The following articles have been compiled and indexed by inWORD Bible software.
Philemon and Slavery
It is very fitting in itself that Paul’s one private letter left for us (Philemon) should be an earnest plea and fervent expression of love and unity for a slave — a class that was then treated as less than human. Paul calls him his son, his brother, and his own heart.
Slavery in the New Testament
Christianity emerged within the Roman empire, during a time in which the worst forms of slavery were common. Unlike the Hebrews of ancient Israel, early Christians were living in a society over which they had virtually no influence, and in which the legal systems were totally beyond their control. Many people who became converted to Christianity would have already owned slaves, and would have inherited well established Roman cultural attitudes to slaves and slavery, which were anathema to the gospel and the teaching of Christ. How did early Christianity address the issue of slavery in such an environment?
What Does The Bible Say About Slavery?
Many people claim that the Bible favours slavery.’¹
After reading this short epistle it would be well to read the last twelve verses of the Epistle to the Colossians, especially noting the various names that are mentioned by Paul. No less than eight of those mentioned in Philemon 1 are found in Colossians, and several of them in a way that throws light upon their history.
The Epistle to Philemon
The epistle to Philemon is the shortest of all the canonical letters of Paul. Conjoining Timothy with him in the salutation, as he had done to that addressed to all the Colossian saints, he here addresses, in company with Philemon and Apphia his wife, Archippus, a labourer in the Word, and the Church in Philemon’s house, sending the letter, not by Tychicus, but most likely by the one who was most deeply and personally interested in its contents.
An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul to Philemon
This letter, an appendix to the Pastoral Epistles, has a character of its own; so much so that those, whose mania it has been to doubt its genuineness as an inspired communication of the apostle, have without difficulty put together some slight appearances on which to build their destructive argument. Indeed Dr. Ellicott, one sees, does not include the letter to Philemon, but gives those only to Timothy and Titus as the Pastoral Epistles; and in this he does not differ from others. Nevertheless, allowing a marked difference, it is their beautiful complement and follows them so naturally that we may without violence class them together, rather than leave the letter to Philemon absolutely isolated.
Christianity and Slavery
While inculcating principles, which, if accepted and acted upon, would have destroyed the essence of despotism and slavery, transformed every despot, in fact, into a just and beneficent sovereign, every slave-owner into a kind master, like Philemon, and every slave into a freeman in all but the name—nay, into a “brother beloved”—the Apostles refrained from a crusade against despotism and slavery as political institutions. Both had so long and extensively prevailed, and the latter was so universally sanctioned, that they could not be extirpated by any summary process, nor denounced and resisted, except at the risk of transforming the religions revolutions into a political one.