Analyzing the Epistle to Philemon

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Analyzing Paul's Epistle to Philemon

This paper analyzes the entire Paul's Epistle to Philemon, also known as a jail letter because it was co-authored by Apostle Paul and Timothy and addressed to Master Philemon, a leader of the Colossian church. Surprisingly, it was Onesimus, a departing slave from Paul's master Philemon, who returned with the letter after Paul had requested that Philemon receive him. Furthermore, the paper would deconstruct the personal problems that arose between Master Philemon and his slave Onesimus as addressed in the letter itself. Despite the briefness of the letter of Paul to Philemon, the paper will analyze and expound for the ordinary readers to see and understand the importance of the letter in urging for brotherly handling or treatment of slaves.

Structure of the Epistle to Philemon

In summary, the Epistle to Philemon is a letter written by Apostle Paul, a prisoner and a staunch follower of Christ the savior. The greatest hope with which Paul wrote the letter is that Philemon would welcome back his runaway slave, Onesimus, not just as a usual member of his own household but as a transformed brother in Jesus Christ. Alongside greetings, Paul begins writing his letter by stating how the letter would be structured with five main parts which includes salutation, securing of the good-will, the narration, petition and his special conclusion as ordinarily as described within the principle of letter writing. Paul generally proceeds with his letter by specifically introducing himself and send greetings of "peace and grace" to Philemon. He proceeds by praising Philemon. (Colossians, 1: 2-3)

Paul's Plea for Onesimus

However, the plea for Onesimus bore the bulk of the letter whereby Paul describes the unprecedented return of Onesimus as he introduces his person in a special way for Philemon to better understand (Colossian, 2:3-4). Still under the plea of Onesimus, Paul addresses the value of Onesimus specifically to invoke brotherly feeling out Philemon, the master. Paul also did not forget to suggest for Philemon the freedom of Onesimus that he further appealed to the master to reserve and respect as well. Moreover, this section of the letter tackled how Philemon finally received Onesimus and Paul as a guest to Philemon. Towards the end of the letter, Paul finally fulfills the element of petition when he states, "I write to you, knowing that you will even do more than what I have asked... because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayer." (Colossian, 4: 1-5). Here, Paul is trying to show that he believes Philemon will be capable of letting him get out of the bondage of prison. And as he concluded his letter, Paul asks for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to abide with the spirit of Philemon and the entire people of Colossae.

The Plea for Freedom from Slavery

The plea for freedom from slavery is the greatest of occasions that elicited the writing of the letter. Regardless of its private subject matter, Epistle to Philemon demonstrates the nature or the characteristic of any typical letter written to the general public, though Paul's main intention was to reconstruct the lost freedom and brotherly love between Onesimus and Philemon. In fact, how it is introduced and concludes appears to contain greetings which are definitely addressing different people at ago. Besides, the introductory greetings alone appear to be making some points of establishing the apostolic nature of the letter. It is therefore true that all these elements of the letter would obviously make it appear irrelevant and awkward if in any case it was only meant for Philemon's eye. Fortunately, when going through the letter, it clearly comes out that, alongside Philemon, Paul also targeted the general people of Colossae as his audience, perhaps to beseech them to reconstruct the state of their hearts. It is therefore with no doubt that the Epistle to Philemon is a heartfelt appeal by Apostle Paul aiming, not only the reconciliation between Onesimus and Philemon, but also at the new spiritual relationship between brethren in the fellowship of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to Paul, if at all such a new relationship has to exist, the change in the current state of affairs is mandatory. By this, Paul refers to the total change in heart.

Paul's Rhetoric in the Letter

Paul, in his letter to Philemon, greatly employs rhetoric so as to effectively accomplish his main intention of authoring the letter. In analyzing the content of the letter, the exigency is reconstructed with much of the emphasis placed not on the mere heresy, but rather on the ample opportunity by the action of Onesimus' return to his master Philemon purposely to encourage and give special instruction to the people of Colossae to live in a manner showing maturity in knowledge. Here the explication of Paul's rhetoric application intended to accomplish his main intention of freedom from slavery and spread of the gospel of brotherly love are vividly identified. This includes Paul's use of personal ethos, propriety, and tradition. Also, Paul rhetorically addresses his audience as if he had known them before, yet it is true that he is in prison and he did not have any firsthand information regarding the situation in Colossae. Another explication of Paul's use of rhetoric is that, as an Apostle, he had the authority to order Philemon to do his will but he evidently opted for a more diplomatic kind of appeal for the personal capacity of Philemon to do his own work of love and caring he had shown in the past for the saints, including Paul himself. He deliberately never asserted or dictated how Philemon would proceed, but in a rhetorical way, Paul tries to give hints of what exactly Philemon's response would be like. He tries to speak from the perspective of a Christian when he says, "See him like that..." or "Think of it like..." (Colossians 3: 2-4). He even urges Philemon to do unto him those things that he knew would better encourage him. By this, he achieves his main intention of appealing to Philemon's own discernment by leaving him with practical and typical application.

Paul's Care for the Church and the Gospel

Paul, according to his theology and practices, is depicted as having great care for the church and not only for the people with whom he had played a key responsibility of planting, that is, those who were testimonial Epistles and those he referred to as the seal of his Apostleship, but also a concern for those whose personal faces he had never seen in the flesh. At the time of his letter, his position was critical since he was serving his imprisonment. Besides, in his letter and position of theology, God wanted to use him to reveal that His revelation to humanity is intensely and absolutely personal. In the letter, Paul depicts Philemon as a standing one piece of bold evidence to the witnessed contrary indicating that lofty teachings such as forgiveness in Christ and the love of God or the undoubted dignity of the human being actually pertinent and have a real impact in daily life. Indeed, Paul utilizes his position to express that such principles have the potential to profoundly affect the lives of believers in Christ Jesus.

Paul's Plea for Love and Encouragement

He takes a stern stand or position in pleading with Philemon and the entire people of Colossians to embrace the love of brotherhood through the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Besides, Paul in his theology and practice, his main obligation was to preach the gospel of love and encouragement of one another in the Christian faith, of which his position of being in prison gives him the right opportunity to request and plead with Philemon to yield and do as per the demand of spiritual love.


In conclusion, the Epistle to Philemon was a great letter. The manner in which Paul used eloquent and versed writings is unbelievable. Paul's letter adopted the right structure a good letter would possess, even though by then there were still no real guidelines to follow. It is clearly evidenced in the manner in which he wrote the body part, word structures, including everything. It is, however, visible that Paul is, in a special way, rebuking Philemon's personal ego with the hopes that he would, at one point, make him responsive particularly to the letter and affirm the possibility of getting the help he needed from Philemon. With his many unprecedented rhetorical highpoints, Paul concludes his letter leaving many issues for Philemon's own conscience and judgment.

January 13, 2023

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