Why Did Paul Write to Philemon?

The traditional “background” to Philemon posits Philemon as a wealthy man and slave owner (15-16) probably living in Colossae.  He is described as a “partner” in Paul’s ministry and his house appears to have been used for meetings of believers (2).  His wife and son appear to share in the ministry of this house church.  Paul considers Philemon an “old friend.” It is possible he was saved in Ephesus when Paul spent three years earlier in the city.

Philemon BibleOne of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus has escaped and fled to Rome. It is possible Onesimus stole something from Philemon when he left. Rome is an easy place to “get lost” since it was very large; he could easily find a place to lay-low for the rest of his life.  While in Rome Onesimus meets Paul and accepts Jesus Christ as his Savior.  He apparently is with Paul for a while, since he is described as “useful” in Paul’s ministry.

Onesimus returns to his former master to ask forgiveness and accept his punishment.  The letter to Philemon is something like a “letter of recommendation” from Paul to Philemon vouching for Onesimus’ conversion.  Paul also promises to pay any debt Onesimus has incurred as a result of his escape.

This traditional background makes for a great story but it is hard to make this short letter fit this complex story. The main problem with the traditional view Onesimus’s encounter with Paul. If Rome is such a large city, how does Onesimus just happen to meet Paul there, a good friend of his former master?

One attempt to answer this problem is to assume Onesimus fled to Rome in order to find Paul and ask him to intercede on his behalf. Perhaps Philemon was not treating him fairly “in Christ” and he wanted to Paul to adjudicate their dispute. Paul would function as an amicus domini, a “friend of the master,” who is called upon to mediate a dispute. The situation is not unusual. In fact, Pliny wrote a letter which is similar to the situation in Philemon. In this letter Pliny writes Sabinianus on behalf of a freedman who has “fallen at his feet.”  Pliny asks Sabinianus to forgive a man who has insulted him in a youthful indiscretion.

A second possibility is Onesimus was an unsaved slave sent to help Paul in his imprisonment, perhaps on the analogy of Epaphroditus in Philippians. While working with Paul Onesimus accepts Christ and becomes useful in Paul’s mission in Rome. The letter of Philemon is therefore Paul’s requests to Philemon allow Onesimus to join Paul’s ministry team and perhaps even grant Onesimus his freedom.

A third, less likely possibility is that Onesimus is not a slave, but the wayward brother of Philemon. Verse 16 could be read as saying Onesimus is Philemon’s literal brother. The point of the letter would be the same (reconciliation with Philemon).

Fourth, perhaps Philemon was not the owner at all, but rather Archippus, from Colossians 4:17.  In Col. 4:17 Paul tells this man to “complete the work you have in the Lord.”  John Knox takes this to mean, “Free Onesimus.”  Philemon is the local “partner in ministry” in Colossae who is asked to act as a go-between for Onesimus and Archippus.  While this is an intriguing theory, there are a number of un-provable assumptions standing behind it.



Bibliography: John Knox, Philemon among the Letters of Paul (Nashville: Abingdon, 1959). L. Cope, “Rethinking the Philemon – Colossian Connection” Biblical Research 30 (1985): 45-50.  Knox is following his teacher E. R. Goodenough,  “Paul and Onesimus,” HTR 22 (1929): 181-83.

45 thoughts on “Why Did Paul Write to Philemon?

  1. Been reading Philemon closely late (memorizing it with Scripture Typer) and this gave me some things to think about. Thank you.

  2. Paul wrote to Philemon on Onesimus’ behalf in the book of Philemon (Philemon 1:8-22). Philemon was a “slave-owner and believer, who apparently was led to faith by Paul in Ephesus” (Longenecker, 213). Onesimus was a “slave of Philemon who became a Jesus-follower through Paul’s influence” (Longenecker, 385). As mentioned, it is presumed that Paul and Onesimus crossed paths in Rome. Longenecker provides multiple possible scenarios as to why Onesimus would leave Philemon and be in Rome to see Paul. One of the scenarios are that Onesimus was a runaway slave after stealing from his owner (Longenecker, 214). Another scenario suggests that Onesimus was an aggrieved slave who looked for Paul in Rome because Paul was a friend of Philemon. This opinion holds that Onesimus wanted Paul to mediate the conflict between him and his master; a common friend between them (Longenecker, 214). With both scenarios, Paul is believed to be in chains in Rome (Longenecker, 214).

  3. The book of Philemon has always had a place on my heart. I always found it so interesting that slavery was addressed in this manner. Like it states in Longnecker, “slave of Philemon who became a Jesus-follower through Paul’s influence.” Onesimus, when he ran away, found Paul. Paul lead him to know Christ and I believe that gave Paul a soft spot for Onesimus. He saw him as an equal, bonded by their love for Christ and became family through that. Paul became an advocate for Onesimus. I think that it is a cool testimony for Paul, that he was able to set aside the norms of slavery in that time and treat Onesimus as an equal and friend. It took bravery for Paul to stand up to his friend to help out a slave in that time frame. I have a lot of respect for Paul through the passage of Philemon.

