Titus 3
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,

Further directions, which Titus is to give to believers, which he is to impress by exhibiting the grace shown to them, and firmly to insist on, in opposition to the false teachers

TITUS 3:1–11

1Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates [to be subject to magistrates (and1) powers, to obey], to be ready to every good work, 2To speak evil of [slander] no man [one], to be no brawlers [not to be contentious], but gentle [yielding], shewing all meekness unto all men. 3For we ourselves also were sometime [once] foolish, disobedient, deceived [erring], serving divers lusts and pleasures [desires and lusts], living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. 4But after that [when] the kindness [goodness] and love of God our Saviour towards man [friendliness-towards-men 5of God our Saviour] appeared, Not by [on account of] works of righteousness which2 we have done [did], but according to [in virtue of] his mercy he saved us, by the washing [laver] of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6Which he shed on us abundantly [richly] through Jesus Christ our Saviour 7[Lord]; That, being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life [heirs, according to hope, of eternal life]. 8This is a faithful saying [Trustworthy is the word], and these things [this] I will that thou affirm constantly [strongly], that [in order that] they which [who] have believed in God might be careful [may take care] to maintain good works. These things3 are good and profitable unto men. 9But avoid foolish questions [of controversy], and genealogies [genealogical registers], and contentions [quarrels], and strivings [controversies] about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. 10A man that is an heretic [an heretical man], after the first and second [one and a second] admonition, reject [shun]; 11Knowing that he that is such [such a one] is subverted [perverted], and sinneth, being [since he is] condemned of [by] himself.


Titus 3:1. Put them in mind. The Apostle, after having reminded (Titus 2:1–10) believers of the duties they owe to their fellow-believers, adds a memento in respect to their relation particularly to those who are not Christians (Titus 3:1, 2), which he makes still more emphatic by referring to their own former state (Titus 3:3), and the mercy which had been shown to them (Titus 3:4–7). For the Cretians, characteristically inclined, as a people, to rebellion, such an exhortation was necessary, especially at a time in which those who had Jewish feelings were showing a disposition more and more to resist the authority of the heathen magistrates (see on 1 Tim. 2:1).—Magistrates [and] powers, especially of Rome, under whose dominion Crete now stood.—To be subject to, to obey; the former indicates the internal disposition, the latter the external act which proceeds from it.—To be ready to every good work; meaning, in the connection, those good works especially which the government demands of subjects; so that the intimation is here given, at least indirectly, that if the demand of the government is in conflict with God’s will, the duty of obedience ceases (Acts 5:29).

Titus 3:2. To slander no one, μηδένα βλασφημεῖν (the reading μή in F. G. is too feebly attested to be received), to calumniate no one, to which the lying Cretians (Titus 1:12) must have been prone. There is no ground for the assumption, that the Apostle is now speaking directly of the magistrates (comp. Rom. 13:7), for the exhortations which follow are general, and refer to the relation of Christians to non-Christians.—Not to be contentious, [but] yielding; the one a negative, the other a positive description of the peaceable character of those who, neither for the promotion of public or private interests, nor in the sphere of religion or politics, light the torch of discord.—Shewing allmeekness, &c.; a specially needed injunction for these Cretian churches, on account of the mingling of different races and individuals on the island.

Titus 3:3. For we ourselves also were, &c. [Were, ἦμεν, put forward emphatically, in sharp contrast to the better present; Ellicott.—D.] The Apostle urges the performance of the duties just mentioned, by reminding the Cretians of the grace which had glorified itself in them, who by nature were no better than others. The remembrance of this should prompt them not only to the most humble gratitude towards God, but also to gentleness towards those who were at that moment in the most degraded condition.—Foolish, ἀνόητοι (comp. Eph. 4:18; Rom. 1:21). Here, and in the following verses, Paul places, as he often does, the ποτέ and νῦν of the Christian life in direct contrast, and includes himself with Titus among those who were formerly “foolish,” without making the slightest distinction between those who had become Christians from heathenism or Judaism. Upon Titus especially, who was of heathen descent, must such a reference to the sin-stained past have had an excellent effect.—Disobedient, like those whose opposition it is now not unfrequently extremely difficult for us to bear. [Disobedient to God; Titus 1:16. He is no longer speaking of authorities, but has passed into a new train of thought; Alford.—D.]—Erring [going astray; Ellicott.—D.], πλανώμενοι, not only in respect to the truth, but also with regard to the most sacred obligations.—Serving divers desires and lusts (2 Tim. 3:6). The Apostle appears, not exclusively, but yet mainly, to refer to fleshly lusts. “They are styled ‘divers,’ I think, because the lusts by which the carnal man is driven to and fro are like adverse waves, which, in dashing against each other, turn him hither and thither, so that almost every moment he shifts and changes. Such, certainly, is the disquietude of all who abandon themselves to the desires of the flesh, because there is no stability but in the fear of God;” Calvin.—In malice and envy. Here, as in 1 Tim. 2:2, is meant not simply a momentary state, but the steady direction of the life—a life wholly controlled, as respects its ruling disposition, by malice and envy.—Hateful, στυγητοί (only once in N. T.), = μισητοί, odibiles, not exactly in the eyes of God and the holy angels (which undoubtedly is also true, but is not here meant), but generally worthy of abhorrence in the view of all who have reached a higher moral position.—Hating one another (comp. Gal. 5:15; Rom. 1:29).

Titus 3:4. But when … appeared. In contrast with this sad past, the Apostle points out the blessed present, the fruits of which believers continually enjoy.—But when the goodness (χρηστότης) and friendliness-towards-men (φιλανθρωπία) of God, &c. The distinction between “goodness” and “friendliness-towards-men” is, that the former expresses the Divine benevolence in general, the latter more specifically his compassion for mankind; so that both, taken together, are identical with grace (comp. “the grace that bringeth salvation;” Titus 2:11). Here also, as in 1 Tim. 1:1, God is styled Saviour, and, as in Tit. 2:11, an “appearing” of the Divine love for sinners is spoken of. Although, under the old covenant, believers enjoyed the love and friendship of God (Ps. 34:9), they nevertheless saw but the first dawning of the day of salvation which subsequently appeared, and possessed only the promise of that which the Christian enjoys in actual fulfilment. The whole of the passage which now follows has a great similarity with Titus 2:11–14, and yet has a character entirely its own. There the Apostle, in order to stimulate to Christian devoutness, exhibited the holy aim of the redemption which men obtain through Christ: here, on the other hand, in contrast with the entire unworthiness of unbelievers, be dwells upon the grace shown to them, in order to incite them to a gratitude which shall first of all manifest itself in love toward those who have not yet attained the priceless privileges of believers.

Titus 3:5. Not on account of works of righteousness, &c. (τῶν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ) [in righteousness, as the element and condition in which they were wrought; Alford.—D.]; those works which must be wrought in a state of righteousness before God. The Apostle by no means affirms that believers have actually performed such works, but, on the contrary, expressly denies it. Not the least, consequently, could have been found in them to call forth the Divine complacency.—[Which we did (emphatic), not “had done,” as A. V. and Conybeare, which, in fact, obscures the meaning; for God’s act, here spoken of, was a definite act in time—and its application to us, also a definite act in time; and if we take this ἐποιήσαμέν pluperfect, we confine the Apostle’s repudiation of our works as moving causes of those acts of God, to the time previous to those acts. For aught that this pluperfect would assert, our salvation might be prompted on God’s part by future works of righteousness which he foresaw we should do. Whereas, the simple aoristic sense throws the whole into the same time—“His goodness, &c, was manifested … not for works which we did … He saved us,” and renders the repudiation of human merit universal; Alford.—D].—But in virtue of his mercy, κατὰ τὸν αὐτοῦ ἔλον (comp. 1 Pet. 1:3 ; Luke 1:78). In this way God’s saving grace is described as from every side entirely free and undeserved, quite in the manner of Paul, as in Rom. 3:20–24; Eph. 2:3–10.—He saved us, ἔσωσεν ἡμᾶς; us, namely, who believe in Christ. Although the enjoyment of salvation is still incomplete so long as we remain in the body of sin and death, yet its possession is assured and sealed from the moment we come into union with Christ by faith. The Apostle distinctly points out what is and what is not the ground of this salvation wrought in them, and also by what means they are made partakers of it.—By the laver of regeneration, &c; a reference to baptism, which might all the more easily be exhibited as a laver, λουτρόν, since it was originally performed by the entire submersion of the person baptized (comp. Eph. 5:26). Baptism is styled “laver of regeneration” (παλιγγενεσίας), not because it obligates to regeneration, nor because it is the symbol of regeneration, but because it is really the means of regeneration, if truly desired and received in faith (which is tacitly assumed in respect to those adult Christians who by their own free act were baptized). Whoever, with the desire of salvation, went down into the baptismal water, with the confession of an honest faith, came forth therefrom as one newborn, to live henceforth a new life (comp. Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11, 12). On this ground Paul could say that God had saved them by (διά) the laver of regeneration; since, as a general rule, the submission to the rite of baptism was necessarily, in the case of those who repeated the question of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:36), the decisive act, the great turning-point in the history of their inner and outer life.—And renewing of the Holy Ghost, ἀνακαινώσεως (Vulgate: per lavacrum regenerations et renovationis). This expression may perhaps differ from the preceding, in indicating the further progress and development of the new life, while the former designates only its commencement. One corresponds with ἁγιασμός, as used by Paul, the other with γεννεθῆναι ἄνωθεν and ἐκ θεοῦ, in John. Both are wrought by the Holy Spirit, which is here placed in the genitive as indicating the efficient cause. “This regeneration and renovation entirely take away the death and old state described in Titus 3:3 (2 Cor. 5:17);” Bengel.

Titus 3:6. Which [viz., the Holy Spirit] he shed on us richly, as was promised under the old covenant (Joel 2:28–32; Zech. 12:10; Is. 44:3), and was fulfilled in the new covenant in the most abundant manner (John 7:37–39).—Through Jesus Christ, is not to be referred to the remote word “he saved” (Bengel), but to the proximate word “shed.” Here, as often in other places, the glorified Saviour is represented as imparting to His church the communication of the Spirit, without which the conversion of individuals would have ever been an absolute impossibility. Comp. Acts 2:33 ; 2 Cor. 1:21, 22; John 1:33.

Titus 3:7. That, being justified by his grace. A reference to the high end for which God has blessed them in Christ (Titus 3:5), and renewed them by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:6). Here, where the main design is not so much to point out to them directly their duties (as in Tit. 2:12), as their priceless privileges, the Apostle mentions not their sanctification, but simply their eternal blessedness, as the mark towards which everything is to be made to tend. Justified, δικαιωθέντες (comp. Rom. 1:17), must be understood in the sense in which the word is usually employed in the Epistles of Paul; so that it does not here signify found righteous, or sanctified, but acquitted from the guilt and punishment of sin, and thus received again into the friendship and favor of God, which had been forfeited by sin. For that justification, in the view of Paul, is more than the mere forgiveness of sin, and, along with this negative idea, includes also the positive one of a restitutio in integrum, is plain from Rom. 4:5. By “his,” ἐκείνου, we are to understand not Christ, or the Holy Spirit just mentioned (Titus 3:6), but God the Father, who had been named, in Titus 3:4, as the source of this entire plan of salvation.—Might be made heirs of eternal life. The same Pauline thought is expressed also in Rom. 8:17; here the Apostle adds, according to hope, κατʼ ἐλπίδα. This phrase must be connected with κληρονόμοι, “heirs,” and be understood as saying that the inheritance of eternal life here mentioned is not yet in its whole extent an actual possession, but is only expected through hope, of which once we were entirely destitute, as something which is certainly to be ours. So Starke: “The children of God are already indeed justified, and abundantly enjoy the goodness of God; but because the proper distribution of the full inheritance is yet future, they must still expect it, in faith and living hope, as certain. See Rom. 8:23, 24. No dead and imaginary hope is here meant, since even a man without faith can say: “I hope, certainly—I think, indeed, that I shall be saved.”

Titus 3:8. Trustworthy is the word (see on 1 Tim. 1:15). This asseveration refers to the whole course of thought (Titus 3:4–7).—And this I will that thou strongly affirm (Vulgate: de his vole te confirmare). The Apostle will have Titus lay a very special emphasis upon the great truth of faith brought out in Titus 3:4–7. Διαβεβαιοῦσθαι, affirm strongly, as in 1 Tim. 1:7. What is to be aimed at by this, is indicated by the following ἵνα, which shows, once more, that the Apostle desires with such earnestness to have the doctrine of free grace preached, because it is the great means of leading sinners to holiness.—That they who; describing the Cretian Christians in contrast with their previous paganism and idolatry (comp. Acts 16:34).—May take care (comp. Titus 2:10), φροντίζειν (ἅπαξ λεγόμ.): “Thus he wishes them to apply their study and care; and when he says φροντίζωσιν, the Apostle seems elegantly to allude to those empty contemplations which philosophize without fruit or life;” Calvin.—These things [sc., these instructions, this practical teaching; De Wette, Ellicott.—D.], in opposition to what follows, in Titus 3:9 (see the critical observations), are good (in themselves) and profitable (comp. on 1 Tim. 2:3). It is arbitrary to limit this requirement of good works exclusively to works of love. [“Good works,” not merely with reference to works of mercy (Chrysostom), but, as in Titus 2:7, perfectly generally, and comprehensively. It was not to be a hollow, specious, false, ascetic, and sterile Christianity, but one that showed itself in outward actions; Ellicott.—D.]

Titus 3:9. But avoid foolish questions of controversy (comp. 1 Tim. 6:20; Tit. 1:10). The Apostle has in view, as is clear from the subjoined adjective, μοράς, such researches as are utterly inconsistent with the Christian character and temper, and, in general, with all reasonable study—curious inquiries in respect to things which are of no consequence to Christian faith and spiritual life, and are even a hindrance to them. Two specialties which may be brought under this general category he particularly mentions: genealogical registers (see on 1 Tim. 1:4) and quarrels, ἔρεις, enmities arising in consequence of the various questions of controversy (ζητήσεις), and contentions about the law. It is plain enough from this, that here, too, Paul has his mind directed particularly to the contentions of the Jewish party (comp. 1 Tim. 1:7; Tit. 1:14). This party frequently engaged in the most violent controversy, now upon the relation of the law to the gospel, and now upon the significance of particular Mosaic rites. These Titus was to avoid, to keep clear of (comp. 2 Tim. 2:16), for these things, in opposition to the καλά (Titus 3:8), are unprofitable and vain (fruitless).

Titus 3:10. An heretical man, αἱρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον, hœreticus; whoever, by his own forwardness, breaks up the unity of the church (comp. 1 Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20; Rom. 16:17), especially by propa gating errors which conflict with the orthodoxy of sound Apostolic doctrine.—After one and a second admonition; after thou hast repeatedly, but fruitlessly, warned him to turn from his error, to profess the pure doctrine. Νουθεσία, from νοῦς and τίθημι, admonitio, occurs elsewhere in the N. T. only in 1 Cor. 10:10; Eph. 6:4.—Shun, παραιτοῦ (1 Tim. 4:7). Cease to exhort and warn him any farther, since it will certainly be fruitless. A formal excommunication (Vitringa) is certainly not here spoken of. The ground for a direction which might seem severe and arbitrary is given in what immediately follows.

Titus 3:11. Knowing that such an one is perverted, ἐξέστραπται (comp. Deut. 32:30). An entire corruption of feeling and aim is here indicated, in consequence of which a complete aversion and antagonism has obtained the ascendancy.—And sinneth, since he is condemned by himself, αὐτοκατάκριτος (comp. 1 Tim. 4:2). This last word defines the peculiar character of the sin of which these persons become guilty. They stumble not at all from precipitancy and weakness, but with the full consciousness of their guilt and condemnation. And this is just the reason why Titus is to let them alone: no exhortation or counsel can assuredly be of any service. They already bear about with them their sentence, and, consequently, can expect nothing in the future but condemnation.


1. In this passage the Apostle assumes—what he had more largely declared in Rom. 13:1–7, and what is so constantly forgotten by the revolutionary politics of modern times—the doctrine of the Divine right of magistrates. Not that he maintains, by any means, that each and every person in authority is directly ordained of God Himself, and hence, as God’s vicegerent on earth, is entitled to demand a blind obedience, but simply that the office of the magistrate, as such, owes its origin, not to the will of men, nor to a supposed social contract (Rousseau), but to the will of God; that God Himself has originally regulated the relation between rulers and ruled according to His own wise counsel and purpose, and has therefore given to no citizen the right arbitrarily to absolve himself from the great duty of obedience, except in the single case provided for in Acts 4:19; 5:29. Compare, on this whole subject, ARNOLD, Theolog. Experimentalis, 2:467–487; “Of Divine Order in Civil Government;” and, further, the Confess. August., art. 16, Formul. Concord., art. 12. Luther, in his larger Catechism, on the Fourth Commandment, maintains the duty of obedience even to unjust princes. Compare his exposition of Psalm 82.

2. Short as is the Epistle to Titus, we yet find, for the second time before it closes, a passage (Titus 3:4–7) containing a compendium of the doctrine of salvation, and at the same time a compressed but rich summing up of what he had more at length expressed in the Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. A new proof, this, that to the end of his life he remained the same, and continued faithful, even in a Pastoral Epistle, to the great theme of his preaching.

3. The doctrine of the free grace of God, displayed in the gratuitous justification of the sinner, is not only a main point in the Pauline theology, but the foundation and corner-stone of the whole structure of the Reformation, and the great centre in which Paul, Augustine, and Luther are at one with believers in every age.

4. According to the express doctrine of the Apostle in this passage, baptism [in the sense explained in the exegetical notes.—D.] is the means of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. It is evident, however, at a glance, that he is here speaking exclusively of adults, who, in the conscious and voluntary exercise of faith, descend into the baptismal water. To children, who are not in a condition to believe, nor to be converted, this expression can be applicable only cum grano salis; and accordingly we find here not the least authority for attributing to the baptismal water, in itself, a magical and mechanical efficacy, which would lead to the Romish idea of the efficacy of baptism ex opere operato. What the child receives, when brought by his parents to baptism, is, not regeneration itself, but the sign and seal of the grace of God for the remission of sins and renewal. It is not till afterwards, when a personal and vital faith has sprung up and become developed in his heart, that regeneration and renewal can be spoken of, of which the baptism received in infancy was the prophetic symbol, and, in a manner, the ideal beginning. From the reformed point of view, therefore, we may speak in an entirely legitimate sense of baptismal grace received, in so far as the child, by this sacred rite, is brought under the protection and nurture of the Christian Church, in which the Holy Spirit works through the word in the regeneration and sanctification of each individual. LANGE, Positiv Dogmatik, p. 1131, says: “Since the child has as yet no will of his own, and no exercise of his rational faculties, and belongs, with all his individual self-direction, to the church, he is committed, in the fulness of his plastic faculties, to the unrestricted influence of the church. His ecclesiastical and social regeneration is thus decided. He is ecclesiastically new-born; for, through baptism, he is born again into church membership. This ecclesiastical regeneration is, however, an individual regeneration, in respect to the idea and potency of the change.” Compare the remark of Huther on this passage.

5. In regard to the question frequently mooted, whether, by the heretics spoken of in the New Testament, we are to understand men who swerve from sound doctrine, and wrest the truth; or rather those who, by ecclesiastical dissensions, destroy the unity of the body of Christ, and thus do violence to love, the answer is simply this: This whole distinction rests upon an arbitrary antithesis between truth and love, faith and life. In swerving from the purity of the Apostolic teaching, the heretics became also schismatics. And the schismatics, so far as they aimed to be such, and to establish a separate church, must inevitably adopt peculiar doctrines, and thereby come more and more into collision with the teaching of the Apostles.


The mission of Christians, to sanctify civil life also.—What the State owes to the Church, and the Church to the State.—The peculiarity of Christian obedience, and what distinguishes it from that of the natural man.—The great contrast between Once and Now in the history of the Christian life.—Nothing is better fitted to lead us to humble gratitude towards God, and to benignity towards men, than the thought of what we once were in ourselves, and of what we have now become through His grace.—“Hateful, and hating one another,” still and ever the character of the natural man (proofs from the ancient and modern history of missions).—The gospel a revelation of grace, in contrast with the law, which worketh death.—The doctrine of the gratuitous justification of the sinner: (1.) The main doctrine of Paul; (2.) the corner-stone of the Reformation; (3.) the inexhaustible fountain of glory to God, consolation, and sanctification.—Baptism, when received in faith, the laver of regeneration.—The difference between works of law and good works from the Christian point of view.—Unprofitable questions, many: the needful inquiry, one.—True preaching must be a full preaching of the gospel; but the full preaching of the gospel must ever have a practical tendency.—The position which becomes the servant of the gospel towards obstinate errorists and opponents.—The various degrees and punishments of sins in the Church of the Lord.

STARKE: Not to be wise, expresses more than not to know; for a person may be unacquainted with many things, and yet be a wise man. An unconverted person is so destitute of understanding, that he regards all spiritual and Divine things as folly.—CRAMER: As believers are in a peaceful and blessed state, so unbelievers are in one in which they have no peace or blessedness. For the former cordially love each other, while the latter hate one another, or else exercise a wrong love, in which they perish together.—The sole fountain of salvation for the whole human family is the love, mercy, and condescension of God.—If we feel the friendliness of God towards us, we also should be friendly to our neighbors.—Man can do no good works, unless he is already just, and blessed by faith.—HEDINGER: Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven! On this depends the inheritance of eternal life. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and blessedness.—The doctrine of good works must be so exhibited, that the power and perseverance requisite for a holy life shall be shown to flow from the evangelical source of grace and faith: where this is not done, nothing is secured beyond an external and pharisaical righteousness.—What should the true preacher discourse upon in the pulpit? Not subtle, unprofitable, and idle questions, but upon subjects by which his hearers may be made better in faith and life, to their souls’ salvation and blessedness.—No amount of talking and singing will compel men to repent. Let Babel loose, and it will not help matters.—If it is unchristian to persecute heretics, it is much more Unchristian to regard as heresy, reject, and condemn, particular opinions which do not affect, much less subvert the foundation of faith, and may even be most precious truths.—God has two kinds of judgments—public and private: the first, at the last day; the latter, already in our conscience. If this become aroused, it makes the world too narrow (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 2:15; 1 Cor. 11:31).

For the Pericope. LISCO: To what the grace of God in Christ binds us.—For what the Christian has especially to thank God on Christmas: (1.) For the mercy He shows us; (2.) for the Spirit He gives us; (3.) for the blessedness to which He leads us.—How we are called, by the incarnation of Christ, to a participation in a higher, heavenly life.—HEUBNER: The mission of the Son of God a proof of the glory to which God will raise us.—RANKE: The aim of the grace of God: (1.) To deliver us from our old life; (2.) to create a new life in us; (3.) to raise us to the life everlasting.—KAPFF: The Triune God is revealed to none but the regenerate Christian.—PALMER: What do we receive at our baptism?—PETRI: How we hear the doctrine of the manifested condescension and friendliness of God.

