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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Philemon 1

Verse 1

A prisoner of Christ Jesus (δεσμιος Χριστου Ιησου). As verse Philemon 1:9 and in Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1. Old adjective from δεσμος (bond, δεω, to bind). Apparently used here on purpose rather than αποστολος as more effective with Philemon and a more touching occasion of pride as Paul writes with his manacled right hand.

Timothy (Τιμοθεος). With Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:22) and probably known to Philemon. Associated with Paul also in I and II Thess., II Cor., Philipp., Col.

To Philemon (Φιλημον). A resident of Colossae and a convert of Paul's (verse Philemon 1:19), perhaps coming to Ephesus while Paul was there when his ministry had so much influence over the province of Asia (Acts 19:9; Acts 19:26; 1 Corinthians 16:19). The name Philemon occurs in the legend of Baucis and Philemon (Ovid's Metamorphoses), but with no connection with the brother here. He was active in the church in Colossae ("our co-worker," συνεργω ημων) and was beloved (αγαπητω) by Paul.

Verse 2

To Apphia our sister (Απφια τη αδελφη). Dative case in address. A common name in Phrygian inscriptions and apparently the wife of Philemon. "Sister" is in the Christian sense.

To Archippus (Αρχιππω). Dative case in address. It is uncertain whether he is the son of Philemon or not. Apparently he is prominent in the church in Colossae, possibly even pastor, probably not in Laodicea as some understand Colossians 4:17 to imply.

Fellow-soldier (συνστρατιωτη). Old word, only here and Philippians 2:25 in N.T. In metaphorical sense. Perhaps while Paul was in Ephesus.

To the church in thy house (τη κατ' οικον σου εκκλησια). The church that met in the house of Philemon. In large cities there would be several meeting-places. Before the third century there is no certain evidence of special church buildings for worship (White, Exp. Grk. T.). See Acts 12:12 for Mary's house in Jerusalem, 1 Corinthians 16:19 for the house of Aquila and Prisca in Ephesus, Romans 16:5 for the house of Prisca and Aquila in Rome, Colossians 4:15 for the house of Nympha in Laodicea.

Verse 4

Always (παντοτε). Goes with ευχαριστω though so far away in the Greek sentence.

Making mention of thee (μνειαν σου ποιουμενος). See 1 Thessalonians 1:2 for this phrase.

In (επ). Upon the occasion of.

Verse 5

Hearing (ακουων). Through Epaphras (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 1:8; Colossians 4:12), possibly from Onesimus also.

And towards all the saints (κα εις παντας τους αγιους). He spoke of "thy love and faith" (σου την αγαπην κα την πιστιν) "towards the Lord Jesus" (προς τον Κυριον Ιησουν) and by a sort of momentum (Vincent) he carries both words over to the saints, though it can be explained as chiasm (Galatians 4:4) also.

Verse 6

That (οπως). Rather than the more common final particle ινα. Connected with μνειαν ποιουμενος.

The fellowship of thy faith (η κοινωνια της πιστεως σου). Partnership like Philippians 1:5 in (objective genitive, πιστεως).

Effectual (ενεργης). Common adjective, like ενεργος (at work), in N.T. only here, 1 Corinthians 16:9; Hebrews 4:12. Papyri use ενεργος of a mill in working order, of ploughed land, etc.

In you (εν υμιν). Some MSS. have εν ημιν (in us), itacism and common.

Verse 7

I had (εσχον). Ingressive second aorist active indicative of εχω, not ειχομην as the Textus Receptus has it. Paul refers to his joy when he first heard the good news about Philemon's activity (verse Philemon 1:5).

The hearts (τα σπλαγχνα). See Philippians 1:8 for this use of this word for the nobler viscera (heart, lungs, liver) and here for the emotional nature.

Have been refreshed (αναπεπαυτα). Perfect passive indicative of old compound verb αναπαυω as in Matthew 11:28, a relief and refreshment whether temporary (Mark 6:31) or eternal (Revelation 14:13).

Verse 8

Though I have (εχων). Concessive participle (present active).

That which is befitting (το ανηκον). Neuter singular accusative of the articular participle (present active) of ανηκω, to come up to requirements and so to be befitting. For idea in ανηκω, see Colossians 3:18; Ephesians 5:4. This idiom is in later writers.

I rather beseech (μαλλον παρακαλω). Rather than command (επιτασσω) which he has a perfect right to do.

