσευχῶν, then the prayers in which Paul remembers Philemon so constantly (μνείαν σου ποιούμενος) are prayers in fact not so much for him, as for others. (3). It is understood of the impartation (communication in that sense) of his faith, i. e., by the same metonymy as before, of its effects in the form of charitable acts. But in this instance, too, τῆς would be a more obvious word than τῆς πίστεως. It may be urged also that the phraseology with that sense is unlike Paul’s. It is characteristic of him that he shrinks as it were instinctively from giving any apparent countenance to the idea that one person may impart faith to another. See Ephesians 2:8.—H.]—This faith, however, which Philemon shares in common with Paul and others [or this co-partnership with them into which his faith brings him] should not leave him empty or unfruitful, but Paul desires that it should show itself effective, appear in outward acts, viz.: In the knowledge of every good thing which is in us (see the critical remarks) unto (for) Christ Jesus.Ἐπίγνωσις, plena et accurata cognitio, such as can arise only out of love; see Philippians 1:9. (Comp. here the profound remark of Pascal: “Human things one must know, in order to love them; divine things he must love, in order to know them.”) The faith, therefore, which is common to Philemon and others, must show its power in the fact, that it helps him (combined with love) to an ever-growing and better knowledge—of what? Everything (in a Christian sense) good which is in us (Philemon, Paul, and all other believers). The expression is somewhat peculiar, but appears in its true light when we view it in connection with the special object of the letter, for the better attainment of which the Apostle is preparing the way by this remark. If the faith of Philemon shows itself in a more and more radical knowledge of the good which is found in others, he will by no means take amiss the request which Paul is about to address to him. He will not allow himself to be kept by any resentment from perceiving and appreciating the good which is already manifest in the newly-converted Onesimus; he will gladly make common cause with the Apostle in a case like the present, in which he can do so much to cherish and promote that which is good.—[It is surprising that any should understand this knowledge (ἐπίγνωσις) not as Philemon’s, but that which others might acquire from his example respecting the nature and requirements of the gospel. The analogy of this passage to Philippians 1:9-11 shows the incorrectness of that view: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent, that ye may be sincere, and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.” See also Colossians 2:2. That faith and knowledge, truth and obedience, may assist each other, may go hand in hand, is everywhere, as here, the burden of the Apostle’s prayer for the saints.—Ἐν ἡμῖν, in us (see on the text), because the soul is the sphere in which the believer’s faith operates. It is beautifully presupposed here that “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report” (Philippians 4:8) they all (πᾶν ) have their proper dwelling-place and home in the bosoms of Christians, and that it is their duty as it should be their glory to furnish to the world the outward proof of this inner Christendom, and thus give, each one for himself, the evidence that the idea and the reality are not in his case separated from each other. It is thus that God is glorified (Matthew 5:16).—H.]—For Jesus Christ (εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν) does not connect itself with ἐνεργὴς γένηται (De Wette), but points out the direction and tendency of what is morally good, which the Apostle would have Philemon duly recognize. It contributes to the promotion of the cause and work of the Lord, and is also for this reason a worthy object of the regard and exemplification of Philemon. [Εἰς Χριστόν lit. unto Christ, i. e., for his praise and honor.—H.]

Philemon 1:7. For we have [or, I had] great joy, &c.—For the reading here, see notes on the text. Before the Apostle brings forward his urgent request in behalf of Onesimus, he states yet further the subjective ground of the thanksgiving mentioned in Philemon 1:4. He had cause for it in the joy which he as well as Timothy [if the verb be plural] derived from what they heard respecting Philemon, and in the consolation also (παράκλησιν) from that source which the Apostle so much needed in his state of captivity. Calvin: “Hoc autem est rarœ charitatis, ex aliormn bono tantum percipere gaudii.” [Πολλὴν belongs apparently to both nouns. See Win. § 59. 5 (6th ed.) If we read ἔσχον, I had, the aorist refers to the time when Paul received the joyful information.—H.]—In thy love (lit. upon as the cause, ἐπί) defines the source or occasion of Paul’s joy and consolation, and this love as appears from what immediately follows, is love not to the Lord directly, but his suffering members on earth.—Because (ὅτι) the hearts, strictly the bowels (σπλάγχυα); comp. Php 1:8; 2 Corinthians 6:12, and below, Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:20. [This use of the term, =רַחֲמִים, as denoting the seat of the affections, is a common Hebraism.] What saints (ἀγίων) and what consolation are here meant we are not told more definitely. It is not necessary to restrict the statement to poor believers and worldly benefactions. All that Philemon did for the Colossians who met together in his house, and for others in wider circles, may not improperly come within the scope of this language. For he showed himself in truth a brother (ἀδελφέ), as Paul terms him with so much love and tenderness at the end of this exhortation.—[They may have been not Colossians merely whom Philemon aided, but persons from other places, especially missionary friends whom he entertained in his house, or forwarded on their journeys. See Titus 3:13; Titus 3:0 John Philemon 1:6. In this hospitality and benevolence of Philemon we have on illustration of that trait in the character of the primitive disciples, which compelled the heathen to exclaim: “See how these Christians love one another!”—H.]


Philemon 1:4; Philemon 1:4. [For the place of always, see Notes on the text.—H.]

Philemon 1:6; Philemon 1:6. The received text has ἐν ὑμῖν, in you. We read ἐν ἡμῖν, in us, with A. C. D. E. I. K. and others. [So Tischendorf, Meyer, Wiesinger; The origin of ὑμιν is seen readily in the natural reference to the Colossians.—H.]

Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:7. We find no sufficient ground for preferring χάριν to χαράν, nor ἔσχον or ἔσχομεν for ἔχομεν. See the testimonies in Tischendorf. [Green (Developed Criticism, p. 164) decides for χάριν chiefly because, as being less obvious, it might be more easily displaced. On the contrary, as Meyer suggests, εὐχαριστῶ (Philemon 1:4) may have led some copyist to substitute χάριν for χαράν. As to the other verb, there is more doubt. The received ἔχομεν, we have (as in A. v.), has much less support than ἔσχον, I had, as Griesbach, Lachmann, Wordsworth, Ellicott, and others decide. Tischendorf has both forms in different editions. Meyer prefers ἔσχομεν, we had, but without sufficient reason. We have εσχον in Sinaitic Codex.—H.]

Verses 8-21

Earnest intercession for the fugitive Onesimus, and commendation of him

Philemon 1:8-21

8Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin [upon] thee that which is convenient [becoming];6 9Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee [beseech rather, and without “thee”],7 being [. Being] such an one as Paul the aged an old man], and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. [comma merely.] I beseech thee for my son [child] Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds [Onesimus belongs here], 11Which in time past was to thee unprofitable:8 but now profitable to thee and to me: 12Whom I have sent9 again [to thee]: [do] thou therefore receive10 him, that is mine own bowels [my own flesh]. 13Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered [might minister] unto me in the bonds of the gospel. 14But without thy mind would I do nothing, that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. 15For perhaps he therefore [for this reason] departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever: 16Not 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? 17If thou count [countest] me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. 18If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account.11 19I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit [although] I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me, even thine own self besides: 20Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels [heart] in the Lord [in Christ].12 21Having confidence in thy obedience, I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.13


Philemon 1:8. Therefore (διό). Having said all that precedes in the way of preparation, Paul seems now to have found the opportune moment for putting forward his request. But he does this in a manner so unassuming, that its effect must be (if this were still necessary) to win the heart of Philemon for the Apostle’s object. Διὸ points back to Philemon 1:7. It is impossible that Paul, for the very reason that he has to thank Philemon for so much joy and consolation, can be wanting in official confidence to command his friend with apostolic authority; but he will rather entreat him, διὰ τὴν , rather reach his goal by that way. [Is not the connection slightly different? Does not διὸ refer to παρακαλῶ (and not to ἐπιτάσσειν), and assign the reason why he takes, the attitude of entreaty, and not that of command? Since the character of Philemon was the cause of such joy (Philemon 1:7), on that account (διό) he is emboldened to make this appeal to his friend’s kindness and sympathy.—Πολλὴνἔχων, though having much boldness. For the concessive use of the participle, see Win., § 46. 12.—H.] Παῤῥησία is strong, joyous confidence, here consciousness of the full authority which has been conferred on him as an Apostle (comp. 2 Corinthians 7:14). This confidence, however, he has only ἐν Χριστῷ, i. e., in virtue of his inward personal communion with Him as His called Apostle. This assurance might lead him also to command (ἐπιτάσσειν) that which is becoming (was sich ziemt); a general intimation of what he is about to present to him as a duty, and which as an Apostle he might rightfully demand of Philemon. But he renounces this right, so well founded. Luther: “He strips himself of his right, and thereby compels Philemon to betake himself to his right.”

Philemon 1:9. [Διὰ τὴν , for love’s sake;i. e., as a tribute, so to speak, to that principle, Paul asks that Philemon would exemplify his benevolence in the present case. The article defines the love not as Philemon’s, but as the characteristic virtue of all Christians. This expression, therefore, and διὸ do not repeat each other, as some needlessly represent. The particular love shown by Philemon (Philemon 1:7) proved that he was not deficient in this element of the Christian’s nature, and hence (διό) that he could be moved by an appeal to it in behalf of Onesimus.—H.] Consequently it is not the Apostle’s love to Philemon, or that of Philemon to the Apostle, which is to operate as the motive here, but Christian love in general, whose voice Philemon should hear speaking to him, and urging him to receive Onesimus to his heart.—I beseech rather (παρακαλῶ), in opposition to ἐπιτάσσειν. [Μᾶλλον has often this alternative sense; comp. Mat 10:6; 1 Corinthians 5:2; Ephesians 4:28; Philippians 1:12, &c. Though the Apostle might command, he waives that right, and takes the attitude of one who entreats. Note the emphasis on παρακαλῶ, which is properly without an object here, because it points out the act to be done, and not as yet the direction of the act. The insertion of the pronoun (thee), as in the A. V., encumbers the thought. If σὲ belonged to the verb in both instances, it would naturally accompany the first, and be understood after the second. A colon, not a period, should separate this clause from the next. Tischendorf has the correct punctuation.—H.]—Being such an one, τοιοῦτος ὤν (or, according to Luther, since I am such). These words we are not to connect immediately with the preceding παρακαλῶ, but regard them as the beginning of a new sentence. “With τοιοῦτος the whole character is shadowed forth indefinitely, while by ὡς, explicative as (Colossians 2:20; Colossians 3:12), specific traits or qualities are brought out and emphasized” (De Wette). [The best view may be that τοιοῦτος draws its antecedent from the preceding context, i. e., being such an one as he who lays aside his office, and appeals to the benevolence and sympathy of his friend. Thus Ellicott and others: “At I am such an one, who would rather beseech for love’s sake, than avail myself of my παῤῥησίαν ἐπιτάσσειν.” “Unless the Greek be irregular,” says Prof. Sophocles, “τοιοῦτος and ὥς cannot be reciprocal terms.” Some of the alder writers take the same view. See Wetstein, Nov. Test. (in loc), and Storr, Opusc. Academ. ii., p. 231. The more common opinion has been (the one which most readily suggests itself from the rendering of the A. V.) that ὡς Παῦλος defines τοιοῦτος, and that the terms are correlative to each other; but the pronoun, when defined thus, responds properly to οἷος, ὥστε, and not to ὥς. A sort of intermediate view makes τοιοῦτος indefinite, being such an one as I am known to be, and ὡς enumerative, to wit, at Paul, &c. Wiesinger seems to prefer this explanation. The participial clause belongs at all events to the second παρακαλῶ, and not to the first, as arranged in some editions of the text.—H.] Paul then strengthens his request by referring to three peculiarities or characteristics. First, he is Paul, the well-known, whose name has already so pleasant a sound in the ear of his friend Philemon; secondly, an old man (πρεσβύτης), whose word may be heard with mildness and deference, and not be at once thrust aside; and finally, a prisoner of Christ Jesus (see on Philemon 1:1), for whose comfort and alleviation Philemon surely will be ready to contribute all in his power. So the words were divided very early (Chrysostom); and we find also in the earnest tone and evident climax of the discourse no sufficient reason for connecting Παῦλος and πρεσβύτης immediately with each other, and equally as little (Calvin and others) for identifying πρεσβύτης as an official name. [The official name, elder, would be πρεσβύτερος, and the article would be necessary if πρεσβύτης (comp. Luke 1:18 and Titus 2:2) meant the aged (A. V.), as if well known in that distinctive way. If Paul was converted at the age of thirty (i.e., A. D. 36), and wrote this letter to Philemon just before the close of his first Roman captivity (A. D. 64), he was now about sixty years old. According to Hippocrates, a man was called πρεσβύτης from forty-nine to fifty-six, and after that γέρων. There was another estimate of the Greek physiologists, which fixed the beginning of the later period (γῆρας) at sixty-nine. See Coray’s note in his Συνέκδημος Ἱερατικός, p. 167. If Philemon was a much younger man than Paul, the latter might call himself old, in part with reference to that disparity.—H.] The views of critics differ as to the special emphasis which lies upon each one of the three titles employed in this entreaty. (See Meyer on the passage.) The main point is, that Paul brings his own personality as concretely and vividly as possible before the eyes of Philemon, as if he would thus screen, as it were, the figure of Onesimus, now discerned for the first time behind him, from the anger of his master.

