Around the year 110 AD, Ignatius, one of our important church fathers
in the second generation church wrote a letter to the Ephesians. In this
letter he comments on the fact that the leader of the Ephesian church was
named Onesimus. Now we donít have conclusive evidence, but there is
strong evidence, held by many Bible scholars that this Onesimus is the
freed slave spoken of in the letter to Philemon. If this is indeed the
case, how ironic, and what an amazing story; from being a slave to being a
leader. Onesimus, once a slave to man, becomes a bond servant, a servant
by choice, to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is interesting to note that during this same period of time that all
of Paulís known letters that could be found were published into one
book. This publication was compiled in the city of Ephesus, where Onesimus
was living and was the churchís leader. If the Onesimus of the letter to
Philemon was the Onesimus, leader of the Ephesian church, then this might
be how such a little letter ended up in our Canon of Scripture. For
indeed, Onesimus might have well kept Paulís letter to Philemon as a
memorial to his freedom, thus putting it into this publication.
One other thing to note on a different subject. Onesimus was called
Bishop of Ephesus. Around the turn of the century, 100 AD, church
structure changed. Paulís concept of leadership was that a number of
elders would be co-equal, and care for the church. Yet by the turn of the
century, one of these elders became "head elder", or
"bishop", having more authority than the other elders. As time
went on the authority of this bishop increased. The question that should
be asked at this point is, was this a diversion from Paulís concept the
way it should be, or was this a natural evolution, or was it simply Godís
will? This is an important question, and even the most important
underlying question when we discuss church structure in our modern church.
This may be a hard question to answer, and I am sure there are varying
opinions, but it is important to talk about.