    • I understand that the Philemon was a slave owner and Omesmus was a former slave of his. They both eventually are led to Christ by Paul. I get why this part of it is interesting. ‘Paul helps both of them and this is unquie because of the context and time frame. I also was not asware that we would later see omesimus as important in Pauls ministry as mentioned above, but I think that that sends a certain pattern within Paul’s ministry. He is always described as being part of the urban church if you will, because he doesn’t have a boundary of who he will help. In reading and really understanding Philemon, I don’t understand what the correlation between Paul talking to a slave and bravery as suggested by many. Why wouldn’t they be equal? Why would it be a big deal for Paul to talk to a slave and meet him as his equal? We are all made in the image of God, so why would he be treated any differently by Paul? If Paul is an urban leader and Christ follower, then wouldn’t he talk to anyone, no matter what walk of life, as his testimony suggests?

  4. At first really reading I was confused on how could someone hide out the rest of their life in Rome, but then when I compared it to New York city for example it would be really easy to hide out there for a good long time. When it comes to Paul’s and Onesimus’ meeting it is truly in the hands of God, it seems that God had placed everyone perfectly where he needed them to be. I think that it is correct in saying that Onesimus also wanted to search out Paul to help dispute things with his master “In response, Onesimus sought out Paul, a friend of his master whose whereabouts he knew or discovered would mediate the conflict”(TTP, 214). From this we get that Onesimus wanted Paul’s help to reconcile things with his master. And in the midst of things Onesimus actually converts to Christianity.

  5. After reading through Philemon I feel that it is most fitting that Onesimus is trying gain grace from Philemon and is hoping that a letter from Paul will help in that. “Perhaps his master was not treating him fairly “in Christ” and he wanted Paul to adjudicate their dispute” (P. Long). It sees that throughout Philemon the common theme is Onesimus wanting Philemon to take him back no matter the context in which it happens. The start is by Paul greeting Philemon then moving into how much love Philemon has. These seem to act as a buffer for the real conversation that is about to be had. Philemon 1:16 states, “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother – especially to me, but how much more to you both in the flesh and in the Lord”. I took this a beg for forgiveness over them being actually brothers as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We have all had times that we have felt nervous or uneasy about asking someone for forgiveness and wanted to have someone else there to help us express our feelings. We all need to see one another as equals. Rather than seeing some as below us and above us. If Paul a well known follower of Christ can see “a slave” as an equal why then can we not do the same?

  6. After reading through the book of Philemon, the first theory seems to be the most sound. It definitely gives off the feel as though Onesimus has wronged Philemon in some way. “that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.” (Philemon 1:10-11). I read this and see Onesimus as a burden on Philemon, a disgruntled and stubborn slave who has been no help. WE also know that Philemon, as a member of the church of Colossae heard Paul’s words when he wrote “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1). It would not be unrealistic to come to the conclusion that Onesimus had also heard these words and, feeling mistreated, sought aid from Paul on the matter.

  7. According to TTP, “Paul then composes a letter on behalf of ‘his son’ before reluctantly sending him back to Philemon” (TTP 214). Paul and Onesimus formed a relationship, so of course, Paul had good things to say about Onesimus. Would Paul’s judgement about Onesimus changed based off of his status? Paul was also trying to impress Philemon and get on his good side. TTP says, “Paul continues his subtle, skillful communication to Philemon in vv. 4-7 by reporting his thanksgiving to God for Philemon” (TTP 216).

  8. These are some really great possibilities to explain the letter. It does seem hard to believe that Onesimus would “get lost” and some how wind up running into Paul who happens to be good friends with his master. However, when we read Philemon we can see in versus 12 -14 where Paul mentions sending him back because he did not want to keep him without Philemon’s consent. If Philemon had originally sent Onesimus to Paul why would Paul be asking for permission to have him to help ministry? This unlikely scenario that led Onesimus to Paul at random was more certainly orchestrated by Go, working all things together for His will.

  9. Philemon baffled me for quite sometime because I didn’t understand the meaning of it. We see Paul advocating for a saved slave — which is good. Paul exhibits a lot of compassion for people, even as slaves. But from a modern state of mind, there’s a strange reality to accept here; that somehow, a theological hero is encouraging a slave to go back to his owner/master? Not much rings as right in a moral compass if someone’s advocating for slavery to be held as acceptable. There’s a different perspective here, though. There is reluctance, as Longenecker points out, accompanied with this love that Paul has for his saved brother that he is sending back. As I grow and comprehend more, I understand that there’s no condoning the idea of slavery, but instead going out of your way to right a situation, even if it’s not ideal. In any case, out of all of Paul’s letters, I think Philemon gets overlooked — after all, it barely covers a page!

  10. I remember reading Philemon for the first time and really studying it more in my senior year of High school. Before that, all I knew about the book was that it is very short! The story behind Philemon is very interesting and looking at the different viewpoints is very interesting as well. What we talked about in class today about Paul’s view on slavery was interesting regarding Philemon in that slavery was not a huge issue back in the first century. There were bigger fish to fry, such as doing away with your unwanted daughters or male “mentoring” (aka NOT really mentoring). Being a slave was not the worst position someone could be in during the first century. However, Paul still wrote to Philemon regarding his slave to encourage a better relationship with him as his slave, not necessarily urging him to free him. By Paul writing this very specific letter, I think it is very heart warming in that it shows how much Paul cared about Osemius. He even calls him his son in the letter. Paul usually writes to churches, not to specific people or a specific person for this matter. Yet, he cares a lot about this new family member in Christ.

  11. Part of my favorite thing about this book is the mystery of it. There is no clear cut answer (like many other stories) and it creates some good dialogue especially when there are so many different theories to consider. The relationship between these three men is worth investigating as you read the story. Obviously Onesimus and Philemon has some sort of falling out in order for Paul to get involved. What is interesting to me is the way that Paul and Onesimus start to interact. There is no time frame as far as how long these 2 have been hanging out but obviously in this time, Paul has gotten attached. “Just as Paul labored to give birth to Onesius, he labored to let him go.” (TTP, 217) He is his spiritual father so you can see why this would be difficult for Paul to let him go but it is also interesting if you remember that Paul is the spiritual father to Philemon as well. All of these things start to stack up as you get more and more context which just creates more layers that are up for debate. This is an exciting and interesting story that can be looked at from a new angle almost every time.

  12. One part of the story of Philemon that intrigues me is the change that takes place in the life of Onesimus after he is converted. While this may not fit with the theory that Onesimus was an upstanding slave who sought Paul’s help when he was not being treated as another “in Christ,” it does fit with all the other proposed theories. Whether Onesimus went to Rome to get lost, was a brother of Philemon, or was actually the slave of Archippus, he still experiences a character change from before his conversion to after he accepts Christ as Savior. In verse 11, Paul exclaims that Onesimus has become very useful to him, and he would appreciate it if Philemon returned him to Paul. Longenecker explains that this is actually a pun, as “in the past, Paul concedes, Onesimus did not live up to the meaning of his name” (217) Onesimus meant useful, and now he truly lived up to his name. This goes to show that when the Lord gets ahold of one’s life, fruit begins to appear that was not present before in that person’s life.

  13. My view of how Paul and Onesimus found each other is the idea that runaway slaves were not easily tolerated in the Empire. Slavery was an important economic reality and not many years prior a large slave revolt rocked all of Italy. Lets remember this was not racial slavery like the American type of the Nineteenth Century.
    Paul was probably already imprisoned when Onesimus got caught. Many factors could betray his status whether a distinctive slave mark or he might not have known how to act correctly in the stratified society of Rome.
    They no doubt recognized each other in prison and Paul may have intervened through his Roman friends to pay Onesimus fine or fee and so send him back to Philemon as a convert. Paul’s criminal case was probably more severe and had more opponents against him judging by other episodes such as Thessaloniki, but he expected release shortly also.

  14. There are two main theories behind how Onesimus and Paul came into contact with one another. The first, just as you mentioned earlier oh wise and great PLong, is that Onesimus stumbled across Paul in the large city of Rome (Longenecker, 214). This theory has held for a long time. However, the thought that is gaining ground is the “aggrieved slave hypothesis” (Longenecker, 214). This is the thought that Onesimus sought out Paul to help him with the situation involving his master. I am personally in favor of the second theory. It is not impossible that Onesimus and Paul ran into one another by chance in Rome, especially if God is involved. However, the idea that Onesimus sought out Paul seems much more probable, as a child seeks out a parent to intervene in a fight with an older sibling. The specifics of what happened between Onesimus and Phiemon have been lost in time, much like the arguments of young, dumb middle school girls who become frienemies. I almost wonder if God planned this on purpose, that way the modern church does not focus upon the fight, but the resolution. If the details of the fight had survived through time, people would be picking sides of who was right and wrong, stating that the scriptures of Pilemon only applied in that one specific situation, etc. The details of the fight are not important, feuds happen over events no one remembers, all they know is that they hate one another. The important thing to know is how to reconcile with one another, either as equals or people of subordinate and authoritative status.

  15. Similar to your more recent post, I found the story between Philemon and Onesimus an fascinating occurrence. From the letter that Paul wrote to Philemon we can tell that Paul is treating Philemon as a friend. Seeing that Paul could have been seen as, mentioned in the blog, as a “amicus domini, a ‘friend of the master,’ ” and the concept that a slave can as a friend of his master to be the middle man changes my idea of slaves during the Greco Roman era. The letter to Philemon from Paul, who during that time might have been in prison seen in verse 10, “that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.” Seeing that Paul could have been in prison might make one wonder about how Onesimus found Paul. If Paul was in prison Onesimus might have easily found him. Paul was a pretty well known guy and if you were to ask about his where about people might actually know. Paul wrote to Philemon to make an appeal for Onesimus that Philemon find mercy in him and give grace to Onesimus as Paul might have done for him. In verse 19 he mentions that, “…not to mention that you owe me your very self.” This could imply that Paul brought Philemon to Chrsit. Paul want Onesimus to stay with him according to verse 13 but Paul knows the Roman laws about slavery and sends him back rather than turning him to authorities and having them send Onesimus back. Paul sends Onesimus with this letter of appeal in hopes that Philemon frees him.

  16. The book of Philemon is one that I do not hear much about in the church. I grew up in the church, but I have never really heard much in-depth discussion and interpretation of the book of Philemon. Obviously, as a Grace student, I have studied Philemon in my Bible classes, but this is not a commonly-discussed book of the Bible. It is interesting to read about the four views regarding Onesimus and Paul in this blog post because in-depth conversation about the book of Philemon is not necessarily common.

    Longenecker and Still (2014) propose the idea that Paul and Onesimus may not have just randomly ran into each other in the large city of Rome, as well. They (2014) claim that this idea of them just randomly running into each other and meeting up with each other is not necessarily impossible, but it is not the only proposed idea from Bible scholars. When I look at the four possible perspectives or scenarios that led to the connection of the Apostle Paul with Onesimus, I believe the first two perspectives that are proposed in this blog post are the most formidable perspectives. They seem to be much more realistic than these two just running into each other. The first perspective, where Onesimus traveled to Rome in search of Paul in order to have Paul help him in his enslavement situation with Philemon, is considered the “aggrieved slave hypothesis” (Longenecker and Still, 2014, p. 214). Because there is a labeled hypothesis for this belief on the connection of Onesimus and Paul, it is evident that this train of thought is relatively popular amongst Bible students and scholars. Moreover, the fact that Paul refers to Onesimus as his son (Philemon vv. 10-11), indicates that Paul has incredible love and care for the life and well-being of Onesimus. One does not consider someone their son if they do not love and care for that person deeply. This is very, very important when it comes to interpreting the manner in which Paul and Onesimus met in Rome. When I read that Paul calls Onesimus his son, it shows that Paul has spent time with Onesimus and this person is close to him. This may favor the first and second perspective in this blog post.

    Lastly, although I do not think it is probable that Paul and Onesimus randomly ran into each other and connected in a city as large and busy as Rome, I do not think this idea should be completely ignored or dismissed. I say this because there is not concrete evidence to suggest that this did not happen, and less-probable things have happened in the Bible and in the world today. Therefore, I do not think it is fair to completely sweep this idea under the rug. Longenecker and Still (2014) suggest that this idea is not necessarily proven, but it is also not impossible. Bible scholars and students struggle to agree on a perspective on how Paul met with Onesimus, so I deem it unfair to simply disregard this perspective.

  17. I have not personally read through all of Philemon. But through learning in class and reading this blog post. I had some thoughts that occur to me as learning about why paul would write to Philemon. It seems as if Philemon made it into the bible and is apart of the canon because if the allegory here, or an example of how forgiveness works.
    Paul may have written to Philemon to fill him in on what is going on, but paul’s inspiration from God seems to have an underlying theme connecting to Jesus and us. The fact that the slave ran away and stole something, and then tried to hide in Rome makes sense. Most likely wasn’t being treated fairly and wanted to leave. Running in paul is a divine appointment by God. this is where paul saves the slave and teaches him how to ask for forgiveness for what he has done wrong.
    Once the slave goes backs and confesses his wrongdoing, paul then steps in to take the punishment the slave deserves. This to me is a very clear example of how we as sinful humans need to ask for forgiveness for being full of sin, yet Jesus had stepped in and took our punishment so we don’t have to. Our punishment was taken just like the slave’s punishment was taken by paul.

  18. I have not personally read through all of Philemon. But through learning in class and reading this blog post. I had some thoughts occur to me as learning about why Paul would write to Philemon. It seems as if Philemon made it into the bible and is apart of the canon because if the allegory here, or an example of how forgiveness works.
    Paul may have written to Philemon to fill him in on what is going on, but Paul’s inspiration from God seems to have an underlying theme connecting to Jesus and us. The fact that the slave ran away and stole something, and then tried to hide in Rome makes sense. Most likely wasn’t being treated fairly and wanted to leave. Running in Paul is a divine appointment by God. this is where Paul saves the slave and teaches him how to ask for forgiveness for what he has done wrong.
    Once the slave goes backs and confesses his wrongdoing, Paul then steps in to take the punishment the slave deserves. This to me is a very clear example of how we as sinful humans need to ask for forgiveness for being full of sin, yet Jesus had stepped in and took our punishment so we don’t have to. Our punishment was taken just like the slave’s punishment was taken by Paul.

  19. Philemon’s background was best explained as a man who was wealthy and a slave owner living in Colossae. He was known to be a partner of Paul’s—who considers Philemon to be an old friend—who opened his home as a place for Believers to hold meetings. Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves who had escaped and possibly stole something from Philemon when he left. Onesimus went to lay-low in Rome, where he meets Paul and comes to know and accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. After Onesimus brings Jesus into his life, he decides to return to his previous master in order to ask for forgiveness. Paul writes the letter to Philemon as a letter of recommendation as a way to vouch for Onesimus.
    The question concerning this story is that Rome is such a big city, so how did Onesimus meet Paul? The blog post gives four different possibilities in attempt to answer this question. The first possibility is that Onesimus went to Rome to find Paul and ask for his help with receiving less of a punishment for the actions he took of escaping his master, Paul’s good friend. It could have been that Onesimus was not being treated fairly and he needed Paul’s help to get to Philemon. The second possibility that the blog post mentions is that Onesimus was sent to help Paul in his imprisonment, while still an unsaved slave, but through working with Paul, he becomes saved. A third possibility, that is less likely, is that Onesimus was never actually a slave, but instead he was a wayward brother of Philemon. The fourth possibility includes the idea that Philemon was not the owner but rather it was Archippus, mentioned in Colossians 4:17. I feel like in my own life I have met people that are connected to other people—even people from other states—and in these situations I feel either they are able to make in impact on my life or I am able to make an impact on theirs. The Lord works in crazy ways and even thought there are many people in this world, the Lord connects people’s paths for a reason.

