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by Gary H. Everett
STUDY NOTES ON THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
Using a Theme-based Approach
to Identify Literary Structures
By Gary H. Everett
THE EPISTLE OF PHILEMON
January 2013 Edition
All Scripture quotations in English are taken from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. Some words have been emphasized by the author of this commentary using bold or italics.
All Old Testament Scripture quotations in the Hebrew text are taken from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Westminster Hebrew Morphology, electronic ed., Stuttgart; Glenside PA: German Bible Society, Westminster Seminary, 1996, c1925, morphology c1991, in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004.
All New Testament Scripture quotations in the Greek text are taken from Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (with Morphology), eds. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, M. Robinson, and Allen Wikgren, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (United Bible Societies), c1966, 1993, 2006, in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004.
All Hebrew and Greek text for word studies are taken from James Strong in The New Strong's Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, c1996, 1997, in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004.
The Crucifixion image on the book cover was created by the author’s daughter Victoria Everett in 2012.
© Gary H. Everett, 1981-2013
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form without prior permission of the author.
Foundational Theme Church Order and Individual Calling
Structural Theme The Development of Man’s Body [His Actions] for Christian Service in Response to the Holy Spirit’s Role of Redeeming Mankind
Imperative Theme The Role of the Pastor is to Lead Men into Submitting Their Bodies Into a Life of Sanctification by the Work of the Holy Spirit
INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE OF PHILEMON
Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures supports the view of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the biblical text of the Holy Scriptures, meaning that every word originally written down by the authors in the sixty-six books of the Holy Canon were God-breathed when recorded by men, and that the Scriptures are therefore inerrant and infallible. Any view less than this contradicts the testimony of the Holy Scriptures themselves. For this reason, the Holy Scriptures contain both divine attributes and human attributes. While textual criticism engages with the variant readings of the biblical text, acknowledging its human attributes, faith in His Word acknowledges its divine attributes. These views demand the adherence of mankind to the supreme authority of the Holy Scriptures above all else. The Holy Scriptures can only be properly interpreted by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, an aspect of biblical scholarship that is denied by liberal views, causing much misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Holy Scriptures.
The Message of the Epistle of Philemon - We often think of great spiritual leaders in the Church as those who minister to great multitudes. But a truly great man or woman of God will serve those individuals around him one on one. A genuine leader is a man of great love and patience towards others. He is not impatient or angry or rude in personal relationships behind the scenes. This is because true greatness in God’s eyes is seen in between the large meetings. It is seen in the home, or in the restaurant, or at workplace during the average day. Thus, the letter from Paul the elder to Philemon reveals to us how Paul deals with normal issues and personal relationships with individuals around him. This epistle gives us an illustration of how to live the Gospel by a man who has preached it his entire life. It serves a real life illustration of how to apply the Lordship of Jesus Christ to our everyday lives. We see Paul placing himself in the place of Onesimus and pleading with his master, much as Christ Jesus pleads in our behalf to the Father. As Martin Luther states, “We are all God’s Onesimuses.” 
 In his preface to Philemon, Martin Luther writes, “…here we see how St. Paul takes the part of poor Onesimus and...advocates his cause with his master. He acts exactly as if he were himself Onesimus, who had done wrong…Yet he does this not with force or compulsion, as lay within his rights; but he empties himself of his rights in order to compel Philemon also to waive his rights. What Christ has done for us with God the Father, that St. Paul does also for Onesimus with Philemon. For Christ emptied himself of his rights [Philippians 2:7 ] and overcame the Father with love and humility, so that the Father had to put away his wrath and rights, and receive us into favor for the sake of Christ, who so earnestly advocates our cause and so heartily takes our part. For we are all Onesimuses if we believe.” See Martin Luther, Luther’s Works , vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. E. Theodore Bachmann (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1960), 390; Martin Luther, “Vorlesung über die Briefe an Titus and Philemon,” in D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 25 (Weimar: Hermann Behlars Nachfolger, 1902), 64-78; The last part of this phrase is cited by H. A. Ironside, Philippians and Colossians: An Ironside Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, c1920, 2007), 211.
The epistle of Philemon is the shortest Pauline epistle in the New Testament. This epistle shows to us three different people groups of this period in history being united by their faith in Christ. Paul, a Jew, was instructing a wealthy Gentile on how to be reconciled to a slave, of which there were millions in the Roman Empire. Because the relationship between a slave and his owner was one of the more difficult issues that the early Church had to deal with, this letter served as a guide to other churches in how to deal with this recurring situation.
Introductory Material - The introduction to the epistle of Philemon will deal with its historical setting, literary style, and theological framework.  These three aspects of introductory material will serve as an important foundation for understanding God’s message to us today from this divinely inspired book of the Holy Scriptures.
 Someone may associate these three categories with Hermann Gunkel’s well-known three-fold approach to form criticism when categorizing the genre found within the book of Psalms: (1) “a common setting in life,” (2) “thoughts and mood,” (3) “literary forms.” In addition, the Word Biblical Commentary uses “Form/Structure/Setting” preceding each commentary section. Although such similarities were not intentional, but rather coincidental, the author was aware of them and found encouragement from them when assigning the three-fold scheme of historical setting, literary style, and theological framework to his introductory material. See Hermann Gunkel, The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction, trans. Thomas M. Horner, in Biblical Series, vol. 19, ed. John Reumann (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1967), 10; see also Word Biblical Commentary, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas, Texas: Word Incorporated, 1989-2007).
Each book of the Holy Scriptures is cloaked within a unique historical setting. An examination of this setting is useful in the interpretation of the book because it provides the context of the passage of Scripture under examination. The section on the historical setting of the epistle of Philemon will provide a discussion on its historical background, authorship, date and place of writing, recipients, and occasion. This discussion supports the early Church tradition that the apostle wrote his epistle to Philemon along with his other Prison Epistles during his first imprisonment in Rome that took place between A.D. 60 and 62.
I. Historical Background
Slave ownership was an important part of the economic structure of the Roman society. Without it, the Empire would not be able to finance its infrastructure. J. Vernon McGee says that there were approximately sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire, which held a total population of one hundred and twenty million.  There were a number of ways that a person found himself in slavery. Slaves came from war through Roman conquest, and people who were in debt and bankruptcy could be sold into slavery, and criminals also found themselves in this status. In the Roman world that Paul lived in, slavery was vital to its economics and social structures. Yet, our Christian ethics tell us that it is morally wrong. The epistle of Philemon serves to answer this question within its historical setting.
 J. Vernon McGee, The Epistle to Philemon, in Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1998), in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004), “Introduction.”
The name “Philemon” only occurs one time in the New Testament and it is found in Philemon 1:1. Therefore, little is known about his identity and background beyond what we read in this short epistle. We believe that he was a man of some wealth because he owned a slave (Philemon 1:16) and hosted a church in his house (Philemon 1:2). Thus, Paul called him a fellow-labourer (Philemon 1:1) in the Lord. His wife was probably named Apphia (Philemon 1:2), and Archippus was his son, a family member, or a close fellow-worker in his church. Philemon was also a person of faith and love, and of piety and influential within his church because Paul mentions that he loved the saints and often refreshed them (Philemon 1:4-7). The context of the epistle strongly supports the view that Paul had a direct influence upon his conversion experience (Philemon 1:19). We can assume that he was a resident of Colossi because Colossians 4:9 tells us that Onesimus, his slave, was a member of their church and Colossians 4:17 reveals that Archippus, who is mentioned in this letter, also served in this church. We can decide from the context of Paul’s letter to him that Philemon was well known by the apostle so much so that Paul could beseech him on a very personal letter. However, we do not know the age of Philemon, his profession or his manner and date of death. From the letter we do not know his response to Paul’s letter.
The other leading character in this short epistle of Philemon is a man named Onesimus. Internal evidence tells us that he was a slave of Philemon (Philemon 1:16). Apparently, Onesimus escaped and fled to Rome to find Paul (Philemon 1:15), whom he must have known or certainly heard much about. Paul led him to faith in Jesus Christ (Philemon 1:10). While assisting Paul during his Roman imprisonment, he was sent back to his master both as a messenger and in order to be reconciled to his master (Philemon 1:12).
Since the days of the early Church in the first centuries, tradition has taught us that in this letter of Philemon Paul had asked a wealthy slave owner to receive his runaway slave back without punishment. This slave named Onesimus had fled from Philemon to Colossae and made his way to Paul, who was being held in prison in Rome. Edgar J. Goodspeed tells us that the road to Rome ran directly east from Ephesus, having passed through Magnesia and Tralles to Laodicea, and eleven miles farther up the valley of the River Lycus reached Colossae.  So, it would have been an easy decision for a runaway slave to follow this busy route and find himself in Rome by hitching a ride from someone. How he met up with Paul can only be speculated. There were many slaves in Rome and it was an ideal place for someone to hide himself. Perhaps he came looking for Paul and found him by making contact with come local church members. Or, perhaps he met his former pastor, Epaphras, who directed him to meet with and take counsel from Paul. Or, he could have wound up in prison and ran into Paul there. However it may have happened, in the divine providence of God, there in Rome Paul converts Onesimus to the Lord and after a period of time both agree that reconciliation needs to be made between this slave and his master. So, Paul writes this short epistle and sends it by the hand of Tychicus, who escorts Onesimus back to his owner. In this very personal letter, Paul pleads with Philemon to receive his servant back, not as a slave, but as a brother in the Lord. Paul takes his request a step further by reminding Philemon of his debt to Paul so that the slave named Onesimus might be set free in order to serve in Christian service. Because early Church history suggests us that Onesimus served as a bishop, we have to assume that he was indeed set free by his owner without Paul having to ask him to do so in this epistle.
 Edgar J. Goodspeed, An Introduction to the New Testament (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1937), 110.
If we look beyond the New Testament into the writings of the early Church fathers, we find additional information about these two individuals. The Apostolic Constitutions, a collection of ecclesiastical law that is believed to have been compiled during the latter half of the fourth century, gives us a list of the earliest bishops of the New Testament churches. This ancient document states that a man by the name of “Philemon,” who had a servant by the name of Onesimus, became the bishop of the church at Colossae. There is little doubt that this is referring to the same individual, since the names of Archippus and Onesimus, which also occur in the epistle to Philemon, are referred to in the same passage of this ancient document. We find in the Apostolic Constitution that Onesimus became the bishop of Borea in Macedonia.
“Now concerning those bishops which have been ordained in our lifetime, we let you know that they are these…Of Laodicea in Phrygia, Archippus. Of Colossae, Philemon. Of Borea in Macedonia, Onesimus, once the servant of Philemon .” ( Constitutions of the Holy Apostles 7.46) ( ANF 7)
The Apostolic Constitutions state that Philemon did free his slave Onesimus.
“We do not permit servants to be ordained into the clergy without their masters' consent; for this would grieve those that owned them. For such a practice would occasion the subversion of families. But if at any time a servant appears worthy to be ordained into an high office, such as our Onesimus appeared to be, and if his master allows of it, and gives him his freedom , and dismisses him from his house, let him be ordained.” ( Constitutions of the Holy Apostles: The Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostle, 7.47.82) ( ANF 7)
Ignatius (A.D. 35 to 107) refers to a bishop of Ephesus named Onesimus who lives during his lifetime.  A spurious writing credited to Hippolytus (A.D. 170 to 236) tells us that an individual named Philemon was one of the seventy disciples of Jesus Christ and later bishop of Gaza.  Eusebius (A.D. 260 to 340) refers to a person named Philemon, but he would have lived in the third century.  The Apostolic Constitutions (late 4 th c.) lists Philemon as bishop of Colossi, whom the apostles of the Lord sent and ordained.  Samuel J. Eales tells us that Theodoret (A.D. 393 to 466), the bishop of Cyrus during the mid-fifth century, states that the house of Philemon remained intact at Colossi until his day.  However, we have no way of being certain that these individuals are the same that Paul refers to in his epistle to Philemon.
 See The First Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 1:2 , Ephesians 1:6, The Second Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 1:0, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians 13, and The Epistle of Ignatius to Hero, a Deacon of Antioch 8.
 This work lists the names and offices of the seventy disciples of Jesus Christ, “ 67. Philemon, bishop of Gaza.” ( Appendix to the Works of Hippolytus Containing Dubious and Spurious Pieces 46) ( ANF 5)
 Eusebius wrote, “I wrote also, at first in few words, recently in many, to our beloved fellow-presbyters, Dionysius and Philemon, who formerly had held the same opinion as Stephen, and had written to me on the same matters. So much in regard to the above-mentioned controversy.” ( Ecclesiastical History 7.5.6) and, “In the third epistle on baptism which this same Dionysius wrote to Philemon, the Roman presbyter, he relates the following: ‘But I examined the works and traditions of the heretics, defiling my mind for a little time with their abominable opinions, but receiving this benefit from them, that I refuted them by myself, and detested them all the more.’” ( Ecclesiastical History 7.7.1)
 The Apostolic Constitution says, “Of Colossae, Philemon.” ( Apostolic Teachings and Constitutions 7.46) ( ANF 7)
 Theodoret writes, “Philemon attained among the ones that were faithful, and he had Colossi. And his household remains until the present.” ( Argument to Philemon) ( PG 82 col. 872A) (Author’s translation) See Samuel J. Eales, Philemon, in The Pulpit Commentary, eds. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph Exell (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1950), in Ages Digital Library, v. 1.0 [CD-ROM] (Rio, WI: Ages Software, Inc., 2001), “Introduction.”
We can also find some brief references to Philemon and Onesimus in some of the ancient Christian martyrologies, which are “official registers of Christian martyrs” that the early Church compiled. A martyrology is different from “individual Passions” which describe their deaths in that it is “collective in structure.”  The earliest ones are calendars that simply give the name of the martyr and the place of martyrdom under the day of his festival. The Roman Martyrology for the 16th February and 22 nd November tells us that Philemon was made bishop of Ephesus and later taken to Rome and martyred by stoning.  J. B. Lightfoot cites the Menace Graeca,  in that it commemorates Onesimus on 15 th February, saying he was charged before the “perfect” of that area named Tertullus, then sent to Puteoli, Italy, where he was martyred by breaking his legs. This work mentions Philemon and his companions, who are said to have been tormented at Colossae, then “brought before Androcles the governor of Ephesus, and after undergoing other tortures are stoned to death.” 
 “Martyrology,” in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, revised, eds. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 882.
 The Roman Martyrology for 16 th February reads, “The birthday of blessed Onesimus, concerning whom the apostle St. Paul wrote to Philemon. He made him bishop of Ephesus after St. Timothy, and committed to him the office of preaching. Being led a prisoner to Rome, and stoned to death for the faith of Christ, he was buried in that city; but his body was afterwards carried to the place where he had been bishop.” For 22 nd November it reads, “At Colossae, in Phrygia, during the reign of Nero, Saints Philemon and Apphias, disciples of St. Paul.” The Roman Martyrology Published by Order of Gregory XIII, revised edition (Baltimore, Maryland: John Murphy Company, Publishers, 1914, 1916), 49, 360.
 Menaea Graeca, 12 vols. (Venice, 1880).
 J. B. Lightfoot says, “…he [Onisemus] is arraigned before Tertullus ‘the prefect of the country’; and he is sent to Puteoli and there put to death by having his legs broken. This is also the story in the Metaphrast. On Nov. 22 again the Mencca commemorate ‘the holy Apostle Philemon and those with him, Apphia, Archippus, and Onesimus.’ They are here related to have suffered at Colossas; they are brought before Androcles the governor of Ephesus, and after undergoing other tortures are stoned to death.” See J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, pt. 2, vol. 2 (London: MacMillan and Co., 1889), 534-535.
The issue of slavery within the Church did not go away with Paul’s epistle to Philemon. We read in the writings of John Chrysostom (A.D. 347 to 407), bishop of Constantinople, that as late as the time of Theodosius, the Roman Emperor from 379 to 395, wealthy Church members held as many as several thousand slaves.  John Chrysostom clearly stated that he was not against the practice of slavery.  Although slavery was not condemned by the early Church fathers, later Christian writers defended the rights and dignity of all slaves because Paul’s epistle to Philemon established the Church view on this issue. 
 John Chrysostom writes, “…And thou indeed makest mention of acres of land, so many and so many, and of houses ten or twenty or even more, and of baths as many, and of slaves a thousand, or twice as many, and of chariots fastened with silver and overlaid with gold; but I say this, that if each one of you that are rich were to leave this poverty…” ( Homilies on Matthew 63.4) ( NPF1 10)
 John Chrysostom writes, “Secondly, that we ought not to abandon the race of slaves, even if they have proceeded to extreme wickedness… Thirdly, that we ought not to withdraw slaves from the service of their masters.” ( Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to Philemon Argument) ( NPF1 13)
 Clement of Alexandria writes, “I would counsel the married never to kiss their wives in the presence of their domestics. For Aristotle does not allow people to laugh to their slaves. And by no means must a wife be seen saluted in their presence.” ( The Instructor 3:12)
In order to understand the wisdom that the Lord gave Paul in dealing with the situation of Philemon and his runaway slave Onesimus, it is helpful to look back upon a similar incident in the missionary efforts of Alexander Mackay and his team as they made their way to the East African country of Uganda to evangelize the natives. Upon arriving on the east coast of Africa, the team initially chased slave caravans and successfully set free a number of slaves. However, they quickly found themselves in ill favor with many native people around them. When an Arab slave-dealer named Songoro ran to find refuge with two team members of Mackay, the local king sent a troop of natives and killed the entire group, the slave-dealer and the two white missionaries. Mackay learned a difficult lesson about engaging himself in the private affairs of the local people, particularly when it involved slave trade.  Although Wilberforce had led the British Parliament in condemning slavery in the West a few decades earlier, and the Civil War in the U.S. freed American slaves, it was not Mackay’s role to change this primitive African society by force, but rather by conversion to Christ so that the people would change their society willingly, which is exactly what took place in the decades ahead in East Africa. If fact, Mackay changed his approach by asking the king of Uganda to do away with slavery in his territory, which did not work immediately.
 C. T. Wilson, Alexander Mackay: Missionary Hero of Uganda (London: The Sunday School Union, 1893), 29, 31-32
II. Authorship and Canonicity
In establishing the authorship of the New Testament writings, one must also deal with the issue of canonicity, since apostolic authority was the primary condition for a book to be accepted into the biblical canon of the early Church. This section will evaluate three phases in the development of the canonicity of the epistle of Philemon: apostolic authority, church orthodoxy, and catholicity. The first phase of canonization is called apostolic authority and is characterized by the use of the writings of the apostles by the earliest Church father in the defense of the Christian faith (1 st and 2 nd centuries). The second phase of canonization is called church orthodoxy and is characterized by the collection of the apostolic writings into the distinctive groups of the Gospels, the Pauline epistles, and the Catholic epistles, and their distribution among the churches as the rules of the Christian faith (late 2 nd century thru 3 rd century). The third phase of canonization is characterized by the general acceptance and use of the books of the New Testament by the catholic church, seen most distinctly in the early Church councils (4 th century).
A. Apostolic Authority - Scholars generally agree that the New Testament canon went through several phrases of development in Church history prior to its solidification in the fourth century. F. B. Westcott says the earliest phase is considered the apostolic age in which “the writings of the Apostles were regarded from the first as invested with singular authority, as the true expression, if not the original source, of Christian doctrine and Christian practice.” He says the “elements of the Catholic faith” were established during this period in Church history.  At this time, the early Christian Greek apologists defended the catholic faith during the rise of the heresies of the second century using the writings that carried the weight of apostolic authority. The Church clung to the books that were either written by the apostles themselves, such as Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul, or directly sanctioned by them, such as Mark and Luke, the assistances of Peter and Paul respectively, and the epistles of James and Jude, the brothers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, scholars believe apostolic authority was the primary element in selecting the canonical books. This phase is best represented by evaluating the internal evidence of the authorship of these New Testament books and by the external witnesses of the early Church fathers who declare the book’s apostolic authorship and doctrinal authority over the Church.
 Brooke Foss Westcott, A General History of the Canon of the New Testament (London: Macmillan and Co., 1875), 21. The Muratorian Canon (c. A.D. 200) alludes to the criteria of apostolic authority for the New Testament writings, saying, “The Pastor, moreover, did Hermas write very recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother bishop Pius sat in the chair of the Church of Rome. And therefore it also ought to be read; but it cannot be made public in the Church to the people, nor placed among the prophets, as their number is complete, nor among the apostles to the end of time.” ( Fragments of Caius 3.3) ( ANF 5); Corey Keating says, “In the first two centuries, ‘apostolic authority’ was the important factor in deciding to keep or reject a particular writing.” See Corey Keating, The Criteria Used for Developing the New Testament Canon in the First Four Centuries of the Christian Church (2000); accessed 15 April 2012; available from http://www.ntgreek.org/SeminaryPapers/ ChurchHistory/Criteria for Development of the NT Canon in First Four Centuries.pdf; Internet.
The fact that Paul declares himself the author of the epistle of Philemon, along with its internal characteristics that are distinctly Pauline, with its historical illusions that coincide with the book of Acts and other Pauline epistles, and with the fact that all of the church fathers universally accepted this epistle as genuine together make a case for Pauline authorship that no one has been able to tear down in the last two thousand years. Thus, internal and external evidence gives strong support to Pauline authorship for Philemon.
1. Internal Evidence - Internal evidence overwhelmingly supports Pauline authorship of the epistle to Philemon. There are three traditional arguments for its authenticity: its declaration, its style, and its theology.
a) The Author Reveals His Identity - The authorship of Colossians is clearly stated both directly and indirectly within this epistle.
i) His Name is Paul - Paul mentions his name three times in the short epistle of Philemon.
Philemon 1:1, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,”
Philemon 1:9, “Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.”
Philemon 1:19, “I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.”
ii) His Indirect Identity - The author identifies himself as a prisoner in bonds (Philemon 1:1; Philemon 1:9-10; Philemon 1:13) who is a companion with Timothy (Philemon 1:1). He prays for his recipients as stated in each of the Pauline epistles (Philemon 1:4). He carries much spiritual authority over the churches in Christ so as to command them, if necessary (Philemon 1:8) and had a number of saints ministering to him (Philemon 1:13). He is working with many brethren that are mentioned in other Pauline letters (Philemon 1:23-24).
b) Its Style and Structure is Pauline - Its style and structure appeal to Pauline authorship.
i) A Pauline Salutation - As with all of Paul’s letters, it opens with a salutation followed by his thanksgiving and prayer to his recipients. It then contains the body of the letter and closes with conclusion and final greetings.
ii) The Similarity of Colossians and Philemon - The relationship between Colossians and Philemon suggests that these two epistles were written at the same time and sent by the same hands to the same place.
(1) Both epistles contain the names of Paul, Timothy, Onesimus, Archippus, Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke.
(2) Both contain the name of Timothy in the opening verses (Colossians 1:1, Philippians 1:2).
(3) Both contain greetings from Aristarchus, Mark, Epaphras, Luke and Demas who are with Paul at the time of writing (Colossians 4:10-14, Philippians 1:23-24).
(4) Archippus is referred to in both letter as a fellow-soldier (Philippians 1:2) who is to fulfill his ministry (Colossians 4:17).
(5) Onesimus is mentioned in both writings. In Colossians 4:9 he is being sent with Tychicus and is called “one of you.”
(6) Philemon was a member of a church in the Lycus valley region and the church met in his house (Philemon 1:2).
c) Its Theology is Pauline The theology of the epistle of Philemon, although brief, is Pauline. The author mentions the grace and peace of God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ (Philemon 1:3), the love and faith towards Jesus Christ and towards all the saints (Philemon 1:5), and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (Philemon 1:25), which phrases reflect Pauline theology.
2. External Evidence The Church fathers were in universal agreement as to the Pauline authorship of the thirteen epistles New Testament epistles authored under his name. Thus, external evidence supports Pauline authorship of the book of Romans without exception.
It is easy to see how canonicity is a testimony to Pauline authorship when we understand that the debates of the early Church fathers to accept the general epistles of 2 Peter , 2 and 3 John, and Jude was simply a debate about their authorship. Apostolic authorship meant that the works were authentic, and thus, authoritative. It was the writing’s apostolic authority that granted its inclusion into the New Testament canon. Therefore, canonicity was based upon apostolic authority, and this apostolic authority was based upon the authenticity of the writing, and its authenticity was based upon the fact that it was a genuine work of one of the apostles or one who was serving directly under that apostolic authority.
B. Church Orthodoxy - The second phase in the development of the New Testament canon placed emphasis upon Church orthodoxy, or the rule of faith for the catholic Church. F. B. Westcott says, “To make use of a book as authoritative, to assume that it is apostolic, to quote it as inspired, without preface or comment, is not to hazard a new or independent opinion, but to follow an unquestioned judgment.”  The early Church fathers cited these apostolic writings as divinely inspired by God, equal in authority to the Old Testament Scriptures. They understood that these particular books embodied the doctrines that helped them express the Church’s Creed, or generally accepted rule of faith. As F. B. Westcott notes, with a single voice the Church fathers of this period rose up from the western to the eastern borders of Christendom and became heralds of the same, unified Truth.  This phase is best represented in the writings of the early Church fathers by the collection of the apostolic writings into the distinctive groups of the Gospels, the Pauline epistles, and the Catholic epistles, and their distribution among the churches as the rules of the Christian faith (late 2 nd century thru 3 rd century). These collected works of the apostles were cited by the church fathers as they expounded upon the Christian faith and established Church orthodoxy. We will look at two aspects of the development of Church Orthodoxy: (1) the Patristic Support of Authenticity, Authority, and Orthodoxy and (2) Early Versions.
 Brooke Foss Westcott, A General History of the Canon of the New Testament (London: Macmillan anc Co., 1875), 12.
 Brooke Foss Westcott, A General History of the Canon of the New Testament (London: Macmillan anc Co., 1875), 331.
