1. Introduction, greeting and thanksgiving, v1-7

Paul gives thanks for Philemon's love and faith


In the opening verses, Paul first identifies himself as the sender of the letter, then identifies the intended recipient, and then extends a greeting before offering thanksgiving and prayer. "He thanks God for Philemon's love and faith (v5). He prays that the relationship they have with each other through their common faith in Christ will lead to even greater blessings for them (v6). And he assures Philemon that his love has brought joy and encouragement to him and to other Christians (v7)", Pfitzner.


i] Context:

Paul's letter to Philemon is a simple uncomplicated personal letter from Paul to a friend, written on behalf of a runaway slave named Onesimus. After an introductory greeting, v1-3, Paul moves to a thanksgiving and prayer for Philemon, v4-7. We then come to the body of the letter which consists of a general appeal on behalf of Onesimus, v8-16, followed by more specific requests, v17-21. The letter concludes with some personal notes, greetings and blessing, v22-25.


ii] Background:

Onesimus is a runaway slave who has somehow met Paul in prison, is converted and, and although he would be of great assistance to Paul, is now encouraged by Paul to return to Philemon his master. Paul knows Philemon well; he is a believer and friend living in Colossae. Paul therefore writes to Philemon to encourage him to welcome Onesimus back, no longer as a slave and a runaway, but rather a brother and fellow worker of the Lord. This is a delicate matter, given the harsh treatment under law that can be handed out to a runaway salve.

Although there is debate about the authorship of this letter, it seems beyond dispute that it comes from the hand of Paul the apostle. It might have been written by him while in jail at Ephesus, but is more likely part of the "captivity letters", written during his Roman imprisonment around the early 60s.


iii] Structure: The introductory section:

Addresser, addressee, v1-2;

Greeting, v3;

Thanksgiving and prayer, v4-6;

Affirmation, v7.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul's prime purpose in this letter is to seek a favour from his friend Philemon, and so it can be argued that Paul's thanksgiving to God for the love and faith of Philemon is simply a way of softening him up before putting the hard-word on him - a kind of "how to win friends and influence people" technique. As O'Brien puts it, the introduction serves the "function of preparing for the central issue of the letter." Yet, giving thanks to God for his readers in the introduction of this letter is standard practice for Paul (for some reason, not found in First Timothy). Philemon has demonstrated his love for God's people, a fruit of faith in the Lord Jesus, and Paul not only affirms this fact before God, but happily seeks a further act of love by receiving back into his household, not just a runaway slave, but a brother incorporated into Christ.


v] Exposition: A simple verse-by-verse exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - v1

An appreciation for Philemon's love, v1-7: i] Usual letter introduction - from / to, v1-2. In the opening greeting Paul declares that he is a prisoner, and by this he means he is actually in prison. Paul is a prisoner "of Christ", which probably means "because of his service to Christ." The letter is addressed to Philemon who is described as: a) "a dear friend", beloved, ie., he belongs to a community of mutual love - right from the beginning Paul establishes the basis upon which his request will be made; b) and a fellow-worker - Philemon has laboured in the gospel with Paul.

PauloV (oV) "Paul" - paul [a prisoner]. Nominative absolute. No reference to "apostle" as this is a personal letter. Lightfoot suggests Paul is not wanting to command Philemon. "It was a proud claim to be in prison for the Lord", Moule.

Cristou Ihsou "of Christ Jesus" - of christ jesus. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, "belonging to Christ Jesus."

TimoqeoV (oV) "Timothy" - [and] timothy [the (our) brother]. Nominative absolute. Obviously Timothy is with Paul, although not necessarily in prison with Paul, and is known to Philemon.

Filhmoni (wn onoV) dat. "Philemon" - to philemon. Dative of recipient / addressee.

tw/ agaphtw/ kai sunergw/ "[our] dear friend and fellow worker" - the beloved and co-worker [of us]. Dative in agreement with "Philemon". Possibly a hendiadys "our dear fellow worker", NJB, either way the personal pronoun applies to both "beloved / dear friend" and "fellow worker". Granville Sharp's rule applies in this phrase.


