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Free Bible Study on the Book of Philemon (PDF)

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Curious about the book of Philemon? You've come to the right place!


My name is Aaron Mead. I'm a writer and a lifelong student of the Bible. I have an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from UCLA (you can read more about me here). I've spent years creating and leading small group inductive Bible studies. Over the past five years, I wrote an historical novel telling a dramatic backstory to the book of Philemon. Those five years were full of research on the book of Philemon, so I thought I'd create a Bible study sharing some of that research.

Read enough? Scroll to the bottom to get the free study.

If you want more information, below you'll find endorsements of the study by church leaders, information about the study structure, and a sample section on Philemon 1-3. Along with the free study, as a *bonus*, you'll get the first three chapters of my novel, Neither Slave nor Free!


If you use the study, I'd love to hear about your experience. Feel free to drop me a line hereMay God bless your studies.

Matt Colwell
Senior Pastor
Knox Presbyterian Church
Pasadena, CA
"The brevity of Philemon has surely contributed to the paucity of quality small group resources on the text. Aaron Mead corrects this oversight with this excellent study and discussion guide.  He offers powerful insights on the epistle, and outlines an approach to interpretation that can enrich any exploration of scripture. Congregations like the one I serve will be blessed by this accessible and engaging work."
Peter Hough
Lead Pastor
The Alton Mission
Alton, IL
"Mead’s study guide on Philemon tackles the shortest book in the Christian Scriptures with incredible depth. The background historical research he’s done to construct a vivid world for his novel now comes to the fore as he guides us through this ancient text line by line. His accessible approach to interpretation will increase your skill at reading the Bible, and your joy in discovering what the Spirit is saying to us through Philemon today."

Bible Study Structure

  • Introductory Material: Read introductory material with advice on how to use the Bible study for individual or small group study.

  • Inductive Study MethodObserve the Bible passage carefully by answering a set of guided questions.

  • Historical-Cultural ContextRead notes on ancient history and culture essential to proper interpretation of the Bible.

  • Author's Meaning: Interpret the author's meaning in the Bible passage by answering a second set of guided questions.

  • Expert Comments: Read comments on the meaning of the Bible passage from an expert on Philemon.

  • Real Life Application: Reflect on the meaning of the Scripture passage for you, today, by answering a third set of questions that invites the transforming work of the Spirit.

Bible Study Sample: Philemon 1-3

Scripture Text:


1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To our beloved coworker Philemon,

2 to our sister Apphia, to our fellow soldier Archippus, and to the church in your house:

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

Observing the Text:


  1. The book of Philemon is a letter. What can we tell about the author(s) from this passage?

  2. To whom was the letter written? What can we tell about them?

  3. Read Colossians 4:17. Does it tell us anything about where the recipients of Philemon lived? If so, what does it tell us?

  4. What does the passage tell us about God? Jesus?

  5. How does the passage reflect Jesus’ teachings, if at all?

  6. What questions do you have about the passage?

History and Culture:


Most scholars think the Apostle Paul was the author of Philemon and that he wrote it, perhaps with the help of his companion Timothy, sometime around the middle of the first century of the Common Era (CE) from within the Roman Empire.


Paul makes multiple references to his “imprisonment” in the letter (vv. 1, 9, 10, 13, 23). In the first-century Roman Empire, prison was not a means of punishment, deterrence, or rehabilitation as it typically is in modern western culture. Rather, prison was a holding place where non-citizens of Rome charged with a crime were kept until trial. If convicted at trial, the punishment was generally execution. Typically, Roman citizens were allowed to go free until their trial. Thus, the fact that Paul seems to have spent an extended time in prison is puzzling since Acts notes that Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:27-29). In Roman prisons, the state was not required to provide for the basic needs of prisoners. Thus, first-century prisoners were dependent on the care of friends and family, who could gain permission to visit prisoners and provide food, water, clothing, health care, and other basic needs.


Author’s Meaning:
  1. What might the author mean by “a prisoner of Christ Jesus”?

  2. The author refers to the recipients of the letter as “beloved coworker,” “sister,” and “fellow soldier.” What might the author mean by each of these descriptors?

Expert Comments:


  • Paul seems to have written Philemon, possibly with help from Timothy (v. 1).

  • Since v. 2 addresses Archippus, who is also addressed in Colossians 4:17, it seems the recipients of the letter lived in the city of Colossae, in the Lycus Valley near Laodicea and Hierapolis (see Colossians 4:12-16), within the Roman province of Asia (what is now western Turkey).

  • Paul seems to have written the letter from prison, though scholars debate the location of the prison. The main options are Caesarea, Rome, and Ephesus (the capital city of Asia). According to the Book of Acts, the only times Paul was imprisoned long enough to write letters were in Caesarea (for over two years; see Acts 23:31-26:32) and Rome (two years under house arrest; see Acts 28:16-31). However, Ephesus was closer to Colossae, so it seems more plausible to some scholars. We’ll learn more about the prison location later.

  • Paul seems to have understood his imprisonment as part of the Lord’s will for him (“…prisoner of Christ Jesus…”) and not merely as the will of his human captors. Thus, despite being in prison, he didn’t view himself as a victim; rather, he continued to see himself as an agent of God’s purposes.

  • The way Paul refers to the recipients of the letter emphasizes a kind of equality of status. A “beloved coworker” is someone you labor alongside, not someone you boss around. Similarly, a “fellow soldier” is someone alongside whom you fight a common battle. A “sister” is someone you are closely related to, and with whom you share the common role of “child.” Together with the fact that Paul does not refer to himself as “Apostle” (as he does in virtually every other letter attributed to him in the New Testament), these descriptors suggest Paul wants to emphasize the love and equality of status that should be evident between members of the church. This emphasis echoes Jesus’ teaching that his followers are all brothers and sisters, children in God’s family (Matthew 12:47-49).

  • It seems one of the three people Paul addresses in the opening lines of the letter hosts the Colossian church in their house. Given that Paul addresses Philemon first, he was likely the host, which implies he was a landowner and a person of considerable wealth.

  • Paul prays for God’s unmerited favor (“grace”) and “peace from God” to be with the recipients of the letter. “Peace from God” is the quality a relationship has when the two parties are reconciled to one another.

  • Paul’s phrase “God our Father” echoes Jesus’ teaching on how to address God in the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2).

  • In contrast with the egalitarian language of verses 1 and 2, Paul uses hierarchical language to refer to Jesus the Christ (Messiah): he calls him “Lord” (v. 3). Thus, Jesus’ status is exalted above the equal status of members of the church.


Meaning for Today:


  1. Have you (or someone you know) ever been (or felt) imprisoned? How might you understand God to be at work in that imprisonment, if at all?

  2. Are there members of the church today who are often treated as second-class? How might you treat them more like colleagues, sisters, brothers, or fellow soldiers?

  3. How might you use your living space for God’s purposes?

  4. Do you think of Jesus as “Lord”? What might it mean for you to think of him that way?

Aaron Mead | Writer

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