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Philemon, Theology of

Philemon, Theology of

The letter to Philemon is also addressed to Apphia and Archippus (v. 2 ). That Philemon is the intended primary recipient, however, is clear from the fact that, apart from the conclusion of the letter (vv. Philemon 1:22 Philemon 1:25 ), which uses the second-person plural pronoun (referring to all three addressees), the rest of the letter employs the second-person singular pronoun (Gk. su [suv] ) in addressing the primary recipient, who is surely Philemon.

Paul's reference to the "church in your (sing.) home" (v. 2 ) clearly indicates that a single household is intended. Therefore, these three individuals were probably related. Perhaps Apphia was the wife of Philemon and Archippus was his son.

The letter of Philemon is little more than a note in length, consisting of only 335 words in Greek, and hardly more than a memo in nature. Although the letter contains no theological arguments, it is written from a definite theological presupposition centering on Onesimus's new postconversion relationship (v. 10 ) in the flesh and in the Lord (v. 16 ). The theological premise is that upon conversion even a slave becomes an equally important part of the body of Christ, the Christian family; the premise is that, in Christ, there is no longer slave nor free (cf. Gal 3:28 ). Paul had earlier written to the Corinthian believers that whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ ( 1 Cor 7:22 ). In Philemon, as in the beginning of every letter in the Pauline corpus except Titus, the readers are reminded that every Christian is a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This reality applied with equal validity to both Philemon and Onesimus, to master as well as slave. Paul's ultimate desire was that a new sociological relationship would emerge based on this reciprocal spiritual reality.

John McRay

See also Paul the Apostle

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Philemon, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.