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Paul's Epistle to the Colossians Part 7: Christianity and Slavery, with Philemon
One of the underlying themes we have been building upon from what Paul of Tarsus has taught us in the first several chapters of this epistle to the Colossians is judgment. Paul of Tarsus began when he advised these Christians of Colossae that they should let no man judge them concerning feasts, sabbaths and other celebrations, and then he also informed them that they should not submit to the ordinances of the men, nor should they worship angels, as he called them, who would prevent them from the use of those elements of God’s Creation that are beneficial to the satisfaction of the flesh, which was basically a refutation of both Pharisaism and asceticism, or, as the King James Version translates the term, “will worship”, which describes asceticism.
However Paul also informed these Colossians that, because they had an assurance of life in Christ, they should choose to abstain from the sins of the world, fornications, evil desires, covetousness, which Paul identified as a form of idolatry, and “filthy communications”, among which are blasphemies, deceits, slanders, ribaldry, and even the wrath of men.
Saying these things, Paul explained that in Christ “one is not Greek and Judaean, circumcision and uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but altogether and in all ways Anointed.” Paul made a similar statement in Galatians chapter 3, where he had said, as it reads in the King James Version, “26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew [properly Judaean] nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” And here is where many supposedly pious Christians have found, or have even created much confusion.
Here in Colossians, Paul is addressing the Elect of Yahweh, just as in Galatians he is addressing those who were under the law, so with those statements and others, it can be proven that in both epistles Paul is only addressing the dispersed descendants of Jacob Israel to whom he was commissioned to bring the Gospel of Reconciliation. He was addressing the scattered Israelites who had become certain of the tribes of the Greeks, the scattered Israelites who were called barbarians because they did not speak Greek, the scattered Israelites who had become the tribes of the Scythians, the scattered Israelites who were slaves, and the scattered Israelites who were free. There were also some Israelites remaining among the Judaeans, as Paul had explained at length in Romans chapter 9. And of course there were Israelite slaves, Israelites who were not slaves, and Israelites who were both male and female.
Making these distinctions, Paul is not asserting that the station of any man, or of any woman, has changed in this world. Neither was Paul asserting that the nature of any individual in Christ could change. Rather, Paul is only stating that because they are all in Christ, that they should all treat one another kindly regardless of their station in life. But Barbarians would still be Barbarians, or Paul would have told them to learn a new language, because the term was only a reference to the fact that one did not speak Greek. Women would still be women, or Paul would not have told them that they need to remain subject to their husbands. Those non-Israelites outside of the covenants and promises would have to remain outside of the covenants and promises, or Paul would not have told these Colossians to “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without”, as he does here in this final chapter of this epistle. Slaves would still be slaves, and those who owned slaves would still own slaves, however both masters and slaves, as Paul had advised them here, should do good to one another in spite of their position in life.
Thus Paul had written at the end of Colossians chapter 3: “22 Bondmen, you be obedient in all respects to fleshly masters, not with lip-service as men-pleasers, but with simplicity of heart, fearing the Prince. 23 Whatever you would do, work heartily, as for the Prince and not for men. 24 Knowing that from the Prince you shall recover the return of the inheritance, the Anointed Prince you serve. 25 But he doing wrong is provided for that which he has done wrong, and there is not respect of the stature of persons.”
So, respect of the stature of persons does not prevent a slave from remaining a slave. But rather, there is not respect of the stature of persons because all are judged fairly aside from and in spite of their position in life. Therefore Paul continues in respect to masters, and he writes here in Colossians chapter 3: “18 Servants, subject yourselves with all fear to the masters, not only to the good and reasonable but also to the crooked. 19 For this is a benefit, if through consciousness of Yahweh one endures suffering grief unrighteously.”
Note that Paul never commanded the slave owners that they must set free their slaves, and Paul exhorted slaves who were Christians to work even more diligently for their Christians masters, as if they were actually working for Christ Himself. The apostle Peter had written in this same manner in chapter 2 of his first epistle, where he said: “18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”
Paul had made similar exhortations in his epistles to the Ephesians, Timothy and Titus. In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, after admonishing each Christian that “in the calling in which he has been called, in this he must abide”, Paul said “21 A bondman, you have been called? It must not be a concern to you, but then if you have the ability to become free, rather you use it. 22 For he who is called a bondman in the Prince is a freedman of the Prince; likewise he who is called free is a bondman of Christ.” So if one is a slave and becomes reconciled to Christ in the Gospel, then one should nevertheless be content to remain a slave, having the assurance of an ultimate liberty in Christ. But if one could fairly acquire his freedom, it was of course fitting that he may do so.
Slavery in the ancient world was a fact of life, Christians have the right to dispose of their own property as they themselves deem fit, according to the conviction of their own hearts, and slaves were never advised to defraud their masters. In fact, in modern times there is still slavery, but perhaps it is called corporatism.
Here we must digress. In our humble opinion, reflecting on the historical events of recent times, nowhere is the tendency of the sheep of God’s pasture to fall victim to emotional arguments and to thereby be led to forsake the Word of God more evident than than it is with the issue of slavery. We have no care for negroes, who are outside of the covenants and promises of God and are therefore not even a matter of our consideration. But in the 19th century, a great war was fought and well over a half-million White and Christian men had lost their lives. While the issue of slavery was not the primary reason for which the war was fought, the common people of the north were persuaded to fight in large degree by self-righteous preaching on the slavery issue. This loss of so many White men was facilitated because so-called pastors had convinced men that slavery was an evil institution and that it had to be put to an end. Today the attitude continues, so the crime remains concealed, and the result is our continued destruction. Yet those anti-slavery preachers and agitators were acting in a manner which is clearly contrary to the Word of God, and to the Gospel of the apostles. For that reason, to us this is the most signal proof in modern times that men can be easily led to follow the propaganda of the anti-Christs and the judgments of the world, even when what is right by the standards of the world is not what the Scripture informs us is right by the standards of the Word of God. Over a half million men died, and the aggressors were led to believe that they were fighting for the side of good, while in reality they were acting contrary to the Word of God and fighting for something which was very, very wicked, judging and even slaughtering their own brothers on behalf of aliens not for the Word of God, but for the commandments of men. This is a clear example of the danger of choosing what the world thinks is right instead of following what Yahweh our God says is right. This is just another example of what results when men make a choice, either consciously or through willful ignorance, to follow the laws of man rather than following the Word of Yahweh their God.
So after addressing and exhorting husbands and wives, children and parents, and masters and slaves, Paul returns to addressing the Colossians generally and he says:
2 You persist firmly in prayer, being alert in it with thanksgiving [D wants “with thanksgiving”], 3 at the same time praying also for us, in order that Yahweh would create an opportunity [literally “would open a door”, the idiom also appears at 1 Corinthians 16:9] for the Word, for us to speak of the mystery of the Anointed, for which I also have been bound, 4 that I may make it known as it is necessary for me to speak.
The Codex Alexandrinus (A) has the second half of verse 3 to read: “for us to speak with openness of the mystery of the Anointed, for which I also have been bound”; the Codex Vaticanus (B) has “for us to speak of the mystery of God, for whom I also have been bound”.
“For which I also have been bound”: Paul refers to his imprisonment in Rome on account of the Gospel of Christ. He asks the assembly to pray on his behalf, that he would be able to say the things necessary in the defense of the Gospel which he has been compelled to undertake as a matter of his trial before Caesar. As we learned in the first chapter of the epistle to the Philippians, and in 2 Timothy chapter 4 where Paul had mentioned his “first answer”, referring to the charges laid upon him, he had already presented a defense of the Gospel, and evidently hoped to present another for which here he petitions the prayers of the saints at Colossae.
The reference to the “mystery of the Anointed” is not necessarily a reference to Christ Himself, but to the people of Christ. It is to the people of Christ, the Old Testament children of Israel, to whom Paul is charged with bringing the Gospel. It is of the people of Yahweh taken away captive into the nations of whom Asaph writes in the 83rd Psalm and says “2 For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head. 3 They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.” The children of Israel dispersed in the captivities of Assyria and Babylon are Yahweh’s “hidden ones”. For that same reason, Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 3 “1 For this cause I, Paul, captive of Christ Yahshua on behalf of you of the Nations, 2 if indeed you have heard of the management of the family of the favor of Yahweh which has been given to me in regard to you, 3 seeing that by a revelation the mystery was made known to me (just as I had briefly written before, 4 besides which reading you are able to perceive my understanding in the mystery of the Anointed,) 5 which in other generations had not been made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed in His holy ambassadors and prophets by the Spirit, 6 those Nations which are joint heirs and a joint body and partners of the promise in Christ Yahshua, through the good message 7 of which I have become a servant in accordance with the gift of the favor of Yahweh which has been given to me, in accordance with the operation of His power. 8 To me, the least of all saints, has been given this favor, to announce the good message to the Nations - the unsearchable riches of the Anointed, 9, and to enlighten all concerning the management of the household of the mystery which was concealed from the ages by Yahweh, by whom all things are being established.” The tribes of the Greeks and Romans which descended from Israelites who departed centuries before the Assyrian captivities were also among those “hidden ones”. Paul was called to reveal a mystery, the identity of the so-called “hidden ones”, the “lost sheep of the House of Israel”, in his ministry of Reconciliation to the Nations of scattered Israel, and that identity is the “mystery of the Anointed”. The Jews hated Paul for that reason above all others, that he was taking the Gospel of Christ to the scattered twelve tribes of Israel, as we read in Acts chapter 26 where Paul had said “6 And now for the hope of the promise having been made by Yahweh to our fathers I stand being judged, 7 for which our twelve tribes serving in earnest night and day hope to attain, concerning which hope I am charged by the Jews….”
