Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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Philemon is the shortest of all Paul's New Testament letters. It is not a response to some crisis, but a personal note to an individual friend, Philemon. Philemon is usually identified as a member of the church at Colossae from the reference to Archippus in v. 2, who is mentioned in Col. 4: 17 as the leader of the church there. The letter is normally dated around 60 ce, though some scholars would put it a decade earlier. Paul is writing to persuade Philemon to take back his former slave, Onesimus, who had apparently run away. For Paul's sake, if for no other reason, Paul wants his friend to take Onesimus back, ‘Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?’ (v. 16). Paul even offers to pay any damage or losses involved: ‘If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account’ (v. 18). But Paul, being Paul, cannot avoid adding: ‘I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides’ (v. 19). The letter is short but fascinating. There is no suggestion that slavery was wrong, or that Christians should not have slaves. Christianity did not confront the problems of slavery until the eighteenth century, after the Enlightenment had begun to question the institution; thereafter individual Christians were prominent in the struggle for the emancipation of slaves. It is clear that in the New Testament the implications of the gospel did not include freedom from slavery. The new religion was less concerned with the transformation of society than with the imminent end of the world.

Chapter.  305 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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