Philemon: A Call to Reconciliation

McKnight’s commentary on Philemon has a strong message for the church of the twenty-first century. Today, more than ever, the church needs to proclaim a message of reconciliation to our divided society and to a world that has never abandoned the disturbing reality of slavery.

Two factors influence the interpretation of Paul’s letter to Philemon. The first factor is the reality that Rome was a slavery society. In my previous post, Slavery in the Roman World, I introduced McKnight’s discussion on slavery in the Roman empire. No one will be able to understand the book of Philemon unless one gains a good understanding of slavery as it was practiced in the Roman world. My discussion of McKnight’s view on slavery was only a brief summary of the vast amount of information he provides in his commentary.

The second factor that influences the interpretation of Philemon is the two Philemons that are in the background of Paul’s letter. The first Philemon is a Roman citizen, a non-Christian slave owner who probably was a very influential citizen in his society. Paul never introduced the non-Christian Philemon, although he had known Philemon before he became a believer.

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