5 In reference to those outside, you walk in wisdom, buying the time,
The phrase “in reference to those outside”, may have been rendered “pertaining to those outside”, and it is precisely the exclusive statement which Paul intended, where the references supporting this translation are numerous. For instance, in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 Paul said that “For the account of the cross is folly to those who are going to die, but to those who are being preserved, to us, it is the power of Yahweh.” So Christians should evidently refrain from preaching the Gospel of Christ to “those who are outside” of the covenants and promises of the Old Testament. Then in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 Paul said “1 Now I explain to you, brethren, the good message which I have announced to you, and which you have received, and in which you have been established, 2 and through which you are preserved, if you hold fast to each statement I have announced to you, unless outside you have believed without purpose.” So we see that there are people to whom the Gospel of Christ should not be preached, and even if some of them hear it and believe it, if they are outside of the promises and the covenants then they, being outside, have believed without purpose.
Paul had said something similar to this statement here in Colossians in his first epistle to the Thessalonians, in chapter 4 where he advised them to “11 … endeavor earnestly to be at rest, and to be busy with your own affairs and to work with your own hands, just as we have instructed you, 12 in order that you would walk decently compared with those outside, and would have need of no one.” In Galatians 6:10 Paul had urged Christians that “… while we have occasion we should work at good towards all, but especially towards those of the family of the faith.”
But doing good unto all, and walking decently or in wisdom in reference to outsiders, does not necessarily mean that Christians must have that same Christian love for outsiders which they should have for those of the family of the faith, which is the body of Christian Israel. In fact, Paul had told the Christians at Rome to prefer one another without hesitation (Romans 12:10-11, CNT). So here he warns that Christians walk in wisdom towards those who are outside of the Body of Christ, meaning that they should have discernment.
In 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 Paul prayed in reference to those who were persecuting the Gospel, and asked “that we should be protected from those disgusting and wicked men, since the faith is not for all.” Likewise, Paul had asked in 1 Corinthians chapter 5: “12, What is it to me to judge those outside? Not at all should you judge those within you.” In Philippians chapter 2 Paul had warned his fellow Christians to “14 Do all things apart from murmuring and disputing, 15 that you would be perfect and with unmixed blood, blameless children of Yahweh in the midst of a race crooked and perverted - among whom you appear as luminaries in the Society”, and these verses cannot be set in opposition to one another. Therefore it is manifest that Christians should not be attempting to convert everyone or anyone to Christ, because the faith is clearly not for all. According to Scripture, there is a “family of the faith”, and everyone else is outside of the faith, which is governed by the promises which Yahweh had made to Abraham and the patriarchs through Jacob.
The phrase which is translated as “buying the time” also appears in Ephesians chapter 5 where we also discussed the meaning of the Greek words, when we presented that chapter here some months ago. There Paul had written: “15 So then watch precisely how you walk, not as the stupid, but as the wise, 16 Buying the time, because the days are evil. [The days are evil because the children of Israel are luminaries caught in the midst of a crooked and perverted race!] 17 For this reason do not be foolish, rather understand what is the will of the Prince.” These certainly seem to be his instructions for how to “walk in wisdom” towards those outside, by understanding “what is the will of the Prince”, who came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and who expects those reconciled to Him to keep His commandments.
6 your speech always with goodwill, seasoned with salt. It is necessary for you to know in what manner to answer every single one.
