INTERNAL EVIDENCE. The style, thought, and doctrine agree with Paul's. The incidental allusions confirm his authorship. Paley (Hor. Paul. 7) instances the mention of the object of Epaphroditus' journey to Rome, his sickness; the Philippian contribution to Paul's wants (Philemon 1:7; Philemon 2:25-30; Philemon 4:10-18); Timothy's having been long with Paul at Philippi (Philemon 1:1; Philemon 2:19); Paul's being for long a prisoner at Rome (Philemon 1:12-14; Philemon 2:17-28); his willingness to die for Christ (Philemon 1:23, compare 2 Corinthians 5:8); the Philippians having seen his maltreatment at Philippi (Philemon 1:29-30; Philemon 2:1-2).
EXTERNAL EVIDENCE. Polycarp (ad Philipp. 3 and 11, A.D. 107); so that Christians who heard Paul's epistle read for the first time may have spoken with Polycarp. Marcion in Tertullian (A D. 140) acknowledges its authenticity. So the Muratorian Fragment; Irenaeuns (adv. Haer, 4:18, section 4); Clemens Alex. (Paedagog. 1, 1:10); the epistle to the churches of Lyons and Vienne (A. D. 177) in Eusebius (H. E., 5:2); Tertullian (Resurr. Carnis, 23); Origen (Celsus, 1, 3:122); Cyprian (Testim. against the Jews, 3:39).
OBJECT. To thank them for contributions sent by Epaphroditus, who in returning takes back the epistle. Also to express Christian sympathy, and to exhort to imitation of Christ in humility and lowly love, instead of existing dissensions, as between Euodias and Syntyche (Philemon 4:2), and to warn against Judaizers. In this epistle alone are no positive censures; no doctrinal error or schism had as yet sprung up.
I. Address: his state as a prisoner, theirs, his sending Epaphroditus to them (Philippians 1; 2). Epaphroditus probably was a presbyter of the Philippian church, who cheered Paul in iris imprisonment by bringing the Philippian token of love and liberality. By the fatigues of the journey that "brother, companion in labour, and fellow soldier" brought on himself dangerous sickness (Philemon 2:25-30). But now being well he "longed" to return to his Philippian flock and relieve them of their anxiety about him. So Paul takes the opportunity of sending an epistle by him.
II. Caution against Judaizers, contrasting his own former legalism with his present following Christ as his all (Philippians 3).
III. Admonitions to individuals and to the church, thanks for seasonable aid, concluding benedictions (Philippians 4). Paul writes from Rome in his first imprisonment (Acts 28:16; Acts 28:20; Acts 28:30-31). Compare Philemon 4:22, "Caesar's household"; Philemon 1:13, "the palace" (proetorium, i.e. the barrack of the Proetorian bodyguard attached to "the palace" of Nero). (See PALACE He was in custody of the Praetorian prefect, in "bonds" (Philemon 1:12-14). It was toward the close of the first imprisonment, for
(1) he expects his cause to be immediately decided (Philemon 2:23).
(2) Enough time had elapsed for the Philippians to hear of his imprisonment, to send Epaphroditus, and to hear of his arrival and sickness, and send word to Rome of their distress (Philemon 2:26).
(3) Epistles to the Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon had already been written from Rome; for Luke is no longer with him (Philemon 2:20), otherwise he would salute them as having formerly laboured among them; but in Colossians 4:14 he was with Paul (Philemon 1:24). In Ephesians 6:19-20 he is free to preach; but, here in Philemon 1:13-18 he dwells on his "bonds"; not Paul himself but others preach and make his imprisonment known; instead of anticipating release (Philemon 1:22) he knows not but that death is near.
(4) A long time has elapsed since his imprisonment began, for his" bonds" known far and wide have furthered the gospel (Philemon 1:13).
(5) His imprisonment is more rigorous (compare Acts 28:16; Acts 28:30-31 with Philemon 1:29-30; Philemon 2:27). In the second year of it (A.D. 62) Burrhue, the Praetorian prefect ("captain of the guard"), died. Nero, having divorced Octavia and married Poppaea a Jewish proselytess (who then caused Octavia to be murdered), promoted Tigellinus, the promoter of the marriage, a wicked monster, to the Praetorian prefecture. Paul was then removed from his hired house into the Praetorium or barrack of the Praetorian guards attached to the palace, for stricter custody. Hence he writes, doubtful of the issue (Philemon 2:17; Philemon 3:11). From the smaller Praetorian bodyguard at the palace the guards, who had been chained to his hand before, would carry the report of his "bonds" and strange story to the general Praetorian camp which Tiberius established N. of the city, outside the walls.
DATE. He arrived at Rome February A.D. 61. The" two whole years in his own hired house" (Acts 28:30) ended February A.D. 63. This epistle would be immediately after, spring or summer A.D. 63. God averted the danger. Tigellinus thought Paul beneath his notice. Nero's favorite, Pallas, brother of Felix, died, and so another source of danger passed away. Alate date is also implied in the mention (Philemon 1:1) of "bishop presbyters and deacons"; the church had already assumed the order laid down in the pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus.
STYLE. Abrupt and fervent, passing from one theme to another in strong feeling (Philemon 2:18-19; Philemon 2:24-25; Philemon 2:30; Philemon 3:1-15). Nowhere else does he use such warm expressions. He lays aside the official tone, and his title "apostle," to make them feel he regards them as friends and equals. Like his midnight song of praise in the Philippian prison, this epistle from his Roman confinement has a joyous tone throughout. At Philemon 4:1 he seems at a loss for words to express all the warmth of his love for them: "my brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved."
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