Paul’s Persuasive Tactics in the Letter to Philemon

Paul employs a number of persuasive tactics in this brief letter to ensure that Philemon will do as he wishes.

To begin with, in the address of this letter Paul includes the entire church that meets in Philemon’s house (v. 2), even though most of the content seems to be intended for Philemon personally (every occurrence in Greek of the word “you” in vv. 4–21 is singular). Thus there will be public knowledge of the request that Paul is making, and the whole congregation will know whether Philemon responds as Paul hopes.

Some of Paul’s other tactics:

In short, Paul manages in a few sentences to place Philemon in a position in which granting the request will be the only way to maintain honor with Paul, with his own family, and with his church. We do not know whether Paul did this because he suspected that Philemon would need this sort of pressure, or because the situation was particularly delicate, or simply because this was how one made requests of this sort in those days. It is possible that Philemon would have been delighted to grant Paul’s request apart from any social pressure or rhetorical encouragement. In any case, Paul’s letter would have made it difficult for him not to do as Paul wished.