Philemon 1:10
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
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(10) My son.—Properly, my own child, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus. The name is withheld, till Philemon’s interest is doubly engaged, for one who is the Apostle’s “own child” (a name of endearment given elsewhere only to Timothy and Titus), and for one who was begotten under the hardships and hindrances of imprisonment. At last the name is given, and even then comes, in the same breath, the declaration of the change in him from past uselessness to present usefulness, both to the Apostle and to his former master.

Onesimus.—Of Onesimus we know absolutely nothing, except what we read here and in Colossians 4:9. Tradition, of course, is busy with his name, and makes him Bishop of Berœa, in Macedonia, or identifies him with the Onesimus, Bishop of Ephesus, mentioned in the Ignatian Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:2-6). The name was a common one, especially among slaves.

Philemon 1:10-14. I beseech thee — There is a beautiful emphasis in the repetition of these words, which he had introduced in the preceding verse; for my son — The son of my age. The order of the original words is this; 1 entreat thee for a son of mine, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus — On this Macknight remarks as follows: “Onesimus’s name at the end of the sentence has a fine effect, by keeping the reader in suspense. This every person of taste must perceive. The apostle would not so much as mention Onesimus’s name till he had prepared Philemon for hearing it; and when he does mention it, instead of calling him a fugitive slave, or even a slave simply, he calls him his own son, to show that he had a tender affection for him, and was much interested in his welfare. And then, by telling Philemon that he had begotten him in his bonds, he insinuated that Onesimus was not discouraged from becoming a Christian by the apostle’s bonds. Being, therefore, a firm believer, he was not unworthy of the pardon the apostle solicited for him. Indeed, in this beautiful passage there is a group of the most affecting arguments closely crowded together. On the one hand we have Philemon’s own reputation for goodness; his friendship to the apostle, his respect for his character, reverence for his age, (now it is supposed about sixty or sixty-three,) compassion for his bonds, and at the same time an insinuation of that obedience which Philemon owed to him as an apostle. On the other hand we have Onesimus’s repentance and return to virtue, his profession of Christianity, notwithstanding the evils to which it exposed him, and his being the object of his spiritual father’s tender affection. In short, every word contains an argument. Philemon therefore must have been exceedingly affected by this moving passage.” Who in time past was to thee unprofitable — We have just seen with what endearment the apostle called Onesimus his son, begotten in his bonds, before he mentioned his name; here we see with what fine address, as soon as he had mentioned it, he touches on his former misbehaviour, giving it the softest name possible, and instantly passing on to the happy change that was now made upon him, so disposing Philemon to attend to his request, and the motives whereby he enforced it: but now profitable — No one should be expected to be a good servant before he is a good man. The apostle manifestly alludes to his name Onesimus, which signifies profitable. To thee and to me — Or rather, even as to me. To show the sincerity of Onesimus’s repentance, the apostle mentions the experience which he himself had had of his benevolent disposition, in the many affectionate services which he had received from him during his confinement. After such a proof Philemon could have no doubt of Onesimus’s piety and fidelity. “It has been justly observed, that it was strange Onesimus, who had been so wicked in the pious family of Philemon, amidst all the religious opportunities he enjoyed there, should meet with conversion in his rambles at Rome. Instances have often happened somewhat of a similar nature; but it is very unjustifiable, and may probably be fatal, for any to presume on the like extraordinary interpositions of providence and grace in their favour.” — Doddridge. Whom — How agreeable and useful soever he might have been to me here; I have sent back to thee again; thou therefore receive him — Into thy family with readiness and affection. Receive him, did I say? nay rather, receive, as it were, my own bowels — A person whom I so tenderly love, that he may seem, as it were, to carry my heart along with him whithersoever he goes. Such is the natural affection of a father in Christ toward his spiritual children. As Bengelius observes, by laying aside his apostolical authority, St. Paul had brought himself to a level with Philemon; and now to exalt Onesimus, and to display that dignity which a man acquires by becoming a sincere Christian, he calls him, not his son simply, but his own bowels; or, as it is expressed Philemon 1:17, his very self. Whom I would have retained, that in thy stead, &c. — That he might have performed those services for me, which thou, if present, wouldest gladly have performed thyself. Thus the apostle insinuates to Philemon the obligation he was under to assist, with his personal services, him who was his spiritual father; and more especially while he was confined with a chain for preaching the gospel of Christ. But without thy mind — That is, without thy express consent; would I do nothing — In this affair. From this we learn, that however just our title may be to beneficent actions from others, they must not be compelled to perform them; they must do them voluntarily; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity — Or by constraint, for Philemon would not have refused it; but willingly — “If Onesimus had remained with the apostle in Rome, and Philemon had pardoned him at the apostle’s intercession, that favour would not have appeared so clearly to have been bestowed voluntarily, as when Onesimus returned and put himself in his master’s power, and was received again into his family, The apostle, therefore, sent him back to Philemon, that his receiving him might be known to have proceeded from his own merciful disposition.” — Macknight.

1:8-14 It does not lower any one to condescend, and sometimes even to beseech, where, in strictness of right, we might command: the apostle argues from love, rather than authority, in behalf of one converted through his means; and this was Onesimus. In allusion to that name, which signifies profitable, the apostle allows that in time past he had been unprofitable to Philemon, but hastens to mention the change by which he had become profitable. Unholy persons are unprofitable; they answer not the great end of their being. But what happy changes conversion makes! of evil, good; of unprofitable, useful. Religious servants are treasures in a family. Such will make conscience of their time and trusts, and manage all they can for the best. No prospect of usefulness should lead any to neglect their obligations, or to fail in obedience to superiors. One great evidence of true repentance consists in returning to practise the duties which have been neglected. In his unconverted state, Onesimus had withdrawn, to his master's injury; but now he had seen his sin and repented, he was willing and desirous to return to his duty. Little do men know for what purposes the Lord leaves some to change their situations, or engage in undertakings, perhaps from evil motives. Had not the Lord overruled some of our ungodly projects, we may reflect upon cases, in which our destruction must have been sure.I beseech thee for my son Onesimus - That is, my son in the gospel; one to whom I sustain the relation of a spiritual father; compare the notes at 1 Timothy 1:2. The address and tact of Paul here are worthy of particular observation. Any other mode of bringing the case before the mind of Philemon might have repelled him. If he had simply said, "I beseech thee for Onesimus;" or, "I beseech thee for thy servant Onesimus," he would at once have reverted to his former conduct, and remembered all his ingratitude and disobedience. But the phrase "my son," makes the way easy for the mention of his name, for he had already found the way to his heart before his eye lighted on his name, by the mention of the relation which he sustained to himself. Who could refuse to such a man as Paul - a laborious servant of Christ - an aged man, exhausted with his many sufferings and toils - and a prisoner - a request which he made for one whom he regarded as his son? It may be added, that the delicate address of the apostle in introducing the subject, is better seen in the original than in our translation. In the original, the name Onesimus is reserved to come in last in the sentence. The order of the Greek is this: "I entreat thee concerning a son of mine, whom I have begotten in my bonds - Onesimus." Here the name is not suggested, until he had mentioned that he sustained to him the relation of a son, and also until he had added that his conversion was the fruit of his labors while he was a prisoner. Then, when the name of Onesimus is mentioned, it would occur to Philemon not primarily as the name of an ungrateful and disobedient servant, but as the interesting case of one converted by the labors of his own friend in prison. Was there ever more delicacy evinced in preparing the way for disarming one of prejudice, and carrying an appeal to his heart?

Whom I have begotten in my bonds - Who has been converted by my efforts while I have been a prisoner. On the phrase "whom I have begotten," see 1 Corinthians 4:15. Nothing is said of the way in which he had become acquainted with Onesimus, or why he had put himself under the teaching of Paul; see the introduction, Section 2. See (3) below.

