Epistle of Paul to Philemon

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New Testament
Acts of the Apostles
Paul's letters
Catholic letters

The Epistle to Philemon is a book of the Christian New Testament (NT). It consists of a single chapter divided into 25 verses since early modern times . Paul of Tarsus wrote the letter probably around 56 in Ephesus , where he was then in custody (house arrest). In Ephesus he had met the runaway slave Onesimus , whom he is now sending with this letter to his Christian owner Philemon in Colossai .


  • Input greeting (1–3)
  • Transition to the corpus of letters (thanks and joy) (4–7)
  • Recommendation of Onesimus (8-21)
  • Plan to Visit Philemon (22)
  • Transmission of greetings and closing greetings (23-25)


Paul asks his fellow believer and co-worker Philemon to accept his runaway slave Onesimus in a friendly way and to see in him from then on the beloved brother, since Onesimus is a Christian. Paul also expressed his hope that he would soon be released from captivity and asked Philemon to prepare housing for him.

Interpretation history

According to the prevailing opinion in the history of interpretation, however, Paul does not require Philemon to abolish Onesimus' slave status. This interpretation was used in the United States to justify slavery until the very recent past . Others read the Philemon letter as a rhetorically skilful letter from Paul, which is not only addressed to the slave owner Philemon, but to the whole community, and the content of which makes it impossible for Philemon to continue treating Onesimus as a slave.

In his 2nd encyclical PES SALVI facti sumus , Pope Benedict XVI. that Christianity had brought something quite different from a social revolutionary message (Paragraph No. 4). To this end, he appealed to Phlm 10–16  EU : The people who, according to their civil status, face themselves as masters and slaves, had become brothers and sisters to one another as members of the one church.


According to church legend, Philemon is said to have later become the bishop of his hometown Kolossai and a martyr under Emperor Nero . Some Lutheran churches commemorate him on February 15th, the Roman Catholic Church on November 22nd, the Orthodox, Armenian and Coptic churches on various other dates.



  • Michael Wolter: The Letter to the Colossians (= Ecumenical Pocket Book Commentary on the New Testament. Volume 12) (= Gütersloher Pocket Books. Volume 519). Gütersloh publishing house Mohn, Gütersloh u. a. 1993, ISBN 3-579-00519-7 . (therein also: The letter to Philemon)
  • Hans Bürki: Paul's second letter to Timotheus, the letters to Titus and Philemon (= Wuppertal Study Bible. NT series, volume 15). Brockhaus, Wuppertal 1994. (generally understandable, application-oriented)
  • Peter Lampe : The letter to Philemon. In: Nikolaus Walter, Eckart Reinmuth, Peter Lampe: The letters to the Philippians, Thessalonians and Philemon (= The New Testament German. Volume 8.2). 18th edition, first edition of this arrangement. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1998, ISBN 3-525-51381-X , pp. 203-232. (generally understandable)
  • Peter Stuhlmacher : The Letter to Philemon (= Evangelical-Catholic Commentary on the New Testament. Volume 18). 4th edition. Benziger, Zurich 2004, ISBN 3-545-23101-1 .
  • Klaus Wengst : The letter to Philemon (= Theological Commentary on the New Testament. Volume 16). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-17-018675-2 .
  • Eckart Reinmuth: Paul's letter to Philemon (= theological manual commentary on the New Testament. Volume 11.2). Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig 2006, ISBN 3-374-02352-5 .
  • Peter Müller: The letter to Philemon (= Meyer's critical-exegetical commentary on the New Testament . Volume 9/3). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-525-51637-9 .
  • Martin Ebner: The letter to Philemon (= Evangelical-Catholic Commentary on the New Testament. Volume XVIII). Patmos-Verlag, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Ostfildern and Göttingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-7887-3107-6 .

Individual studies

  • Norbert Baumert: A friend's letter to a slave owner? Paul's letter to Philemon . In: Studies on the letters of Paul (=  Biblical volumes of essays in Stuttgart ). tape 32 . Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-460-06321-1 , p. 131-160 .
  • John Paul Heil: The Chiastic Structure and Meaning of Paul's Letter to Philemon . In: Biblica . No. 82 , 2001, p. 178-206 .
  • Peter Arzt-Grabner: Philemon (=  Papyrological Commentaries on the New Testament . Volume 1 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-525-51000-4 (text transmission).
  • Rainer Reuter: Comparative and synoptic work on the letters of the New Testament. History - methodology - practice. Text comparison between Colossians and Philemon (=  work on religion and the history of early Christianity . Volume 13 ). Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 2003, ISBN 3-631-50245-1 .
  • Peter Arzt-Grabner: Onesimus erro. On the prehistory of the letter to Philemon . In: Journal for New Testament Science . No. 95 , 2004, pp. 131-143 .
  • Peter Arzt-Grabner: The Pauline letters in the light of everyday papyri . In: New Testament Journal . No. 14 , 2004, p. 22-30 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Philemonbrief  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Verse 16: What is decisive is the interpretation of the expressions οὐκέτι ὡς δοῦλον (“no longer like a slave”), as well as ἀλλ 'ὑπὲρ δοῦλον (“but more than a slave”), namely a beloved brother. For some, being recognized as a brother precludes being a slave, for others it does not.