Authorship and Audience

Written by Paul to Philemon (vs. 1), a Christian in Colosse, along with Apphia and Archippus (2).

Date and Context

Philemon was a relatively wealthy man who owned a slave named "Onesiumus". It appears from the text that this slave had run away from Philemon and had found Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome. While with Paul in Rome, Onesiumus became a believer (10) and became useful to Paul in his ministry (11 and 13). Paul then sends Onesiumus back to his master in hopes that:

  1. The relationship between Philemon and Onesiumus can be mended (10, 15-19).
  2. Philemon will send Onesiumus back to help serve Paul in his ministry (12-14, 20).


  • The ground is level at the foot of the Cross. One of the foundational themes of this book is that, in Christ, a slave and his/her master can both worship together as equals before Christ. Once you have spiritual life in Christ, your primary identity is not defined by your social, economic, or political status, but by the fact that you are in Christ. As it is often said: "The ground is level at the foot of the cross".


0. Introduction [1-3]

I. Philemon's Godly Reputation [4-7]

II. Paul's Appeal [8-21]

A. Paul's Right to Demand [8-9]

B. Paul's Desire that Onesiumus Minister with Him [10-14]

C. Paul's Plea that Philemon Forgive Onesiumus as a Brother in Christ [15-20]

D. Conclusion of the Plea: Paul's Confidence in Philemon [21]

III. Final Instructions [22]

IV. Closing [23-25]


  • The mode of argumentation used by Paul in this letter is very interesting. It highlights the personal relationship Paul had with Philemon and reinforces the power of doing something from goodwill rather than compulsion (8-9).
  • In a lecture on this book, Martin Luther referred to some verses in this letter saying: "This is good flattery; but it is holy, because it proceeds as in Christ."[1].
  • For more on what the Bible has to say to slaves and masters, read Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22 - 4:1.
  • Onesiumus's name means "useful", "beneficial", or "profitable". Paul makes a play on his name in verse 20: "Yes, brother, let me benefit [ὀναίμην] from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ." (emphasis and greek text added).

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