Philemon 1:10. I beseech thee, a repeated παρακαλῶ (Philemon 1:9), which stands in opposition to the right of command (ἐπιτάσσειν) so entirely proper for him to exercise, but freely renounced, and which therefore must cause the granting of his request to appear to Philemon as a matter of piety.—For my son (τέκνου, child), a surprising turn for Philemon as he read this. Paul had a son, then, and one whom I have begotten in my bonds (who was converted by my preaching; comp. 1 Corinthians 4:14; Galatians 4:19); two shields, therefore, which effectually cover the hated name that must now at length be uttered: Onesimus, the harsh sound of which, for the ear of Philemon, is at once essentially softened by so admirably adjusting the order of the words to the idea. [Onesimus may have been standing in person before his master, and yet Philemon never have surmised the object of the letter till he reached this name so skilfully introduced. Supported I by such an advocate, and knowing the character of the man in whose hands he had consented to place himself again, the fugitive could present the letter in silence and await the result without anxiety.14—H.]

Philemon 1:11. Who in time past (ποτε, formerly) was unprofitable to thee. The name Ὀνήσιμος [which was not uncommon among the Greeks; Wets., Nov, Test., in loc.] signifies profitable or useful. Hence the Apostle seeks by a stroke of pleasantry to let his friend know that the slave who had hitherto answered so little to this fine name would do so far more hereafter. [It was saying: “He did not show himself truly an Onesimus; but he is changed now, and become worthy, yea, twice worthy (σοὶ καὶ ἐμοί) of that expressive name.”—H.] This allusion to the sense of the word, it is true, has not been noticed by the Greek commentators; but this by no means proves that it is imaginary only, or unworthy of the Apostle. [Rothe remarks that Ονήσιμος would naturally have called up ἀνόνητον rather than ἄχρηστον as the contrastive term. But, as Winer suggests (Gramm., § 68. 2, 6th ed.), the correspondence may lie in the meaning of the name, not in the sound. The majority of the later critics, as Meyer, De Wette, Ellicott, Wiesinger, Alford, Wordsworth, recognize this play on the name.—H.]—Unprofitable (ἄχρηστος) Onesimus had been hitherto to his master. By this remark Paul anticipates, as it were, the unpleasant recollections which the mention of his name must inevitably excite in Philemon’s mind, so as at once to counteract or allay them. “Inutilis: litotes, erat enim noxius” (Bengel).—But now (εὔχρηστος) useful, fit to use (comp. 2 Timothy 2:21; 2 Timothy 4:11). That both adjectives should involve at the same time a tacit allusion to the name of Christ (Olshausen and others: formerly without Christ, now a good Christian), is improbable in itself, and at variance also with the subjoined pronouns: to thee and me. Onesimus was useful in different senses. To his master he is now to be a benefit, since he serves him better than before; to the Apostle, on the contrary, he is to be such, since he is a fruit of his labor, and to be his rejoicing in the day of Christ. Others explain in other ways. [Meyer (whom Ellicott follows) understands the εύχρηστία as spiritual with reference to Philemon, whom as partaker of the same faith and spirit he would help in the religious life. The term (εὔχρηστος) would then have the same sense in both relations; and it is better, certainly, to find it the same, and not different, i. e., worldly or personal advantage in the one case, and spiritual in the other. But after all, does not ἐμοὶ εὔχρηστος (μού) receive its natural explanation from διακονῇ μοι, which follows just below? See on Philemon 1:13. If we take this view, then the service in behalf of both Paul and Philemon would be similar again, i. e., not religious in one sphere and personal in the other (or religious in both, as Meyer), but temporal or personal in both. It is easy to see that there were numberless ways in which the convenience and happiness of the captive Apostle might have been promoted by the efforts of a friend like Onesimus.—H.]—Whom I have sent back [to thee]. The pronoun belongs to the text here (Lachmann, Tischendorf). The time of the verb is that of the reception of the letter, and is the same, therefore, as: whom I send back with this letter. On this epistolary use of the aorist, see Winer, Gramm., § 41, 5, 2; [and comp. Galatians 6:11; Ephesians 6:22; Philippians 2:28.]

Philemon 1:12. But do thou, &c. Luther: “Here we see how Paul takes to himself the poor Onesimus, and makes the case his own, as if he himself were Onesimus.” But do thou receive him, i. e., to thy confidence and affection; comp. Romans 14:1. [Δέ, adversative, excludes the idea of any other reception than precisely this.] If προσλαβοῦ, on the authority of A. F. G. 17, must be expunged, as Lachmann and Tischendorf decide, we must then ascribe the anacoluthic character of the sentence to earnestness of feeling on the part of the writer, and yet we must insert in thought this or a similar verb. [The sequel of the sentence occurs in Philemon 1:17, and what intervenes is an instance of the turning aside to pursue other, thoughts which crowd upon the mind as the pen moves forward, of which Paul’s fervid style affords so many examples. See Winer, Gramm., § 63, 1. It is a mark of the Apostle’s hand, therefore, which attests the genuineness of the letter.—H].—Τὰ ἐμὰ σπλάγχυα, my own flesh, lit. bowels; not as denoting his paternal relation to Onesimus (so Conybeare and Howson: “Children are called the σπλάγχνα of their parents”); but a general expression of the most tender love, somewhat like corculum in Latin, or cor meum in Plautus and others. See Meyer on this passage [who remarks justly that the other meaning ascribed to σπλάγχνα here would hardly be congruous with ὃν ἐγέννησα in Philemon 1:10. Paul constantly uses σπλάγχνα to denote the seat of the affections (2 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; Philem. vers 7, 20; comp. also Luke 1:78; 1 John 3:17); and has pertinently used it so here, where the person beloved is called the heart itself, because he occupies so large a space in its affections. All languages have a similar expression. Calvin: “Nihil ad molliendam Philemonis iraeundiam efficacius dici potuit, nam si in servum suum fuisset implacabilis, in Pauli viscera hoc modo sœviebat. Mira vero Pauli bonitas, quod vile mancipium, deinde furem [sic] et erronem recipere quodammodo in sua viscera non dubitavit, ut ab iracundia domini sui protegeret.”—H.]

Philemon 1:13. Whom I would have retained with myself (ὃνκατέχειν). The Apostle says as it were in passing, what as for himself he was inclined at first to do with Onesimus, so as in this way to revive and strengthen Philemon’s shaken confidence in this person. Ἐβουλόμην expresses a momentary inclination; ἠθέλησα, on the contrary, the firmer determination which has taken the place of the former. [The Greeks employed the imperfect of this verb (and so εὐχόμην) to express a present wish with which as a matter of politeness, or from the necessity of the case, they did not expect a compliance, and therefore put in the past as decided and out of the question. See Winer, Gramm., § 41, 2; Buttmann, N. T. Sprach gebr., & 139, 13, N. Some make ἐβούλομην the epistolary imperfect, was wishing (i. e., when he wrote), and still wished, but would not allow the desire to influence his conduct. The idea remains nearly the same, though the other is a much finer idiom in this connection, both as a Greek and an English expression.—H.]—That in thy stead [ὑπὲρ σοῦ, i. e., not only in gratiam tuam (Meyer), but vice tua] he might have ministered (more correctly might minister) unto me, &c. Grotius rightly: “Ut mihi prœstaret, quœ tu si hic esses, prasstiturus mihi omnia esses.” [The assumed idea here is that the convert is indebted always to the teacher; and hence, as Paul on that principle had an undischarged claim against Philemon, he says, in effect, that he would accept the service of the slave, as an equivalent (ὑπὲρ σοῦ) for what was due from the master. The tense of διακονῇ represents the service as a present and continued one. Μοί appears to limit the act of the verb (put before it in the best copies) to the Apostle, and refers in all probability to the personal offices for which, as a captive, he was so dependent on the kindness of others. If preaching the gospel were meant here (Conybeare, Life of Paul, ii. p. 467), the Apostle would more naturally speak of it as a service rendered to Christ, not to himself. Observe with what delicacy he changes the structure of the sentence in Philippians 2:22, just to avoid the appearance of putting his fellow-laborers in the gospel on a different level from his own in that relation.15 “The services meant in διακονῇ,” says De Wette, “are personal services.” For this meaning of the verb, see Matthew 4:11; Matthew 25:44; Mark 1:13; Luke 8:3, and often.—H.] The Apostle, therefore, does not doubt for a moment that Philemon, in case he had been near his friend, would have shown to him the warmest love. In itself considered, of course, Paul had naturally no right to the labors of any other man’s servant; but the thought of Philemon’s love had almost induced him to allow the slave to render to him the assistance which the master could not render, but which surely he would have approved with all his heart as soon as he knew of it. The Apostle, however, had given up this thought again, and for a reason which he mentions in the following verse.—Ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς τοῦ εὐαγγελλίου, in the bonds of the gospel, i. e., genit, auctoris, into which he had been brought, as a herald of the gospel, which the gospel had laid upon him; see on Philemon 1:1. “The bonds,” says Wilke (Rhetorik des N. T., p. 143), “are those which the gospel suffers in the person of its advocate.” But it impairs the force of the tacit appeal to the reader’s sympathy to make the work here more prominent than the agent, and is against the analogy of other passages.—H.]

