Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Philemon

Book Overview - Philemon

by Joseph Parker

Philemon

(Rome, a.d62)

[Note.—"The Epistle of Paul to Philemon, is one of the letters (the others are Ephesians,, Colossians, Philippians) which the Apostle wrote during his first captivity at Rome. The arguments which show that he wrote the Epistle to the Colossians in that city and at that period, involve the same conclusion in regard to this; for it is evident from Colossians 4:7, Colossians 4:9, as compared with the contents of this Epistle, that Paul wrote the two letters at the same time, and forwarded them to their destination by the hands of Tychicus and Onesimus who accompanied each other to Colossae. A few critics, as Schulz, Schott, Böttger, Meyer, maintain that this letter and the others assigned usually to the first Roman captivity, were written during the two years that Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea ( Acts 23:35; Acts 24:27). But this opinion, though supported by some plausible arguments, can be demonstrated with reasonable certainty to be incorrect.

"The Epistle to Philemon has one peculiar feature—its æsthetical character it may be termed—which distinguishes it from all the other Epistles, and demands a special notice at our hands. It has been admired deservedly as a model of delicacy and skill in the department of composition to which it belongs. The writer had peculiar difficulties to overcome. He was the common friend of the parties at variance. He must conciliate a man who supposed that he had good reason to be offended. He must commend the offender, and yet neither deny nor aggravate the imputed fault. He must assert the new ideas of Christian equality in the face of a system which hardly recognised the humanity of the enslaved. He could have placed the question on the ground of his own personal rights, and yet must waive them in order to secure an act of spontaneous kindness. His success must be a triumph of love, and nothing be demanded for the sake of the justice which could have claimed everything. He limits his request to a forgiveness of the alleged wrong, and a restoration to favour and the enjoyment of future sympathy and affection, and yet would so guard his words as to leave scope for all the generosity which benevolence might prompt towards one whose condition admitted of so much alleviation. These are contrarieties not easy to harmonise; but Paul, it is confessed, has shown a degree of self-denial and a tact in dealing with them, which in being equal to the occasion could hardly be greater.

"There is a letter extant of the younger Pliny (Epist. ix21) which he wrote to a friend whose servant had deserted him, in which he intercedes for the fugitive, who was anxious to return to his master, but dreaded the effects of his anger. Thus the occasion of the correspondence was similar to that between the Apostle and Philemon. It has occurred to scholars to compare this celebrated letter with that of Paul in behalf of Onesimus; and as the result they hesitate not to say that, not only in the spirit of Christian love, of which Phiny was ignorant, but in dignity of thought, argument, pathos, beauty of style, eloquence, the communication of the Apostle is vastly superior to that of the polished Roman writer."—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible."]