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Introduction to Philemon

 

OPENING STATEMENTS

A. This book is an example of a private letter, so common in the first century Greco-Roman world. It probably fit on one papyrus sheet (cf. III John). It is uncertain to whom it is primarily addressed.

1. Philemon

2. Apphia and Archippus (cf. Col. 4:17)

3. or in some sense, the entire house church

 

B. This letter provides a window into

3. the pastoral methods of the Apostle Paul

2.  the home churches of the first century (cf. Rom. 16:5; I Cor. 10:19; Col. 4:15)

 

C. Christianity was already radically changing the social milieu of the Mediterranean world. Social barriers to the gospel were falling (cf. I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).

 

AUTHOR

A. The personal nature of the letter convinces most readers (one exception, F. C. Baur) that the author was Paul, the Apostle.

 

B. Philemon and Colossians are closely related

1. Same origin

2. Same people give greetings

3. Same closing

4. Tychicus delivered the letter of Colossians and traveled with Onesimus (cf. Col. 4:7,9). If Philemon is Pauline, so is Colossians (which has been doubted by several modern scholars).

 

C. It is listed among Paul's letters by both the early heretic Marcion (who came to Rome in a.d. 140's) and the list of canonical books, the Muratorian Fragment (written in Rome between a.d. 180-200).

 

DATE

A. The date of this letter is linked to one of Paul's imprisonments (Ephesus, Philippi, Caesarea, or Rome). A Roman imprisonment fits the facts of Acts the best.

 

B. Once Rome is assumed to be the place of imprisonment, the question arises-which time? Paul was in jail in the early 60's and this is recorded in Acts. However, he was released and wrote the Pastoral letters (I & II Timothy and Titus) and was then rearrested and killed before June 9, a.d. 68 (Nero's suicide). The best educated guess for the writing of Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon is Paul's first imprisonment, early 60's. Philippians was probably written toward the mid 60's.

 

C. Tychicus, along with Onesimus, probably took the letters of Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon to Asia Minor. Later (possibly several years later), Ephaphroditus, recovered from his physical illness, took the letter of Philippians back to his home church.

 

D. Possible chronology of Paul's writings following F .F. Bruce and Murray Harris (with minor adaption).

 

  Book  Date Place of Writing Relation to Acts
1 Galatians 48 Syrian Antioch 14:28; 15:2
2 I Thessalonians 50 Corinth 18:5
3 II Thessalonians 50 Corinth  
4 I Corinthians 55 Ephesus 19:20
5 II Corinthians 56 Macedonia 20:2
6 Romans 57 Corinth 20:3
7-10 Prison Letters      
  Colossians early 60's Rome  
  Philemon early 60's Rome  
  Ephesians early 60's Rome  
  Philippians late 62-63 Rome 28:30-31
11-13 Fourth Missionary Journey   Ephesus (?)  
  I Timothy 63 (or later, Macedonia  
  Titus 63 but before    
  II Timothy 64 a.d. 68) Rome  

 

OCCASION FOR THE LETTER (people mentioned in Philemon)

A.  Philemon was the slave owner of Onesimus. He lived in Colossae. He was probably a convert of Paul, possibly while Paul was ministering in Ephesus.

 

B. Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon. He was also a convert of Paul, while in prison at Rome (a.d. 61-63). It is uncertain how Paul and Onesimus met. Perhaps

1. both were imprisoned

2. Onesimus was sent on an errand to Paul

3. Onesimus sought Paul for advice after changing his mind about running away

 

C. Epaphras was a believer from Asia Minor and the founder of the Churches in the Lycus River Valley (Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis). He brought word to Paul in prison about the heresy in Colossae and about Philemon's faithfulness.

 

D. Tychicus was the bearer of Paul's three letters to this area: Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon (cf. Col. 4:7-9; Eph. 6:21-22). Onesimus also went back with him to face his master (cf. v. 11). Philemon is one of two private letters preserved in the New Testament (cf. III John).

About fifty years later (a.d. 110) Ignatius, on his way to Rome to be martyred, wrote a letter ("To the Ephesians" 1:3) to the bishop of Ephesus named Onesimus! It could have been this converted slave!

PURPOSE OF THE LETTER

A. It shows how Paul used his apostolic authority and pastoral encouragement.

 

B. It shows how Christianity made brothers and sisters out of slaves and slave owners, rich and poor! This truth would, in time, radically change the Roman Empire.

 

C. It shows Paul's belief that he would be released from Roman imprisonment and return to Asia Minor.

 

READING CYCLE ONE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words (reading cycle #1).

1. Theme of entire book

2. Type of literature (genre)

 

READING CYCLE TWO (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book a second time at one sitting. Outline the main subjects (reading cycle #2) and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.

 

 

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines