Epistle to Philemon

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A fragment of a copy of Philemon, c. 250.

The Epistle to Philemon, often written as simply, Philemon is the eighteenth book of the New Testament. It is generally accepted to be the work of Paul the Apostle which would mean that it was written no later than 67 CE. It is written in ancient Greek to a man named Philemon. The letter is a personal correspondence where Paul asks Philemon to be less strict about his slave Onesimus.

Authorship and Dating

Philemon is generally accepted to be written by the Apostle Paul to a man named Philemon. Assuming the letter is authentic, it would have been written no later than 67 CE.

Despite this letter being generally accepted as being Paul's work, it seems to me to be noticeably different:

  • It doesn't cover the varied topics of his genuine works.
  • It doesn't feature the zealous piety of his other works.
  • It's far shorter than his other works, which makes it harder to authenticate.

There are no known original manuscripts. The oldest fragment is Papyrus 87 dated to around 200-300 CE.


Paul writes the letter on behalf of Philemon's slave Onesimus who is in trouble with Philemon, in hopes that Philemon will forgive his slave and treat him better than a slave in the future.


This letter is in the public domain. I have several translations of this book from various bibles, and have read the KJV and NIV translations.



  • Nothing.


  • Paul asks to pay whatever debt the slave Onesimus may have caused to Philemon, which is quite generous, but then he reminds Philemon that he owes his life to Paul, which removes all generosity (1:18-19).
  • Several times Paul explains that he is in chains as a result of his faith (1:9-13), indicating incarceration to a strong degree. Yet, his captors allow Paul to write and send letters, and he even requests Philemon prepare him a guest room, indicating he expects to be released soon (1:22). This is hardly an oppressive prison.


  • While it's nice that Paul is suggesting a slave be treated like a brother, there is no indication from his other writings that he was against slavery as an institution, and several of his disputed works even demand slaves be obedient (Ephesians 6:5-9).