  20. Philemon has many stories of who he was and why he was an important figure in the Pauline literature. It is an interesting story that Philemon’s slave Onesimus happened to meet Paul while hiding in Rome from Philemon after stealing an item from his master. It seems bizarre that Paul would just happen upon Paul, a friend or partner of Philemon, in such a large city such as Rome. Like Phil Long explains in his blog post, “This traditional background makes for a great story, but it is hard to make this short letter fit this complex story. The main problem with the traditional view Onesimus’s encounters with Paul. If Rome is such a large city, how does Onesimus just happen to meet Paul there, a good friend of his former master?” The answer to this dilemma of fitting Onesimus’ story into the background of Philemon. Phil Long offers three different possibilities that answers the question of how Paul meets Onesimus in such a large city – Onesimus fled to Rome to specifically find Paul in the city for intercession on his behalf, he could’ve been a slave sent to help Paul with his imprisonment, and thirdly, and of least likely possibility, he was a brother to Philemon. Philemon in my opinion seems to be a very complex book in terms of understanding the true story of what happened in the story. It seems to be written because of the importance of the theme of forgiveness in the situation of Philemon and Onesimus. Philemon 8-16 says, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

  21. Back in the first century, slavery was viewed almost the same as it was back in the 20th century. Onesimus was a slave who was trying to escape from the hands of Philemon. There are a few thoughts that we can look at as to how Paul came across Onesimus. The first one is that they came across each other in the city of Rome. The second thought is that Onesimus was looking for Paul for help with the situation between him and Philemon. The third theory is that Onesimus is blood brothers with Philemon and Onesimus is looking for reconciliation with Philemon. The final theory that you talked about in your blog is that maybe Philemon was not the slave owner but Archippus was. In this theory Philemon would have been the ministry partner in Colossae between Archippus and Onesimus. I believe that the reason Paul had written Philemon is a teaching point to Onesimus after fleeing his owner to apologize and confess what he has done wrong. Paul then stands there for him and takes his punishment. This Is what we know God is doing for us as Christians.

  22. Kellum Bridgeforth
    Professor Long
    Pauline Lit
    Blog Post #9
    There are many reasons as to why Paul wrote this captivating letter to Philemon. According to P.Longs blog post there are four key reasons why Paul wrote the epistle Philemon two of which can be deemed less credible to my point of view. The two points that P.Long mentioned in this Blog post that I do not see fit would be that “Onesimus is not a slave, but the wayward brother of Philemon”(P.Long). We know that Onesimus is in fact one of Philemon’s servants and that he fled to Rome in order to get away from unfair and non Christ like treatment. Another point that I do not see fit would be the last point in the blog post. On the other hand the first two points are the clear winners in my eyes as to why Paul wrote the Letter Philemon. The first reason and the main reason why I think Paul wrote to Philemon was because “Onesimus fled to Rome in order to find Paul and ask him to intercede on his behalf” (P.Long). This is a very important part of this blog post and I think the most accurate because Onesimus was being treated non-Christ like, thus he fled to Rome; some say in search of Paul and some say to lay low in a big and busy city that he may blend in for the rest of his life. Nonetheless Onesimus was encountered by Paul and converted to Christ as his savior. Paul wanted Philemon to know that Onesimus was now useful and should not be treated like a servant; rather he needs to be treated like a son of Paul. Longenecker and Still says that “By sending his very splanchna to Philemon, the apostle is offering him refreshment. To part with one’s heart is by no means easy and is not to be taken lightly” (TTP 217). With that being said I think Paul wrote this letter to Philemon in efforts to appeal to Onesimus and in Verse 8 he says that all that is due to Onesimus needs to be charged to Paul’s account.

  23. Paul wrote Philemon to encourage reconciliation between him and Onesimus. His letter was not written exclusively to Philemon but also greets other believers which implies that matters like the one he writes about are a concern to the body of Christ not just to the individuals involved (Longenecker p.216). There are several possible interpretations as to how Onesimus came to encounter Paul in Rome because Rome was a large city, and they were not likely to run into each other by chance (Long). For a long time it was held that Onesimus was a runaway slave, but the more accepted theory now is that he was aggrieved and sought Paul as a mediator because Paul was his master’s friend (TTP p.214). While they were together in Rome, Paul ended up leading Onesimus to faith in Jesus and he became useful to him. Paul sent Onesimus back to make amends with his master and also out of respect because Onesimus was still legally a slave and could not be freed except by his master’s choice. The letter of Philemon is most simply a letter of recommendation which urged Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ, even as he would receive Paul himself. (TTP p.215). It is unclear whether Paul was asking Philemon to free Onesimus from slavery, but he certainly was wanting Onesimus to be returned to serve alongside him in Rome (TTP p.219). Paul left the decision of what to do with Onesimus to Philemon, but urged him to make his decision based on Onesimus’ newfound faith in Christ (ESVSB p.2356).

