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Who wrote the book of Philemon? Who was the author of Philemon?

author of Philemon

The book of Philemon is a short letter the apostle Paul wrote to a slave owner named Philemon concerning a runaway slave, Onesimus. The salutation suggests that Paul was with Timothy at the time of the writing—Paul was in prison then—and there were more recipients besides Philemon (Philemon 1:1–2).

The book of Philemon revolves around Onesimus. The slave had run away from his master, a serious crime, but an encounter with Paul brought Onesimus face to face with the gospel. The runaway slave became a believer in Christ. Subsequently, Paul sent Onesimus back to Colossae, to his master, Philemon, and that was the occasion for the letter. Paul wrote to request reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. The slave may have committed theft, and Paul takes the debt of repayment upon himself: “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me” (Philemon 1:19).

Paul aimed at peace, leveraging his relationship with Philemon and appealing to the faith shared by all parties involved. Paul exemplified Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

The majority of scholars accept Paul as the author of Philemon. In the 19th century, objections to the letter’s authenticity arose, but those were quickly dismissed. Modern scholars concur on the Pauline authorship of Philemon.

The book of Philemon surfaces often in conversations about slavery. Some argue that the Bible justifies slavery, pointing to Paul’s lack of explicit condemnation of slavery in the letter to Philemon. However, this objection overlooks the historical context of slavery in the Greco-Roman world, distinct from transatlantic slavery, which was based on race and ethnicity. In Paul’s day, nearly half of the population were slaves, and slavery was ingrained in the culture as an accepted form of labor. Passages like 1 Corinthians 7:21 indicate Paul’s desire for slaves to attain freedom, and in 1 Timothy 1:10 he condemns slave traders. Elsewhere, Paul places masters and slaves on the same level (Ephesians 6:9), emphasizes unity regardless of earthly status (Galatians 3:28), and admonishes fairness toward slaves (Colossians 4:1).

In fact, the book of Philemon plants the seeds of abolition. Paul writes that he sent Onesimus back to Philemon “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16, emphasis added). So, Paul works within the prevailing system to obey the laws and make restitution, but at the same time, he emphasizes that master and slave are fellow human beings and, in the case of Philemon and Onesimus, spiritual brothers.

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Who wrote the book of Philemon? Who was the author of Philemon?
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This page last updated: May 1, 2024