Onesimus

I’m hoping someone out there can help me understand something. In light of this:

You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.
Deuteronomy 23:15-16

Why did Paul give up Onesimus to his master (see Philemon 8-16)? Was it to make restitution for the theft which appears to have taken place?

8 Comments

  1. Mom/Ruth
    May 24, 2007

    Could it be that because Onesimus had stolen from Philemon, Paul knew restitution of some sort was necessary? (I’m assuming that Paul is talking about theft of something material, not just the value of a slave.) I’m reading through NTW’s treatment of Philemon in his Paul for Everyone series, but I don’t think he addresses your concern – I’ll look more carefully.

  2. Mom/Ruth
    May 24, 2007

    A senior moment – Reading your entry again to the end I see you already suggested the answer I offered above, and using the same language. However, I would add that possibly Paul felt that reconciliation was needed because now master and run-away slave were now brothers in Christ.

  3. Jay
    May 24, 2007

    Mom, I wasn’t going to comment on your first comment, other than to say great minds think alike.

  4. Michael
    May 24, 2007

    I was going to say that it doe seems to be the Gospel that leads Paul to “turn in” Onesimus. It also suggests that the Gospel affects social structures like slavery. The Gospel doesn’t do away with slavery here but it does affect it. Sure, Philemon and Onesimus can/will still be master-slave, respectively, but trumping that construct is the story of the Gospel.

  5. Mom/Ruth
    May 24, 2007

    You’re too kind!

  6. Jay
    May 24, 2007

    Look at 1 Corinthians 7:21. Does this include escape? If so, it echoes the premise of the Deuteronomy passage. Yet we know slaves are commended to serve their masters as unto the Lord, and all the more if their masters are Christians. That doesn’t seem to be compatible with escaping.

    At the same time, I don’t understand how escaping was a good thing in the Old Testament either given the broader case law, so Deuteronomy 23 really jumped out at me.

    Which brings me to my next question: Was Paul obligating Philemon to free Onesimus? In Israel, Israelite slaves were to be freed every Sabbath year (every seventh year), and they were not to be sent out empty handed. Thus, when Onesimus returned to Philemon as a Christian brother, was Philemon now obligated to send him out a free man (and with provisions) at some point in the near future? Onesimus’ theft would stand in the way, but Paul very clearly wants that debt out of the way.

  7. Rollin
    May 25, 2007

    Could it be that the law of the land (Roman, right?) in Paul’s day was not in accord with Deuteronomy, and thus mandated returning a slave? Paul and Onesimus, subject to the authority of the civil authority, would have obeyed that mandate?

  8. Jay
    May 25, 2007

    Rollin, that sounds right to me. Thanks!