Philemon 1.8

I feel like Paul is being hypocritical as by saying he could order him but he won’t he convicts guilt in Philemon. This will make him do it anyway and not out of the good will Paul says he wants him to do it in.

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@Michael_Ryan I’ve thought exactly the same thing before when reading Philemon. What we need to understand is that Paul is navigating a delicate situation in a culturally appropriate manner. While it may look like manipulation to us, Paul was quite literally being a Greek to the Greeks. He was restoring a relationship in the way it needed to be restored in his context.

Also, and this is a bit of conjecture, I don’t think we can discern Paul’s motives just from reading Philemon. Some people have suggested Paul is using Onesimus to gain power in Philemon’s household, but that to me is a classic case of eisegesis. Eisegesis occurs when we read our own opinion into the text.

In other words, once we understand the cultural context, we have to assume Paul’s motives based on what we believe about Paul already. So if we think Paul was a man who laid down his life for God’s people, then we will naturally assume good motives. If we make less than complimentary assumptions about Paul, we may read a struggle for influence or power into the text.

Paul’s subtle maneuvers with Philemon in verses 8-22 are only understood against the background of the ancient patronage system, which worked on many different levels of Greco-Roman society. As the owner and head of his household, Philemon was in every way the patron of Onesimus. For Paul to meddle in this family relationship—for slaves were members of the family—took utmost delicacy and a twofold claim.

(1) Paul must either be Philemon’s superior and patron or, if they were roughly equals, Philemon must owe him a debt of friendship, which Paul could claim as needing repayment in the matter at hand. This is the reason why Paul subtly suggests that Philemon owes him, as it were, even his very self. Eternal life is a debt of great importance indeed!

(2) Paul must establish that he has some claim of patronage on the slave Onesiumus. It was the duty of a patron to pay the debts of members of his household, yet Paul intercedes for Onesimus directly… This is unmistakably the act of a patron, and it makes Paul’s intercession for Onesimus all the more effective; yet would not have given offense to Philemon, who perfectly understood and accepted Paul’s points.

Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary

Also found this other ancient letter of intercession interesting to provide context.


Thanks for the great detail in the answer

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@Michael_Ryan Indeed - interesting question :slight_smile: