onesimus Summary and Overview
Bible Dictionaries at a Glance
onesimus in Easton's Bible Dictionary
useful, a slave who, after robbing his master Philemon (q.v.) at
Colosse, fled to Rome, where he was converted by the apostle
Paul, who sent him back to his master with the epistle which
bears his name. In it he beseeches Philemon to receive his slave
as a "faithful and beloved brother." Paul offers to pay to
Philemon anything his slave had taken, and to bear the wrong he
had done him. He was accompanied on his return by Tychicus, the
bearer of the Epistle to the Colossians (Philemon 1:16, 18).
The story of this fugitive Colossian slave is a remarkable
evidence of the freedom of access to the prisoner which was
granted to all, and "a beautiful illustration both of the
character of St. Paul and the transfiguring power and righteous
principles of the gospel."
onesimus in Smith's Bible Dictionary
(profitable, useful), the name of the servant or slave in whose behalf Paul wrote the Epistle to Philemon. He was a native, or certainly an inhabitant, of Colosse. #Col 4:9| (A.D. 58.) He fled from his master end escaped to Rome, where he was led to embrace the gospel through Paul's instrumentality. After his conversion the most happy and friendly relations sprung up between the teacher and disciple. Whether Paul desired his presence as a personal attendant or as a minister of the gospel is not certain from verse 13 of the epistle.
onesimus in Schaff's Bible Dictionary
ONES'IMUS (useful), a slave of Philemon in whose behalf Paul wrote the Epistle to Philemon. Col 4:9. He seems to have fled from his master, Phile 15, but returned to him a Christian. His conversion was brought about through Paul at Rome. Phile 10. Tradition says he was afterward made bishop of Beraea, in Macedonia.
onesimus in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
("profitable".) Philemon's runaway slave, of Colosse (Colossians 4:9, "one of you"), in whose behalf Paul wrote the epistle to Philemon: Philemon 1:10-16. Slaves were numerous in Phrygia, from whence Paul dwells on the relative duties of masters and slaves (Colossians 3:22; Colossians 4:1). Paul's "son in the faith," begotten spiritually while Paul was a prisoner at Rome, where Onesimus hoped to escape detection amidst its vast population. Onesimus doubtless had heard the gospel before going to Rome, in Philemon's household, for at Paul's third missionary tour (Acts 18:23) there were in Phrygia believers. Once unprofitable, by conversion Onesimus became really what his name implies, "profitable" to his master, to Paul, and to the church of God; "the faithful and beloved brother" of the apostle and of his master; godliness is profitable for both worlds, and makes men so (1 Timothy 4:8). Sent with Tychicus his safeguard, and put under the spiritual protection of the whole Colossian church and of Philemon. He probably had defrauded his master, as well as run away (1 Timothy 18); Paul offered to make good the loss.
The Apostolic Canons (73) make him to have been emancipated by Philemon. The Apostolic Constitutions (7:46) make him to have been consecrated bishop of Berea by Paul, and martyred at Rome. Ignatius (Ep. ad Ephes. i.) makes an Onesimus the Bishop of the Ephesians. Instead of violently convulsing society by stirring up slaves against their masters, Christianity introduces love, a principle sure to undermine slavery at last; "by christianizing the master, Christianity enfranchises the slave" (Wordsworth). Onesimus so endeared himself to Paul by Christian sympathy and by personal services that he calls him "mine own bowels," i.e. vitals: he bore for him a parent's intense affection for a child. Paul would gladly have kept him to minister to him, but delicate regard to Philemon's rights, and self denying love, made him waive his claims on Philemon and Onesimus (Philemon 1:13-14; Philemon 1:19). Onesimus "was parted" from his master "for a season" to become his "forever" in Christian bonds. In Philemon 1:20 he plays again on the name, "let me have 'profit' (Greek onaimen) of thee in the Lord," "refresh my bowels," i.e. gratify my feelings by granting this.