1. Patristic Support of Authenticity, Authority, and Orthodoxy - External evidence fully supports Pauline authorship of the epistle of Philemon without dispute. The early Church fathers make direct statements declaring Pauline authorship, as well as direct quotes, strong allusions and weak allusions. Direct quotes are word for word citations from this book, strong allusions are apparent paraphrases, and weak allusions are words or phrases that appear to come from this book. The brevity of the epistle of Philemon and its lack of doctrinal content is the most likely reason that it is seldom quoted by the early Church fathers. However, there is enough witness to show that it held its place among the Pauline epistles without dispute. It is quoted or alluded to in the writings of Ignatius, Tertullian, and Origen. Eusebius tells us that it was a book accepted by all Christians ( Ecclesiastical History 3.25.1-2). However, no quotes or references to it are found in Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. By the end of the second century it was well attested to by the early Church fathers, as were all of the Pauline epistles. It was not until the eighteenth century that its authorship was brought into question by a liberal school of scholars. Thus, the epistle of Philemon was used by the Church fathers to establish Church orthodoxy.
Here are a few of the earliest quotes from the epistle of Philemon. 
 There are many other citations available from the early Church fathers that I have not used to support the traditional views of authorship of the books of the New Testament. Two of the largest collections of these citations have been compiled by Nathaniel Lardner (1684-1768) in The Works of Nathaniel Lardner, 10 vols. (London: Joseph Ogle Robinson, 1829, 1838), and by Jacques Paul Migne (1800-1875) in the footnotes of Patrologia Latina, 221 vols. (Parisiis: Excudebat Migne, 1844-55) and Patrologia Graecae, 161 vols. (Parisiis: Excudebat Migne, 1857-66).
a) Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 35 to 107) - In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius alludes to Philemon 1:20 and refers to Onesimus within the same paragraph.
“As to my fellow-servant Burrhus, your deacon in regard to God and blessed in all things, I beg that he may continue longer, both for your honour and that of your bishop. And Crocus also, worthy both of God and you, whom I have received as the manifestation of your love, hath in all things refreshed me, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ shall also refresh him ; together with Onesimus, and Burrhus, and Euplus, and Fronto, by means of whom, I have, as to love, beheld all of you.” ( The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 2:0)
Philemon 1:20, “Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.”
Ignatius uses this wording again in his epistle to the Magnesians.
“Be mindful of me in your prayers, that I may attain to God; and of the Church which is in Syria, whence I am not worthy to derive my name: for I stand in need of your united prayer in God, and your love, that the Church which is in Syria may be ‘deemed worthy of being refreshed by your Church .’” ( The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 14)
“The Ephesians from Smyrna (whence I also write to you), who are here for the glory of God, as ye also are, who have in all things refreshed me , salute you, along with Polycarp, the bishop of the Smyrnaeans.” ( The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 14)
b) The Muratorian Canon (late 2 nd c.) The Muratorian fragment, an ancient Latin document dated around A.D. 200, is considered the earliest attempt at listing the canonical books of the New Testament.  In it, we find the following testimony of Pauline authorship for the Pastoral Epistles.
 “Muratorian Canon,” in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, revised, eds. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 950.
“He [Paul] wrote, besides these, one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in simple personal affection and love indeed; but yet these are hallowed in the esteem of the Catholic Church, and in the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline.” ( Fragments of Caius 3: Canon Muratorianus 2) ( ANF 5)
c) Tertullian (A.D. 160 to 225) - Tertullian refers to the epistle of Philemon as being one of the Pauline letters.
“To this epistle alone did its brevity avail to protect it against the falsifying hands of Marcion. I wonder, however, when he received (into his Apostolicon) this letter which was written but to one man, that he rejected the two epistles to Timothy and the one to Titus, which all treat of ecclesiastical discipline.” ( Against Marcion 5.21)
d) Origen (A.D. 185 to 254) - Origen cites the epistle of Philemon as the letter of Paul to Philemon concerning Onesimus
“…which indeed also Paul knowing, he was speaking in the epistle of Philemon to Philemon about Onesimus.” ( Commentary on Jeremiah, homily 19) ( PG 13, col. 501D) (author’s translation)
e) Eusebius (A.D. 260 to 340) - Eusebius lists the book of Philemon as a member of the New Testament canon that was accepted by all Christians.
“Since we are dealing with this subject it is proper to sum up the writings of the New Testament which have been already mentioned. First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles. After this must be reckoned the epistles of Paul; next in order the extant former epistle of John, and likewise the epistle of Peter, must be maintained. After them is to be placed, if it really seem proper, the Apocalypse of John, concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. These then belong among the accepted writings.” ( Ecclesiastical History 3.25.1-2)
When the authenticity and importance of this smallest of the Pauline epistles was challenged later in the fourth century, Jerome and John Chrysostom took up their defense for its apostolic importance as a canonical writing.
f) Jerome (A.D. 342 to 420) - Jerome argues for Pauline authorship in his Preface to Philemon ( PG 26 601C). Also, in one of his writings against Rufinus, Jerome quotes Ephesians 3:1 and places Paul in Rome when writing the Prison Epistles
“The fourth ground of his censure is in the beginning of my Second Book, in which I expounded the statement which St. Paul makes ‘For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles.’ The passage in itself is perfectly plain; and I give, therefore, only that part of the comment on it which lends itself to malevolent remark: The words which describe Paul as the prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles may be understood of his martyrdom, since it was when he was thrown into chains at Rome that he wrote this Epistle, at the same time with those to Philemon and the Colossians and the Philippians , as we have formerly shewn.” ( Jerome’s Apology for Himself Against the Books of Rufinus 1)
Rufinus refers to Jerome’s reference to the epistle of Philemon.
“And in the Commentary on Paul's Epistle to Philemon, at the place where he says ‘Epaphras my fellow-prisoner greeteth you,’ some way down he says: ‘Possibly, however, as some think, a more recondite and mysterious view is set before us, namely, that the two companions had been captured and bound and brought down into this vale of tears.’” ( The Apology of Rufinus 1) ( NPF2 3)
Jerome also lists the Pauline epistles as they were accepted in his day. This list included the epistle of Philemon.
“He wrote nine epistles to seven churches: To the Romans one, To the Corinthians two, To the Galatians one, To the Ephesians one, To the Philippians one, To the Colossians one, To the Thessalonians two; and besides these to his disciples, To Timothy two, To Titus one, To Philemon one .” ( Lives of Illustrious Men 5)
g) St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347 to 407) John Chrysostom, in his opening argument of his commentary on the epistle of Philemon, refuted anyone who would belittle the importance of this great apostolic writing.
“But because some say, that it was superfluous that this Epistle should be annexed, since he is making a request about a small matter in behalf of one man, let them learn who make these objections, that they are themselves deserving of very many censures. For it was not only proper that these small Epistles, in behalf of things so necessary, should have been inscribed, but I wish that it were possible to meet with one who could deliver to us the history of the Apostles, not only all they wrote and spoke of, but of the rest of their conversation, even what they ate, and when they ate, when they walked, and where they sat, what they did every day, in what parts they were, into what house they entered, and where they lodged--to relate everything with minute exactness, so replete with advantage is all that was done by them. But the greater part, not knowing the benefit that would result thence, proceed to censure it.” ( Homilies of St. Chrysostom on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Philemon, Argument)
h) Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. A.D. 350 to 428) J. B. Lightfoot tells us that Theodore of Mopsuestia, a Antiochene theologian and biblical exegete and bishop of Mopsuestia, joined with Jerome and Chrysostom to defend the epistle of Philemon. 
 Theodore of Mopsuestia writes, “Quid vero ex ea lucri possit acquiri, convenit manifestius explicare: quia nec omnibus id existimo posse esse cognitum; quod maxime heri jam ipse a nobis disseri postulasti” ( Spicil. Solesm. i. p. 149-150); “De his et nunc superius dixi, quod non omnes similiter arbitror potius se (potuisse?) prospicere.” ( Spicil. Solesm. i. p. 152) See J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (London: MacMillan and Co., 1879), 315; Jean Baptiste Pitra, Spicilegium Solesmense Tom. 1 (Parisiis: Prostat Apud Fumin Didot Fratres, 1852), 149-150, 152.
2. Manuscript Evidence Paul’s epistles are found in numerous early Greek manuscripts. One of the earliest manuscripts, the Chester Beatty codex (p46), which was probably written in Egypt near the end of the second century, contains eight Pauline epistles (Romans , 1 & 2 Cor, Gal, Eph, Phil, Col, 1 Thess) and the epistle of Hebrews.  It probably contained the entire Pauline corpus in its original collection. There are a number of third century manuscripts that contain portions of the Pauline corpus, and a number of fourth century manuscripts that originally contained the entire New Testament (Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Sinaiticus). These ancient manuscripts containing the collective body of Pauline epistles testify to the fact that the Church at large circulated these writings as a part of its orthodox faith.
 Philip W. Comfort, and David P. Barrett, eds., The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., c1999, 2001), in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004), “P46 (P. Chester Beatty II + P. Mich. Inv. 6238).”
3. Early Versions - The earliest translations of the New Testament, written when the canon was being formed, included the Pauline epistles;  the Old Latin (2 nd to 4 th c), the Coptic (3 rd to 4 th c), the Peshitta (4 th c), the Armenian (5 th c), the Georgian (5 th c), and the Ethiopic (6 th c).  The Pauline epistles would not have been translated with the other New Testament writings unless it was considered a part of the orthodox beliefs of the Church at large.
 Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford: University Press, 1968), 69-86.
 The Old Latin Bible manuscripts of the fifth century, Codex Bezae (Gospels, Acts, Catholic epistles), Codex Claromontanus (Pauline epistles), and Codex Floriacensis (Acts, Catholic epistles, Revelation) were used prior to Jerome’s Vulgate (beginning A. D. 382), and these Old Latin manuscripts testify to the canonization of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament at an early date. See Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, M. Robinson, and Allen Wikgren, eds, The Greek New Testament, Third Edition (United Bible Societies, c1966, 1968, 1975), xxxi-xxxiv.
C. Catholicity - The third and final phase of New Testament canonicity placed emphasis upon the aspect of catholicity, or the general acceptance of the canonical books. F. B. Westcott says, “The extent of the Canon, like the order of the Sacraments, was settled by common usage, and thus the testimony of Christians becomes the testimony of the Church.”  This phase is best represented in the period of Church councils of the fourth century as bishops met and agreed upon a list of canonical books generally accepted by the catholic Church. However, approved canons were listed by individual Church fathers as early as the second century. These books exhibited a dynamic impact upon the individual believers through their characteristic of divine inspiration, transforming them into Christian maturity, being used frequently by the church at large. We will look at two testimonies of catholicity: (1) the Early Church Canons, and (2) Early Church Councils.
 Brooke Foss Westcott, A General History of the Canon of the New Testament (London: Macmillan and Co., 1875), 12.
1. Early Church Canons and Versions The thirteen Pauline epistles are found within the earliest Church canons and versions. Thus, they support the epistle of Philemon as a part of the body of Pauline epistles. It is listed in the two earliest canons. Tertullian (A.D. 160-225) tells us that Marcion the heretic rejected them in his Instrumentum (A.D. 140),  and it is found in The Muratorian Canon as one of Paul’s thirteen New Testament epistles (A.D. 180) ( Fragments of Caius 3: Canon Muratorianus 2) ( ANF 5). It is found in every canonical list thereafter. Eusebius (A.D. 260 to 340) includes them in his list of “acknowledged books.”  Athanasius gives us a canonical list includes them (c. 367).  Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 315-386) includes them in his list. 
 Tertullian writes, “To this epistle [Philemon] alone did its brevity avail to protect it against the falsifying hands of Marcion. I wonder, however, when he received (into his Apostolicon) this letter which was written but to one man, that he rejected the two epistles to Timothy and the one to Titus, which all treat of ecclesiastical discipline. His aim, was, I suppose, to carry out his interpolating process even to the number of (St. Paul's) epistles.” ( Against Marcion 5.21)
 See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3.1-7; 3.24-25.
 Athansius, Festal Letters 39.5 (Easter, 367) ( NPF2 4)
 See Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4.36 ( NPF2 7)
2. Early Church Councils - The earliest major Church councils named the Pauline epistles as authentic writings; Nicea (c. 325-40), Hippo (393), Carthage (397), and Carthage (419). This would not have been done unless the church at large believed them to be canonical.
During the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity and ordered Eusebius to produce fifty copies of the Scriptures.  The production and distribution of these Bibles, along with the Church synods that followed, served to confirm the twenty-seven books of the New Testament as canonical and authoritative. The early Church traditions of authorship and authenticity became firmly embedded within their canonicity. Therefore, citations of the New Testament Scriptures and later manuscript evidence after this period of Church history only serve to repeat traditions that had already become well-known and established among the churches of the fourth century.
 Brooke Foss Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, fourth edition (London: Macmillan and Co., 1875), 422-426.
III. Date and Place of Writing
Most conservative scholars agree that Paul the apostle wrote his epistle to Philemon along with his other Prison Epistles during his first imprisonment in Rome that took place between A.D. 60 and 62.
