Paul Is Witty

Paul chooses his words carefully in his letter to Philemon, using language in ways that are provocative and witty. Click the underlined words below for a description and biblical example.

Paul refers to Onesimus’s problematic absence from the household (due to flight or failure to return home on schedule) simply as a time when Onesimus and Philemon have been “separated” for a while.

“Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever” (v. 15).

Paul says that he is not going to mention the debt that Philemon owes to him, but of course, in stating that he is not going to mention it, he actually does mention it.

“I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self” (v. 19).


Paul indicates that Onesimus was once “useless” but is now truly “useful”; the word “useless” (achrēstos) is similar to a word that means “without Christ”(achristos); the word “useful” furthermore is a pun on Onesimus’s name, since onēsimos literally means “useful.”

“Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me” (v. 11).

Paul refers to Onesimus as “my own heart” and then calls on Philemon to “refresh my heart,” giving the latter reference a double meaning: refresh Onesimus (who is Paul’s heart), and refresh Paul’s heart by sending Onesimus back to him.

“I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you” (v. 12).

“Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ” (v. 20).