In Matthew chapter 5 Christ is recorded as having said “9 Blessed are the peacemakers, because they shall be called sons of Yahweh. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted on account of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when they would reproach and persecute you and being liars they would speak any evil against you on account of Me. 12 Rejoice and exult, because great is your reward in the heavens. For thusly had they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt has lost its savor, with what shall it be salted? It avails for nothing more than it is cast outside to be trampled by men!”
In Proverbs chapter 10 we learn what a peacemaker is to God: “10 He that winks with his eyes deceitfully, procures griefs for men; but he that reproves boldly is a peacemaker.” He that reproves boldly is he who can expect to be reviled and persecuted by men, a man “persecuted on account of righteousness” who does as the prophets of Israel had done by upholding the Word of Yahweh his God and speaking the truth to his brethren. Therefore the salt of the earth is found in those children of Yahweh who maintain and speak the truth of Yahweh, as the prophets of Yahweh had done. And if they neglect that truth, then “the salt has lost its savor” and is good for nothing. So speech seasoned with salt is speech seasoned with the truth of God, for which men may be persecuted, but which they must nevertheless maintain.
Likewise Paul had explained in Ephesians chapter 4 that Christians should speak the truth with love in opposition to the systematizing of deception: “14 in order that we would be infants no longer - being tossed as waves and carried about in every wind of teaching by the trickery of men, in villainy for the sake of the systematizing of deception. 15 But speaking the truth with love, we may increase all things for He who is the head, the Christ...”
This is the end of the didactic portion of the epistle, and from verse 7 we have a rather lengthy salutation:
7 All of the things concerning me Tuchikos, the beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bondman among the number of the Prince, will make known to you; 8 whom I have sent to you for this very thing, that you would know of the things concerning us and your hearts would be encouraged, 9 with Onasimos, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of yours. All things they will make known to you then.
The third century papyrus P46, the Codex Ephraemi Syri (C) and the Majority Text, along with two later so-called “corrected” versions of the Codex Sinaiticus (א) have verse 8 to read in part “that he would know the things concerning you”. The original reading of the Codex Sinaiticus (א), which is obviously in error, is “that you would know the things concerning you”. The pronouns ἡμῶν (of us, our) and ὑμῶν (of you, your) are often confounded in the manuscripts. The text follows the Codices Alexandrinus (A), Vaticanus (B), Claromontanus (D) and Vaticanus Graecus 2061 (048).
As we learn from the epistle which Paul had written to Philemon, Onasimos, who Paul informs us here is also a Colossian, was an escaped slave of Philemon, a man of the Christian assembly of Colossae. This epistle was taken to Colossae from Rome by Tuchikos and Onasimos, along with the epistle of Philemon. From verse 16 of this chapter it is evident that these two men also brought with them a third epistle, which was written to the Laodiceans, and which is now lost. Laodicea (or Laodikeia) was only about ten miles from Colossae, and it would have been expedient for the men to stop there along the path of their journey.
Onasimos is only mentioned by Paul in these two epistles and outside of them we know nothing of either him or Philemon. Tuchikos was a fellow-worker of Paul’s from the time of his ministry in Ephesus, he was from Asia, as we learn in Acts chapter 20, and he may have been an an Ephesian. He is mentioned as having delivered the epistle to the Ephesians some time before this epistle was written, and while he was in Ephesus Paul mentioned him as he wrote 2 Timothy where he said “Tuchikos I have sent to Ephesus”. Timothy being here with Paul when Colossians is written, by this time Tuchikos has also returned to Rome from Ephesus to be with Paul, so that Paul could send Tuchikos to Colossae with this epistle as well as the epistle to Philemon. From this we see not only the order of writing of these epistles, but also that they were not written within a short space. Tuchikos went from Rome to Ephesus and back as Paul wrote 2 Timothy and Timothy came to Paul, and only then were the epistles to the Colossians, Philemon, and the lost epistle to the Laodikeians written.
For the reason that it is relevant to Onasimos and because it also sheds light on Paul’s Christian attitude in regards to slaves and their owners, we shall present the epistle of Philemon here this evening, as we conclude our presentation of Colossians.
10 Aristarchos my fellow prisoner greets you, and Markos - the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions, if he should come to you, receive him), 11 and Iasous who is called Ioustos. These are the only fellow-workers for the Kingdom of Yahweh who are of the circumcision who have been a consolation to me.