Verse 9

Paul the aged (Παυλος πρεσβυτης). Paul is called νεανιας (a young man) at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58). He was perhaps a bit under sixty now. Hippocrates calls a man πρεσβυτης from 49 to 56 and γερων after that. The papyri use πρεσβυτης for old man as in Luke 1:18 of Zacharias and in Titus 2:2. But in Ephesians 6:20 Paul says πρεσβευω εν αλυσε (I am an ambassador in a chain). Hence Lightfoot holds that here πρεσβυτης = πρεσβευτης because of common confusion by the scribes between υ and ευ. In the LXX four times the two words are used interchangeably. There is some confusion also in the papyri and the inscriptions. Undoubtedly ambassador (πρεσβευτης) is possible here as in Ephesians 6:20 (πρεσβευω) though there is no real reason why Paul should not term himself properly "Paul the aged."

Verse 10

For my child (περ του εμου τεκνου). Tender and affectionate reference to Onesimus as his spiritual child.

Whom I have begotten in my bonds (ον εγεννησα εν τοις δεσμοις). First aorist active indicative of γενναω, to beget. See 1 Corinthians 4:15 for this figurative sense. Paul is evidently proud of winning Onesimus to Christ though a prisoner himself.

Verse 11

Onesimus (Ονησιμον). A common name among slaves and made like Chresimus, Chrestus. The word is from ονησις (profit) and that from ονινημ, to profit, to help.

Who was aforetime unprofitable to thee (τον ποτε σο αχρηστον). "The once to thee useless one." Play (pun) on the meaning of the name Onesimus (ονησιμος, useful) as once "useless" (αχρηστος, verbal adjective, α privative and χραομα, to use).

But now is profitable to thee and to me (νυν δε σο κα εμο ευχρηστον). "But now to thee and to me useful." Still further play on the name Onesimus by ευχρηστον (verbal adjective from ευ and χραομα, to use). Ethical dative here (σοι, εμο).

Verse 12

I have sent back (ανεπεμψα). Epistolary aorist. As it will look when Onesimus arrives.

In his own person (αυτον). "Himself," intensive pronoun with ον (whom).

My very heart (τα εμα σπλαγχνα). As in verse Philemon 1:7. He almost loves Onesimus as his own son.

Verse 13

I would fain have kept (εβουλομην κατεχειν). Imperfect middle and present infinitive, "I was wishing to hold back." Again from the standpoint of the arrival of Onesimus.

In thy behalf (υπερ σου). So "in thy stead," "in place of thee."

He might minister (διακονη). Present active subjunctive (retained after εβουλομην) with ινα, purpose continued, "that he might keep on ministering."

Verse 14

Without thy mind (χωρις της σης γνωμης). Judgment, purpose (1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 7:25). Ablative case with χωρις (apart from).

I would do nothing (ουδεν ηθελησα ποιησα). First aorist active indicative of θελω, I decided, I wished, decision reached (cf. εβουλομην in verse Philemon 1:13.

Thy goodness (το αγαθον σου). Neuter articular adjective (thy good deed).

As of necessity (ως κατα αναγκην). "As if according to compulsion." See 2 Corinthians 9:7.

But of free will (αλλα κατα εκουσιον). According to what is voluntary (Numbers 15:3). Perhaps τροπον (way, manner) is to be understood with the adjective εκουσιος (old word, here alone in N.T.), from εκων (1 Corinthians 9:17; Romans 8:20).

Verse 15

Perhaps (ταχα). Old adverb, in N.T. only here and Romans 5:7.

That thou shouldst have him (ινα αυτον απεχηις). Final clause with ινα and present active subjunctive of απεχω, to have back, "that thou might keep on having him back."

For ever (αιωνιον). "Eternal," here and hereafter. Surely a noble thing for Paul to say and a word that would touch the best in Philemon.

Verse 16

No longer as a servant (ουκετ ως δουλον). "No longer as a slave." So it has to be here. So it should be always. Paul sends Onesimus, the converted runaway slave, back to his legal master, but shows that he expects Philemon the Christian to treat Onesimus as a brother in Christ, not as a slave.

But more than a servant (αλλ' υπερ δουλον). "But beyond a slave."

A brother beloved (αδελφον αγαπητον). A brother in Christ.

How much rather to thee (ποσω δε μαλλον σο). "By how much more to thee," because of Philemon's legal ownership of this now Christian slave. "In the flesh Philemon had the brother for a slave; in the Lord he had the slave for a brother" (Meyer).

Verse 17

If then thou countest me a partner (ε ουν με εχεις κοινωνον). As I assume that you do, condition of the first class.

Receive him as myself (προσλαβου αυτον ως εμε). "Take him to thyself (indirect second aorist middle of προσλαμβανω as in Acts 18:26) as myself." Surpassing delicacy and consummate tact. These words sound the death-knell of human slavery wherever the spirit of Christ is allowed to have its way. It has been a long and hard fight to break the shackles of human bondage even in Christian countries and there are still millions of slaves in pagan and Mohammedan lands. Paul wrote these words with wisdom and courage and sincerity.

Verse 18

But if he hath wronged thee at all (ε δε τ ηδικησε σε). Condition of the first class, assumed to be true. Onesimus did wrong (ηδικησε, first aorist active indicative of αδικηο, to wrong, without justice). He had probably robbed Philemon before he ran away.

Or oweth (η οφειλε). Delicate way of putting the stealing.

Put that to mine account (τουτο εμο ελλογα). Present active imperative of ελλογαω. In the Koine verbs in -εω often appear in -αω like ελεεω, ελεαω. So with ελλογεω as ελλογαω, late verb in inscriptions and papyri (Deissmann, Light, etc., p. 84), though in N.T. only here and Romans 5:13. It means to set to one's account.

Verse 19

Write (εγραψα). Epistolary aorist.

With mine hand (τη εμη χειρ). Instrumental case and a note of hand that can be collected. See 2 Thessalonians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18.

I will repay it (εγω αποτισω). Future active indicative of αποτινω (αποτιω) to pay back, to pay off. The more usual word was αποδωσω. This is Paul's promissory note. Deissmann (Light, etc., p. 331) notes how many of the papyri are concerning debts.

That I say not (ινα μη λεγω). Neat idiom as in 2 Corinthians 9:4, delicately reminding Philemon that Paul had led him also to Christ.

Thou owest to me even thine own self besides (κα σεαυτον μο προσοφειλεις). Old verb, only here in N.T., Paul using the verb οφειλω of verse Philemon 1:18 with προς added. He used every available argument to bring Philemon to see the higher ground of brotherhood in Christ about Onesimus.

Verse 20

Let me have joy of thee (εγω σου οναιμην). Second aorist middle optative of ονινημ, old verb, only here in N.T. Optative the regular construction for a wish about the future. "May I get profit from thee in the Lord."

Refresh my heart in Christ (αναπαυσον μου τα σπλαγχνα εν Χριστω). See verse Philemon 1:7 for αναπαυσον (first aorist active imperative of αναπαυω) and σπλαγχνα (3 times in this letter, Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:20).

Verse 21

Obedience (υπακοη). "Compliance" seems less harsh to us in the light of Philemon 1:9.

I write (εγραψα). Epistolary aorist again.

Even beyond what I say (κα υπερ α λεγω). That can only mean that Paul "knows" (ειδως, second perfect active participle of οιδα) that Philemon will set Onesimus free. He prefers that it come as Philemon's idea and wish rather than as a command from Paul. Paul has been criticized for not denouncing slavery in plain terms. But, when one considers the actual conditions in the Roman empire, he is a wise man who can suggest a better plan than the one pursued here for the ultimate overthrow of slavery.

Verse 22

But withal (αμα δε). Along with your kindly reception of Onesimus. On αμα, see Acts 24:26; Acts 27:40.

A lodging (ξενιαν). Old word from ξενος, stranger. In N.T. only here and Acts 28:23.

I shall be granted unto you (χαρισθησομα υμιν). First future passive of χαριζομα. Used either as a favour as here and Acts 3:14 or for destruction (Acts 25:11).

Verse 23

Epaphras (Επαφρας). The Colossian preacher who apparently started the work in Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea, and who had come to Rome to enlist Paul's help in the fight against incipient Gnosticism in the Lycus Valley.

My fellow-prisoner (ο συναιχμαλωτος μου). See on Romans 16:7 for this word, also in Colossians 4:10. Used metaphorically like the verb αιχμαλωτιζω in 2 Corinthians 10:5, though some hold that Epaphras became a prisoner with Paul in Rome.

Verse 24

The other "co-workers" (συνεργο) here (Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke) are all named in detail in Colossians 4:10-14 with kindly words.

Verse 25

Grace (η χαρις). This great word occurred in the greeting (verse Philemon 1:3) as it does in the farewell.

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Philemon 1". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.