Introduction to Philemon
Part 1: General Introduction
Outline of the Book of Philemon
- Paul greets Philemon (1:1-3)
- Paul makes requests of Philemon about Onesimus (1:4-21)
- Conclusion (1:22-25)
Who wrote the Book of Philemon?
Paul wrote Philemon. Paul was from the city of Tarsus. He had been known as Saul in his early life. Before becoming a Christian, Paul was a Pharisee. He persecuted Christians. After he became a Christian, he traveled several times throughout the Roman Empire telling people about Jesus.
Paul was in a prison when he wrote this letter.
What is the Book of Philemon about?
Paul wrote this letter to a man named Philemon. Philemon was a Christian who lived in the city of Colossae. He owned a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus had run away from Philemon and possibly stole something from him as well. Onesimus went to Rome and visited Paul in prison.
Paul told Philemon that he was sending Onesimus back to him. Philemon had the right to execute Onesimus according to Roman law. But Paul said that Philemon should accept Onesimus back as a Christian brother. He even suggested that Philemon should allow Onesimus to come back to Paul and help him in prison.
How should the title of this book be translated?
Translators may choose to call this book by its traditional title, “Philemon.” Or they may choose a clearer title, such as “Paul’s Letter to Philemon” or “The Letter Paul wrote to Philemon.” (See: [[https://git.door43.org/Door43/en_ta/src/master/translate/translate-names/01.md]])
Part 2: Important Religious and Cultural Concepts
Does this letter approve of the practice of slavery?
Paul sent Onesimus back to his former master. But that did not mean Paul thought slavery was an acceptable practice. Instead, Paul was more concerned with people serving God in whatever situation they were in.
What does Paul mean by the expression “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” etc.?
Paul meant to express the idea of a very close union with Christ and the believers. See the introduction to the Book of Romans for more details about this kind of expression.
Part 3: Important Translation Issues
Singular and plural “you”
In this book, the word “I” refers to Paul. The word “you” is almost always singular and refers to Philemon. The two exceptions to this are 1:22 and 1:25. There “you” refers to Philemon and the believers that met at his house. (See: [[https://git.door43.org/Door43/en_ta/src/master/translate/figs-exclusive/01.md]] and [[https://git.door43.org/Door43/en_ta/src/master/translate/figs-you/01.md]])
Three times Paul identifies himself as the author of this letter. Evidently Timothy was with him and probably wrote the words down as Paul said them. Paul greets others who meet for church at Philemon’s house. All instances of “I,” “me,” and “my” refer to Paul. Philemon is the main person to whom this letter is written. All instances of “you” and “your” refer to him and are singular unless otherwise noted. (See: [[https://git.door43.org/Door43/en_ta/src/master/translate/figs-you/01.md]])
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and the brother Timothy to Philemon
Παῦλος, δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, καὶ Τιμόθεος, ὁ ἀδελφὸς; Φιλήμονι
Your language may have a particular way of introducing the authors of a letter. Alternate translation: “I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother, are writing this letter to Philemon” (See: [[https://git.door43.org/Door43/en_ta/src/master/translate/figs-exclusive/01.md]])
a prisoner of Christ Jesus
δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ
“a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.” People who opposed Paul’s preaching had punished him by putting him into prison.
Here this means a fellow Christian.