Secret Persuasion Techniques: 64 A.D.


Persuasion and influence.

The process and art of converting someone towards a certain point of view.

YOUR point of view.

Closing the sale, obtaining a vote, receiving a ‘yes’ on the marriage proposal, getting the kids to clean their room…etc.

Businessmen, sales people, cult leaders, politicians and con artists are most associated with persuasion and influence. In reality the art is used by anyone who has a point they would like to communicate. Or perhaps an idea to be followed.

So then “ministers” can be added to the aforementioned gallery of notable adherents. And as you will soon see, the earth’s most famous Christian minister was a master practitioner.

Perusing the available literature on the topic, a quick google search will reveal the decades of peer reviewed research devoted to the art. Visiting you will see through nearly 40 years of study, Influence can be reduced to six powerful principles:

1. Reciprocation: “We should try to repay in kind what another person has provided us.”

2. Commitment/Consistency: “Once we make a choice or take a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.”

3. Social Proof: “We determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct.”

4. Liking: “We most prefer to say yes to the requests of people we know and like.”

5. Authority: “We have a deep-seated sense of duty to authority.”

6. Scarcity: “Something is more valuable when it is less available.”

Though we have at long last analyzed the art of Influence to the point of scientifically proving the principles of persuasion (for real, these principles have been proven to change the brain waves of its target recipient!), how interesting that we can demonstrate these six principles at work during the first century…by the Apostle Paul…and recorded in the Christian Bible.

Crazy (cool?).

Apostle Paul, Persuader Extraordinaire:

Studying what we know about Paul, we see he was a brilliant man. He wrote 2/3rds of the New Testament. He knew at least three languages. Was in line to be a leading Rabbi. Evidently a master tent maker. He knew of and read the philosophies of the Gentiles. And tough enough physically to travel extensively as a Missionary, endure a ship wreck and a stoning…and of course he was tied up and brutalized on a whipping post several times.

A very tough and very smart gentleman.

By reading the New Testament we receive a sampling of how he appropriated his communication skills with society: calibrating the structure of his sermons depending on the audience, causing his enemies to argue amongst themselves when in his presence, adroitly handling local magistrates, smoothly correcting the Apostle Peter (who was Paul’s superior) concerning doctrine (and Peter soon thanking Paul for the correction!), etc. etc. {you can read all about it in the book of Acts…and Paul’s writings…and Peter’s letter}

Additionally, we have Paul warning Christians to beware of those persuaders who use “human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” (Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 14, Holman Christian Standard Bible). So we know the Apostle Paul was adept and knowledgeable concerning the confidence men of his day.

Indeed, in example after example, we see a clever and cunning man of God (definitely worth a study for a future book).

A great sample of his communication skill is found in the short letter called Philemon. In it we find all six principles of Influence that science has only recently codified.

Cool (crazy?).

Brief background for the text:

Written in or about 64 A.D., the letter was written to a well off Christian businessman who opened his home for the church in a town called Colossae (located in the country we now call Turkey).

Evidently, Philemon (the rich guy receiving the letter) had a slave who stole from him then ran away. The slaves name was Onesimus and after his escape he ran into the Apostle Paul in Rome (1,200 miles from Colossae). One thing led to another and Onesimus became a Christian by the hand of Paul (who was under house arrest at the time). After his conversion he became a spiritual “son” to Paul. Knowing the fullness of the situation (Onesimus’ escape and thievery) and the present danger hanging over Onesimus (potential death sentence as an escaped slave), Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter in hand (Paul understanding the path to freedom for Onesimus must take him back to the scene of the crime).


Yes, Philemon (a Christian) owned a slave.

{look out for a future article on slavery in the NT and how ultimately it was the influence and sacrifice of Christian men and women who not only freed slaves but were the catalyst for the framing of slavery as antithetical to humanity…believe it.}

(ALSO, let us not take lightly the historicity of this event: it’s 64 A.D. and Paul, a highly educated Roman Citizen, having enough “pull” {and Favor} to not be imprisoned in a dungeon BUT be placed under house arrest in his own rented home, who then became a friend and an advocate to a SLAVE. Slaves in this region and time period were nothing more than an animate tool, a sub-human. We have a striking example here in the letter to Philemon how there was a breaking down of social and cultural barriers in early Christianity as the converted took on the image of Christ and began to learn to live as equals with all men and women.)

The Apostle Paul, as a Roman citizen, understood that slavery was the economic foundation of the entire Roman Empire. Roman law allows slave owners leeway in the punishment of slaves. Running away was sufficient reason for a master to kill his slave. Since Onesimus also stole from Philemon (likely to fund his 1,200 mile escape to Rome ) this would surely incite the severest punishment.

To increase the challenge to the situation, Onesimus is now a Christian brother to Paul AND Philemon.

But Onesimus’ conversion to Christianity does not negate Roman Law. Onesimus is still an escaped slave who absconded with stolen property from his master. A death sentence.

For Onesimus to ultimately be free, he must rectify the situation directly with Philemon.

Side Note: Remember, Paul at this time was under house arrest and could not travel himself to converse with Philemon face-to-face. Another added wrinkle.

So here goes Paul, wielding his pen like a sword and with mere words finesses the delicateness of the situation by using all six of the persuasion principles.

Examples from the text to follow, along with a listing of the appropriated persuasion principle (note: the letter to Philemon consists of a single chapter, short enough to be read in a few minutes):

Though the letter is speaking directly to Philemon, we see in its beginning Paul addressing the entire church and Philemon’s wife and son. 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.

An example of the persuasion principle SOCIAL PROOF.

Paul tells Philemon that he has a reputation for generosity. The implication being that if he now does as Paul suggests, his valuable reputation for generosity will be allowed to continue.

An example of the persuasion principle COMMITMENT/CONSISTENCY

Paul says that Philemon has refreshed “the hearts of the saints”, and then a few verses on drops the request for himself, “Refresh my heart in Christ”. If Philemon were to refuse, he would be declining to do for Paul what he has done for the church.

An example of the persuasion principles LIKING, AUTHORITY and COMMITMENT/CONSISTENCY

Paul indicates that he, as an apostle, has the authority to command Philemon to do what he wants done concerning Onesimus, but he refrains from giving such a command so that Philemon’s good deed might be of his own volition. If Philemon were to refuse Paul’s request, he would appear to be taking advantage of the freedom being offered.

An example of the persuasion principle AUTHORITY

Paul reminds Philemon that the one making this request is an “old man” and a “prisoner for Christ Jesus”. Philemon would have to be quite heartless to resist.

An example of the persuasion principles AUTHORITY and LIKING

Paul emphasizes his affection for Onesimus: the man has become

like a son to Paul, and in sending him back to Philemon, Paul feels like he is giving up his own heart. So, if Philemon does not do Paul the favor of returning Onesimus to him, he will, in effect, be keeping something very dear to the apostle for himself.

An example of the persuasion principle SCARCITY

Paul also reminds Philemon of what he has done for him: Philemon owes his very “self” to Paul (his immortal soul). What favor could Paul possibly ask in return that would be too great?

An example of the persuasion principle RECIPROCATION

Paul asserts that he is absolutely confident that Philemon will comply, and do more besides. So, if Philemon were to fail to comply, he would be disappointing someone who thinks highly of him.

An example of the persuasion principle SOCIAL PROOF

Paul finishes the letter by telling Philemon that he plans to come for a visit as soon as he is released from prison (house arrest). So, if Philemon fails to do as Paul suggests, he will have to deal with the disappointed apostle face-to-face.

An example of the persuasion principles AUTHORITY and SCARCITY.

So we see Paul, in just a few sentences, use the powerful principles of persuasion to place Philemon into a position in which granting the freedom of Onesimus will be the only way to maintain honor with Paul and the Church, and by implication God Himself.


Paul is certainly a master at compliance communication.

There is certainly a significant amount of material in the actions of Paul that every Christian should ponder and actualize in their own life.

Especially the skill set of persuasion, as we , the Church, go about our duty: the performance of mayhem for the cause of Christ.

| Rev. Daniel Gabriel |