Glossary of Terms



Oxford Dictionary of the Bible

by W.R.F. Browning (NY: Oxford University Press, 1996)

Onesimus A slave who asconded from is owner Philemon and sought sanctuary with Paul, who wrote to Philemon urging him to treat Onesimus gently. From the epistle to Philemon, verse 10, it would seem that Onesimus became a Christian believer, and even a leader in the Church (Col. 4:9). Scholarly speculation has suggested that he became bishop of Ephesus, and that there he gathered together Paul's surviving letters and wrote the epistle to the Ephesians as an introduction to the collection.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Onesimus (Gk., ‘useful’), Philemon’s slave for whom Paul appeals in his Letter to Philemon. Apparently, Onesimus had run away from his master, met Paul (probably in Ephesus), and been converted to Christianity (Philem. 10). Though he had formerly been ‘useless’ to his master, he now has become ‘useful’ (Philem. 11)—a wordplay on his name. The theory that Onesimus was Archippus’ slave (Philem. 2; Col. 4:17), not Philemon’s, lacks evidence. The conclusion that Onesimus was released for service to Paul’s mission and became an important leader in the church is confirmed by the description of him as ‘the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of yourselves’ (Col. 4:9). The identification of him with the Onesimus who was bishop of Ephesus some sixty years later and the notion that he collected Paul’s letters and wrote Ephesians represent speculation. More likely, the prominence of Onesimus led to the use of his name by later church leaders. A tradition identifies him as the bishop of Beroea, and Melito of Sardis (mid-second century) wrote to his ‘brother Onesimus.’ In the fourth century, two other bishops bear the name ‘Onesimus.’


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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