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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
ONESIMUS . The name of the slave in whose behalf St. Paul wrote the Epistle to Philemon. As in his Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul speaks of Onesimus as ‘one of you’ ( Colossians 4:9 ), we may infer that he was a native of ColossÃ¦. His name means ‘profitable’ or ‘helpful’ not an uncommon name for slaves. The Apostle plays upon this word in his letter to Philemon : ‘which in time past was unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me’ ( Philippians 1:11 ). He ran away from his master, probably after having robbed him ( Philippians 1:18 ). He fled to Rome, the common hiding-place of criminals. There in some way he came under the influence of St. Paul, and was by him converted to Christianity ( Philippians 1:10 ). There grew up a deep affection between the two ( Philippians 1:12 ). The Apostle would gladly have kept him to minister to him ( Philippians 1:13 ), but would not do so without the consent of Philemon, and therefore sends Onesimus back with the letter to obtain his master’s forgiveness and his permission to return to St. Paul.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Onesimus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/o/onesimus.html. 1909.