  24. I found this blog post very interesting. I personally have not read any of Philemon so I have no context other than what was presented here. In the post there seems to be a couple of possibilities as to why Onesimus “ran into” Paul after fleeing Philemon to Rome. As I was reading the log post, I did find it quite odd that he somehow found Paul in Rome despite it being a massive place someone could easily hide in and not be found. Seems highly unlikely to me that he found Paul by chance and had no ulterior motive. The first possibility in the attempt to understand how the two encountered each other is that Onesimus fled to Rome on purpose with the hopes of running into Paul and asking him for help with his dispute with Philemon. The reason shown in the post for the slave fleeing is that it is possible that Philemon wasn’t treating him very well. Onesimus therefore went to Rome in the hopes of finding Paul in order to have his slave owner’s “good friend” act as a mediator in his return to talk to Philemon.
    The second possibility of how and why Onesimus and Paul met is that Onesimus was an unsaved slave and he was sent to Paul to help him in his imprisonment. While he was with Paul, the slave was saved and became a useful part in Paul’s ministry thus resulting in Paul sending the letter to ask if the slave could continue his work within his ministry.
    The third possibility, which it is noted is an unlikely one, is that Onesimus was in fact not a slave and was the legitimate brother of Philemon. Even if this was the case the use of the letter would still be the same as the first possibility, to be a form of reconciliation.
    The final possibility is that Philemon wasn’t the slave owner and Archippus was. This possibility is backed up by Colossians 4:1 where it says “complete the work you have in the Lord”.
    In reading this blog post, I am still unsure of the actual reasoning behind the letter to Philemon and how exactly Onesimus came to meet Paul and his reasoning. However, after reading the four possibilities, the first one seems the most likely and to me, makes the most sense.

  25. I believe Paul wrote Philemon to encourage reconciliation between himself and Onesimus. Although this letter was addressed to Philemon, it still holds matters that are important for other believers. “The letter to Philemon was neither written nor received in a relational vacuum… nor is Paul the only person who is interested in and will be impacted by Philemon’s reception of Onesimus” (Longenecker, p. 216). Slavery is common back then, as it still is sadly in some parts of the world today, thus Philemon is not alone in this matter. Paul is appealing to Philemon on the Christian virtue of love. Paul is praising Philemon for the love he has shown not just to him but to all the believers in the area. He tells Philemon how Onesimus is now reconciled to God and as a fellow believer you should let him join the mission field.

    Paul is transformed Onesimus life and will be able to transform many more with his help (v. 11). Onesimus is therefore useful as he has experienced the transforming power of his life. We see Paul does not just take Onesimus away from his master, but legally does what is right, asking his owner to let him start a new life with him. Philemon was the one that ultimately was given the option to keep Onesimus as his slave or not. Philemon obviously forgave his slave, who had stole from him, when he left for Rome, and gave him new life as Onesimus had recently found in Jesus Christ.

  26. There are many different ideas and reasons that center around why Paul wrote to Philemon. Before we get into that, Philemon was a wealthy slave owner who lived by Colossae. It is said that his house was used for gatherings between believers. One of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, escaped from him and decided to live a life in Rome. While he was there he found Paul and was saved to know Christ as his savior. After he was saved he ends up returning back to Philemon and asking him for forgiveness. Professor Long writes “The letter to Philemon is something like a “letter of recommendation” from Paul to Philemon vouching for Onesimus’ conversion.” (Long, 2019) Basically, Onesimus accepts his punishment from Philemon and Paul sends him a letter pardoning him. Paul is vouching for Onesimus. It is crazy how Onesimus meets Paul in such a large city. It is possible that Onesimus ran away from Philemon and was trying to find Paul because he was not being treated right by Philemon. He seeks Paul to try and have him talk to Philemon about his actions and attitude toward Onesimus. It is also possible that Onesimus finds Paul and is saved and wants to join his ministry journey. Paul writes to Philemon to ask if he can join. Professor Long also suggests that it is possible that Onesimus may have been a brother to Philemon instead of a slave. It is unknown what exactly brought Onesimus to Paul other than God. God wanted him to be in that moment and at that time. God knows what he is doing and used Onesimus in a way to demonstrate his unpredictable timing.

  27. The reason I believe Paul wrote Philemon was to show the reconciliation with Onesimus but them meeting each other in Rome is very confusing. As described Rome was a very large city in which Onesimus could stay for the rest of his life without being caught. But for him to meet Paul who just so happens to be very good friends with his former master Philemon is hard to believe. The first example that Long gives of Onesimus fleeing to Rome to find Paul does not seem as possible because of how big Rome was. For Onesimus to set out to find a single person in one of the biggest cities for them to simply be a moderator is not something that could seem as possible. The second example Long gives is Onesimus was an unsaved slave that was sent to Paul during his imprisonment. This is the possibility that seems to stand out to me as being most possible because Onesimus would have no trouble locating Paul as he was in Prison and the letter of Philemon was actually sent to Philemon as a request to let Onesimus free as he has become a new believer. This is the most practical option in my opinion because of how easy it would have been to locate Paul in the big city of Rome. With Onesimus being a new believer it is also likely that he would want to be apart of Paul’s ministry team to further his learning about God.

  28. The prompt is, “If Rome is such a large city, how does Onesimus just happen to meet Paul there, a good friend of his former master?” (Long). I don’t know why Onesimus happens to meet Paul in Rome, especially since it is described as a huge place in which it would be easy to blend in and start fresh. I would have thought that Onesimus would do exactly that and start a new life without being noticed, but surprisingly he met Paul and went back to Philemon. There are four reasons stated as to why Onesimus would find Paul. The first reason is the assumption that Onesimus purposefully looked for Paul to intercede with Philemon and his misuse of faith. The second explanation could be that Onesimus is unsaved and while with Paul he accepted Christ, then Paul sent a letter to Philemon excusing Omnesimus from slavery to join him on his journey that way he would be a slave no more. A third explanation could be that Onesimus is not a slave, but Philemon’s literal brother, which is less likely but not ruled out. In which case Onesimus sought out Paul to reconcile with Philemon. Lastly, another answer could be that the slave owner was not Philemon, but Archippus, and Paul tells Archippus to free Onesimus. I also have a more basic explanation of what could have happened. Possible Onesimus was not looking for anyone, except freedom. As we may know, we encounter people we never think we will, hence the phrase, “what a small world”. It is possible that Onesimus suddenly encountered Paul and recognized him as Philemon’s good friend and opened his eyes to what he was doing. Onesimus then became saved the rest I am not sure of.

