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chippus, who was probably one of the elders of the church of Colosse.
18. I bave observed that Paul seldom wrote much with his own hand, which was probably owing to his not writing the Greek character well. However, to authenticate his epistles, he signed them himself, and usually concluded them with some such sentence as this, expressing his affectionate regard for those to whom he wrote.
PHILEMON was a citizen of Colosse, whose slave Onesimus had run away from him, and had probably robbed him. It happened, however, that Onesimus coming to Rome while Paul was a prisoner there, and hearing him preach, he became a convert to Christianity, and made himself useful to Paul. Being, no doubt, convinced by the apostle of the wrong he had done to his master, he was prevailed upon to return to him ; and, to make his reception the easier, Paul gave bim this epistle ; which shews, at the same time, his just sense of moral obligation, and also his refined address.
Though there is not much of what may be called apostolical dignity in this epistle, no article of Christian doctrine being discussed in it, yet it has great propriety and beauty as a private letter, and it clearly shews the apostle to have been no wild enthusiast; but one who was well acquainted with mankind and with human nature, and who governed himself by that knowledge. It therefore shews us that inattention to these things is no recommendation of a Christian. At the same time that we should be harmless as doves, it becomes us to be wise as serpents.
We also learn, from this epistle, some lessons of useful morality, such as the duty of servants to their masters, notwithstanding their being upon a level with them as fellowchristians, and the duties of masters to faithful servants, especially when they are at the same time their fellowchristians.
This epistle was probably sent at the same time with that to the Colossians by Onesimus.*
1. From Philemon being called the fellow-labourer of Paul, some have concluded that he was the bishop of the church at Colosse. But it is evident that all the epistles of Paul
See Lardner, VI. pp. 378—381; Doddridge's Introd. V. Introd. Lect. (Sect. cxxxiv. cxxxv.), pp. 296_299.
p. 586; Michaelis's * See Chrysostom in Lardner, V. p. 145.
were written prior to the appointment of bishops, as the term was afterwards applied, there being no mention in his writings of any single person as president or overseer of any particular church. The custom then was to appoint a number of persons, with the title of presbyters, or elders, to superintend the affairs of a church; and it was not till some time after this that it was thought proper to distinguish one of these by the title of bishop, or rather to appropriate to one that title, which had before been given to all the elders, promiscuously.
2. Archippus was evidently one of the elders of the church of Colosse, since, in the epistle to that church, he was admonished to attend to his ministry.
Philemon had probably a large family, consisting of many sla ves, most of whom were Christians * as well as their master. I must again observe, that in those times all persons in the condition of slaves were by no means wholly illiterate, capable of nothing but mere labour. Many of them. had better educations than their masters, and were persons in whom the greatest confidence was reposed, being intrusted with the chief management of very important affairs. Onesimus was probably a person of some knowledge and capacity, or Paul would hardly have spoken of him as one who had been so useful to him at Rome.
3. I hardly need to observe, what I have done on so many former occasions, only that it is a matter of particular consequence, that no person could use this language so constantly as Paul does, and have any idea of Christ being God. They are by him evidently distinguished from each other, as beings of very different classes.
4. Here prayer and thanksgiving are addressed to God, and not to Christ, though it is in a matter relating to the Christian church; which clearly proves that the apostle did not consider Christ as a proper object of prayer, but God only.
6. This sentence is rather embarrassed. The meaning is, that as Philemon had been distinguished by his Christian zeal, the apostle wished that he might continue to be so, and that its effects might be so conspicuous in every Christian duty, as that all persons might see and admire it.t
7. These praises of Philemon, as I doubt not they were just, very properly introduced the request which the apostle had to make to him.
+ “ En sorte que la liberalité de votre foi en Jésus-Christ est agissante, comme le reconnoissent tous les gens de bien, qui sont parmi vous." Le Clerc. See Harwood, N.T.
8, 9. Observe, here, the address of the apostle. He might have used his apostolical authority, and have commanded Philemon, but he chose to ask what he wanted, as a favour, alleging the love that he bore to him, his own advanced age, and his being a prisoner, * as if to excite his affection and even compassion. Paul could not at this time have been much more than fifty-four or fifty-five years old; but through his incessant labours he might be infirm, and conclude that he was drawing near to the close of his life.t
10. In order to enforce his request in favour of Onesimus, he calls him his own son, being converted by him wbile he was a prisoner, and from this circumstance more dear to him.
11. Being now a Christian, and having a full sense of his duty, he would be of much more value than he had been, and on that account was entitled to a more favourable reception. In this the apostle probably alluded to the meaning of the word Onesimus, which signifies useful. He had probably been a slave, born and educated in his master's house, and had this name given to him for the sake of the good omen, which was very customary in those times. I
12. He represents Onesimus as the same with himself, in order to raise Philemon's esteem for him.
13. Paul here considers it, and justly, as the duty of all Christians to assist those who are in any difficulty, and especially when suffering for the sake of the gospel. Paul therefore had a kind of a right to retain Onesimus to serve him in the place of his master.
15. Here the phrase for ever may only mean during life, or it may refer to the satisfaction that Philemon would have in his slave, as a Christian brother, to all eternity.
16. That is, both as a slave and as a Christian.
18. It is not certain that Onesimus had robbed his master of any thing. All that Paul alludes to might be the loss of his service for so long a time as he had been absent from him.
19. I need not point out all the strokes of fine address in this epistle. We may see them in every sentence, nothing being omitted that was likely to work upon an ingenuous mind.
* “ For Jesus Christ-a prisoner for his attachment to the Christian cause." Harwood, N. T. Gr. + See Doddridge.
I See Ibid. Vev. 17. “I conjure thee, therefore, by all that is common between us, receive him as myself." L'Enfant, after Theodoret, in Doddridge.
22. Paul, though still a prisoner, had, as is evident, a certain prospect of his release at the time of his writing this epistle, which was in the close of the year 62 after Christ.
24. These are all the same persons who are mentioned at the close of the epistle to the Colossians, as sending salutations to the whole of that church, as they now do to Philemon in particular.
It is not absolutely certain who was the writer of this epistle, and it was some centuries before it was universally received as one of the canonical books of the New Testament, and on this account it is not considered as of the same authority with the rest. * That it was not written by Paul, some argue from its not bearing his name ; from its not beginning as all his other epistles do; from the style in which it is written, being, as all the ancients acknowledge, considerably different from that of his other epistles; and from some of the arguments being manifestly weak and inconclusive. But notwithstanding this, I am, upon the whole, inclined to think that this epistle was written by Paul, † after his release from his imprisonment at Rome, A. D. 63, and before he left Italy. I
Why Paul should not prefix his name to this epistle, I own, I do not see. His name was certainly offensive to the Jewish Christians in general, but the whole tenor of it shews that it was not intended to be concealed, since the writer mentions his design of visiting the persons to whom it is addressed. Perhaps it was not originally intended to be an epistle, to be sent to any particular persons, but a kind of treatise for more general use, and on this account Paul might not begin it in his usual manner. The mention
See N. T. 1729, II. p. 860; Wakefield's Enquiry, p. 232; Impr. Vers. on Ch. xiii. 25.
+ See N. T. 1729, II. pp. 838—840; Lardner, VI. pp. 391-413; Sykes's Paraph. and Notes, 1755, (Introd.) pp. i.-xxvi. ; Disney's Mem. of Sykes, 1785, pp. 311-319.
Wakefield conjectures, “ that Paul dictated, and Luke composed the epistle ;or that Paul wrote in Hebrew, and Luke translated : but the former hypothesis the more probable." Enquiry, pp. 234, 243. See Doddridge's Introd. VI. pp. 3, 4; Michaelis's Introd. Lect. (Sect. cxlii.), p. 308.
See Lardner, VI. pp. 418—415; Doddridge's Introd. VI. p. 4; Sykes, p. xxvi. ; Disney's Mem. of Sykes, pp. 320, 321.
that is made of Timothy in this epistle is such as might be expected from Paul, and from no other person, and the salutations in the close are exactly like those of Paul.
As to the reasoning in this epistle, it is much of a piece with that of the epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, upon the same subjects; and we are not to expect perfect correctness in any thing of this nature. The Jews, having no other books, were always meditating on their scriptures, which led them to apply passages in them to all occasions, proper and improper, and to draw from them arguments which will not always bear a strict examination.* This was perfectly natural in their circumstances, and if we had found the case to be otherwise, we should have wanted a valuable argument of the genuineness of these writings, as not suiting the men or the times.
The great object of this epistle is so much the same with that of several others of Paul's, as almost proves him to have been the writer. It is to lessen the excessive regard which the Jewish Christians of that age entertained for the institutions of Moses, which led them to endeavour to impose the observance of them upon the Gentile converts. With this view the writer of this epistle endeavours to shew the superiority of Christ to Moses, and to those angels by whom God spake to the patriarchs and prophets, and the superiority of the Christian dispensation in a variety of respects to that of the Jews, shewing that whatever was found in the institutions of Moses, there was something of the same nature, and superior in kind, in the gospel. More particularly as the Jews boasted much of their priesthood, their sacrifices, and their temple, the writer of this epistle finds an high-priest, a sacrifice, and a temple, in the Christian scheme. But in this it may be easily supposed there is room for much imagination, in faucying resemblances where the appearances are very slight, so that much stress is not to be laid on arguments of this kind. This mode of reasoning, however, was usual with the Jews in general, and was by no means peculiar to the apostle, or to Christians.
There are in this epistle a few allusions to the doctrine of the Gnostics, to which the Judaizing teachers of that age were much inclined.
On “ St. Paul's manner of citing passages from the Old Testament," see Sykes, pp. xxviii.--Xxxvi.; Disney's Men. of Sykes, pp. 321–324.
+ See Sykes, p. xli.