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Introduction to Philemon


Summary of the Book of Philemon

This summary of the book of Philemon provides information about the title, author(s), date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of Philemon.

Author, Date and Place of Writing

Paul wrote this short letter (see vv. 1,9,19) probably at the same time as Colossians (c. a.d. 60; see Introduction to Colossians: Author, Date and Place of Writing) and sent it to Colosse with the same travelers, Onesimus and Tychicus. He apparently wrote both letters from prison in Rome, though possibly from Ephesus (see Introduction to Philippians: Author, Date and Place of Writing; see also chart, p. 2261).

Recipient, Background and Purpose

Paul wrote this letter to Philemon, a believer in Colosse who, along with others, was a slave owner (cf. Col 4:1; for slavery in the NT see note on Eph 6:5). One of his slaves, Onesimus, had apparently stolen from him (cf. v. 18) and then run away, which under Roman law was punishable by death. But Onesimus met Paul and through his ministry became a Christian (see v. 10). Now he was willing to return to his master, and Paul writes this personal appeal to ask that he be accepted as a Christian brother (see v. 16).

Approach and Structure

To win Philemon's willing acceptance of Onesimus, Paul writes very tactfully and in a lighthearted tone, which he creates with a wordplay (see note on v. 11). The appeal (vv. 4-21) is organized in a way prescribed by ancient Greek and Roman teachers: to build rapport (vv. 4-10), to persuade the mind (vv. 11-19) and to move the emotions (vv. 20-21). The name Onesimus is not mentioned until the rapport has been built (v. 10), and the appeal itself is stated only near the end of the section to persuade the mind (v. 17).


I.           Greetings (1-3)

  1. Thanksgiving and Prayer (4-7)
  2. Paul's Plea for Onesimus (8-21)
  3. Final Request, Greetings and Benediction (22-25)

──New International Version


Introduction to Philemon

Philemon was an inhabitant of Colosse, a person of some note and wealth, and a convert under the ministry of St. Paul. Onesimus was the slave of Philemon: having run away from his master, he went to Rome, where he was converted to the Christian faith, by the word as set forth by Paul, who kept him till his conduct proved the truth and sincerity of his conversion. He wished to repair the injury he had done to his master, but fearing the punishment his offence deserved might be inflicted, he entreated the apostle to write to Philemon. And St. Paul seems no where to reason more beautifully, or to entreat more forcibly, than in this epistle.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Philemon

Philemon General Review
AUTHOR:  PAUL, the apostle of Jesus Christ (1,9,19)
PLACE OF WRITING:  ROME, about the same time the epistle to the
Colossians was written.  This deduction is based upon the following:
   1) Like the epistle to the Colossians, the epistle to Philemon was
      written when Paul was in chains (1,10,13,23)
   2) Timothy joined Paul in both epistles (1; Co 1:1)
   3) Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke joined in the
      salutation of both (23,24; Co 4:10-14)
   4) Onesimus, the subject of this epistle, was one of the messengers
      by whom the epistle to the Colossians was sent (Co 4:7-9)
   5) Archippus, to whom this epistle is partially addressed (2), is
      also addressed in the epistle to the Colossians (Co 4:17)
TIME OF WRITING:  If the epistle to Philemon was written about the
time Colossians and the other "prison epistles" (Ephesians and 
Philippians) were written, then it was written during Paul's 
imprisonment at Rome, sometime during the period of 61-63 A.D.
BACKGROUND OF THE EPISTLE:  Philemon was a member of the church at Colosse
(cf. 1,2, with Co 4:17), and a very hospitable one at that
(1,2,5,7).  It is possible that he was one of Paul's own converts (19).
It is also plausible that Apphia was his wife, and Archippus his son
Onesimus had been one of Philemon's slaves (16), who had run away (15).
It appears that he somehow traveled to Rome where he found Paul and
was converted to Christ (10).  He had become very dear to Paul, and was
proving to be very useful (11-13).
But Paul did not think it right to keep Onesimus in Rome, and was
sending him back to Philemon (12-14).  This letter to Philemon is an
appeal for him to receive Onesimus now as a brother in Christ, and for
him to forgive Onesimus if he had done any wrong (15-21).
PURPOSE OF WRITING:  From the content of the epistle, it appears that
Paul had both a primary and secondary purpose:
   1) Primarily to secure forgiveness for Onesimus
   2) But also to provide from himself a place of lodging after his
      release from imprisonment (22)
THE VALUE OF THIS EPISTLE:  This short, but valuable epistle has been
described as:
               * A Model Of Christian Courtesy
               * A Manifestation Of Christian Love
               * A Monument Of Christian Conversion
Perhaps this is why the Holy Spirit deemed it proper to preserve it for
our benefit.
KEY PASSAGE:  "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have
               begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable
               to you, but now is profitable to you and to me."
BRIEF OUTLINE:   Paul's Courtesy (1-3)
                 Paul's Compliment (4-7)
                 Paul's Counsel (8-21)
                 Paul's Conclusion (22-25)
A detailed outline of the epistle can be found in the material on
Chapter One.
1) Who is the author of this epistle?
   - Paul
2) Where was he writing from?
   - Rome
3) Approximately when was this epistle written?
   - Sometime between 61-63 A.D.
4) What other epistles were written by Paul about the same time?
   - Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians
5) What church possibly met in Philemon's home?
   - The church at Colosse
6) Who was Onesimus?
   - A runaway slave that had belonged to Philemon
7) What was Paul's purpose in writing this epistle?
   - To secure forgiveness for Onesimus
   - To provide for himself a place of lodging after his release from
8) What are the key verses to this epistle?
   - Philemon 10-11


--《Executable Outlines