Translation commentary on Philemon 1:25

For the concluding benediction see Col 4.18. Here, as in other letters, Paul prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with them. (Some later manuscripts have “our Lord Jesus Christ,” see King James Version.) The benediction May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all must be introduced in a number of languages by some verb of prayer of petition, for example, “I pray that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ may be with you all.” Grace must often be expressed as an action or an event, and therefore the structure of this benediction must be considerably changed, for example, “I pray that the Lord Jesus Christ may show his grace to you all” or “… show kindness to you all.”

Good News Translation has you all (also Translator’s New Testament) to show that the pronoun in Greek is plural. The language of the Greek “with your spirit” (Revised Standard Version) is used only in Gal 6.18; Phil 4.23. In English, at least, “with your spirit” carries overtones and implications not present in Paul’s use of the words (see Lohse); the Greek expression means simply “with you” (plural).

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Philemon. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philemon 1:3

Again we find the standard Pauline greeting, in which he prays that grace and peace may be given them by God our Father (as in Col 1.2). Here Paul adds further and the Lord Jesus Christ (as in Rom 1.7, 1 Cor 1.3, 2 Cor 1.2, Gal 1.3, Phil 1.2). The letter is not a purely personal one (you is plural) even though the request on Onesimus’ behalf is made to the one person, Philemon. The matter, while essentially Philemon’s responsibility, is also of concern to the others.

The third person request May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace must be introduced in a number of languages by a statement suggesting prayer or petition, for example, “I pray that God our father…”

The appositional construction God our Father may be rendered in some languages as a noun followed by a relative clause, for example, “God who is our Father.” In initial translations in a language, it is sometimes important to indicate that “our Father” is to be understood in a figurative sense, for example, “God who is like our father” or “God who is like a father to us.”

In a number of languages, Lord must be identified in relationship to those to whom he is Lord. Therefore, one must say “our Lord” or “he who is Lord over us.”

Give you grace is rendered in a number of languages as “show you kindness” or “show you goodness from his heart,” thus suggesting that the goodness is nothing which is deserved by the recipients but something which comes as the result of unmerited favor.

Peace is not to be understood in this context as absence of war. Here the focus is more upon the psychological and spiritual aspects of peace, sometimes rendered in rather figurative language, for example, “may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you … to sit down in your hearts” or “… to rest your livers.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Philemon. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philemon 1:14

In an attempt to make the flow of thought easier to assimilate, Good News Translation has restructured considerably the contents of the verse; Revised Standard Version follows closely the form of the Greek.

To force you (Good News Translation) represents the Greek kata anagkēn (which in Revised Standard Version appears as “by compulsion”). The word represents the outward pressure or force that is laid on someone, under which he is forced to act in a certain way. “Under duress” would be a modern equivalent of the phrase. I do not want to force you to help me may be expressed as “I do not want you to help me because you think you must do so” or “… because I make you help me.”

To help me represents the Greek “the good thing,” that is, the favor, the kindness, that Paul is requesting of Philemon.

Of your own free will represents the opposite of “compulsion.” Only here in the NT does the phrase occur; see the adverb hekousiōs in Heb 10.26; 1 Peter 5.2. Of your own free will may be rendered as “because you want to do so” or “because that is what you would like to do.”

You agree (Good News Translation) or “your consent” (Revised Standard Version) represents the Greek tēs sēs gnomēs. The noun means “idea, opinion,” and here it clearly means agreement, consent, permission. Paul will not act without Philemon’s approval. The double negative in the final sentence of verse 14 involving not … unless may be restructured as an affirmative, for example, “so I will only do what you agree I should do.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Philemon. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philemon 1:4

Good News Translation has made clear that Paul is addressing only one person, namely Philemon (see also Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Translator’s New Testament Phillips). The name Philemon alone would in English be too distant, so brother is used (see Philemon 1.7). In certain instances Brother Philemon may be expressed as “my dear Philemon” or “Philemon my friend.” Frequently, however, there is some standard expression in languages to identify fellow Christians, and this would be an appropriate expression in this context, but it should carry the connotation of friendship and intimacy. In some languages an expression such as “relative” is used, and in other cases “fellow clansman.”

