Study of Philemon



Philemon was written by the Apostle Paul and is usually dated between A.D. 60 and 61, perhaps even as late as A.D. 62. Philemon was one of four New Testament epistles penned by Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome. These four, which are known as the Prison Epistles, include Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were all written at the same time and were carried to their destinations by the same individuals; whereas, Philippians was written at a different time.

Onesimus was a slave of Philemon and had run away from his master. Somehow he had come into contact with the Apostle Paul while Paul was a prisoner in Rome. Specific details regarding their meeting are not revealed in the Scriptures other than the fact that God used Paul to lead Onesimus to trust Christ as his personal Savior.

The occasion of the Epistle to Philemon is that Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, asking Philemon to receive Onesimus again, not as a slave, but as a beloved brother. Philemon 10-17 says,

(10) I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

(11) Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee

and to me:

(12) Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

(13) Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

(14) But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

(15) For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;

(16) Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?

(17) If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.

Whether the situation in Colosse with the Gnostic heresy or the return of Onesimus to Philemon was the main reason both Colossians and Philemon were sent at this time is not clear. Either one could have been the main reason and the other a secondary reason.

An Outline of Philemon

I. Opening greeting - Verses 1-3

II. Paul's thanksgiving - Verses 4-7

III. Paul's plea for Onesimus, including his request for lodging - Verses 8-22

IV. Closing greetings - Verses 23-25