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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Philemon

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(Φιλήμων)

Philemon was a citizen of Colossae (cf. Colossians 4:9 with Philemon 1:11) and a convert of St. Paul (Philemon 1:19). His conversion took place not at Colossae (Colossians 2:1), but presumably during the Apostle’s three years’ abode at Ephesus, between which town and the cities of the Lycus (of which Colossae was one) the relations were intimate (see Lightfoot, Colossians3, 1879, p. 31). There is no reliable evidence of Philemon’s holding any office in the Church either at Colossae or elsewhere, although the Apost. Const. (vii. 46) represent him as ‘bishop’ of Colossae, and pseudo-Dorotheus (6th cent.) as bishop of Gaza: but manifestly he was an influential member of the Colossian Christian community. St. Paul calls him a fellow-labourer (συνεργός), who had an Ecclesia, or gathering of Christians, in his home (Philemon 1:1-2). He must have been a well-to-do citizen, possessing a house large enough for this purpose, along with means sufficient to enable him liberally to ‘distribute to the necessity of saints.’ The Apostle testifies that ‘the hearts of the saints were refreshed’ by Philemon’s loving fellowship and helpful bounty (Philemon 1:6-7). St. Paul’s past experience of Philemon’s ‘love and faith,’ generosity to fellow-believers, and loyalty to himself, gave the Apostle ‘confidence’ in interceding with his friend on behalf of that friend’s runaway but now converted slave, Onesimus, and in beseeching Philemon not only to forgive the slave’s misdemeanours, but to receive him as now a brother in Christ. According to a probably well-founded tradition, the Apostle’s confidence was not misplaced (see Onesimus). The Greek Menaea (under Nov. 22) represent Philemon as having suffered martyrdom during Nero’s reign (see Tillemont, i. 290, 574, quoted by Lightfoot, Colossians 3, p. 306).

Philemon, like Onesimus, is quite a common Greek name and is specially notable in the Phrygian legend of Philemon and Baucis (Ovid, Metam. vii. 626), the two peasants who hospitably entertained gods unawares, and whose story may have suggested to the Lystrans in adjacent Lycaonia their procedure as related in Acts 13.

Literature.-See under following article.

Henry Cowan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Philemon'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/philemon.html. 1906-1918.

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