Philemon Bible study

In case you are interested, here is a one-shot Bible study on Philemon. It can inspire some serious discussion about how to bring social change.

Questions on Philemon

Philemon is a remarkable little letter, providing the best window we have into the mind of Paul as he confronts the institution of slavery. The unavoidable question with Paul, regarding slavery or male-female oppression, or indeed regarding Roman imperialism over Israel (and every other nation), is why he seems to support these systems by encouraging slaves to be obedient, wives to be submissive, and citizens to respect the government. And yet, this same man wrote, more than once, that in Christ there is no slave and free, male and female, Jew or gentile, Greek or barbarian. How does he put that together?

1. As usual Paul begins with prayerful thanks. (4-7) Is there a theme?

2. What is Paul’s relationship with Philemon? What can you piece together of their history?

3. What is Paul’s relationship with Onesimus? How did they meet? What is his present role in Paul’s life? What are some of the key words Paul uses to describe his feelings for Onesimus?

4. What has been Onesimus’ relationship with Philemon? What has happened between them? What might Onesimus expect from Philemon as he goes back to him at Paul’s behest?

5. What does Paul say he wants to see happen between the two men? What exactly is he asking Philemon to do? (see v. 15-17)

6. Paul says he could order Philemon to obey him, and given what we know about the sense of obligation people felt in Roman society, that seems likely to be true. But he chooses not to give orders. Why not? A man’s life is at stake.

7. Is Paul for or against slavery? Is there any indication that he wants to destroy slavery? Any indication that he could tolerate slavery? What does Paul want regarding Onesimus’ status as a slave?

8. What end result does Paul seek in this 3-cornered relationship of Onesimus, Philemon and Paul? Practically, what social positions will they hold? And, more deeply, what kind of feeling relationships will they have?

9. If you asked Paul how to change Roman or Jewish society, what would be his answer?

10. What would Paul think of democracy?



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