The letter is also addressed to other "fellow-campaigners." So, the members of Philemon's house-church are also greeted, quite possibly members of Philemon's family. It is most likely that churches in the first century were extensions of a believing family, cf., Col.4:15.

Apfia/ (a) dat. "to Apphia" - [and] to apphia. Dative of recipient / addressee. This person is unknown. Often suggested that she is Philemon's wife, but there is no evidence to support this view.

th/ adelfh/ (h) dat. "our sister" - the (our) sister. Dative, standing in apposition to "Apphia".

Arcippw/ (oV) dat "Archippus" - [and] to archippus [the (our) fellow soldier]. Dative of recipient. Identified as a "fellow soldier", ie. a co-worker for the gospel. Again, this person is unknown. Often suggested that he is Philemon's son, but there is no evidence to support this view. "Our fellow Christian soldier", Barclay.

kat (kata) "[to the church] that meets in [your home]" - [to the church] according to. The prepositional phrase formed by kata, here distributive, "according to your house", functions adjectivally, limiting "church", so "the church which meets in your house."

sou gen. "your [house]" - [the house] of you. Possessive genitive. Technically referring to the last addressee, namely Archippus, but usually taken as referring to the main (first) addressee, namely Philemon. Note that "house" may be household and thus referring to the congregation made up of Philemon's / Archippus' household. Usually regarded as referring to the Colossian church which, as was the practice at the time, was meeting in a house.


ii] Usual Pauline greeting in the form of a prayer; "may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace", TEV, v3. The lack of articles is most likely due to the liturgical form of the sentence.

cariV (iV ewV) "grace" - grace. Nominative absolute. The usual Greek greeting, ie., "greeting", although taking on new depth due to the influence of Christian theology.

uJmin pro. "to you" - to you. Dative of interest, advantage.

eirhnh (h) "peace" - [and] well-being, peace. Nominative absolute. The usual Jewish greeting, ie., "peace be with you", but again taking on new depth due to the influence of Christian theology.

apo + gen. "from" - from [god the father of us and]. Expressing source / origin. From both God and Christ / messiah. Not "God the Father", but "God who is a father to us / is fatherly", ie., the statement recognises the fatherhood of God rather than titling God as "the Father."

Ihsou Cristou (oV) gen. "[Lord] Jesus Christ" - [lord] jesus christ. "Jesus Christ" stands in apposition to "Lord" - Jesus Christ = Jesus the Christ = Jesus the messiah, God's anointed one.


iii] Thanksgiving and prayer, v4-6. Paul thanks God because of Philemon's faith in Christ, and its inevitable consequence, namely his love of the brotherhood. The thanksgiving in the Greek text is made up of a single sentence. It consists of a main clause, "I give thanks to my God always", supported by two participial clauses, "making remembrance of you at my prayers" (possibly temporal, so Moffatt; "when I mention") and "hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and to all the saints" (probably causal, as NIV; "because I hear ..."). This is followed up with a purpose clause in v6 ("the most obscure verse in this letter", Moule), "in order that .......", so modifying the modified verb "I thank ... making mention ....", v4, giving the sense "praying as I do in order that the fellowship of your faith ......"

eucaristw (eucaristew) pres. "I [always] thank" - i give thanks to. Paul constantly gives thanks when he remembers Philemon in his prayers.

tw/ qew/ (oV) dat. "[my] God" - the god [of me]. Dative of direct object after the verb "to give thanks to."

pantote adv. "always" - always. Temporal adverb. Probably going with "I thank", as NIV, but possibly with "making mention"; "I always make mention of you ..."

poioumenoV (poiew) pres. part. "as I [remember]" - making, doing [remembrance]. The participle is adverbial, usually treated as temporal; "when I mention you in my prayers", Moffatt. The noun meneia can mean either "remembrance" or "mention", so "when I remember /mention you in my prayers."

sou gen. pro. "you" - of you. Genitive is verbal, objective; "remember you", Campbell.

epi + gen. "in [my prayers]" - in [the prayers]. Temporal use of the preposition; "at, at the time of [my prayers]". "Upon the occasion of [my prayers]", Robertson.

mou gen. pro. "my" - of me. The genitive may be treated as adjectival, possessive, or verbal, subjective.


akouwn (akouw) pres. part. "because I hear about" - hearing. The participle is adverbial, probably causal, as NIV. The present tense probably implies contemporaneous action. Paul expresses the reason for his thanksgiving, namely, because he has heard of the faith and love that Philemon has for the brotherhood.

sou gen pro. "your" - of you. Emphatic by position. The genitive may be taken as adjectival, possessive, indicating the possession of a derivative characteristic, "your faith ..... and love ...", or verbal, subjective, "the faith .... and love .... exercised by you."

proV ..... eiV "[faith] in [the Lord Jesus and your love] for [all the saints]" - [love and faith which you have] to, toward [the lord jesus and] into [all the saints]. The NIV / TEV has taken this clause as an a-b-b-a chiasmus, so Lightfoot, Moule, O'Brien, Fitzmyer, ie., "faith is directed to the Lord Jesus, and the love extends to all the saints", Wilson. Lightfoot notes that the use of the different prepositions serves to indicate a "desire to separate the two clauses, as they refer to different words in the preceding part of the sentence." None-the-less, the prepositions carry similar meanings and it is possible to read the clause as it appears in the Gk. "for I hear of your love and loyalty (faith = faithfulness) to the Lord Jesus and to all the saints", Moffatt (cf., NAB, REB, NJB), so Dunn. Love and faith is certainly the sum of the Christian lifestyle, although "faith" toward the saints is a rather strange statement, but then it may well mean "faithfulness" here, so Houlden, Bruce. Campbell suggests that the two prepositions may intend to express reference / respect. Possibly "I hear of your love and of the faith which you have towards the Lord Jesus and which you manifest towards all the saints", Weymouth, but the NIV makes better sense.


Paul explains the focus of his prayers for Philemon. Paul desires that Philemon's fellowshipping with other believers, a sharing which is the product of his faith in Christ, might nourish knowledge and lead to a closer union with Christ, and this particularly for those who gather with him in his house-church.

oJpwV + subj. "I pray that ..." - so that / in order that / that. The intended sense of this conjunction is unclear. Many commentators think that it comes with an assumed verb "to pray", and so with the subjunctive genhtai, "may become" (rather than an expected infinitive) introduces a dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing the content of Paul's prayer, his giving thanks and making mention, so NIV. Sometimes o{pwV is used instead of w{ste, and this with the subjunctive forms a consecutive clause, expressing result, ie., the result of the love and faith which Philemon has, namely "his generosity in making his house available for the meetings of the local Christian community", Wilson (developing the argument of Schenk). Yet, the construction would usually form a purpose clause, "in order that", modifying the verb eucaristw, "I thank ..., making mention ....... in order that ....", so Dunn, = "...... and your love for all the saints; praying as I do in order that ......." Of course, such an expression is somewhat circuitous. This being the case we are best to classify o{pwV + subj. as introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Paul is praying; "I pray that ......."

thV pistewV gen. "[sharing your] faith" - [the sharing, participation, fellowship] of faith / faithfulness / the faith [of you has become effective in knowledge / acknowledgment of all the good the (which is) in us for christ]. The genitive is probably adjectival, attributive, "a fellowship which is based on faith", TH, or possibly expressing origin, "which springs from your faith", O'Brien, or verbal, either objective, "sharing in your faith", or subjective, "fellowship inspired by your faith", Zerwick. The number of possible meanings for the key words koinwnia, "sharing / participation / fellowship", and pistewV, "faith / (act of) belief / faithfulness / the faith", prompts numerous interpretations. Moo nicely summarises four "reasonable options":

iPaul is praying that Philemon's participation with Paul / other Christians, a participation in the Christian faith / Christian ministry / act of believing, might be effective. This is the most favoured option among commentators;

iPaul is praying that Philemon's sharing of the Christian faith / personal believing might be effective. This option is favoured by many translations, eg. "your sharing of the faith with others", NAB, as NIV;

iPaul is praying that Philemon's fellowship with other believers, based on faith, might be effective. Wright's favoured option;

iPaul is praying that Philemon's act of fellowship / generosity / liberality might be effective. Lightfoot's favoured option: "I pray that your generosity that springs from your faith ...", O'Brien.

Moo opts for the third option and this does seem best. Paul prays that Philemon's fellowshipping / his Christian fellowship / his mutual participation with other believers, particularly in his house-church, a spiritual and social quality which is based on his ("your") faith in Christ, might be effective ...........

genhtai (ginomai) aor. subj. "may be [active]" - may become [effective, powerful, active, productive]. "May become effective ...", Cassirer.

en + dat. "so that" - in [the knowledge]. The NIV opts for en replacing eiV to form a purpose clause. Probably better taken as instrumental, expressing means "be effective by / through knowledge"; "will bring about a deeper understanding", TEV. The "deeper" derives from the prefix epi serving to intensify "knowledge", but it could serve to particularise the "knowledge", a knowledge of the blessings that are in Christ, so O'Brien, see below. It is also possible to take the preposition en as temporal, "become effective when you perceive", NRSV.

agaqou gen. adj. "of every good thing" - of [all] good. The adjective serves as a substantive, the genitive adjectival, attributive, limiting the knowledge, an "all good" type knowledge, although possibly verbal, objective. This indefinite "good" is neuter so possibly "all good things", but more particularly "all the blessings Christ has given us", CEV.

tou gen. art. "-" - the. The genitive article is an adjectivizer, turning the prepositional phrase "in us" into an attributive modifier limiting the genitive substantive "every good thing"; "every good thing that is in us", ESV.

en hJmin "we have" - in us. Local, expressing space, incorporative union. Variant uJmin, "you", is strong, but usually not accepted. "Among us" = all the blessings that are ours due to our participation together in Christ.

eiV Criston "in Christ" - into christ. The preposition usually expresses movement toward so "incorporation into Christ", Bruce, O'Brien, although the prepositional phrase is somewhat awkward at this point. Moule seems unsure of its function here. See Harris who proposes, goal, purpose, result, location, relation, ......


iv] This verse is usually treated as part of Paul's thanksgiving, v4-6, but it is more likely transitional, serving to move from the thanksgiving to the appeal. Paul has derived much joy and encouragement from Philemon's love of the brotherhood and takes the time to affirm this fact.

gar "-" - for [i had much joy and encouragement / comfort]. Possibly expressing cause; Paul is encouraged to pray ("I thank") for Philemon because he has derived much joy and encouragement from Philemon's love of the brotherhood. Yet, it does seem more likely that it is transitional here and so left untranslated, as NIV.

epi + dat. "[your love]" - upon = with respect to [the love of you]. Reference / respect, "with respect to your love", although Campbell suggests that it is causal here.

oJti "because" - that, because. Possibly introducing a causal clause, as NIV, or ground / basis, although better epexegetic, so Moo, explaining the substance of the prepositional phrase epi th/ agaph/ sou "on account of your love", namely / in that "you have been the means of bringing refreshment to the hearts of those who have dedicated themselves to God's service", Cassirer.

dia + gen. "-" - [the inward parts of the saints have been refreshed] through, by means of [you, brother]. Instrumental, expressing agency. It was through Philemon, or particularly through his acts of love, that the saints were / the brotherhood was refreshed / "cheered", CEV. The term "inward parts" is "used figuratively as the seat of human emotion", Fitzmyer; "inmost feelings / very self", Moule. The verb "have been refreshed" is perfect, expressing the "regular acts" and "lasting effects" of Philemon's Christian walk, O'Brien. The genitive "of the saints" is adjectival, possessive.


Philemon Introduction



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