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as a visitor to Colossæ at the same time as he is restored to his master.1
We gather from the epistle that Philemon had been converted to Christianity through the instrumentality of the apostle, and had since then earned a reputation for charity and devotion, his house being one of the meeting-places of the Church. It was owing to special circumstances, however, that he had the distinction of having an apostolic letter addressed to him. A slave of his, Onesimus by name,t had absconded (like many another Phrygian slave) and made his way to Rome, the great resort of needy adventurers, apparently with the aid of money stolen from his master. There he was providentially brought under the influence of Paul, and became a confirmed Christian, endearing himself to the apostle by his grateful and devoted services in the Gospel. As Onesimus was Philemon's lawful slave, Paul could not think of retaining him permanently in his service, so he took the opportunity afforded by Tychicus' return to Asia to send him back to his master.1 In doing so he gave him this letter to Philemon with the view of winning for him a merciful reception, and to save him from the severe and cruel punishment which was permitted by the Roman law—even to the extent of death --in such cases. 2
2 Ver. 19:
i Col. iv. 9 (quoted p. 168, note 2); Philemon ver. 12:
" whom I have sent back unto thee in his own person.'
say not unto thee how that thou owest to me even thine own self besides.” His conversion was probably a result of Paul's labours in Ephesus about six or seven years before. (See p. 167.)
3 Ver. 2: "to the church in thy house." Vers. 4-7: “I thank my God always, making mention of thee in my prayers, hearing of thy love, and of the faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints; For I had much joy and comfort in thy love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through thee, brother.” The practice of meeting for worship in private houses was quite common a hundred years later. To the question of the heathen prefect : “Where do you assemble?" Justin Martyr answered, "Where each one can and will. You believe, no doubt, that we all meet together in one place; but it is not so, for the God of the Christians is not shut up in a room, but He fills heaven and earth, and is honoured everywhere by the faithful.” Justin adds that his own house was ordinarily used for Christian meetings. “There is no clear example of a separate building set apart for Christian worship within the limits of the Roman empire
before the third century, though apartments in private houses might be specially devoted to this purpose." Cf. Rom. xvi. 5: “Salute the church that is in their house” (i.e. of Prisca and Aquila); 1 Cor. xvi. 19: Aquila and Prisca salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house”; Col. iv. 15: “Salute the brethren that are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church that is in their house."
4 A very common name for slaves, as inscriptions show. In the beginning of the second century, however, we find a bishop of Ephesus bearing the name-a tribute, perhaps, to the memory of the friend for whom Paul wrote this epistle.
5 Vers. 18, 19: “But if he hath wronged thee at all, or oweth thee aught, put that to mine account; I Paul write it with mine own hand, I will repay it."
6 Vers. 10-13: “I beseech thee for my child, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus, who was aforetime unprofitable to thee, but now is profitable to thee and to me: whom I have sent back to thee in his own person, that is, my very heart: whom I would fain have kept with me, that in thy behalf he might minister unto me in the bonds of the gospel.” Many slaves were clever and versatile men who would prove valuable
converts if thoroughly consecrated ; and such a man Onesimus seems to have been.
3. Date and Place of Composition. At Rome, 62-63 A.D. (see pp. 151-5).
4. Character and Contents. This is the only letter of St. Paul addressed to a friend on a matter of private business that has come down to us, although we cannot doubt that many others were written by him which have not been preserved.
On all sides it has received the warmest praise and admiration—not on account of its language, which has nothing particular to recommend it, but for its tact, delicacy, and good feeling 3
i Vers. 12, 13 (quoted above); Col. anywhere else is the gentleness of his iv. The slave was absolutely at his (. 168, note 2).
spirit portrayed more truly to the
Renan calls it “a true little master's disposal ; for the smallest masterpiece of the art of letter-writing "; offence he might be scourged, muti- and Sabatier says of it that “it gleams lated, crucified, thrown to the wild like a pearl of the most exquisite purity beasts.” Aristotle calls a slave "a living in the rich treasure of the New Testa chattel," "a living implement,” (ktņuá ment.”
It has often been compared τι έμψυχον, έμψυχον όργανον).
with the letter of the younger Pliny to 3 Luther said of it: “ This epistle
his friend Sabinianus, interceding for a showeth a right noble lovely example
freedman who had offended him; but of Christian love. Here we see how St. the apostolic letter, although inferior in Paul layeth himself out for poor One- literary style, is based on far broader simus, and with all his means pleadeth principles, and appeals to far higher his cause with his master; and so setteth motives, than the good-hearted persuahimself as if he were Onesimus, and had
sions of the cultivated Roman. For exhimself done wrong to Philemon. Even ample, the following expressions, which as Christ did for us with God the Father, occur in the latter, would be unworthy thus also doth St. Paul for Onesimus of a place in our epistle: "You may be with Philemon.
We are all his angry again if he deserves it; and in Onesimi to my thinking." "Though
this you will be the more readily parhe handleth a subject,” said Calvin,
doned if you yield now. ...
Do not " which otherwise were low and mean, torture him lest you torture yourself at yet after his manner he is borne up
the same time. For it is torture to you, aloft unto God. With such modest when one of your gentle temper is entreaty doth he humble himself on angry.” behalf of the lowest of men, that scarce
While the apostle puts the case very strongly in favour of Onesimus—so strongly that it has been finely said, "the word emancipation seems trembling on his lips,” — he refrains from any interference with Philemon's civil rights, seeking only to awaken within him such feelings of humanity and kindness as will be a safeguard against harsh and unbrotherly conduct. In this respect the epistle affords a good illustration of the remedial and reforming influence of the Gospel, which seeks to gain its ends from within and not from without, by persuasion rather than by compulsion.2
It has been described as the letter of a Christian gentleman, animated by strong Christian feeling, tempered with discretion, and expressed with dignity and modera
1 Vers : 14-17.
" but without thy mind I would do nothing; that thy goodness should not be as of necessity, but of free will. For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have him for ever ; no longer as a servant, but more than a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much rather to thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then thou countest me a partner, receive him as myself.” Vers. 20, 21: “Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord : refresh my heart in Christ. Having confidence in thine obedience I write unto thee, knowing that thou wilt do even beyond what I say.”
2 While asserting the equality of all men, in a moral and spiritual sense, in the sight of God, the apostle recognised slavery as an existing institution, which must be submitted to by those who could not legally obtain their freedom, and exhorted slaves to be obedient to their “masters according to the flesh ” (1 Cor. vii. 21-24; Eph. vi. 5-9; Col. iii.22—iv.1). The slave system was so long established, and so widespread (the number of slaves in many cities far exceeding that of the freemen), that for the apostles to have set themselves in direct opposition to the law, by preaching emancipation as an essential part of the gospel, would have been to rouse against them the hostility of the governing and educated classes, and might have led to a servile war, which would have cost thousands of lives, and would probably only have
fastened their chains more securely on the necks of the victims. But by teaching the universal brotherhood of men in Jesus Christ, and admitting all alike to full communion in the Church, the apostles brought an influence to bear upon society which could not fail in course of time to lead to the abolition of slavery, and which very soon led to voluntary efforts on the part of congregations to purchase the freedom of their slave-members, as well as to a change of social sentiment with regard to those who remained in that condition.
Among the heroes and heroines of the Church, were found not a few members of this class. When slavegirls, like Blandina in Gaul, or Felicitas in Africa, having won for themselves the crown of martyrdom, were celebrated in the festivals of the Church with honours denied to the most power: ful and noblest born of mankind, social prejudice had received a wound which could never be healed (Lightfoot). In the measures passed by Constantine, the first
Christian Emperor, for ameliorating the condition of slaves, we have the initiation of a movement which was to culminate in the nineteenth century,
in the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire, the liberation of twenty millions of serfs by the Emperor of Russia, the emancipation of the negro in the United States of America, and the final effort to heal “the open sore of the world " in the dark continent of Africa,
tion not untouched with humour.1 The whole tone and structure of the letter was well fitted to bring out the better nature of Philemon ; and it was doubtless to strengthen the appeal—by making Philemon realise that the eyes of his fellow-Christians were upon him—that Paul associates Timothy with himself in his opening greeting, which is addressed not to Philemon alone, but also to other Christian members of his household, and to the congregation meeting for worship in his house ; 2 and he sends salutations from several others whose names are given at the close.3 He even throws out a hint that it may not be long before he visits Philemon in person."
