By Tim Sullivan


Last week after my presentation on the book of Philemon, I was asked about a possible discrepancy between verse 19 and the postscript.

Philemon 1:19:
I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

Written from Rome to Philemon, by Onesimus a servant.

The most probable explanation is that Paul wrote this pledge (and not the entire letter) in his own writing to preempt the accusation that Onesimus forged it.

The fact is, a number of biblical writers dictated their letters to a servant specially appointed and educated for this task. Here are a few examples:

Jeremiah had a secretary named Baruch:

Jeremiah 36:4:
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book.

Baruch not only wrote down the words Jeremiah dictated to him; he read them publicly.

Jeremiah 36:10:
Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the LORD, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the LORD'S house, in the ears of all the people.

Later he was called to the king's house to explain his role.

vv. 17-18:
17 And they asked Baruch, saying, Tell us now, How didst thou write all these words at his mouth?
18 Then Baruch answered them, He pronounced all these words unto me with his mouth, and I wrote them with ink in the book.

One could say that Moses was God’s scribe:

Exodus 34:27
And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words [ or according to these words] I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.

A man named Silvanus served as a scribe for Peter:

1 Peter 5:12:
By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.

It is likely that, being fisherman by trade, Peter and John could neither read or write.

Acts 4:13:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

Paul’s use of scribes is well documented.

Romans 16:22:
I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.

It is apparent that Paul customarily included a final greeting in his own handwriting. This was a way to personalize each letter, but also a mark of authenticity.

1 Corinthians 16:21:
The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand.

Colossians 4:18:
The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

2 Thessalonians 3:17:
The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians makes special mention of this.

Galatians 6:11:
Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

The word "large" has been interpreted different ways. This word can mean "great" or "distinguished." The letter to the Galatians was not long in length, but it was weighty in its content.

Other Bible translations suggest that Paul was referring to the size of his handwriting. The New International Version says, "See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!" Those who hold to this rendition say that Paul had bad eyesight.

Galatians 4:15:
Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

It is just as likely that Paul wrote this letter by hand as a double proof of its authenticity because of the great weightiness of its contents. There is no other letter in which Paul so vehemently sets forth his identity as an apostle of the Lord.

Galatians 1:1:
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Either way, the possible discrepancy in Philemon is resolved.


Presented September 11, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana