The Epistle to Philemon is a private letter written by the Apostle Paul. Along with the letter, Paul is sending Onesimus, a slave who ran away, back to Philemon. This letter appeals to Philemon to free Onesimus, but it speaks volumes to us today about how to live our daily lives.
Meet the principals
- Paul – also known as Saul – is an apostle of Jesus Christ. He wrote this letter during his first Roman imprisonment approximately 60-62 AD.
- Paul is sending Tychicus with this letter to Philemon plus the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians and the run-away slave, Onesimus.
- Philemon is a wealthy member of the church at Colossae who was came to believe in the gospel as a result of Paul’s preaching.
- As a slave, Onesimus belonged to Philemon. But he escaped to Rome where he met Paul and came to believe the gospel.
- Philemon 1:1-2 follow the typical formula for opening a letter at the time: Author, recipient(s), greeting, body of letter.
- Timothy is mentioned because he is with Paul and knows the recipients, but he is not a co-author.
- According to tradition, Appia was Philemon’s wife and Archippus either his son or one of the leaders of the Colossian church.
- Paul omits his claim to apostolic authority in the greeting because he does not intend to appeal to Philemon on that basis.
- Paul prays that Philemon’s faith would continue to make a difference in his choices as he faces the decision about how to treat Onesimus.
- Paul, as an apostle and Philemon’s spiritual father, could command Philemon to respond with mercy but he prefers that Philemon make the right choice of his own free will.