[Deu 23:15-16 NLT] (15) "If slaves should escape from their masters and take refuge with you, you must not hand them over to their masters. (16) Let them live among you in any town they choose, and do not oppress them.

[Phm 1:12 NLT] (12) I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.

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    I think the pertinent notion in the Deuteronomy text relates to "taking refuge", i.e. this was a built-in protection for slaves against oppressive masters (unheard of in any other culture). Oppression was not to be tolerated in Israel. Unwritten, is the obvious need for checking the legitimacy of a slave's claim of oppression.
    – enegue
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 7:02
  • The important aspect, in my own view, would be whether Onesimus was returning willingly, albeit at the behest of Paul. My understanding of the the epistle is that Onesimus had left service in unbelief but was returning in faith, and was being commended by Paul who wished to pave the way for a reconciliation between Onesimus and Philemon, on the basis of Christian fellowship. I don't think Jewish Law is relevant, here.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 18:22
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    @NigelJ Okay, thanks. At this point I have not formed an opinion on what to make of the situation.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 18:27
  • @NigelJ The Law is certainly relevant if Paul discovered that Onesimus was a runaway slave who had no valid claim concerning oppression, in which case he was obliged to return him.
    – enegue
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 8:49
  • @enegue Is Onesimus Jewish (with a Latin name ?). Is Philemon Jewish ? What is the Roman Law ? Paul refers to no Laws in the epistle. He refers only to the faith of Philemon and the faith of Onesimus.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 9:14

1 Answer 1


Paul and Onesimus had a new relationship, by Onesimus' [eternal] rebirth. Philemon and Onesimus also were now brothers, so are the sending and keeping in that context? Onesimus evidently chose, whether returning or staying. Nor had he taken refuge with Paul, unless...are you thinking Roman citizens who were prisoners had input or authority on what to do with captured slaves?

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    If you find that Roman law is a factor here that would be helpful research and earn a +1.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 7:28
  • well for sure it's not Jewish law that either Paul or Philemon or Onesimus or the Roman jail or Caesar are bound by
    – Walter S
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 19:23

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