Philemon 1 – Appeal for Onesimus & Slavery in the Greco-Roman World

Finger Pointing UpI am not against segregation, You created it in the beginning (Gen 11:7-8), but I stand strongly against slavery.

Slavery in America had once been legal.  It began in 1691 and on January 1, 1863 President Lincoln made an executive order and passed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves.

But it is said that the south wasn’t so eager to give up their slaves and slavery which didn’t end until the end of the Civil War, 1865, and that still does not mean it ended that year.1 2

The con of abolishing slavery is that slavery is better than Human Trafficking, and the pro is that there are less people that are enslaved.

President Obama had wanted to reestablish indentured slavery, but of course since he’s a Socialist it would not be indentured slavery, but chattel slavery.

I doubt slavery ever ended because we still have slavery in America today, but it’s called Human Trafficking and it’s illegal.

Human Trafficking is nothing new, it was there in the Old Testament and You hated it and punishment for it was much more stricter:

“And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death” (Ex 21:16).   

This is the first and last page of Philemon so tomorrow we’ll begin with…

Appeal for Onesimus

2 Emma Goldman
Emma Goldman famously denounced wage slavery by saying:
“The only difference is that you are hired slaves instead of block slaves.”

Wage slavery refers to a situation perceived as quasi-voluntary slavery, where a person’s livelihood depends on wages, especially when the dependence is total and immediate.

Similarities between wage labor and slavery were noted in ancient Rome by Cicero (Jan 3, 106 B.C.-Dec 7, 43 B.C.) while the pervasive practice of voluntary slavery in medieval Russia indicates the previous historical coexistence of slavery and voluntary choice.

Before the American Civil War, Southern defenders of African American slavery invoked the concept of wage slavery to favorably compare the condition of their slaves to workers in the North.

1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer,

Vv. 1-2 – although Paul writes together with Timothy and although he addresses the entire church in Colosse, in this very personal letter to Philemon he uses “I” rather than “we,” and “thee.”

“Philemon” – a Christian living in Colosse or nearby and the owner of the slave Onesimus.

2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house:

“Apphia” – probably Philemon’s wife.

“Archippus” – see Col 4:17.

3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,

5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;

6 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.

“Bowels” – as the heart today is regarded as the seat of emptions, in the same way were the intestines or “bowels” for the ancient Greeks.

8 Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,

9 Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

11 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

3 Chattel slavery
Chattel slavery is what most people have in mind when they think of the kind of slavery that existed in the United States before the Civil War, and that existed legally throughout many parts of the world as far back as recorded history.
Slaves were actual property who could be bought, sold, traded or inherited.

They might be abused, branded, bred, exploited or killed.

Shamefully, this exact kind of slavery still exists today, mostly in the East African countries of Mauritania and Sudan.

While this practice is probably the least prevalent of the contemporary forms of slavery, still many thousands of people are so enslaved.

Chattel slavery in Mauritania and Sudan is quite gruesome.

These two countries divide the African and Arab cultures. A person can become the property of another for life, bought, traded, inherited or acquired as a gift.

Girls as young as ten are being captured on raids of villages. To prevent escape they are branded like cattle with hot metal objects.

Female genital mutilation and castration are frequently imposed punishments. Attempted escape may result in being permanently hobbled by having the Achilles’ tendon severed leaving the victim lame.

13 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever;

16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?

17 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.

Vv. 17-19 – Luther said, “Even as Christ did for us with God the Father, thus Paul also does for Onesimus with Philemon.”  But v. 19 weakens this correspondence.

18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;

19 I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

20 Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.

21 Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

22 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

4 2“But withal” – it was not unusual for an ancient letter, through occasioned by one matter, to also include another matter.  Often, as here, the second matter had to do with how and when the author planned to meet the recipient again.

23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus;

24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow laborers.

25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Written from Rome to Philemon, by Onesimus, a servant.

Slavery in the Greco-Roman World

5 Slavery
Slavery had its roots in ancient civilizations including the Egyptian.
Slaves constituted the lowest layer of the social pyramid.

Wars were common in the ancient world and prisoners of war were gradually turned into slaves.

But one could also become a slave on account of his inability to pay his debts.

Slavery was the direct result of poverty.

Voluntary/Indentured servitude also existed where women offered herself to the temple.

Slavery was practiced throughout the Greco-Roman world, and there were several categories of slaves:

* The helot was a citizen of a city that was in permanent subordination to another state.  A famous example is Messenia, a Greek city-state subdued by Sparta and then reduced to peasant status and forced to serve the needs of Sparta’s military culture.

The people of Gibeon are an analogous example from Israelite history; they served as menial workers for the sanctuary.

* The indentured servant was reduced to slavery by debt but could obtain remission by working off that liability.

In America, under the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 4, both slavery and servitude is illegal, but indentured servants still exist, but they’re called “Cheap Labor” or “Illegal Aliens.”

* The chattel-slave was quite simply the property of his or her master.

People fell into slavery by various means and for various reasons. As mentioned above, unresolved debt could lead to this condition. Large numbers of people became slaves through conquest.

Victorious armies would sell captured people into slavery, and these wretched souls typically never again saw their homelands.

Frequently slavers would simply kidnap people, take them far away and sell them. Ancient pirates regularly practiced this, and the Roman government from time to time sought to clear the seas of pirate fleets.

6 The helots
The helots were initially Laconians that Sparta defeated and conquered. They were fellow Greeks.
This was not considered in a favorable light by other Greek city-states.

The enslaved Messenians formed the bulk of the helots.

Helots were owned by the state. They lived in the household of their master but unlike ordinary slaves, their master could not declare them free.

They worked as domestic, agricultural and military servants.

Out of jealousy, Joseph’s brother sold him to the passing by Midanites who in turn sold him in Egypt (Gen 37:28).

In addition, the children of a slave woman were born into slavery, regardless of the status of their father.

Slavery was not racially based, although people generally preferred not to enslave others of their own ethnic group (e.g., Greeks typically enslaved non-Greeks, whom they considered “barbarians”).

The degree of hardship related to slavery also varied considerably. No doubt the worst lot fell to those who worked in mines and similar labor-intensive industries.

Slightly better was the situation of peasant-farmers, with household slaves experiencing an easier life still.

The most desirable position for a slave was that of a teacher, scribe or clerk, but even such a situation could be miserable if the master was harsh.

Slaves were considered nonpersons and thus enjoyed no rights— including privacy or control over their own sexual lives.

Not surprisingly, an enormous number of slaves ran away, particularly if they had no hope of obtaining manumission.

The flight of Philemon’s slave Onesimus, then, was not a peculiar occurrence. Occasionally outright rebellion occurred, the most spectacular example being that of the Spartacus slave revolt of 73 B.C. Passive resistance (e.g., by working slowly) was more common.

7 1The New Testament does not condemn slavery outright or demand that Christian slaveholders emancipate their slaves. On the other hand, the pressure Paul applied to Philemon to release Onesimus was exemplary, and Paul elsewhere urged Christian slaves to obtain manumission if at all possible.

Paul undermined the foundation of slavery – the notion that slaves were nonentities when he made the declaration that in Christ there is no distinction between slave and free (Gal 3:28).

…the Book of Hebrews.  


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