Good News Translation has rearranged the three items in Paul’s statement: (1) he prays, (2) he mentions Philemon, and (3) he thanks God. The adverb “always” (Revised Standard Version) goes with I mention you, and the sense of “when I pray, I always mention you” is represented by every time I pray I mention you.

I mention you (also Moffatt Goodspeed New English Bible Barclay Traduction œcuménique de la Bible Jerusalem Bible) is one way of understanding the Greek phrase (compare Lightfoot, Moule); Revised Standard Version “I remember you” (also Translator’s New Testament New International Version Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Biblia Dios Habla Hoy) is another way. The former seems more appropriate as a deliberate act, not a chance happening. A literal translation such as “I remember you” might suggest in some languages that Paul had forgotten about Philemon. The meaning of the Greek term rendered “remember” in Revised Standard Version really means in this context, “to constantly bear in mind.” One can, therefore, translate “whenever I pray, I bear you in mind” or “… I constantly think of you.”

Paul, like the OT psalmists (for example, Psa 3.7; 5.2; 22.2; 25.2), uses my God to emphasize the intensity of his personal relation with God. In a number of languages, one cannot say “my God,” since this would suggest that the individual in question possesses God. The correct rendering of this phrase may, therefore, be “the God whom I worship.” On the other hand, an emphatic form of “I” might suggest “the God whom I worship but you do not,” in which case an inclusive form of “we” could be employed for this particular context.

I give thanks: see Col 1.3.

In a number of languages, I … give thanks to my God must be translated in such a way as to indicate the content of the thanks, for example, “I give thanks to my God because of you.” Often, however, the expression I … give thanks must be restructured as direct discourse, since it implies some kind of utterance, for example, “I say to my God, ‘I am thankful for Philemon.’ ” However, this may be expressed somewhat more satisfactorily as indirect discourse, for example, “I say to my God that I am thankful to you.” In some instances “thankfulness” can only be expressed in terms of an emotion of happiness, for example, “I am happy because of you.” Thankfulness can be most satisfactorily expressed in some languages as a causative of an emotion, for example, “because you cause my heart to be glad.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Philemon. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philemon 1:15

“Perhaps” (Revised Standard Version) represents Greek tacha (here and in Rom 5.7). The potentiality suggested by the introductory expression it may be that is often better expressed by an adverb such as “perhaps.”

Was away (from you) … you might have him back refer to two contrasting situations: the first during the time Onesimus was in flight from Philemon and the second when he is to return to his master. It seems quite clear that the way in which Paul phrases the matter [particularly in the use of the cautions “perhaps,” the use of the passive form of the verb “to be separated,” and the avoidance of the verb “he ran away (from you)”] implies that in all this God was at work to bring about the intended result which Paul so ardently hopes to achieve.

Was away from you may be expressed more effectively as a negation, for example, “was not with you” or “did not remain there with you.”

Onesimus’ separation was for a short time (literally “for an hour,” see also 2 Cor 7.8); his return will hold good for all time (Revised Standard Version “for ever”). It is difficult to determine exactly what Paul meant by this “eternally”; perhaps something like “for good,” “permanently” (see a similar use in John 8.35). In any case the new relationship, that of Christian brothers, is a permanent one, which will not change regardless of whatever else may change.

For a short time must not be understood as merely a brief period of a day or so. Obvious Onesimus had traveled some distance from Colossae and had probably been with Paul for some time. If a somewhat definite expression of time must be employed, it should reflect at least several weeks and possibly several months.

For all time may be expressed as “from now on” or “continuously.”

You might have him back may be expressed in many languages as “he might be again with you” or “he might remain with you.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Philemon. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philemon 1:5

Paul says that two things he has heard make him thank God for Philemon: Philemon’s love for all of God’s people and his faith in the Lord Jesus. The Greek text employs a literary figure known as chiasmus (see Lightfoot, Moule), in which the order of the elements in two parallel phrases is a-b-b-a: love-faith-Lord Jesus-saints. Good News Translation (also Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Barclay) has abandoned the figure, since a literal reproduction of it (as in Revised Standard Version Jerusalem Bible New American Bible) leads to misunderstanding. The contents of the verse are identical with that of Col 1.4. Some take pistis here in the sense of “faithfulness, loyalty,” because of the preposition pros “to, toward” and the use of “the Lord” as the one to whom the pistis is directed. But the same preposition is used in 1 Thes 1.8, and the usual meaning of “faith,” in Paul’s letters, that is, trust in Christ, is most probably the one intended here.

