English: unfoldingWord® Translation Notes

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Philemon front

Introduction to Philemon

Part 1: General Introduction

Outline of the Book of Philemon
  1. Paul greets Philemon (1:1-3)
  2. Paul makes requests of Philemon about Onesimus (1:4-21)
  3. Conclusion (1:22-25)
Who wrote the Book of Philemon?

Paul wrote Philemon. Paul was from the city of Tarsus. He had been known as Saul in his early life. Before becoming a Christian, Paul was a Pharisee. He persecuted Christians. After he became a Christian, he traveled several times throughout the Roman Empire telling people about Jesus.

Paul was in a prison when he wrote this letter.

What is the Book of Philemon about?

Paul wrote this letter to a man named Philemon. Philemon was a Christian who lived in the city of Colossae. He owned a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus had run away from Philemon and possibly stole something from him as well. Onesimus went to Rome and visited Paul in prison.

Paul told Philemon that he was sending Onesimus back to him. Philemon had the right to execute Onesimus according to Roman law. But Paul said that Philemon should accept Onesimus back as a Christian brother. He even suggested that Philemon should allow Onesimus to come back to Paul and help him in prison.

How should the title of this book be translated?

Translators may choose to call this book by its traditional title, “Philemon.” Or they may choose a clearer title, such as “Paul’s Letter to Philemon” or “The Letter Paul wrote to Philemon.” (See: How to Translate Names)

Part 2: Important Religious and Cultural Concepts

Does this letter approve of the practice of slavery?

Paul sent Onesimus back to his former master. But that did not mean Paul thought slavery was an acceptable practice. Instead, Paul was more concerned with people serving God in whatever situation they were in.

What does Paul mean by the expression “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” etc.?

Paul meant to express the idea of a very close union with Christ and the believers. See the introduction to the Book of Romans for more details about this kind of expression.

Part 3: Important Translation Issues

Singular and plural “you”

In this book, the word “I” refers to Paul. The word “you” is almost always singular and refers to Philemon. The two exceptions to this are 1:22 and 1:25. There “you” refers to Philemon and the believers that met at his house. (See: Exclusive and Inclusive ‘We’ and Forms of You)

Philemon 1

Philemon 1:1

Three times Paul identifies himself as the author of this letter. Evidently Timothy was with him and probably wrote the words down as Paul said them. Paul greets others who meet for church at Philemon’s house. All instances of “I,” “me,” and “my” refer to Paul. Philemon is the main person to whom this letter is written. All instances of “you” and “your” refer to him and are singular unless otherwise noted. (See: Forms of You)

Παῦλος, δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, καὶ Τιμόθεος, ὁ ἀδελφὸς; Φιλήμονι

Your language may have a particular way of introducing the authors of a letter. Alternate translation: “I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother, are writing this letter to Philemon” (See: Exclusive and Inclusive ‘We’)

δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ

“a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.” People who opposed Paul’s preaching had punished him by putting him into prison.

ὁ ἀδελφὸς

Here, brother means a fellow Christian.


The word our here refers to Paul and those with him but not to the reader. (See: Exclusive and Inclusive ‘We’)

καὶ συνεργῷ ἡμῶν

“who, like us, works to spread the gospel”

Philemon 1:2


The word our here refers to Paul and those with him but not to the reader. (See: Exclusive and Inclusive ‘We’)

Ἀπφίᾳ, τῇ ἀδελφῇ

Here, sister means she was a believer, and not a relative. Alternate translation: “to Apphia our fellow believer” or “to Apphia our spiritual sister” (See: How to Translate Names)


This is the name of a man in the church with Philemon. (See: How to Translate Names)

τῷ συνστρατιώτῃ ἡμῶν

Paul speaks here of Archippus as if they were both soldiers in an army. He means that Archippus works hard, as Paul himself works hard, to spread the gospel. Alternate translation: “our fellow spiritual warrior” or “who also fights the spiritual battle with us” (See: Metaphor)

Philemon 1:3

χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη, ἀπὸ Θεοῦ Πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

“May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” This is a blessing.


