Phelemon Jewish New Testament and comment David H. Stern
1. From: Sha’ul, a prisoner for the sake of the Messiah Yeshua, and brother Timothy
To: Our dear fellow-worker Philemon,
2. along with sister Apphia, our fellow-soldier Archippus and the congregation that gathers in your home:
The Letter to Philemon is unique among Sha'ul's writings in that it offers pastoral advice to someone who is not a pastor. It has been compared with the Tanakh's book of Ruth in its rich human warmth and joy. It seems to have been written from prison at the same time as Colossians. Sha'ul, Timothy. See Pp 1:1N.
A prisoner for the sake of the Messiah Yeshua, that is, incarcerated for proclaiming the Gospel (v. 13).
Philemon is a fellow-worker of Sha'ul's who hosts a congregation in his home (on house congregations, see Ro 16:5N); formerly he was master of the slave Onesimus (vv. 10, 16).
Apphia, not mentioned elsewhere, must have been a leader in the Messianic community of Colossae, like Archippus (see Co 4:17&N).
3. Grace and shalom to you from God our Father and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.
4. I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers, Philemon,
5. for I am hearing about your love and commitment to the Lord Yeshua and to all God’s people.
6. I pray that the fellowship based on your commitment will produce full understanding of every good thing that is ours in union with the Messiah.
7. For your love has given me much joy and encouragement. Brother, you have refreshed the hearts of God’s people.
Interesting structure. Love (v. 5) looks forward to love in v. 7, where the phrase, "refreshed the hearts," anticipates v. 20. Likewise, commitment (v. 5) looks forward to fellowship based on your commitment in v. 6, which anticipates v. 17.
8. Therefore, I would not hesitate, in union with the Messiah, to direct you to do the thing you ought to do.
9. But since I Sha’ul, am the kind of person I am, an old man and now for the Messiah Yeshua’s sake a prisoner besides, I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.
Sha'ul has the authority to direct but prefers to appeal on the basis of a love and sensitivity which pervades his entire plea (vv. 8-21).
10. My request to you concerns my son, of whom I became the father while here in prison, Onesimus.
My son, of whom I became the father while here in prison. Shu'ul brought him to trust in Yeshua the Messiah; his unpleasant prison surroundings did not prevent him from evangelizing. Compare 1С 4:15, 17. Onesimus, the runaway slave, had evidently sought refuge with Sha'ul but was not himself in prison. Had the authorities apprehended him, they would not have incarcerated him but would have returned him to his master, as required by law.
11. His name means “useful,” and although he was once useless to you, he has now become most useful — not only to you but also to me;
Literal translation: "Formerly he was useless to you, but now [he is] useful [Greek evchrestos] to me and to you." The Greek name Onesimos (v. 10) is another word for "useful." The JNT rendering makes explicit the Greek text's implicit wordplay.
12. so that in returning him to you I am sending a part of my very heart.
In returning him to you. Onesimus was certainly the bearer of this letter.
13. I would dearly have loved to keep him with me, in order for him to serve me in your place while I am in prison because of the Good News.
14. But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do for me may be voluntary and not forced.
I didn't want to do anything without your consent. Sha'ul's self-limitation is consistent with Jewish ethical standards, derekh-eretz (literally, the "way of [the] world,"), defined as "desirable behavior of a man toward his fellows, in keeping with natural practice and accepted social and moral standards, including the rules of etiquette and polite behavior" (Encyclopedia Judaica 5:1551).
15. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a brief period was so that you could have him back forever,
16. no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, as a dear brother. And that he is, especially to me. But how much dearer he must be to you, both humanly and in union with the Lord!
17. So if you are in fellowship with me, receive him as you would me.
18. And if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me.
19. I, Sha’ul, write with my own hand. I will repay it.
(I won’t mention, of course, that you owe me your very life.)
As long as we're talking about debts, I won't mention, of course.... This throwaway line is the archetypical "Jewish guilt trip," but Sha'ul is not using it to create guilt in Philemon. If he were, it wouldn't work! Rather, he trusts his relationship with Philemon is strong enough that the remark will touch a chord without offending. Delightful! Without doubt Philemon, like Onesimus, did owe Sha'ul his very life, his eternal life.
20. Yes, brother, please do me this favor in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Messiah.
21. Trusting that you will respond positively, I write knowing that you will indeed do more than I am asking.
22. One more thing: please get a room ready for me. For I hope that through the prayers of you all God will give me a chance to visit you.
We do not know whether Sha'ul's hope to be released from prison soon and visit Onesimus was fulfilled.
23. Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner for the sake of the Messiah Yeshua, sends greetings to you,
Epaphras. See Co 1:7, 4:12-13.
24. as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow-workers.
Mark, Aristarchus. See Co 4:10&N. Demas and Luke, see Co 4:14, 2 Ti 4:10-11&N.
25. The grace of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah be with your spirit.
- chapter 1