10. I beseech thee—emphatically repeated from Phm 9. In the Greek, the name "Onesimus" is skilfully put last, he puts first a favorable description of him before he mentions the name that had fallen into so bad repute with Philemon. "I beseech thee for my son, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus." Scripture does not sanction slavery, but at the same time does not begin a political crusade against it. It sets forth principles of love to our fellow men which were sure (as they have done) in due time to undermine and overthrow it, without violently convulsing the then existing political fabric, by stirring up slaves against their masters. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus; Onesimus, lately thy servant, (the same mentioned Colossians 4:9), but my son.

Whom I have begotten in my bonds; not naturally, but spiritually, to whom I have been a spiritual father, and begotten him to Christ in my old age, and while I have been here suffering as a prisoner.

I beseech thee for my son Onesimus,.... Now he comes to the request itself, and mentions by name the person on whose account he makes it, and whom he calls his son; not merely because of his affection to him, but because he really was his spiritual father; he had been the happy instrument of his conversion, and he was his son according to the common faith, or in a spiritual sense: hence it follows,

whom I have begotten in my bonds: which is to be understood of a begetting again, or of regeneration; not as if the apostle was the efficient cause of it, as the nature of it shows, it being expressed by men's being born from above; by their being quickened, when dead in trespasses and sins; by being made new creatures, and transformed in the renewing of their minds; by Christ being formed in them, and by a partaking of the divine nature; and who is sufficient for these things? besides it is expressly denied to be of man, but is always ascribed to God, Father, Son, and Spirit; but as being the instrument and means of it, through the preaching of the Gospel, the word of truth, by which God of his own will, and by the power of his grace, regenerated this person; and this is said to be done "in his bonds": by which it appears, that the word of God was not bound, but had a free course, and was glorified, and the bonds of the apostle were the means of the spread of it; and that it was attended with great power, to the conversion of souls: and this circumstance is mentioned to engage Philemon to regard the entreaty of the apostle; he had been the instrument of begetting many souls to Christ; but this man was begotten by him in his bonds, when he was a prisoner, and so was peculiarly dear to him.

I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
Philemon 1:10. ὃν ἐγέννησα: cf. Sanhedrin, xix. 2 (Jer. Talm.), “If one teaches the son of his neighbour the Law, the Scripture reckons this the same as if he had begotten him” (quoted by Vincent).—Ὀνήσιμον: one would expect Ὀνησίμου it is attracted to ὃν … instead of agreeing with τοῦ ἐμοῦ τέκνου. He is to be ὀνήσιμος in future, no longer ἀνόνητος.—ἄχρηστον: ἅπ. λεγ. in N.T., but used in the Septuagint, Hosea 8:8, 2Ma 7:5, Wis 2:11; Wis 3:11, Sir 16:1; Sir 27:19. As applied to Onesimus the reference must be to something wrong done by him; the fear of being punished for this was presumably his reason for running away from his master.—νυνὶ δὲ: a thoroughly Pauline expression, cf. Philemon 1:9, Romans 6:22; Romans 7:6; Romans 7:17; Romans 15:23; Romans 15:25, 1 Corinthians 5:11, etc.—εὔχρηστον: only elsewhere in N.T. in 2 Timothy 2:21; 2 Timothy 4:11.

10. I beseech thee] See on the same word just above.

my son … whom I have begotten] Lit., “whom I begot.” But English demands the perfect where the event is quite recent.

Son”: “begotten:—cp. 1 Corinthians 4:15 : “I begot you, through the Gospel.” The teacher who, by the grace of God, brings into contact the penitent soul and Him who is our Life, and by faith in whom we become “the children of God” (Galatians 3:26), is, in a sense almost more than figurative, the convert’s spiritual father. The spiritual relationship between the two is deep and tender indeed. The converted runaway had taken his place with Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2) and Titus (Titus 1:4) in St Paul’s family circle.

See Galatians 4:19 for the boldest and tenderest of all his parental appeals.

Onesimus] The name stands last in the sentence, in the Greek; a perfect touch of heart-rhetoric.

“The name was very commonly borne by slaves” (Lightfoot, p. 376). It means “Helpful,” “Profitable; and such words were frequent as slave-names. Lightfoot (p. 376, note) quotes among others Chrestus (“Good”), Symphorus (“Profitable”), and Carpus (“Fruit”). Female slaves often bore names descriptive of appearance; Arescousa (“Pleasing”), Terpousa (“Winning”), &c.

On Onesimus and his status see Introd. to this Epistle, ch. 3, 4

Philemon 1:10. Παρακαλῶ, I beseech) This word is repeated with great force, as if after a parenthesis.—περὶ τοῦ ἐμοῦ τέκνου, concerning my son) Besides other things, he puts first a favourable description of the person, having suspended the sense till he mentions the hated (offensive) name of Onesimus. And the whole epistle savours of the recent joy for Onesimus, who had been gained as a convert, and from whom it seems he concealed the circumstance that he was writing so kindly about him.—ἐγέννησα, I have begotten) He was the son of Paul’s old age.—Ὀνήσιμον, Onesimus) He alludes pleasantly to this name in the following verse.

Verse 10. - I beseech thee for my son ... Onesimus; my child (Revised Version). The name of Onesimus could not have been a pleasing one in the ears of Philemon. Note with what caution and almost timidity it is at length introduced. He does not interpose for the ingrate with apostolic dignity, but pleads for him with fatherly love. He puts himself side by side with him, and calls him his son. Some of the old commentators conclude, from Colossians 4:9, that Onesimus was a native of Colossae, and thence discuss whether he could have been a slave born in Philemon's house of a slave-mother, or whether he was sold in his youth by his father - a custom so common to the Phrygians (as to the Circassians in later times) as to have been noticed by Cicero. Philemon 1:10Ibeseech

Resuming the beseech of Plm 1:9. I beseech, Irepeat.

Onesimus (Ὁνήσιμον)

The name is withheld until Paul has favorably disposed Philemon to his request. The word means helpful, and it was a common name for slaves. The same idea was expressed by other names, as Chresimus, Chrestus (useful); Onesiphorus (profit-bringer, 2 Timothy 1:16); Symphorus (suitable). Onesimus was a runaway Phrygian slave, who had committed some crime and therefore had fled from his master and hidden himself in Rome. Under Roman law the slave was a chattel. Varro classified slaves among implements, which he classifies as vocalia, articulate speaking implements, as slaves; semivocalia, having a voice but not articulating, as oxen; muta, dumb, as wagons. The attitude of the law toward the slave was expressed in the formula servile caput nullum jus habet; the slave has no right. The master's power was unlimited. He might mutilate, torture, or kill the slave at his pleasure. Pollio, in the time of Augustus, ordered a slave to be thrown into a pond of voracious lampreys. Augustus interfered, but afterward ordered a slave of his own to be crucified on the mast of a ship for eating a favorite quail. Juvenal describes a profligate woman ordering a slave to be crucified. Some one remonstrates. She replies: "So then a slave is a man, is he! 'He has done nothing,' you say. Granted. I command it. Let my pleasure stand for a reason" (vi., 219). Martial records an instance of a master cutting out a slave's tongue. The old Roman legislation imposed death for killing a plough-ox; but the murderer of a slave was not called to account. Tracking fugitive slaves was a trade. Recovered slaves were branded on the forehead, condemned to double labor, and sometimes thrown to the beasts in the amphitheater. The slave population was enormous. Some proprietors had as many as twenty thousand.

Have begotten in my bonds

Made a convert while I was a prisoner.

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