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Biblical People

Biblical People: Philemon

The name Philemon only appears once in the Bible. It’s in the letter from Paul to his friend. We refer to this letter by the name of its recipient: Philemon.

Paul opens his letter affirming Philemon’s actions and character. 

Then Paul gets to the purpose of his letter. It’s a big ask.

It seems Philemon is well-off: the church meets in his home, and he owns slaves. One of his slaves is Onesimus. Onesimus runs away, meets Paul—who tells him about Jesus, and becomes a believer.

Paul desires to see Onesimus and Philemon’s estranged relationship made right—because of Jesus. Paul encourages both to do the right thing: for Onesimus to return to his master regardless of the risk of punishment and for Philemon to welcome him back without penalty. 

Reconciliation is the reason Paul writes his letter to Philemon. In doing so, Paul doesn’t address the issue of slavery. Instead he focuses on the restoration of a relationship.

Paul can assume this role of reconciler because he has a personal connection with both parties. This history gives him a credibility that an outsider would have lacked, allowing him to positively influence them both.

Though we don’t know if Onesimus is restored into right relationship with Philemon, given the strong emotional appeal Paul makes and his logic that supports it, we have good reason to expect a joyous reunion.

Has God put us in a position to reconcile an estranged relationship? What should we do about it?

[Discover more about Philemon in Philemon 1:1–25.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.