The letter of Philemon was written by Paul the apostle along with Timothy. Paulwas definitely the author and nothing needs to confirm that. The “externaltestimony is unimpeachable.” (Smith, p.510) The letter was written to Philemonon behalf of Onesimus. Philemon lived in Colosse and we know this becauseOnesimus was also Colossian which is confirmed in Colossians 4:9. Philemon was aman of property and influence. It is not known exactly how he knew Paulthough.(Smith, p.509) Paul did address others in the letter. One of which wasApphia, a Christian woman. She was a member of Philemons household and mayhave been his wife.(Smith, p.47) It also includes Archippus who was a Christianteacher in Colosse. He is also mentioned in the book of Colossians. Archippusmight have also been a member of Philemons household.(Smith, p.51) Somebelieve that Paul did not intend this to be a personal letter. They base thisassumption on the fact that he addressed other people.(Tenney, p.753) Philemonlived in Colosse at the time, and as I mentioned before, we know that because ofPauls final greetings toward some of the Colossian people mentioned in bothPhilemon and Colossians. Paul wrote this letter during his first imprisonment inRome. The dates range from A.D. 63 to A.D. 64. We know that he was in prison inRome because of some of the things mentioned in this book (Philemon vs. 13,23)and once again because of the similarities with the book of Colossians. Othersbelieve that Paul may have been in Ephesus at this time. When Paul mentionedthat he wanted to stay with Philemon, that request was congruent with the planshe made during his Ephesian ministry to visit the Lycus valley.(Tenney, p.755)During the time that this letter was written, slavery was very common. Most ofthese slaves had been captured in wars. Masters were totally in control. If aslave were to steal something, he might be branded on his forehead with “CF”for Cave Furem which means “Beware of Thief.” He could also be put todeath.(Wight, p.292) The Apostles did not do much to overcome slavery. They justkept preaching Biblical principals. “Pauls letter to Philemon has, nodoubt, done more to overcome slavery than any other document everwritten.”(Wight, p.293) Roman law also stated that “whoever gave hospitalityto a runaway slave was liable to the slaves master for the value of eachdays work lost.”(Tenney, p.753) That could be a reason why Paul said hewould repay Philemons losses. The book of Philemon was actually written onbehalf of another person. Paul wrote this letter in order to ask Philemon toaccept Onesimus back into his household. “I appeal to you for my son Onesimus.”(Phil.10) Onesimus was a slave of Philemons. It is not known exactly why heleft Philemon. Some think he left just so he could have freedom. Others are surehe stole something from Philemon. (Smith, p.510) During Pauls imprisonment inRome, Onesimus was with him. Paul was able to witness to him and he wasconverted to Christianity. Because of this, Onesimus knew he had to return toPhilemon and place himself at Philemons disposal once again. Paul acted as amediator in his situation. He did this in order to help both Onesimus andPhilemon.(Tenney, p.756) The letter was written on behalf of Onesimus. Paulwanted Philemon to accept Onesimus back because he was no longer just a servant,but a brother in Christ. One of the themes of Philemon has to do with slavery.
Paul was hoping that God would speak to people after they read this letter andthat they would want to end slavery. Paul was also hoping that Philemon wouldaccept Onesimus back into his home. He did not force Philemon to do this. Hewas, rather, wanting Philemon to take him back out of love. Paul made it clearthat for whatever wrongs Onesimus had caused to Philemon, he (Paul) would repayall the debts. The letter of Philemon begins with greetings from Paul andTimothy to Philemon, his church, and his household. It also continues with Paulthanking God for Philemons faith. It also encourages Philemon to be active insharing his faith. The next section of the book has Paul making a request. Hewants Philemon to accept Onesimus. He does not force Philemon to do this, eventhough he could. He wants Philemon to do it out of love. He tells Philemon thatOnesimus is useful to both of them now because he became a Christian. Paul thengoes on to tell that he will be sending Onesimus to Philemon. Paul would ratherhave Onesimus stay with him, but he knows he cannot keep him without the consentof Philemon who owns Onesimus. Paul is hoping that when Onesimus does arrive,Philemon will accept him as a brother in Christ, not a slave. Paul tellsPhilemon in the next paragraph that he will be willing to repay any debts thatOnesimus owes him. He ends the letter by telling Philemon that he wishes tovisit them very soon. He concludes with final greetings from him, his fellowprisoner (Epaphras), and his fellow workers (Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, andLuke). When the people who lived during this time received this letter, it madea very strong point. Paul was not condemning slavery. Instead he was encouragingthose people to see everyone as equals. The letter showed a Christians viewof slavery. “As a historical document, the letter throws unusual light on theChristian conscience in regard to the institution of slavery in the ancientworld.” (Tenney, p.755) It showed where Paul stood as a Christian on the issueof slavery. Paul set the standard for us today when he wrote this letter.
Because of the letter, we are able to see another side of Pauls character. Hewas a true man who was trying to help another man in need.(Tenney, p.756) Thisman just happened to be a slave. The book of Philemon showed how Gods lovebroke down dividing walls. The barriers between different races, males andfemales, and slave and master were all destroyed.(Hawthorne, p. ) Godsinfinite love made us all equal in His sight. We are all loved the same amountand we are all slaves to Him. Paul wanted Philemon to treat his slave, Onesimus,well because they were both equally under the same Heavenly Master. Every memberof the Christian society (or family) is spiritually gifted and blessed no matterwhat their status is. “Every member of the church is called to the sameobedience to Christ, slave or free, male of female.” (Kaiser, p. ) In theletter, Paul was not condemning slavery, he was encouraging slaves to beobedient and accept their situations. He wanted them to focus on the reward inheaven that they would receive. Paul also did not make converts give up theirslaves. He was hoping that over time they would realize how hard it is to keep aperson a slave and still call them a brother or sister in Christ.(Kaiser, p. )Today this letter can actually teach us a lot of things. We can look at it intwo ways. The first being the issue of slavery. Slavery is not present today inour culture. It does apply to us though in a sense that we are to accepteveryone as equals. We may not have slaves, but a lot of people are still veryracist. Paul was writing this letter on behalf of Onesimus, but he also hadanother objective, I believe. He was hoping that through this letter, peoplewould realize that under God we are all equal. No one is better than anyoneelse. We are all, in fact, slaves of Christ. We all serve Him. He sees us thesame and He loves us all the same amount. He doesnt love anyone more thananyone else. A second point that came across to me in this letter was how Paulwas willing to repay Onesimus debts. When I read this, it reminded me ofChrists love for us. He knows that we have committed sins, but he repays thedebts that we owe. We should be the ones who repay our own debts, but because ofGods love for us, He sent His Son in order to pay the price. I was justreminded how much God really loves me. He has done so much for us by taking ourburdens upon Himself and paying the price that we should pay. The purpose ofthis letter was that Paul wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him asa brother in Christ, rather than just a servant. Paul knew this could only bedone if God worked in Philemons life and help him realize that he shouldforgive Onesimus. Paul was also trying to get a subtle point across. He wasable, in this short letter, to write about slavery without condemning it. He washoping that slaves would be treated as equals. There is no official documentthat states it, but it is known that Philemon did find it in his heart to acceptOnesimus back and finally free him. Paul had a great influence on Philemonslife, but that was only possible through God.