A. Date - There are a surprising number of factors that can be used to date the epistle of Philemon.
1. The Prison Epistles - The most logical method of dating Philemon is to place it within the group of writings called the Prison Epistles and evaluate their dates together.
a) Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon - The date of writing of the Prison Epistles relies largely upon one’s view of the place where he wrote it. If Paul wrote it during his imprisonment in Caesarea, it would have been between A.D. 58 and 60 .But, if he wrote it during his first Roman imprisonment, which most scholars believe and which is the traditional view held up until the eighteenth century, he would have written it between A.D. 60 and 62. This is because Church tradition tells us that Paul was martyred during his second Roman imprisonment, which took place around A.D. 65 or 66. For those who opt for a single Roman imprisonment, the date of writing would be as late as A.D. 62 to 64.
We can use internal evidence to establish the fact that Paul wrote and sent Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon at the same time using the same messengers. According to Ephesians 6:21, the letter of Ephesians was sent by the hand of Tychicus.
Ephesians 6:21, “But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things:”
According to Colossians 4:7-9, the letter of Colossians was sent by the hands of Tychicus and Onesimus.
Colossians 4:7-9, “All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.”
The epistle of Philemon was probably sent by the hand of Onesimus. Thus, it is very likely that Paul sent these three letters at the same time by the same group of men who traveled together from Rome to Asia Minor.
Regarding the date when these men traveled, Paul’s statement in Philemon 1:22 is interpreted by some to refer to an immediate release. If so, this would place the date of Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon late in his two-year captivity.
Philemon 1:22, “But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.”
However, other scholars interpret Philemon 1:22 to read that Paul was simply being optimistic regarding his release and not referring to an immediate release. The safest date to give these three epistles is the middle of his imprisonment.
b) Philippians - Regarding Philippians, we can note verses within this epistle to establish a date near the end of his two-year imprisonment and after the writing of the other three Prison Epistles. Here are several supporting indications:
(1) The Illness of Epaphroditus - In Philippians 2:25-30, Paul discusses the illness of Epaphroditus, which is not mentioned in the other three epistles although he was well known to Philemon (Philemon 1:23) and to the Colossians (Colossians 4:12). Perhaps his illness took place after the writing of the first three epistles.
(2) References to Paul’s Co-workers - We know that Timothy, Luke, Demas, Aristarchus, Tychicus, Onesimus, Mark and Epaphras were with Paul when he wrote Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon. However, Paul’s epistle to the Philippians only mentions Timothy and Epaphroditus. Thus, we may conclude that Paul had sent the others out and was left with Epaphroditus as his messenger to the Philippians.
(3) Epaphroditus Sent to the Philippians - In Philippians 2:25-30 Paul sends Epaphroditus to the Philippians while in the other three epistles, this individual remains with Paul.
(4) References to Paul’s Release from Prison - In Philippians 1:25 speaks of being confident of his release while in the other prison epistles he lacks this assurance.
Thus, most scholars date Philippians after Ephesians-Colossians-Philemon and near the end of his imprisonment.
2. The Writings of the Early Church Fathers - We can look to the early Church fathers for support that one of these Prison Epistles, that of Ephesians, enjoyed early acceptance and widespread use among the churches. Since most scholars believe that the language of Ephesians can be found in first epistle of Clement to the Corinthians ( 1 Clement 2, 36, 46), we know that it must have been written before A.D. 95.
3. Historical References - Donald Guthrie wisely notes that the absence of certain historical events, such as the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) and the Roman persecution of the church (beginning about A.D. 64) suggest a date of writing that precedes such important events. In addition, the description of the church in its early stages of development along with the absence of descriptions of developed ecclesiastical order fits the dates given by early Church tradition.  This means that we can look into the Pauline epistles and place the church within a particular historical setting that preceded the order found in the late first century and early second century.
 Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grover, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1990), 499.
We can therefore date the Prison Epistles between A.D. 60 and 62 with Philippians being written last and near the end of his two-year imprisonment. We are certain that they were all written before the burning of Rome in A.D. 64 during the time of Nero.
B. Place of Writing - The strongest evidence supports a Roman imprisonment as the place of the writing of the Prison Epistles.
1. Internal Evidence - Internal evidence supports the popular view that the epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians were written while Paul was in prison. This is because there are a number of verses within these letters that refer to this imprisonment:
Ephesians 3:1, “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,”
Ephesians 3:13, “Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”
Ephesians 4:1, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,”
Ephesians 6:20, “For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Philippians 1:7, “Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”
Philippians 1:13-14, “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Philippians 1:16, “The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds:”
Colossians 1:24, “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:”
Colossians 2:1, “For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;”
Colossians 4:18, “The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.”
Philemon 1:1, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,”
Philemon 1:9, “Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.”
Whether it was Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea or Rome or another place is still debated. Here are some reasons why Rome is the favored place of origin among scholars today.
a) Roman Origin (A.D. 60-62) - There is strong internal evidence within the Prison Epistles to support a Roman origin. We know that Paul had more liberties to preach in his Roman imprisonment. The references to a palace and the Imperial household better describe Rome. Ephesians describes Paul as an ambassador with a message to a King. The Prison Epistles suggest a pending Roman trial and release. Paul’s list of companions suggests a Roman origin. Finally, early Church tradition supports a Roman imprisonment.
(1) Paul Had More Liberties to Preach in His Roman Imprisonment - We know that Paul wrote these epistles in an environment that allowed him free intercourse with his friends (Ephesians 6:18-20, Philippians 1:12-18, Colossians 4:2-4). From the book of Acts, we know that Paul did have some liberties to have visitors while imprisoned in Caesarea.
Acts 24:23, “And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.”
However in Rome somewhat greater liberties were granted to Paul so that he “preached the kingdom of God and taught those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.”
Acts 28:30-31, “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.”
Thus, Paul had greater liberties in his Roman imprisonment than he did at Caesarea. Therefore, most scholars support a Roman origin for the epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon because of such internal evidence and because of the weight of early church tradition.
(2) References to a Palace and the Imperial Household Better Describe Rome - If we consider references found within the Prison Epistles, which most scholars do, then we find in Philippians comments about a palace and the Imperial household. This description more easily fits Rome than Caesarea.
Philippians 1:13, “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;”
Philippians 4:22, “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household.”
(3) Ephesians Describes Paul as an Ambassador With a Message to a King - Ephesians 6:19-20 describes a situation in which Paul considered himself to be an “ambassador” with a message.
Ephesians 6:19-20, “And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
This verse implies that Paul believed he had been given a message by his Lord to deliver to a king. He appears to consider the fact that he was being given many other opportunities to minister to other people of great influence. Thus, he requested prayer that he would speak words that would bring about the greatest impact in the hearts of his hearers. This fits a Roman imprisonment.
(4) The Prison Epistles Suggest a Pending Roman Trial and Release - We see from Philippians 1:19-26; Philippians 2:17; Philippians 2:23 and Philemon 1:22 that Paul was soon facing a trial with the expectation of being released. These verses fit better with a trial before Caesar than the intermediate trial in Caesarea that is recorded in Acts 24-26, because there was nothing about his Caesarean imprisonment that pointed towards a release.
(a) Paul’s Life Was Hanging in a Balance - Philippians 1:19-26 reveals that Paul’s life was hanging in the balance. However, this was not the atmosphere of Paul's Caesarean imprisonment, as he was prepared to appeal unto Caesar had a conviction of punishment been decreed. Note:
Acts 25:11, “For if I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar .”
(b) The Trial Was Nearing Completion - Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24 reveal that the trial seems to be nearing its completion and Paul expects to be set free. He expresses strong conviction that he “shall remain and continue with you all” (Philemon 1:25; cf. also Philemon 1:24). The concept of a trial coming to a final conclusive end fits a Roman trial, rather than a Caesarean trial.
Philippians 1:25, “And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;”
Philippians 2:24, “But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.”
(5) Paul’s List of Companions Suggests a Roman Origin - Also, the fact that Ephesians 6:21-22, Colossians 4:7-9 and Philemon 1:10-12 reveal that Paul was dispatching Tychicus accompanied by Onesimus with all three of these letters on the same journey strongly suggests a Roman origin. This is because Onesimus was not associated with Paul’s Caesarean imprisonment according to the book of Acts, although Tychicus was with Paul at the close of his third missionary journey. Onesimus would have had less chance of gaining access to and being discipled by Paul at Caesarea than at Rome.
In addition, Louis Berkhof notes that the many companions of Paul, viz. Tychicus, Aristarchus, Marcus, Justus, Epaphras, Luke and Demas, are quite different from those that accompanied him on his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). 
 Louis Berkhof, The Epistle to the Ephesians, in Introduction to the New Testament, electronic edition 2004-04-02 (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library) [on-line]; accessed 23 April 2010; available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/berkhof/ newtestament.html; Internet, 106-107.
Acts 20:4, “And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.”
The mention of Marcus, the cousin of Barnabas in Colossians 4:10, is according to tradition, a clear reference to Rome.
In addition, we know from the book of Acts that Aristarchus and Luke accompanied Paul to Rome by ship.
Acts 27:2, “And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus , a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.”
Acts 28:14, “Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome.”
We know from the epistles of Colossians and Philemon that both of these companions were with Paul when he wrote his prison epistles.
Colossians 4:10, “ Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)”
Colossians 4:14, “ Luke , the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.”
Philemon 1:24, “Marcus, Aristarchus , Demas, Lucas , my fellowlabourers.”
We must note that both Aristarchus and Luke accompanied Paul to Jerusalem also when he was arrested and imprisoned in Caesarea.
Acts 20:4, “And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.”
(6) Early Church Tradition - There is one witness from early tradition that supports a Roman origin. The Marcionite Prologue, which was attached to this epistle, says, “He composes a familiar letter to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus his servant. He writes to him, however, from Rome, from prison.” 
 Ben C. Smith, “The Marcionite Prologues to the Pauline Epistles,” (Text Excavation 2010) [on-line]; accessed 11 May 2010; available from http://www.textexcavation.com/ marcioniteprologues.html; Internet; See Codex Fuldensis: Novum Testamentum Latine Interprete Hieronymo, ed. Ernestus Ranke (Marburgi & Lipsiaei: Sumtibus N. G. Elwerti Bibliopolae Academici, 1867), 310.
b) Caesarean Origin (A.D. 57-59) - Of recent years, some scholars have asked if some or all of the Prison Epistles could have been written while Paul was being held in prison at Caesarea. We know from the book of Acts that the Roman procurator of Judea, Marcus Antonius Felix, hoping to receive a bribe from Paul, held him under house arrest for two years while allowing his friends free access to him. Those who support a Caesarean imprisonment base their argument upon its closer proximity to Asia. But arguments for a Caesarean location are only speculative and have no internal or external evidence to support it. The strongest argument against a Caesarean imprisonment is the fact that Paul was expecting his release to come soon (Philippians 1:19-26; Philippians 2:17; Philippians 2:23 and Philemon 1:22). This is because Paul understood that his appeal to Caesar at Caesarea meant a delay in his trial and release. The fact that Paul makes no mention of Philippi in his Prison Epistles makes a Caesarean origin questionable because he hosted Paul while visiting Caesarea.
c) Ephesian Origin (A.D. 54-55) - In recent years, there has been some speculation about an Ephesian origin. Although the New Testament tells us that Paul was in prison at other times besides Rome and Caesarea (2 Corinthians 6:5; 2 Corinthians 11:23), we have no indications within the Scriptures or early Church tradition as to these locations. However, speculation as to an Ephesian imprisonment is not a recent idea. The heretic Marcion first suggested such a location. The Marcionite Prologue to Colossians reads, “The apostle, therefore, already arrested, writes to them from Ephesus.”  Some modern scholars suggest that Ephesus would be the most likely place for an imprisonment because it was where he faced his fiercest opposition. They point to passages such as Romans 16:4; Romans 16:7; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 2 Corinthians 11:23 to support their arguments. Others base their argument upon its closer proximity to the destination of the prison epistles. Robert Brow suggests that Luke deliberately omitted an Ephesian imprisonment because the book of Acts was written as a legal defense of the Gospel and the story of this imprisonment would not have helped in Paul’s defense. Brow also suggests that the circumstances and people involved fits an Ephesian imprisonment better where Paul also wrote his second letter Timothy.  However, any support for this location from Scripture or the early Church fathers is entirely lacking.
 Ben C. Smith, “The Marcionite Prologues to the Pauline Epistles,” (Text Excavation 2010) [on-line]; accessed 11 May 2010; available from http://www.textexcavation.com/ marcioniteprologues.html; Internet; See Codex Fuldensis: Novum Testamentum Latine Interprete Hieronymo, ed. Ernestus Ranke (Marburgi & Lipsiaei: Sumtibus N. G. Elwerti Bibliopolae Academici, 1867), 284.
 Robert Brow, Ephesians Commentary (Odessa ON: J.L.P Digital Publications, 2002) [on-line]; accessed 10 May 2002; available from http://www.brow.on.ca/Books/ Ephesians/EphIntro.htm; Internet, “Introduction: The Church in Ephesus.”
2. External Evidence - All of the early Church fathers place Paul in Rome during the writing of the Prison Epistles. (The one exception is the heretic Marcion who places Paul in Ephesus when writing the epistle to the Ephesians and then makes an apparent contradiction by placing Paul in Rome when writing his letters to the Philippians and to Philemon.)
a) Jerome (A.D. 342 to 420) - Jerome placed the writings of the Prison Epistles in Rome during his imprisonment.
“The fourth ground of his censure is in the beginning of my Second Book, in which I expounded the statement which St. Paul makes ‘For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles.’ The passage in itself is perfectly plain; and I give, therefore, only that part of the comment on it which lends itself to malevolent remark: The words which describe Paul as the prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles may be understood of his martyrdom, since it was when he was thrown into chains at Rome that he wrote this Epistle, at the same time with those to Philemon and the Colossians and the Philippians , as we have formerly shewn.” ( Jerome’s Apology for Himself Against the Books of Rufinus 1) ( NPF2 3)
b) John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-406) - John Chrysostom the writings of the Prison Epistles in Rome during his imprisonment.
“But it was from Rome he wrote to the Philippians; wherefore he says. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household: and to the Hebrews from thence likewise, wherefore, he says, all they of Italy salute them. And the Epistle to Timothy, he sent also from Rome, when in prison; which seems to me, too, to be the last of all the Epistles; and this is plain from the end: For I am now ready to be offered, he says, and the lime of my departure is at hand. But that he ended his life there, is clear, I may say, to every one. And that to Philemon is also very late, (for he wrote it in extreme old age, wherefore also he said, as Paul the aged, and now a prisoner in Christ Jesus,) yet previous to that to the Colossians. For in writing to the Colossians, he says. All my stale shall Tychicus declare unto you, whom I have sent with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother. For this was that Onesimus in whose behalf he composed the Epistle to Philemon. And that this was no other of the same name with him, is plain from the mention of Archippus…And that to the Galatians seems to me to be before that to the Romans.” 
 John Chrysostom, Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of S. Paul the Apostle to the Romans, in A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division of the East and the West, vol. 7 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), 3.
“He wrote the epistle [Ephesians] from Rome, and, as he himself informs us, in bonds. Pray for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds.” 
 John Chrysostom, Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of S. Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians, in A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division of the East and the West, vol. 5 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1840), 99.
c) Theodoret of Cyrrus (A.D. 393-466) Theodoret places the prison epistles in Rome.
“And after these things he wrote to the Philippians from Rome, and it is clear (at) the end of the epistle. Clearly, he teaches us (at) the end; for he says, ‘They of the household of Caesar greet you.’ And also indeed at the same time he wrote to the Ephesians and to the Colossians. [ PG 82 41C-D] (author’s translation)
“And in the one to the Colossians he also mentions Onesimus, ‘For with Onesimus,’ he says, ‘the faithful and beloved brother, who is of you, they shall know all things here.’ Indeed, before the two of these (epistles) the one to Philemon was determined. [ PG 82 41D-44A] (author’s translation)
d) Euthalius (5 th c.) Euthalius places the prison epistles in Rome. In his argument to the second epistle of Timothy, Euthalius writes, “This one he sent from Rome.” ( PG 85 col. 788C)
e) Pseudo-Athanasius (Synopsis of Sacred Scripture) (4 th -6 th c.) - In the Synopsis of Sacred Scripture, Pseudo-Athanasius (4 th -6 th c.) begins his summary of Philemon by saying, “This one he sends from Rome.” ( PG 28 col. 428C)
f) Ebedjesu (d. 1318) Ebedjesu, the Syrian bishop, reflects medieval tradition by saying Paul wrote his epistle to Philemon from the city of Rome. 
 Ebedjesu writes, “Besides these there are fourteen epistles of the great Apostle Paul…the Epistle to Philemon, written at Rome, and sent by of Onesimus, the slave of Philemon.” See Nathaniel Lardner, The Works of Nathaniel Lardner, vol. 4 (London: Joseph Ogle Robinson, 1829), 321; George Percy Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, vol. 2 (London: Joseph Masters, 1852), 362.
g) The Authorized Version (1611) - Euthalius, an unknown deacon of the fifth century, is believed to have provided the testimonies for the subscriptions to the Pauline epistles found in the Authorized Version (1611).  However, not all of these subscriptions match the comments of Euthalius (compare the differences in 1 and 2 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians). Thus, the committee of the Authorized Version probably relied on various sources for their subscriptions. A subscription attached to this epistle of Philemon in the Authorized Version (1611) reads, “Written from Rome to Philemon, by Onesimus a servant.” 
 Matthew George Easton, “Subscriptions,” in Easton’s Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, c1897), in The Sword Project, v. 1.5.11 [CD-ROM] (Temple, AZ: CrossWire Bible Society, 1990-2008).
 The Holy Bible: A Facsimile in a reduced size of the Authorized Version published in the year 1611, ed. Alfred William Pollard (Oxford: The University Press, 1911).
In conclusion, internal and external evidence support a Roman imprisonment for the writings of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Any other conclusion lacks logical support.
Most scholars agree that the epistle of Philemon was written to an individual named Philemon who was a resident of the Lycus valley region and perhaps a member of the church in Colossi. We know from the two opening verses that although Philemon was the primary recipient, there were a number of others that Paul addressed as secondary recipients. We notice that after addressing Philemon by name, Paul writes, “and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house.” (Philemon 1:2) Thus, Paul names two other individuals as well as the church that met in Philemon’s house as the secondary recipients. Most conservative scholars suggest that Apphia is the wife of Philemon and Archippus may be a family member of Philemon such as his son or a co-worker in the Colossian church.
The third verse of this epistle is Paul’s blessing for God’s grace and peace to be with them all, as we note that the Greek word “you” is written in the plural in this verse. But the rest of the verses in this epistle are addressed to a single individual, which we know to be Philemon, the primary recipient. It is not until the closing verse when Paul closes by saying “your spirit” (Philemon 1:25) that Paul picks up the plural again. The Greek text makes a clear distinction between the singular or plural forms of these recipients since there are different words used for the personal pronouns. But our modern English language is a little more difficult to follow in this regard.
Goodspeed notes that because this epistle is also addressed to the church that meets in the house of Philemon as secondary recipients (Philemon 1:2), it suggest that this is an issue that will be made as a congregation, rather than as an individual.  Certainly Philemon would not respond to Paul’s request without taking into consideration the views of the church members. The weight of Paul’s plea reminds Philemon of his inferior position under Paul’s apostolic authority in this matter. Thus, in a sense, this is a congregational letter where Paul gives instructions to them under apostolic authority.
 Edgar J. Goodspeed, An Introduction to the New Testament (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1937), 115.
Why would we place Philemon in Colossi? There are number of different reasons. First, both epistles contain greetings from Aristarchus, Mark, Epaphras, Luke and Demas who are with Paul at the time of writing (Colossians 4:10-14, Philippians 1:23-24). Archippus is referred to in both letter as a fellow-soldier (Philippians 1:2) who is to fulfill his ministry (Colossians 4:17). In Colossians 4:9 Onesimus is being sent with Tychicus and is called “one of you.” We know that Philemon was a member of a church in the Lycus valley region and the church met in his house (Philemon 1:2). Finally, we know that both epistles contain the names of Paul, Timothy, Archippus, Epaphras, Aristarchus, Mark, Demas, Luke and Onesimus.
1. Timothy’s name is contained in both opening verses.
Colossians 1:1, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,”
Philemon 1:1, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,”
2. Archippus is mentioned only two places in the New Testament:
Philemon 1:2, “And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:”
Colossians 4:17, “And say to Archippus , Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.”
Philemon 1:23, “There salute thee Epaphras , my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;”
Colossians 1:7, “As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;”
Colossians 4:12, “ Epaphras , who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
Philemon 1:24, “Marcus, Aristarchus , Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.”
Colossians 4:10, “ Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)”
Philemon 1:24, “ Marcus , Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.”
Colossians 4:10, “Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus , sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)”
1 Peter 5:13, “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.”
Philemon 1:24, “Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas , Lucas, my fellowlabourers.”
Colossians 4:14, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas , greet you.”
2 Timothy 4:10, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.”
7. Lucas: (also Luke) (in subscription)
Philemon 1:24, “Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas , my fellowlabourers.”
Colossians 4:14, “ Luke , the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.”
8. Onesimus: (in subscription)
Philemon 1:10, “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus , whom I have begotten in my bonds:”
Colossians 4:9, “With Onesimus , a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.”
Thus, we conclude that Philemon, a leader in the church of Colossi, is the primary recipient, with his immediate family and church being secondary recipients.
We know from internal evidence that the Prison Epistles, as they are formally called, were written while Paul, the apostle, was in prison. What situations would have occasioned Paul to write the four letters of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon? If we read Paul’s Prison Epistles, we find several specific occasions woven together to necessitate the writing of three of these epistles at one time and the letter of Philippians soon afterwards. While in his first Roman imprisonment, Paul enjoyed the privileges of entertaining guests. No doubt, the Jewish community came to inquire of the Christian sect for which Paul was bound in chains. Also, the believers at Rome as well as his faithful coworkers, such as Luke, Aristarchus, Marcus, Epaphras, and Timothy, came to comfort him, which Paul appreciates by recognizing them within his Prison Epistles. While in prison, Paul was able to send and receive messages of his work in the East.
Colossians On one of these occasions when guests arrived to visit Paul, he received news from Epaphras about the believers at Colossi. This faithful messenger and perhaps the founding missionary of the church at Colossi (Colossians 1:7) had recently come to Rome and briefed Paul about the progress of the Gospel in this church that Paul had never actually visited. He informed Paul about their faith in Christ and of their love for one another (Colossians 1:4; Colossians 1:8). It was within the context of this report from Epaphras that Paul found out the disturbing news of heretical teachings within the Colossian church. He would have seen the immediate need to address a growing threat of false teachings brought in by the Greek minds as well as the Jews. Paul had to combat Jewish as well as Hellenistic thoughts. Louis Berkhof wisely notes that the Colossian error was a combination of Jewish doctrine, heathen philosophy and Christian beliefs that make it impossible to say that Paul was confronting a particular heretical group. 
 Louis Berkhof, The Epistle to Colossians, in Introduction to the New Testament, electronic edition 2004-04-02 (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library) [on-line]; accessed 23 April 2010; available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/berkhof/ newtestament.html; Internet, 116.
An early form of Gnosticism, a heretical movement that would make its full expression during the second century, was being introduced the church at this time. This heresy taught that Jesus Christ was neither fully God nor fully man. They taught that the man Jesus received His divine nature at His water baptism and that the Christ ascended to Heaven just before His death on the Cross. This group introduced a lifestyle of either extreme asceticism or fleshly indulgence believing that the human body was inherently evil.
The Judaizers were also attempting to jeopardize the faith of this growing church. We find a description of the many Jewish sects and their teachings from the writings of Josephus, ( Wars 2.8.2-13), who tells us that these sects were scattered throughout the Diaspora. Paul came against these Jewish sects who were preaching that Christians had to embrace certain Old Testament rituals out of the Mosaic Law in order to continue in right standing with God. Therefore, Paul felt compelled to write to the church at Colossi as soon as possible in order to head off this threat and to establish them further in the faith.
Philemon We know from the context of the short epistle of Philemon that Onesimus, a slave that belonged to Philemon, had fled to Paul for freedom. We do not know the cause of his flight nor why he sought Paul. During his exile in Rome Paul had led him to the Lord (Philemon 1:10). The need to bring reconciliation to this situation resulted in Paul’s letter to his owner. Paul’s letter implies from his use of the words “wronged” and “owes” that the slave may have robbed his master in some way (Philemon 1:18). Thus, in Paul’s epistle to Philemon, we find Paul anxious to reconcile the split between a master and his slave. He asked that the slave be reconciled to the household without suffering harsh punishment. Although Paul suggests that Onesimus would be more beneficial to his owner, at no place in the letter does he actually ask Philemon to set him free.
It is likely that the complicated Roman laws of dealing with the return of fugitive slaves to their masters caused Paul to deal with this situation privately rather than making it known to the Roman officials. Albert Barnes refers to Macknight, who says that the laws of Phrygia allowed the master to punish a slave “without applying to any magistrate.”  Barnes says history suggests that the Phrygians were a severe people.  Thus, we can assume that Philemon had some concerns of being restored to his owner.
 James MacKnight, “A New Literal Translation of St Paul’s Epistle to Philemon,” in A New Literal Translation From the Original Greek, of all the Apostolical Epistles, with a Commentary, and Notes, Philological, Critical, Explanatory, and Practical, vol. 3, fourth edition (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme; T. Hamilton, Paternoster Row; R. Ogle; J. Ogle; M. Ogle, 1809), 308. MacKnight cites Hugo Grotius as the source of this comment. See Hugo Grotius, Annotationes in Epistolam Ad Philemonem, in Hugonis Grotii Annotationes in Novem Testamentum, vol. 7 (Groningae: W. Zuidema, 1829), 344.
 Albert Barnes, The Epistle of Paul to Philemon, in Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database (Seattle, WA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1997), in P.C. Study Bible, v. 3.1 [CD-ROM] (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft Inc., 1993-2000), “Introduction: Section 2.5.” Barnes cites the Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus ( History of the Wars of Alexander 5.1). See Quintus Curtius His History of the Wars of Alexander, 2 vols., trans. John Digby (London: A. Millar, 1747).
We know from internal evidence that the epistle to the Colossians was delivered together with the epistle to Philemon. Therefore, we find Paul writing two letters, one to the church at Colossi and one to Philemon, using the same messengers to deliver them. Paul soon dispatched his close associate, Tychicus, a native of Ephesus, to this region with Onesimus to deliver these three letters. Paul’s letter to Philemon could have served as a cover letter as an indirect way of introducing Onesimus to the churches that he and Tychicus may encounter on their journey to this region.
Ephesians - From these two occasions, Paul also took the opportunity to write his less personal letter to the church at Ephesus, which he intended to be circulated among the other churches in this region. For the epistle to the Ephesians we do find one hint as to why he would have written to them in his last message to the elders of that church in Acts 20:17-38. In this speech, Paul warned them that “grievous wolves” would soon enter the flock and lead some astray. This foresight led Paul to write to them in order to further ground them in the hope of their salvation and in the doctrines upon which they placed their hope.
Paul was facing possible execution and his mind and heart were on eternal matters more than ever before: for he reveals his longing to depart and be with the Lord in his later epistle to the Philippians.
Philippians 1:23, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:”
Therefore, Paul took this opportunity to reveal in this circular letter the highest level of theology that God had revealed to him regarding the eternal purpose and plan of God for his Church.
Philippians - At a later date, the church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus to Paul with a love offering and with instructions to minister to his needs.
Philippians 4:18, “But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.”
Philippians 2:25, “Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.”
The events of this visit could have occasioned Paul’s letter to the Philippians. For we assume that Epaphroditus brought news of the progress of church growth at Philippi and any pending problems. While in Rome, this messenger becomes gravely ill, near unto death. When he was strong enough to return, Paul sent him back and informs the church of this illness (Philippians 2:26-30). This return gave Paul the opportunity to write them a thank you letter for their offering to him and to give Epaphroditus the praise the he was worthy of receiving for his deed. Therefore, he is most likely the one who carried this epistle to the Philippian Church. In addition, Paul was now intending to send Timothy to Philippi to deal with several issues that Epaphroditus has reported to him. Paul would first send Timothy and then follow up with a personal visit (Philippians 2:19; Philippians 2:24). This letter thus serves to notify the church at Philippi to prepare for such visits.
Summary - Thus, we find a number of occasions woven together in a way that compelled Paul to write three of his Prison Epistles at one time. Paul soon dispatched his close associate, Tychicus, a native of Ephesus, to this region with Onesimus to deliver these three letters. Paul’s letter to Philemon could have served as a cover letter as an indirect way of introducing Onesimus to the churches that he and Tychicus may encounter on their journey to this region. It was after these events that Epaphroditus arrived with a gift from the church at Philippi. The illness of this messenger and Paul’s need to give them a reply of gratitude occasioned Paul to sit down near the end of his first imprisonment and write his letter to the Philippians.
LITERARY STYLE (GENRE)
“Perhaps the most important issue in interpretation is the issue of genre.
If we misunderstand the genre of a text, the rest of our analysis will be askew.”
(Thomas Schreiner) 
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles, second edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, c1990, 2011), 11.
Within the historical setting of the early church, the authors of the New Testament epistles chose to write to various groups of believers using the literary style of the formal Greco-Roman epistle, which contains a traditional salutation, the body, and a conclusion. Thus, the New Testament epistles are assigned to the literary genre called “epistle genre,” In the introductory section of literary style, a comparison will be made of the Pauline epistles, as well as a brief look at the grammar and syntax of the epistle of Philemon.
VI. Comparison of the Pauline Epistles
There are number of observations we can make regarding the characteristics and uniqueness of the epistle of Philemon.
A. Comparison of Style: Its Typical Roman Epistolary Format - This letter is written by Paul the apostle in typical epistolary form for that period in Roman history. Its content can be compared to a letter written by Pliny the Younger to a friend regarding another runaway slave. 
 Pliny the Younger writes, “Your freedman, whom you lately mentioned to me with displeasure, has been with me, and threw himself at my feet with as much submission as he could have fallen at yours. He earnestly requested me with many tears, and even with all the eloquence of silent sorrow, to intercede for him; in short, he convinced me by his whole behaviour that he sincerely repents of his fault. I am persuaded he is thoroughly reformed, because he seems deeply sensible of his guilt. I know you are angry with him, and I know, too, it is not without reason; but clemency can never exert itself more laudably than when there is the most cause for resentment. You once had an affection for this man, and, I hope, will have again; meanwhile, let me only prevail with you to pardon him.” (9.21) William Melmoth, The Letters of Pliny the Consul, vol. 1 (Boston: E. Larkin, 1809), 145-146.
B. Comparison of Style: Its Brevity - It is the shortest of all of Paul’s epistles, and thus, placed last in his collection of epistles.
C. Comparison of Style: Its Personal Nature - It is a very personal and polite letter, as well as gentle and persuasive. For this reason, many scholars call this “the Polite Letter.”
D. Comparison of Style: Its Pauline Character - As with all of Paul’s letters, it opens with a salutation followed by his thanksgiving and prayer to his recipients. It then contains the body of the letter and closes with conclusion and final greetings.
VII. Grammar and Syntax
E. Grammar and Syntax: Its Unique Vocabulary Louis Berkhof tells us that it contains seven Greek words that are unique to the New Testament. 
 Louis Berkhof, The Epistle to Philemon, in Introduction to the New Testament, electronic edition 2004-04-02 (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library) [on-line]; accessed 23 April 2010; available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/berkhof/ newtestament.html; Internet, 142.
“Scholarly excellence requires a proper theological framework.”
(Andreas Kösenberger) 
 Andreas J. Kösenberger, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2011), 161.
Based upon the historical setting and literary style of the epistle of Philemon, an examination of the purpose, thematic scheme, and literary structure to this book of the Holy Scriptures will reveal its theological framework. This introductory section will sum up its theological framework in the form of an outline, which is then used to identify smaller units or pericopes within the epistle of Philemon for preaching and teaching passages of Scripture while following the overriding message of the book. Following this outline allows the minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to take his followers on a spiritual journey that brings them to the same destination that the author intended his readers to reach.
Introduction - Since the relationship between a slave and his owner was one of the more difficult issues that the early Church had to deal with, this letter served as a guide to other churches in how to deal with this situation. It is important to understand that slavery was commonplace in the Roman Empire. Roman law favored the slave owners by considering the slaves nothing more than a piece of property to be bought and sold at will. They were beaten for minor offences and even killed for a number of reasons, such as running away.
In contrast, the Mosaic Law provided for humane treatment of slaves. James A. Borland and Jeffrey Khoo provide a list of Scripture references to the treatment of slaves under the Old Testament Law. For example, a Jewish slave could not be bound for more than six years, and was set free during the sabbatical year (Exodus 21:2); a Jew who sold himself into slavery due to debt was to be freed in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:39-43); slaves were treated like members of the family (Leviticus 25:53); if a slave were harmed by his master, he was to be given his freedom (Exodus 21:26-27); a slave owner was to be severely punished for killing a slave (Exodus 21:20); an escaped slave was to not to be returned to his master, but was to be treated with respect (Deuteronomy 23:15-16); slaves could own possessions (Leviticus 25:47-55). There were other Jewish laws granting slaves proper human rights. 
 James A. Borland, The Epistle to Philemon, in The KJV Bible Commentary, eds. Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow M. Kroll (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1994), in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004), “Introduction”; Jeffery Khoo, Epistle to Philemon (Far Eastern Bible College) [on-line]; accessed 12 May 2010; available from http://www.febc.edu.sg/assets/pdfs/ studyresource/philemon.pdf; Internet.
Thus, we can conclude that Paul was not condoning slavery, but was rather attempting to give guidelines to the Churches on how to deal with a rather difficult issue in this culture. Although Paul was not going to change Roman law overnight, the Gospel of Jesus Christ called mankind to a higher calling, one of the Cross, which expresses forgiveness, humility, servanthood, and love. Paul understood that he was not moving people to violate Roman law, but rather, to be good citizens of the Empire. He did not want to appear as if he was hiding a runaway slave from Roman officials, for the legal penalty for the slave was death. He must work within the bounds of both the Roman law as well as the divine laws of God. Thus, the epistle of Philemon reveals a tremendous amount of wisdom on Paul’s part to reconcile to believers without violating divine or Roman law. Bible scholars say that the early Church fathers took a very conservative view on slavery. Since it was interwoven into the structure of the Roman Empire, it could not be abolished without a social revolution. This position that Paul took in his epistles regarding slavery reminds us of Jesus’ reply to the Jewish leaders when He said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
It is commonly agreed among scholars that the purpose of the epistle of Philemon is primarily reconciliatory.
A. Reconciliatory - Paul’s purpose in writing to Philemon was to bring about reconciliation with his slave and to keep unity in the church. Paul convinced Onesimus to return to his master at the risk of punishment or even death, and he wrote to Philemon to convince him to give up his right to ownership. Both Onesimus and Philemon had to relinquish certain rights in order to bring themselves together in reconciliation. Paul reconciled a guilty slave to his master without finding fault with either party. Thus, we find a great purpose underlying this letter in the fact that Paul intends to set an example through Philemon of how the early Church at large was to deal with the issue slavery among its members, which emphasizes reconciliation among believers.
B. Occasional - There is an occasional purpose to the epistle of Philemon as well. The purpose of Paul writing to Philemon was not only to reconcile two believers, but to also request that Onesimus be allowed to return and continue assisting Paul in Rome. This request is implied in Philemon 1:13-14.
Philemon 1:13-14, “Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.”
Paul used this epistle to inform Philemon to prepare a place for his lodging when he is released from prison. Thus, we have somewhat of an occasion to this letter.
Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote a number of epistles, which have come down to us ( ANF 1). Four of these epistles mention a bishop of Ephesus named Onesimus.  Edgar Goodspeed notes that Ignatius’ references to an Ephesian bishop named Onesimus support the possibility that Philemon freed this slave as a result of Paul’s letter.  If Paul wrote to Philemon during his first Roman imprisonment (A.D. 60-62), and Ignatius dies in A.D. 107, it is very possible that Onesimus was still alive and serving the church of Ephesus as bishop. Goodspeed goes on to suggest the possibility that it was Onesimus, as bishop of Ephesus, who first collected the Pauline letters into a group in gratitude for saving his life and giving him a purpose and destiny.
 Ignatius refers to an Ephesian bishop named Onesimus in The First Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 1:2 , Ephesians 1:6, The Second Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 1:0, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians 13, and The Epistle of Ignatius to Hero, a Deacon of Antioch 8.
 Edgar J. Goodspeed, Commentary on Philemon [on-line]; accessed 27 March 2010; available from http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ goodspeed/ch09.html (7 of 9) [25/07/2003 01:05:08 a.m.]; Internet, “Introduction.”
IX. Thematic Scheme
Introduction - Each book of the Holy Scriptures contains a three-fold thematic scheme in order to fulfill its intended purpose, which is to transform each child of God into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). The primary, or foundational, theme of a book offers a central claim that undergirds everything written by the author. The secondary, or structural theme, of the book supports its primary theme by offering reasons and evidence for the central “claim” made by the author as it fully develops the first theme. Thus, the secondary theme is more easily recognized by biblical scholars than the other two themes because they provide the literary content of the book as they navigate the reader through the arguments embedded within the biblical text, thus revealing themselves more clearly.  The third theme is imperative in that it calls the reader to a response based upon the central claim and supporting evidence offered by the author. Each child of God has been predestined to be conformed into the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures, and they alone, have the power to accomplish this task. This is why a child of God can read the Holy Scriptures with a pure heart and experience a daily transformation taking place in his life, although he may not fully understand what is taking place in his life. In addition, the reason some children of God often do not see these biblical themes is because they have not fully yielded their lives to Jesus Christ, allowing transformation to take place by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Without a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, a child of God is not willing to allow Him to manage his life and move him down the road that God predestined as his spiritual journey. This journey requires every participant to take up his cross daily and follow Jesus, and not every believer is willing to do this. In fact, every child of God chooses how far down this road of sacrifice he is willing to go. Very few of men and women of God fulfill their divine destinies by completing this difficult journey. In summary, the first theme drives the second theme, which develops the first theme, and together they demand the third theme, which is the reader’s response.
 For an excellent discussion on the use of claims, reasons, and evidence in literature, see Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003).
A. Primary Theme of the Pastoral Epistles (Church Order and Individual Calling) - Introduction - The central theme of the Holy Bible is God’s plan of redemption for mankind. This theme finds its central focus in the Cross, where our Lord and Saviour died to redeem mankind. The central figure of the Holy Scriptures is the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the Cross is the place where man meets God and where we die to our selfish ambitions and yield our lives to the God who created all things. Therefore, the Holy Scriptures are not intended to be a precise record of ancient history. Rather, its intent is to provide a record of God’s divine intervention in the history of mankind in order to redeem the world back to Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary.
Every book of the Holy Bible makes a central claim that undergirds the arguments or message contained within its text. For example, the central claim of the Pentateuch is found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD,” to which all additional material is subordinate. The bulk of the material in the Old Testament is subordinate in that it serves as reasons and evidence to support this central claim. This material serves as the secondary theme, offering the literary structure of the book. In addition, the central claim calls for a response, which is stated in the following verse, “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) Such a response is considered the third, imperative theme that runs through every book of the Holy Scriptures.
