by Harley Howard

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Paul's Letter to Philemon (1 of 3)
Harley Howard

1. Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy [our] brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer.

Authorship Three times in the epistle the author refers to himself as Paul (vv. 1, 9, 19). Also, there is a close association with the Epistle to the Colossians, for both epistles mention Archippus, Epaphras, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke (cf. Col. 4:10, 12, 14, 17).

Date and Place of Writing Paul was a prisoner when he wrote Philemon (vv. 1, 9). This epistle is therefore included among the so-called ''prison epistles,'' and was written during his first Roman imprisonment, A.D. 61-63. Because Onesimus accompanied Tychicus, who carried the letter to Colosse, it is evident the two epistles were written at about the same time, probably in the summer of A.D. 62.

Destination Philemon was the recipient. Judging by his ownership of slaves and the size of his home, which was large enough to house the local church referred to in v. 2, Philemon was a wealthy resident of Colosse. Though it is not known when Philemon first heard Paul, evidently Philemon was a convert of the apostle (v. 19b). It is likely that the two became friends during Paul's three-year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19).

Occasion and Purpose The occasion for writing is almost identical with the story of the epistle itself. Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, had run away, having evidently robbed his master (Phile. 18). His travels somehow brought him to Rome where, in the providence of God, he came in contact with Paul. Through this contact Onesimus came to know the Savior. Then Onesimus became useful to Paul (vv. 12-13).

But Paul realized that Onesimus had a responsibility to Philemon and should make restitution for his thievery. Thus Paul deemed it right to return Onesimus to Philemon. Tychicus was given the responsibility of carrying Paul's letter from Rome to the Colossians, and Onesimus evidently traveled back with him (Col. 4: ...

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