THE LETTER TO PHILEMON



1. Who wrote the Letter to Philemon?

1.1. What does Philemon 1:1a indicate about the author of the Letter to Philemon?

Philemon 1:1a indicates that Paul wrote the Letter to Philemon with Timothy.

1.2. Given the personal nature of the letter and the fact that only the first person singular occurs in it, it seems that Paul is the principal writer. He identifies himself as such in Philemon 9, 19.
 

2. To whom was the Letter to Philemon written?

2.1. What does Philemon 1:1b-2 indicate about the intended readers of the Letter to Philemon?

Paul wrote the Letter to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and the church that meets in Archippus's house.  From the contents of the letter, it is clear that the primary intended reader was Philemon.

2.2. In Col 4:17 one encounters an Archippus who was a member of the church in Colossae. According to Philemon 2, it is in the house of a man named Archippus in which the church meets. Assuming that the Archippus in Col 4:17 is the same as the Archippus in Philemon 2, what could one infer about the geographical location of the intended readers of the letter and the identification of the church mentioned in Philemon 2?

It seems that the intended readers were in Colossae. The church mentioned in Philemon 2 was the Colossian church.

2.3. Further proof that Philemon was from Colossae is the fact that Paul informed the Colossians that with Tychicus he was sending Onesimus, whom Paul described as “one of you,” meaning that Onesimus was from Colossae (Col 4:9; see Col 4:12). If Onesimus was from Colossae, then Philemon was also, since Onesimus was Philemon’s slave.
 

3. When was the Letter to Philemon written?

3.1. What can you infer about Paul's situation at the time of writing of the Letter to Philemon from Philemon 9, 13?

Paul was a prisoner at the time of his writing of the Letter to Philemon.

3.2. In his Letter to Philemon, Paul says that he is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, and, in Col 4:9, Onesimus is identified as one who will be coming to Colossae with Tychicus (the one who delivering the Letter to the Colossians). What does this suggest about the time of the composition of the letter?

It seems that Paul wrote the letter at the same time that he wrote the Letter to the Colossians (56-60). 

 
4. Where was the Letter to Philemon written?

If he wrote it at the same time that he wrote the letter to the Colossians, where did Paul write the letter to Philemon?

Paul wrote the Letter to Philemon in the same place that he wrote the letter to the Colossians, in Rome.

 
5. What is the Letter to Philemon?

Outline of the Letter to Philemon

A. 1-3

This represents the introduction of the letter.

1. 1-3

This represents the salutation of the letter.

2. 4-7

Paul offers a thanksgiving on behalf of Philemon on account of his faith and love.  He prays that the sharing of Philemon's faith would be active in order that he know every good that we may do for Christ.  Paul says that Philemon's love has given him great joy and encouragement.

B. 8-22

This represents the main body of the letter.

1. 8-11

Paul appeals to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus who became Paul's "son," while Paul was in chains.  Onesimus was useless to Philemon, but now has become useful to both Philemon and Paul.

2. 12-16

Paul tells Philemon that he is sending Onesimus back to him, although he would like to keep him, because he is useful.  Paul encourages Philemon strongly to take Onesimus back as a brother in Christ, no longer as a slave.

3. 17-21

Paul requests Philemon to welcome Onesimus, as Philemon would welcome him.  He promises that he will pay any damages that Onesimus has incurred in his former service to his master.  In order to pressure Philemon to be lenient with Onesimus, Paul reminds him that he owes him his very life.

4. 22

Paul asks Philemon to have a room ready for him, because he hopes to be restored to him soon.

C. 23-25

This represents the conclusion, including greetings and a benediction.
 

6. Why was the Letter to Philemon written?

6.1. From what you know about the contents of the letter, what was Paul's purpose in writing the Letter to Philemon (see 10-12, 15-17).

Paul wrote to convince Philemon to take back Onesimus without penalty (10-12, 17). Moreover he wants Philemon to treat Onesimus not merely as a slave but as a "beloved brother" (15-16).

6.2. Paul says to Philemon that for whereas formerly he was useless (achrêstos), Onesimus has now become useful (euchrêstos) (11). Although not evident in translation Paul is making a word play. The name Onesimus means useful, but as a runaway slave he was not very useful to his master, Philemon. But now after he has come to faith in Christ he is coming back to Philemon true to his name.

6.3. Ignatius, writing to the church at Ephesus about forty years or so after Paul wrote to Philemon, makes reference to a certain Onesimus, who is identified as the overseer or bishop (episkopos) of the church at Ephesus (Ign. Eph. 1.3). Ignatius' Onesimus could be the same Onesimus to whom Paul refers in Philemon, if he was a young man when Paul wrote his letter. If so, then Onesimus was probably released from his condition of slavery and became a leader in the early church.



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