This central claim is the primary, or foundational, theme and is often obscured by the weight of evidence that is used to drive the central message, which weight of evidence makes up the secondary theme; and thus, it contains more content than the primary theme. Therefore, the secondary themes of the books of the Holy Scripture are generally more recognizable than the primary theme. Nevertheless, the central claim, or truth, must be excavated down to the foundation and made clearly visible in order to understand the central theme driving the arguments contained within the book. Only then can proper exegesis and sermon delivery be executed.
1. The Central Themes of the New Testament Epistles: Sanctification of the Believer - There are twenty-one epistles in the New Testament, which the early Church recognized as having apostolic authority so that they were collected into one body, circulated among the churches, an eventually canonized. While the Gospels emphasize the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ in the process justification of the believer, New Testament epistles emphasize the redemptive plan of the Holy Spirit as He works in the process of sanctification for each believer. Thus, the work of sanctification serves as the underlying theme of all twenty-one epistles. In addition, each one emphasizes a different aspect of this divine process of sanctification and they are organized together so that the New Testament is structured to reflect the part of our spiritual journey called sanctification In order to express this structure, each of these epistles have different themes that are woven and knitted together into a unified body of teachings which will bring the believer through the process of sanctification and ready for the rapture of the Church into a place of rest in the glorious hope revealed in the book of Revelation. Therefore, the New Testament epistles were collected together by topic by the early Church.
Of the twenty-one epistles, there are thirteen Pauline epistles and eight designated as General, or Catholic, epistles. We can organize these twenty-one epistles into three major categories: (1) there are epistles that emphasize Church doctrine, which are the nine Pauline epistles of Romans to 2 Thessalonians; (2) there are those that deal with Church order and divine service, which are 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon;  and (3) there are those that stress perseverance in the Christian faith, which are Hebrews and the seven General Epistles.  Within Hebrews and the General Epistles, we note that the first three epistles exhort the believer to persevere under persecutions, which come from without the Church (Hebrews, James, 1 Peter), while the other five epistles emphasis perseverance against false doctrines, which come from within (2 Peter , 1, 2, 3 John, Jude).
 For the sake of developing thematic schemes, the epistle of Philemon will be grouped with the Pastoral Epistles as did the Church fathers.
 For the sake of developing thematic schemes, the epistle of Hebrews will be grouped with the General Epistles, although many of the early Church fathers followed the tradition of grouping it with the Pauline epistles.
2. The Central Theme of the Pastoral Epistles: Church Order and Divine Service Paul’s pastoral letters of 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon establish the order and leadership of the Church. We find quotations or allusion to these epistles by some the earliest church fathers, testifying to their familiarity and use by the early Church. While Clement of Rome (A.D. 96) makes allusions to these epistles,  Ignatius (A.D. 35 to 107)  and Polycarp (A.D. 69 to 155)  provide clear quotations from them. Their pastoral character has been identified since the time of the early Church fathers, who described their content as “ecclesiastical discipline” (see the Muratorian Canon [late 2 nd cent.],  Tertullian [A.D. 160-225],  and Augustine [A.D. 354-430]).  Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) called these epistles “virtually a pastoral rule.”  The title “Pastoral Epistles” was first applied by D. N. Berdot in 1703,  and used again for all three epistles in 1726 by Paul Anton,  at which time this title became popular.
 Clement of Rome appears to be paraphrasing from 1 Timothy 2:8 in his epistle to the Corinthians, saying, “Let us then draw near to Him with holiness of spirit, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, loving our gracious and merciful Father, who has made us partakers in the blessings of His elect.” ( 1 Clement 29) Clement of Rome appears to be quoting a phrase from Titus 3:1 when he writes, “Ye never grudged any act of kindness, being “ready to every good work.’” ( 1 Clement 2) Clement of Rome use the phrase “with a pure conscience” in a similar way that Paul used it in 2 Timothy 1:3 when writing, “The hateful, and those full of all wickedness, were roused to such a pitch of fury, that they inflicted torture on those who served God with a holy and blameless purpose [of heart], not knowing that the Most High is the Defender and Protector of all such as with a pure conscience venerate His all-excellent name; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” ( 1 Clement 45)
 Ignatius of Antioch alludes to 2 Timothy 2:4 in his epistle to Polycarp, writing, “Please ye Him under whom ye fight, and from whom ye receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter.” ( The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp 6) He quotes from 2 Timothy 2:24 in his epistle to the Ephesians, writing “Wherefore Paul exhorts as follows: ‘The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle towards all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.’” ( The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 10) He makes a possible allusion to Titus 1:10, writing, “For there are some vain talkers and deceivers, not Christians, but Christ-betrayers.” ( The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians 6)
 Polycarp clearly borrows Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:7, 1 Timothy 6:10 when writing, “‘But the love of money is the root of all evils.’ Knowing, therefore, that ‘as we brought nothing into the world, so we can carry nothing out,’ let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness; and let us teach, first of all, ourselves to walk in the commandments of the Lord.” ( The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians 4:0) He alludes to 2 Timothy 4:10, writing, “For they loved not this present world, but Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead.” ( The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians 9)
 The Muratorian Canon reads, “The second class includes all that are received now: an Epistle to Philemon, one to Titus, and two to Timothy, which though written only from personal feelings and affection, are still hallowed in the respect of the Catholic Church, for ( or in) the arrangement of ecclesiastical discipline.” See Brooke Foss Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (London: Macmillan and Co., 1875), 215.
 Tertullian writes, “To this epistle [Philemon] alone did its brevity avail to protect it against the falsifying hands of Marcion. I wonder, however, when he received (into his Apostolicon) this letter which was written but to one man, that he rejected the two epistles to Timothy and the one to Titus, which all treat of ecclesiastical discipline.” ( Against Marcion 5.21) See Tertullian, Against Marcion, trans. Peter Holmes, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Buffalo, New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1885), 473.
 Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, in The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, c1990, 2002), 17.
 Divi Thomae Aquinatis, in omnes S. Pauli apostolic epistolas commentaria, tom 3, edition nova (Leodii, 1858), 56 (at 1 Timothy 1:4). Cited by Raymond F. Collins, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, in The New Testament Library, eds. C. Clifton Black and John T. Carroll (Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 1.
 D. N. Berdot characterized one of these epistles as a “pastoral letter” ( Pastoral-Brief) in Exercitatio theologica-exegetica in epistulam Pauli ad Titum (1703).
 Paul Anton (1661-1730) characterized all three epistles as pastoral epistles in 1726. See “Exegetical essays on the Pastoral Epistles of Paul to Timothy and Titus” (1753, 1 st pub., 1755, 2 nd pub. in Halle).
Thus, we have three witnesses of Church order and discipline, Timothy, Titus and Philemon. However, each of these epistles stresses a separate aspect of a believer’s divine calling and Church order. The foundational theme of the Pastoral Epistles reflects the phase of our spiritual journey which I entitle “divine calling and church order.” We are initially justified through faith in Christ Jesus, as the Gospels emphasize. We then go through a process of sanctification by the work of the Holy Spirit within us. The New Testament epistles stress this three-fold process of sanctification. In the first phase of sanctification we must be indoctrinated into the Word of God, as is stressed in the first nine Pauline Church Epistles. The second phase of sanctification focuses upon setting our lives in order as we place ourselves within a local church congregation and begin serving, as is stressed in Pastoral Epistles. The third phase of sanctification is our perseverance, as is stressed in the eight General Epistles, in which we must make the decision to endure persecutions and fulfill our individual callings. The final phase of our spiritual journey is glorification, in which we enter Heaven, as emphasized in the book of Revelation.
B. Secondary Theme of the Pastoral Epistles (The Development of Man’s Three-Fold Make-up for Christian Service) Introduction - The secondary themes of the books of the Holy Scriptures support the primary themes by offering reasons and evidence for the central “claim” of the book made by the author. Thus, the secondary themes are more easily recognized by biblical scholars than the other two themes because they provide the literary structure of the book as they navigate the reader through the arguments embedded within the biblical text, thus revealing themselves more clearly. For example, the central claim of the Pentateuch declares that the Lord God of Israel is the only God that man should serve, and man is to love the Lord God with all of his heart, mind, and strength, a statement found in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which is the foundational theme of the Old Testament. The books of Hebrew poetry provide evidence to this claim by expounding upon how man is to love God with all of his heart as its secondary theme. The books of the prophets provide evidence to this claim by expounding upon how man is to love God with all of his mind as its secondary theme, as he set his hope in the coming of the Messiah to redeem mankind. The historical books provide evidence to this claim by expounding upon how man is to love God with all of his strength as its secondary theme.
The central claim of the four Gospel writers is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, which is the foundational theme of this division of the Holy Scriptures. In addition, each Gospel writer offers evidence as its secondary theme to support his claim. The Gospel of John offers the five-fold testimony of God the Father, John the Baptist, the miracles of Jesus, the Old Testament Scriptures, and the testimony of Jesus Christ Himself as its secondary theme. Matthew expounds upon the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures as its secondary theme; Mark expounds upon the testimony of the miracles of Jesus as its secondary theme; Luke expounds upon the testimony of John the Baptist and other eye-witnesses and well as that of the apostles in the book of Acts as its secondary theme.
The central claim of the Pauline Church Epistles is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone how the power to redeem and transform man into the image of Jesus, which is the foundational theme of this division of the Holy Scriptures. The epistle of Romans supports this claim by offering evidence of mankind’s depravity and God’s plan of redemption to redeem him as its secondary theme. The epistles of Ephesians and Philippians expound upon the role of God the Father in His divine foreknowledge as their secondary theme; the epistles of Colossians and Galatians expound upon the role of Jesus Christ as the head of the Church as their secondary theme; the epistles of 1, 2 Thessalonians , 1, 2 Corinthians expound upon the role of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying the believers as their secondary theme.
The central claim of the Pastoral Epistles is that believers must serve God through the order of the New Testament Church. The epistles of 1, 2 Timothy expound upon how to serve the Lord within the Church with a pure heart, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of Titus expounds upon how to serve the Lord within the Church with a renewed mind, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of Philemon expounds upon how to serve the Lord within the Church with a genuine lifestyle, which is its secondary theme.
The central claim of the General Epistles is that believers must persevere in the Christian faith in order to obtain eternal redemption. The epistles of Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter modify this theme to reflect perseverance from persecutions from without the Church. The epistle of Hebrews expounds upon the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of James expounds upon a lifestyle of perseverance through the joy of the Holy Spirit, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of 1 Peter expounds upon our hope of divine election through God the Father, which is its secondary theme. The epistles of 2 Peter , 1, 2, 3, John and Jude reflect perseverance from false doctrines from within. The epistle of 2 Peter expounds upon growing in the knowledge of God’s Word with a sound mind, which is its secondary theme. The epistles of 1, 2, 3 John expound upon walking in fellowship with God and one another with a pure heart, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of Jude expounds how living a godly lifestyle with our bodies, which is its secondary theme.
The Apocalypse of John, though not considered an epistle, emphasizes the glorification of the Church, giving believers a vision of the hope that is laid up before them as a source of encouragement for those who persevere until the end. The central claim of the book of Revelation is that Jesus Christ is coming to take His Bride the Church to Glory. The secondary theme supports this claim with the evidence of Great Tribulation Period.
1. The Secondary Themes of Pastoral Epistles - Regarding the phase of our spiritual journey called “divine calling and church order” the Pastoral Epistles have distinctive themes related to the foundational theme. We have four witnesses of Church order and discipline in the Pastor Epistles. Each of these epistles stresses a separate aspect of this redemptive theme. I and 2 Timothy emphasize the aspect of our calling when we serve the Lord Jesus with all of our hearts. Titus emphasizes the aspect of our calling when we serve the Lord with all of our mind. Philemon emphasizes the aspect of our calling when we serve the Lord with all of our strength.
a) 1 and 2 Timothy (The Development of Man’s Heart for Christian Service in Response to Jesus’ Role of Redeeming Mankind) - The first epistle of Timothy emphasizes the order of the church corporately when it assembles, while the second epistle of Timothy emphasizes individual order, or one’s individual gifts and calling. These two epistles reflect the aspect of our spiritual journey of growing up spiritually by serving well in our local church with a pure heart, always motivated by love, as is stressed in 1 Timothy. As we do so, we are able to realize our individual callings into a particular work within the body of Christ, as is stressed in 2 Timothy. Thus, we have an emphasis placed upon a man’s spirit, or heart, as a part of his development in Christian service and calling as he fulfills the redemptive role of the Jesus Christ to bring men to a saving knowledge of the Saviour.
(1) 1 Timothy - In Paul’s first epistle to Timothy he gives this young minister the basics of how to set a church in order so that the individual members would be able to conduct themselves appropriately in the house of God. New Christians do not know how to conduct themselves unless they are taught how to do this. Here was a young church, which Paul was teaching Timothy how to set in order. He was to first and foremost found it upon prayer. (Note that Jesus set the temple in order by driving out the moneychangers and saying that God’s house must be a house of prayer.) Secondly, Timothy was instructed on to how to find elders and deacons by looking for certain qualifications that they must meet. Thirdly, Paul explained to Timothy how to train upcoming leaders in the true doctrines of the Church. Paul also dealt with three other important issues before closing this first epistle; the role of widows, the role of elders and leaders, and the role of the rich and the poor.
(2) 2 Timothy - Paul writes his first epistle to young Timothy in order to instruct him in how to set the church at Ephesus in order so that it can fulfill its corporate calling. In contrast, Paul’s second epistle to Timothy emphasizes individual order, or one’s individual gifts and calling. For young Timothy, it was a charge to fulfill his calling as an evangelist, in which he was told to handle the Word of God properly and to deliver it to faithful men who will in turn hand it down faithfully for generations to come. We find two key verses stating this theme in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” and in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” Paul knew that Timothy would need to endure hardship in order to fulfill his divine calling, so he makes three references to his need to do so ( 2Ti 1:8 ; 2 Timothy 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:5). In addition, Paul weaves within his final charge to Timothy some words of encouragement because he knows that the task is hard. It is not easily to set a church in order. Paul knew this; for he had been there. So he tells Timothy to endure this hardness like a good soldier, to follow the rules that Paul has laid down like a good athlete and to expect a wonderful harvest like a farmer.
Since the secondary theme of 1 and 2 Timothy emphasizes the spirit of man, Paul makes a number of references to Timothy’s spirit. He opens this epistle by telling Timothy to “stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6), and he closes it by saying, “The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit.” (2 Timothy 4:22)
b) Titus (The Development of Man’s Mind for Christian Service in Response to God the Father’s Role of Redeeming Mankind) In our calling we must establish sound doctrine in the minds of the congregation. This sound doctrine will prepare them for the phase of their spiritual journey called perseverance, as His chosen people serve the Lord in expectation of His Second Coming. Therefore, the epistle of Titus places emphasis upon a sound mind, and reveals to us how our minds must be prepared in order to enter into our individual callings, in contrast to 1 and 2 Timothy, which emphasizes a pure heart. Thus, we have an emphasis placed upon a man’s mind as a part of his development in Christian service and calling as he fulfills the redemptive role of the God the Father in effecting divine election by instilling the knowledge of God’s Word and a hope of eternal life. Note the many references to the teaching of sound doctrine in the book of Titus:
Titus 1:9, “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
Titus 1:13, “This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith ;”
Titus 2:1, “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine :”
Titus 2:2, “That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith , in charity, in patience.”
Titus 2:8, “ Sound speech , that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”
c) Philemon (The Development of Man’s Body [His Actions] for Christian Service in Response to the Holy Spirit’s Role of Redeeming Mankind) In the epistle of Philemon Paul exhorts a church leader called Philemon to continue serving as an example of faith and love in his conduct. A great test of his willingness to obey and serve the Lord was in receiving back a runaway slave called Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Thus, we have the emphasis placed upon a man’s actions as a part of his development in Christian service and calling as he fulfills the redemptive role of the Holy Spirit to effect sanctification and love within his local congregation.
C. Third Theme (Imperative) Theme of the Pastoral Epistles - The Crucified Life of the Believer (Divine Service) Introduction - The third theme of each book of the New Testament is a call by the author for the reader to apply the central truth, or claim, laid down in the book to the Christian life. It is a call to a lifestyle of crucifying the flesh and taking up one’s Cross daily to follow Jesus. Every child of God has been predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29), and every child of God faces challenges as well as failures in the pursuit of his Christian journey. For example, the imperative theme of the Old Testament is that God’s children are to serve the Lord God with all of their heart, mind, and strength, and love their neighbour as themselves (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
The child of God cannot fulfill his divine destiny of being conformed into the image of Jesus without yielding himself and following the plan of redemption that God avails to every human being. This 4-fold, redemptive path is described in Romans 8:29-30 as predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. The phase of justification can be further divided into regeneration, indoctrination, divine service, and perseverance. Although each individual will follow a unique spiritual journey in life, the path is the same in principle for every believer since it follows the same divine pattern described above. This allows us to superimpose one of three thematic schemes upon each book of the Holy Scriptures in order to vividly see its imperative theme. Every book follows a literary structure that allows either (1) the three-fold scheme of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: or (2) the scheme of spirit, soul, and body of man; or (3) the scheme of predestination, calling, justification (regeneration, indoctrination, divine service, and perseverance), and glorification in some manner.
1. The Third, Imperative Theme of the Pastoral Epistles - The third theme of the Pastoral Epistles involves the response of the recipient to God’s divine calling revealed in its primary and secondary themes, which states that a believe fulfills his divine calling by preparing himself spiritually, mentally, and physically. As believers we are to live a crucified life daily through obedience to the divine calling given in these epistles. So, this third theme places an emphasis on how to apply the instructions laid down in the epistles to the Christian life. It is a life of crucifying the flesh and taking up our Cross daily to follow Him, since we have been predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29).
a) 1 and 2 Timothy - In 1 and 2 Timothy our crucified lifestyle is manifested as God’s servant fulfills the office of an evangelist. Paul refers to God as Saviour throughout the Pastoral Epistles. In 1 Timothy the emphasis is on God’s will that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 2:3-4). The role of the evangelist is to transform man’s hearts through faith in Christ Jesus.
b) Titus - In Titus our crucified lifestyle is manifested as God’s servant fulfills the office of a teacher; for in this Epistle Paul emphasizes the teaching ministry, and even refers to Apollos, whose ministry seems to be that of a teacher (1 Corinthians 3:6). The role of the teacher is to transform man’s mind into the knowledge of God the Father’s plan of redemption.
c) Philemon - In Philemon our crucified lifestyle is manifested as God’s servant fulfills the office of a church elder, bishop or pastor. The role of the pastor is to lead men into submitting their bodies into a life of sanctification by the work of the Holy Spirit, which is called the love walk.
1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”
1 Timothy 2:3-4, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
1 Corinthians 3:6, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”
Every child of God has been predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). The Pastoral Epistles emphasize one aspect of this conformity through the crucified life of faith and obedience in Him.
Figure 1 The Themes of the Pastoral Epistles
D. Summary - Finally, it is important to note that the Pastoral Epistles do not establish Church doctrine, for this was laid down in the Pauline Church Epistles. They may refer to doctrine, but they do not establish or add to it.
X. Literary Structure
The literary structure of the epistle of Philemon must follow the thematic of the book. It is important to note that such a breakdown of this book of the Holy Bible was not necessarily intended by the original author, but it is being used as a means of making the interpretation easier. It is hoped that this summary and outline can identify the underlying themes of the book, as well as the themes of its major divisions, sections and subsections. Then individual verses can more easily be understood in light of the emphasis of the immediate passages in which they are found.
Paul’s message to Philemon could be summarized in 1 Timothy 6:1-2, which tells the master and the slave to honor one another.
1 Timothy 6:1-2, “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.”
Note the following summary:
I. Introduction (Philemon 1:1-7 ) The introduction contains the address (Philemon 1:1-2), the customary blessing (Philemon 1:3), and a prayer of thanksgiving (Philemon 1:4-7).
A. Salutation (Philemon 1:1-3 ) - Philemon 1:1-3 is called the salutation, which introductory greeting is found in all thirteen of Paul’s New Testament epistles. Paul wrote his salutations as a signature of authenticity (2 Thessalonians 3:17) just like we place our signature today at the end of a letter. He may have written entire epistles as indicated in Philemon 1:19. However, there are indications in six of his epistles that Paul used an amanuensis to write most of his letters (see Romans 16:22, 1 Corinthians 16:21, Galatians 6:11, Colossians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:17, Philemon 1:19).
2 Thessalonians 3:17, “The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.”
Paul opens his epistle to Philemon by greeting him, his wife and associate or son (Philemon 1:1-2). He then prays his typical blessing of God’s grace and peace upon them (Philemon 1:3).
B. Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving (Philemon 1:4-7 ) - In Philemon 1:4-7 Paul expresses a pray of thanksgiving for Philemon’s love and service to all of the saints. He prays that Philemon’s expression of obedience to Paul in receiving Onesimus back as a brother in Christ would affect other believers who were dealing with the issue of slavery. In other words, Philemon was to set the example of how the Church is to deal with legalized slavery by treating them with love as brothers in Christ, and not with cruelty as purchased property.
II. Paul’s Plea for Onesimus (Philemon 1:8-21 ) In Philemon 1:8-21, which is the body of this epistle, Paul gives a plea for Philemon to receive Onesimus back in the spirit of Christ. He wisely bases his plea, not on his power and authority to command Philemon, but rather, in a spirit of love and gentleness he exhorts him (Philemon 1:8-9). Paul refers to Onesimus initially, not as a slave, but as a servant of Christ and now a brother in the Lord (Philemon 1:10). This gives Onesimus the qualification of being profitable to both the author and the recipient (Philemon 1:11). Paul then offers him back to Philemon in a gesture of submission to the master’s will, while making him aware of his value to Paul (Philemon 1:12-14). After presenting Onesimus as a valuable asset (Philemon 1:10-14), Paul then leans on divine providence as a basis for receiving him as a brother in the Lord (Philemon 1:15-16). Paul then uses his close relationship with Philemon as a basis for receiving Onesimus in a spirit of Christian love (Philemon 1:17-20). He seems to be attempting to make Philemon aware of the spiritual benefits of receiving Onesimus back that would make up for any material losses caused by his departure. Paul closes his plea on a positive note of affirmation that Philemon would consider his plea (Philemon 1:21) just has he preceded his plea on a positive note of thanksgiving (Philemon 1:4-7).
A. Exhortation of Love (Philemon 1:8-9 ) - He wisely bases his plea, not on his power and authority to command Philemon, but rather, upon a spirit of love and gentleness by which Paul exhorts him (Philemon 1:8-9).
B. The Basis for the Plea (Philemon 1:10-20 ) - Paul then presents his plea while presenting three reasons to Philemon for receiving him back.
1. Based on His Value (Philemon 1:10-14 ) - The first reason is based upon the value that Onesimus has become to both of them (Philemon 1:10-14). Paul refers to Onesimus initially, not as a slave, but as a servant of Christ and now a brother in the Lord (Philemon 1:10). This gives Onesimus the qualification of being profitable to both the author and the recipient (Philemon 1:11). Paul then offers him back to Philemon in a gesture of submission to the master’s will, while making him aware of his value to Paul (Philemon 1:12-14).
2. Based on Divine Providence (Philemon 1:15-16 ) - After presenting Onesimus as a valuable asset (Philemon 1:10-14), Paul then leans on divine providence as a basis for receiving back his runaway slave as a brother in the Lord (Philemon 1:15-16). In Philemon 1:15-16 Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus possibly departed for a season in order that the outcome would be to receive him forever. Here Paul appeals to divine providence. It is important to note that Paul was not making this up, but rather, he was looking deeper and wider into this issue than most people can see. The longer we serve the Lord, the more we see God’s hand in our lives as divine providence. Paul knew very well how God oversees the smallest areas of our lives.
3. Based on Their Close Relationship (Philemon 1:17-20 ) - Paul then uses his close relationship with Philemon as a basis for receiving Onesimus in a spirit of Christian love (Philemon 1:17-20). He seems to be attempting to make Philemon aware of the spiritual benefits of receiving Onesimus back that would make up for any material losses caused by his departure.
C. Paul’s Affirmation of Love (Philemon 1:21 ) - Paul closes his plea on a positive note of affirmation that Philemon would consider his plea (Philemon 1:21) just has he preceded his plea on a positive note of thanksgiving (Philemon 1:4-7).
III. The Conclusion (Philemon 1:22-25 ) The conclusion contains a comment on Paul’s intend to visit Philemon, a list of Paul’s co-workers sending greetings, and a benediction.
A. Final Greetings (Philemon 1:22-24 ) Paul closes his epistle with a comment on his intent to visit there soon (Philemon 1:22) and he sends greetings from his co-workers to those in Colossi (Philemon 1:23-24).
B. Benediction (Philemon 1:25 ) Paul ends his letter with a benediction prayer to all of his recipients. The phrase “your spirit” is a plural pronoun referring to all of those listed in his opening greeting.
XI. Outline of Book
The following outline is a summary of the preceding literary structure; thus, it reflects the theological framework of the epistle of Philemon: its purpose, its three-fold thematic scheme, and its literary structure. As a result, this outline offers sermon sections that fit together into a single message that can be used by preachers and teachers to guide a congregation or class through the epistle of Philemon. This journey through Philemon will lead believers into one aspect of conformity to the image of Christ Jesus that was intended by the Lord, which in this book of the Holy Scriptures is to prepare Christians as God’s servant to fulfill the office of a church elder, bishop or pastor.
I. Introduction Philemon 1:1-7
A. Salutation Philemon 1:1-3
B. Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving Philemon 1:4-7
II. Paul’s Plea for Onesimus Philemon 1:8-21
A. Exhortation of Love Philemon 1:8-9
B. The Basis of Paul’s Plea Philemon 1:10-20
1. Based On His Value Philemon 1:10-14
2. Based On Divine Providence Philemon 1:15-16
3. Based On Their Close Relationship Philemon 1:17-20
C. Affirmation of Love Philemon 1:21
III. The Conclusion Philemon 1:22-25
A. Final Greeting Philemon 1:22-24
B. Benediction Philemon 1:25
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