St. Onesiphorus—An Obscure, Yet Worthy New Testament Saint
Tradition tells that Onesiphorus was brutally martyred under the tyrannical reign of Emperor Domitian.
May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he came to Rome, he promptly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day. And you know very well the services he rendered in Ephesus. ―2 Timothy 1:16–18
St. Onesiphorus’s name is found in only one book of the Bible ― the Second Letter to Timothy. It is believed that Paul wrote this letter while a prisoner in Rome and that Timothy received it in Ephesus, the same city where Onesiphorus (ON-eh-SIPH-er-us) and his family lived. Within this letter, Onesiphorus’s name is found twice. These references indicate a sense of past tense and offer greetings for the family of Onesiphorus rather than for Onesiphorus himself.
These curiosities have led many biblical scholars to guess that perhaps this Ephesian saint was already deceased at the time Paul wrote his letter. Paul’s words found in 2 Timothy 1:18, “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day,” are intriguing. If indeed Onesiphorus was deceased at the time of the writing, then this could possibly be considered one of the earliest prayers for the dead in Christendom.
Onesiphorus was evidently someone dear to Paul’s heart. Paul’s words make it clear that Onesiphorus was encouraging in his efforts and fearless of Paul’s state of imprisonment. While many others anxiously ran away in apprehension, Onesiphorus remained a true friend through Christ. Paul also pointed out how Onesiphorus did much in Ephesus to support and fortify the early Church there. It is reasonable to assume that this somewhat hidden man’s efforts rippled far and wide in unknown ways to benefit Christianity.
Tradition tells that Onesiphorus was brutally martyred under the tyrannical reign of Emperor Domitian. It is said that he was tied to a wild horse near the Hellespont (the strait of water separating Europe from Asia, now known as the Dardanelles) and then violently dragged to death. A comrade of his, Porphyrius, is believed to have been martyred at the same time. Onesiphorus is also mentioned in an apocryphal book known as Acts of Paul and Thecla.
Finding St. Onesiphorus in the Bible
You can find St. Onesiphorus on the Sept. 6 page of the Roman Martyrology. Though barely mentioned in the Bible, his references — with a bit of thought — can present an opportunity to reflect. If time permits, look up the following verses in your Bible, and try to consider St. Onesiphorus’s impact on the early stages of Catholicism.
- 2 Timothy 1:15–18
- 2 Timothy 4:19