W. HOFACKER: How difficult problems are clearly solved to faith in the knowledge of the inscrutable God.—LUTHER: “Let now this Epistle teach us once more two things: faith and love—or to receive blessings from God, and to confer blessings upon our neighbor. For all Scripture urges these two, and one cannot exist without the other. Faith excites love, and love increases faith.—What more charming can be said, than such words to a sinful, distressed conscience? Alas, that the devil, by the Pope’s law, should have so miserably perverted these pure words of God!”


[1]Titus 3:1.—Καί is omitted by Tischendorf [Lachmann, Alford, Ellicott.—D.] on the authority of A. C. D.1 E.1 F. G., Cod. Sin., but can hardly be dispensed with. [Still, although it is found in many of the versions and fathers, the weight of MS. authority is too decisive allow it to be retained.—D.]

[2]Titus 3:5.—[The Recepta, Griesbach, Tischendorf, Ellicott, accept ων on the authority of C.2 D.3 E. K. L., Ath., Chrysostom, Theodoret, &c.; while Lachmann and Alford adopt a found in A. C.1 D.1 F. G., and now strengthened by Cod. Sin.—D.]

[3]Titus 3:8.—Τὰ after ταῦτά ἐστι, the fuller text of the Recepta, is wanting in A. C. D. E. G., and other witnesses [also Cod. Sin.—D.]

When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter.

Final Directions and Greetings

TITUS 3:12–15

12When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent [hasten] to 13come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter. Bring [forward] Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently [zealously], that nothing be wanting unto them. 14And let ours also [but also let ours, in Crete] learn to maintain [practise] good works for necessary uses [the necessary wants of others], that they be not unfruitful. 15All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.


Titus 3:12. Artemas or Tychicus. Of the first we hear nothing further: the second is mentioned also in 2 Tim. 4:12. One of these was to arrive at Crete before Titus could leave this post, and, in compliance with the wishes of the Apostle, meet him at Nicopolis. The city meant was probably Nicopolis in Epirus, which was built by the Emperor Augustus in commemoration of his victory at Actium. Other cities of the same name are at least less noted. On the design of Paul to spend the winter there, see the Introduction, § 2. The opinion of Märcker, that Nicopolis in Thrace is meant, would hardly have been defended with so much warmth, if it were not connected with the endeavor to put the Epistle to Titus at a later period of Paul’s life.

Titus 3:13. Zenas and Apollos. The former of these is entirely unknown; he is called a lawyer, be cause, before his conversion, he had belonged to that profession. On Apollos, comp. Acts 18:24–28. Both were just at present in Crete, but were proposing to take their departure, perhaps upon a missionary tour. On this journey Titus was to forward them, προπέμπειν (3 John. 6), and that zealously, σπουδαίως, i.e., not speedily, but with diligence.—That nothing be wanting to them (comp. Rom. 15:24; 1 Cor. 16:6, 11). “Titus, therefore, had means. They were not to depart empty;” Bengel.

Titus 3:14. And let ours also, &c. The last particular direction in the Epistle leads the Apostle to make a more general exhortation.—Ours, in the connection, can be none other than the fellow-believers with Paul and Titus in Crete, who were to be witnesses of the faithful obedience of their overseer to the Apostle’s injunction (Titus 3:13).—To practise good works, καλῶν ἔργων προΐστασδαι (comp. Titus 3:8), here, decidedly, works of Christian beneficence and mercy.—Not unfruitful. If they lacked this love, they would show that their faith was like an unfruitful tree. There is no, good reason for restricting the clause which follows—for the necessary wants, εἰς τάς ἀναγκαίας χρείας—to the material supplies necessary for Zenas and Apollos, and to which the other Christians, along with Titus, were to contribute according to their ability. It would rather seem, from μανδανέτωσαν, that the present care of Titus for Zenas and Apollos was to teach the others, for the future, as often as it might be necessary hereafter, to do their part towards the support of needy brethren. “Whether, therefore, he directs them to excel in good works, or to yield the precedence, he means that it will be useful to them to exercise liberality, lest they become unfruitful under the pretext that occasion was wanting, or necessity did not require ;” Calvin.

Titus 3:15. Salute thee, &c. It is impossible to determine with certainty what fellow-laborers and friends Paul here has in mind.—Greet them that love us in the faith. The Apostle here confines his greeting to those with whom the common faith is the bond of the most intimate union.—Grace be with you all. The key-note on which the Pauline Epistles usually close. It cannot, indeed, be inferred from the words, “with you all,” in themselves alone, that the Epistle was addressed to the church in Crete, as well as to Titus; but we have seen, in the Introduction, that on other grounds this is probable, and the entire contents of the Epistle have only strengthened us in this conviction. The final word, Amen, found in the Recepta, is of later origin.


1. Down to the very close of the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle remains like himself, both in his exhibition of the substance of the gospel, and his directions in respect to the government of the church and the conduct of its members and officers. Is it not an unequivocal proof of the moral greatness of Paul, the power of grace in him, and even of the genuineness of the Epistle itself, that, from beginning to end, it is so completely pervaded by the same original Apostolic spirit?

2. Between the Christian philanthropy which Paul here enjoins, and the mere humanitarian philanthropy which finds so many defenders in our day, there is a great difference in respect to their origin, extent, power, aim, and practical result, which can in no wise be overlooked or disregarded.

“Spiritual need lays a foundation for duties, that one may not be able to stand aloof from another;” Bengel.


The Christian is at liberty to lay plans for the future, provided only that he does so with a deep feeling of dependence (comp. Heb. 6:3; James 4:13–15).—Travelling ministers of the gospel, and missionaries needing help, should be properly cared for.—The love which we see shown to others, we ourselves must imitate according to our ability.—Fruitful and unfruitful faith.—The communion of love.

STARKE: There is a great diversity of gifts among the children of God, of which one is especially serviceable for this, and another for that (1 Cor. 12:4 sqq.)—It is useful, as well as pleasing to God, that those who labor in the word, and are engaged in the same service, should live in mutual confidence, kindly seek each other’s advice, listen, and follow it.—A pastor must not leave his church, either for a long journey and a protracted absence, or permanently by the acceptance of a call elsewhere, until he is sure that his church either is or will be provided with a true minister of the word.—Happy are they who are able to divide their work with pious and faithful helpers: it will thus be the more successful.—HEDINGER: Christianity demands training till one become habitually a doer of good works. Oh! strive, agonize, that ye be not unfruitful.—OSIANDER: We should do good to all, but especially to those who hold the true religion with us, and are fellow-believers.

LISCO: The fruits of true faith.—Are ye in the state of good works ? Whereby shall we know that the preaching of Christ has become effectual in us?












[N. B.—The parts added to the original work by the Translator and Editor are enclosed in brackets, with his initial attached to them, except where they consist of very brief expressions. It was thought best to change the order of the topics in the following Introduction, for the sake of a stricter method, and also (on account of the peculiar interest of this Epistle) to treat some of the divisions more fully than Dr. Van Oosterzee has done. The writer has transferred to this Commentary the results of some study bestowed on the Epistle, which have already appeared in other publications.—H.]


THE Christian Church has with reason assigned a place also to the Epistle to Philemon in the canonical collection of the writings of Paul; and although the last place, yet at the same time the one next to the pastoral Epistles, which contain the last written memorial of the labors of the great Apostle. This letter, indeed, may justly be called “a decided Pastoral, with special reference to the cure of souls” (LANGE). Since it relates merely to a private affair, it stands not improperly after all the other Epistles of Paul, which were written with respect to more general, important matters in the different churches. As a contribution, however, to our knowledge of the person and character of Paul, it contains so much that is interesting as well as beautiful, that we may term it a little gem, yet a gem of great value—nay, one of the most precious relics which have come down to us from Christian antiquity.

[In the historical order the letter to Philemon stands properly after that to the Colossians, since these two letters were written at the same time, were sent to the same place, and make mention of the same persons. The continuous commentators, as De Wette, Meyer, Wordsworth, Ellicott, treat of them in this relation to each other.—H.]


