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lowest of which was supposed to have been far enough removed from the Supreme Being to be capable of bringing into existence the base material world. In opposition to this theory the apostle insists upon the absolute and universal mediatorship of Christ-in the outward universe created through Him (i. 16) as well as in the Church of which He is the Head (i. 18), and warns his converts against being led astray by a false philosophy, associated with the worship of angels, which some of their teachers were trying to introduce into the Church.
On its practical side the error took the form of a rigorous asceticism, intended to free man's spirit from the degrading influence of the world and the flesh. To counteract this tendency, the apostle proclaims the inspiring and life-giving power of fellowship with Jesus Christ, by whose death upon the Cross reconciliation has been effected between heaven and earth, and in whom "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." The spirit of Christ ought to raise Christians above the mere elements or "rudiments" of the world, imparting to them new motives and a higher consciousness; and the apostle calls upon his readers to consecrate "in Christ" all departments of their personal and social life.
While the speculative and practical aspects of the subject are not kept entirely distinct, the former is chiefly dealt with in the first chapter, after the opening salutation, thanksgiving, and prayer; while the second chapter is more polemical in tone, and forms an introduction to the practical exhortations which occupy the third and part of the fourth or last chapter. The remainder of the epistle (iv. 7-18) is occupied with salutations and personal explanations and directions.
In several passages a reference may be traced to the intellectual pride and exclusiveness which were associated
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with the errors of the Colossian Church. Among its Jewish members, the pride of intellect was taking the place of the old pride of nationality. In opposition to this tendency the apostle declares that "in Christ" -not in any philosophy which man could devise are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden (ii. 3). He prays that they "may be filled with the knowledge of his will all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (i. 9). He represents the Gospel as a mystery" that has been "manifested" to the whole Church-his duty as an apostle being to proclaim Christ, "admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that he may present every man perfect in Christ" (i. 25-28; ii. 2, 3). He thus declares the Church to be a spiritual democracy in which there is no room for any privileged class or inner circle of disciples,the Scythians, the least refined of nations, being raised to the same level, in a spiritual sense, as the Jews themselves, or the most cultivated of the Gentiles (iii. 11).
1. Authorship.-This epistle is thoroughly Pauline; and its contents are of too private and (from a doctrinal and ecclesiastical point of view) too insignificant a nature to have ever been admitted into the Canon if it had not been a genuine writing of Paul's.1
1 "It was preserved in the family to which it was addressed, and read first, no doubt, as a precious apostolic message of love and blessing, in the Church which assembled in Philemon's house. Then copies of it became multiplied, and from Colossæ it spread through the Church universal. It is quoted as early as the second century, and has ever, except with some few who question everything, remained an undoubted portion of the writings of St. Paul" (Alford, How to Study the New Testament). It was first called in question in the fourth century, on the ground that its matter and contents were beneath the dignity of apostolic authorship!
Its close connection with Colossians has already been referred to. The circumstances under which it reached Philemon, and even the latter's place of residence, would be shrouded in mystery if it were not for Colossians. Yet no hint is given there of the episode in Paul's life which gave rise to this epistle-the only thing relating to it being an allusion to Onesimus as "the faithful and beloved brother who is one of you" (Col. iv. 9). So independent are the two epistles in their
2. The Reader. "To Philemon our beloved, and fellow-worker."
To ascertain Philemon's residence we have, as already remarked, to consult the Epistle to the Colossians. Philemon himself is not mentioned there; but Archippus whom Paul associates with Philemon and Apphia (probably Philemon's wife) in the opening greeting of this epistle, is mentioned in Colossians in such a way as to imply that he was an office-bearer of the Church either at Colossæ or in the neighbourhood (iv. 17). From the context (iv. 15, 16) it has been suggested that Laodicea, which was about twelve miles from Colossæ, was the scene of Archippus' labours. The association of his name with that of Philemon, in the epistle addressed to the latter, would lead us to suppose that he was either Philemon's son or possibly his minister. The connection of Philemon with Colossæ is further evident from the fact that his slave Onesimus is spoken of in the Epistle to the Colossians as "C one of you," ," and is announced as a visitor to Colossæ (Col. iv. 9) at the same time as he is restored to his master (Philemon 12).
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.1 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, 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. 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
3. Date and Place of Composition.-At Rome, 61-62 A.D. (see pp. 108-110).
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. While
1 For similar instances cf. Rom. xvi. 5, 1 Cor. xvi. 19; Col. iv. 15. "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" (Lightfoot on Colossians and Philemon, p. 241).
2 "The slave was absolutely at his master's disposal; for the smallest offence he might be scourged, mutilated, crucified, thrown to the wild beasts" (Lightfoot, ibid. p. 319).
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.1
It has been described as the letter of a Christian gentleman, animated by strong Christian feeling, tempered with discretion, and expressed with dignity and moderation not untouched with humour.2 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
1 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 slavery. 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.
2 In verse 11 there is a play on the name "Onesimus." which in the original means "profitable."