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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Philemon

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(fi leh' muhn) Personal name meaning, “affectionate” and eighteenth book of the New Testament. Philemon owed his conversion to the Christian faith to the apostle Paul (Philippians 1:19 ). This conversion took place during Paul's extended ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10 ). There is no evidence that Paul ever visited Colosse where Philemon lived. Paul and Philemon became devoted friends. Paul referred to Philemon as a “beloved and fellow labourer” (Philippians 1:1 ).

Paul's only epistle of a private and personal nature that is included in the New Testament was written to Philemon in A.D. 61. This epistle concerned a runaway slave. This slave, Onesimus, had robbed Philemon and escaped to Rome. There Onesimus found the apostle Paul who was imprisoned. Paul wrote to Philemon concerning Onesimus. Paul sent both the epistle and Onesimus back to Colosse. The epistle states that Onesimus was now a Christian. Paul requested that Philemon forgive and receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother (Philippians 1:16 ). This request was not made from Paul's apostolic authority but tenderly as a Christian friend. Paul wrote, “Receive him as myself” (Philippians 1:17 ).

Paul also stated that he was willing to pay any damages caused by Onesimus. Some scholars indicate that Paul may have been asking subtly that Philemon release Onesimus so that he could return and aid Paul in his evangelistic endeavors. Philemon had a judicial right to punish severely or even kill Onesimus. Paul's short epistle of some three hundred and fifty-five Greek words challenged Philemon to apply Christian love in dealing with Onesimus. Paul's approach eventually caused the end of slavery. See Onesimus; Paul; Slavery.

Outline

I. Greetings of Grace and Peace (1-3)

II. Commendation for Philemon's Love, Faith, and Example (4-7)

III. Plea for Onesimus on Basis of Friendship (8-22)

IV. Closing Salutation (23-25)

Kenneth Hubbard

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Philemon'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/p/philemon.html. 1991.

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