The genuineness of this Epistle is amply attested on external grounds. Even in the writings of Ignatius, expressions occur which appear to refer to passages in this letter.1 It is mentioned in Muratori’s canon [which is from the second century], and in that of Tertullian and Eusebius, without the least appearance of any objection. ORIGEN (Hom. XIX. in Jer.) ascribes it expressly to the Apostle Paul. Marcion himself, as TERTULLIAN states (Advs. Marc. V. 42), received it. [Sinope in Pontus, the birthplace of Marcion, was not far from Colossæ, where Philemon lived, and the letter would naturally find its way to the neighboring churches, at an early period. In short, the early testimonies of this nature are so many and decisive, that, as DE WETTE says (Einleit. in das N. Test., p. 278), its genuineness on that ground is beyond dispute.—H.]

The citations from this Epistle by the early writers are less frequent than from some others; but that is explained simply by the fact, that its contents are so little polemic or didactic. Yet, compare ORIGEN, Opp. tom. 3. pp. 263, 884, 889. There were some, indeed, according to Jerome, who denied the genuineness of the Epistle, but drew that conclusion only from its brevity and simplicity: Aut epistolam non esse Pauli, aut eliam, si Pauli sit, nihil habere quod œdificare nos possit. The manner in which this church father replied to them, shows plainly enough how little importance he conceded to this purely subjective and isolated objection.

[Nor does the Epistle itself offer anything at variance with this external proof of its authorship. It is impossible to conceive of a writing more strongly marked within the same limits by those unstudied assonances of thought, sentiment, and expression, which indicate an author’s hand, than this short Epistle as compared with Paul’s other productions. It contains but ten words which are not found in his other writings.

The words peculiar to this Epistle are the following: συστρατιώτης, Phm 1:2; ἀνῆκον, ἐπιτάσσειν, Phm 1:8; πρεσβύτης, Phm 1:9; ἄχρηστος and εὔχρηστος, Phm 1:11; ἀποτίω, προσοφείλω, Phm 1:19; ὀνίνασθαι, Phm 1:20; ξενία, Phm 1:22. BAUR (see his Paulus, p. 475) founds his only external objection to the Epistle on the absence of these words from Paul’s other letters. But to argue from these that they disprove the apostolic origin of the Epistle, is to assume the absurd principle that a writer, after having produced two or three compositions, must for the future confine himself to an unvarying circle of words, whatever may be the subject which he discusses, or whatever the interval of time between his different writings. Nothing could be more arbitrary than such a rule as applied to a question of authorship. There are no writers in any language, who would not be deprived of their claim to the composition of many portions of their works, universally accredited to them, if the occurrence of some new word, or new turn of expression, not found in other portions, be a sufficient reason for denying their genuineness. Baur is even still more unreasonable. He not only objects, if the Apostle employs new terms, but equally as well if he repeats those which he is accustomed to use else where. He admits that Paul could have said σπλάγχνα twice, but thinks it suspicious that he should say it three times (vers. 7, 12, 20).—Such criticisms only serve to illustrate Baur’s own remark, that in objecting to the genuineness of this letter, one runs a greater risk of being thought hypercritical, of betraying a morbid sensibility to doubt and denial, than in questioning the claims of any other Pauline Epistle.

The letter reflects Paul’s personal characteristics, such as tact, sense of honor, generosity, self-sacrifice, politeness, so well known to us elsewhere.Dr. HOWSON, in his “Hulsean Lectures” on the Character of St. Paul,2 adduces from this letter some of his most striking illustrations of that unity, peculiar to the Apostle’s character, which he finds portrayed in his various Epistles, and in the Acts. It should be remarked, too, that the historical allusions which the Apostle makes to events in his own life, or to other persons with whom he was connected, harmonize perfectly with the statements or incidental intimations contained in his other Epistles, or in the Acts of the Apostles. An example of this agreement (which Paley has pointed out in his Horœ Paulinœ) will show its relevancy as a source of argument here. We are informed in the Epistle to the Colossians (4:9) that Onesimus was a Colossian (ὅς ἐστιν ἐξ ὑμῶν), but learn nothing else respecting him from that letter. This assertion is confirmed in a singular manner by the Epistle to Philemon, though without any mention of Colossæ, or of the place of Philemon’s abode. Philemon and Archippus are saluted together (Phil. vers. 1,2), and hence, as Archippus was an officer in the church at Colossae (Col. 4:17), Philemon must have been a Colossian, and consequently Onesimus must have been a Colossian, since he appears in the letter to Philemon as one of his servants. “The case then stands thus: Take the Epistle to the Colossians alone, and no circumstance is discoverable which makes out the assertion, that he was ‘one of them’—i. e., was a Colossian. Take the Epistle to Philemon alone, and nothing at all appears concerning the place to which Philemon or his servant Onesimus belonged. For anything that is said in the Epistle, Philemon might hare been a Thessalonian, a Philippian, or an Ephesian, as well as a Colossian. Put the two Epistles together, and the matter is clear. The reader perceives a junction of circumstances, which ascertains the conclusion at once. It is a correspondence which evinces the genuineness of one Epistle as well as of the other. It is like comparing the two parts of a cloven tally. Coincidence proves the authenticity of both.”—H.]

In view of such attestation, the scepticism of the Tübingen school in regard to this part of the apostolic remains may not unjustly be called “a conceit hardly meant in earnest” (Meyer). If the critics of this school appeal to single words and expressions which do not occur in the other Epistles of Paul, we answer simply, that such singularia are found in his other Epistles, and therefore prove nothing respecting its genuineness. If they deny in general that Paul wrote letters during his captivity at Rome, we have only to refer to what has been said on this question in the Introduction to the other Epistles [Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians] which belong to this period; and even though (which we emphatically deny) all the other Epistles assigned to that period were suspicious, it would by no means follow that this one is therefore spurious, especially since the fabrication of such a private letter must be pronounced, in fact, almost inexplicable. And, finally, if they affirm that the entire history of Onesimus appears like a romantic story, originating in a desire to veil a truly Christian idea in an appropriate dress, we but recognize here again the same arbitrary separation of history and symbol, of idea and reality, which, in a certain sense, may be called the πρῶτον ψεῦδος of the Tübingen school. We but hear again the old song: “Too beautiful to be a fact, too ingenious not to be a fiction.” “The history is too rare to be true—Christian faith has answered that. The history is too suggestive to be true—Christian science has answered that. If this letter had been something more ordinary, something less significant, perhaps it would have found favor in the eyes of such critics; and yet, indeed, the opposite is more probable.” LANGE, Apost. Zeitalter, 1. p. 134. Profane history itself is not without examples similar to that which gave occasion for the writing of this letter. Compare especially the Epistles of PLINY (Lib. xi. 21, 24), to which Grotius has very properly referred in his Commentary on Phm 1:10, [See under “Doctrinal and Practical,” at the end of the present Commentary.]

Instead, therefore, of finding in this letter the embryo of an idealized, spiritualized fiction, such as we find more fully developed in the Pseudo-Clementina, we have to do here with nothing beyond the limits of the most sober, historical reality.


The time and place of writing this letter coincide with the date and place of the composition of the Epistles to the Colossians, Philippians, and Ephesians. It is entirely evident that Paul, when he wrote the letter to Philemon, was in prison for the cause of Christ (Phm 1:1); and the question can only be, whether we are to think of his imprisonment at Cœsarea (Acts 24: 27), or his first imprisonment at Rome (Acts 28:30, 31). Many reasons concur in leading us to adopt the last-named of these views. At Rome only is it conceivable that he could have had such free scope for the propagation of the gospel as is presupposed and intimated in the Epistles above mentioned. The flight of Onesimus directly to Rome, the capital of the world, where especially he could hope, in the midst of its vast population, to remain concealed and safe, has nothing improbable in it. The expression (Phm 1:15), that he departed—from his master for a season (πρὸς ὥραν), need not be so urged as to be understood of a definite time, and hence as an argument against the flight of Onesimus to the more distant Rome. [Rome, of course, was geographically more remote from Colossæ than Cæsarea; but in that age of Roman supremacy, the facilities of intercourse would make Rome as near as Cæsarea, and thus Onesimus and Paul could become acquainted with each other as soon in the former city as in the latter.—H.] That other proofs, also, which some think are found in the Epistle itself in favor of Cæsarea, are in the highest degree weak and fanciful, has been conclusively shown by Wiesinger in the Introduction to his Commentary on this Epistle (p. 693).3 At all events, therefore, this Epistle was written some years earlier than the pastoral Epistles, namely, between the years A. D. 58–61: [or, not improbably, two or three years later still. The Apostle, at the close of the letter to Philemon, expresses a hope of his own speedy liberation. He speaks in like manner of his approaching deliverance in his Epistle to the Philippians (2:23, 24), which was written during the same imprisonment at Rome. Presuming, therefore, that he had good reasons for such an expectation, and that he was not disappointed in the result, we may conclude that this letter was written by him about the year A. D. 63, or early in A. D. 64; for it was in the latter year, according to the best chronologists, that he was freed from his first Roman imprisonment.—H.]

The identity of this Epistle with that to the church at Laodicea (Col. 4:16), though strenuously maintained by some (Affelmann, Zeltner, Wieseler), is certainly destitute of support. [It is altogether improbable that Paul would address a letter relating to a personal affair to an entire church. It proves nothing that an Archippus is mentioned in the Apostolical Constitutions (vii. 46) as a Laodicean; for the Archippus whom Paul salutes in Phm 1:2 belonged to Colossæ, and not Laodicea, as is evident from Col. 4:17. It lies on the face of the passage, that Archippus, to whom the Colossians were to deliver Paul’s message (Col. 4:17), was one of their own number; and it is merely accidental that the Apostle names him in that place, just after speaking of the church in Laodicea. Wieseler’s inference (chronologie, p. 452), that the Colossians were expected to transmit the message to Laodicea, where Archippus lived, is violent and unnecessary.—H.]


Respecting the persons of Onesimus and Philemon, we know little or nothing except what we learn from this brief letter itself. The former appears (Col. 4:9) to have been a native of Colossæ. [If not a native, he was certainly a resident there, since Paul, in writing to the church at Colossæ, speaks of him (Col. 4:9) as one of them, i. e., of the Colossians. This expression confirms the presumption which his Greek name affords, that he was a Gentile, and not a Jew, as some would infer from μάλιστα ἐμοὶ, in Phm 1:16 (see in loc.) He was originally a slave of Philemon, as Dr. Oosterzee assumes without discussion. The manner in which Paul speaks of the relation between Philemon and Onesimus (ὠς δοῦλον, ὑπὲρ δοῦλον), the coloring of his language so evidently suggested by that relation (ἄχρηστον, εὔχηστον, ἀιώνιον ἀπέςης, ἀποτίσω, προσοφείλεις), and the unvarying tradition on the subject, are all without any adequate explanation, unless we admit that the two men were related to each other as master and slave. On this point not only the ancient commentators, but nearly all of any critical weight among the modern, agree in their decision. In Phrygia, where Onesimus lived, slaves were so numerous that the name itself of Phrygian was almost synonymous with that of slave (see on vers. 18). The instruction which Paul gave to the Colossians respecting the duties of masters and servants to each other (Col. 3:22–24; 4:1), bears witness to the same fact.4

As there were believers in Phrygia when the Apostle passed through that region on his third missionary tour (Acts 28:23), and as Onesimus belonged to a Christian household, it is not improbable that he had some knowledge of the Christian doctrine before he went to Rome. But whether this was so or not, it is certain that he did not embrace the Gospel until he met with the Apostle at Rome, and was led by him there to believe in Christ. The language of the Epistle (ὃν ἐγέννησα ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου, Phm 1:10) is explicit on this point.

After his conversion, the most happy and friendly relations sprung up between the teacher and the disciple. The situation of the Apostle as a captive, and an indefatigable laborer for the promotion of the gospel (Acts 28:30, 31), must have made him keenly alive to the sympathies of Christian friendship, and dependent upon others for various services of a personal nature, important to his efficiency as a minister of the Word. Onesimus appears to have supplied this twofold want in an eminent degree. We see, from the letter, that he won entirely the Apostle’s heart, and made himself so useful to him in various private ways,5 or evinced such a capacity to be so (for he may have gone back to Colossæ quite soon after his conversion), that Paul wished to have him remain constantly with him. His attachment to him as a disciple, as a personal friend, and as a helper to him in his bonds, was such that he yielded him up only in obedience to that spirit of self-denial, and that sensitive regard for the claims or feelings of others, which comport so well with his known characteristics.6—H.]

It can hardly be doubted that Onesimus, after having been commended to Philemon in such terms, was restored to his favor, and was set at liberty. Tradition at least claims to inform us (comp. Canon. Apost. 73, and Constit. Apost. 7. 46), that he was ordained by Paul bishop of the church at Berœa, in Macedonia, and afterward suffered martyrdom at Rome. In the Epistle, also, of Ignatius to the Ephesians (i. 6), a bishop of the church at Ephesus is mentioned, named Onesimus, though there is no sufficient reason for supposing them identical.

Philemon, the master of Onesimus, as tradition relates, was a native of Laodicea, but dwelt at Colossæ. In the latter city he was a fellow-laborer of Paul, though in what relation we are not told, and stood at the head of a Christian congregation in his own house (Phm 1:2). If we conclude from Phm 1:19 (σεαυτόν μοι προσοφειλεις) that he also had been brought into the church by the preaching of Paul, we must suppose this took place during the Apostle’s abode at Ephesus, since Paul was not personally known to the church at Colossæ; see Col. 2:1, and comp. Col. 1:3–7. [The Apostle labored at Ephesus three years or more (Acts 20:31), about A. D. 54–57. Ephesus was the religious and commercial capital of western Asia Minor; and such was the Apostle’s zeal, that “all they who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Phrygia was a neighboring province, and among the strangers who repaired to Ephesus, and had an opportunity to hear the preaching of Paul, may have been the Colossian Philemon. At the same time it is possible, as others think, that Paul may have visited Colossæ when he passed through Phrygia on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6); and if that was so, it was then undoubtedly that Philemon heard the gospel and attached himself to the Christian party.—H.] According to Theodoret, Philemon’s house was still pointed out at Colossæ in his time, i. e., in the fifth century.

Some have inferred from this letter, without sufficient ground, that Philemon was uncommonly harsh and severe in his character. [On the contrary, it is evident, from what Paul says or implies concerning him, that, on becoming a disciple, Philemon gave no common proof of the sincerity and power of his faith. His character, as shadowed forth in this Epistle, is one of the noblest which the sacred record makes known to us. He was full of faith and good works, was confiding, obedient, sympathizing, benevolent, and a man who, on a question of simple justice, needed only a hint of his duty to prompt him to go even beyond it. Any one who studies the Epistle will perceive that it ascribes to him these varied qualities; it bestows on him a measure of commendation, which forms a striking contrast with the ordinary reserve of the sacred writers. It was by the example and activity of such believers that the primitive Christianity evinced its divine origin, and spread with such rapidity among the nations.—H.]

The legendary history says that Philemon became bishop at Colossæ, and died a martyr under Nero (Constit. Apost. 7. 46). According to Pseudo-Dorotheus, he is said to have been a bishop at Gaza.


The occasion for writing the Epistle was the following: Onesimus, the slave of Philemon, a Christian master, had fled from him (vers. 11, 15, 18) out of fear of punishment, probably on account of a theft which he had committed. During his flight he became acquainted with Paul, perhaps through the intervention of Epaphras, and by the Apostle was converted to Christ. Some time afterward, as the imprisoned Paul was sending his fellow-laborer Tychicus to Ephesus (Eph. 6:21) and to Colossæ (Col. 4:7–9), he availed himself of the opportunity to send back also Onesimus to his lawful master, whom he commended at the same time to the church at Colossæ (Col. 4:9). At his departure, the Apostle gave to Onesimus the present letter, in order to request for him a kind reception, and a remission of the punishment which he feared, and also a lodging for himself, which should be ready for him in anticipation of a proposed journey through that region.

[Tychicus, his fellow-traveller, was the bearer also of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:21, 22), and hence that Epistle and the two Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon were all written, no doubt, on the eve of the Apostle’s acquittal. It is very possible that the lost letter to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16), of which we have already spoken, was entrusted to the same hands. We do not know what circumstances may have controlled the course of the journey. The most direct way was to cross the northern part of the Greek peninsula. They would embark at Brundusium, and disembark at Dyrrhachium, on the other side of the Adriatic. They would then traverse the Egnatian Way, along which Paul in his second missionary tour had passed and scattered the seed of the Word. They would meet with Christian hospitality at Thessalonica. Apollonia and Amphipolis were on the route. The disciples at Philippi would be eager to hear tidings of the beloved Apostle. From the Pass over Symbolum they would look forth once more upon the waters which divided Europe from their native Asia.7 Neapolis, the port of Philippi, lay at the base of that range of hills, and would afford them the means to cross to Troas, or to the mouth of the Cayster or the Mseander, whence they could proceed to Ephesus, Laodicea, and Golossæ, in such order as their convenience, or the nature of their errand might require.

It may be assumed, from the known character of Philemon, that the Apostle’s intercession for Onesimus was not unavailing. There can be no doubt that, agreeably to the express instructions of the letter, the past was forgiven; that the master and the servant were reconciled to each other. If the liberty which Onesimus had asserted in a spirit of independence, and had consented to place once more at his master’s disposal, was not conceded to him as a boon or right, the freedom was enjoyed, at all events, under a form of servitude which henceforth was such in name only. So much must be regarded as certain; or it follows that the Apostle was mistaken in his opinion of Philemon’s character; that he was not the Christian that the Apostle supposed him to be, and not worthy of the confidence with which he entrusted the beloved Onesimus to his absolute power. Chrysostom declares, in his impassioned style, that Philemon must have been less than a man, must have been alike destitute of sensibility and reason (ποῖος λίθος, ποῖον θήριον), not to be moved by the arguments and spirit of such a letter to fulfil every wish and intimation of the Apostle. Precisely how much the Apostle had in view as the direct object of his mediation, may not be certain. But, surely, no fitting response to his pleadings for Onesimus could involve less than a cessation of everything oppressive and harsh in his civil condition, as far as it depended on Philemon to mitigate or neutralize the evils of a legalized system of bondage, as well as a cessatior of everything violative of his rights as a Christian. But, in all probability, more than this is true. The import of such a letter must be sought in what it suggests as well as in what it says. Some insist on ὑπὲρ ὃ λέγω, in Phm 1:21, as the expression of a distinct expectation on the part of Paul that Philemon would liberate Onesimus. Nearly all agree that, even if that favor was not asked, in so many words, Philemon would not have withheld it after such an appeal to his justice and humanity, as the entire letter urges upon him with so much earnestness and power. The traditions above referred to show the ancient opinion on this subject. We can well believe that the Lord’s freedman in this case became politically free, and henceforth called no man master after the flesh. See more fully on Phm 1:21.—H.]


[This Epistle to Philemon has one peculiar feature—its æsthetic character, we may term it—which distinguishes it from all the other Epistles of Paul, and demands a special notice at our hands. It has been admired deservedly as a model of delicacy and skill in the department of composition to which it belongs. The writer had peculiar difficulties to overcome. He was the common friend of the parties at variance. He must conciliate a man who supposed that he had good reason to be offended. He must commend the offender, and yet neither deny nor aggravate the imputed fault. He must assert the new ideas of Christian equality in the face of a system which hardly recognized the humanity of the enslaved. He could have placed the question on the ground of his own personal rights, and yet must waive them in order to secure an act of spontaneous kindness. His success must be a triumph of love, and nothing be demanded for the sake of the justice which could have claimed everything. He limits his request to a forgiveness of the alleged wrong, and a restoration to favor and the enjoyment of future sympathy and affection, and yet would so guard his words as to leave scope for all the generosity which benevolence might prompt towards one whose condition admitted of so much alleviation. These are contrarieties not easy to harmonize; but Paul, it is confessed, has shown a degree of self-denial and a tact in dealing with them, which, in being equal to the occasion, could not well be greater.

As stated already, we have an extant letter of the younger PLINY (Epist. ix. 21), which he wrote to a friend whose servant had deserted him, in which he intercedes for the fugitive, who was anxious to return to his master, but dreaded the effects of his anger. Thus the occasion of the correspondence was similar to that between the Apostle and Philemon. It has occurred to scholars to compare this celebrated letter with that of Paul in behalf of Onesimus; and as the result, they declare that not only in the “spirit of Christianity, of which Pliny was ignorant,” but in dignity of thought, argument, pathos, beauty of style, and eloquence, the communication of the Apostle is vastly superior to that of the polished Roman writer. (See this letter of Pliny, at the end of the Commentary.)—H.]

Hence it is no wonder that the contents of this Epistle have called forth at all times the warmest praise. Thus JEROME: “Evangelico decore conscripta est.” LUTHER, in his Preface, says: “This Epistle presents a charming and masterly example of Christian love. St. Paul takes the poor Onesimus to his heart, stands as representative for him with his master, intercedes for him as if it was himself who had sinned and not Onesimus, strips himself of his own rights, and so compels Philemon to relinquish also his. Even as Christ did for us with God the Father, thus also does St. Paul for Onesimus with Philemon; for Christ also stripped Himself of His right, and by love and humility induced the Father to lay aside His anger and power, and to take us to His grace for the sake of Christ, who lovingly pleads our cause, and with all His heart lays Himself out for us. For we are all to Him, like Onesimus to Paul, as I think of it.”—[ERASMUS says of it: “Cicero never wrote with greater elegance”]—CALVIN: “Quanta fuerit spiritus Paulini celsitudo—hœc quoque epistola testis est, in qua argumentum tractans humile alias et abjectum, suo tamen more sublimis ad Deum evehitur.... Ita modeste et suppliciter pro infimo homine se dimittit, ut vix alibi irsquam magis ad vsum tit expresse ingenii ejus mansuetudo.”—FRANKIUS: “Unica epistola ad Philemonem omnem mundi sapientiam longissime superat.”—BENGEL: “Epistola familiaris, suœmm sapientiœ prœbitura specimen, quomodo christiani res civiles debeant tractare ex principiis altioribus.”—EWALD: “Nowhere shall we find the sensibility and warmth of delicate friendship more beautifully blended with the higher feeling of a superior intellect, yea, of a teacher and an Apostle, than in this brief and yet most sententious Epistle.”—WIESINGER: “What consciousness of apostolic dignity, with such humility and love! What fulness and elevation of Christian thought, exhibited in the treatment of an incident belonging to the most common relations of life! What power of eloquence! What delicacy of feeling, yet sharpness of argument! In comparing this Epistle with the Pastoral Epistles, we may conceive how their Pauline character might be assailed; but criticism, which would find in this letter itself the grounds of such an assault, ‘exposes itself not merely to the reproach of hypercriticism, but that of the denial and contempt of all criticism’ ” (Unkritik).—CONYBEARE and HOWSON: “This letter is not only a beautiful illustration of the character of St. Paul, but also a practical commentary upon the precepts concerning the mutual relations of slaves and masters, given in his contemporary Epistles.”—A. ROCHAT: “Outre les instructions générales, que fournit cette Epître, elle a l’ avantage de nous montrer comment l’Apôtre traitait une affaire particuliere et comment il se montrait à ses amis dans les détails de la vie commune.” [Translation: “Besides the general instructions which this Epistle furnishes, it serves to show us how the Apostle treated a private affair, and how he showed himself to his friends in the details of common life.]—BURKE: “This letter is an important help for enabling us to understand Paul, his character, his intellectual gifts, his qualities of heart.”—[“It is a precious relic,” says MEYER, “of a great character. It pursues its object with so much Christian love and wisdom, with so much psychological tact, and without a renunciation of the apostolic, authority, is so ingenious and suggestive, that this letter, viewed merely as a specimen of the Attic elegance and urbanity, may rank among the epistolary masterpieces of antiquity.”—BENGEL’S gnomic description is, “mire ἀστεῖος.”—“It is impossible to read it,” says DODDRIDGE, “without being touched with the delicacy of sentiment, the masterly address, that appear in every part of it. We see here, in a most striking light, how perfectly consistent true politeness is, not only with the warmth and sincerity of the friend, but even with the dignity of the Christian and the Apostle. If this letter were to be considered in no other view than as merely a human composition, it must be allowed to be a masterpiece of its kind.”—H.]