  29. It’s not hard to tell that this man really trusted Paul in that way. He wanted Paul to help him, as Paul being so faithful to God was happy to help the man. Even though there were many times that Paul didn’t feel as though the Lord was using him, and didn’t understand completely why he did what he did by going to all these areas to preach the gospel. Moments like this though help make everything worth it. Maybe not worth it but it is nice to see a tangible moment for him of someone who trusts him, and wants his help

  30. When reading books of the Bible, I tend to read it at face value and never look into the background of the book, so it was very interesting to read the book of Philemon and have it been sort of a mystery. After reading all the conclusions that people come up with the traditional background for this story, I feel that the first scenario seems the most probable. Slaves in the first century weren’t like what we picture slaves as in the 19th century, they were much more involved in the masters’ lives. It is said that the masters were seen in a parental way so slaves would have known the connections that they had. This would help prove the point that Onesimus knew of Paul because he was a friend of Philemon. We know that Onesimus didn’t know Christ until after meeting Paul, but it was likely that he knew about Jesus because Philemon was also a follower of Christ just like Paul. As said in the blog, maybe Philemon wasn’t treating Onesimus “fairly” which is why he acted the way that he did in order to get back at Philemon. In his time apart from Philemon and meeting with Paul in prison, he too would become a Christian. What is interesting to me is the thought of the purpose on why Onesimus became a Christian because he understands that Paul would write on his behalf to Philemon so is this the reason on why he accepted Christ or was it for different motives. Who knows maybe I am wrong but it is fun to begin to think of the different possibilities and motives for people because we aren’t them and won’t know for sure.

  31. It is interesting to see that we do not necessarily all agree about the book of Philemon and the background that goes with it. It is interesting to think that of all the people to meet he meets Paul and of all places, he meets him in Rome. Mathematically, it seems nearly impossible to happen by chance. There seems that there should be a purpose for two people to meet in such a largely populated place. Long has the same thought. “If Rome is such a large city, how does Onesimus just happen to meet Paul there, a good friend of his former master?” (Long, 2019). Longenecker suggests that it may not have been by pure chance. “Such a scenario, while not impossible, is not provable and is by no means the only scholarly proposal” (Longenecker, 214). An idea Longenecker proposes is called the “aggrieved slave hypothesis.” This suggested that Onesimus went to seek out Paul with potential conflict with him and his master. Paul then writes a letter to Philemon on behalf of this. Of the propositions that Long suggests, I feel like the first two are the most probable. However, just because the previous believed background doesn’t seem probable, does not mean it’s impossible. We see God do things that “beat the odds” in various occasions. Maybe the background of the book of Philemon is one of those occasions.

  32. I find it amazing how Christ truly works in mysterious ways. God was able to bring both Onesimus and Philemon to the faith through this story of Onesimus leaving his owner and running into Paul. The issue of Philemon is that it is extremely doubtful that Paul ran into Onesimus, the slave of his friend Philemon, in the large city of Rome. My argument against this, that I really have no evidence for, is that we have seen crazier things happen in the Bible. I like to believe that perhaps God had a plan for both Onesiumus and Phileom and that is why they ran into each other. The belief that Onesimus went to find Paul on purpose honestly makes the most sense because everyone knows how hard it is to say no to your pastor. I have been asked multiple times to do things I did not want to do by my pastor, and I always ended up doing them. It would make total sense that Onesimus had the same thought and wanted to get some help regarding his master Philemon.

  33. I read Philemon just had trouble understanding what was going on until I read the blog post now I understand it. Philemon was a wealthy man and slave owner. He described his friend Paul’s ministry. Paul considers Philemon his old friend. Anyway, Philemon’s slave Onesimus escaped from his master and went to Rome. Rome is big where the person can hardly find someone there. The good thing Onesimus was able to lay-low. Onesimus was able to find Paul and accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. I think that Onesimus was trying to find Paul and probably saw him so I guess he went to go follow Paul and then talk to him. Onesimus did the right thing to return to his former master to ask for forgiveness and had to accept his punishment. Seems how the Philemon is wealthy he should have done the right thing to treat his slaves the proper way as a Christian that he “friends” with Paul. It is wrong that Philemon is the owner of the slaves instead of teaching his slaves about Christ. Paul would have taught Philemon and other people to treat people the right way in Christ way. Philemon allows Onesimus to join Paul’s ministry which is part of his freedom from being a slave. Nowadays, Christians masters do not have slaves, they have helpers or workers. That is how I see it. I am sure there are missionary people who would have helpers and pay them or teach the people that are struggling with reading, speaking English or I want to accept Christ to change their life.

  34. The reason why Paul wrote Philemon isn’t hard to discover; it’s a simple message of love and forgiveness that is given by God to Philemon to show the now saved slave Onesimus. I think it’s important to know that Paul’s message to Philemon was extra bold because he knew him personally. In this letter Paul explained the gospel to Philemon, in doing so he made a request that he would forgive Onesimus and accept him as a brother in Christ. Paul requested that after the forgiveness took place he wanted Onesimus sent back to him because he viewed Onesimus as useful in God’s Kingdom service. Noted that though this book is used to encourage Paul doesn’t turn a blind eye to Onesimus’s sin rather he required that it be addressed and then taken care of by the action of grace. This letter to Philemon presents a great transformation from a sinful slave into a new-believer seeking Christian love and forgiveness. I think that through this book we can learn that though it’s difficult to forgive those who do us wrong, it is important to do so. Not it’ll never come easy but we have to come to the realization that Christ did the same thing for us to an extreme leve. So just as Christ showed mercy, forgiveness and love through sacrificing himself for a bunch of wrong-doers we as Christians should act the same in forgiving and showing love to the wrong-doers in our lives.

  35. In the book of Philemon, the traditional understanding follows that Onesimus was a runaway slave who met Paul in Rome. Once encountering Paul, shortly after accepts Jesus as his savior and realizes his wrongness for escaping his master. Onesimus then decides to return to his master to ask forgiveness and apologize. This leads to Paul writing a letter on behalf of Onesimus to “vouch” for his conversion and offers to pay for the potential damages Onesimus has cost. His master, Philemon, was a believer in Christ who was wealthy and most likely church services in his household. He is described as a “partner” in Paul’s ministry and might have been saved in Ephesus on Paul’s prior missionary journey.
    However, as Long notes, while this traditional view creates a good story, it is a complex narrative that may contain potential issues. For example, in a city as large as Rome, how would Onesimus have happened to meet the escaped slave of his friend and partner in ministry? This has caused a few alternative suggestions to arise among scholars, such as the possibility that Onesimus purposely fled specifically to Rome in order to find Paul. This would have been done so Paul could have interceded for Onesimus, as it could be that Philemon is not fairly treating him as a brother “in Christ”. Another possibility is that Onesimus was a non-believing slave who Philemon sent to Paul while imprisoned to help him, shortly becoming a helpful individual in Paul’s ministry. A third possibility, as Long yet notes is unlikely, is that Onesimus is the biological brother of Philemon, not an actual slave, who desires Paul to help him and his brother solve their dispute and find reconciliation. The final suggestion is that Philemon is not the owner of Onesimus but Archippus who is mentioned in Colossians 4:17. In the passage, Paul tells Archippus to “complete the work you have in the Lord”, from which scholars like John Knox interpret this to mean “Free Onesimus”. Regardless of these possible alternatives, the traditional view still finds itself appealing while these possibilities, while intriguing, lack compelling evidence to overrule the traditional view. Therefore, it stands reasonable to continue to embrace the popular view, albeit with slight nuances when discussing the intricate details of the letter itself.

  36. Onesimus is clearly a believer by the end of Philemon and may have been before encountering Paul. Many individuals believe that this was not the case and Paul’s letter to Philemon seems to make this clear. However, Colossians deals with the relationship between slaves and masters in a very different way then all of Scripture. Clearly, the believers in Colossae knew of Onesimus (Colossians 4:9) and therefore may have known about his situation.
    There may have been a great deal of correction that was needed on Philemon’s end, as well as Onesimus’. It may be the case that Onesimus receive his correction during his time with Paul and while the letter of Philemon is a letter of recommendation, it may also be true that the book of Colossians was intended to correct Philemon, as well as the other believers in Colossae.
    There is nonetheless a desire from Paul to restore this relationship and to have Philemon accept Onesimus back – still as a slave – but more importantly as a brother in the faith. It is clear that the friendship between Philemon and Paul has a certain degree of closeness, considering that Paul tells Philemon to make a room ready for him, as he wrote “At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (Philemon 22).” Paul may have used this relationship to make peace between Onesimus and Philemon but did so in a loving and kind manner that was beneficial to all.

  37. reading this in the bible, to me, just felt weird as to why it is in here. i knew it was written by Paul and it does teach to respect others in power and to respect people who are working for us, but i never knew as to why this letter was written. after reading this blog and from class, i understand a bit more. like the three possibilities have been said from both the blog and in the class notes, either one or all of these give a better understanding as to why it was written. to point out out to Onesimus to go back to Philemon and ask for forgiveness for whatever he possibly stole from him and for Philemon to accept him back. it kind of reminds me of the prodigal son parable that the son came back to the father and asked to forgive him and to be a part of the workers. however, the father accepted him back and had a celebration for his return. i would like to believe that Paul used this parable for both Onesimus and Philemon in mind when he wrote this letter.

  38. I always found this an interesting story. It is fascinating how Philemon and Paul are partners in Paul’s ministry as Philemon is a wealthy man and slave owner (Long, p150). It is enthralling of how Onesimus might have stolen something from his master and fled, which picks at the brain as to what that may be and as why he did it. There are possible reasons of why he fled which were: to find Paul and ask to arbitrate on his behalf, could be an unsaved slave sent to Paul to aid him in his imprisonment, he could not be a slave but wayward brother of Philemon, or Philemon could have not been the owner at all but Archippus (Long, p151). Though the first two reasons seem more likely than the last two in my opinion.

    In the end, Paul does write to Philemon that Onesimus was deemed useful in his ministry, even so he was “a son” to him (Longenecker, p217). In which Paul summarizes in the beginning and ending of his letter that we are all under one body with many parts – Jew or Gentile, slave or free – and have been baptized under one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13-14) (Longenecker, p216).

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