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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
This is the name of a Christian convert belonging to Ephesus who had visited Rome during the apostle Paul’s imprisonment and had sought out the prisoner and ministered to his wants: ‘He off refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain’ (2 Timothy 1:16). He had also performed outstanding services for the Church at Ephesus, to which the Apostle refers, mentioning that Timothy, to whom he writes, knew better (βέλτιον) about them than he did himself (2 Timothy 1:18). The word used here and translated ‘ministered’ (Gr. διακονέω) has been supposed to indicate that Onesiphorus acted as a deacon of the Church in Ephesus, but this is by no means certain. When in Rome during his second imprisonment the Apostle sends greetings to the household of Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 4:19); and in 2 Timothy 1:16 he expresses the desire that the Lord may give mercy to the ‘house of Onesiphorus.’ St. Paul mentions that Onesiphorus had treated him very kindly when in Rome, and contrasts his action with that of other members of the Church of Asia, who had turned away from him and refused to help him in his need, particularly referring to Phygellus and Hermogenes.
Several questions arise here. Why does St. Paul speak of the household of Onesiphorus? Why does he not send greetings to Onesiphorus himself, as he does, e.g., in 2 Timothy 4:19 to Prisca and Aquila? Was Onesiphorus dead when the Epistle was written? Most students conclude that Onesiphorus had already died. If this view be correct, an interesting point arises with regard to the prayer in 2 Timothy 1:18 -‘the Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.’ Is this a prayer for one who was already dead? Several who advocate the practice of prayer for the departed have quoted this passage in support of their position (e.g., Archibald Campbell, The Intermediate or Middle State of Departed Souls, London, 1713, p. 72; E. H. Plumptre, The Spirits in Prison, do., 1884, pp. 128, 266; H. M. Luckock, After Death3, do., 1881, p. 77, The Intermediate State2, do., 1896, p. 211). N. J. D. White, in Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘1 and 2 Timothy and Titus,’ London, 1910, p. 159, refers to 2 Maccabees 12:44 in support of the contention that an orthodox Jew of the time of Christ could have prayed for the dead. It seems, however, to be an undue pressing of the text to regard the sentence in 1:18 as more than a pious wish on the part of the Apostle for. one of whom he had very kindly memories (cf. G. S. Barrett, The Intermediate State, London, 1896, p. 113). In any case, we have no foundation whatever for the Roman Catholic system of prayers for the deliverance of souls from the pains of purgatory.
See, further, articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Encyclopaedia Biblica .
W. F. Boyd.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Onesiphorus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/o/onesiphorus.html. 1906-1918.