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Philemon 1:4-7

Context
Thanks for Philemon’s Love and Faith

1:4 I always thank my God 1  as I remember you in my prayers, 2  1:5 because I hear 3  of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love 4  for all the saints. 5  1:6 I pray 6  that the faith you share with us may deepen your understanding of every blessing 7  that belongs to you 8  in Christ. 9  1:7 I 10  have had great joy and encouragement because 11  of your love, for the hearts 12  of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

1 sn I always thank my God. An offer of thanksgiving (εὐχαριστῶ, eucaristw) to God is a customary formula for Paul in many of his epistles (cf. Rom 1:8, 1 Cor 1:4, Eph 1:16, Col 1:3, 1 Thess 1:2, 2 Thess 1:3). The content of the thanksgiving typically points to the work of God in the salvation of the believers to whom he [Paul] writes.

2 tn Grk “making remembrance (or “mention”) of you in my prayers.”

3 tn The Greek present participle ἀκούων (akouwn, “hearing”) is an adverbial participle of cause relating to εὐχαριστῶ (eucaristw, “I give thanks”).

4 sn Your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. In accord with Paul, John also advocates this combination of “faith in Christ and love for the saints.” The believers’ invisible faith becomes visible in the demonstration of love for others. This, of course, is not only desired, but commanded (1 John 3:23). Although Paul’s comment here may appear as a stock expression to the casual reader, praising Philemon for his track record of faithfulness to Christ demonstrated in love for the saints is actually integral to the author’s argument in this short but pithy letter. Paul will soon ask Philemon to demonstrate this love toward Onesimus, his runaway slave.

5 tn The Greek is somewhat awkward here. It appears as though the text reads “…the love and faith which you have for the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.” In other Pauline letters the emphasis seems to be “faith in Christ Jesus and love for all of the saints.” Some ancient mss have altered the wording to produce a smoother reading; scribes changed the wording to resemble the more readable versions in Eph 1:15 and Col 1:4, “your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which you have to all the saints.”

6 tn The term ὅπως ({opw") refers back to the idea of prayer (μνείαν σου ποιούμενος ἐπὶ τῶν προσευχῶν μου, mneian sou poioumeno" epi twn proseucwn mou) in 1:4. See BDAG 718 s.v. 2.b; P. T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC), 279. The indicative “I pray that” was supplied in the English in order to make this connection clear.

7 tn Grk “everything good.”

8 tcὑμῖν (Jumin, “you”) is found in many valuable witnesses (Ì61 א F G P 0278 33 1739 1881 al sy co). The witnesses for ἡμῖν (Jhmin, “us”) are not as strong (A C D Ψ 048vid Ï), but nevertheless represent a broad base. Internally, ἡμῖν could be favored because of second person pronouns surrounding it, making it the harder reading. On the other hand, the last second person plural pronoun was in v. 3, and the next one will not show up until v. 22, a fact which tends to counter the internal argument on behalf of ἡμῖν. Although a decision is difficult, with the internal evidence being capable of favoring either reading, our preference is based on the external evidence; ὑμῖν is thus slightly preferred.

9 tn Grk “that the fellowship of your faith might become effective in the knowledge of everything good that is in us in Christ.” There are numerous difficulties with the translation and interpretation of this verse: (1) What is the meaning of ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεως σου (Jh koinwnia th" pistew" sou, “the fellowship of your faith”)? Several suggestions are noted: (a) taking κοινωνία as a reference to “monetary support” and τῆς πίστεως as a genitive of source, the phrase could refer to Philemon’s financial giving which he has done according to his faith; (b) taking κοινωνία as a reference to “sharing” or “communicating” and the genitive τῆς πίστεως as an objective genitive, then the meaning would be “sharing the faith” as a reference to evangelistic activity; (c) taking κοινωνία in a distributive sense referring to fellowship with other believers, and τῆς πίστεως as a reference to the common trust all Christians have in Jesus, then the meaning is Christian fellowship centered on faith in Jesus; (d) taking κοινωνία as a reference to “participation” and the genitive τῆς πίστεως as a reference to the thing participated in, the meaning would then be Philemon’s “participation in the faith”; (2) what is the meaning of ἐνεργής (energh"; Does it mean “active” or “effective”?) and ἐπιγνώσει (epignwsei; Does it refer to simply understanding? Or “experiencing” as well?); (3) what is the meaning of the phrase παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ (panto" agaqou)? and (4) what is the force of εἰς Χριστόν (ei" Criston)? It is difficult to arrive at an interpretation that deals adequately with all these questions, but given the fact that Paul stresses what Philemon has done for the brothers (cf. the γάρ [gar] in v. 7), it seems that his concern in v. 6 is on Philemon’s fellowship with other believers and how he has worked hard to refresh them. In this interpretation: (1) the phrase ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεως σου is taken to refer to fellowship with other believers; (2) ἐνεργής is taken to mean “effective” (i.e., more effective) and ἐπιγνώσει involves both understanding and experience; (3) the phrase παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ refers to every spiritual blessing and (4) εἰς Χριστόν carries a locative idea meaning “in Christ.” The result is that Paul prays for Philemon that he will be equipped to encourage and love the saints more as he himself is brought to a place of deeper understanding of every spiritual blessing he has in Christ; out of the overflow of his own life, he will minister to others.

10 tn Here γάρ (gar) has not been translated because of differences between Greek and contemporary English style.

11 tn The Greek preposition ἐπί (epi) is understood here in a causal sense, i.e., “because.”

12 tn The word translated “hearts” here is σπλάγχνα (splancna). Literally the term refers to one’s “inward parts,” but it is commonly used figuratively for “heart” as the seat of the emotions. See BDAG 938 s.v. σπλάγχνον 2 (cf. Col 3:12, Phil 2:1).



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