Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ - It has already been noted, in the preface, that Paul was a prisoner at Rome when he wrote this epistle, and those to the Colossians and Philippians. But some think that the term prisoner does not sufficiently point out the apostle's state, and that the original word δεσμιος should be translated bound with a chain: this is certainly its meaning; and it shows us in some measure his circumstances - one arm was bound with a chain to the arm of the soldier to whose custody he had been delivered.
It has also been remarked that Paul does not call himself an apostle here, because the letter was a letter of friendship, and on private concerns. But the MSS. are not entirely agreed on this subject. Two MSS. have δουλος, a servant; the Codex Claromontanus and the Codex Sangermanensis, both in the Greek and Latin, have αποστολος, apostle; and Cassiodorus has αποστολος δεσμιος, Paul, an imprisoned apostle of Jesus Christ. They, however, generally agree in the omission of the word αποστολος .
Unto Philemon our dearly beloved - There is a peculiarity in the use of proper names in this epistle which is not found in any other part of St. Paul's writings. The names to which we refer are Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and Onesimus.
Philemon, Φιλημων . Affectionate or beloved, from φιλημα, a kiss; this led the apostle to say: To Philemon our Dearly Beloved.
And Timothy our brother - Timothy, it seems, had come to him agreeably to his request; 2 Timothy 4:9. Paul not unfrequently joins his name with his own in his epistles; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philemon 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1. As Timothy was of that region of country, and as he had accompanied Paul in his travels, he was doubtless acquainted with Philemon.
Unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow-labourer - See Introduction, Section 1. The word rendered “fellow-laborer” συνεργω sunergōdoes not determine what office he held, if he held any, or in what respects he was a fellow-laborer with Paul. It means a co-worker, or helper, and doubtless here means that he was a helper or fellow-worker in the great cause to which Paul had devoted his life, but whether as a preacher, or deacon, or a private Christian, can not be ascertained. It is commonly, in the New Testament, applied to ministers of the gospel, though by no means exclusively, and in several instances it cannot be determined whether it denotes ministers of the gospel, or those who furthered the cause of religion, and cooperated with the apostle in some other way than preaching. See the following places, which are the only ones where it occurs in the New Testament; Romans 16:3, Romans 16:9, Romans 16:21; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philemon 2:25; Philemon 4:3; Colossians 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Philemon 1:24; 3 John 1:8.