This Epistle is different from the other Epistles, because it is written upon a particular subject, of more special concernment: that it was written by Paul it is not doubted, it hath what he calleth his token in every Epistle, 2Th_3:17. Who this Philemon was is not so easily determined. Some have judged him a Phrygian, and of Colosse: see Col_4:9. He appeareth to have been a minister by Paul's calling him his fellow labourer, Phm_1:1, his brother, Phm_1:7, his partner, Phm_1:17. It is conjectured that he was one hi the conversion of whom God made use of Paul as an instrument, from Phm_1:19, where Paul tells him, that he would not say that he owed unto him his own self. He seems to have been a man of some estate, for he kept a servant, and
refreshed the bowels of the saints, Phm_1:7. He had a company of Christians in his house, Phm_1:2. The time when Paul wrote this Epistle is not certain; it was when he was
aged and a prisoner, Phm_1:9, from whence it is evident that it was written from Rome. Some think it was written before the Second Epistle to Timothy, because he speaks of hopes that he had of being restored to his liberty, Phm_1:22. and in his Epistle to Timothy, 2Ti_4:7, he seems to have no such hopes. He also here, Phm_1:24, sends him the salutation of Demas, who he saith, 2Ti_4:10, had forsaken him. Others think it was written after that, when Demas was again returned to him; but it is not so clear that he ever returned. It is very probable that it was written much about the same time with the Epistle to the Colossians, for mention is made of Onesimus as a faithful brother, Col_4:9; there is also mention made of Marcus, Aristarchus, Epaphras, Lucas, and Demas, and Archippus, who are all named in this Epistle, and no more are here named, but Apphia. The scope of the Epistle is evident, to reconcile Onesimus to Philemon. Onesimus had been a servant to Philemon, and it should seem had wronged him by purloining some of his goods. He came to Rome, and was there converted by Paul, being a prisoner, Phm_1:10. The apostle would not detain him, being another man's servant, but sends him back with this recommendatory letter to his master. This recommendation was the occasion and is the matter of this Epistle; in the penning of which the apostle showeth himself as much an orator, as he had in his Epistle to the Romans, and some other of his Epistles, showed his skill at an argument; for the Epistle is penned with great art, and many topics are used to persuade Philemon again to receive him into his service; some such, as would incline one to think, that Paul knew this Philemon was something covetous, and would be a little difficult to grant his request.