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1. A prisoner of Jesus Christ (desmiov). A prisoner for Christ's sake. This is the only salutation in which Paul so styles himself. The word is appropriate to his confinement at Rome. Apostle would not have suited a private letter, and one in which Paul takes the ground of personal friendship and not of apostolic authority. A similar omission of the official title occurs in the Epistles to the Thessalonians and Philippians, and is accounted for on the similar ground of his affectionate relations with the Macedonian churches. Contrast the salutation to the Galatians.
Timothy, our brother. Lit., the brother. Timothy could not be called an apostle. He is distinctly excluded from this office in 2 Cor. i. 1; Col. i. 1; compare Philip. i. 1. In Philippians and Philemon, after the mention of Timothy the plural is dropped. In Col. it is maintained throughout the thanksgiving only. The title brother is used of Quartus, Rom. xvi. 23; Sosthenes, 1 Cor. i. 1; Apollos, 1 Corinthians xvi. 12.
Philemon. An inhabitant, and possibly a native of Colossae in Phrygia. The name figured in the beautiful Phrygian legend of Baucis and Philemon, related by Ovid ("Metamorphoses," viii., 626 sqq. See note on Acts xiv. 11). He was one of Paul's converts (ver. 19), and his labors in the Gospel at Colossae are attested by the title fellow-laborer, and illustrated by his placing his house at the disposal of the Colossian Christians for their meetings (ver. 2). The statements that he subsequently became bishop of Colossae and suffered martyrdom are legendary.
2. Our beloved Apphia (Apfia th agaphth). Read th ajdelfh the (our) sister. Commonly supposed to have been Philemon's wife. The word is not the common Roman name Appia, but is a Phrygian name, occurring frequently in Phrygian inscriptions. It is also written Aphphia, and sometimes Aphia.
Archippus. Possibly the son of Philemon and Apphia. From Colossians iv. 17 he would appear to have held some important office in the church, either at Colossae or at Laodicaea, which lay very near. In Colossians his name occurs immediately after the salutation to the Laodicaeans.
The church in thy house. See on Rom. xvi. 5.
4. Thank - always. Construe with thank. For similar introductory thanksgivings compare Rom. i. 8; 1 Cor. i. 4; Eph. i. 16; Philip. i. 3; Col. i. 3; 1 Thess. i. 2; 2 Thess. i. 3. Making mention (mneian poioumenov). Mneia primarily means remembrance, so that the phrase expresses the two ideas, mentioning thee when I call thee to mind.
In my prayers (epi). On the occasions of.
Thy love and faith - toward (prov) the Lord Jesus and toward (eiv) all saints. The clauses are arranged crosswise, 209 love referring to saints, faith to Christ. Toward. Two different prepositions are thus translated. Practically the difference is not material, but prov toward, with pistiv faith is unusual. See 1 Thess. i. 8. Eijv is the preposition of contact; to, unto; faith exerted upon.
6. That (opwv). Connect with making mention.
The communication of thy faith (h koinwnia thv pistewv sou). Koinwnia fellowship is often used in the active sense of impartation, as communication, contribution, almsgiving. So Rom. xv. 26; 2 Corinthians ix. 13; Heb. xiii. 16. This is the sense here: the active sympathy and charity growing out of your faith.
May become effectual (energhv). See on Jas. v. 16. This adjective, and the kindred ejnergew to work, be effectual, ejnerghma working, operation, and ejnergeia energy, power in exercise, are used in the New Testament only of superhuman power, good or evil. Compare Eph. i. 19; Matt. xiv. 2; Philip. ii. 13; 1 Cor. xii. 10; Heb. iv. 12. In the knowledge (en epignwsei). In denotes the sphere or element in which Philemon's charity will become effective. His liberality and love will result in perfect knowledge of God's good gifts. In the sphere of christian charity he will be helped to a full experience and appropriation of these. He that gives for Christ's sake becomes enriched in the knowledge of Christ. Knowledge is full, perfect knowledge; an element of Paul's prayer for his readers in all the four epistles of the captivity. In you. Read in us.
In Christ Jesus (eiv Criston Ihsoun). Connect with may become effectual, and render, as Rev., unto Christ; that is, unto Christ's glory.
7. For we have (gar ecomen). Read escon I had. Connect with I thank in ver. 4, giving the reason for thankfulness as it lay in his own heart; as, in ver. 5, he had given the reason which lay in outward circumstances. Bowels (splagcna). Rev., hearts. See on 1 Pet. iii. 8.
8. Wherefore. Seeing that I have these proofs of thy love. Connect with I rather beseech (ver. 9).
I might be much bold (pollhn parrhsian ecwn). Better, as Rev., I have all boldness. ParjrJhsia boldness is opposed to fear, John vii. 13; to ambiguity or reserve, John xi. 14. The idea of publicity may attach to it as subsidiary, John vii. 4.
In Christ. As holding apostolic authority from Christ.
That which is convenient (to anhkon). Rev., befitting. Convenient is used in A.V., in the earlier and stricter sense of suitable. Compare Eph. v. 4. Thus Latimer: "Works which are good and convenient to be done." Applied to persons, as Hooper: "Apt and convenient persons." The modern sense merges the idea of essential fitness. The verb ajnhkw originally means to come up to; hence of that which comes up to the mark; fitting. Compare Col. iii. 18; Eph. v. 4. It conveys here a delicate hint that the kindly reception of Onesimus will be a becoming thing.
9. Being such an one as Paul the aged (toioutov wn wv Paulov presbuthv). Being such an one, connect with the previous I rather beseech, and with Paul the aged. Not, being such an one (armed with such authority), as Paul the aged I beseech (the second beseech in ver. 10); but, as Rev., for love's sake I rather beseech, being such an one as Paul the aged. The beseech in ver. 10 is resumptive. Aged; or ambassador (so Rev., in margin). The latter rendering is supported by presbeuw I am an ambassador, Eph. vi. 10. 210 There is no objection to aged on the ground of fact. Paul was about sixty years old, besides being prematurely aged from labor and hardship. For aged see Luke i. 18; Tit. ii. 2.
10. I beseech. Resuming the beseech of ver. 9. I beseech, I repeat. Onesimus (Onhsimon). The name is withheld until Paul has favorably disposed Philemon to his request. The word means helpful, and it was a common name for slaves. The same idea was expressed by other names, as Chresimus, Chrestus (useful); Onesiphorus (profit-bringer, 2 Timothy i. 16); Symphorus (suitable). Onesimus was a runaway Phrygian slave, who had committed some crime and therefore had fled from his master and hidden himself in Rome. Under Roman law the slave was a chattel. Varro classified slaves among implements, which he classifies as vocalia, articulate speaking implements, as slaves; semivocalia, having a voice but not articulating, as oxen; muta, dumb, as wagons. The attitude of the law toward the slave was expressed in the formula servile caput nullum jus habet; the slave has no right. The master's power was unlimited. He might mutilate, torture, or kill the slave at his pleasure. Pollio, in the time of Augustus, ordered a slave to be thrown into a pond of voracious lampreys. Augustus interfered, but afterward ordered a slave of his own to be crucified on the mast of a ship for eating a favorite quail. Juvenal describes a profligate woman ordering a slave to be crucified. Some one remonstrates. She. replies: "So then a slave is a man, is he! 'He has done nothing,' you say. Granted. I command it. Let my pleasure stand for a reason" (vi., 219). Martial records an instance of a master cutting out a slave's tongue. The old Roman legislation imposed death for killing a plough-ox; but the murderer of a slave was not called to account. Tracking fugitive slaves was a trade. Recovered slaves were branded on the forehead, condemned to double labor, and sometimes thrown to the beasts in the amphitheater. The slave population was enormous. Some proprietors had as many as twenty thousand. 211 Have begotten in my bonds. Made a convert while I was a prisoner.
11. Unprofitable (acrhston). A play on the word Onesimus profitable. Compare unprofitable (acreiov) servant, Matt. xxv. 30. These plays upon proper names are common both in Greek and Roman literature. Thus Aeschylus on the name of Helen of Troy, the play or pun turning on the root eJl, hel, destroy: Helene, helenaus, helandras, heleptolis: Helen, ship-destroyer, man-destroyer, city-destroyer ("Agamemnon," 671). Or, as Robert Browning: "Helen, ship's-hell, man's-hell, city's-hell." So on Prometheus (forethought): "Falsely do the gods call thee Prometheus, for thou thyself hast need of prometheus, i.e., of forethought" ("Prometheus Bound," 85, 86). Or Sophocles on Ajax. Aias (Aax) cries ai, ai! and says, "Who would have thought that my name would thus be the appropriate expression for my woes?" ("Ajax," 430). In the New Testament, a familiar example is Matt. xvi. 18; "thou art Petros, and on this petra will I build my church." See on Epaenetus, 2 Cor. viii. 18. 212 Now profitable. "Christianity knows nothing of hopeless cases. It professes its ability to take the most crooked stick and bring it straight, to flash a new power into the blackest carbon, which will turn it into a diamond" (Maclaren, "Philemon," in "Expositor's Bible").
