Monday, June 1, 2020

Notes On The Authorship Of Philemon

Philemon, the Epistle of Paul to, is one of the letters (the others arc Ephesians, Colossians Philippians) which the apostle wrote during his first captivity at Rome. The time when Paul wrote may be fixed with much precision. The apostle, at the close of the letter, expresses a hope of his speedy liberation. Presuming, therefore, that he had good reasons for such an expectation, and that be was not disappointed in the result, we may conclude that this letter was written by him about the year a.d. 63, or early in a.d. 64. Nothing is wanting to confirm the genuineness of the Epistle. The external testimony is unimpeachable. The Canon of Muratori enumerates this as one of Paul's Epistles. Tertullian mentions it, and says that Marcion admitted it into his collection. Origen and Euscbius include it among the universally acknowledged writings of the early Christian times. Nor docs the Epistle it self offer any thing to conflict with this decision. Baur would divest it of its historical character, and make it the personified illustration from some later writer, of the idea that Christianity unites and equalizes in a higher sense those whom outward circumstances have separated. He does not impugn the external evidence. But, not to leave his theory wholly unsupported, he suggests some linguistic objections to Paul's authorship of the letter, which must be pronounced unfounded and frivolous.

Our knowledge respecting the occasion and object of the letter we must derive from declarations or inferences furnished by the letter itself. Paul, so intimately connected with the master of the servant, was anxious naturally to effect a reconciliation between them. Paul used his influence with Onesimus (in ver. 12) to induce him to return to Colossse, and place himself again at the disposal of his master. On his departure, Paul put into his hand this letter as evidence that Onesimus was a true and approved disciple of Christ, and entitled as such to be received not as a servant, but above a servant, as a brother in the faith, as the representative and equal in that respect of the apostle himself, and worthy of the same consideration and love. He intercedes for him as his own child, promises reparation if he had done any wrong, demands for him not only a remission of all penalties, but the reception of sympathy, affection, Christian brotherhood. Such was the purpose and such the argument of the Epistle. The result of the appeal cannot be doubted. It may be assumed from the character of Philemon that the apostle's intercession for Onesimus was not unavailing. Surely n» fitting response to his pleadings for Onesimus could involve less than a cessation of everything oppressive and harsh in his civil condition, as far as it depended on Philemon to mitigate or neutralize the evils of a legalized system of bondage, as well as a cessation of every thing which violated his rights as a Christian. How much further than this an impartial explanation of the Epistle obliges us or authorizes us to go has not yet been settled by any very general consent of interpreters. The Epistle to Philemon has one peculiar feature — its aesthetical character it may be termed — which distinguishes it from all the other epistles. The writer had peculiar difficulties to overcome; but Paul, it is confessed, has shown a degree of self-denial, and a tact in dealing with them, which, in being equal to the occasion, could hardly be greater.

William Smith, A Dictionary Of the Bible Comprising Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, p. 735

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