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The Letter to Philemon (The New International Commentary on the New Testament | NICNT)

, 2017
ISBN: 9780802873828

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Paul’s letter to Philemon carries a strong message of breaking down social barriers and establishing new realities of conduct and fellowship. It is also a disturbing text that has been used to justify slavery. Though brief, Philemon requires close scrutiny.

In this commentary Scot McKnight offers careful textual analysis of Philemon and brings the practice of modern slavery into conversation with the ancient text. Too often, McKnight says, studies of this short letter gloss over the issue of slavery—an issue that must be recognized and dealt with if Christians are to read Philemon faithfully. Pastors and scholars will find in this volume the insight they need to preach and teach this controversial book in meaningful new ways.

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

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Key Features

  • Carefully analyzes the text of Philemon
  • Addresses the issue of slavery
  • Scrutinizes the moral implications found in Philemon



  • Slavery in the Roman Empire
    • Status and Slaves
    • On Defining “Slavery”
    • Family Life for the Slave
    • The Pragmatics of Masters and Slaves
    • Slavery, No Matter the Explanation
    • The Options for the Slave
    • The Runaway
    • Manumission
    • Christians and Slaves
  • Philemon in the Crucible of New World Slavery and Slavery Today
  • Authorship and Date
  • The Social Realities of Philemon: Runaway or Slave in Search of a Mediator?
  • The Events at Work in the Letter to Philemon
  • Structure, Rhetoric and Clarity of Philemon

Text and Commentary

  • Introduction (vv. 1–3)
    • Authors (v. 1a)
    • Addressees (vv. 1b–2)
    • Salutation (v. 3)
  • Thanksgiving (vv. 4–7)
  • Paul’s Appeal for Onesimus (vv. 8–22)
    • First Appeal in the Sketch of the Scene (vv. 8–11)
    • Second Appeal in the Presentation of Onesimus (vv. 12–16)
    • Third Appeal in their Partnership (vv. 17–21)
    • Final Appeal in a Presence (v. 22)
  • Conclusion (vv. 23–25)

Top Highlights

“My response is terse: if he did, Christians did not listen well and neither did Paul for he simply does not see slavery in itself as a moral problem.” (Page 27)

“What can Philemon say to the modern versions of slavery? What would Paul say in our world to our churches? I repeat what I already stated: the apostle Paul held a vision where the powers of redemption were shattering the status and power symbols of the Roman Empire. Paul’s kingdom reality was to take root in a local ekklēsia beginning in the household. From there a new form of primary socialization could take root that would, could or should work its way into the whole of society. What Philemon begins to say already then is that the assault on modern slavery needs to begin with justice in the church that spreads into justice for all.” (Page 36)

“The evidence of the harsher realities of slaves must not be minimized: slaves were slaves, and the slave’s body belonged to the master. The only way to alter the demeaning realities of slavery is to treat the slave as a human being, to create a culture where each person has integrity, respect, and equal standing. No matter how ‘normal’ slavery might be in the Roman Empire, slavery is slavery.” (Page 18)

“What is clear is that in a letter (1 Corinthians) dated to the approximate time of Philemon Paul is not pressing for manumission as the inevitable conclusion of liberation in Christ but urging slave-Christians to pursue manumission if possible. This, I would contend, is as close as Paul gets to the modern notion of abolitionism. But abolitionism it is not.” (Page 29)

  • Title: The Letter to Philemon
  • Author: Scot McKnight
  • Series: New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament
  • Publisher: Eerdmans
  • Print Publication Date: 2017
  • Logos Release Date: 2017
  • Pages: 159
  • Era: era:contemporary
  • Language: English
  • Resources: 1
  • Format: Digital › Logos Research Edition
  • Subject: Bible. N.T. Philemon › Commentaries
  • ISBNs: 9780802873828, 0802873820
  • Resource ID: LLS:NICNT78PHM
  • Resource Type: Bible Commentary
  • Metadata Last Updated: 2022-09-30T01:49:09Z
Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a theologian who has focused most of his writings on the New Testament and the historical Jesus. He is currently a professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, IL. He earned a B.A. degree from Grand Rapids Baptist College (now Cornerstone University), an M.A. degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham.

McKnight is a member of the Society Biblical Literature and the Society for New Testament Studies. He has written and edited many award-winning books. He has over 25 books to his name, including Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, the volumes on Galatians and 1 Peter in the NIV Application Commentary, and A New Vision for Israel: The Teaching of Jesus in National Context.

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