Since what Paul heard was actually a report of Philemon’s love for God’s people, it may be important to make this relationship explicit, for example, “I have heard people speak about your love for all of God’s people” or even “people have told me how much you love all God’s people.” If this must be expressed in direct discourse, one may say “people have told me, ‘Philemon loves all of God’s people.’ ”

In translating the term love, it is important to avoid connotations of sexual interest and of “desire” in the sense of “desiring to possess” or “wanting to control.” A more satisfactory equivalent in some languages is “how you take care of all of God’s people” or “how you are so concerned for all of God’s people.” The emphasis is upon the manner in which Philemon has a desire to help God’s people rather than his emotional attachment to God’s people.

The faith you have in the Lord Jesus may be expressed as “the way in which you trust the Lord Jesus” or “… our Lord Jesus.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Philemon. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philemon 1:16

This verse continues from verse 15 as the completion of the sentence, “so that you might have him back for ever, (16) no longer as a slave but…” (as Revised Standard Version has done). It should be noticed that if the Revised Standard Version translation is taken literally, it means that Paul is telling Philemon that Onesimus is to be in deed and in fact a free man. But this does not seem to be what Paul means, and Lohse quotes with approval the comment of H. von Soden that the particle as “expresses the subjective evaluation of the relationship without calling its objective form into question … and therefore the line of thought found in 1 Cor 7.20-24 is not exceeded.” Good News Translation has tried to indicate this by and now he is not just a slave (compare Phillips “not merely as a slave”; Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch “So now he is for you much more than a slave, that is, a beloved brother”).

The negative-positive contrast in the Good News Translation and now he is not just a slave, but much more than a slave may require an inversion in some languages, for example, “and now he is much more than a slave, he is not just a slave” or “… not a slave only.” By placing the positive statement before the negative, the meaning of the entire expression may often be more readily understood.

In some languages a slave is described as “one who must work without pay,” but more often a term for slave refers to “an owned person” or “a person who belongs to someone else.” The first part of verse 16 may, therefore, be rendered as “and now he is much more than just a person whom you own.”

A dear brother in Christ: Onesimus is now Philemon’s Christian brother, and it is this fact which must determine their relationship from now on. A dear brother in Christ may be equivalent to “a dear fellow believer in Christ,” or “a fellow believer in Christ who is dear to you,” or “a Christian fellow believer dear to you.”

The second part of the verse could be translated, “he means so much to me, but he will mean much more to you…”; compare New International Version “He is very dear to me but even dearer to you…” In a number of languages, it is far more meaningful to use an intensive expression together with a comparative rather than to employ an exclamation, for example, “he means very much to me, and he will mean even more to you.” To express the concept involved in the verb mean, it may be useful to speak of “value,” for example, “he is so valuable to me, but he will be even more valuable to you.”

Both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord translates what is literally “both in the flesh and in the Lord” (so Revised Standard Version). The Greek “in the flesh” means Onesimus’ natural status as a slave; he is still a slave (compare Lohse), but now he is also a dear Christian brother, which is something altogether new for Philemon. The translation should reflect the fact that nowhere in this letter does Paul tell Philemon, in so many words, to set Onesimus free, nor does he take it for granted that Philemon will do so. Rather he seems to take it for granted that Onesimus will continue to be Philemon’s slave, even though their relationship is now transformed by the fact that Onesimus is a Christian. (in verse 21, however, Paul may be hinting that he hopes that Philemon will set Onesimus free.) Lightfoot quotes Meyer on this double relationship “in the flesh and in the latter, he had the slave for a brother.” Their relation as Christian brothers transcendent and transformed but did not replace their relationship as master and slave.

Both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord may be rendered as “he is your slave and he is also your fellow believer in the Lord.” This expression both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord should be combined with the concept of the value which Onesimus will now constitute for Philemon. The meaning may be expressed in some instances as “very much appreciated both as your slave as well as your fellow believer in the Lord.”

