Laodiceans: One More Possibility

There is another possibility in solving the Laodicean mystery we began talking about earlier this week. Among the ancient manuscripts, there is a tiny letter by that name, Laodiceans, that claims to be Paul’s missing letter. It’s available in most bookstores and on the internet. It’s only twenty verses long, so let’s read it.

Paul Epistle to the Laodiceans
1 Paul, an apostle not of men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ, unto the brethren that are at Laodicea. 2 Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I give thanks unto Christ in all my prayers, that ye continue in him and persevere in his works, looking for the promise at the day of judgement. 4Neither do the vain talkings of some overset you, which creep in, that they may turn you away from the truth of the Gospel which is preached by me. 5 And now shall God cause that they that are of me shall continue ministering unto the increase of the truth of the Gospel and accomplishing goodness, and the work of salvation, even eternal life. 6 And now are my bonds seen of all men, which I suffer in Christ, wherein I rejoice and am glad. 7 And unto me this is for everlasting salvation, which also is brought about by your prayers, and the ministry of the Holy Ghost, whether by life or by death. 8 For verily to me life is in Christ, and to die is joy. 9And unto him (or And also) shall he work his mercy in you that ye may have the same love, and be of one mind. 10 Therefore, dearly beloved, as ye have heard in my presence so hold fast and work in the fear of God, and it shall be unto you for life eternal. 11 For it is God that worketh in you. 12 And do ye without afterthought whatsoever ye do. 13 And for the rest, dearly beloved, rejoice in Christ, and beware of them that are filthy in lucre. 14 Let all your petitions be made openly before God, and be ye steadfast in the mind of Christ. 15 And what things are sound and true and sober and just and to be loved, do ye. 16 And what ye have heard and received, keep fast in your heart. 17 And peace shall be unto you. 18 The saints salute you. 19 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with your spirit. 20 And cause this epistle to be read unto them of Colossae, and the epistle of the Colossians to be read unto you.[1]

The first thing you’ll notice is how much it sounds like Paul’s other writings. In fact, these twenty verses are primarily verses taken from Paul’s letters, and cobbled together with the final exhortation, “cause this epistle to be read unto them of Colossae, and the epistle of the Colossians to be read unto you” (compare Colossians 4:16).

Every few years someone claims to have found a “Missing Book of the Bible.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) built a whole denomination on the premise they found some missing books of the Bible! So, how do we go about examining claims like that? What questions should you ask?

I would like to know a little bit about the provenance of the book. Who found it? Where was it? And how did it come to see the light of day? Laodiceans is found in over 100 early copies of the Latin Vulgate translation! On the other hand, although Lightfoot detects Greek wording behind the Latin, there is not a single Greek manuscript of the text, nor does it appear in Syriac or other ancient versions. Of the Latin manuscripts, the oldest is “a Fulda manuscript written for Victor of Capua in 546.”[2] The Latin manuscripts range in date from the 6th through the 12th century. Since our earliest English manuscripts were translated from the Latin Vulgate, Laodiceans was included in the first English Bibles (Wycliffe’s translation) and in the translations of Purvey.

“Paul’s Epistles to the Laodiceans” is a pious fraud. Someone couldn’t stand the idea that we were missing one of Paul’s letters, so he fabricated one from parts of his known epistles. J.B. Lightfoot’s conclusion (1886) is still apt today:

The apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans is a cento of Pauline phrases strung together without any definite connexion or any clear object. They are taken chiefly from the Epistle to the Philippians, but here and there one is borrowed elsewhere, e.g. from the Epistle to the Galatians. Of course it closes with an injunction to the Laodiceans to exchange epistles with the Colossians. The Apostle’s injunction in Col. 4:16 suggested the forgery, and such currency as it ever attained was due to the support which that passage was supposed to give to it. Unlike most forgeries, it had no ulterior aim. It was not framed to advance any particular opinions, whether heterodox or orthodox. It has no doctrinal peculiarities. Thus it is quite harmless, so far as falsity and stupidity combined can ever be regarded as harmless.[3]

[1] From The Apocryphal New Testament Translation and Notes by M.R. James. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924.

[2] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Laodiceans

[3] Lightfoot, J. B. (1886). Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (8th ed., pp. 279–280). London; New York: Macmillan and Co.

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