This verse may be read: “and Iasous who is called Ioustos, who are of the circumcision. These are the only fellow-workers for the Kingdom of Yahweh who have been a consolation to me.” The name Iasous is simply a different transliteration of the name from which we have Jesus. Ioustos, or Justus, may have been the same individual as the Justus of Acts chapter 18, whose house had abutted the synagogue in Corinth, but the identification is far from certain.
Aristarchos was with Paul from his first mission to Makedonia, and when Paul began his sojourn in Ephesus, as it is recorded in Acts chapter 19. He had been a fellow prisoner with Paul since Paul was sent in chains from Judaea, as we read in Acts chapter 27 where Luke wrote “2 And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.” Aristarchus must have been a prisoner with Paul since his arrest in the temple, and was not mentioned until Paul was sent on board ship to Rome, Aristarchus being with him.
This Mark being mentioned by Paul as the cousin of Barnabas must therefore be the same Mark of Acts chapter 15. So here we learn that Mark, whose value to the ministry Paul had doubted, as it is recorded in Acts chapter 15, had once again come to be esteemed by Paul. After his first mission in Anatolia, Paul and Barnabas had argued over Mark’s willingness to work for the cause of the Gospel, and Luke writes of them “39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; 40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.” It is only here that we learn that Mark and Barnabas are cousins, which seems to explain why Barnabas was so loyal to Mark. After the split, Paul only mentioned Barnabas again where he spoke of him in Galatians and in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, however Paul did not speak badly of him despite their differences. Of course, their differences were not related to the Gospel or the truth of God. In his epistles, Paul only mentions Mark here and in Philemon. It is likely that this is also the same Mark who is mentioned at the end of 1 Peter, and is the apostle held by tradition to have authored the Gospel transmitted to him by Peter. The Gospel of Mark is believed to have been written in Italy, for which there is internal evidence, some time after the death of Peter, which was certainly also after the death of Paul.
12 Epaphras, a bondman of Christ Yahshua, who is one of yours, greets you, always striving on your behalf in prayers, that you would stand perfect and be fully assured in every purpose of Yahweh; 13 for I testify for him that he has much labor for you and those in Laodikeia and those in Hierapolis.
The third century papyrus P46 and the Majority Text have verse 12 to read in part “that you would be perfect and filled with every purpose of Yahweh”; the text follows the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), Vaticanus (B), Ephraemi Syri (C), and Claromontanus (D).
The King James Version has zeal here rather than labor, apparently following manuscripts dating no earlier than the 9th century. The Greek word πόνος is labor here, but may have been rendered as toil, distress, suffering or trouble, as if resulting from labor. According to Liddell & Scott, πόνος is “work, esp. hard work, toil” but may also be “II. the consequence of toil, distress, trouble, suffering, pain” or “III. anything produced by work… the fruits of our labour”.[D has κόπος, א, A, B, and C have πόνος.]
As we had mentioned in our presentation of Colossians chapter 1, we learn here that Paul’s colleague Epaphras was also a Colossian. It is also very likely that he was the Epaphroditos mentioned in the epistle to the Philippians. He is apparently with Paul and Timothy when this letter was written, but was not making the journey for its delivery. As we had also noted in that earlier presentation, the first chapter of this epistle attests that Epaphras had come to Paul with a report from Colossae, and it was evidently from Epaphras that the Colossians had first received the Gospel of Christ.
14 Loukas the beloved physician greets you, and Damas.
It is only from this closing chapter of Colossians that we learn that Mark and Barnabas are cousins, and the connection of this Mark to Barnabas reveals that Mark had ultimately been reconciled to Paul. It is only from this chapter that we learn that Epaphras was a Colossian, and it is only from this chapter that we learn the full context for the connection between Paul and Philemon and Onasimos within the setting of Paul’s ministry.
But now, it is only from this chapter that we learn that Luke, the author of the Gospel and Paul’s long-time companion, was a physician by trade. From Old Testament scripture the trade seems to have been of little esteem, however Luke was a Greek and among the Greeks physicians were generally educated men, which Luke’s style of writing reveals. Luke was first in Paul’s company from at least as early as the time that Paul and Barnabas had first visited Antioch and the events of Acts chapters 14 and 15..
We only know Damas from these epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, but also from the second epistle to Timothy, written not long before this epistle, where Paul had written that “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). While we are not told anything explicitly, here it must be ascertained that in a short time Damas had repented of his departure, returned to Paul, and was accepted back into his companionship.
15 Greet the brethren in Laodikeia, and Numpha and the assembly at her house,
The Codex Claromontanus (D) and the Majority Text have “Numphas and the assembly at his house”; the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), and Ephraemi Syri (C) have “Numpha and the assembly at their house”; the text follows the Codex Vaticanus (B). The word νύμφη (Strong's # 3565) is primarily “a young wife, bride” (Liddell & Scott) but also was used “as a proper name, a Nymph” of all of the nymphs of mythology. We find it improbable that a man would bear such a name, and have therefore followed the one ancient manuscript which has the feminine pronoun.
In Philemon verse 2 we learn that there is an assembly, or church, at his house. Here we see there is an assembly, or church, at the house of Nympha (the King James Version spelling). These are distinct assemblies, or churches, at each persons house. While all of Christian Israel should be one body in Christ, there is no such thing in Scripture as “one true church” ruling over the entire body of Christ. However Paul expects his epistle to be read at each of these assemblies:
16 and when the letter is read among you, ensure also that it is read in the assembly of the Laodikeians, and that from Laodikeia, that also you should read.
And not only does Paul expect his epistle to the Colossians to be read at each of the assemblies at Colossae, but requests that the epistle to the Laodikeians be read to each of them as well. Of course, this other epistle is now lost and it is only known to have existed from this statement. Of course, the assembly at Laodikeia is the seventh of the seven assemblies to receive messages from Christ in the opening chapters of the Revelation, which was recorded by John over 30 years after this epistle was written.
17 Also tell Archippos: “Watch the ministry which you have received by the Prince, that you would fulfill it.” 18 This salutation of Paul is by my own hand. Remember my bonds. Favor be with you.
Only the Codex Claromontanus (D) and the Majority Text have ἀμήν, or truly, appended to the end of this last verse; the text follows the Codices (א), Alexandrinus (A), Vaticanus (B), Ephraemi Syri (C) and Vaticanus Graecus 2061 (048).
Archippos is mentioned as a “fellow soldier” of Paul and Timothy in the opening verses of Philemon, and must have therefore taken up the work of the Gospel in Colossae. Paul seems not to be warning him, but only to be exhorting him to work diligently. By this mention, Paul is also indirectly approving of the selection of Archippos for the ministry.
With this, because it is intimately connected to Paul’s epistle to the Colossians both in content where it concerns the subject of slavery and in the involvement of Philemon and Onasimos, we shall present the brief epistle to Philemon here. Of course, we have already explained that Philemon was written at this same time that Paul had wrote Colossians, and that both of these epistles along with the lost epistle to the Laodiceans were delivered to the assemblies by Tychicus and Onesimus.
Paul’s Epistle to Philemon:
1 Paul prisoner [D has “apostle”] of Yahshua Christ, and Timotheos the brother, to Philemon the beloved [D has “beloved brother”] and our colleague, 2 and to Apphia the sister [the MT has “Apphia the beloved”; the text follows א, A, D, I, and 048], and to Archippos our fellow soldier, and to the assembly at your house, 3 favor to you and peace from Yahweh our Father and Prince Yahshua Christ.
Once again, Paul is joined by Timothy, showing that Timothy is associated with Paul in his ministry even though, as we know from the epistle to the Colossians and from this epistle to Philemon, that many of his other companions are with him when this epistle is written. This shows that Timothy was Paul’s designated successor in his ministry.
The pronoun, referring to “your house”, certainly refers to none other than Philemon himself since he is the primary recipient of the epistle. We do not otherwise know Apphia, and we only know Archippos from the mention of him at the end of Colossians.
4 I give thanks to my God, always making mention of you in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have for [א and the MT have “towards”] Prince Yahshua [D has “Prince Yahshua Christ”] and for all the saints, 6 how the partnership of your faith becomes effective in knowledge of all goodness of that which is with us [א has “you”] in Christ. 7 For I have had [D has “we have had”; the MT “we have”; the text follows א, A, C, and 048] much joy [the MT has “favor”] and encouragement by your love, seeing that the hearts [literally “bowels”, as we refer to the heart, the ancient Greeks saw the bowels as the source of feelings and affections] of the saints are refreshed by you, brother.
As we have seen in chapter 1 of the epistle to the Colossians, while it is evident that Paul had never actually met Philemon, nevertheless Epaphras had taken a report from Colossae back to the apostles in Rome, and being a Colossian himself must have been able to inform Paul of Philemon’s character and piety. Having a Christian assembly at his home, Philemon must have been a pious man to take such a risk at a time when Christians were being persecuted.
8 On which account having great liberty among the Anointed to enjoin to you that which is fitting, 9 through love still more I exhort, being such as Paul the elder but now also a prisoner of Christ Yahshua, 10 I exhort you concerning my child, whom I have begotten in these bonds [C and the MT have “these bonds of mine”; the text follows א, A, and D], Onasimos 11 whom at one time was useless to you but now is useful to you and to me.
Here Paul asserts a position of authority over Philemon on the basis that he is an elder of the Christian assemblies. Such deference to elders was given traditionally by the ancient Israelites, and by those of the apostolic age as well, as we may see in Acts chapters 11, 14 and 15. That this tradition should have been handed down in this manner is evident, for example, in 1 Timothy chapter 5 where Paul wrote “17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” However it is also evident that elders were recognized by the assemblies themselves, and not appointed over them by outsiders. (See Misconceptions Concerning Paul and the Church.)
Somehow, while he was a prisoner in Rome, Paul must have encountered Onesimus and brought him to the Gospel of Christ. How that happened may only be conjectured, and we shall not venture to do that here. As the apostle John had affectionately called those whom he had addressed in his epistles “my little children”, Paul likewise saw those to whom he brought the Gospel as his children, as he used that same phrase to describe the Galatians (Galatians 4:19), and as he had written to the Corinthians that, “Although you may have a myriad of tutors among the Anointed, certainly not many fathers; indeed in Christ Yahshua through the good message I have begotten you.” (1 Corinthians 4:15). In that same manner Paul says here that he had “begotten” Onesimus “in these bonds”.
[As a digression, even this does not give a Catholic priest the right to the title of “father”. There is no lawful Catholic priest in the first place because to the Christian, all men have the obligation to fulfill the role of priest.]
So we find that Onesimus was an escaped slave who belonged to Philemon. For that reason, because he was an escaped slave, he was useless to Philemon, as Paul says in verse 11. However Onesimus, as a Christian who had the ability to work for the cause of the gospel, is no longer useless, but rather for that purpose he is useful to both Philemon and Paul.
Paul desired that Philemon free Onesimus from his duties as a slave. But Paul, while he claims a right to assert such authority within the assemblies, so as to command Philemon to release Onesimus for him, nevertheless refuses to exercise that right. Rather, Paul is recognizing Philemon’s own rights over Onesimus as his slave, and for the work of the ministry Paul is pleading with Philemon to free Onesimus on the basis of Christian love and what he may do in turn for the Gospel of Christ. So in reference to Onesimus, Paul continues:
12 Whom I have sent back to you, he that is my own affections [or perhaps “the object of my own affections” after our English idiom],
The Codex Ephraemi Syri (C) has verse 12 to read “he that is my own affections, you must assist,”; with slight differences, the Codices Claromontanus (D), Vaticanus Graecus 2061 (048) and the Majority Text have “and you must assist he that is my own affections”; the text follows the Codices Sinaiticus (א) and Alexandrinus (A).
13 whom I have wished to detain for myself in order that in behalf of you he may minister for me in the bonds of the good message. [As opposed to the bonds of slavery.] 14 But without your accord I desire to do nothing, in order that your good would not be as if by force, but voluntarily.
Onesimus, being a Christian, deferred to Paul’s wishes and voluntarily returned to his master, going to Colossae with Tychicus for the delivery of these epistles and therefore going back to his master. Paul asserts that he may have simply retained Onesimus to employ him in the service of the Gospel, but instead he returned him because rightfully, the choice belonged to Philemon himself. Paul continues:
15 Perhaps for this reason he was separated for a time [literally hour], that you would hold onto him forever, 16 no longer as a bondman but more than a bondman, a beloved brother - especially to me - but by how much more to you, both in the flesh, and with the Prince? [Neither the NA27 nor the NA28 punctuate this verse as a question. However the King James Version and others agree.]
Here Paul appeals to Philemon in an allegory illustrating the greater Christian purpose: that having a fellow-worker in the Gospel for eternity is better than having a slave only for the duration of this temporal life, hoping that Philemon chooses the latter.
17 Therefore if you have me for a partner, receive him as me.
Just as Christ had said to His disciples, “He who receives you receives Me”, Paul is asking Philemon to receive the escaped slave Onesimus as he would receive Paul himself.
