Congregation Beth Ha'Mashiach
(House of the Messiah) - Worshipping ADONAI
& His Messiah, Yeshua Ha'Mashiach
Living & teaching as our
Messiah taught us to Live
Congregation serving Northeast Atlanta Georgia (Gwinnett, Barrow, Dekalb,
554-2867 - email:
Ki Tetze – כי תצא : “When you go” Torah : Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19 Haftarah : Isaiah 54:1–10 Gospel : Acts 13–15
The Escaped Slave and Philemon
Thought for the Week:
Paul, a prisoner of Messiah Yeshua, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the [congregation] in
your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Yeshua Messiah… (Philemon 1–3)
Have you ever wondered who first collected the letters of Paul and preserved them for future generations? There may be a clue in this week’s Torah portion.
In Deuteronomy 23:15–16, the Torah forbids returning escaped slaves to their owners. An escaped slave that takes refuge in Israel is to be given citizenship and the right to live in the place he chooses.
This law has significant bearing on the background of the epistle of Philemon. Even though the Torah speaks specifically only of an escaped slave that takes refuge in the land, the broader principle is of the
Torah teaches that we should grant asylum to any escaped slave. Philemon was a notable member of the believing community at Colossi. He also owned slaves. One of his slaves, a certain young man named Onesimus
(meaning ‘useful’), escaped and fled to Rome where he encountered the imprisoned Apostle Paul. Under Paul’s tutelage, Onesimus met the Master and became a believer.
To Paul, the situation with Onesimus was delicate. Though the principle of the Torah forbade him from returning Onesimus to Philemon, Roman law did not. Philemon would certainly hear that his slave had shown
up in the company of the Apostle. He might demand the slave back, a demand with which Paul could not comply because the Torah forbade him from doing so. This could create all sorts of problems—even legal
problems for the Apostle who was already in prison. Hence, the occasion for the epistle to Philemon.
In Paul’s epistle to Philemon, we can discern a plan. The Torah forbade Paul from returning Onesimus, but Onesimus could voluntarily return on his own initiative. With Onesimus voluntarily consenting to the
plan, Paul has Onesimus himself deliver the letter. In the letter, Paul begs Philemon to pardon Onesimus and grant him his freedom. He puts the request in such a way that Philemon cannot, in good conscience,
It may be merely coincidence, but in his epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius makes reference to “a man of inexpressible love and your bishop” named Onesimus. If Onesimus the bishop is the same as Onesimus the
escaped slave, it may explain why the epistle of Philemon was preserved among the Pauline epistles. It may well be that it was Onesimus himself (who had originally traveled with Paul’s postman Tychicus,
delivering the letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, and several others) that first began to collect and preserve the Pauline letters.