Lectionary Calendar
Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries

International Critical Commentary NTInternational Critical

- Philemon

by S.R. Driver, A.A. Plummer and C.A. Briggs






Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature in Union Theological Seminary, New York



0 567 05031 9

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of T. & T. Clark Ltd.



The two epistles treated in this volume have always had a peculiar attraction for both readers and expositors. On the Epistle to the Philippians more than a hundred commentaries have been produced, some of them by scholars of the first rank. It would be strange, therefore, if this work did not contain a great deal which has appeared elsewhere; and I am sure that the call for its publication has not arisen from the deficiencies of my predecessors.

I find, nevertheless, some satisfaction in the thought that the knowledge of any subject is promoted, in however small a degree, by the independent and honest treatment of each new expositor, who, by approaching his work from a different direction, seeing his material at a different angle and in the light of the most recent criticism, and shifting the points of emphasis, may reawaken attention to what is already familiar, and thus stimulate inquiry if he does not widen the sphere of knowledge.

The main object in this commentary has been to exhibit St. Paul’s thought in these two letters which I am fully convinced are from his pen. To this end all comment—grammatical and lexical as well as exegetical—has been directed, and special care has been given, to the paraphrases with which the several sections are prefaced, and to the illustration of the apostle’s nervous and picturesque diction upon which the marks of his personality are so deeply set. The theological bearings of certain passages it is manifestly impossible to overlook; and the student is entitled to demand of the commentator such notice and treatment of these as are consistent with the recognised difference between a commentary and a theological treatise. To such passages I trust that I have brought no dogmatic bias to prevent or to modify the application of strict exegetical principles.

I am conscious of the difficulties which attach, at certain points, to all attempts to place the Philippian letter in its complete and truthful historical setting. These difficulties are inevitable in the present fragmentary and limited state of our knowledge concerning some conditions of the Roman and Philippian churches which are presupposed in the epistle, so that whatever conclusions may be reached by the most conscientious study will awaken question and criticism.

I have had constantly in view the fact that these two letters are familiar and informal productions, and have allowed that fact due weight in the exegesis. Epistolary colloquialisms present serious difficulties to an interpreter who refuses to recognise them, and who insists upon the rigid application of rhetorical, logical, and dogmatic canons to the unstudied and discursive effusions of the writer’s heart.

In seeking to avoid the selva selvaggia of technical discussion which impairs the value of some most important works of this class, I have not felt bound to go to the opposite extreme of dogmatic conciseness. A brief discussion has sometimes seemed necessary; but, as a rule, I have given my own interpretation with the reasons for it at the beginning of each note, appending a simple statement of different views with the names of those who hold them.

I avail myself of this opportunity to acknowledge gratefully my obligations to previous workers in this field, and not least to some of those from whom I have often had occasion to differ.


Union Theological Seminary, New York.




Philemon was a citizen of Colossæ. Onesimus, his slave, is described in the Epistle to the Colossians as “one of you” (4:9); while in the letter to Philemon, written and sent at the same time, the return of Onesimus to his master is announced (10, 12, 17).

The opinion of Wieseler (Chron. des Apost. Zeital.), that both Philemon and Archippus belonged to Laodicæa, and that the epistle was therefore sent to that place, is entitled to no weight. He assumes that the Epistle to Philemon was identical with the Epistle to Laodicæa (Colossians 4:16. See note on vs. 2). Equally unimportant is the view of Holtzn. (Einl. 246), which places Philemon and his household at Ephesus.

That Philemon had been converted to Christianity through Paul’s ministry, appears from vs. 19. The conversion of the Colossians is probably to be connected with the apostle’s long residence at Ephesus, from which city his influence seems to have extended very widely. (See Acts 19:26, and comp. the salutation to the Corinthian church from “the churches in Asia,” 1 Corinthians 16:19.) We do not hear of his visiting the neighboring cities, but people from these came to Ephesus to listen to his teachings (Acts 19:9, Acts 19:10), since the relations were very close between that city and the cities of the Lycus. (See Lightf. Introd. to Colossians, p. 31.)

From this epistle it appears that Philemon was active and prominent in Christian work at Colossæ, and very helpful in his ministries to his fellow-Christians (vs. 5, 7). His house was a meeting-place for a Christian congregation, and the apostle’s relations with him were intimate and affectionate (vs. 2, 13, 17, 22). The traditions which represent him as a presbyter, bishop, or deacon, are valueless. In the Menaea1 of Nov. 22, he is commemorated as a “holy apostle.” (See Lightf. Ign. ii. p. 535.)

Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, had run away from him, and had possibly robbed him. (See on vs. 18.) He had found his way to Rome, and had there met Paul. Perhaps, in former days, he had accompanied his master in his visits to Ephesus, and had seen the apostle there. Through Paul’s influence he became a Christian (vs. 10), and devoted himself to the service of the Lord’s prisoner. Paul had conceived a strong personal affection for him (vs. 10-13, 16, 17, comp. Colossians 4:9), and would gladly have kept him with himself; but was unwilling to do so without Philemon’s consent (vs. 14). Moreover, Onesimus, by his flight, had deprived his master of his services, if he had not also robbed him of property; and therefore, as a Christian, was bound to make restitution. Accordingly, as Tychicus was about to go to Colossæ and Laodicæa bearing letters from Paul, the apostle placed Onesimus in his charge, and sent by him this letter to Philemon, in which he related the slave’s faithful ministries to himself, commended his Christian fidelity and zeal, entreated his master to receive him kindly, and offered himself as surety for whatever loss Philemon had suffered by him.

All that is known of Onesimus is that he was a slave, and a Phrygian slave, which latter fact would mark him in common estimation as of poor quality.

Suidas gives the proverb: Φρὺξ�Pro Flacco, 27. See Wallon, Histoire de l’Esclavage dans l’Antiquite, ii. p. 61, 62).

The martyrologies make him bishop of Ephesus (see Ign. Eph_1Eph_1.) and of Berœa in Macedonia, and represent him as laboring for the gospel in Spain, and suffering martyrdom at Rome.

His name appears in the Menaea of Feb. 15, where he is called a slave of Philemon, a Roman man, to whom the holy Apostle Paul writes. It is further said that he was arraigned before Tertullus, the prefect of the country, sent to Puteoli, and put to death by having his legs broken. The Roman Acts, 10, speak of him as perfected by martyrdom in the great city of the Romans.

The letter was included in the collection of Marcion, and is named in the Muratorian Canon in connection with the Pastoral Epistles. The supposed references in Ignatius (Eph. ii.; Mag. xii.; Polyc. vi.) are vague. In Eph. ii. the name Onesimus occurs in connection with the verb ὀναίμην, and the reference is inferred from a similar play on the name, Philemon 1:20. (See Westcott, Canon of the N.T., p. 48.) It is found in the Syriac and Old Latin versions, and is ascribed to Paul by Origen (Hom. in Jer_19Jer_19; Comm. in Mt. tract. 33, 34.) Tertullian is the first who distinctly notices it. He says: “This epistle alone has had an advantage from its brevity; for by that it has escaped the falsifying touch of Marcion. Nevertheless, I wonder that when he receives one epistle to one man, he should reject two to Timothy, and one to Titus which treat of the government of the church” (Adv. Marc. v. 42). Eusebius (H. E. iii. 25) puts it among the ὁμολογούμενα. Jerome, in his preface to his commentary on the epistle, refers to those who hold that it was not written by Paul, or if by him, not under inspiration, because it contained nothing to edify. These also alleged that it was rejected by most of the ancients because it was a letter of commendation and not of instruction, containing allusions to everyday matters. Jerome replies that all St. Paul’s letters contain allusions to such matters, and that this letter would never have been received by all the churches of the world if it had not been Paul’s. Similar testimony is given by Chrysostom, who, like Jerome, had to defend the letter against the charge of being on a subject beneath the apostle’s notice.

The only serious attack upon the epistle in modern times is that of Baur, who intimates that he rejects it with reluctance, and exposes himself by so doing to the charge of hypercriticism. “This letter,” he says, “is distinguished by the private nature of its contents; it has nothing of those commonplaces, those general doctrines void of originality, those repetitions of familiar things which are so frequent in the supposed writings of the apostle. It deals with a concrete fact, a practical detail of ordinary life.… What objection can criticism make to these pleasant and charming lines, inspired by the purest Christian feeling, and against which suspicion has never been breathed?” (Paulus). Rejecting Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, he is compelled to reject Philemon along with them. The diction is unpauline. Words and expressions occur which are either not found at all in Paul’s epistles, or only in those which Baur rejects. The epistle exhibits a peculiar conjunction of circumstances in the flight of Onesimus and his meeting St. Paul at Rome, which savors of romance. The letter is the embryo of a Christian romance like the Clementine Recognitions, intended to illustrate the idea that what man loses in time in this world he regains forever in Christianity; or that every believer finds himself again in each of his brethren.

Holtzmann is inclined to receive the epistle, but thinks that the passage 4-6 shows the hand of the author of the Ephesian letter.

Weizsäcker (Apost. Zeital. p. 545) and Pfleiderer (Paulinismus, p. 44) hold that the play on the name Onesimus proves the letter to be allegorical (see note on vs. 11).

Steck thinks that he has discovered the germ of the letter in two epistles of the younger Pliny.

It is needless to waste time over these. They are mostly fancies. The external testimony and the general consensus of critics of nearly all schools are corroborated by the thoroughly Pauline style and diction, and by the exhibition of those personal traits with which the greater epistles have made us familiar. The letter, as already remarked, was written and sent at the same time with that to the Colossians. Its authenticity goes to establish that of the longer epistle. “In fact,” remarks Sabatier, “this short letter to Philemon is so intensely original, so entirely innocent of dogmatic preoccupation, and Paul’s mind has left its impress so clearly and indelibly upon it, that it can only be set aside by an act of sheer violence. Linked from the first with the Colossian and Ephesian Epistles, it is virtually Paul’s own signature appended as their guarantee to accompany them through the centuries” (The Apostle Paul, Hellier’s trans.).

The general belief from ancient times has been that this, with the Colossian and Ephesian letters, was composed at Rome; but the opinion which assigns their composition to Cæsarea has had some strong advocates, among whom may be named Reuss, Schenkel, Weiss, Holtzmann, Hilgenfeld, Hausrath, and Meyer. The principal arguments are the following:

1. It is more natural and probable that the slave should have fled from Colossæ to Cæsarea, than that he should have undertaken a long sea voyage to Rome.

On the contrary, it is more natural and probable that Onesimus should have gone to Rome as quickly as possible, both because it was farther away from Colossæ, and because there would be much less chance of detection in the vast city and population of the metropolis.

2. According to Philippians 2:24, Paul intended, if liberated, to go directly to Macedonia; whereas, according to Philemon 1:22, he proposed to go to Colossæ. On this, see note on Philemon 1:22.

3. The absence from the Colossian Epistle of any mention of the earthquake by which the cities of the Lycus had been visited. According to Tacitus, an earthquake overthrew Laodicæa in the year 60 a.d., the last year of Paul’s imprisonment at Cæsarea. According to Eusebius (Chron. Ol. 210), the date is four years later, and Laodicæa, Hierapolis, and Colossæ are named as having suffered. Assuming that Tacitus and Eusebius refer to the same event, and that Tacitus’ date is correct, the omission of reference in the letter written at Cæsarea is explained by the fact that the letter preceded the event. But if the letter was written during the latter part of the Roman imprisonment, the omission of all reference to such an event is incredible. (See Weiss, Einl. § 24; Lightf. Colossians, Introd. p. 37; Hort, Romans and Ephesians, p. 105.)

It is possible to found a valid argument upon an earthquake; but in this case the tremors of the earthquake pervade the argument. Nothing more indecisive can be imagined than this process of reasoning. The argument e silentio is always suspicious, and, in this instance, proves absolutely nothing. Assuming all the premises to be definitely settled, it does not follow that the apostle must have referred to the earthquake. But the premises are not settled. Which is right, Tacitus or Eusebius? Supposing Eusebius to be right, the Roman, as well as the Cæsarean captivity, might have preceded the earthquake. If St. Paul arrived in Rome in 56 (see Introd. to Philippians, iv.), his imprisonment was over before the dates assigned by both Tacitus and Eusebius. What is the date of Paul’s departure from Cæsarea? What are the exact dates of the Epistles of the Captivity? Do Tacitus and Eusebius refer to the same event? Both Lightf. and Hort quote Herzberg’s supposition that the two notices refer to two different earthquakes, and that, since Tacitus mentions Laodicæa only, the first one did not extend to Colossæ.

It may be added that the plans of the apostle, as indicated in both Philippians and Philemon, agree better with the hypothesis of the Roman captivity. In Cæsarea all his plans would have pointed to Rome. Moreover, his situation in Rome, if we may judge from the account in Acts, afforded the slave much greater facilities for intercourse with him than he could have had in Cæsarea.

This letter cannot be appreciated without some knowledge of the institution of slavery among the Romans, and its effect upon both the slave and the master. Abundant information on this subject is furnished by the elaborate work of Wallon (Histoire de l’Esclavage dans l’Antiquité, 2d ed. 1879), by the Roman jurists and the Roman codes, and by the comedians and satirists. The excursus on the slaves, in Becker’s Gallus, trans. by Metcalfe, will also be found very useful, and ch. 2. and 4. of Lecky’s History of European Morals will repay reading.

Slavery grew with the growth of the Roman state until it changed the economic basis of society, doing away with free labor, and transferring nearly all industries to the hands of slaves. The exact numbers of the slave population of the Empire cannot be determined; but they were enormous. Tacitus speaks of the city of Rome being frightened at their increase (Ann. xiv. 45); and Petronius (37) declared his belief that not a tenth part of the slaves knew their own masters. (See Wallon, Liv. ii. ch. iii.) Most of them were employed on the country estates, but hundreds were kept in the family residences in the cities, where every kind of work was deputed to them. In the imperial household, and in the houses of nobles and of wealthy citizens, the minute subdivisions of labor, and the number of particular functions to each of which a slave or a corps of slaves was assigned, excite our laughter. (See note on Philippians 4:22.) Some of these functions required intelligence and culture. The familia or slave-household included not only field-laborers and household drudges, but architects, sculptors, painters, poets, musicians, librarians, physicians, readers who beguiled the hours at the bath or at the table,—ministers, in short, to all forms of cultivated taste, no less than to common necessities.

On slaves as physicians, see Lanciani, Ancient Rome, etc. p. 71 ff.

But, no matter what his particular function, the slave, in the eye of the law, was a chattel, a thing, inventoried with oxen and wagons (Varro, De Re Rust. i. 17, 1). He could be given, let, sold, exchanged, or seized for debt. His person and his life were absolutely in the power of his master. Every one will recall the familiar passage of Juvenal (vi. 28), in which a dissolute woman of fashion orders the crucifixion of a slave, and refuses to give any reason save her own pleasure. “Hoc volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas.” The slave had no right of marriage. He was allowed concubinage (contubernium), and such alliances were regulated by the master. The master’s caprice in the matter of punishment was unlimited. Sometimes the culprit was degraded from the house to the field or the workshop, and was often compelled to work in chains (Ter. Phorm. ii. i, 17; Juv. viii. 180). Sometimes he was scourged, sometimes branded on the forehead, or forced to carry the furca, a frame shaped like a V, and placed over the back of the neck on the shoulders, the hands being bound to the thighs. He might be crucified or thrown to wild beasts, or to voracious fish.

The moral effects of such an institution upon both slave and master it would not be difficult to predict, and they meet the student in every phase of Roman life,—domestic, social, and political. There was, first, the fearfully significant fact that a whole vast section of the population was legally deprived of the first element of manhood,—self-respect. No moral consideration could be expected to appeal to a chattel to prevent his seeking his own interest or pleasure by any means, however bad. He gave himself up to his own worst passions, and ministered, for his own gain, to the worst passions of his master, all the more as he stood higher in the scale of intelligence, and acquired thereby a certain influence and power. Knowledge and culture furnished him for subtler and deeper villainy. His sense of power and his love of intrigue were gratified when he came, as he often did, between members of the same family, making of one a dupe, and of the other an accomplice, an ally, and sometimes a slave. Every circumstance of his life was adapted to foster in him viciousness, low cunning, falsehood, and treachery.

On the master the effect was that which always follows the possession of absolute authority without legal or moral restraint. It encouraged a tyrannical and ferocious spirit. It was demoralising even to the best and the most kindly disposed. It made beasts of the naturally licentious and cruel. It corrupted the family life. The inevitable and familiar contact of childhood and youth with the swarm of household slaves could have but one result, fatal alike to personal virtue and to domestic union.

It is true there was another side. Affectionate relations between master and slave were not uncommon. The younger Pliny expressed his deep sorrow for the death of some of his slaves (Ep. viii. 16). Instances of heroic devotion on the part of slaves are on record. The slave had a right to whatever he might save out of his allowance of food and clothing, and with it he sometimes purchased his freedom (Ter. Phorm. i. 1, 9). There were frequent cases of manumission. Although the slave’s marriage was not recognised, it was not customary forcibly to separate him from his companion. Yet, after the best has been said, these were exceptions which proved the rule. Confronting them are the pictures of Terence, Plautus, Petronius, Tacitus, Juvenal, and Persius. It was the institution that was demoralising. Its evil possibilities were inherent, and any one of a hundred causes might bring them into full play. Wallon remarks that “for public depravity to reach its utmost depths of licentiousness, there needed to be a being with the passions and attractions of a man, yet stripped by public opinion of all the moral obligations of a human being, all whose wildest excesses were lawful provided they were commanded by a master.”

The evil created and carried in itself its own retribution. Every wrong is expensive; and it is the unvarying testimony of history that the price of slavery is paid, both materially and morally, to the last penny, and with compound interest, by the masters. The price was not discounted by emancipation. Emancipation might change the political standing of the slave, but it did not change the slave. Rome had trained her later generation of freemen as slaves, and she reaped what she had sown. The emancipated slave carried into his free condition the antecedents, the habits, the spirit, the moral quality of a slave. The time came when the majority of the free population were either freedmen or descended from slaves. Tacitus tells of their insolence and insubordination (Ann. xii. 26, 27). The slave-taint crept into the offices of state. Labor was stigmatised and its avenues were barred to the free poor. Almost every sphere of industry was occupied by slaves, and the free poor became literally paupers, dependent upon the imperial doles of bread.

The attitude of the great Christian apostle towards this institution is, naturally, a subject of much interest; and this epistle, which represents that attitude in a practical issue, has therefore figured in most discussions on the moral aspect of slavery. These discussions have developed two errors, against which it is important to guard. On the one hand, the epistle has been regarded as committing St. Paul to the concession of the abstract rightfulness and of the divine sanction of slavery. On the other hand, it has been claimed that the epistle represents him as the enemy and the condemner of slavery, and as working with a conscious intent for its abolition by the deep and slow process of fostering Christian sentiment. Neither of these views expresses the whole truth of the case.

It is more than questionable whether St. Paul had grasped the postulate of the modern Christian consciousness that no man has the right to own another. He had been familiar with slavery all his life, both in his Hebrew and in his Gentile associations. Hebrew law, it is true, afforded the slave more protection than Greek or Roman law, and insured his ultimate manumission; none the less, the Hebrew law assumed the right to own human beings. The tendency is much too common to estimate the leaders of the primitive church in the light of nineteenth-century ideas, and to attribute to a sentiment which was only beginning to take shape, the maturity and definiteness which are behind its appeal to us, and which are the growth of centuries. It is safe to say that St. Paul was a good way removed from the point of view of the modern abolitionist. If he had distinctly regarded the institution of slavery as wrong, per se, there is every reason for believing that he would have spoken out as plainly as he did concerning fornication; whereas there is not a word to that effect nor a hint of such an opinion in his epistles. In this epistle, and wherever he alludes to the subject, the institution of slavery is recognised and accepted as an established fact with which he does not quarrel, as a condition which has its own opportunities for Christian service and its own obligations which the Christian profession enforces. In 1 Corinthians 7:21 ff. he advises the bondsman to use and improve his condition for the service of God, and to abide in it, even though he may have the opportunity of becoming free.1

In Ephesians 6:5-8 and Colossians 3:22, Colossians 3:23 he enjoins the obedience of slaves to their masters as a Christian duty. They are to serve their masters as servants of God.