The word our here refers to Paul, those with him, and the reader. (See: Exclusive and Inclusive ‘We’)


This is an important title for God. (See: Translating Son and Father)

Philemon 1:4

The word “us” is plural and refers to Paul, those with him, and all Christians, including the readers. (See: Exclusive and Inclusive ‘We’)

Philemon 1:6

ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου

“your working together with us”

ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ

“may result in knowing what is good”

εἰς Χριστόν

“because of Christ”

Philemon 1:7

τὰ σπλάγχνα τῶν ἁγίων ἀναπέπαυται διὰ σοῦ

This can be stated in active form. Alternate translation: “you have encouraged believers” or “you have helped the believers” (See: Active or Passive)

τὰ σπλάγχνα τῶν ἁγίων

Here, *inward parts* is a metonym for a person’s emotions or inner being. Alternate translation: “the thoughts and feelings of the saints” (See: Metonymy)

σοῦ, ἀδελφέ

“you, dear brother” or “you, dear friend.” Paul called Philemon brother because they were both believers and he emphasizing their friendship.

Philemon 1:8

Paul begins his plea and the reason for his letter.

πολλὴν ἐν Χριστῷ παρρησίαν

This could mean: (1) “all authority because of Christ” or (2) “all courage because of Christ.” Alternate translation: “all courage because Christ has given me authority”

Philemon 1:9

διὰ τὴν ἀγάπην

Possible meanings: (1) “because I know that you love God’s people” (2) “because you love me” or (3) “because I love you”

Philemon 1:10

Onesimus is the name of a man. He was apparently Philemon’s slave and had stolen something and ran away.

τοῦ ἐμοῦ τέκνου…Ὀνήσιμον

Paul speaks of the way he is friends with Onesimus as if it were the way a father and his son love each other. Onesimus was not Paul’s actual son, but he received spiritual life when Paul taught him about Jesus, and Paul loved him. Alternate translation: “my spiritual son Onesimus” (See: Metaphor)


The name Onesimus means “profitable” or “useful.” (See: How to Translate Names)

ὃν ἐγέννησα ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς

Here, fathered is a metaphor that means Paul converted Onesimus to Christ. Alternate translation: “who became my spiritual son when I taught him about Christ and he received new life while I was in my chains” or “who became like a son to me while I was in my chains” (See: Metaphor)

ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς

Prisoners were often bound in chains. Paul was in prison when he taught Onesimus and was still in prison when he wrote this letter. Alternate translation: “while I was in prison” (See: Metonymy)

Philemon 1:12

ὃν ἀνέπεμψά σοι

Paul was probably sending Onesimus with another believer who carried this letter.

τοῦτ’ ἔστιν τὰ ἐμὰ σπλάγχνα

The phrase who is my inward parts is a metaphor for deep feelings about someone. Paul was saying this about Onesimus. Alternate translation: “whom I love dearly” (See: Metaphor)

τὰ ἐμὰ σπλάγχνα

Here, * inward parts* is a metonym for a person’s emotions.Alternate translation: “good thoughts and feelings to me” (See: Metonymy)

Philemon 1:13

ἵνα ὑπὲρ σοῦ μοι διακονῇ

“so that, since you cannot be here, he might help me” or “so that he could help me in your place”

ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς

Prisoners were often bound in chains. Paul was in prison when he taught Onesimus and was still in prison when he wrote this letter. Alternate translation: “while I am in prison because” (See: Metonymy)

τοῦ εὐαγγελίου

Paul was in prison because he preached the gospel publicly. This can be stated explicitly. Alternate translation: “because I preach the gospel” (See: Assumed Knowledge and Implicit Information)

Philemon 1:14

χωρὶς δὲ τῆς σῆς γνώμης, οὐδὲν ἠθέλησα ποιῆσαι

Paul states a double negative to mean the opposite. Alternate translation: “But I wanted to keep him with me only if you approved” (See: Double Negatives)

ἵνα μὴ ὡς κατὰ ἀνάγκην τὸ ἀγαθόν σου ᾖ, ἀλλὰ κατὰ ἑκούσιον

“for I did not want you to do this good deed because I commanded you to do it, but because you wanted to do it”

