Overview of the Book of Philemon


Overview of the Book of Philemon

Author: The author is the Apostle Paul.


To obtain forgiveness for the runaway slave Onesimus.

Date: c. A.D. 60

Key Truths:

  • Christians must express love and forgiveness toward one another.
  • Christian obedience ought to be elicited willingly rather than forcefully.


The letter to Philemon was written by the apostle Paul. The authenticity of this epistle has not been seriously challenged.

Time and Place of Writing:

This letter was written while Paul was in prison in Rome (c. A.D. 60), probably at approximately the same time he wrote to the Colossians. This letter was probably delivered to Philemon along with the letter to the Colossians.

Original Audience:

Paul wrote to Philemon, a Christian brother and slaveholder in Colosse. Philemon's slave Onesimus had run away and, perhaps seeking assistance, had come into contact with Paul in Rome. During this visit Onesimus had become a Christian.

Purpose and Distinctives:

Paul's overriding purpose in writing this letter was to appeal to Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a Christian brother (Philemon 1:12-16). To accomplish this purpose, Paul reminded Philemon of the brotherly relationship he and Philemon shared in Christ. Since Onesimus had become very dear to Paul (Philemon 1:12, 16), Paul encouraged Philemon to receive back his runaway slave in the same manner as he would receive Paul himself (Philemon 1:17).

Philemon provides us with a clear example of how to apply the teaching of Scripture to everyday problems. Following Christ's example, Paul acted as a mediator out of love for Onesimus, and he pointed to the unity of believers as brothers and sisters in Christ as the basis for mutual love and forgiveness.

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament


Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.