Book of Philemon Explained

The title of this letter is the name of the addressee, taken from verse 1. There is little doubt that Paul wrote this epistle, since he refers to himself at least three times in verses 1, 9 and 19. Its canonicity was widely recognized in the early church, particularly by Ignatius, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Marcion, and in the Muratorian Canon. Even destructive critics do not question its authenticity.

The letter from Paul to Philemon was of a very personal nature. Paul was a prisoner at the time (verses 1 and 9), so this is one of the four “prison epistles,” along with Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, which Paul wrote during his first Roman imprisonment. According to Colossians 4:7-9, Onesimus accompanied Tychicus to Colossae, so Paul must have written to the Colossians and to Philemon at approximately the same time. Suggested dates range for 60-63 A.D.

This epistle is the story of three main characters, Onesimus, Philemon and Paul and their interaction. Onesimus, a slave in Colossae, had evidently robbed Philemon, his master (verse 18), and run away. During the course of his flight, Onesimus encountered Paul in Rome and through his ministry came to faith in Christ.

Subsequently, Onesimus became a helper to Paul (verses 12-13). But Paul recognized Onesimus’s duty to his master, so sent him back to Philemon, along with Tychicus, who carried Paul’s letter to the Colossian church at the same time (Col. 4:7-9).

In the letter, Paul implores Philemon to receive Onesimus, not as a slave, but as “a brother beloved” (verse 16). Paul himself, in a gracious act of Christian love, assumed Onesimus’s debt in full: “Put that on mine account” (verse 18). Though very brief, the epistle is a valuable addition to the New Testament record for three reasons:

1.      It reveals more of the apostle’s own character than most of his letters;

2.      It gives important insight into the institution of slavery in the ancient Roman world; and

3.      It serves as a vivid picture of the truth of Galatians 3:28, that in Christ “there is neither bond nor free.”

We know from this letter, that Philemon was probably a man who had some wealth. At least he had a nice home, and it was believed it was large enough that the church had been held in his home.

Each of the chapters are done individually. Some due to length, have been shorten into "continued" sections. Each section contains a questionnaire which follows the section which has been done to aid in the learning process. Each section can be accessed by the simple menu found at the bottom of the file. (i.e., continue to next section or return to previous section.

Philemon Chapter 1


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