“Your fellow believer in the Lord” may also be rendered as “one who believes in the Lord even as you do.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Philemon. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philemon 1:6

In place of the noun phrase My prayer, one may often more conveniently use a verb expression “I pray that…”

As Moule says, “this is notoriously the most obscure verse in this letter.” Paul here gives the content of his petition. The first phrase in Greek is literally “that the fellowship of your faith,” and it is variously understood: (1) New English Bible “your fellowship with us in our common faith” (also Barclay and C. H. Dodd); (2) New American Bible “your sharing of the faith with others”; (3) Bible en français courant “the fellowship binds you to us by means of the faith”; (4) Barclay “the Christian fellowship that binds you to us”; (5) Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch “the faith in which you share” (also Lohse). Good News Translation takes koinōnia to be the fellowship which is based on faith; but other interpretations are just as possible, as demonstrated by the wide variety exhibited. Lightfoot takes koinōnia here to have the sense it sometimes has of “kindly deeds of charity, which spring from your faith” (see Phil 1.5 for this meaning of the word).

The Good News Translation rendering our fellowship with you as believers may be rendered as “how as believers we are one with you” or “how we are joined together with you as believers” or “… as those who trust in Christ.” The New English Bible rendering “your fellowship with us in our common faith” may be rendered as “how you join with us in the trust which we all have in Christ.” If “faith” is to be understood as the means of such fellowship as in the Bible en français courant, then one may say “the way in which you are bound to us because of our common trust in Christ” or “the way in which you become one together with us because of the way in which we all trust Christ.”

Will bring about a deeper understanding: it is not clear in whom this deeper understanding is to be effected, whether it is Philemon in particular, or Philemon and all others who are involved, including Paul and his companions. For the latter, Translator’s New Testament has “we may all” and Barclay “us”; for the former, Bible de Jérusalem Jerusalem Bible Twentieth Century New Testament Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch New International Version have “you.” It may be that Paul has Philemon particularly in mind, but does not want to say so explicitly.

This expression may be rendered as a causative, for example, “will cause us all to understand better” or “… understand more fully.” If those who are to have a more adequate understanding is to be expressed in somewhat more general terms, it is, of course, possible to say “will cause all believers to understand better.”

Bring about translates energēs genētai “may become effective, productive.”

For deeper understanding, a translation of epignōsis, see Col 1.9.

Every blessing (Good News Translation) or “all the good” (Revised Standard Version) are both possible ways of translating the Greek. In any case, Paul is not thinking of material “good things,” but of spiritual benefits. Every blessing must often be expressed as a clause, “all that God has done” or “all the good that comes from God.”

“Ours” (Revised Standard Version) is the reading preferred by modern commentators and translators, but the variant reading “yours” has wide and excellent support (see King James Version). We have in our life includes all Christians and is not restricted to Paul and his group.

In our life in union with Christ (similarly Translator’s New Testament New English Bible Phillips Bible en français courant Barclay) translates the Greek “into (eis) Christ.” There are other ways of translating this, depending on how the phrase is made to relate to the preceding words. Bible de Jérusalem Traduction œcuménique de la Bible Jerusalem Bible “the good things we are able to do for Christ”; New English Bible mg “all the blessings that bring us to Christ”; Barclay “and so may lead us nearer and nearer to Christ”; Lohse (also Vincent) “for the glory of Christ”; Lightfoot “leading to Christ.” It must be recognized that eis Christon is an unusual phrase and probably should not be taken as simply the equivalent of en Christō, “(our life) in union with Christ.” The preposition eis generally denotes movement, progress, direction; so something like “leading to Christ” may well be the most defensible rendering of this admittedly obscure phrase.

If one follows the rendering of the Good News Translation, every blessing which we have in our life in union with Christ, it is possible to translate as “every blessing which we have received (from God) as a result of our union with Christ,” or “all that is good which we have as we live joined with Christ,” or “… in close fellowship with Christ.” Note, however, the other possible interpretations, for example, as in Bible de Jérusalem Traduction œcuménique de la Bible Jerusalem Bible, “all the good that we are able to do in order to serve Christ.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Philemon. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .