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Bible Commentaries

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Philemon 1

Verse 1

1 .] δέσμιος χ . . , prisoner of Christ Jesus , i.e. one whom He (or His cause) has placed in bonds: cf. τοῖς δεσμ . τοῦ εὐαγγελίου , Philemon 1:13 . He does not designate himself as ἀπόστολος , or the like, as writing familiarly, and not authoritatively.

Τιμόθ . ] see Prolegg. to 1 Tim. § i. 10.

συνεργῷ ] for construction, see Romans 16:3 ; Romans 16:9 ; Romans 16:21 . We cannot say when or how, but may well infer that it was at Colossæ, in building up the church there, while the Apostle was at Ephesus: see Prolegg. to Col. § ii. 7.

ἡμῶν ] Storr (cited in Koch) remarks, “In epistolarum inscriptione, quamvis pronomina et verba tertiæ personæ usitatiora sint, interdum tamen etiam pronomina et verba primæ personæ ut ἡμῶν l. n., et Philemon 1:2 (cf. 1Ti 1:1 ), ἡμῖν 2 Peter 1:1 ; ἐμοί Gal 1:2 et ἐλάβομεν Romans 1:5 (cf. Tit 1:3 ) reperire licet. Cf. Cic. epp. ad diversos lib. iv. Ephesians 1:0 , et lib. iii. Ephesians 2. Nempe verbum, quod ad omissum vocabulum χαίρειν intelligi debet, cum in tertia, tum in prima persona accipi potest, ut in laudatis inscriptionibus latinis S. P. D. et L. D. legere licet. ‘(ego) M. T. C. et Cicero meus salutem plurimam dicimus ,’ et ‘(ego) M. T. C. Appio Pulchro, ut spero, censori, salutem dico :’ cum legamus alias, v. c., lib. xvi. Ephesians 3:0 , lib. xiv. ep. 14, dicunt , vel v. c., Ephesians 1-5, dicit.

Ἀπφία is the Latin name Appia, also written Ἀππ ., see Acts 28:15 ; cf. Kühner, Gramm. § 44. She appears to have been the wife of Philemon (Chrys., Thdrt.); certainly, as well as Archippus, she must have belonged to his family, or they would hardly be thus specially addressed in a private letter concerning a family matter.

Ἀρχίππῳ ] Cf. Colossians 4:17 .

συνστρατιώτ ] see reff. and 2 Timothy 2:3 . He was perhaps Philemon’s son (so Michael., Olsh., al.): or a family friend ( ἕτερόν τινα ἴσως φίλον , Chrys.: so Thl.): or the minister of the family ( ὁ δὲ Ἄρχιππος τὴν διδασκαλίαν αὐτῶν ἐπεπίστευτο , Thdrt.): the former hypothesis being perhaps the most probable, as the letter concerns a family matter: but see on next clause. To what grade in the ministry he belonged, it is idle to enquire: nor does Col 4:17 furnish us with any data.

τῇ κατ ʼ οἶκ . σ . ἐκκλ . ] This appears to have consisted not merely of the family itself, but of a certain assembly of Christians who met in the house of Philemon: see the same expression in Colossians 4:15 , of Nymphas: and in Romans 16:3-5 ; 1 Corinthians 16:19 , of Aquila and Prisca.

Meyer remarks the tact of the Apostle in associating with Philemon those connected with his house , but not going beyond the limits of the house. The former part is noticed also by Chrys.: συμπαραλαμβάνει κ . ἕτερον (- ρους ) μεθ ʼ ἑαυτοῦ ὥστε κἀκεῖνον ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἀξιούμενον μᾶλλον εἶξαι κ . δοῦναι τὴν χάριν .

Verses 1-3



Verse 4

4 .] See Rom 1:8 ; 1 Corinthians 1:4 . πάντοτε belongs to εὐχαριστῶ ( Eph 1:16 ), not to μνείαν ποιούμενος . The first part., ποιούμενος , expands εὐχαριστῶ , the 2nd, ἀκούων , gives the ground of the εὐχαριστία for that I hear.…

Verses 4-7


Verse 5

5 .] It is far better (with Thdrt., Grot., De W., all.) to take ἀγάπη and πίστις as to be distributed between εἰς τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν and εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους , than, with Meyer, to insist on the ἥν as a bar to this, and interpret πίστις in the wider sense (?) of ‘ fidelity ,’ or with Ellic. to split up πίστις into spiritual faith towards the Lord, and practical faith towards the saints. ἥν is naturally in concord with the nearest subst. The πρός of the rec. has perhaps been a correction for reverence sake. εἰς is ‘ towards ,’ but more as contributing to ‘towards the behoof of:’ whereas πρός is simple direction: cf. Philemon 1:6 .

Verse 6

6 .] ὅπως belongs, as usually constructed, to the former clause, εὐχαριστῶ προσευχῶν μου . The mixing of prayer and thanksgiving in that clause does not exclude the idea of intercessory prayer, nor does (as Meyer maintains) the subsequent clause make against this: the ἀκούων κ . τ . λ . was the reason why he ηὐχαρίστει ἐπὶ τῶν προσευχῶν αὐτοῦ , and ὅπως κ . τ . λ . the aim of his doing so. To join ὅπως κ . τ . λ . with ἣν ἔχεις is flat in the extreme, and perfectly inconceivable as a piece of St. Paul’s writing. In order that the communication of thy faith (with others) may become effectual in (as the element in which it works) the thorough knowledge (entire appreciation and experimental recognition (by us)) of every good thing (good gifts and graces, cf. Romans 7:18 , the negation of this in the carnal man) which is in us, to (the glory of; connect with ἐνεργὴς γένηται ) Christ [ Jesus ]. This seems the only simple and unobjectionable rendering. To understand κοιν . τῆς π . σου , ‘fides tua quam communem nobiscum habes,’ as Bengel (and indeed Chrys., Thl., al.), is very objectionable: to join εἰς χρ . [ Ἰησ . ] with πίστεως (Calv., Est., al.) still more so: to render ἐπίγνωσις passively, ‘ recognition by others ’ (‘ παθητικῶς sumitur habetque innotescendi significationem ,’ Grot.: so Erasm., Beza, Est., all.) worst of all. The interpretation given above, I find in the main to be that of De W., Meyer, and Koch.

Verse 7

7 .] If we read χάριν with the rec., it will be best interpreted by 2 Corinthians 1:15 , as a benefit , an outpouring of the divine χάρις not χάρ . ἔχειν in the sense of 1Ti 1:12 ; 2 Timothy 1:3 , ‘ to give thanks ’ for then it seems always to be followed by a dative. The γάρ gives a reason for the prayer of Phm 1:6 as De W., not, as Meyer, for the thanksgiving of Philemon 1:4 ; see above.

ὅτι κ . τ . λ .] further specification of τῇ ἀγάπσου , whose work consisted in ministering to the various wants and afflications of the saints at Colossæ.

ἀδελφέ is skilfully placed last, as introducing the request which follows.

Verse 8

8 .] διό relates to διὰ τ . ἀγάπ . below, and refers back to the last verse; it is not to be joined to the participial clause as Chrys., al.: it was not on account of Phm 1:7 that St. Paul had confidence to command him, but that he preferred beseeching him.

ἐν χριστῷ as usual, the element in which the παῤῥησία found place.

τὸ ἀνῆκον , a delicate hint, that the reception of Onesimus was to be classed under this category that which is fitting (reff.).

Verses 8-21


Verse 9

9 . τὴν ἀγάπην ] is not to be restricted to ‘ this thy love ’ (of Philemon 1:7 ; so Calv., al.), or ‘ our mutual love ’ (Grot., al.), but is quite general ‘that Christian love, of which thou shewest so bright an example:’ Philemon 1:7 .

τοιοῦτος ὤν ] reason for the μᾶλλον ‘I prefer this way, as the more efficacious, being such an one, &c.’ The ‘cum sis talis’ of the Vulgate is evidently a mistake. I believe Meyer is right in maintaining that τοιοῦτος cannot be taken as preparatory to ὡς , ‘ such an one, as … ’ as in E. V., and commonly. I have therefore punctuated accordingly, as has Ellic. The rendering will be: Being such an one (as declared in διὸ .… παρακαλῶ ), as (1) Paul the aged and (2) now a prisoner also of Christ Jesus ( two points are made, and not three as Chrys., all. Παῦλος πρεσβύτης going together, and the fact of his being a prisoner, adding weight ( καί ). The fact of πρεσβύτης is interesting, as connected with the date of this Epistle and those to Eph. and Col.: see Prolegg. to Eph. § iv.), I beseech thee , &c.

If we read ἐγώ before ἐγέννησα , the repetition of ἐμοῦ ἐγώ will serve, as Meyer remarks, to mark more forcibly the character of his own child, and ἐν τοῖς δεσμοίς gives more weight still to the entreaty.

Ὀνήσιμον is not (with Erasm.-Schmid) to be treated as if it were a play on the name ὃν ἐγένν ὀνήσιμον , ‘ profitable to me :’ but simply to be regarded as an accusative by attraction.

Verse 11

11 .] Here there certainly appears to be a play on the name ‘quondam … parum suo nomini respondens, nunc in diversum mutatus.’ Erasm. (No play on χριστός (as Koch, al.) must be thought of, as too far-fetched, and because the datives σοί and ἐμοί fix the adjectives to their ordinary meanings.) He had been ἄχρηστος in having run away, and apparently ( Phm 1:18 ) defrauded his master as well. Meyer quotes from Plato, Lys. p. 204 B: φαῦλος κ . ἄχρηστος : and from ib. Rep. p. 411 B: χρήσιμον ἐξ ἀχρήστου ἐποίησεν . On account of the σοὶ καὶ ἐμοί , εὔχρηστον must not be limited to the sense of outward profit, but extended to a spiritual meaning as well profitable to me, as the fruit of my ministry, to thee as a servant, and also as a Christian brother ( Phm 1:16 ).

Verse 12

12 .] There does not appear to be any allusion to the fact of sonship in τὰ ἐμὰ σπλἁγχνα , as Chrys., Thdrt. ( ἐμός ἐστιν υἱός , ἐκ τῶν ἐμῶν γεγέννηται σπλάγχνων ), al.: for thus the spritual similitude would be confused, being here introduced materially. But the expression more probably means, mine own heart ‘as dear to me as mine own heart.’ Meyer compares the expressions in Plautus, ‘ meum corculum ,’ Cas. iv. 4. 14, ‘meum mel, meum cor ,’ Pœn. i. 2. 154. Cf. also, ‘Hic habitat tuus ille hospes, mea viscera, Thesbon,’ Marius Victor, in Suicer, Thes. ii. 998, and examples of both meanings in Wetst., Suicer, and Koch.

The construction (see var. readd.) is an anacoluthon: the Apostle goes off into the relative clause, and loses sight, as so often, of the construction with which he began: taking it up again at Philemon 1:17 .

Verse 13

13 .] ἐγώ , emphatic, I, for my part .

ἐβουλόμην , nearly as ηὐχόμην , in Romans 9:3 (though in that place there certainly is, as Ellic. remarks, a more distinct reference to a suppressed conditional clause), was wishing, had a mind , = could have wished , in our idiom.

ἠθέλησα , Philemon 1:14 , differs from ἐβουλόμην , (1) in that it means simply willed , as distinguished from the stronger wished , (2) in that it marks the time immediately preceding the return of Onesimus, whereas the imperfect spreads the wish over the period previous. I was (long) minded … but (on considering) I was not willing .

ὑπὲρ σοῦ ] For, wert thou here, thou wouldst minister to me: I was minded therefore to retain him in thy place. διακονῇ , pres. subj. representing the ἐβουλόμην as a still continuing wish.

ἐν τοῖς δεσμ . τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ] explained wel by Thdrt., ὀφείλεις μοι διακονίαν ὡς μαθητὴς διδασκάλῳ , κ . διδασκάλῳ τὰ θεῖα κηρύττοντι : not without allusion also to the fetters which the Gospel had laid on himself.

Verse 14

14 .] But without thy decision (= consent: so χωρὶς τῆς αὐτοῦ γνώμης , Polyb. iii. 21. 7; xxi. 8. 7: μετὰ τῆς τοῦ Δ . γνώμ ., id. ii. 11. 5) I was willing (see above) to do nothing (general expression, but meant to apply only to the particular thing in hand; = ‘nothing in the matter’), that thy good (service towards me: but not in this particular only: the expression is general the particular case would serve as an example of it) might be not as (appearing as if it were: ‘particula ὡς , substantivis, participiis, totisque enuntiationibus præposita, rei veritate sublata aliquid opinione, errore, simulatione niti declarat.’ Fritz. on Romans , 2. p. 360) of (after the fashion of, according to: ᾔδει ὅτι πάντες κατ ʼ ἀνάγκην αὐτῷ κοινωνήσουσι τῶν πραγμάτων , Polyb. iii. 67. 5) necessity, but of free will .

Verse 15

15 .] τάχα is delicately said, to conciliate Philemon: so Chrys., καλῶς τὸ τάχα , ἵνα εἴξῃ ὁ δεσπότης · ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἀπὸ αὐθαδείας γέγονενφυγὴ κ . διεστραμμένης διανοίας , κ . οὐκ ἀπὸ προαιρέσεως , λέγ ει τάχα . And Jerome says, ‘occulta sunt quippe judicia Dei, et temerarium est quasi de certo pronunciare.’ He refers to Genesis 45:5 , where Joseph suggests the purpose which God’s providence had in sending him down into Egypt.

ἐχωρίσθη ] εὐφήμως καὶ τὴν φυγὴν χωρισμὸν καλεῖ , ἵνα μὴ τῷ ὀνόματι τῆς θυγῆς παροξύντὸν δεσπότην , Thl.: similarly Chrys.

πρὸς ὥραν ] much has been built upon this as indicating that the Epistle was written not so far from Colossæ as Rome: but without ground: the contrast is between πρὸς ὥραν and αἰώνιον .

αἰώνιον agrees with αὐτόν : see reff.: and imports οὐκ ἐν τῷ παρόντι μόνον καιρῷ , ἀλλὰ κ . ἐν τῷ μέλλοντι , as Chrys.

ἀπέχῃς ] see reff., and note on Mat 6:2 mayest have him for thine own possess him fully, entirely . So Antonin., xi. 1, says that the λογικὴ ψυχή does not bear fruit for others to reap, &c., but ὅπου ἂν καταληφθῇ , πλῆρες κ . ἀπροσδεὲς ἑαυτῇ τὸ προτεθὲν ποιεῖ ὥστε εἰπεῖν , Ἐγὼ ἀπέχω τὰ ἐμά .

Verse 16

16 .] And that, in a different relation from the one before subsisting. But οὐκέτι ὡς δοῦλον does not imply his manumission; rather the contrary: the stress is on ὡς and ὑπέρ ‘no longer as a slave (though he be one), but above a slave.’

μάλιστα , ‘of all other men,’ of all those without thy house, with whom he has been connected: but πόσῳ μᾶλλον σοί , with whom he stands in so near and lasting a relation.

Verse 17

17 .] takes up again the sentiment (and the construction) broken off at the end of Philemon 1:12 . The κοινωνία referred to is that shewn by the ἀγάπη of him, common to both, mentioned in the last verse: but extending far wider than it, even to the community of faith, and hope, and love between them as Christian men: not that of goods, as Bengel: ‘ut tua sint mea et mea tua.’

Verse 18

18 .] δέ , in contrast to the favourable reception bespoken for him in the last verse. ‘Confessus erat Onesimus Paulo, quæ fecerat,’ Bengel. οὐκ εἶπον , εἴ τι ἔκλεψεν ἀλλὰ τί ; εἴ τι ἠδίκησεν . ἅμα κ . τὸ ἁμάρτημα ὡμολόγησε , καὶ οὐχ ὡς δούλου ἁμάρτημα ἀλλὰ ὡς φίλου πρὸς φίλον , τῷ τῆς ἀδικίας μᾶλλοντῷ τῆς κλοπῆς ὀνόματι χρησάμενος , Chrys.

ὀφείλει is said of the same matter, and is merely explanatory of ἠδίκησεν : τοῦτο referring to both verbs.

The weight of manuscript testimony to ἐλλόγα overbears the mere assertion of Fritzsche (on Rom 5:13 ) ‘ λογᾶν est dicturire (Luc. Lexiph., p. 15), sed ἐλλογᾶν vox nulla est:’ that reckon, or impute to me : hardly perhaps, notwithstanding the engagement of the next verse, with a view to actual repayment, but rather to inducing Philemon to forego exacting it.

Verse 19

19 .] The inference from this is, that the whole Epistle was autographic: for it would be most unnatural to suppose the Apostle to break off his amanuensis here, and write this engagement with his own hand.

ἵνα μὴ λέγω ] “est σχῆμα παρασιωπήσεως sive reticentiæ, cum dicimus nos omittere velle, quod maxime dicimus,” Grot. ἵνα μή does not exactly, as Meyer, give the purpose of St. Paul in ἔγραψα ἀποτίσω : but rather that of an understood clause, ‘yield me this request, lest I should have to remind thee, &c.’ Ellic. paraphrases, ‘repay: yes I say this, not doubting thee, but not wishing to press on thee all the claim that I might justly urge.’ καὶ τοῦτο ἀπὸ ἀγάπης καὶ κατὰ τὸν τὴς φιλίας λόγον , καὶ τοῦ σφόδρα θαῤῥεῖν ἦν , Chrys. And this may well be the right view.

καὶ σεαυτόν ] οὐ τὰ σαυτοῦ μόνον , Chr. δι ʼ ἐμοῦ γάρ , φησί , τῆς σωτηρίας ἀπήλαυσας · καὶ ἐντεῦθεν δῆλον , ὡς τῆς ἀποστολικῆς διδασκαλίας ἠξιώθηΦιλήμων , Thdrt.

Verse 20

20 .] ναί , as so often when we make requests, asserts our assent with the subject of the request: so Philippians 4:3 , al. ἐγώ and σοῦ are both emphatic and the unusual word ὀναίμην , thus thrown into the background, is an evident allusion to the name Ὀνήσιμος . “The form ὀναίμην is similarly used by Ignatius (Polyc. 1, 6, pp. 720, 725; Magn. 12, p. 672, al.), once (Ephesians 2:0 , p. 645), curiously enough, but apparently by mere accident, after a mention of an Onesimus.” Ellicott. (Lobeck, on Phryn., p. 12, gives a complete account of the forms and tenses of this verb which are in use.) The sentiment itself is a reference to σεαυτόν μοι προσοφείλεις : this being so, let me have profit of thee.

ἐν κυρίῳ , not in worldly gain, but in the Lord in thine increase and richness in the graces of His Spirit.

ἀνάπαυσον ] refresh (viz. by acceding to my request) my heart (as above the seat of the affections. τὰ σπλάγχνα μου must not for a moment be imagined, with Jer., Est., Schrader, al., to designate Onesimus , who was so called in Philemon 1:12 ; which would be most unnatural) in Christ (as ἐν κυρίῳ above).

Verse 21

21 .] Serves to put Philemon in mind of the apostolic authority with which he writes: and hints delicately (perhaps: but this may be doubtful: compare Ellic. here) at the manumission of Onesimus, which he has not yet requested.

καί , also , besides doing what I say.

Verse 22

22 . ἅμα δὲ κιά ] But at the same time (as thou fulfillest my request), also .… We may, perhaps, take this direction as serving to secure the favourable reception of Onesimus: for the Apostle would himself come and see how his request had fared: πολλὴ γὰρ ἦνχάρις κ . ἡ τιμὴ Παύλου ἐνδημοῦντος , Παύλου μετὰ ἡλικίαν , Παύλου μετὰ δεσμούς , Chrys. Or it may be, as Ellic., that Philemon was not to consider the Epistle as a mere petition for Onesimus, but as containing special messages on other matters to himself. ὑμῶν and ὑμῖν refer to those names in Philemon 1:1-2 .

Verses 23-25

23 25 .] CONCLUSION: See on Colossians 4:10 ; Colossians 4:12 ; Colossians 4:14 , where the same persons send greeting. Ἰησοῦςλεγόμενος Ἰοῦστος ( Col 4:11 ) does not appear here.

Verse 25

25 .] For this form of salutation, see reff. On all matters regarding the date and circumstances of writing the Epistle; see the Prolegomena.

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Philemon 1". Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.