Onesimus in the bible was an enslaved person belonging to Philemon, a companion of the apostle Paul. As he fled to Rome, a sizable city where he could easily hide, Onesimus robbed his master Philemon.
Onesimus in the bible, an enslaved person whom St. Paul may have freed in the first century
Onesimus is still a nobody when Paul encounters him, most likely in Rome. He is a shadow among men who makes his living out of convenience in the most populated city in the western Mediterranean. Because Onesimus is worse than an enslaved person—he is a fugitive—he most likely performs labor comparable to slavery, if not worse.
He has been taken away from his lawful owner, the Greek Philemon, a resident of Colossi in Phrygia, for reasons we do not know. Even though Onesimus in the bible is no longer at his mercy. He remains in danger because anybody who learns of his predicament could denounce or blackmail him.
Who knows how many people, disguised as city workers, live daily like him? They blend in, don’t want any disturbance, and have little reason to believe in themselves.
Rarely do preachers descend to provide nebulous assurances of eternal life. One of them is Paul, but Paul is best familiar with Philemon. He can intervene on his behalf because he is a free man and even a citizen of Rome.
The Apostle Paul’s Letter to Philemon: A letter delivered by Onesimus in the Bible
The smallest of Paul’s epistles found in the New Testament is the Letter to Philemon. Which is barely a note and may have been attached to the letter that Onesimus himself would deliver to the Colossians as a supplement. Once again, the apostle writes for a more specific reason: he must redeem a person. He is not writing to persuade, urge, or convert.
Onesimus puts his life in danger by returning to his master. Onesimus has become a Christian since Paul baptized Philemon and did so for him. Paul thus insists that Philemon receive Onesimus upon his return “not as a slave, but as a brother.” Philemon owes Paul, who baptized him, “his very life,” thus, Paul is confident that he would grant the request.
Paul says that he did not want to abuse this position “so that the good you do may not be forced, but voluntary.” Even though he believes that Christ has given him full authority to order Philemon to do “what is expedient.” Will Philemon enfranchise him? is the question Paul of the rest is confident Philemon will answer.
More significantly, Paul pledges to make up for Philemon’s injury. “Put it all on my account if he has ever caused you any offense or owes you money. Paul writes, “I will pay,” with his handwriting.”
Paul’s Manifestations and the Slave Issue
Since Paul is a very pragmatic prophet, his readiness to address the more practical aspects of the situation is so typical that no one has ever seriously questioned that he did not command the unusual letter. But, if anything, the names of the people in the letter give rise to some suspicion.
“Philemon” immediately conjures up in the reader images of hospitality and kindness, giving one reason to believe that the letter was successful. “Onesimus” is Greek for “useful,” making it the perfect name for a comedic enslaved person (even Paul plays with the double meaning. “One day he was useless to you,” he writes, “but now he is useful to you and me”).
On the other hand, why create a so condensed and brief letter? The forger would have needed to write a lot more if he had intended to force any revolutionary onto the apostle. At the very least progressive thought regarding the slave issue.
But anytime Paul discusses enslaved people, he emphasizes that they must act properly and show respect for their masters. Of course, just as Philemon will be kind to Onesimus in the bible. The masters must likewise be kind to the enslaved people.
A Note on the Slave of Apia and Philemon
Onesimus in the bible was a slave of Apia and Philemon, a powerful couple in Colossi, Phrygia. Who had welcomed the city’s Christian community into their home after Paul of Tarsus had personally converted them to Christianity? Paul was in prison awaiting the emperor’s trial when Onesimus in the Bible went to Rome to avoid punishment for a theft he had committed. Paul was there when Onesimus met Paul. He became a Christian, underwent baptism, and started working for him.
Although Paul wanted to keep Onesimus, whom he now loved as a son, with him. He respected Roman laws regarding slavery and decided to send him back to his rightful master.
In a letter written between 54 and 63, known as the Letter to Philemon, in which he asked Philemon to return to accepting Onesimus not as an enslaved person but as a brother. Was well acquainted with his master, Philemon, and his ardent Christian faith.
Paul, a Young Man on a Barge, Drifting in the Mediterranean Sea
Paul was genuinely convinced that the end was near. He lived in a protracted period where it is undoubtedly wise to carry on with a level head and keep one’s place in society (woe to those who stopped working or left the family). But without going to too much trouble to investigate why that society was set up exactly the way it was.
After all, it was about to end. This is important to understand Paul. Why is waste of time arguing about such foolishness when in just a little while? There won’t be any more dads, sons, enslavers, enslaved people, workers, or jobs.
Luke describes him on a barge drifting in the Mediterranean Sea on one of the last pages of Acts. In the same locations where NGOs and the Coast Guard today rescue refugees. It seems implausible that Luke was not on board with him because the portrait is so well-done. Paul has no maritime experience but at some time.
He makes the decision that the ship will be salvaged and the crew will be spared, and he takes control at that point. Encourages the crew and passengers to keep trying and eat when it’s time. He has had a dream that has shown him they will succeed.
Eventually, the barge docks in Malta, a place with kind locals—or that’s how Luca recalls them. The incident is incredibly realistic, yet we may also see it as an examination of the apostle’s function. Paul is neither a theoretician, a politician, a tradesman, or someone who can counsel the sailors on a plan of action.