18 And if he has wronged you or owes anything, this may be accounted to me [the MT has “this you may account to me”; the text follows א, A, C, D, and 048].
Not only does Paul leave it to Philemon to decide to free Onesimus, but also offers to recompense him for any damages he has suffered through Onesimus. With this it should be evident, that even an elder of the Christian church of like stature as Paul of Tarsus would not force a Christian man to suffer loss with the loss of a slave.
This alone should have been the example in our recent history, and all those who went to war over the issue of slavery had absolutely no Christian moral grounds for fighting such a war. They really went to war because they abrogated their Christian responsibility as priests to their hired pastors, and their pastors were willing dupes for those worldly economic powers that wanted to destroy the Old South.
19 I Paul have written in my own hand, I will make atonement, in order that I do not say to you that you also owe yourself to me.
Paul was not pressing Philemon for anything, and the proof would lie in Paul’s willingness to remunerate Philemon for any loss. Rather, Paul hoped that Philemon conceded Onesimus voluntarily.
20 Yes, brother, I could profit from you by authority; you among the Anointed must refresh my heart.
From Matthew chapter 5: “41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”
The Codex Claromontanus (D) appends the words ἐν κυρίῳ to the end of verse 15, for which we may write the final clause of the verse “...in order that I do not say to you that you also owe yourself to me by authority.” Likewise, in verse 20 the phrase “by authority” is from the same Greek words ἐν κυρίῳ. In a different context, the same phrase is rendered “with the Prince”. The Greek word κύριος (Strong’s # 2962) is primarily “of persons, having power or authority over, lord or master of”, and is not always a Substantive, used as a noun, where it is most often translated as “lord”, but here is usually “prince” in reference to Christ.
21 Being confident in your obedience I have written to you, knowing that you would do even more than the things I say. 22 Now at once also prepare for me a lodging. For I hope that through your prayers I am released as a favor to you.
Paul expressed confidence that Philemon would act properly as a Christian and release Onesimus according to Paul’s request, however Paul was not forcing Philemon to part with his property, as Onesimus was his slave.
Here Paul also confidently expresses the hope that he would soon be released from imprisonment, something which certainly never happened in spite of the claims of the 4th century church historian Eusebius, who with no other evidence used one particular passage in the epistles to Timothy as proof of his assertion. We have addressed that issue in the past, and refuted it, and we shall do so once again when we present 2 Timothy here in the future, if Yahweh God is willing.
23 Greeting you are Epaphras my fellow prisoner in Christ Yahshua, 24 Markos, Aristarchos, Demas and Loukas my colleagues. 25 The favor of our [א wants “our”] Prince Yahshua Christ is with your spirits.
The Codices Sinaiticus (א), Ephraemi Syri (C), and the Majority Text append ἀμήν, or truly, to the end of the epistle. The text follows the third century papyrus P87 and the Codices Alexandrinus (A), Claromontanus (D) and Vaticanus Graecus 2061 (048).
And here we see the same people with Paul as those in the salutation at the end of the epistle to the Colossians. These epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon were the last epistles written by Paul of Tarsus. As Luke is with him when they were written, it is Luke who tells us at the end of the last chapter of Acts that “Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him”. There is nothing in the ministry of Paul which can be shown to follow these two epistles chronologically, in spite of the claims of Eusebius.
Writing 2 Timothy, Paul asks the younger apostle to come to him in Rome, and he says in the last chapter of the epistle “You must be eager to come to me quickly” and “taking Markos, bring him with yourself, for he is useful to me for the ministry.” So we see here and in Colossians that both Timothy and Mark are with Paul when these epistles are written. Paul then says “Demas has left me behind”, where we have seen that Demas must have returned, and he also says “Loukas alone is with me” and “I have sent Tuchikos to Ephesos”, where here we also see that Luke is still with Paul, and that Tychicus has also returned from Ephesus by the time this epistle was written, after having delivered the epistle to the Ephesians written not long before 2 Timothy was written.
So following all of these last of Paul’s epistles closely, we can indeed see rather clearly the order in which they were written, and we can also see that all of them were before these epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon were written. However Paul expressed confidence to the end that he would be released from his imprisonment, in spite of the fact that he had already confided otherwise to Timothy, where he said “For I am already offered and the time of my departure approaches. Having struggled the good struggle, I finished the race. I kept the faith.” Colossians and Philemon being the last of Paul’s surviving epistles, it was not much longer until the time of his execution at the hands of Caesar Nero.