And to me. The words are ingeniously thrown in as an afterthought. Compare Philip. ii. 27; Rom. xvi. 13; 1 Cor. xvi. 18. A strong appeal to Philem. lies in the fact that Paul is to reap benefit from Onesimus in his new attitude as a christian brother.
12. I have sent again (anepemya). Rev., sent back. The epistolary aorist, see on 1 Pet. v. 12. Our idiom would be I send back. That Onesimus accompanied the letter appears from Col. iv. 7-9. Thou therefore receive. Omit, and render aujton him as Rev., in his own person; his very self.
13. I would (eboulomhn). Rev., I would fain. See on Matt. i. 19. The imperfect tense denotes the desire awakened but arrested. See on I would, ver. 14.
In the bonds of the Gospel. Connect with me. Bonds with which he is bound for the sake of the Gospel: with which Christ has invested him. A delicate hint at his sufferings is blended with an intimation of the authority which attaches to his appeal as a prisoner of Christ. This language of Paul is imitated by Ignatius. "My bonds exhort you" (Tralles, 12.). "He (Jesus Christ) is my witness, in whom I am bound" (Philadelphia, 7.). "In whom I bear about my bonds as spiritual pearls" (Ephesians, 11.). "In the bonds which I bear about, I sing the praises of the churches" (Magnesians, 1.).
14. I would (hqelhsa). Compare I would, ver. 13. Here the aorist tense and the verb meaning to will denote a single, decisive resolution. As it were of necessity (wv kata anagkhn). Wv as it were, Rev., as, marks the appearance of necessity. Philemon's kindly reception of Onesimus must not even seem to be constrained.
15. For perhaps. I sent him back, for, if I had kept him, I might have defeated the purpose for which he was allowed to be separated from you for a time. "We are not to be too sure of what God means by such and such a thing, as some of us are wont to be, as if we had been sworn of God's privy council.... A humble 'perhaps' often grows into a 'verily, verily' - and a hasty, over-confident 'verily, verily' often dwindles to a hesitating 'perhaps.' Let us not be in too great a hurry to make sure that we have the key of the cabinet where God keeps his purposes, but content ourselves with 'perhaps' when we are interpreting the often questionable ways of His providence, each of which has many meanings and many ends" (Maclaren).
He therefore departed (dia touto ecwrisqh). The A.V. misses the ingenious shading of Paul's expression. Not only does he avoid the word ran away, which might have irritated Philemon, but he also uses the passive voice, not the middle, separated himself, as an intimation that Onesimus' flight was divinely ordered for good. Hence Rev., correctly, he was parted. Compare Gen. xlv. 5.
Thou shouldst receive (apechv). The compounded preposition ajpo may mean back again, after the temporary separation, or in full, wholly. The former is suggested by was parted, and would fain have kept: but the latter by ver. 16, no longer as a servant, but more. The latter is preferable. Compare the use of ajpecw in Matt. vi. 2, they have received. (see note); Matt. vi. 16; Luke vi. 24; Philip. iv. 18; and ajpolambanw receive, Gal. iv. 5.
16. Not now (ouketi). Rev., more correctly, no longer. The negative adverb oujketi states the fact absolutely, not as it may be conceived by Philemon (mhketi). However Philemon may regard Onesimus, as a fact he is now no longer as a slave.
How much more (posw mallon). Beloved most to Paul, how much more than most to Philemon, since he belonged to him in a double sense, as a slave and as a Christian brother: in the flesh and in the Lord. "In the flesh Paul had the brother for a slave: in the, Lord he had the slave for a brother" (Meyer).
17. Then (oun). Resumptive from ver. 12.
Partner. More than an intimate friend. One in Christian fellowship. 213
18. If he hath wronged (ei hdikdsen). The indicative mood with the conditional particle may imply that what is put hypothetically is really a fact: if he wronged thee as he did.
Oweth. Perhaps indicating that Onesimus had been guilty of theft. Notice the general word wronged instead of the more exact specification of the crime.
Put that on my account (touto emoi elloga). For the verb, compare Rom. v. 13 (note).
19. I Paul have written, etc. Rev., write. A promissory note. The mention of his autograph here, rather than at the end of the letter, may indicate that he wrote the whole epistle with his own hand, contrary to his usual custom of employing an amanuensis.
Albeit I do not say (ina mh legw). Lit., that I may not say. Connect with I write. I thus give my note of hand that I may avoid saying that thou owest, etc. Rev., that I say not unto thee.
Let me have joy (onaimhn). Or help. Lit., may I profit. Again a play upon the name Onesimus. The verb is frequently used with reference to filial doties. Ignatius employs it, in one instance, directly after an allusion to another Onesimus (Ephesians, 2.).
21. More than I say (uper). Beyond. Possibly hinting at manumission.
22. Withal (ama). Simultaneously with the fulfillment of my request. A lodging. Paul is expecting a speedy liberation. His original plan of going from Rome to Spain has apparently been altered. Lightfoot observes that "there is a gentle compulsion in this mention of a personal visit to Colossae. The apostle would thus be able to see for himself that Philemon had not disappointed his expectations."
I shall be given (carisqhsomai). A beautiful assumption of his correspondent's affection for him, in that his visit to them will be a gracious gift (cariv). The word is also used of granting for destruction, Acts xxv. 11; or for preservation, Acts iii. 14.
23. Epaphras my fellow prisoner (Epafrav o sunaicmalwtov mou). Epaphras is mentioned Col. i. 7; iv. 12. Some identify him with Epaphroditus, but without sufficient reason. Epaphroditus appears to have been a native of Philippi (Philip. ii. 25), and Epaphras of Colossae (Col. iv. 12). Epaphroditus is always used of the Philippian, and Epaphras of the Colossian. The names, however, are the same, Epaphras being a contraction.
It is disputed whether fellow-prisoner is to be taken in a literal or in a spiritual sense. For the latter see Rom. vii. 23; 2 Cor. x. 5; Eph. iv. 8. Compare fellow-soldier, ver. 2, and Philip. ii. 25. In Rom. xvi. 7, the word used here is applied to Andronicus and Junia. Paul was not strictly an aijcmalwtov prisoner of war (see on Luke iv. 18). The probabilities seem to favor the spiritual sense. Lightfoot suggests that Epaphras' relations with Paul at Rome may have excited suspicion and led to his temporally confinement; or that he may voluntarily have shared Paul's imprisonment.
24. Mark. Probably John Mark the evangelist. He appears as the companion of Paul, Acts xii. 25; Col. iv. 10; 2 Tim. iv. 11. Aristarchus. A Thessalonian. Alluded to Acts xix. 29; xx. 4; xxvii. 2. He was Paul's companion for a part of the way on the journey to Rome.
Out of many private letters which must have been written by Paul, this alone has been preserved. Its place in the New Testament canon is vindicated, so far as its internal character is concerned, by its picture of Paul as a christian gentleman, and by its exhibition of Paul's method of dealing with a great social evil.
Paul's dealing with the institution of slavery displayed the profoundest christian sagacity. To have attacked the institution as such would have been worse than useless. To one who reads between the lines, Paul's silence means more than any amount of denunciation; for with his silence goes his faith in the power of christian sentiment to settle finally the whole question. He knows that to bring slavery into contact with living Christianity is to kill slavery. He accepts the social condition as a fact, and even as a law. He sends Onesimus back to his legal owner. He does not bid Philemon emancipate him, but he puts the christian slave on his true footing of a christian brother beside his master. As to the institution, he knows that the recognition of the slave as free in Christ will carry with it, ultimately, the recognition of his civil freedom.
History vindicated him in the Roman empire itself. Under Constantine the effects of christian sentiment began to appear ill the Church and in legislation concerning slaves. Official freeing of slaves became common as an act of pious gratitude, and burial tablets often represent masters standing before the Good Shepherd, with a band of slaves liberated at death, and pleading for them at judgment. In A.D. 312 a law was passed declaring as homicide the poisoning or branding of slaves, and giving them to be torn by beasts. The advance of a healthier sentiment may be seen by comparing the law of Augustus, which forbade a master to emancipate more than one-fifth of his slaves, and which fixed one hundred males as a maximum for one time - and the unlimited permission to emancipate conceded by Constantine. Each new ruler enacted some measure which facilitated emancipation. Every obstacle was thrown by the law in the way of separating families. Under Justinian all presumptions were in favor of liberty. If a slave had several owners, one could emancipate him, and the others must accept compensation at a reduced valuation. The mutilated, and those who had served in the army with their masters' knowledge and consent, were liberated. All the old laws which limited the age at which a slave could be freed, and the number which could be emancipated, were abolished. A master's marriage with a slave freed all the children. Sick and useless slaves must be sent by their masters to the hospital.
Great and deserved praise has been bestowed on this letter. Bengel says: "A familiar and exceedingly courteous epistle concerning a private affair is inserted among the New Testament books, intended to afford a specimen of the highest wisdom as to how Christians should arrange civil affairs on loftier principles." Franke, quoted by Bengel, says: "The single epistle to Philem. very far surpasses all the wisdom of the world." Renan: "A true little chef-d'oeuvre of the art of letter-writing." Sabatier: "This short epistle gleams like a pearl of the most exquisite purity in the rich treasure of the New Testament." 214