i In ver. II there is a play on the name
“Onesimus,” which in the original ('Ovño quos) means profitable"; and also in ver. 20, ovalunu (onaimen), “let me have help of thee.”. Perhaps there is a similar play of words in a xpnotov (achreston=unprofitable), and eŮXPNOTOV (euchreston=profitable) of ver. If with reference to the word Xplotós (Christos). Farrar calls attention to an interesting parallel in the language of an English preacher (Whitfield) when appealing to the comedian Shuter, who had often played the character of Ramble.
" And thou, poor Ramble, who hast often
rambled from Him, oh, end thy ramblings and come to Jesus.”
2 Vers. 1, 2: “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved and fellowworker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in thy house."
3 Vers. 23, 24: “Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus, saluteth thee; and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow-workers.”
4 Ver. 22: “But withal prepare me also a lodging : for I hope that through your prayers I shall be granted unto you."
" THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE
As regards external evidence, this is one of the best-attested of Paul's epistles; and until recently its genuineness was never doubted.1
Internally it bears a strong resemblance to Colossians, seventy-eight of its one hundred and fifty-five verses containing expressions that are also found in that epistle. No
1 Echoes of its language, more or less all things consist. And he is the head distinct, are found in the writings of of the body, the church : who is the Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, beginning, the firstborn from the dead; and Ignatius. The last-named writer, in that in all things he might have the prehis letter to the Ephesians, refers to Paul eminence. For it was the good pleasure as “making mention of you in Christ of the Father that in him should all the Jesus, in all his epistle” (or “ in every fulness dwell.” Eph. iv. 15, 16: “but epistle,” év trdon ¿TLOTOIŅ). Polycarp speaking truth in love, may grow up in quotes as Scripture what appears to be all things into him, which is the head, a passage in Ephesians: “Modo, ut even Christ ; from whom all the body his scripturis dictum est, 'Irascimini, et fitly framed and knit together through nolite peccare' et 'Sol non occidat super that which every joint supplieth, accordiracundiam vestram. The epistle ing to the working in due measure of was acknowledged by Marcion ; it is each several part, maketh the increase included in the Muratorian Canon, and of the body unto the building up of itself in the Syriac and Old Latin Versions ; in love"; Col. ii. 19:“And not holding and is expressly quoted as Paul's by fast the Head, from whom all the body, Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and being supplied and knit together through Origen.
the joints and bands, increaseth with the 2 E.g. cf. the following parallel pas
increase of God.” Eph. iv, 22-24: “that sages :--Eph. i. 21-23 : "far above all ye put away, as concerning your former rule, and authority, and power, and manner of life, the old man, which waxdominion, and every name that is eth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and named, not only in this world, but that ye be renewed in the spirit of your also in that which is to come: and he mind, and put on the new man, which put all things in subjection under his after God hath been created in righteousfeet, and gave him to be head over all ness and holiness of truth"; Col. iii. 9, things to the church, which is his body, IO: “lie not one to another; seeing the fulness of him that filleth all in all ” ; that ye have put off the old man with Col. i. 16-19: “for in him were all things his doings, and have put on the new created, in the heavens and upon man, which is being renewed unto knowearth, things visible and things invisible, ledge after the image of him that created whether thrones or dominions or princi- him. Eph. v. 19, 20: “speaking one palities or powers; all things have been to another in psalms and hymns and created through him, and unto him ; spiritual songs, singing and making and he is before all things, and in him melody with your heart to the Lord;