As to the comparatively rich literature of the Epistle, we need mention only such aids as have a special value for the object of this Bible-Work. Besides the Commentaries of Dr WETTE (2d ed., 1847), WIESINGER (Königsberg, 1851), one of the continuators of the Olshausen series; MEYER (2d ed., 1859); [BLEEK (Vorlesungen ü. die Briefe an die Colossen, den Philemon u. die Epheser, 1865) ], and the older interpreters mentioned by Meyer, compare especially D. H. WILDSCHUT de vi dictionis et sermonis elegantia, in epistola Pauli ad Philemonem conspicua Traj. ad Rhen., 1809.—A. ROCHAT: Méditation de l’épître de St. Paul à Philemon, occurring in his Meditations sur quelques portions de la parole de Dieu, 3me edition, Paris, 1848.—F. KÜIINE: Der Epistel Pauli an Philemon, in Bibelstunden, zur Erbauung für das christliche Volk ausgelegt, 2 Bändchen, Leipzig, 1856 [i. e., expounded in Bible lessons for the edification of Christian people.]

[KOCH’S Commentary (Comm, über den Brief Pauli an dem Phil., Zürich, 1846) the writer has found to be of great assistance. C. R. HAGENBACH’S Interpretation (Pauli ad Philem. ep. interpret, est, Bas. 1829; was one of his early efforts, and is much less important. Pauli ad Philemonem Epistolœ Interpretatio Historico-exegetica, by M. ROTHE (Bremæ, 1844, pp. 1–60), shows the results of careful study in the use of the best means existing at that period.—The reader will find eighty folio pages devoted to Philemon in Tom. V. of the Critici Sacri (ed. Francof. 1695), by the jurist, SCIPIO GENTILIS.—The celebrated LAVATER, as pastor in Zürich, preached thirty-nine sermons on this brief composition, and published them in two volumes (Predigten über den Brief an den Philemon, St. Gallen, 1785–’6). The sermons contain no exegesis or critical material, but are purely homiletic and hortatory. Paul speaks of himself by one cursory word as “old;” and Lavater has two discourses on “old age”—the duties we owe to the aged, and the duties the aged owe to themselves. In copiousness of ideas and directness of appeal he is hardly surpassed by Baxter himself.—In our own language, the Commentaries of ELLICOTT, WORDSWORTH, ALFORD, and BARNES include, of course, an exposition of this Epistle.—There are many good thoughts on Philemon, though quaintly expressed, in the Commentary on the New Testament, by JOHN TRAPP, M.A. (Webster’s ed., London, 1865).—DODDRIDGE’S notes here are among the best that he has written on the Epistles.—Those of MACKNIGHT are remarkably pertinent and suggestive, and have been almost copied by some later writers without due acknowledgment.—The Rev. J. S. BUCKMINSTER, of our own country, has a sermon on the entire letter as a text, in which he has displayed his rare power of eloquent expression and illustration, but discusses a different class of topics from those which the spirit of the times would lead us to expect from a preacher now.—Among the patristic commentators, no one succeeds better than CHRYSOSTOM in bringing out the delicate touches of the letter.—H.]

Compare further the articles relating to Philemon and Onesimus, and to the Epistle itself, in HERZOG’S Real-Encykopädie, in ZELLER’S Wörterbuch [and in SMITH’S Bible Dictionary].


As regards the classification or analysis of the letter, a single word will suffice. In order to perceive and enjoy its full beauty and power, we should read it as one uninterrupted out-gush from beginning to end. If any one, however, needs resting-places, in order to bring the whole under the eye at once, the following division may be made: First, address and salutation (vers. 1–3); secondly, an expression of Christian sympathy and recognition (vers. 4–7); thirdly (the proper kernel of the Epistle), intercession for Onesimus, and commendation of him (vers. 8–22); and finally, request for a lodging, greetings of friends, and prayer for spiritual blessings (vers. 22–25).8


[1][Ignatius, it is true, says three times in his letters, ὀναιμην ὑμῶν, which reminds us certainly of Paul’s ἐγώ σου ὀναίμην in Phm 1:20. See KIRCHHOFER’S Geschichte des Kanon’s, p. 205. But the phrase was apparently not uncommon, and should not be pressed too far. As one of the apostolic Fathers, Ignatius would be the earliest witness.—H.]

[2]Preached before the University of Cambridge, 1863.

[3][PRESSENSÉ (Histoire des trois Premiers Siècls, vol. 2. p. 56, ed. 1858) reasserts the opinion that the Epistle was written at Cæsarea, and not at Rome. His principal argument is, that the Apostle’s captivity was comparatively light at Rome, and hence he could not hare been the fellow-prisoner of a slave there, because an association like that implies a more rigorous confinement. But we reply, there is no evidence whatever that Onesimus was a prisoner anywhere: on the contrary, the fact that during his connection with Paul he could render himself so useful to him (vers. 11, 13), and that he was apparently at liberty to remain at Borne or return to Colossæ, as the Apostle might direct (see Phm 1:12), proves that Onesimus was not a prisoner. Still further, it is an oversight to speak of the custody to which he was subjected at Ctesarea, as more severe than that at Borne; for we read in Acts 24:23, that Felix commanded the centurion “to let Paul have liberty (indulgence may be more correct), and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.” So that, if it were true that Onesimus was also a prisoner as well as Paul, the situation of Paul at Rome was no more inconsistent with the intimacy between them there than it would have been at Cæsarea. See SMITH’S Bible Dictionary, art. Colossans, Amer. ed.—H.

[4]Laodicea belonged ethnologically to Phrygia, though assigned politically to Proconsular Asia (Rev. 1:11).—H.]

[5][It is barely possible that ἳνα διακονῆ μοι, in Phm 1:13, may refer to ministerial coöperation. See on the passage.—H.]

[6][The parting with Onesimus (see Phm 1:16) must have been the more painful to Paul in consequence of the natural craving for personal sympathy, for which he was remarkable. Dr. Howson has illustrated this trait of the Apostle’s character with great beauty and effect in his Lectures on the Character of St. Paul, pp. 58–61.—H.]

[7][In a journey which the writer made to Macedonia in the month of December, 1858, it was discovered that the site of Philippi, with its ruins, and the present Kavalla, the Neapolis of the Acts (16:11), may be seen distinctly in their opposite directions from a height overhanging the road across Symbolum, which leads from the coast to Philippi, in the interior. The few travellers who have been here appear to have followed the beaten road, some fifty or seventy-five feet lower than the summits, and thus have failed to obtain this simultaneous view of the town and the harbor. The places are about ten miles distant from each other. See Journey to Neapolis and Philippi, in the Bible Sacra, xvii. pp. 866–898, and, Neapolis, in SMITH’S Bible Dictionary.—H.]

[8][It is thought best to extend the analysis to four divisions, instead of three, as in the German work.]

Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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