Philemon — personal translations

In the course of this month’s focus on scripture, I have not been very balanced.  I have treated one relatively unimportant topic with far too many words, have treated a very important set of topics with even more words, and haven’t gotten to some other aspects of scripture at all.  One of the beauties of blogging is that I can set the timetable, so this scripture focus doesn’t have to be over with the passing of February.  On the other hand, it’s probably time to move into other areas.  I appreciate any attention readers have been able to give to these thoughts about scripture, Bibles, context, translations, and more.

I have shared some of my own translation work in 1Corinthians.  I am finding that the exercise (drill? work? practice?) of translation carries with it more power to get me closer to the text than any other activity I have experienced to date.  Therein lies the primary value, I suspect — it is very personal for me.  There’s probably no better way to bring this blogmonth to a close than to share such a personal translation of a very personal letter.

One or more questions might come up. . . .

Q:  Why translate this yourself when dozens of English versions are available at the click of a mouse? 
A:  Because this process has been one important part of my learning what Paul was saying in this letter.  Translating has gotten me in touch with the original and has helped me comprehend not only the text, but also the subtext.

Q:  Why are there no “verse” numbers below? 
A:  That is no inadvertent omission.  I simply didn’t want to insert any unnecessary distractions from the flow of this marvelous letter; and after all, there were no verse numbers in the original letter.

Q:  I don’t see my favorite verse in here!  You wouldn’t have left something out of the translation, would you?
A:  Of course I wouldn’t have intentionally left anything out.  It just might not look the same as you’ve heard or read it before.  My translation certainly isn’t the only possible one, but it is better than many, and I hope you’ll consider my renderings, asking questions if you have any.

Q:  Why did you choose Philemon?  Is this like choosing “Jesus wept” when asked to memorize a verse, because it’s short?
A:  Yes!  (Also, I have come to love this letter.  I feel a great attachment to it and its exegesis.)

Q:  Why are there two versions?  Do you disagree with yourself?  🙂
A:  In the first case, I followed more of a word-for-word approach, although no one-to-one correspondence is possible, and I still allowed myself latitude.  I prefer the second — the “Expansive Paraphrase” — in most cases.  Please don’t view the first as the better or more “literal” translation.  The second is also a translation, and it is a deeper representation of the original, in my estimation.

Q:  You included a lot of commentary and notes under your translations of 1Cor 4:1-5.  Not that I read all that, but I wonder why you don’t have that sort of material here.
A:  Good question.  The answer is that my process was much different with Philemon.  Although I was often working with the Greek during the past several years of contact with Philemon, I did not research lexicons or other Greek resource materials in the same way.  Given that Philemon is so short, I felt I had a good sense of the overall message, and I worked with the shape and structure of the text more than the tenses, moods, and declensions, etc., of individual words and phrases.  I acknowledge that another type of translation — more informed by the types of work I did with 1Cor 4:1-5 — would be different and possibly “better.”  I don’t imagine my own expansive paraphrase would change much, and all the general senses would remain intact.

Q:  I notice some interesting links in your translations.  Where do they come from?
A:  Philemon is indisputably structured as a chiasm — which means “reverse parallelism” is built in to the language and the flow of thought.  I have tried to reflect some of these parallel constructions in my translations.  For more detail, see this really poorly formatted, but chock-full blog from a few years ago, or this nice-looking layout on another site.

The translations below are works-in-progress and were last revised about three months ago.

I. Relatively LiteralFrom:   Paul prisoner of Christ Jesus and Timothy the brotherTo:      Our co-worker Philemon, whom I truly love, Apphia the sister, Archippus our fellow-soldier, and the church at your house

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.



I always thank my God when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and your faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.  I pray that your faith-partnership may become activated as you perceive your every good thing for Christ.  I have truly come to have a great deal of joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.



Therefore, although I am bold enough in Christ to give you an imperative, I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love.  This is I, Paul—an old man, and now also Jesus Christ’s prisoner.

I’m now appealing to you for my child—whom I produced, in a manner of speaking, while in prison-bonds—Onesimus . . . the one formerly useless to you, but now indeed full of use, both to you and to me.



I am sending this one, who is my own heart, back to you (although I was wanting to keep him with me) — so that he, figuratively in your place, might be of service to me during my imprisonment for the gospel.  However, I chose to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good thing might not be something in which you felt forced, but rather did by your own decision.


Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—as a brother whom you truly love—very much loved by me, but how much more can he now be loved by you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.




If, then, you consider me your partner, let him come to you as if it were I coming to you.


And if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to my account.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it . . . ignoring that you owe me even your own self! Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord!   Refresh my heart in Christ.


Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be given to you.

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

II. Expansive Paraphrase (Dynamic Equivalent)To our co-worker Philemon, whom I truly love, sister Apphia; Archippus the soldier we’ve “fought” with, and the church at your house; from Paul—a prisoner—and Timothy.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


I perpetually thank my God when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of both your love and your faith toward both the Lord Jesus and all the saints.  I pray that your faith-partnership gets up and acts on its convictions, as you come to perceive your every good thing (remember those words!) for Christ.  I speak genuinely when I say that I’ve experienced a lot of joy and encouragement because of your love, and the saints’ hearts have been refreshed through you, my brother.



Therefore, although I have the Christ-given authority to obligate you, I would much rather speak to you out of love, out of relationship.  To set the stage, if you’ll allow me a little leeway here to sound “pathetic” as I describe my side of our relationship . . . I’m self-identifying now as an old man—and now also Jesus Christ’s prisoner, don’t forget. . . .


I’m now appealing to you for my child—the one I spiritually fathered while in prison-chains . . . the one who was obviously not beneficial to you, but who is now positively beneficial, to you and to me.  Yes, you’ve assumed correctly—I’m talking about none other than Onesimus.


I’m sending this man—and please understand that he’s so close to me now that I consider him my very heart—back to you (although I was wanting to keep him with me).  And why was I of two minds, wishing he could stay?  So that he—taking your place, as it were—might serve me during my imprisonment for the gospel’s sake.  I’m consciously avoiding taking any unilateral action, though, and this is why:  so that any choice you make for a good thing would be something you did because you chose to do it—not out of a sense of obligation.


Maybe, just maybe, you could think of Onesimus’s escape as having a more important purpose, ending in a new, overall reality.  Why, then, might all this have happened? So that you might have him back in a lasting sense, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—as a brother you sincerely love.  Of course I love him dearly, but how much more can you now love him as a dear brother, both in terms of the human relationship and in the Christian sense.


So, if you consider me your partner, and I know you do, the obvious baseline here is that you welcome Onesimus in the same way you would welcome me if I walked up to your house.

And if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, put it on my account.   I, Paul, am writing this myself:   I’ll take care of the bill (and may I remind you that you owe me everything). 🙂   I’m going a step further than the obvious here, and I know that you know that.  Philemon, let me experience “beneficial” from you in the Lord!  Refresh “my heart” in Christ. (Get me?)

I’m sure you will not only defer to the obvious message; you’ll also see the rationale and the love involved in taking the subsequent step.

One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, because I’m hoping through your prayers to be “given” to you. (See how “paybacks” work?)

Epaphras, my co-prisoner in Christ Jesus, says hello, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my co-workers.  May the Lord Jesus Christ’s grace be with your spirit.


© 2010-2014 Brian Casey.  All rights reserved.  Any sincere, reasonable request to use one or both of these translations, in whole or in part, is hereby granted!

4 thoughts on “Philemon — personal translations

  1. John Eoff 03/01/2015 / 8:28 am

    Good work Brian, in both versions. Allow me to express a pet peeve which most will regard as trivial, but is indeed exceedingly destructive. Divisions are the obvious disasters of those who believe in Jesus. Condemned first by Jesus, then repeatedly by Paul they have become the trade mark of “Christianity” to the world. Especially in your more literal translation you have the opportunity to expose the source and power of that life suffocating demon, the church. Instead you support the segmenting power by calling God’s people by that very name, un-biblical though it is. When Philemon read that letter, either to himself or to his associates, he said absolutely nothing about some “church” at your house. His oral, or mental, words would have been “out-called” in English pronunciation, or ecclesia in his probable native tongue, which means the exact same thing as the English pronunciation. Even if Philemon and anyone he read the letter to would have understood “out-called” to be a term applied strictly to the Holy Roman Church, or some other church, that is not the words they would have heard. Ecclesia is of God and is a description, not a name, which Jesus assigned to His people of the new covenant. Church is the name, not a description, of man made institutions which it has pleased high minded men to create in order for them to have something over which to wield authority, and in doing so totally destroying the unity with exists outside of those institutions of division. The New Testament introduces us to four such segmenting divisions in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. His advice was evidently not heeded and the practice has become practically universal within the family of God. Probably the adversary’s greatest victory against a people that can not be prevailed against, but has been severely crippled by it.

    Paul referred to called out ones at Philemon’s house; Why do you want to make his reference to something other than those specific people.
    With love


    • Brian Casey 03/01/2015 / 3:35 pm

      John, thanks for this impassioned plea. I think that, sadly, I might have lost some of what you have expressed in terms of seeing God’s people in a more New Covenant sense. I’m sorry for that. On the other hand, since my initial sharings (in 2010) of the Philemon translation were within a relatively traditional “church” context, it might have made sense to use the word “church” for those ears, while highlighting the “house” element that the letter Philemon manifests. I’ve had about six opportunities to date to share with a group from Philemon — two different years in my home in NY, in traditional churches in NY, NJ, TX, and WY. I hope it comforts you that, each time, I’ve emphasized no institutional church things whatsoever. 🙂 Philemon seems to reveal a focus on community and relationship beyond the surface, and I’ve spotlighted those things in the course of more thorough teaching from Philemon.

      I agree that “church” is a misbegotten (and poorly raised!) English word. Granted, it communicates some off-base things, but it’s also simply a word that believers get, to some degree. Everyone knows, deep down, that “church” is people and not an institution or a building, so the word “church” can be a starting point, I think.

      In my first pass at Philemon, the dearly loved group that approached it with me met in our house. Most/all of us were also meeting with other churches, but, looking back, our little Sunday-evening group was in the process of becoming a “house church.” (Most probably wouldn’t have said it that way.) For those people, if I’d used a wording like “out-called ones that assemble in your house,” it might have provided an opportunity to teach something more, but it might not have connected as much and would have sounded weird. Simply acceding to the common English use of “church”


    • Brian Casey 03/05/2015 / 8:57 am

      Thanks for thinking of me. I thought the other article you’d shared a few months ago (comments from various faith perspectives from Dallas Morning News, I think?) was a lot more insightful. This one seemed not to say much that hasn’t been said thousands of times already. But that’s just me.


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