Philemon 1:14. But without thy mind, i. e., a knowledge of thy opinion in the matter.—I would do (lit. wished to do) nothing [i. e., in the way of retaining Onesimus.]—That thy benefit, &c. The benefit (τὸ ) which is meant here, cannot be the manumission of Onesimus (De Wette); for there is not the slightest allusion to this act here, or even in Philemon 1:16. Equally out of the question is the favorable reception of Onesimus by his master (Hofmann, SchrifTb. ii. 387); for then the opposition between Philemon 1:13-14 is destroyed, i. e., what Paul should receive and what Philemon should do in the person of Onesimus. But the reference is exclusively to the good which would accrue to the Apostle if he had been able to retain Onesimus with him. In this case (see on Philemon 1:13) Philemon would have served him by means of his slave (ἵνα διακονῇ), and Paul accordingly would have received a benefit indirectly from Philemon. This is the very thing he does not wish. The good which Philemon confers on him should not be such that it would appear ὡς κατὰ , almost extorted (Bengel: “ὡςparticula mitigans, nam etsi non coactus fuisset Philemon, tamen voluntas ejus minus apparuisset”); but, on the other hand, should be exclusively the work of a loving, free service (ἀλλὰ κατὰ ἑκούσιον). It is entirely arbitrary to infer from this last expression that Paul desired the sending back of Onesimus to Rome as an assistant to him there. The Apostle speaks of the good (τὸ ) as something to be shown to himself personally; and had he wished to request a favor expressly for Onesimus, the favor surely would not have consisted in a deed affecting not so much him as another.—[But many interpreters, as Calvin, Meyer, Ellicott, understand to τὸ (thy good) of Philemon’s beneficence or goodness in general, whether manifested in allowing Paul to retain Onesimus, or in other merciful acts which his benevolence might prompt. According to this view the Apostle states here a principle or rule, viz., that he could accept no favor from Philemon in any instance, unless it was entirely free and unconstrained. Hence, as the connection between himself and Onesimus had taken place altogether without the master’s agency or knowledge, he must send back the servant, since even an acquiescence on the part of Philemon post factum would be (ὡς) apparently κατὰ , and not κατὰ ἑκούσιον. The favor, according to this view, would be an extorted one in the eyes of Paul, if Philemon could approve it only after the act. The phrases τὸ , τὸ καλὸν, τὸ πρεπὸν, and the like, are frequent in this abstract sense, and may indicate that sense here. At all events, as suggested at the close of the last paragraph, Paul could not mean (as the ἀγαθόν) that he expected Philemon to send back Onesimus to him and in fact had put the servant in his control again for the purpose of securing that act of friendship To understand the Apostle in this manner, is to make his wish a command. He surely would not say: “I desire the service of this man, but must have your consent; and therefore I send him back to you, in order to see whether you will oblige me, or keep him to yourself.” We should miss here altogether the delicacy which marks his conduct in every other part of the transaction.—H.]

Philemon 1:15. For perhaps he departed. The words which follow here must not be regarded as a motive for the manumission of Onesimus (De Wette), but as a further statement of the reasons why Paul had not executed his previous idea of retaining Onesimus with himself. Had he expressed himself in a decided tone respecting the object of the brief separation between Philemon and Onesimus, it would not only have grated harshly on the feelings of the sensitive master, but have been a positive declaration concerning a definite Divine purpose which he could have known only by special revelation. Hagenbach: “Caute apposuitτάχα, truippe qui non supremi numinis vias quasi digito demonstrare, sed tantum significare ausus sit, toto cœlo diversus ab istis homuncionibus, qui, pios sermones semper in ore gerentes, superstitionis suæ qualiaœunque commenta tanquam divina or acuta venditare affectant.” [That this (γάρ) is a concurrent and subordinate reason, not the only one (as Wiesinger, Meyer, Ellicott seem to imply), is evident from the preceding verse (γνα, as related to ἠθέλησα). He says departed (ἐχωρίσθη), not fled, because he would not censure the conduct of Onesimus, or awaken a resentful feeling in the master. The passive form has a middle sense (Acts 1:4; Acts 18:1), and the rendering, was separated, i. e., apologetic (Macknight, Buckminster), not so much by his own act as by a sort of providence, is incorrect. The use of this verb excludes Schrader’s singular opinion that Onesimus was so worthless and incorrigible that his master drove him away, and would not have him in his service.—Διὰ τοῦτο (therefore, on this account) anticipates the clause which follows. See Winer, Gramm., § 23, 5.—H.]—How long or short a time Onesimus had been separated from Philemon, is uncertain; but in every case a temporary separation is πρὸς ὣραν (see 2 Corinthians 7:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:17), as compared with the eternal reunion. [Even with this contrast, the naturally suggested idea is that the interval between the conversion and the return of Onesimus was not long.—H.]—That thou Brightest receive him [fully] forever; an intimation (ἵνα) of the supposed Divine purpose in his departure. [The words of Joseph to his brethren (Genesis 45:5) illustrate the teleological relation: “Now, therefore, be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before yon to preserve life”; αἰώνιον is not neuter, but masculine, i. e., as one αἰώνιον. For this use of adjectives as adverbs, see Win., § 54, 2 (6th ed.).—H.] As believers in Christ Jesus, Philemon and Onesimus were also destined, in the approaching advent of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17), to be united forever.—Ἀπέχῃς, tibi haberes; comp. Philippians 4:18; Matthew 6:2.—[This peculiar word, as applied here to the new spiritual bond, was suggested perhaps by the civil relation of the parties to each other. It signifies to have in full, to possess exhaustively, and hence the meaning here is that Philemon, in gaining Onesimus as a Christian brother, had come into a relationship to him which made him all his own, and (αἰώνιον) forever.—H.]

Philemon 1:16. Not now [no longer, οὐκ ἔτι] as a servant [slave]. The Apostle will by no means break up violently the subordinate relation in which Onesimus stood to Philemon, but apprises him that this relation has now of itself passed into a higher one. Even if Onesimus remained externally a slave, it could still be said of him: But a brother beloved. He was the latter, and now remained such, just the same whether he continued a slave or not; and for this reason we cannot assent to those interpreters who insist that Paul meant to urge here the emancipation of Onesimus as his direct object. It is not the immediate cessation, but amelioration and sanctification of the earthly relation, that the Apostle has in his thoughts. [But this amelioration itself was so comprehensive, that, if it left the name of slave, it would leave nothing but the name, and would destroy utterly the spirit and reality of the relation. It would raise Onesimus at once above the condition of a slave under human laws, and give him a title to all that is “just and equal” between man and man (Colossians 4:1), and to all the sympathy love, and entire religious equality which the Christian brotherhood (ἀδελφία) confers on all believers, Whether they are Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). For ὑπέρ, above, more than, see Philemon 1:21; Matthew 10:37; Acts 26:13; Hebrews 4:12. See Win., § 49, c (6th ed.). The contrasted emphasis lies upon ὡς us and ὑπέρ forty, and the doctrine is that the Christian master must forget the slave in the brother.—H.]—Especially to me (μάλιστα ἐμοί), for the reason stated in Philemon 1:10 [viz., that he was his son in the faith and the sharer of his bonds. Ἐμοί is the dative of interest or relation (Win., Gramm., § 31, 3), not dative of the agent after a passive verbal. Similar to this is ἀγαπητοὶ ἡμῖν ἐγενήθητε in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. Ἀγαπητέ μοι is a common address in modern Greek when one Christian friend writes to another.—H.]—But how much more to thee,—since they were bound to each other by the twofold connection which the next words point out.—Both in the flesh and in the Lord, i. e., as well in the merely material as the higher spiritual relation. Meyer says to the point: “ἐν σαρκί, in the flesh, Philemon has Onesimus as slave; ἐν κυρίῳ, in the Lord, he has the slave as brother; how greatly must he have him in both respects as a brother beloved!” Σάρξ, in other words, refers to Onesimus in his temporal or earthly relation, ἐν κυρίῳ to his Christian or spiritual relation. This ἐν σαρκί answers precisely to κατὰ σάρκα in Ephesians 6:5, where Paul speaks of “masters who are such in a temporal sense, as distinguished from Christ who is our master in a spiritual sense. Σάρξ passes readily to this meaning from its common use, as denoting that which is natural to man in distinction from the new principle, or πνεῦμα imparted to him in virtue of his union with Christ. The Apostle employs the term often, as Koch remarks (p. 103), to designate that outward side of human existence, which is apprehended by the senses as opposed to the inner and unseen life. Onesimus had claims on Philemon, his sympathy and love (ἐν σαρκί), which he could not have on the Apostle or any other stranger, because he had lived with him, and shared his labors, had been one of his household, perhaps had been reared with him from infancy, and been an object of his care and protection. The expression, therefore, affords no proof of any natural relationship between Philemon and Onesimus. Κατὰ σάρκα, in Ephesians 6:5, utterly forbids that inference.—H.]

Philemon 1:17. If therefore [οὖν, i. e., Onesimus being sent back under such circumstances] thou countest me a partner (κοινωνόν), i. e., not merely a friend or companion in general, according to the rule: “Amicorum omnium communia;” but especially a partaker of the faith (see Philemon 1:6, and the remarks there) and of the blessings which spring from it. Εἰ does not express any doubt, but a supposition which Paul tacitly affirms, and on which he expressly founds his request. [To spurn Onesimus, therefore—such is the force of Paul’s argument—was to deny the Apostle’s claim to a place in the church, was to put him in effect out of the pale of Christian fellowship.—H.]—Προσλαβοῦ αὐτόν, receive him, signifies expressly a kind, joyous reception (comp. Acts 28:2; Romans 14:1; Romans 14:3). [The verb resumes the connection broken off in Philemon 1:12. See remarks there.—H.]—As me. What joy would have entered the abode of Philemon, if lie captive Apostle had suddenly and unexpectedly stood before their eyes in the possession of his recovered liberty! Such a reception he now wishes that Onesimus may enjoy in the house of his master. [Ὡς identifies the persons, and makes the reception a corollary of that identity. Onesimus, in his character as a believer, had the same rights as Paul had, and could claim their recognition as fully and justly as the Apostle himself. Such is the power which the gospel gives one Christian to intercede with another. Pliny, in his letter to Sabinianus, could only entreat his friend not to torture the wretch who was a suppliant for his mercy. The Roman laws, which were severer in this respect than the Greek laws, allowed a master even to take the life of an absconding servant. See Becker’sCharikles, p. 370. A brand-mark at least (στίγμα) was the penalty of an unsuccessful attempt to escape from servitude. The δραπέτης ἐστιγμένος (Aristoph., Aves, 759), or branded fugitive, was a common sight on the estates of the wealthy Athenians.—H.]

Philemon 1:18. If he hath wronged thee. That which the Apostle might have stated probably in decided terms, he expresses hypothetically with Attic urbanity, in order to remove a difficulty that might prejudice the desired reconciliation.—Or oweth aught, defines more nearly the circumstance in which the supposed injury consisted. Perhaps Onesimus had acknowledged to Paul that he had committed a theft, and had fled to escape being punished. [According to this view, the first verb of the protasis states the crime, viz., some theft or fraud, which the second describes euphemistically as a debt (Meyer, Bengel, De Wette, Ellicott). But it may be doubted still whether Paul would speak of an immorality per se like stealing (even as practised among slaves, see Titus 2:10) in so hesitating a tone (εἰ ἠδίκησα); and whether, if Onesimus had sinned in that way, he would not have taken a nearer way to the heart of Philemon by a full, unextenuating admission of the wrong, if he knew that Onesimus had been thus guilty. It is this explanation of ἠδίκησα, and this only, which has led some critics to form so unfavorable an opinion of the character of Onesimus, and to brand him as a thief or robber, in addition to the act of running away and as the motive for it. “He belonged to the dregs of society,” says Conybeare, “robbed his master, and confessed the sin to Paul.” “It is strange,” says Dr. Doddridge, “that Onesimus could have been so wicked in so pious a family, and should have left his master in so infamous a manner.”—H.]—[But it is possible that the verbs (ἠδίκησε, ὀφείλει) may refer not to any crime properly so called which Onesimus had committed, but to his running away as viewed under two aspects: first as an act of injustice (if Philemon chose so to regard it), which the Apostle would have his friend wholly overlook for his sake; and (if that was too much, and he must be indemnified for the wrong, then) as a debt which Paul says he was prepared to pay. It may be urged for this view, first, that Paul otherwise makes no reference whatever to the escape, the special offence which he might be expected to exert his utmost skill to induce Philemon to overlook; second, that the questioning form (εἰ) is more appropriate to the running away than to a moral misdemeanor; and third, that as the loss of service would in the nature of the case be of much more account than any single act of dishonesty or peculation, the Apostle would naturally enough think of that as the chief pecuniary obstacle, and so engage to make all needed restitution. Schrader, Koch, Hemsen, and others deny utterly that the passage under remark affords any reason for impeaching the man’s character before the flight; and Lardner (Credibility of the Gospel History) says, sharply, that it is no better than calumny to charge a person with crime on such evidence.—H.]16Put that to my account [lit. reckon to me]. This may be said of the punishment which Onesimus deserved, as well as of the debt which he had to cancel. Calvin: “Tanto itaque major Paul: humanitas, qui pro maleficio quoque satisfacere paratus est.” The humanity, bonhomie, displayed here, and in the next verse, taking almost the form of a good-natured jest, gives us at the same time a deep insight into the affectionate soul of the greathearted Paul.—[For ἐλλόγα, see remarks on the text.]

