Philemon 1 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Philemon 1 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,

2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:

3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,

5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;

6 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.

(7, 12, 20) "The bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother."
The bowels are the innermost part. So what Paul says is that the saints were glad in their inmost parts, they were entirely glad, filled with gladness, by the love of Philemon.

8 Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,

9 Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

(10-12) Paul returns the runaway slave, Onesimus, to his "rightful owner," Philemon, asking him to receive him just as though he were Paul's very "own bowels." This was, of course, a great opportunity for Paul (and God) to condemn slavery -- if he had anything against it, that is. But he doesn't. Instead he returns the slave to his owner without a word against the institution of slavery.
Does God approve of slavery?
The words “rightful owner” do not occur in this letter. Even the word “owner” doesn't. Paul acknowledges that Philemon had a right to the labour of Onesimus, see verse 14, but we are not told why. Was Onesimus sold as slave to pay of his debts? Was he raised by Philemon at considerable expense? The word slave might conjure up images of someone being worked to death, but that's not how it worked in those days. Slaves were expensive.
What we do know is that Onesimus had fled from Philemon, not to escape his slavery, but to enjoy the world, or to see things. He ended up in Rome. We do not know how he provided for himself, or even if he could. It's likely that he was more like the prodigal son, having run out of money, and wishing he could eat the husks that the swine got. In that condition he meets Paul again. Paul, who used to be a free man, but now in bonds. Onesimus was now receptive for the gospel, and became a Christian. His desertion weighed on his conscience, and he wished to make amends to Philemon, who had treated him well, while he had done the opposite to Philemon.
He might also have been afraid of going back, what might Philemon say or do? It is here that Paul comes in, and offers to write a letter of support which Onesimum could take back.
On if Paul writes anything against the institution of slavery: yes he does. He makes Philemon, the slave owner, absolutely equal to Onesimus, the slave. He even calls him his brother, see verse 16. That insight will lead the abolishment of the institution of slavery by Christian nations, something that required the existence of Christian nations in the first place.

11 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

13 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;

16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?

17 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.

18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;

19 I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

20 Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.

21 Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

22 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;

24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.