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Epistle to the Laodiceans

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An Epistle to the Laodiceans, purportedly written by Paul of Tarsus to the Laodicean Church, is, according to some, mentioned in the canonical Epistle to the Colossians. Several texts bearing this title have been known to have existed, but none are widely believed to have been written by Paul.


Paul, the earliest known Christian author, wrote several letters (or epistles) in Greek to various churches. Many survived and are included in the New Testament, but others are known to have been lost. The Epistle to the Colossians states "After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea."[1] The last words can be interpreted as "letter written to the Laodiceans", but also "letter written from Laodicea." The NASB translates this verse in the latter manner, and translations in other languages such as the Dutch Statenvertaling translate it likewise: "When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter {that is coming} from Laodicea."[2] Those who read here "letter written to the Laodiceans" presume that, at the time that the Epistle to the Colossians was written, Paul also had written an epistle to the Laodicean Church.

Possible candidates

Some scholars have suggested that this refers to the canonical Epistle to the Ephesians, contending that it was a circular letter to be read to many churches in the Laodicean area.[3] Others dispute this view.[4]

The Marcionist epistle to the Laodiceans

The early believer considered heretic Marcion believed that Paul was the only apostle who truly understood Jesus's message, and constructed a canon consisting of only one single Gospel (based on the Gospel of Luke, though he himself claimed that the Gospel of Luke was an adulterated version of his gospel) and some of the Pauline epistles. (These were also edited, in Marcion's canon, to remove passages that he did not agree with.) According to the Muratorian fragment, Marcion's canon contained an epistle entitled Epistle to the Laodiceans which is commonly thought to be a forgery written to conform to his own point of view. This is not at all clear, however, since none of the text survives. [5] It is not known what this letter might have contained. Some scholars suggest it may have been the Vulgate epistle described below[6], while others believe it must have been more explicitly Marcionist in its outlook.[7]

The Vulgate epistle to the Laodiceans

A letter entitled Epistle to the Laodiceans, consisting of 20 short lines, is found in some editions of the Vulgate, known only in Latin. It is almost unanimously believed to be pseudepigraphical, being a pastiche of phrases taken from the genuine Pauline epistles.[8] It contains almost no doctrine, teachings, or narrative not found elsewhere, and its exclusion from the Biblical canon has little effect.

The text was almost unanimously considered pseudepigraphal when Biblical canon was decided upon, and does not appear in any Greek copies of the Bible at all, nor is it known in Syriac or other versions.[9] Jerome wrote in the 4th century, "it is rejected by everyone."[10] However, it evidently gained a certain degree of respect. It appeared in over 100 surviving early Latin copies of the Bible. According to Biblia Sacra iuxta vulgatum versionem, there are Latin Vulgate manuscripts containing this epistle dating between the 6th and 12th century, including Latin manuscripts F (Codex Fuldensis), M, Q, B, D (Ardmachanus), C, and Lambda. The epistle also appeared in John Wycliffe's Bible and in all the early German translations before Martin Luther's, and was thus evidently considered scriptural by much of the western church for quite some time.[11]

The apocryphal epistle is generally considered a transparent attempt to supply this supposed lost sacred document. Some scholars suggest that it was created to offset the popularity of the Marcionite epistle.[7]

Jakob Lorber's Epistle to the Laodiceans

In 1884, Austrian mystic Jakob Lorber (1800–1864) published an "Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Laodiceans" [12], which he claimed to have learned from an "inner voice" as with all his other writings. This epistle has no connection to the other texts mentioned above.


  1. Colossians 4:16, NIV translation
  2., NASB translation
  3. See, for example: Theodore Beza, Novum Testamentum, cum versione Latina veteri, et nova Theodori Bezæ; James Ussher, Annales Veteris et Novi Testamenti; and modern scholars John Lightfoot, Fenton John Anthony Hort, and others.
  4. See, for instance: N. A. Dahl, Theologische Zeitschrift 7 (1951); and W. G. Kummel, et al., Introduction to the New Testament.
  5. The Muratorian fragment
  6. See, e.g. Adolf von Harnack
  7. 7.0 7.1 Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, chapter 5. Oxford University Press, USA, July 27, 2005. ISBN 978-0195182491
  8. M.R. James, Epistle to the Laodiceans, translation and commentary
  9. Paul's Epistle to the Laodiceans from The Reluctant Messenger
  10. Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 5.
  11. This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.
  12. Jakob Lorber: Letter of St. Paul to the Assembly of the Laodiceans
ca:Epístola als Laodicencsla:Epistula ad Laodicensesru:Послание к Лаодикийцам

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