Philemon Observation


A. This book is an example of a private letter, so common in the first century Greco-Roman world. It probably fit on one papyrus sheet (cf. 3 John). It is uncertain to whom it is primarily addressed.

1. Philemon

2. Apphia and Archippus (cf. Col. 4:17)

3. or in some sense, the entire house church

B. This letter provides a window into

3. the pastoral methods of the Apostle Paul

2. the home churches of the first century (cf. Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 10:19; Col. 4:15)

C. Christianity was already radically changing the social milieu of the Mediterranean world. Social barriers to the gospel were falling (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).


A. The personal nature of the letter convinces most readers (one exception, F.C. Baur) that the author was Paul, the Apostle.

B. Philemon and Colossians are closely related

1. Same origin

2. Same people give greetings

3. Same closing

4. Tychicus delivered the letter of Colossians and traveled with Onesimus (cf. Col. 4:7,9). If Philemon is Pauline, so is Colossians (which has been doubted by several modern scholars).

C. It is listed among Paul's letters by both the early heretic Marcion (who came to Rome in a.d. 140's) and the list of canonical books, the Muratorian Fragment (written in Rome betweena.d. 180-200).


A. The date of this letter is linked to one of Paul's imprisonments (Ephesus, Philippi, Caesarea, or Rome). A Roman imprisonment fits the facts of Acts the best.

B. Once Rome is assumed to be the place of imprisonment, the question arises-which time? Paul was in jail in the early 60's and this is recorded in Acts. However, he was released and wrote the Pastoral letters (I & 2 Timothy and Titus) and was then rearrested and killed before June 9, a.d. 68 (Nero's suicide). The best educated guess for the writing of Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon is Paul's first imprisonment, early 60's. Philippians was probably written toward the mid 60's.

C. Tychicus, along with Onesimus, probably took the letters of Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon to Asia Minor. Later (possibly several years later), Ephaphroditus, recovered from his physical illness, took the letter of Philippians back to his home church.

D. Possible chronology of Paul's writings following F .F. Bruce and Murray Harris (with minor adaption).

OCCASION FOR THE LETTER (people mentioned in Philemon)

A. Philemon was the slave owner of Onesimus. He lived in Colossae. He was probably a convert of Paul, possibly while Paul was ministering in Ephesus.

B. Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon. He was also a convert of Paul, while in prison at Rome (a.d. 61-63). It is uncertain how Paul and Onesimus met. Perhaps

1. both were imprisoned

2. Onesimus was sent on an errand to Paul

3. Onesimus sought Paul for advice after changing his mind about running away

C. Epaphras was a believer from Asia Minor and the founder of the Churches in the Lycus River Valley (Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis). He brought word to Paul in prison about the heresy in Colossae and about Philemon's faithfulness.

D. Tychicus was the bearer of Paul's three letters to this area: Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon (cf. Col. 4:7-9; Eph. 6:21-22). Onesimus also went back with him to face his master (cf. Phlm. 1:11). Philemon is one of two private letters preserved in the New Testament (cf. 3 John).

About fifty years later (a.d. 110) Ignatius, on his way to Rome to be martyred, wrote a letter ("To the Ephesians" 1:3) to the bishop of Ephesus named Onesimus! It could have been this converted slave!


A. It shows how Paul used his apostolic authority and pastoral encouragement.

B. It shows how Christianity made brothers and sisters out of slaves and slave owners, rich and poor! This truth would, in time, radically change the Roman Empire.

C. It shows Paul's belief that he would be released from Roman imprisonment and return to Asia Minor.


1. "the church in your house," v. 2

2. my child, Onesimus, v. 10

3. useless. . .useful, v. 11

4. "you own me even your own self," v. 19


1. Apphia, v. 1

2. Onesimus, v. 10

3. Epaphras, v. 23

4. Mark, v. 24



1. How is Paul asserting his apostolic authority in 1:8?

2. How does this little book impact the issue of slavery?

3. Does v. 18 imply that Onesimus stole from his master?

4. Does v. 19 imply that Paul normally used a scribe?