In Philem 9 the writer speaks of himself as Παῦλος πρεσβύτης (AV and RV ‘Paul the aged,’ RVm ‘ambassador’). In strictness the translation ‘ambassador’ requires πρεσβευτής, a word which does not occur in the NT. The two forms may have been confused in transcription or in common use. The translation ‘ambassador’ is more fitting because Philemon, as father of Archippus, who was old enough to hold some ‘ministry’ in the Church (Col 4:17), must have been the equal, or nearly the equal, of St. Paul in age; and there would be little or no ground for an appeal based on considerations of age. It is also to be noticed that the phrase ‘ambassador and … prisoner of Jesus Christ’ is practically repeated in Eph 6:20, ‘an ambassador in bonds.’
Taking the word as meaning ‘ambassador,’ the appeal would have in it a note of authority. It is not a relevant objection to say that St. Paul is beseeching Philemon ‘for love’s sake’ (v. 9). It is the peculiarity of the Christian ambassador that he beseeches those whom he addresses. Love and authority are commingled in his mission, as in 2 Co 5:14, 20. The likelihood of ‘ambassador’ being the right translation is strengthened by the fact that here as elsewhere (2 Co 5:20, Eph 6:20) St. Paul uses a verbal and not a noun form to express his position as an ambassador. See J. B. Lightfoot, Com. on Col. and Philemon3, 1879, in loc.; and cf. art. Ambassador.
AV Authorized Version.
RV Revised Version.
RVm Revised Version margin.