The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to: Philemon
Author: The letter to Philemon was written by the apostle Paul, and its authenticity has not been seriously challenged.
Date and Occasion: The letter was written while Paul was in prison in Rome (c. A.D.
60), and was probably sent to Philemon together with the letter to the Colossians. Philemon was a Christian brother and slaveholder in Colosse. His slave Onesimus had run away and had somehow met Paul in Rome. Through Paul’s teaching, Onesimus had become a Christian.
Paul’s purpose in writing was to ask Philemon to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a Christian brother. In pursuit of this goal, Paul barely restrains himself from demanding the favor. He writes as powerful an appeal as he can.
Characteristics and Themes: Philemon shows us the apostle using all his personal force to bring about a Christian answer to a very serious problem. Paul’s judgment appears to be that Philemon should free the oﬀending slave, for the sake of Christian love toward a fellow Christian. Paul’s letter is passionate but carefully composed to achieve the desired end. The document was written in his own hand, and is much more than an example of rhetoric. It brings us close to Paul’s ministry, so that we can practically feel his profound desire to make Christian love the first rule of human action.1
1These sections, Author, Date and Occasion & Characteristics and Themes, are directly quoted from The Reformation Study Bible (Thomas Nelson Publishers), p. 1930.