Philemon & Onesimus: Brothers in the Flesh

Read this insightful proposal by Tim Gombis that Philemon and Onesimus were brothers. The reconstruction sounds convincing and will provide fresh ways to read Paul’s letter.

Faith Improvised

Over the last several posts, I’ve argued that it is unlikely that Paul’s words in Philemon 15-16 can be interpreted to mean that Philemon and Onesimus partake of a common humanity.

I think that it is more likely that Paul indicates that Philemon and Onesimus are brothers.  This is the most natural reading of the expression adelphon en sarki and at least two scenarios can account for it.

First, it may be that Philemon and Onesimus are two sons of the same mother and father.  Philemon is the older brother upon whom their father has conferred the management of the household, comprising any number of smaller family units, other relatives, and slaves.  Onesimus is the younger son, born free, and the recipient of a smaller inheritance which he squanders and ends up selling himself into slavery (cf. Luke 15).

Such a situation would bring shame on Philemon, threatening his ability…

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