Philemon Essay Research Paper The letter of

Philemon Essay, Research Paper

The letter of Philemon was written by Paul the apostle along with Timothy. Paul was

definitely the author and nothing needs to confirm that. The ?external testimony is

unimpeachable.? (Smith, p.510) The letter was written to Philemon on behalf of

Onesimus. Philemon lived in Colosse and we know this because Onesimus was also

Colossian which is confirmed in Colossians 4:9. Philemon was a man of property and

influence. It is not known exactly how he knew Paul though.(Smith, p.509) Paul did

address others in the letter. One of which was Apphia, a Christian woman. She was a

member of Philemon?s household and may have been his wife.(Smith, p.47) It also

includes Archippus who was a Christian teacher in Colosse. He is also mentioned in the

book of Colossians. Archippus might have also been a member of Philemon?s

household.(Smith, p.51)

Some believe that Paul did not intend this to be a personal letter. They base this

assumption on the fact that he addressed other people.(Tenney, p.753) Philemon lived in

Colosse at the time, and as I mentioned before, we know that because of Paul?s final

greetings toward some of the Colossian people mentioned in both Philemon and


Paul wrote this letter during his first imprisonment in Rome. The dates range from

A.D. 63 to A.D. 64. We know that he was in prison in Rome because of some of the

things mentioned in this book (Philemon vs. 13,23) and once again because of the

similarities with the book of Colossians. Others believe that Paul may have been in

Ephesus at this time. When Paul mentioned that he wanted to stay with Philemon, that

request was congruent with the plans he made during his Ephesian ministry to visit the

Lycus valley.(Tenney, p.755)

During the time that this letter was written, slavery was very common. Most of these

slaves had been captured in wars. Masters were totally in control. If a slave were to steal

something, he might be branded on his forehead with ?CF? for Cave Furem which means

?Beware of Thief.? He could also be put to death.(Wight, p.292) The Apostles did not

do much to overcome slavery. They just kept preaching Biblical principals. ?Paul?s letter

to Philemon has, no doubt, done more to overcome slavery than any other document ever

written.?(Wight, p.293) Roman law also stated that ?whoever gave hospitality to a

runaway slave was liable to the slave?s master for the value of each day?s work

lost.?(Tenney, p.753) That could be a reason why Paul said he would repay Philemon?s


The book of Philemon was actually written on behalf of another person. Paul wrote

this letter in order to ask Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household. ?I appeal

to you for my son Onesimus.? (Phil.10) Onesimus was a slave of Philemon?s. It is not

known exactly why he left Philemon. Some think he left just so he could have freedom.

Others are sure he stole something from Philemon. (Smith, p.510)

During Paul?s imprisonment in Rome, Onesimus was with him. Paul was able to

witness to him and he was converted to Christianity. Because of this, Onesimus knew he

had to return to Philemon and place himself at Philemon?s disposal once again. Paul acted

as a mediator in his situation. He did this in order to help both Onesimus and

Philemon.(Tenney, p.756) The letter was written on behalf of Onesimus. Paul wanted

Philemon to accept Onesimus back because he was no longer just a servant, but a brother

in Christ.

One of the themes of Philemon has to do with slavery. Paul was hoping that God

would speak to people after they read this letter and that they would want to end slavery.

Paul was also hoping that Philemon would accept Onesimus back into his home. He did

not force Philemon to do this. He was, rather, wanting Philemon to take him back out of

love. Paul made it clear that for whatever wrongs Onesimus had caused to Philemon, he

(Paul) would repay all the debts.

The letter of Philemon begins with greetings from Paul and Timothy to Philemon,

his church, and his household. It also continues with Paul thanking God for Philemon?s

faith. It also encourages Philemon to be active in sharing his faith. The next section of the

book has Paul making a request. He wants Philemon to accept Onesimus. He does not

force Philemon to do this, even though he could. He wants Philemon to do it out of love.

He tells Philemon that Onesimus is useful to both of them now because he became a

Christian. Paul then goes on to tell that he will be sending Onesimus to Philemon. Paul

would rather have Onesimus stay with him, but he knows he cannot keep him without the

consent of Philemon who owns Onesimus. Paul is hoping that when Onesimus does

arrive, Philemon will accept him as a brother in Christ, not a slave. Paul tells Philemon in

the next paragraph that he will be willing to repay any debts that Onesimus owes him. He

ends the letter by telling Philemon that he wishes to visit them very soon. He concludes

with final greetings from him, his fellow prisoner (Epaphras), and his fellow workers

(Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke).

When the people who lived during this time received this letter, it made a very strong

point. Paul was not condemning slavery. Instead he was encouraging those people to see

everyone as equals. The letter showed a Christian?s view of slavery. ?As a historical

document, the letter throws unusual light on the Christian conscience in regard to the

institution of slavery in the ancient world.? (Tenney, p.755) It showed where Paul stood

as a Christian on the issue of slavery. Paul set the standard for us today when he wrote

this letter. Because of the letter, we are able to see another side of Paul?s character. He

was a true man who was trying to help another man in need.(Tenney, p.756) This man just

happened to be a slave.

The book of Philemon showed how God?s love broke down dividing walls. The

barriers between different races, males and females, and slave and master were all

destroyed.(Hawthorne, p. ) God?s infinite love made us all equal in His sight. We are all

loved the same amount and we are all slaves to Him. Paul wanted Philemon to treat his

slave, Onesimus, well because they were both equally under the same Heavenly Master.

Every member of the Christian society (or family) is spiritually gifted and blessed no

matter what their status is. ?Every member of the church is called to the same obedience

to Christ, slave or free, male of female.? (Kaiser, p. )

In the letter, Paul was not condemning slavery, he was encouraging slaves to be

obedient and accept their situations. He wanted them to focus on the reward in heaven

that they would receive. Paul also did not make converts give up their slaves. He was

hoping that over time they would realize how hard it is to keep a person a slave and still

call them a brother or sister in Christ.(Kaiser, p. )

Today this letter can actually teach us a lot of things. We can look at it in two ways.

The first being the issue of slavery. Slavery is not present today in our culture. It does

apply to us though in a sense that we are to accept everyone as equals. We may not have

slaves, but a lot of people are still very racist. Paul was writing this letter on behalf of

Onesimus, but he also had another objective, I believe. He was hoping that through this

letter, people would realize that under God we are all equal. No one is better than anyone

else. We are all, in fact, slaves of Christ. We all serve Him. He sees us the same and He

loves us all the same amount. He doesn?t love anyone more than anyone else.

A second point that came across to me in this letter was how Paul was willing to

repay Onesimus? debts. When I read this, it reminded me of Christ?s love for us. He

knows that we have committed sins, but he repays the debts that we owe. We should be

the ones who repay our own debts, but because of God?s love for us, He sent His Son in

order to pay the price. I was just reminded how much God really loves me. He has done

so much for us by taking our burdens upon Himself and paying the price that we should


The purpose of this letter was that Paul wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus and

accept him as a brother in Christ, rather than just a servant. Paul knew this could only be

done if God worked in Philemon?s life and help him realize that he should forgive

Onesimus. Paul was also trying to get a subtle point across. He was able, in this short

letter, to write about slavery without condemning it. He was hoping that slaves would be

treated as equals. There is no official document that states it, but it is known that

Philemon did find it in his heart to accept Onesimus back and finally free him. Paul had a

great influence on Philemon?s life, but that was only possible through God.


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