Bible Query from Philemon
November 2012 version. Copyright (c) Christian Debater(tm) 1997-2012. All rights reserved except as given in the copyright notice.
Q: In Phm, how do you pronounce "Philemon?
A: People pronounce it two different ways: with the accent on the first syllable and the accent on the second syllable. Crudenís Concordance, The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Strongís Concordance, the KJV, and the Funk and Wagnallís Standard Desk Dictionary unanimously say it is pronounced as "phil-E-mon" with the accent on the second syllable.
Q: In Phm, what value does the short book of Philemon have in the Bible?
A: Given that this is a letter from the apostle Paul, and was accepted as Scripture by the early church, we should cherish Philemon as Godís word, even if (hypothetically speaking) we could not see any value at all in Philemon.
Yet we can see great value in this brief book. While many other books discuss doctrine and practice, Philemon gives us a good example of one way to relate to fellow Christians on sensitive issues.
Paul states that this slave, who formerly had been useless to Philemon, had since become useful both to Philemon and to Paul. The key factor behind this change from uselessness to usefulness was the spiritual transformation that had occurred when Onesimus accepted Christ as Savior.
The book of Philemon also shows that while God tolerated slavery back then, that was not His perfect will.
Finally, Philemon can be called the book of forgiveness. Philemon suffered financial loss in freeing Onesimus, and Onesimus was not partially, or conditionally forgiven, but completely forgiven. Paul urged Philemon to forgive, but did not command it, because forgiveness has to be voluntary.
Q: What is an outline of Phm?
A: Here is one way to view Philemon
Phm 1-3 Greetings from Paul
Phm 4-7 Thanking and praying for Philemon
Phm 8-17 Appeal for the runaway slave
Phm 18-22 Paulís standing with Onesimus
Phm 23-25 Closing greetings and blessing
Q: In Phm 1, what is so unusual about Paulís greeting here?
A: In his other letters Paul typically mentions his authority, as an apostle, a slave of Christ, etc., but Paul is not saying any of that in this personal, but public letter to Philemon. Rather Paul is simply saying he is a prisoner. Paul knows what it is like to have somebody over him.
But who is Paul a prisoner of? He was imprisoned because of the charges of the Jewish leaders. He is taken to Rome by Roman soldiers and put in a Roman prison. But Paul does not see it this way. Paul instead says he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus. The one responsible for imprisoning him, and freeing him (or not), is Christ Jesus, and Jesus deliberately wanted Paul to suffer being a prisoner as a witness to others. And Paul is OK with that.
Q: In Phm 1 and 2 Tim 1:8, how did the Lord take Paul as a prisoner?
A: Paul was not imprisoned by Jesus; Paul was imprisoned on account of Jesus, as 2 Timothy 1:12 shows.
Q: In Phm 2, what is unusual about the name Apphia?
A: In the Ionian Greek culture of this area, Apphia is a definite non-Greek name, written in Phrygian inscriptions.
Q: In Phm 4, why is Paul addressing Philemon this way?
A: Paul is commending Philemon, not for his love for the saints (believers in Christ), but rather for his love for all the saints, which Philemon will find out, also now includes Onesimus.
Philemon had a reputation as a loving and godly man, and Paul is first reminding him of that and commending him for that, before asking him to live up to his reputation.
Q: In Phm 10, how do you pronounce the name "Onesimus?
A: The New International Bible Dictionary p.735 and Crudenís Concordance both say o-NES-i-mus, with all vowels short except the first o, and the accent on the second syllable.
Q: In Phm 10, 2 Tim 1:2, Tt 1:4, and 1 Cor 4:17, why did Paul call Onesimus, Timothy, and Titus his sons, since Jesus said in Mt 23:9 to call no man your father?
A: Philippians 2:22 shows that Paul called Timothy his son, not because of a biological relationship, but because Timothy was as close as a son in serving the Gospel.
Onesimus was a useful as a son, and as dear as a son to Paul, while Paul was in Rome.
It is not a lie to use a metaphor that is not literally true, when the speakers and hearers realize it is a metaphor.
Q: In Phm 10, is there any extra-Biblical evidence for Onesimus?
A: There may be, actually. Eusebiusí Ecclesiastical History 3:36, mentions letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians (ch.1). Ignatius mentions Onesimus as the pastor there. It does not explicitly say it was the same Onesimus though.
Q: In Phm 10-15, why does Paul tolerate slavery?