ἀλλὰ κατὰ ἑκούσιον

“but because you freely chose to do the right thing”

Philemon 1:15

τάχα γὰρ διὰ τοῦτο, ἐχωρίσθη πρὸς ὥραν, ἵνα

This can be stated in active form. Alternate translation: “For perhaps the reason God took Onesimus away from you for a time was so that” (See: Active or Passive)

πρὸς ὥραν

“for this short time”

Philemon 1:16

ὑπὲρ δοῦλον

“more valuable than a slave”

ἀδελφὸν ἀγαπητόν

“a dear brother” or “a precious brother in Christ”

πόσῳ δὲ μᾶλλον σοὶ

“but he means even more to you”

καὶ ἐν σαρκὶ

“both as a man.” Paul is referring to Onesimus’ being a trustworthy servant. (See: Metaphor)

ἐν Κυρίῳ

“as a brother in the Lord” or “because he belongs to the Lord”

Philemon 1:17

εἰ…με ἔχεις κοινωνόν

“if you think of me as a fellow worker for Christ”

Philemon 1:18

τοῦτο ἐμοὶ ἐλλόγα

“say that I am the one who owes you”

Philemon 1:19

ἐγὼ Παῦλος ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί

“I, Paul, write this myself.” Paul wrote this part with his own hand so that Philemon would know that the words were really from Paul. Paul really would pay him.

ἵνα μὴ λέγω σοι

“I do not need to remind you” or “You already know.” Paul says he does not need to tell Philemon this, but then continues to tell him anyway. This emphasizes the truth of what Paul is telling him. (See: Irony)

καὶ σεαυτόν μοι προσοφείλεις

“you even owe me your own life.” Paul was implying that Philemon should not say that Onesimus or Paul owed him anything because Philemon owed Paul even more. The reason Philemon owed Paul his life can be made explicit. Alternate translation: “you owe me much because I saved your life” or “you owe me your own life because what I told you saved your life” (See: Assumed Knowledge and Implicit Information)

Philemon 1:20

ἀνάπαυσόν μου τὰ σπλάγχνα ἐν Χριστῷ

How Paul wanted Philemon refresh him can be made explicit. Alternate translation: “refresh my inward parts in Christ by accepting Onesimus kindly” (See: Assumed Knowledge and Implicit Information)

ἀνάπαυσόν μου τὰ σπλάγχνα

Here, refresh is a metaphor for comfort or encourage. Alternate translation: “encourage me” or “comfort me” (See: Metaphor)

ἀνάπαυσόν μου τὰ σπλάγχνα

Here “inward parts” is a metonym for a person’s feelings, thoughts, or inner being. Alternate translation: “encourage me” or “comfort me” (See: Metonymy)

Philemon 1:21

Here the words “your” and “you” are plural and refer to Philemon and the believers that met at his house. (See: Forms of You)

Paul closes his letter and gives a blessing on Philemon and the believers that met for church in Philemon’s house.

πεποιθὼς τῇ ὑπακοῇ σου

“Because I am sure that you will do what I ask”

Philemon 1:22


“while you are doing this”

καὶ ἑτοίμαζέ μοι ξενίαν

“also make a room in your house ready for me.” Paul asked Philemon to do this for him.

χαρισθήσομαι ὑμῖν

“those who are keeping me in prison will set me free so that I can go to you.”

Philemon 1:23


This is a fellow believer and prisoner with Paul. (See: How to Translate Names)

ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

“who is in prison with me because he serves Christ Jesus”

Philemon 1:24

Μᾶρκος, Ἀρίσταρχος, Δημᾶς, Λουκᾶς, οἱ συνεργοί μου

“and Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers, also greet you”

Μᾶρκος, Ἀρίσταρχος, Δημᾶς, Λουκᾶς

These are names of men. (See: How to Translate Names)

οἱ συνεργοί μου

“the men who work with me” or “who all work with me.”

Philemon 1:25

τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν

The word your here refers to Philemon and all who met in his house. Alternate translation: “your spirits” (See: Forms of You)

μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν

The words your spirit are a synecdoche and represent the people themselves. Alternate translation: “be kind to you” (See: Synecdoche)