The Letter to the Laodiceans

by William J. Stewart

Colossians 4:16 reads, “…when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.”

Have you ever wondered about the letter to Laodicea? Where is it? Why is it not in the Bible? There has been plenty of speculation about the Laodicean letter. If it is an inspired epistle that is missing, we have a problem! If it is an uninspired letter, why would Paul set it on par with the Colossian letter, which is in the canon of Scripture?

There is an ancient document known as “The Epistle to the Laodiceans,” but it is believed to be from the latter part of the 3rd century, and thus not from Paul. In a discussion of Paul’s letters, Jerome said, “Some read one also to the Laodiceans, but it is rejected by everyone” (De Viris Illustribus, 5). This fake Laodicean letter is exceptionally short (just 19 verses) and strings together phrases that are consistent with Paul’s other letters, but lacks substance.

So, the question remains—where is Paul’s letter to Laodicea? It is possible we have it in our Bibles, but has been mislabeled. Though Ephesians 1:1 says, “…to the saints who are in Ephesus…,” not all manuscripts address it to Ephesus (ie. Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, p46, 6, 424c, 1739). Marcion of Sinope (85-160 AD) believed the letter we call Ephesians was written to the Laodiceans (he was labeled a heretic for this, among other things). Tertullian (155-240 AD) argued for Ephesus because that was “…the true tradition of the Church.” That’s not proof! Neither Origen (185-254 AD) nor Basil (330-379 AD) cited it as a letter to Ephesus.

When writing to brethren he was familiar with, Paul’s habit was to reference visits and include greetings (1 Corinthians 2:1; 16:15-17; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 4:11-14; Philippians 1:27, 30; 4:2, 18; Colossians 4:12, 17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2). Where are the personal remarks in Ephesians? He had worked in Ephesus for 3 years (Acts 19:8-10; 20:31). He was familiar with the brethren there (1 Corinthians 16:8; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:18), and yet there is not a single personal reference in the book.

Acts 20 records of a meeting between Paul and the Ephesians elders. He warned of troubles to come, and yet the letter we have labeled to Ephesus says nothing about troubles on the horizon.

Colossians 2:1 tells us Paul had never been to Laodicea. That would explain the absence of any personal remarks in the letter.

The Colossians were told to share their letter with the brethren at Laodicea, and also to read the letter written to Laodicea. The Colossian letter and the epistle we call Ephesians are parallel books. They perfectly compliment one another. Notice:

  • Power of the blood (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14)
  • Headship of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18)
  • Preeminence (Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 1:15-17)
  • Moses’ Law (Ephesians 2:14-15; Colossians 2:14-16)
  • Put off the old man, put on the new (Ephesians 4:16-32; Colossians 3:4-15)
  • Relationships (Ephesians 5:21-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:1)

It is also interesting to note, the letter to Colosse and it’s parallel which we identify as Ephesians were delivered by the same man, Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7).

Am I suggesting we scratch out the reference to Ephesus which is in the letter and begin referring to it as the letter to Laodicea? No need to do that. Such would likely cause more confusion than anything else. However, I believe knowledge is important. Better to consider this information about the letter to Laodicea and what our Bibles identify as Ephesians than to be ignorant of it. I would rather brethren be informed about such things than to be taken by surprise by an opponent of the Bible who seeks to cast doubt on the Scriptures.

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