My Translation of Philemon

In moving to discuss the destruction of social constructions in Philemon, I wanted to share with you my translation of this short letter. Feel free to destroy if necessary:

(1)  Paul, a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus, and Timothy the brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved and fellow-worker,

(2)  And to our beloved Apphia and Archippus, our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house:

(3)  Grace to you, and peace, from God, our Father and Lord, Jesus Christ.

(4)  I give thanks to my God always, making remembrance of you in my prayers

(5)  Hearing of your love towards the saints and of your faith which you have in the Lord Jesus.

(6)  I pray that the communion of your faith will work good things when you understand your full capacity for good in the cause of Christ Jesus.

(7)  For we have great joy and comfort from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

(8)  For this reason, I have all freedom in the name of Christ to command you to do that which is proper,

(9)  Yet, on account of love, I prefer to appeal to you, being such a one as Paul, the old man, and now also a prisoner for the sake of Jesus Christ.

(10)  I appeal to you concerning my son, Onesimus, whom I have converted, even in this prison,

(11)  Who at one time to you was useless, but now is truly useful to you and to me, whom I am sending back.

(12)  You, therefore, welcome him – he carries my compassion

(13)  I might have kept him here, as you were not here, that he might have ministered to me in the gospel’s chains,

(14)  But I did not want to do this without your consent, that your good deed would instead be voluntary and not forced.

(15)  For it is possible that this was why he separated from you for a time — that you should have him back forever,

(16)  Not as a slave any longer, but someone more than a slave — a brother beloved, especially to me, but so much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord!

(17)  If, then, you hold me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.

(18)  If he has wronged you, or if he owes you something, put it on my account;

(19)  I, Paul, am writing it with my own hand. I will repay it and not mention that you owe even yourself to me!

(20)  Brother, let me rejoice with you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the name of the Lord.

(21)  Having been confident of your obedience, I write you, knowing that you will exceed even my request.

(22)  But, at the same time, prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers, I will be able to come to you.

(23)  Epaphras (my fellow-prisoner for Christ Jesus) greets you.

(24)  As do Mark, Aristarchus, Demes, and Luke, my fellow-workers.

(25)  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

58 thoughts on “My Translation of Philemon

  1. This little Letter of St. Paul says more about his pastor-shepherd’s heart, than most realize. Would that the Church read it and read more! Thanks Joel, great effort!

    One “old man” myself,
    Fr. Robert

  2. My brother, this Text warms my heart, oh to be more like this “old man”…St. Paul! You will have to print your translation of Philemon up. I sure will. It will become (with the ESV) my text for both personal reading and preaching. I can see it now, the Epistles of St. Paul, translated by Joel L. Watts! Many started off with just Paul’s letters, like JB Phillips, and I believe William Barclay also? Have you ever read their translations? Just NT as I remember. ( I have a personal audio tape by Phillips, on Christ and the Incarnation. And Barclay on the Lord’s Prayer. Classic stuff!)

    Do ya think that both Apphia, was perhaps Philemon’s wife, and Archippus also maybe his son? (See, Col.4:17)
    Fr. R.

  3. “he carries my compassion”

    And so does your translation!

    “Having been confident of your obedience, I write you, knowing that you will exceed even my request.”

    It’s almost as if Paul was confident of your abilities!

    Let me echo what Fr. Robert says: “great effort!”

  4. What I like about Philemon is the impression it gives of Paul twisting Philemon’s arm, like a Jewish mother laying down a layer of guilt to get him to do what he wants. Almost like, “Do this for an old man, will you?”

  5. Geez Paula, I hope you are not going to try and put a feminist twist on Philemon? There is nothing here to twist, St. Paul “the old man” or ‘aged man’ if you will for clarity here, is simply asking in both Christian “brotherhood” and Christian love, but also as a “prisoner” for Christ Jesus. What could be more beautiful?
    Fr. R.

  6. Jeff,
    Just like us, the blog and blogger cannot be neutral. If I jumped too quickly, it is because I have chatted with Paula before. And you better check the culture more closely, it is squarely postmodern, and often feminist. I am just a bit older than you are mate, and my life experience has taught me a few things also. My point about none of us are neutral.
    Fr. R.

  7. J.K. Gayle,

    I hope not? But as I said, none of us is in a netural place. St. Paul certainly was not! I read my Greek NT every day, usually morning. I am not sure we can pull too much out of Paul here? The motive is spiritual, and all good Roman writers used rhetoric. But the letter is certainly a masterpiece of persuasion. I still don’t see a Jewish mother here though. That is a stretch to my mind? I lived in Israel myself for several years. And had some close Hasidic friends.
    Fr. R.

  8. I love Barclay’s work – although his total theology would leave a bit to be desired. Phillips is an honest paraphrase, which I have on my shelf.

    I would say that you are correct about his family members being mentioned. (Which does give credence to Calvin’s theory, doesn’t it?)

    I appreciate the kind words. I am toying with a translation of Mark which might not go other well. Maybe I’ll post it late one night when no one will likely read it.

  9. St. Mark, now there is a Gospel! I have R.T France’s NIGTC there also. It is kind of a quick run to the Atonement. But Mark 13 is very profound! But Mark 14:32-42 is in many ways one of my favorite Gospel texts. But note, verses 51 & 52 also.

    Yes, I did translated Phil. 2:5-11 years back. It was morphe theou, that got hold of me! I have always maintained here the preexistence of Christ.

    Well keep at the translation work, perhaps that is your forte? The Church needs conservative and classic work here!
    Fr. R.

  10. She was just making an analogy of Paul’s tone, not saying that Paul is like a mother. Maybe she can clarify.

    Not everything is postmodern or feminist.

    I disagree with the guilt part but that too may be analogous.

    BTW Joel said, “When is why he didn’t” I have no idea what that means. Maybe it’s postmodern.

  11. It was just a figure of speech, nothing more.

    I think we often treat Bible writers too woodenly, almost as if they are inhuman and have no emotions. I’ve studied Paul’s writings for a long time and have come to see that he has a great sense of humor, unlike some of his readers. Paul can also be very sarcastic, occasionally crude, and gets exasperated with people, especially the Galatians.

  12. You’re not unconsciously doing to Paula what her figurative Jewish mother does, now are you Fr. Robert?

    Going back to Paul, and to Paula’s astute if younger and less-masculinistic and less-modernistic perspective of what Paul’s doing – there’s really something in Philemon to notice.

    Paul is clever! Notice how he butters up Philemon, playing on the themes of the letter recipient’s own manner and even his own name. “our dearly beloved and fellow-worker” “your love and your faith” “the communion of your faith” “your full capacity for good” “great joy and comfort from your love” “refreshed through you”

    Then he lowers the boom! “on account of love” he takes the high road being old and imprisoned, helpless and in need of help. Who would help Paul in this condition? Who could be so useful? Oh, it’s his own child. It’s this one named Useful. So Paul mentions him by name: Onesimus

    Now he goes into rhetoric about obligation and freedom and slavery and brotherhood – as if Philemon has free choice to with respect to enslaving Onesimus or setting him free, again.

    It’s some of the more powerful rhetoric ever written. If your mother (or your Jewish friend’s mother) ever used it – kindness in lowliness and in conversion – then you get what Paula means. You get what Paul means too.

  13. “I’ve studied Paul’s writings for a long time and have come to see that he has a great sense of humor, unlike some of his readers. Paul can also be very sarcastic, occasionally crude, and gets exasperated with people, especially the Galatians.”

    careful Paula. you’re sounding like my mother (who sounds like Paul). :)

  14. U got it, J. K. ! :-)

    I probably should have clarified that I had the quintessential American Jewish mother in mind, the one who says things like “My son never calls me” and lays down thick layers of guilt to a comic extreme.

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