A: Paul is indirectly telling Philemon to free Onesimus. As to why Paul did not prohibit slavery altogether, see the discussion on Ephesians 6:5-8 and Ephesians 6:9. See When Critics Ask p.509-510, When Cultists Ask p.281-282, and Hard Sayings of the Bible p.642-644 for more info.
Q: In Phm 11, why is Paul calling Onesimus formerly unprofitable?
A: In Greek, the name Onesimus means "useful". Paul is making a pun here, as Onesimus was Philemonís runaway slave. A slave that ran away is not very profitable.
Q: In Phm 12, why is Paul confident in Philemonís obedience, since Paul did not actually command Philemon to do anything?
A: Paul told Philemon that while he had the right as an apostle to command him, Paul instead was just urging Philemon to free Onesimus. So what Paul was confident of was Philemonís obedience to God. If Philemon recognized that he should receive, forgive, and free his Christian brother, Paul was confident that Philemon would do what pleased God. James 4:17 says, "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." (NKJV)
Q: In Phm 12 (KJV), what does "bowels" mean here?
A: The King James Version accurately translated the Greek word splanchna. The modern equivalent is that Paul is sending his "very heart" back to Philemon.
Q: In Phm 12-15, what is Paul basically saying?
A: There are four things.
1. Paul is asking something of Philemon, which he will explain. (Philemon 8)
2. Onesimus became Paulís son in faith, a Christian. (Philemon 10)
3. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. (Philemon 12)
4. Paul is asking Philemon to free Onesimus, his runaway slave Paul sent back to Philemon.
Q: In Phm 16, what does "in the flesh" mean?
A: The literal words are "in flesh" as Jay P. Greenís Literal Translation says. "In the flesh" is what the KJV, NKJV, NASB, uNASB, and NRSV translate. There are three interpretations.
Friend: "in the flesh and in the Lord" means that Onesimus would serve him in a physical way, and give him fellowship as a believer. This is probably why the NIV translates this "as a man". (The Believerís Bible Commentary p.215) The NET Bible says, "humanly speaking".
Perhaps still a slave: "in the flesh" refers to a person-to-person relationship, but that it could also mean retaining the master-slave relationship. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary : New Testament p.773)
Biological brother: Philemon and Onesimus were physically brothers. In other words, Philemon had enslaved his own brother. 1001 Bible Questions Answered p.314 has this view, but this view is rarely believed though.
In common with all interpretations, is that there is the restoring of some kind of natural relationship
Williams translation has paraphrased here: "both as a servant and as a Christian"
Q: In Phm 17, what is significant about the word "partner" here?
A: This just does not generically mean partner, but more specifically a business partner, or co-worker. See The Expositorís Bible Commentary vol.11 p.460 for more info.
Q: In Phm 17-18, is this an example of the doctrine of imputed righteousness?
A: 1001 Bible Questions Answered p.67-68 says yes. Just as our sins were charged to Christís "account" Paul offered to pay everything Onesimus owed Philemon.
There are three similarities between this and Christís atonement.
1. It is not unjust for Paul to pay Onesimusí bills. Paul volunteered to do it for him, just as Christ volunteered for us.
2. There is no record of whether Paul paid this, or Onesimus paid it, or Philemon forgave any debts. Likewise Christís offer is for all, but the payment is not transacted for those who do not wish to accept Christ.
Differences: Most analogies are not perfect, and neither is this one. It was up to Philemon whether to take Paul up on his offer. Onesimus did not have a lot of say here. In contrast, we are saved by grace "through faith", and as Hebrews 4:2 shows, the gospel message was of no value to some, because it was not combined with faith.
Q: In Phm 17-19, wouldnít Philemon or other Christians be concerned that their slaves might ask Paul when they could run away to Paul? In other words, what about the "slippery slope" of the encouragement of other slaves to run away, and the precedent of the masters not punishing them?
A: It is estimated that at least half of the people living in the Roman Empire were slaves. In the past the Romans had to contend with a couple of slave revolts, and they took runaway slaves very seriously. Nevertheless, Philemon was not to be concerned about the "slippery slope"; he was not supposed to do what was wrong for the sake of not establishing a troublesome precedent, and neither are we. This would actually set a precedent, not for slaves, but for Christian masters to be kind to their slaves and the virtue of freeing them.
Q: In Phm 18, what theological principle is taught here?
A: This is the principle of restitution. If a person stole something or did wrong, and they are forgiven, they should still pay back what they stole. To the extent possible, they should correct the wrong that they did.
Q: In Phm 19, just how much would a person lose by freeing a slave?
A: At that time a young, healthy, untrained, male slave cost about 500 denarii, and a denarius was the wage of a common laborer for one day. But we donít know what kind of slave Onesimus was. Many slaves were highly skilled, and worked as accountants, teachers, tutors, and government officials. So Onesimus might have been worth more than that. The Roman writer Cicero in Q. Rosc.28 mentions one slave, bought for 3,000 denarii, had been trained and was now worth 50,000 denarii. (See The Expositors Bible Commentary vol.11 p.463 for more info.) In addition, we donít know if Onesimus stole from Philemon when he ran away; he had to get the money to travel to Rome from somewhere.
Q: In Phm 19, why is Paul reminding Philemon that he owes Paul his own soul?
A: For Onesimusí sake, Paul is being heavy-handed here. Paul is in effect saying, "if you, Philemon are grateful to me for sharing the Gospel with you to save your soul, show your gratitude by freeing Onesimus from slavery."
Q: In Phm 19, was it wrong for Paul to be so assertive and heavy-handed?
A: No. Paul loved both Philemon and Onesimus. Paul knew freeing a slave was a financial sacrifice, and though difficult, Philemon should do it. Sometimes Christians should be more assertive about good things, for the sake of others.
Q: In Phm 24 and Col 4:14, why is Paul with Demas, since Demas turned away because Demas loved this world in 2 Tim 4:10?
A: Like others, Demas first helped in the ministry and then later turned away. Did Demas ever come back and was Demas saved? We can hope so, but we have no record either way.
Q: In Phm, did Philemon do what Paul asked?
A: The book of Philemon does not say. Perhaps it is left open-ended because there will be times in our lives when, like Philemon, we know God wants us to do something that goes directly against our culture or our natural impulses and desires.
On the other hand, Philemon did not tear up the letter (since we have it preserved), so that is some indication that he did what Paul asked.
Q: Do we know of anyone else who wrote a letter on behalf on a runaway slave?
A: Yes. About 60 years later, the pagan governor Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to Sabianus on behalf of a fugitive slave belonging to Sabinianus. The Expositorís Bible Commentary vol.11 p.456 mentions this.
The Roman writer Cicero mentions three runaway slaves in his writings. One was held in a prison. Sometimes they were blindfolded and forced to walk in a circle all day long to turn a millstone, like animals would. The Expositorís Bible Commentary vol.11 p.460 has more info.
Q: When was Phm written?
A: Since it was written when Paul was a prisoner, and after Paul traveled through the area, there are two likely times.
58-60 A.D. when Paul was a prisoner at Rome
56 A.D. when Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus.
A less likely possibility is when Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea.
Nineteenth century liberal scholars in the Tubingen school, such as F.C. Baur, thought that was written by someone else in the second century, but they tried to deny the stated authorship of parts of almost every book in the New Testament, so it is no surprise they would deny Paul writing Philemon as well.
Most Christians think the later date, but Onesimus could have sought refuge in Ephesus as well as Rome. See The Expositorís Bible Commentary vol.11 p.453-454 for more info.
Q: What are similarities between Phm and Col?
A: Scholars disagree on whether the two books were written at the same time or a few years apart. But one was a letter to a church, and the other a letter to an individual, as well as to a church (Phm 2). Anyway, here are the similarities.
1) Colossae, along with Hierapolis and Laodicea were in Phrygia, and Apphia was a Phrygian name.
2) "Grace and peace to you from God our Father" Phm 3 and Col 1:2b
3) Both are said to be by Paul and Timothy, though the content of Philemon is obviously just Paul. Timothy could have been a scribe for Paul though.
4) Both refer to Archippus (Col 4:17 Phm 2)
5) "faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints" (Col 1:4) and "faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints" (Phm 5)
6) "I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand." (Col 4:18a) "I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand." (Phm 19)
7) They end with "Grace be with you" (Col 4:18b) and "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit" (Phm 25)
Q: In Phm, what evidence do we have that this book should be in the Bible?
A: Frankly, since Philemon is such a short book, we do not have as many references to Philemon as the other books. Here are three reasons we know this should be in the Bible.
1. Paul wrote it, and he was an apostle. Peter attested that Paulís words were scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16.
2. Paul himself said he was apostle in 1 Timothy 1:1; 2:7, Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 9:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 11:5; Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:1.
3. Early church evidence
The Muratorian Canon (170-210 A.D.) ANF vol.5 p.603 mentions that Paul wrote to seven churches in his epistles, Corinthians (2 letters), Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, Thessalonians (2 letters), Romans. Paul wrote Philemon, Titus, two letters to Timothy.
Tertullian (198-220 A.D.) mentions that Marcion did not lay "falsifying hands" upon Philemon, though he did not say the name of the book. Tertullian Against Marcion book 5 ch.21 p.473 (Implied)
Origen (225-254 A.D.) quotes Philemon 14. "Paul with understanding was saying to Philemon in the Letter to Philemon concerning Onesimus: So that your good be not according to compulsion, but according to free will." Homilies on Jeremiah Homily 28 ch.2 p.224
Hilary of Poitiers (355-367/368) quotes the first half of Philemon 1. "Read the Apostles: Paul, the servant of Christ, boast of his bonds. Let us see whether this Ďprisoner of Jesus Christí" On the Trinity book 4 ch.39 p.83
Athanasius (367 A.D.) does not refer to any specific verses in Philemon, but he lists the books of the New Testament in Festal Letter 39 p.552
Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae (350-370 A.D. or 5th century) mentions Paulís Letter to Philemon as part of the New Testament. It quotes all of Philemon 1.
Cheltenham Canon (=Mommsen Catalogue) (ca.360-370 A.D.)
Ephraim the Syrian (350-378 A.D.)
Cyril of Jerusalem (c.348-386 A.D.) (Implied)
Synod of Laodicea (in Phrygia) (343-381, 363 A.D.)
Ambrosiaster (after 384 A.D.) refers to Philemon 2,6,12,25
Amphilochius Iambi ad Seleucum (394 A.D.)
John Chrysostom (396 A.D.) wrote down three sermons on Philemon. He says that Paul wrote this letter to Philemon, an admirable man, in homily 1.
Syrian Catalogue of St. Catherineís (c.400 A.D.)
Epiphanius of Salamis (360-403 A.D.) (Implied)
Pope Innocent I of Rome (ca.405 A.D.)
Rufinus (374-406 A.D.)
Council of Carthage (218 bishops) (393-419 A.D.) (Implied)
Jerome (373-420 A.D.) refers to Philemon 2,6,12
Augustine of Hippo (388-430 A.D.)
John Cassian (father of Semi-Pelagianism) (419-430 A.D.)
Evidence of heretics and spurious books
The heretic Pelagius (416-418 A.D.) refers to Philemon 2,6,12
The Pelagian heretic Theodore of Mopsuestia (392-423/429 A.D.) refers to Philemon 6,25
We still have all of these today.
Q: How do we know that Phm today is a reliable preservation of what was originally written?
A: There are at least three good reasons.
1. God promised to preserve His word in Isaiah 55:10-11; Isaiah 59:21; Isaiah 40:6-8; 1 Peter 1:24-25; and Matthew 24:35.
2. Evidence of the early church. See the previous question for a few of the writers who referred to verses in Philippians.
3. Earliest manuscripts we have of Philemon show there are small manuscript variations, but zero theologically significant errors.
p87 contains Phm 13-15, 24 (partial), 25b with gaps (c.125 A.D.) Handwriting is nearly identical to p46. The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts has a photograph of p87 on p.607.
The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts has a photograph of p87 on p.608. It says the original editors dated p87 to "early third century" because the handwriting is nearly identical to p46, and p46 used to be thought third century. Since 046 is now known to be earlier this is redated to dated middle to late 2nd century. A second line of evidence is that the letters of both p46 and p87 are nearly identical to Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 841 ( second hand 120-130 A.D.). A third line of evidence is that p87 has "startling similarities" to p52, dated early second century.
p61 Romans 16:23,25-27; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2, 2-6; 5:1-3, 5-6, 9-13; Philippians 3:5-9, 12-16, Colossians 1:3-7, 9-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; Titus 3:1-5, 8-11, 14-15 Philemon 4-7. c.700 A.D.
c.700 A.D. - 1968 - The Text of the New Testament.
About 700 A.D. - 1975 - Aland et al. third edition.
About 700 A.D. - 1998 - Aland et al. fourth revised edition.
Sinaiticus [Si] 340-350 A.D.
Philemon was not preserved in Vaticanus [B]
Alexandrinus [A] c.450 A.D.
Bohairic Coptic [Boh] 3rd/4th century
Sahidic Coptic [Sah] 3rd/4th century
Ephraemi Rescriptus [C] 5th century
I Washington D.C. 5th century (Phm 2, others?)
Claromontanus [D] 5th/6th century
The Text of the New Testament p.167, written back in 1968, says there are at least 10 uncial manuscripts (with four correctors) and 42 miniscule manuscripts.
See www.BibleQuery.org/phmMss.htm for more on early manuscripts of Philemon.