Book of the Week 57: Philemon

Greek Name: PROS PHILEMONA

Human Author: Paul                                                           

OT or NT: New Testament

Number of Chapters: 1

Basic Facts

  1. Philemon is the fifty-seventh book of the Bible.

  2. In terms of literary genre, Philemon is classified as an epistle, or letter.

  3. The Greek name for the book of Philemon is PROS PHILEMONA, which means “to Philemon,” or “for the benefit of Philemon.”

  4. Philemon is a personal letter written by Paul to a man named Philemon.

  5. Paul appeals to Philemon on the basis of love in Christ to show mercy to Onesimus, a runaway slave.

Story of the Book

Paul begins this very short letter by acknowledging that he is writing while in prison (Philemon 1:1). Paul greets and addresses his letter to Philemon his brother in Christ, Apphia is sister in Christ, Archippus a fellow soldier, and to all the members of Philemon’s household (Philemon 1:2-3). Paul thanks God for Philemon, expressing gratitude for his faith and for the fact that the body of Christ has been and continues to be refreshed through the faithfulness of Philemon (Philemon 1:4-7). Paul then appeals to Philemon on behalf of a man who has been Philemon’s slave, a man named Onesimus. Paul states that he is a prisoner in chains and an old man. Paul tells Philemon that he has the spiritual authority to command Philemon to do the right thing (presumably to free Onesimus), but appeals to Philemon instead as a brother in Christ on the basis of love. Onesimus is a runaway slave who became a Christian, and was adopted by Paul as a son during his imprisonment. Paul appeals to Philemon to receive Onesimus back not merely as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. In other words, Paul appeals to Philemon to receive Onesimus back in just the way he would receive Paul himself if he came to visit in person. In this way, Paul restores Onesimus to Philemon as a slave, but appeals to Philemon on the basis of love to receive Oniasimus back as a brother in Christ forever (Philemon 1:8-16). Paul appeals to Philemon to be obedient to Christ by showing mercy to Onesimus and doing even more to bless Onesimus, and in so doing to refresh Paul’s heart in Christ (Philemon 1:17-20). Paul also asks Philemon to prepare a guest room for Paul, because Paul is confident that he will soon be released from prison and plans to visit Philemon in person in the near future (Philemon 1:21-22). The letter ends with a number of personal greetings from others who are imprisoned for the gospel, whom Paul identifies by name (Philemon 1:23-25).

Jesus Revealed in Philemon

Jesus is revealed in Philemon as the Savior who sets us free from sin by reconciling all people to God through Jesus’ finished work on the cross. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). On the basis of this spiritually liberating work of Christ who frees us from sin and death, Paul appeals to Philemon to show mercy to Onesimus for running away. Paul appeals to Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ even to the extent that Philemon would receive Onesimus as if he were Paul himself (Philemon 1:8-20). In Christ we have all been reconciled to God and to one another, and God shows no favoritism. When we are united in Christ as brothers and sister in the Lord, we too must refrain from any form of favoritism. We must do likewise in showing mercy in Christ.