Who wrote the book?
The Apostle Paul composed this letter, probably during his first imprisonment in Rome.
Who read the book? (Name the recipients and the background about them.)
The original audience was the house church led by Philemon, and elder at Colosse.
When and where do the events of the book take place?
The epistle was likely written circa 61 AD, and describes events preceded by Paul’s arrival in Rome (as recorded in Acts 28:16). Paul implies in the letter that the escaped slave Onesimus came to him during Paul’s house arrest, and was led to faith in Christ by the apostle (this is the best meaning of the phrase “whom I have begotten in my bonds” from verse 10). We can infer from Colossians 4:7-9 that, after the writing of the letter, Onesimus and a fellow associate of Paul’s named Tychicus were dispatched to Colosse to deliver that letter and the Epistle to the Colossians.
What is the political setting of the book?
The political history of the region included Colosse being conquered by Alexander the Great and being swallowed up into the Greek Empire circa 300 BC. By the time of the New Testament, Rome was the ruling power in the region. [Source: Dr. Hans F. Bayer, Life & Letters of Paul Lectures, Covenant Theological Seminary, Lecture 30, page 2]
What is the cultural setting of the book?
Regarding cultural institutions, slavery in the Roman Empire is the one of greatest significance to the situation discussed in the epistle. “At the time of writing, it is estimated that the number of slaves in the Roman Empire was 60 million. And Roman law asserted that slaves were private property, and as any type of property, were disposable. Additionally, the punishment for run-away slaves was torture and, with gove nmental permission, death.” [Source: http://www.realtime.net/~wdoud/philemon/phlm01.html]
Why did Paul write this epistle?
Paul wrote to convince Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household without punishment. In a broader sense, the Holy Spirit wanted to instruct the Church on the importance of repentance and forgiveness in our relationships within the body of Christ.