Philemon 1:19. [I Paul, where the addition of Παῦλος strengthens the emphatic ἐγώ. A written pledge with such a name needed no other security.—H.]—With my own hand. If the Apostle dictated this letter to an amanuensis, as his custom was (comp. Romans 16:22), perhaps he took the pen at this moment from the writer, and with his own fettered hand wrote the promissory word: I will pay it (“lepide sane hœc profert”, Theoph.)17 [The first verb (ἔγραψα) derives its immediate object from τοῦτο ἐμοὶ ἐλλόγα, and ἀποτίσω repeats the assurance that he will discharge the obligation (συγγπαφή) thus acknowledged by his own hand. Ἀποτίσω belongs to the phraseology of pecuniary compacts, and is aptly chosen here.—H.] In the worst case he trusts he shall not be wanting in the means necessary for meeting the demand, but trusts also that his friend and brother Philemon will not allow it to come to such a result.—[Not to say (ἱνα μή λέγω= ne dicam), is an instance of the σχῆμα παρασιωπήσεως or prœteritio, by which a person says in reality what he profesess to pass over in silence. So ἵνα μἡ λέγωμεν in 2 Corinthians 9:4. See Wilke, N. T. Rhetorik, p. 365. The ἵνα may depend on ἔγραψα or a suppressed thought: “Accept this pledge, that I may not have occasion to insist upon my rights.”—H.]—That thou owest, &c. In all probability Philemon had been converted by the preaching of Paul, and had therefore indirectly to thank him for the life of his soul. Προσοφείλεις (insuper debes), owest besides, i. e., in addition to that which I just now promised to pay thee, thou owest also thyself to me, thy proper and true I, as an heir of eternal life; comp. Luke 9:25. So far from its being the case, therefore, that Philemon would have anything to demand from Paul, if there should ever be a reckoning between him and the Apostle, Philemon would have to pay something to Paul; and from this incalculable debt of love and gratitude he could now obtain a discharge, if he granted to Onesimus the kindness desired for him. After this delicate hint (though any further encitement must be unnecessary) the Apostle adds something still to all that precedes.

Philemon 1:20. Yea, brother, &c. Ναί is not to be taken in the sense of a request, i. e., I pray, but confirmatory. [It snatches, as it were, the answer from the mouth of the respondent before he can utter it, like our familiar “Yes, you will.”—H.]—Ἐγώ σου ὀναίμην, let me have joy [or profit] of thee, contains an allusion to the name of Onesimus. See Win., Gramm., § 68,2 (6th ed.). [So nearly all the later commentators, except De Wette.—H.] Ὀνίναμαί τινος means properly to derive advantage, profit from something, and also further, to be made glad by another, to have joy in him. This joy Philemon would impart to Paul if he fulfilled his wish expressed here in Philemon 1:12-19. [If we admit an alliteration, therefore, between ὀναίμην and ὀνήσιμος, it may have an import like this: “Let the joy in this matter be mutual; and if you have profit from him whom I send back, let me have profit from you.”18—H.]—In the Lord (ἐν κυρίῳ) is added in order to designate the joy which Paul would so gladly share as Christian in its nature, as a joy produced by the most intimate communion with Christ, although it relates to an earthly affair.—Refresh my heart, σπλάγχνα (comp. Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:12). This refers not to Onesimus as an object of affection, but to Paul’s own loving heart, which has been so troubled on this subject, but will be revived if Philemon grants to him his request.

Philemon 1:21. Having confidence in thy obedience, the final word a tutiori at the same time a delicate allusion to Philemon 1:8-9, by which Philemon was to be reminded that he who pleads so earnestly for a proof of love, might also, in virtue of his apostolic authority, require obedience. [In this case, the ὑπακοῇ, obedience, is viewed as that due to the Apostle himself; and so many others, as Meyer, Ellicott, Alford, understand the expression. But the term is not limited in the Greek, and the obedience, as some prefer, may be that due to God or Christ, since that which the Apostle had requested merely, the spirit of the gospel demanded as a duty. For ὑπακοῇ in this absolute use, see Romans 6:16; Romans 16:19. So Michaelis, Heinrichs, Koch, and others. It was natural that the Apostle should glance at this higher ground of obligation in the nature of the gospel itself; but it would not agree so well with the tone of the letter to find him referring to his own personal wishes, or his official character, as authorizing him to claim obedience on that account.—H.]—Ἔγραψα, have written (not wrote). See on ἔπεμψα, in Philemon 1:11. [Will also do, i. e., more than (ὑπὲρ ὅ) as well as so much as I say.—H.]—As if fearful that Philemon might find the expression of an unreasonable distrust in the last remark.—The question, what Paul means by the words: καὶ ὑπὲρλέγω, he leaves to the understanding and the heart of his friend to answer. The thought of the manumission of Onesimus, though not absolutely demanded, could hardly fail to arise of itself in the mind of Philemon. [It is difficult, certainly, to resist the impression that Paul meant here that Philemon should liberate Onesimus, and allow him as his own master to return to Paul at Rome, or to use his liberty in any other way, as he pleased. Having asked everything short of that already, nothing but that seems to remain as the something (ὑπὲρ ὅ) which he has not asked. According to De Wette, the sense is: “Thou wilt not only pardon him and give him his freedom (as requested before in Philemon 1:16), but also confer (other) favors.” So also Schrader: “Paul, instead of contenting himself with having Onesimus set free (which is presupposed after what is said in Philemon 1:16), desires now that he should be dismissed with such other manifest tokens of good will, as it was right to expect from a man of Philemon’s noble spirit.” Rosenmüller: “Hœc verba ad libertatem servo reduci concedendam alludere non absimile est vero.” “This verse serves,” says Alford, “to put Philemon in mind of Paul’s apostolic authority, and hints delicately at the manumission of Onesimus, which he has not yet requested.” Webster and Wilkinson: “Perhaps the Apostle refers in Philemon 1:21 to the possibility of Philemon giving Onesimus his freedom.” “In the words ἐιδὼς, ὃτι, κ.τ.λ.,” says Koch (p. 124), “the Apostle expresses his assurance that Philemon will not only cheerfully forgive the converted Onesimus his offence, and grant him his freedom, but will go further than this (ὑπὲρ ὅ), that is, anticipate any other wants, and supply them.” Dr. Bleek says: “Without doubt, what the Apostle principally means is that Philemon should grant to Onesimus his liberty; which he has nowhere definitely expressed as his desire in what precedes (not even in Philemon 1:16). But as a freedman also Onesimus might after that stand in a still closer personal relation to him, and remain in his service, as was very often the case with freedmen, the liberti.” See his Vorlesungen, &c., p. 169.—On the contrary, some others find here merely a general compliment to Philemon’s character. The meaning is said to be that Paul had the fullest confidence in him as a Christian brother, who would do for Onesimus, who was also their brother, not only what the Apostle has asked for him, but more too, if he had asked it. The request is not specific in this case, and no one favor expected of him more than another. So Rothe (p. 57): “Mihi Paulus, cum hœc scribebat, non certam aliquam rem in mente habuisse, sed eo modo locutus videtur esse, quo in vita communi solemus loqui, cum alicui non dubisare nos, quin sit in not officiosissimus affirmare volumus.”—Meyer holds that there is no reference to the emancipation either in this verse or in Philemon 1:13.—“It is doubtful,” says Ellicott, “whether this alludes to the manumission of Onesimus. The tenor of the Epistle would seem to imply something more than confidence on the part of the Apostle, that Philemon would show to the fugitive even greater kindness, and a more affectionate reception than he had pleaded for.”—We may say in conclusion, at all events, that whatever Philemon understood the Apostle to say or intimate, he was not slow to perform The fact of our having this Epistle in our hands at the present moment is good proof that he was not remiss in acting up to every intimation of what was to be expected from his friendship or his love of justice; for our own feelings assure us that he would never have allowed such a letter to see the light, if it was to exist only as a perpetual witness of his ingratitude and his severity.—H.]


Philemon 1:8; Philemon 1:8.—[The participial structure, as in the Greek (ἔχων), is better than the verbal (E. V.). See the Notes.—“Convenient” (for ἀνῆκον) is obsolete in its earlier Latin sense. Tyndale and the Genevan version render that which becometh. It is one of those many words in the English Scriptures which have changed their meaning, concerning which Archbishop Whately remarks that “they are much more likely to perplex and bewilder the reader, than those entirely out of use. The latter only leave him in darkness; the others mislead him by a false light.” See his Annotations on Bacon’s Essays, No. 34.—H.]

Philemon 1:9; Philemon 1:9.—[Omit thee, as suggested in the Notes.—The exegesis (see infra) requires a semicolon or period after “beseech” (παρακαλῶ), and a comma, not a period, at the end of the verse.—H.]

Philemon 1:10; Philemon 1:10.—[Some insert ἐγὼ before ἐγέννησα, but without sufficient authority. Meyer argues for it on the ground that the proper emphasis was liable to be overlooked, and thus the pronoun fell aside.—The T, R. has μοῦ after δεσμοῖςc, but against decisive witnesses. Lachmann and Tischendorf leave it out.—H.]

Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:12.—[After ἀνάπεμψα we are to insert σοί, which the following σὺ caused to be dropped in some copies.—H.]

Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:12.—[Προσλαβοῦ, receive, nearly all critics (Lachmann, Tischendorf, De Wette, Meyer, Ellicott) regard as inserted here from Philemon 1:17. It was a very ancient gloss, but was no doubt intended to remove the anacoluthon. Σὺδέ is certainly genuine. As there was no verb with which σὺ could agree, a few copies dropped the pronoun so as to join αὐτὸν with ἀνέπεμψα.—H.]

Philemon 1:18; Philemon 1:18.—[The form ἐλλόγα is the best supported (Lachmann, Tischendorf, Meyer, Alford). The Sinaitic Codex has αλλογα. Fritzsche decides (Epist. ad Romans 1:0.p. 311) that grammatically it should be ἐλλόγει, as in Romans 5:13.—H.]

Philemon 1:20; Philemon 1:20.—The common text has in the Lord (ἐν κυρίῳ) twice. [But ἐν Χριστῷ is correct in the second instance, and the other an accidental repetition of the same. The testimonies are decisive.—H.]

Philemon 1:21; Philemon 1:21.—[Some of the later critics read ὑπὲρ ἅ, instead of ὑπὲρ ὅ (T. R.), Tischendorf has both in different editions. The best copies favor ὑπὲρ ἅ (so Cod. Sinait.), and the singular may have displaced the plural, because the request was thought to be one rather than manifold.—H.]

[14][It will be observed that our English translators, instead of reserving the name of Onesimus to the end of the sentence, insert it after τέκνου, with manifest injury to the sense.—The accumulation of motives urged in this tenth verse, and the ninth, renders the passage one of remarkable power. Buckminster’s enumeration of the ideas agrees almost verbally with that of Macknight. “He reminds Philemon of his reputation for kindness, of his friendship for the writer, of his respect for character, and especially for age, of his compassion for his bonds; and, with all this, lets fall an intimation, that perhaps some deference was due to his wishes as an Apostle. On the other hand, he presents before Philemon the repentance of Onesimus, and his return to virtue, his Christian profession, and the consequent confidence and attachment of Paul, his spiritual father.”—H.]

