The Slave Who Ran Away

About this letter

Paul was a great Christian teacher. He was in prison, at either Rome or Ephesus, when he wrote this letter to Philemon. (Rome was a very important city at that time, because the king of Rome ruled many other countries. Ephesus was a city in the south and west part of the country that is called Turkey now.) Paul was in prison because he taught people about Jesus Christ. We think that Paul wrote this letter in the year AD 60 or 61. That was about 30 years after Jesus died.

Philemon was a Christian man who lived in the town called Colossae. Colossae was also in the south and west part of the country that is called Turkey now. Philemon had become a Christian because Paul had taught him about Christ. Philemon was a rich man who was the master of a house. A church (a group of Christians) met regularly in his house. A man called Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves. We think that Onesimus had robbed Philemon. He may have taken some of Philemon’s money or other things. Then Onesimus had run away from Colossae.

Paul was in prison in his own house. People came to visit him, and he taught them about Jesus. Onesimus met Paul and Paul taught him about Jesus. As a result, Onesimus believed Jesus and he became a Christian. After that, Paul wrote this letter and he gave it to Onesimus. Then he sent Onesimus back to Philemon at Colossae. Paul wanted Onesimus to give the letter to Philemon.

In his letter, Paul asks Philemon to forgive Onesimus. (To forgive means that you choose to forget the wrong things that someone has done.) Paul asks Philemon to say ‘welcome’ to Onesimus, as another Christian, who is like his brother. This was very important for Onesimus. It was difficult for Onesimus to return to Philemon. He had taken some of Philemon’s things and he was still one of Philemon’s slaves. Philemon could have killed Onesimus because of what he had done.

Tychicus was a friend of Paul and he was also a Christian. Tychicus was taking a letter from Paul to the Christians at Colossae, so he travelled with Onesimus.

Chapter 1

1 I, Paul, am writing this letter. I am in prison because I am Christ Jesus’s servant. Timothy, who is like our brother, is here with me also.

We are writing this letter to you, Philemon. You are our friend, that we love. And you work on behalf of Christ, as we do. 2 We say ‘hello’ also to you, Apphia, who are like a sister to us. And we say ‘hello’ to you, Archippus. You work like a soldier on behalf of Christ, as we do. We say ‘hello’ also to the group of Christians who meet in your home.

3 We pray that God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ will continue to be very kind to you. We pray that they will cause you to be without trouble inside yourselves.

Paul thanks God because of Philemon

4 When I pray for you, I thank my God because of you always. 5 I thank God because people tell me good things about you. You love and believe the Lord Jesus. And you love all God’s people. 6 I pray that you may always be ready to talk to other people about Christ. Talk to them about what you believe. So then you will understand more completely every good thing that is ours because of Christ. 7 My friend, you have been kind to God’s people. You have helped them and you have made them happy. I know that you love Jesus and all God’s people. That makes me very happy. And it makes me feel much braver and stronger.

Verse 6 It is not completely clear what this verse means. It could also mean something like this: ‘Many good things are ours because of Christ. I pray that you will understand all those good things more and more completely. So then you will really be able to help God’s people. You will talk to them about what you believe. And so they will know how great Christ is.’

Paul asks Philemon to help Onesimus

8 There is something that you ought to do. I could tell you that you must do it. I could tell you that clearly, with the authority that comes from Christ. 9 But I am not telling you that you must do it. Instead, I am asking you to do it because you love people. I am Paul, and I am an old man. Also, I am in prison now because I am Christ Jesus’s servant. 10 So I am asking you on behalf of Onesimus, who is like my own child. I taught him about Jesus while I was in prison. And now he has become really alive because he believes Jesus. So he is like my own child. 11 Before, Onesimus did not help you. But now he can help both you and me.

Verse 10 The name Onesimus means ‘a person who helps other people’.

12 I love Onesimus so much that he is like part of me. But I am sending him back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him here with me while I am in prison. I am in prison because I taught people the good news about Jesus. If you were here, you would have helped me. I know that. And I wanted Onesimus to help me on your behalf. 14 But I wanted to ask you first. I did not want to do anything unless you agreed. I did not want you to think that you had to help me. I did not want you to help me because you thought like that. Instead, I wanted you to help me because you really want to help.

15 Perhaps God let Onesimus leave you for a short time so that you could have him back for always. 16 You can have him back again not only as your slave. Now he can be something much better than a slave. He can be like a brother, that you love. I love Onesimus very much. But you will love him even more than I do. You will love him as a slave and you will love him also as a brother. He is like a brother to you because you and he are both the Lord’s people.

17 I am your friend, who works with you. If you think about me as a friend like that, then please say ‘welcome’ to Onesimus. Be happy that he has come back to you. And be kind to him. If I came to meet you, you would say ‘welcome’ to me. And you would be happy to meet me. Be happy about him in the same way. 18 If Onesimus has done anything wrong to you, I will make it right again. If he ought to pay you some money, I will pay the money to you on his behalf. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay the money back to you. But remember how very much you yourself have received from me. You have become really alive by Jesus Christ because I taught you about him.

20 So, my friend, I really want you to help me, because we are both the Lord’s. Help me, so that I can feel stronger and happier. Help me because we are both united to Christ. 21 I write to you because I am sure about you. You will do what I ask. I am sure about that. Also, I know that you will do even more than this.

Paul finishes his letter

22 I want to ask you one more thing. Please prepare a room in your home where I can stay. I know that all of you are praying about me. I hope that, as a result, they will let me go out of prison. Then I will be able to visit you again.

23 Epaphras is also here in prison with me because he is Christ Jesus’s servant. Epaphras says ‘hello’ to you. 24 Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, who work with me, say ‘hello’ to you also.

25 I pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will continue to be very kind to all of you.

Word List

AD 50 means the year that was 50 years after Jesus came, and so on.
master; another name for God. It means that he is greater than everyone else.

Book List

A. Marshall ~ The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament

Peter T. O’Brien ~ Word Biblical Commentary Volume 44: Colossians, Philemon

Various Bible versions


© Wycliffe Associates (UK), 1997-2003

This version published September 2003

The translated Bible text has been through Advanced Checking.