The testimonies to its authenticity are -- Origen [Homily 19, on Jeremiah, vol.1., p.185, Edition Huetius], cites it as the letter of Paul to Philemon concerning Onesimus; Tertullian [Against Marcion, 5.21]: |The brevity of this Epistle is the sole cause of its escaping the falsifying hands of Marcion.| Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 3.25], mentions it among |the universally acknowledged Epistles of the canon|; Jerome [Commentary on Philemon, vol. iv., p.442], argues for it against those who objected to its canonicity on the ground of its subject being beneath an apostle to write about. Ignatius [Epistle to the Ephesians, 2; Epistle to the Magnesians, 12], seems to allude to Phm 20. Compare Epistle to Polycarp [1 and 6]. Its brevity is the cause of its not being often quoted by the Fathers. Paley [Horæ Paulinæ], has shown striking proofs of its authenticity in the undesigned coincidences between it and the Epistle to the Colossians.
Place and Time of Writing. -- This Epistle is closely linked with the Epistle to the Colossians. Both were carried by the same bearer, Onesimus (with whom, however, Tychicus is joined in the Epistle to the Colossians), Col 4:9. The persons sending salutations are the same, except one, Jesus called Justus (Col 4:11). In both alike Archippus is addressed (Phm 2; Col 4:17). Paul and Timothy stand in the headings of both. And in both Paul appears as a prisoner (Phm 9; Col 4:18). Hence it follows, it was written at the same time and place as the Epistle to the Colossians (which was about the same time as the Epistle to the Ephesians), namely, at Rome, during Paul's first imprisonment, A.D.61 or 62.
Object. -- Onesimus, of Colosse (|one of you,| Col 4:9), slave of Philemon, had fled from his master to Rome, after having probably defrauded him (Phm 18). He there was converted to Christianity by Paul, and being induced by him to return to his master, he was furnished with this Epistle, recommending him to Philemon's favorable reception, as being now no longer a mere servant, but also a brother in Christ. Paul ends by requesting Philemon to prepare him a lodging, as he trusted soon to be set free and visit Colosse. This Epistle is addressed also to Apphia, supposed from its domestic subject to have been Philemon's wife, and Archippus (a minister of the Colossian Church, Col 4:17), for the same reason, supposed to be a near relative.
Onesimus in the Apostolical Canons , is said to have been emancipated by his master. The Apostolical Constitutions [7.46] state that he was consecrated by Paul, bishop of Berea, in Macedonia, and that he was martyred at Rome. Ignatius [Epistle to the Ephesians, 1], speaks of him as bishop of the Ephesians.
Style. -- It has been happily termed, from its graceful and delicate urbanity, |the polite Epistle.| Yet there is nothing of insincere compliment, miscalled politeness by the world. It is manly and straightforward, without misrepresentation or suppression of facts; at the same time it is most captivatingly persuasive. Alford quotes Luther's eloquent description, |This Epistle showeth a right, noble, lovely example of Christian love. Here we see how St. Paul layeth himself out for the poor Onesimus, and with all his means pleadeth his cause with his master, and so setteth himself as if he were Onesimus, and had himself done wrong to Philemon. Yet all this doeth he, not with force, as if he had right thereto, but he stripped himself of his right, and thus enforceth Philemon to forego his right also. Even as Christ did for us with God the Father, thus also doth St. Paul for Onesimus with Philemon: for Christ also stripped Himself of His right, and by love and humility enforced [?] the Father to lay aside His wrath and power, and to take us to His grace for the sake of Christ, who lovingly pleadeth our cause, and with all His heart layeth Himself out for us; for we are all His Onesimi, to my thinking.|