[15][Yet the fact of his being a slave would not prove that Onesimus could not have aided Paul as a preacher, as if on that account he must have been destitute of the needed qualifications; for slaves among the Greeks and Romans were not excluded by law from the means of instruction, and there was a class of them among the Romans called literati, on account of the use which their masters made of their literary abilities. See Becker’s Gallus, p. 121.—H]

[16][Since writing the above note, we have been gratified to read the following remarks of Dr, Bleek on the question in his Vorlesungen ü, die Britfe an die Kolosser, den Philemon, &c., p. 166 (1865): Onesimus’ “clandestine escape might itself be regarded as a wrong against his master, and so also the loss of personal service which he had failed to render in his absence, might be viewed as a debt which he had incurred. Whether it was known to the Apostle that he had committed some other offence, especially embezzlement or theft, as many writers assume, we do not know. From this passage we by no means discover this; and, indeed, it is hardly probable that, if the Apostle had known or conjectured any such thing, he would have expressed himself in so half-sportive a manner as he has done.”—H.]

[17][It seems hardly probable that Paul would employ the hand of another to write a brief and friendly letter like this. It is a false, certainly unnecessary emphasis, which restricts ἔγραψα to ἐλλόγα or ἀποτίσω, as if it were proof that he had written those words, but not the rest of the letter. It would justify that inference as little as ἐγὼ εἶπον attached to ἐγὼ in a speech, would justify the inference that one person had uttered that declaration, and another the rest of the discourse. Theodoret: ἀνκ̀ γραμματίου τήνδε κατέχε τὴν ἐπιστολήν· πᾶσαν αὐτὴν γέγραφα.—H.

[18][In this case ἐγώ and σου (Paul and Philemon) are opposed to each other with reference to their relation to Onesimus. But some regard ἐγώ as emphatic in distinction from Onesimus. Thus Ellicott: Paul solicits a favor for, himself, and for the moment puts Onesimus, as it were, out of the question.—H.]

Verses 22-25

Request for hospitality, Greeting to friends, and Prayer for their spiritual welfare

Philemon 1:22-25

22But withal [at the same time] prepare [be preparing for]19 me also a lodging: 23for I trust [hope] that through your prayers I shall be given unto you. There 24salute [salutes]20 thee Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus: Marcus 25[Mark],21 Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas [Luke], my fellow-laborers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. [Amen.]22


Philemon 1:22. But at the same time also, i. e, at the same time that thou fulfillest my wish expressed above, respecting which the Apostle doubts no longer. [So also Meyer; but Bleek refers ἅμα to the two requests (ὀναίμην, ἐτοίμαζε) simultaneously made by Paul, rather than the granting of them by Philemon. Καί, also, adds the one request, viz., ὀναίμην, in Philemon 1:20, to the other here, ἐτοίμαζε.—H.]—Prepare me [be preparing] a lodging [i. e., a place or room where he could lodge as a guest; comp. εἰς τὴν ξενίαν in Acts 28:23. He may have desired this convenience the more, because he travelled often with so many friends (Acts 19:22; Acts 20:4), and because he would need a place where he could receive those who might desire religious instruction. Meyer, who supposes that Paul wrote the letter at Cæsarea, thinks that he wished to lodge with Philemon merely as one of the stages of his journey into Spain (3d ed., 1865).—H.] The request for such hospitality may have been unexpected though surely welome to the receiver of the letter; and would serve also indirectly to enforce Paul’s application in behalf of Onesimus. Who could be willing to disappoint the beloved Apostle, and compel him in person to see how little regard had been paid to his request? By receiving him as desired, Philemon at the same time could requite the kindness which Paul had shown to his entire family, by treating Onesimus with so much favor at Rome.—For I hope. In Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24, the Apostle expresses a similar expectation of his speedy release. [He must have had definite reasons for this belief, and we may conclude that the event agreed with the anticipation, and hence that he was liberated from the imprisonment mentioned at the close of the book of Acts.—It is unnecessary to suppose, with Ellicott, that Paul had changed his plan in the interval between his writing the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon, because in Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24 he had expressed a purpose to visit the Philippians on being set free, but here, in Philemon 1:22, contemplates a journey to Colossae. Philippi was on the way from Rome to Colossæ, and the Apostle could visit both places on the same journey. See the remarks respecting Paul’s route, on p..—H.]—That I through your prayers [offered for his release], namely, those of the entire church in his house (Philemon 1:2). He takes it for granted that they mention him in their prayers, to which intercession he ascribes an efficacious power. [We may be sure that the praying friends at Colossæ were not the only circle in which supplication was made for Paul. The situation of the great Christian leader at Rome must have fixed upon him the eyes of the disciples in every land. When Peter was in prison at Jerusalem, earnest prayer was made for him, and an angel was sent and delivered him from the power of Herod and of the Jews, who were designing the next day to put him to death. See Acts 12:6 sq.—H.]—I may be given to you (χαρισθήσομαι), i. e., may be given as an act of grace, or Divine favor; comp. Acts 3:14; Acts 27:24. The choice of this word is dictated by a consciousness of his apostolic office. With the utmost humility, Paul yet knows and feels what his person and presence are for the church, and what they can be. [Possibly Paul refers in χαρισθήσομαι not so much to his own estimate of his importance to others, as to his sense of indebtedness to God for such a favor as that of being restored to those, who were so anxious for his safety, and for whose spiritual welfare he was so deeply concerned.—H.]

Philemon 1:23. There greets [salutes] thee, &c. The same persons are mentioned here as in Colossians 4:10-14, with the exception of Jesus Justus, whose name is omitted because perhaps he was not present at that moment. The salutation is addressed personally to Philemon. [This explains why Philemon is not saluted in the Epistle to the Colossians: it was unnecessary, as that Epistle and this were received at the same time.—H.]—Epaphras, who as a fellow captive of Paul is mentioned before the other, brethren, is the same perhaps, as Epaphroditus, named in Philippians 2:25. [The names, it is true, may be interchangeable (see Winer, Realwörterbuch, 1, p. 331); but in this instance they seem to designate different persons. It is against the supposed identity, first, that Epaphras belonged to Colossæ (Colossians 4:12), and had come thence to Rome (Colossians 1:1), whereas Epaphroditus belonged to Philippi, and had been sent to Paul with the contributions of the church there (Philippians 2:25); and second, that, as these facts indicate, the former had his circuit of labor in Phrygia or Asia Minor (Colossians 4:13), but the latter in northern Greece or Macedonia. Neander thinks (Pflanzung 2. p. 292) that Epaphras was founder of the church at Colossæ (supposing from Colossians 2:1 that Paul was never there). This Epaphras, at all events, was a faithful preacher of the gospel (Colossians 1:7, διάκονος τοῦ Χριστοῦ), and, as we see from this passage, was now a sharer of Paul’s captivity at Rome. He was a fellow-captive (συναιχμάλωτος), not in a figurative sense, but literally, as would appear from his being named apart from the fellow-laborers (συνεργοί), and from the subjoined ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ; in Christ Jesus, which defines the sphere in which he bore this character. Under what circumstances he was imprisoned, is unknown. He may have been held as a witness for the prosecution against Paul, or may have been arrested on his own account as a Christian.

Philemon 1:24. Mark is supposed to be John Mark, the writer of the second Gospel, and Paul’s companion on his first missionary tour as far as Perga (Acts 13:13). We learn from Colossians 4:10 that Mark was expecting, ere long, to greet the Colossians in person.—Aristarchus, another of Paul’s associates, was a Macedonian (Acts 19:29), who, at a later period, accompanied him on his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:2). As he is classed here among the fellow-laborers (συνεργοί), he appears to be called fellow-captive (συναιχμάλωτος) in Colossians 4:10, because he made himself the Apostle’s voluntary companion in his exile. To remember the brethren in their bonds, was accounted the same thing as being bound with them (συνδεδεμένοι); see Hebrews 13:3. Some think that he may have been put in prison after this letter to Philemon was written. The interval between this and the letter to the Colossians was very brief, and renders that barely possible. Whether Luke is mentioned because he was known at Colossæ personally, or by name only, is uncertain. The traces of him in the Acts never lead him apparently into that region. He and Demas are named together also in Colossians 4:14. We look into the prison again, after a few years, and but one of these two friends is watching at the side of the Apostle. Paul wrote his Second Epistle to Timothy during his last captivity at Rome, and then he records (2 Timothy 4:10-11): “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world: only Luke is with me.” We are reminded of Keble’s words in his Hymn on St. Luke:

“Vainly before the shrine he bends
Who knows not the true pilgrim’s part:
The martyr’s cell no safety lends
To him who wants the martyr’s heart.”—H.]

Philemon 1:25. The grace of our Lord, &c. A parting salutation, like that in Galatians 6:18, is directed here in plurali to the whole church in Philemon’s house. [The pronoun in κυρίου ἡμῶν, our Lord, refers to the common Lord of all believers. Μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν, with your spirit, is more impassioned than ἡμῶν simply, and springs naturally out of the affectionate tone of the letter. It is the form of benediction not only in Galatians 6:18, but in 2 Timothy 4:22 and Philippians 4:23, according to the text of some copies, Ὑμῶν is coextensive with ὑμῖν in Philemon 1:22, i. e., those addressed in the letter.

One of the oldest subscript notices is πρὸς Φιλήμονα ἐγράφη , i. e., It Was written to Philemon from Rome through (as the bearer) Onesimus. This notice states undoubtedly what is true respecting the destination of the letter, and the place where it was written. Being ancient, though of course not from the hand of Paul, it has some value as a confirmatory argument in respect to the genuineness and origin of the Epistle. Küster and Mill mention two manuscripts, which record at the end that Onesimus had his legs broken on the rack or the cross at Rome, and so gained the rewards of martyrdom. And with this thought, not, perhaps, historically confirmed, but so entirely in harmony with the vicissitudes of that age of the first confessors, we may turn our eyes from this record of lowly life on earth, upward to tile scene where the Lord’s servants, though they may have been the slaves of men, are exalted and ennobled forever on thrones which He has prepared for them.—H.]


1. An awakened zeal for the emancipation of the slaves is one of the happy signs of our times. The spirit of Wilberforce has arisen not only in England, but on the continent of Europe and in the New World. The anti-slavery literature of the day (e. g., “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) is one of these indications. [But what shall we say now! How speedily have the signs given place to fulfilment! When God’s time for interposing came, it Was not so much zeal for the extinction of slavery, as for its extension and perpetuation, which was to prove the cause of its overthrow. The same hand that riveted the chains of the slave, also shattered them in pieces. “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”—H.]

So much the more valuable is an apostolic writing of Paul, out of which so much may be learned for dealing with the question above referred to. The letter to Philemon serves to show how the Apostle, on the one hand, would not violently destroy a legal right of property [i. e., as an individual in opposition to the government or State]; while, on the other, he defends and preaches principles, by the just and equal application of which, slavery loses all that is harsh and unchristian, and at last becomes inevitably extinct. With such an operation a revolutionary interference with the different arrangements and classes of social life is made unnecessary. [Thus it was, as Dr. Wordsworth remarks (St. Paul’s Epitles, p. 328), “by Christianizing the master, that the gospel enfranchised the slave. It did not legislate about mere names and forms, but it went to the root of the evil—it spoke to the heart of man. When the heart of the master was filled with Divine grace, and was warmed with the love of Christ, the rest would soon follow. The lips would speak kind words; the hands would do liberal things. Every Onesimus would be treated by every Philemon as a beloved brother in Christ.”—H.]

Philemon 1:2 : It affords us an important help for understanding and appreciating this letter, if we compare it (see Introduction, p. 9) with the extant letters of C. Plinius Cæcilianus Secundus. The first of these (Lib. ii. 21) is as follows:

C. Plinius Sabiniano suo S.

“Libertus tuus, cui succensere te dixeras, venit ad me, advolutusque pedibus meis, tamquam tuis, hæsit. Flevit multum; multumque rogavit; multum etiam tacuit: in summa, fecit mihi fidem pœnitentiæ. Vere credo emendatum, quia deliquisse se sentit. Irasceris, scio: et irasceris merito, id quodque scio: sed tunc præcipua mansuetudinis laus, cum iræ caussa justissima est. Amasti hominem, et spero amabis: interim sufflcit, ut exorari te sinas. Licebit rursus irasci, si meruerit, quod exoratus excusatius facies. Remitte aliquid adolescentiæ ipsius, remitte lacrymis, remitte indulgentiæ tuæ: ne torseris ilium, ne torseris etiam te. Torqueris enim, quum tam lenis irasceris. Vereor, ne videar non rogare, sed cogere, si precibus ejus meas junxero. Jungam tamen tanto plenius et effusius, quanto ipsum acrius severiusque corripui, destricte minatus nunquam me postea rogaturum. Hoc illi, quem terreri oportebat, tibi non idem. Nam fortasse iterum rogabo, iterum impetrabo: sit modo tale, ut rogare me, ut præstare te deceat. Vale.”
[It is not easy to transfer the peculiar elegance of this composition to another language. The following version (taken from an anonymous source) possesses at least the merit of being somewhat close to the original. There may be a doubt respecting the exact force of two or three expressions:]

C. Plinius to his friend Sabinianus, Greeting:

“A freedman of yours, whom you had said you were angry with, came to me, and, prostrating himself at my feet, as if at your own, clung to them. He wept much, and begged much; much of the time, too, he was silent; in fine, he gave me a confidence of his penitence. I believe him to be truly amended, because he is sensible that he has been delinquent. You are angry, I know;, and you are angry with reason; that, too, I know; but the glory of clemency is greatest, when the cause of anger is most just. You have loved the man, and I hope will love him; meanwhile, it is sufficient that you suffer yourself to be entreated. You shall be at liberty to be angry again, if he should deserve it; which, having shown yourself exorable, you will the more excusably do. Remit somewhat to his youth, remit somewhat to his tears, remit somewhat to your own indulgent disposition: do not torture him, lest you torture also yourself; for you are tortured, when, lenient as you are, you are angry. I fear lest I may seem, not to ask, but to compel, if to his prayers I add my own. Nevertheless, I shall add them the more fully and freely, inasmuch as I have sharply and severely reproved him, having strictly threatened never hereafter to intercede with you. This (I said) to him, whom it was proper to alarm, but not the same (do I promise) to you (viz., that I will not ask again). For, perhaps I shall again ask, and again obtain; let it be only such as it may become me to ask, and you to grant. Farewell.”]
It appears from a subsequent letter, that this request of friendship was favorably received. Pliny writes again with reference to the same subject:
“Bene fecisti, quod libertum, aliquando tib carum, reducentibus epistolis meis, in domum, in animum recepisti. Juvabit hoc te, me certe juvat, primum quod te talem video, ut in ira regi possis, deinde quod tantum mihi tribuis, ut vel auctoritati meæ pareas, vel precibus indulgeas,” &c.
[“You have done well in receiving back to your house, your heart, a freedman once dear to you, in compliance with my letters. This will gratify you—it certainly does me—first, that I see you to be one who can be governed in anger; in the next place, that you concede so much to me as either to obey my authority or to yield to entreaties,” &c.—H.]
Though this case was that of a libertus, and not a servns, so that there was no actual sending back of a fugitive, but only a reconciliation between the freedman and his master; yet it is evident, from a comparison of the two letters of Pliny with that of Paul, that transactions like the one before us often took place in ancient times; and that the Apostle planted himself on a right and a feeling entirely human in his appeal to Philemon in behalf of Onesimus. At the same time, it is evident that the motives which he employs as a Christian to incite Philemon to perform this duty of love, are far nobler and stronger than those which the philanthropic Roman could urge from his position, when he stood forth as precator.

3. The letter to Philemon is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the character of Paul, and a striking proof how great a proficient he himself was in the practice of the love which he so highly commends in 1 Corinthians 13:0. It is the apparently little, in fact, which reveals here the truly great. What he says in this letter, as well as what he omits, is alike and specially adapted to the attainment of the object at which he aims. (See the exegetical remarks.) What delicacy not only in conduct, but in speech and thought, is manifest here, and at the same time what hearty earnestness in the cumulative force of his plea in behalf of the fugitive! Yet here, too, he denies by no means his incontestible authority. The thought comes out almost in spite of himself, as it were, between the lines of the Epistle: he who bows himself as a suppliant before Philemon, can as God’s messenger place himself above him. Though he requests now for love’s sake, yet he has great boldness (if he would use it) to enjoin and require that which is right. He does not mention, indeed, his apostolic rank; but he cherishes the lively confidence that his friend will obey him, if he speaks in the spirit of his Master (Philemon 1:21); and he terms himself a gift of grace (Philemon 1:22) if he is restored to the believers in answer to their prayers. On the other hand, he stoops as low as possible, even to the deep-sunken Onesimus, and with an altogether different feeling in his heart from that with which Pliny pities the guilty libertus of Sabinianus. In all this the Apostle shows how faith bears in itself the power of a true refinement, a culture of heart and character such as need not shrink for a moment from comparison with the boasted model of antiquity (Pliny), and, while it mounts so much higher, includes the homo sum, nil humani a me alienum, in the evident sense of the words. [Dr. Newman (quoted in Howson’s Lectures, p. 78) says, “There is not any one of those refinements and delicacies of feeling, which are the result of advanced civilization, not any one of those proprieties and embellishments of conduct, in which the cultivated intellect delights, but Paul is a pattern of it, in the midst of that assemblage of other supernatural excellencies which is the common endowment of apostles and saints.”—H.]

4. The history of Onesimus is a pertinent example of the power of Divine grace, and of the activity of that all-comprehending Providence which is so entirely special as well as universal. His experience is that of the lost son who was sunk in deep misery, but was rescued in a wonderful manner. He had gone to Rome, in order to find there a safe place of refuge, but finds in Paul, whom he apparently meets by accident, a guide in the way of eternal life, and from a slave of sin becomes at the same time a prisoner and freedman of Christ. Another debt still which rests upon him is cancelled besides that for which Paul stands as surety with his offended master; and the temporal loss of Philemon became for both master and servant an eternal gain. Here again the Apostle’s word is verified (Romans 11:33-36): “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor ? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

5. This little Epistle serves also an apologetic purpose, which adds not a little to its value. The criticism of the Tübingen school affirms still that only four Epistles of Paul at the utmost (Romans , 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians) are raised above all doubt of their genuineness. We will go still further, and for a moment assume that we must even give up these four, and that, instead of them, we have left to us only this short letter to Philemon. Is it not remarkable, that even out of this brief letter relating to a private affair the main contents of the apostolic gospel may in substance be derived? As regards the person of Christ, Paul names Him here also κύριος, the same appellative, therefore, which is given to Jehovah in the Old Testament. He implores grace and peace from Him no less than from the Father. So, too, as faith elsewhere is required toward God, here it is as exercised toward Christ; and at the close, it is His grace alone to which Philemon is commended. Truly, no foundation-stones for a Socinian or Arian Christology. The way to eternal life also is no other than that which is elsewhere pointed out to us. Philemon is praised on account of his faith, and the significant expression in Christ Jesus occurs here oftener than any other. And that conversion is absolutely inseparable from this faith,—how clearly does this appear from the little which Paul says respecting Onesimus! He does not appeal to good resolutions which perhaps the fugitive has formed; he has not merely a quiet hope that he has become a better man: no, it is as a new creature whom he himself has begotten in his bonds, that he sends him back to his master. It is only as one converted, that Onesimus is now useful; that he has become a brother, is now united forever with Philemon. All this confirms the truth of the word: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And, finally, could the fruit of faith and conversion, the love which embraces all, and never perishes,—could it be made more strikingly manifest than in this brief private letter! So this entire Epistle, brief as it is, is a new witness to the truth of the declaration: “The gospel a power of God unto salvation through faith” (Romans 1:16).

6. In the same impressive way this letter sets before us what the communion of the Holy Spirit is, and how much this communion may effect. In a prison the Apostle feels himself happy; and precisely there where one would expect to find so many endless causes for complaint, joyful thanksgiving is the offering of his lips. While he bears upon his heart the needs of the whole Jewish and heathen world, there is still room in his heart for a single fugitive slave, whom he commends with the warmest love, and at the same time, though without wishing it directly, he by his own conduct presents himself as the most shining example of love to those whom he incites to proofs of love. Among the inmates of the house of Philemon, on the other hand, by the presence again of the same spirit, a church has been founded, of which the different members form the living members,—a church, the like of which there has never been in the heathen world. Between this family at Colossæ and that prisoner at Rome exists an inner community of faith, love, and prayer, by which their hearts meet each other and flow together, although as to the body they are separated by seas and mountains. Is not all this an excellent proof of what the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (κοινωνία τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος) avails in houses and hearts (in Häusern und Hertzen)?

7. “Just as Christ has done for us toward God, so Paul does for Onesimus toward Philemon. For Christ also has emptied Himself of His right, and with love and humility overcome the Father, so that He must lay aside His anger and right, and receive us to favor for Christ’s sake, who so earnestly represents us, and receives us so heartily to Himself. For we are all like Onesimus, if we believe” (Luther’s Preface).

8. What is said of Onesimus, that before his conversion he was very unprofitable, but afterwards was very profitable, applies still, mutatis mutandis, to every converted sinner.


Paul, a striking illustration how free a bondman of Jesus Christ can be.—The imprisonment of Paul, alleviated by the power of faith, love, and hope.—The Christian household: 1. Its constituents; 2. its privileges; 3. its enjoyments.—“See how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalms 133:0).—Christians are called to be partners in a common warfare.—Peace: 1. The highest gift of grace; 2. a gift of grace; 3. a gift which we cannot heartily and earnestly enough desire for one another.—Intercession for others a duty of Christian love.—“Pray for one another” (James 5:16): 1. The power; 2. the right; and 3. the reward of this command.—The good which we hear of others should incite us not to praise them in their presence, but to glorify God.—Faith in Christ and love toward all the saints in the nature of the case inseparable from each other.—No happier fellowship than the fellowship of faith.—It is not enough that there be faith in us; it must also show itself efficient.—Per fidem ad intellectum.—The life of living faith, a service of love to the saints.—How much more desirable is it also now for the servant of the gospel to request through love, than to command in a lofty tone.—How well does this principle, viz., that of beseeching “for love’s sake” (Philemon 1:8, &c.), agree with the spirit of the gospel and of Protestantism; comp. 2 Corinthians 1:24.—Agreement and diversity between the authority of the Apostles and that of later teachers.—Even in sad times God sometimes gives to His own fairer days: to the imprisoned Paul He gives Onesimus as a son.—How far it can still be said of every converted sinner: formerly unprofitable, but now profitable.—Justice and love united in Paul in a remarkable manner.—“Pectus est, quod disertos facit.”—Not all that the Christian might perhaps wish to do, and in strict right could do, may he therefore do.—[Rev. J. Trapp: Posse et nolle nobile est. He that goes to the utmost of his chain may possibly break a link. Concedamus de jure ut careamus lite. Part with somewhat for peace’ sake (Augustine).—H.]—The truly good, in the eyes of God also, is that which is done not by constraint, but willingly.—Good educed out of evil, under God’s guidance (Genesis 50:20).—Brief separation even for the Christian the way to eternal reunion.—In Christ, a slave brought to true freedom, a freeman bound in the chains of love and obedience.—Paul, the pattern of a conscientious soul-seeker, and such toward Philemon while he pleads the cause of Onesimus.—True love, when required, ready also to make sacrifices.—The true Christian called to be honorable and scrupulously faithful in the little as well as great.—Towards no creature have we higher obligations than toward those to whom, next to God, we owe the life of our souls (Philemon 1:10).—[Rev. J. Trapp: Even Alexander could say that he owed more to Aristotle that taught him, than to Philip, that begat him.—H.]—The Christian’s calling to heighten the earthly joy, especially of suffering servants and friends of the Lord.—The power and the limit of Christian confidence; comp. 2 Corinthians 7:16.—The duty of Christian hospitality (Philemon 1:22).—Intercession for others at the same time a source of the richest blessing for ourselves.—How the grace of Christ binds together hearts, even though time and space keep them asunder.

Starke: Langii Op.: Anti-Christian Rome (see RePhm Philemon 1:17-18) still does that which heathen Rome did; and Paul has yet many brethren among the witnesses of the truth who are in chains and bonds for the name of Christ. That the Lord suffers all this to take place belongs to the mystery of the cross.—Children of God have among them no name which recognizes more distinctly the ground of their common kindredship, or is dearer to themselves, than the name of brethren! But how few are such true brethren in spirit! All public teachers call one another by this name; but notwithstanding the outward appellation, how far from the reality are they for the most part; so that Paul and Timothy, if they should come among such, would not recognize them as brethren.—Paul acknowledged his own weakness, since he did not trust himself to do everything alone, but employed others also, humble persons, for the service of the church. So at the present day there are such true helpers, out of the teacher’s office, in other situations, who make it a joy to themselves to assist in various ways to promote the honor of God.—A Christian should no more be ashamed of the bonds of Christ, than a soldier is of the wounds which he has received in battle.—Teachers especially should not shun to confirm their testimony by suffering.—Christians are workers, and not idlers.—Paul terms Apphia the beloved as well as Philemon, which shows that they lived in holy wedlock, and both feared God.—Women art often the instruments of winning unbelieving husbands to Christ: how much more can they be helpers to strengthen those who believe, and encourage them in what is good.

Osiander: The preacher’s office is a spiritual knighthood, by which Christ’s kingdom is enlarged, but that of Satan assaulted and destroyed. So Christians also are fellow-combatants, who by hearty prayer help forward the kingdom of the Redeemer.—It is a duty which rests on all fathers of families, so to instruct those under them in the knowledge of God, that their house may rightfully be named a church.—Every one should strive that the house in which he dwells may be a Bethel, a house of God, and not a Bethaven, a house of sin.—Grace and peace belong together, and cannot be separated.

Langii Opp.: Paul teaches by his example that one may mention particular persons and churches by name in prayer before God. If the Apostle had not been in the true spirit of love, it would have been irksome to him to repeat so many names when he prayed. This intercession is a special part of the communion of the saints, and secures this blessing, that we may have in return the comfort of the prayers of other Christians, and especially of the great intercession of Christ: for we are often in such circumstances that we can hardly pray ourselves.—Hast thou, believing Christian, no lands, goods, money, friends of thine own, yet thou canst call God thy possession, and sing with David (Psalms 16:5-6): “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.”—Children of God hear the praise of another not only with patience, but with pleasure, and praise the Lord for such grace; comp. Philemon 1:4 and Galatians 1:23-24.

Hedinger: Faith without love is only a conceit, and love without faith is a mere work of nature.—Bibl. Würt.: He who loves one and hates another, has not a pure love, but is partial (James 2:1).—Believers have much good within them, and much also externally among them. God be praised, who creates and works all good everywhere.—Believers have, in their suffering, no better consolation than that which they receive from the love and good conduct of others.—Under trials of the cross, God raises up a Philemon to refresh the believer, or a Simon to bear the burden with him.—[Onesiphorus sought out the captive Paul at Rome, and “was not ashamed of his chain,” and had as his reward the prayers of an Apostle (2 Timothy 1:16).—H.]—He who bears the teacher’s office, should reprove and teach, not in his own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ.—Love binds together more than commands.—Christian prudence requires that we consider not only what is allowed, but also what is useful (Philemon 1:8; 1 Corinthians 10:23).—An old man, long tried in the service, who still follows Christ and suffers persecution on that account, deserves, above others, that we honor and obey him (1 Peter 5:6).—[Rev. J. Trapp: Old age and honor are in the Greek tongue very near akin: γῆρας et γέρας. The old, when found in the way of righteousness, are like flowers which have their roots perfect when themselves are withering; like roses, that keep a sweet fragrance though they lose their color.—H.]—The sufferings of a servant of Christ should increase rather than diminish the respect due to him.—Teachers have a hearty affection for those who have been won to Christ through their labors.

Hedinger: A sinner converted—where? In bonds. Happy change! Deed worthy of all praise! Such is the power of God’s love, and the love of a true teacher. The former receives willingly the penitent offender; the latter seeks to save the lost on every occasion, most of all in prison, in the face of death itself.—Bibl. Würt.: Men may bind and fetter the body, but the word of God cannot be bound (2 Timothy 2:9).—No place is so inconvenient that one should not find an opportunity to speak or write a word of exhortation (Acts 28:31). Christ preached on the cross, and converted a malefactor.—In what was Onesimus useful to Paul? (1) In this, that he made him happy by his conversion; (2) because he served him with Christian fidelity in the bonds of the gospel (Philemon 1:13); (3) Onesimus could now, by his consolation, quicken and support the Apostle after the example of the Romans (Romans 1:12).—If sin has been strong in a man before conversion, grace must be still stronger after conversion.—Grace must be acknowledged in the poor as well as in the rich; faith suffers no respect of persons. The diamond retains its lustre, though it lie on a dunghill.—In the church there should be a mutual coöperation between the highest and the lowest members (1 Peter 4:10).—Though servants of the gospel are bound, the gospel has yet a free course (Philippians 1:14).—[Judson had hardly begun his labors in Burmah, before he was cast into prison, and was kept six months in three pairs of fetters, two months in four, six months in one, and was two months a prisoner at large. And to-day Burmah has the Bible in its own language; churches are springing up in every province, and native preachers are the pastors and missionaries. We may already count the converts, who are the fruits of this fettered ministry, by thousands and tens of thousands.—H.]—Harmony of will between believers is praiseworthy and beautiful, and serves to edify and establish in the Lord.—God sometimes takes away a little comfort, that He may give back to us one better and more abiding.—Spiritual fellowship and union have a great advantage over that which is natural.—In the kingdom where Christ is Head and King, all distinction ceases, and in the body of Christ the greatest has no more dignity on worldly grounds than the least.—A great saint in his humility will be no more than one who stands far below him (Luke 22:26).—He who sincerely loves Christ, loves Him as well in Onesimus as in Paul; and he who does not love him in Onesimus, does not love him in Paul.

Cramer: Every Christian should pray for every other, and take him to his heart, not in word merely, but in deed. If it were possible to save him at that expense, his own blood—life itself—should not be grudged.—[Some of the Moravian missionaries sold themselves into slavery, that they might preach to slaves.—H.]

Hedinger: True love is prodigal. Mark you what I mean? It gives, lends, promises, is often willing, if good may be done, to be cheated.—Bibl. Würt.: It is a sacred obligation which binds the convert to him who has converted him, and cannot be discharged by worldly goods (Galatians 6:6-7).—Food and drink cannot so refresh a hungry man, as the true teacher is refreshed when he sees his word bringing forth fruit in others.—Believers stand in the closest and most intimate communion with Christ: they in Him, and He in them, and with al their works (John 17:21-23).

Starke: There must be confidence and trust in all prayer and petition: doubting obtains nothing (James 1:6-7).—Bibl. Würt.: Sincere love does more good than is desired (Philemon 1:21): it lets its rivulet flow more richly than the thirsty need (2 Corinthians 8:3-4).—Every one should so exemplify his Christianity, as not to cause others, especially honest teachers, to be put to shame for the good opinion which they have formed of him (2 Corinthians 9:3-4).—Christians should be lovers of hospitality (Hebrews 13:2); should also entertain and assist preachers (Matthew 10:14).—An honest teacher is a gift of God’s-grace (Ephesians 4:8-11).—It is a great consolation, if we are put in prison, that it is not for any misdeed, but the testimony of Christ.—The preacher’s work is heavy to bear; happy they who have true helpers!—In the matter of Christianity, all depends on the grace of the Lord Jesus; Christ all and in all (Colossians 3:11).

Lisco (Philemon 1:1-7): In what way a Christian seeks to make a request heard by a Christian (Philemon 1:9).—How the communion of saints consists in the common unity of a faith which is active in love.—An acknowledgment of the good which we have in Christ, an important means of strengthening faith (Philemon 1:8-10).—From what motives Paul desires the pardon of Onesimus.—The work of redeeming love: (1) It seeks the lost sinner; (2) it represents him with the Father; (3) it brings him back to the arms of the Father.—Interceding love: (1) How love prays; (2) what it secures.—Christians left to act freely (Philemon 1:14), and yet bound to each other as brethren; and, because they trust in Christ (Philemon 1:5), may trust each other (Philemon 1:21).

Lavater (Sermons on the Epistle to Philemon, St. Gallen, 1785, in two volumes): The different kinds of greetings and salutations: (1) Joab-greetings and Judas-kisses; (2) greetings of derision and scorn; (3) cold, empty-hearted greetings; (4) greetings and wishes of natural love; (5) Christian greetings.—Palmer: Theme for a funeral discourse (Philemon 1:15).—F. W. Krummacher (Sabbathglocke, 1, S. 209): a sermon on the whole Epistle, with the theme: Primitive Christianity.—What this letter teaches: (1) Concerning the person of Christ; (2) concerning the salvation of the world; (3) the way of salvation; (4) the kingdom of Christ; and (5) the authority of the apostolic word.—J. J. Van Oosterzee: The Epistle to Philemon an important contribution: (1) For our Christian knowledge, (a) respecting a little church, (b) respecting a great Apostle, (c) respecting a relation altogether peculiar, which existed between the two; (2) for our Christian faith, (a) in the operation of God’s providence, (b) in the divinity of the gospel, (c) in the powerful working of the Holy Spirit; (3) for our Christian life, and especially (a) for our personal, (b) for our domestic, and (c) for our social or common life.

Rochat (Philemon 1:4): “La disposition de rendre grace à Dieu pour les autres est une des marques des plus sûres de la charité. Dans les actions de grace, que nous rendons pour le bien, que Dieu nous fait ou qu’il fait par notre moyen, il peut facilcment se glisser un sentiment d’egoisme ou d’orgueil. Mais quand nous pouvons sincérement rendre grace à Dieu pour les dons, qu’il a fait à nos frères, lors méme que ces dons nous laissent en arrière de ceux auxquels ils ont été accordés, alors nous pouvons croire, que nous avons véritablement la charité, qui n’est point envieuse, et que nous avons vraiment cœur l’avancement du regne de Dieu, puisque nous sommes aussi contents de le voir dans les autres et par les autres, qu’en nous et par nous.”

[Translation: “The disposition to give thanks to God for others is one of the surest marks of a true love, or charity. In the giving of thanks, which we render for good which God does to us, or which He does through our means, it is easy for a feeling of egoism or of pride to insinuate itself. But when we are able to give thanks to God for the gifts which He has granted to our brethren, even when these gifts cause us to fall behind those on whom they are bestowed, we may then believe that we have truly the charity which envies not, and that we have sincerely at heart the advancement of God’s kingdom, since we are as content to see this take place in others and by others, as in us and by us.—H.]

Kühne: Onesimus was a servant (Knecht), and became a brother beloved, and yet remained a servant in the Lord Christ Jesus. Christianity does not abolish the differences of external condition. The sacred rule in regard to such relations is that laid down in 1 Corinthians 7:20-24. What Christianity requires, is: Let every one command in Christ, and let every one obey in Christ. Where the commanding and the obeying are in the Lord, the commanding and the obeying easily adjust themselves to each other. But how seldom do we find such a beautiful, happy household! Alas, the commanding and the obeying in the Lord have become so rare among us, because so many masters and so many servants have broken away from the Lord, from the purity of the faith, &c.—These Bible-lessons are especially rich in illustrative examples from the history of the church and of missions. In the annals of the latter particularly, the practical pastor will find striking parallels to the history of Paul and Onesimus.

[Relation of this Episle to Slavery.—On the relation of this Epistle to the subject of slavery, the following opinions represent the general sense of Christian writers:

Neander: “Among those social relations which were alien to the nature of Christianity, and which Christianity found existing at the time of its first propagation, belonged slavery. By the estrangement of humanity from God, its original unity was disturbed. Mankind, destined to be one, split asunder into a multitude of nations, each striving to assert itself as the whole, and each taking an opposite direction to the other in its course of development. Thus the consciousness of possessing a common human worth was lost; and it became possible for man to be placed in that relation to his fellow in which nature alone should stand to humanity, and his own nature to the individual. A relation so unnatural could find its justification only by assuming the position, that the difference among nations, which took place at a later period, and originated in sin—that difference, by virtue of which there exists so great a disparity of intellectual and moral power, was something original. Hence men could no longer recognize the fundamental identity of human nature, and believed one class destined by nature itself to be the tools of another, and without any will of their own. Thus was this relation a necessary result of the position held by antiquity, when state and nation constituted the absolute form for the realization of the highest good; and thus it could happen that the nation which was most ardent for civil liberty, still employed thousands only as slaves. And though their situation was often rendered more tolerable through the influence of manners and the pure sentiments of humanity—which, breaking through unnatural restraints, would introduce heartier fellowship between master and slave—yet the contradiction between this whole relation and man’s essential dignity could not be thus set aside; and in general it still continued to be the habit to regard slaves, not as men gifted with the same rights as all others, but as things. …

“But Christianity brought about that change in the consciousness of humanity, from which a dissolution of this whole relation, though it could not be immediately effected, yet, by virtue of the consequences resulting from that change, must eventually take place. This effect Christianity produced, first by the facts of which it was a witness, and next by the ideas which, by occasion of these facts, it set in circulation. By Christ, the Saviour, belonging to all mankind, the antagonisms of men resulting from sin were annulled; by Him the original oneness was restored. These facts must now continue to operate in transforming the life of mankind. Masters, as well as servants, were obliged to acknowledge themselves the servants of sin, and to receive in the same manner, as a gift of God’s free grace, their deliverance from this common bondage—the true, the highest freedom. Servants and masters, if they had become believers, were brought together under the same bond of a heavenly union, destined for immortality; they became brethren in Christ, in whom there is neither bond nor free, members of one body, baptized into one spirit, heirs of the same heavenly inheritance. Servants often became teachers of their masters in the gospel, after having practically exhibited before them the loftiness of a divine life, which must express itself even under the most constraining of relations, and shine forth the more conspicuously from the contrast. The masters looked upon their servants no longer as slaves, but as their beloved brethren; they prayed and sang in company; they could sit at each others side at the feast of brotherly love, and receive together the body of the Lord. Thus, by the spirit and by the effects of Christianity, ideas and feelings could not fail of being widely diffused, which were directly opposed to this relation, so consonant with the habits of thinking that had hitherto prevailed. Christianity could not fail to give birth to the wish, that every man might be placed in such a relation as would least hinder the free and independent use of his in tellectual and moral powers according to the will of God. Hence the Apostle Paul, speaking to the servant, says (1 Corinthians 7:21): ‘If thou mayst be made free, use it rather.’ Yet Christianity nowhere began with outward changes and revolutions, which, in all cases where they have not been prepared from within, and are not based upon conviction, fail of their salutary ends. The new creation to which Christianity gave birth, was in all respects an inward one, from which the outward effects gradually, and therefore more surely and healthfully, unfolded themselves to their full extent.”—History of the Christian Religion and Church, vol. 1, p. 267 sq., Dr. Torrey’s “Translation.”

Rev. F. D. Maurice: “ ‘Christianity,’ said Mr Canning, in one of the debates upon the emancipation of the West Indian slaves, ‘grew up amidst the scenes of tyranny which are described in the Sixth Satire of Juvenal. It recognized the institution of slavery. How can it be said to be essentially adverse to that institution?’ This question ought to be fairly met. What is the answer? The Epistle to Philemon, I think, supplies it. St. Paul, in his letters to the churches, had not proclaimed that slaves were free from their masters—had not insisted on masters dismissing their slaves; he had simply said that they were brothers. Here he explains that position. He calls upon a master to receive back a runaway slave, as both a servant and a brother. He might, he says, command him to do this as an Apostle; but he begs it for the love of Christ, and for the love which Philemon bears to him, the bondman of Christ, because such entreaties are mightier than commands. Here is the method of the Apostle, and of the Church, for destroying slavery. They strike at the root of it, by proclaiming that a man can never be a thing, a chattel. But they strike not merely at a particular arrangement which has introduced that accursed notion and canonized it, but at every other which interferes with the recognition of God’s Fatherhood and Christ’s Brotherhood, and with the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in men, to the end that their true manhood may be called forth in them.”—Unity of the New Testament, pp. 658, 689.

E. de Pbrssensé: “Christianity is reproached with not having immediately proclaimed the abolition of slavery. It is forgotten that it would thus have confounded two spheres which it was important for it always to distinguish, especially at the first steps of its progress in the world; it would have left the religious for the civil sphere. It could not enter the latter without exposing itself to all the perils, fluctuations, and risks of the use of material force. From a moral, it would become a political power; it would abdicate its true royalty, and, for the sake of a doubtful change prematurely wrought, it would lose that eternal power of reformation which it possesses, for the renewal of individuals and of societies at every epoch. It no more approved slavery than it approved polygamy and the Roman law of divorce; but it sent into the world the principle which was to abolish these institutions so radically hostile to the ethics of the gospel, and it defined this principle with sufficient clearness, in the matter of slavery, for one to recognize that it morally abolished it, as far as was possible for it, without departing from its proper domain. At first, the relations of masters and slaves were regulated in conformity to the laws of justice. The former were to remember that they had a Master in heaven, and the latter to reassert their dignity as men by making their obedience subjection to God. But more: Paul distinctly declared, that in Jesus Christ there was no longer slave, nor freeman; that is, that every human being has an equal right before God. The possession of man by man is, by the same declaration, immoral, an attack upon the rights of Christ’s redeemed, and incompatible with the doctrine of redemption, and of equality, which is its result. Nor was Paul content with stating these principles; he applied them. His Epistle to Philemon is the virtual declaration of freedom of the Christian slave. He returns Onesimus to his master as a brother in the faith, as his own son, and he demands that he be received as himself. Ἐμοῦ τέκνου ὃν ἐγέννησα, αὐτόν, τοῦτἔστι τὰ ἐμὰ σπλάγχνα (Phil. 10, 12). Such words have done more to break the fetters of the slave than the shouts of revolt and the outbursts of indignation on the part of the oppressed; for they declare that the slave who, yesterday, turned the mill in the fields, or served his master as a beast of burden, without ever meeting a look of affection, now sits with him at the table of love, breaks with him the bread of communion, and drinks of the same cup of blessing; he goes through the same trials and persecutions; he is treated by him as a brother, as being a member of the same church. If it is remembered what was their condition some years before, it will be found that a mighty change, which was to introduce all the others, has been wrought. Add to this, that St. Paul was not content with proclaiming the equality of men before God in Jesus Christ; he declared positively that the Christian should be freed outwardly, as he had been morally. He gives the slave advice not to neglect the opportunity of escaping from the state of slavery, as often as it was offered. Εἰ καὶ δύνασα ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι, μᾶλλον χρῆσαι (1 Corinthians 7:21). This advice has great significancy, especially if we take into account the moderation of language necessary in so delicate a question, which could be rendered social and political by a single imprudent word.”—Histoire des Trois Premiers Siècles, ii pp. 274–276.—H.]

Dr. Schaff: “Slavery is the robbing an immortal man, created in the image of God, of his free personality, degrading him into an article of merchandise, a mere machine of his owner, and thereby hindering the development of his intellectual and moral powers, and the attainment of the higher end of his existence. For this heathenism had no remedy. On the contrary, the most distinguished heathens justified this immoral and unnatural state of things, by assuming an original and essential distinction between the ruling and the serving classes.... Christianity has provided the only means for delivering man from the inward and most cruel bondage of sin, the bitter root of all wrong social relations, slavery and despotism among the rest, and for the radical cure, therefore, of the evil in question. It confirms, in the first place, the Old Testament doctrine of the original unity of the human race, and its descent from a single pair. Then it asserts the perfect equality of men in the highest, spiritual view, in their relation to Christ, who has redeemed all, even the poorest and meanest, with His blood, and called them to the same glory and blessedness. In Christ all earthly distinctions are inwardly abolished. In Him there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female; all form one ideal person in Him, the common Head (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). On the one hand, therefore, the Christian master is a servant of Christ, with whom there is no respect of persons, and he ought always to be conscious of this dependence, and of the responsibility it involves (Ephesians 6:9). On the other, the slave is by faith a freedman of Christ, in the blessed possession of the only true liberty, that of the children of God, and thus, even though remaining in his bonds, he is raised above them; while the richest prince, without faith, is but a miserable slave of sin and death. Hence the master should look upon his servant as also his brother in Christ, and treat him accordingly (Phil. 16, 17); the servant should obey, not as the slave of man, but for the sake of the Lord.... By this view the distinction of master and slave is at once inwardly obliterated and deprived of its sting, even where it outwardly remains. This we see already in the case of Onesimus. For while St Paul does not deny the legal relation between master and slave, he changes it at the same time, by the spirit of Christian communion, into a free patriarchal service, which must necessarily result at last in a change also of the legal relation. He sent Onesimus back to Philemon, “no longer as a slave, but as a brother beloved” (Philemon 1:16), and delicately hinted at his emancipation. Christianity is so spiritual and universal, that it can exert its power in all conditions and relations, and turn, as by magic, even the hut of deepest misery into a heaven of peace and joy. Thus there are now slaves, who, through their virtue and piety, are infinitely freer than their masters, and put them to shame, or become, as in former ages, instruments of their conversion. On the other hand, a true Christian, who comes into possession of slaves by inheritance, will never treat them as slaves in the proper sense, but as free servants, with all love and kindness; he will seek in every way to promote their moral and religious culture, even if circumstances, for which he is not personally answerable, should make their formal emancipation for the time impracticable. But of course this alone is not enough. All that is inward, must, in the end, work itself out, and fully establish itself as an outward fact in actual life. So Paul expressly says to the slave: ‘But if thou mayest be made free, use it rather’ (1 Corinthians 7:21). Hence the spirit and genius of Christianity.… will not rest, till, by the power of redemption, all the chains which sin has forged shall be broken, till the personal and eternal dignity of man shall be universally acknowledged, and the idea of evangelical freedom and fraternal fellowship perfectly realized.”—History of the Apostolic Church (N. Y., 1853), pp. 455, 459, 460. Comp. also Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, vol. i. (N. Y., 1859), pp. 315 ff, and vol. ii. (N. Y., 1867), p. 115 ff.—H.]



Philemon 1:22; Philemon 1:22.—[The imperative, as present, ἐτοίμαζε, be preparing, intimates that Paul expected to arrive soon, and would have the preparation for his reception made promptly.—Ἐλπίζω means I hope, and not I trust, which is the proper rendering of πέποιθα, as in Philemon 1:21. This inaccuracy of the English Version reaches back to Tyndale. Spero of the Vulgate preserved Wiclif and the Rheims translators from that inadvertence. Fifteen other instances of this same error (that of saying trust where it should be hope) occur in the English Scriptures.—H.]

Philemon 1:23; Philemon 1:23.—Ἀσπάζεται, not ἀσπάζονται, as in the received Greek text. [Of course the verb as singular agrees with the nearest noun, and is repeated before the others; comp. John 18:15; John 20:3. See Winer, Gramm. §47, 2.—H.]

Philemon 1:24; Philemon 1:24.—[Marcus should be Mark, in conformity with the English Version in Acts 12:12; Acts 12:25; Acts 15:39; 2 Timothy 4:11. Again, Lucas should be Luce, as in Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11. The English reader might otherwise suppose that a different person was intended.—H.]

Philemon 1:25; Philemon 1:25.—[Ἀμήν is probably not genuine. It was a liturgic word, and is attached to some of the other epistles also, as a response of the congregation. It appears in all the English Versions from Wiclif onward, but, being no part of the text, should be dropped. See Mr. Abbot’s note under “Amen” in Dr. Smith’s “Bible Dictionary,” Amer. ed.—H.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Philemon 1". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.