Is he mentioned in the Bible other than in Colossians 4?
ESV - 9 And with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.
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► Who is Onesimus? Onesimus was a run-away slave of Philemon, native of Colosse who had robbed his master and fled to Rome. In Rome, he became a convert of Paul (Phm. 1:10), who sent him back to Philemon in the Epistle of Philemon. The writing pleads the case of Onesimus for forgiveness and restoration to the favor of Philemon. ► Summary of the letter that Paul wrote: Paul wrote that Onesimus departed from you as an unfaithful slave. He left you for a short time, but now since he is converted as a true Christian he would be a faithful slave. You must receive him back, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. Love him as a brother for he is dear to you and especially to me (vv. 15-16). Asked the master consider Paul as a friend, receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul. If Onesimus has wronged or if he owes anything, Paul pleaded to put that on to Paul's account. Paul promised to pay the master of Onesimus back. Paul asked to oblige him (vv. 17-19). Paul added that he wanted to have the joy of knowing that Onesimus is forgiven. He had the confidence in him that he would even do more than I say (vv. 20-21). Paul again expressed his faith in Onesimus deliverence from prison and that he promised get to visit the churches again. ► LESSONS LEARNT FROM THIS: 1. As per Paul's guideline, even a slave must confess his wrongdoing to the master 2. We must follow Paul to use our influence in Christ to bring peace and to save the afflicted from penalty of sin 3. Like Paul, we must be willing to deliver someone out of bondage using our own money, time and efforts 4. Like Paul,we must use every opportunity to do more ministry as done in Philemon
Onesimus was a Christian slave based at Colossae. His master was also a believer called Philemon, the man to whom the Letter of Philemon was addressed. Beside his mention in Colossians 4:9,18, Onesimus is also mentioned in Philemon 1:10, 25 where Paul was entreating his master to accept him back after he was reformed and having turned to Christ. He had ministered to Paul in prison for a while. It appears that Philemon was a convert and close friend of Paul. It is possible that Onesimus came to know Paul during his visit to Colossae where he probably lodged at Philemon's house (Philm.1:22). Slavery was a common phenomenon during the New Testament church era and scholars estimate that nine in ten men in Europe were slaves. Slaves were estimated to number 60million in Europe. Paul had a balancing act because he did not out-rightly condemn slavery perhaps for fear of upsetting the social order and hurting the gospel effort among the Gentiles but he encouraged believing slaves to remain faithful to their masters and Christian masters to treat their saves in a humane manner (Eph. 6:5-9;Titus 2:9-10;). He also taught that all men were equal in Christ whether bond or free (1 Cor.12:13). It is not exactly clear what led Onesimus to escape but it appears from Paul's words that he was probably unfaithful to his master and may have stolen from him (Philm 1:11). Slave masters had absolute control over their slaves. His mention in Colossians 4:9 indicates that Onesimus was by then a leading member of Paul's delegation to the church at Colossae which was led by Tychicus, another faithful emissary of Paul (Col 4:7). Onesimus was most probably the bearer of the letter, given his description as "...a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you..." (Col 4:9). His faith and moral conduct must have been outstanding among the brethren in Colossae. Some have suggested that there may have been two person's by that name with each being separately mentioned in Colossians and Philemon. However, given the centrality of Colossae and the mention of Archippus in both (Phil.1:2; Col.4:17) and that both were prison letters, that conclusion is difficult to draw. It is most probable that the letter of Philemon was written much earlier. If Onesimus was led to Christ by Paul while in prison, then either the two letters were written at the same time or most probably Colossians was written after Philemon. The Easton's Bible Dictionary states that both letters were written from Rome at the same time. ISBE dates Philemon 58 AD if written earlier than Colossians and 63/64 AD if written together. My deduction is that Philemon could not have been written at the same time with Colossians for three reasons: First, if Onesimus was converted by Paul after his runaway ordeal, it is unlikely that he would immediately be described the way he was in Colossians 4:7-9. My view is that Colossians was written long after Philemon, probably during a visit by a delegation of church leaders to Paul in his prison confinement. By this time, Onesimus had demonstrated his zeal for Christ. Secondly, Paul would not have failed to mention the presence of Tychicus, a faithful minister in his letter to Philemon if both men were heading to Colossae from Rome. It is instructive that Tychicus was a close associate of Paul who had also delivered Paul's letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:21,24) and was mentioned with Paul during his missionary journey to Macedonia as an Asian elder (Acts 20:4). He relieved Timothy and Titus (2Tim 4:12; Tit 3:12). The third reason is that Paul never mentioned Philemon in Colossians, suggesting that the issues obtaining in the letter to Philemon had been resolved by the time the letter to Colossae was written.
Although it is not specifically stated in Colossians, most Biblical commentators seem to regard the Onesimus mentioned in Colossians 4:9 as being the same as the individual who was the subject of Paul's letter to Philemon. Philemon was a leader of the Christian congregation in Colossae whom Paul apparently knew well, and Onesimus had been Philemon's slave. Onesimus had escaped from Philemon (possibly after having stolen from him), and had made his way to Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome. Paul succeeded in converting Onesimus to Christianity, and sent him back to his master, along with Paul's epistle to Philemon. In his epistle, Paul reminded Philemon how much Philemon owed Paul for having made Philemon a Christian, and asked Philemon to accept Onesimus back not with punishment as an escaped slave and criminal, but with welcome as a Christian brother. The epistle to Philemon is also notable for Paul's employment of wordplay or a pun on Onesimus' name (which meant "useful" or "profitable"). Paul says in Philemon 11 that, although Onesimus had formerly been useless to Philemon, he would now be useful to both Philemon and Paul, as he apparently proved to be, according to Paul's reference in Colossians.
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