Hence it is, I think, a mistake to regard Paul’s silence concerning the iniquity of the institution as caused by the obvious hopelessness of eradicating a long-established, deeply rooted, social factor. I cannot agree with the view so graphically presented by Dr. Matheson (Spiritual Development of St. Paul, ch. xiii.), that Paul recognised Onesimus’ right to freedom, but refrained from exhorting him to claim his right, because his connivance at Onesimus’ flight would have been the signal for a servile insurrection and consequent anarchy. It is equally a mistake to say that he consciously addressed himself to the task of abolishing slavery by urging those aspects of the gospel which, in their practical application, he knew would eventually undermine it. It is not likely that he saw the way to its destruction at all.

On the other hand, this by no means commits the apostle to the indorsement of the abstract rightfulness of slavery. It is only to say that if that question presented itself to his own mind, he did not raise it. The same thing, for that matter, may be said of Christ, and of God in the administration of the Old-Testament economy. The fact is familiar that God temporarily recognised, tolerated, and even legalised certain institutions and practices, as polygamy, for instance, which New-Testament morality condemns, which he purposed ultimately to abolish, and which Christ does abolish.

Paul knew and appreciated the actual abuses and the evil possibilities of slavery: yet it is quite possible that he may not have looked beyond such an operation of gospel principles as might rid the institution of its abuses without destroying it. What we see is, that he addressed himself to the regulation, and not to the destruction, of existing relations. He does see that the slave is more than a chattel (Philemon 1:10-12, Philemon 1:16). The Christian bondservant is the Lord’s freedman (1 Corinthians 7:22). The difference between bond and free lapses in Christ with the difference between uncircumcision and circumcision, between Greek and Jew, between male and female (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28). He does see that the Christian master has a duty to the slave no less than a right over him, and on this duty he insists (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1; Philemon 1:8-12, Philemon 1:15, Philemon 1:17).

The slave, too, was quick to perceive this, and discerned in Christianity his only prospect of betterment. It is true that Plato and Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, and Seneca had insisted on the duty of humanity to slaves. Seneca urged that the accident of position does not affect the real dignity of man; that freedom and slavery reside in virtue and vice rather than in outward condition, and that a good man should abstain from even the feeling of contempt for his slaves (De Benef. iii. 18-28; De Vita Beata, xxiv.; Ep. xlvii.). Truthful and noble sentiments these, but they did not reach far beyond the cultivated classes; they did little or nothing to engender moral aspiration in the slave, and their comparatively superficial and limited influence is shown by the condition of the slave during the prevalence of Stoicism. The slave sought his refuge where such sentiments were enforced by love rather than by philosophy; where they healingly touched those “accidents of position” and those “outward conditions,” of which philosophy declared him independent, but from which, with their accompanying wrongs and cruelties and degradations, he could not extricate himself; and hence the fact that the early church was so largely recruited from the ranks of slaves.

Whatever may have been the range of Paul’s outlook, the policy which he pursued vindicated itself in the subsequent history of slavery. The principles of the gospel not only curtailed its abuses, but destroyed the thing itself; for it could not exist without its abuses. To destroy its abuses was to destroy it. It survived for centuries, but the Roman codes showed more and more the impress of Christian sentiment. The official manumission of slaves became common as an act of piety or of gratitude to God; and sepulchral paintings often represent the master standing before the Good Shepherd with a band of slaves liberated at his death, pleading for him at the last judgment. Each new ruler enacted some measure which facilitated emancipation. “No one can carefully study the long series of laws, from Constantine to the tenth century, in regard to slavery, without clearly seeing the effect of Christianity. It is true that the unjust institution still survived, and some of its cruel features remained; but all through this period the new spirit of humanity is seen struggling against it, even in legislation, which is always the last to feel a new moral power in society. The very language of the acts speaks of the inspiration of the Christian faith; and the idea which lay at the bottom of the reforms, the value of each individual, and his equality to all others in the sight of God, was essentially Christian. But laws are often far behind the practices of a community. The foundation-idea of Christ’s principles compelled his followers to recognise the slave as equal with the master. They sat side by side in church, and partook of the communion together. By the civil law, a master killing his slave accidentally by excessive punishment was not punished, but in the church he was excluded from communion. The chastity of the slave was strictly guarded by the church. Slave priests were free. The festivals of religion —the Sundays, fast-days, and days of joy—were early connected in the church with the emancipation of those in servitude. The consoling words of Christ, repeated from mouth to mouth, and the hope which now dawned on the world through him, became the especial comfort of that great multitude of unhappy persons, —the Roman bondsmen. The Christian teachers and clergymen became known as ‘the brothers of the slave,’ and the slaves themselves were called ‘the freedmen of Christ’” (Charles L. Brace, Gesta Christi).

Tributes to the beauty, delicacy, and tact of the Epistle to Philemon come from representatives of all schools, from Luther and Calvin to Renan, Baur, and von Soden. A number of these have been collected by Lightfoot (Introd. p. 383 ff.). The letter has been compared with one addressed by the younger Pliny to a friend on a somewhat similar occasion. “Yet,” to quote Bishop Lightfoot, “if purity of diction be excepted, there will hardly be any difference of opinion in awarding the palm to the Christian apostle. As an expression of simple dignity, of refined courtesy, of large sympathy, and of warm personal affection, the Epistle to Philemon stands unrivalled. And its preëminence is the more remarkable because in style it is exceptionally loose. It owes nothing to the graces of rhetoric; its effect is due solely to the spirit of the writer.” “We delight to meet with it,” says Sabatier, “on our toilsome road, and to rest awhile with Paul from his great controversies and fatiguing labors in this refreshing oasis which Christian friendship offered to him. We are accustomed to conceive of the apostle as always armed for warfare, sheathed in logic, and bristling with arguments. It is delightful to find him at his ease, and for a moment able to unbend, engaged in this friendly intercourse, so full of freedom and even playfulness.”



See Introduction to Philippians




Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, Œcumenius, Theophylact. (See under Commentaries on Philippians.)


L. DanÆus or DanÆu: 1579

R. Rollock: 1598

D. Dyke: 1618

Sc.Gentilis: 1618

T. Taylor: 1659

J. H. Hummel: 1670


Aug. Koch: 1846.

J. C. Wiesinger: 1850. Trans. by Fulton: 1851. Rev. and notes, A. C. Kendrick, 1858.

H. Ewald: 1857.

J. J. Van Oosterzee: Lange’s Bibelwerk. Schaff’s ed. Notes by Hackett, 1869.

Ld. Bp. of Derry: Speaker’s Comm.

Hugues Oltramare: Commentaire sur les Épitres de S. Paul aux Colossiens aux Éphésiens et à Philémon. 1891. Good and scholarly, but adds nothing of special value to former commentaries.

H. Von Soden: Hand-Commentar. Bd. iii. Valuable. See Comms. on Philippians, Lipsius.

For Bengel, Calvin, Alford, Meyer, Lightfoot, Beet, De Wette, Ellicott, Lumby, Dwight, Hackett, see under Commentaries on Philippians.

Holtzn. Holtzmann.

Lightf. Lightfoot.

1 Menaea, from μήν, ‘a month’: corresponding, in the Greek Church, to the Roman Breviary, and containing for each holiday and feast of the year the appointed prayers and hymns, together with short lives of the saints and martyrs.

Ign. Ignatius.

Weiss Der Philipperbrief ausgesetzt und die Geschichte seiner Auslegung kritisch dargestellt. 1859. A most thorough piece of work. It leaves no point untouched, and treats every point with ample learning, conscientious pains taking, independence, and positiveness. It is valuable in studying the history of the exegesis.

Ter. Terentius.

Juv. Juvenal.

1 My view of this disputed passage differs from that of Bishop Lightfoot and Canon Evans. (See Lightf. Introd. to Philemon, p. 390, and Evans, Speaker’s Comm. ad loc.)

Ads FreeProfile