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Laodicean Church

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The Laodicean Church was a Christian community established in the ancient city of Laodicea (on the river Lycus, in the Roman province of Asia Minor). The church was established in the earliest period of Christianity, and is probably best known for being one of the seven churches addressed by name in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 3.14-21).

References in Colossians

The Christian community in the city seems to have been connected with that of nearby Colossae (also in the Lycus valley - only 11 miles distant). Laodicea is mentioned five times in the New Testament's epistle to the Colossians. In writing to the Colossians, Paul sends greetings through them to a Laodicean named Nympha(s) and the church at his (or perhaps her) house (Col 4.15). He additionally greets Archippus, who may also be from Laodicea (4.17), and he instructs the Colossians to exchange his letter with one he has written to the Laodiceans (4.16). If the Colossian epistle is genuinely by Paul, then this would indicate a Christian presence in Laodicea as early as the AD 50's. It would also indicate that Laodicea (like Colossae) was not evangelized by Paul, but possibly by his disciple Epaphras.

The Laodicean letter, mentioned in Colossians is generally considered to be lost. However, following a suggestion by Tertullian, that Marcionite heretics changed the title, Harnack suggested that the canonical epistle to the Ephesians is this lost letter. Few modern scholars accept this, and some scholars claim that the apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans is a later pastiche, while many say it could be the canonical Epistle to the Ephesians in the Bible.

The Laodicean Church in the Revelation of John (Revelation 3:14–22)

In John's vision, recorded in the book of Revelation, Christ instructs John to write a message to seven named churches in Asia Minor. The message to Laodicea is one of judgement with a call to repentance. The oracle contains a number of striking metaphors.

"I wish that you were cold or hot" (3:15–16)

"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth"

It is thought that the Laodiceans were being criticized for their neutrality or lack of zeal (hence "lukewarm"). Based on this understanding, the pejorative term Laodicean is used in the English language to refer to those neutral or indifferent in matters of faith.[1]

However, some scholars have suggested that this metaphor has been drawn from the water supply of the city, which was lukewarm, in contrast to the hot springs at nearby Hierapolis and the pure water of Colossae (Barclay). The archaeology shows Laodicea had an aqueduct that probably carried water from hot mineral springs some five miles south, which would have become tepid before entering the city (see main Laodicea article). Strabo states that the water was hard, though drinkable. The imagery of the Laodicean aqueduct suggests not that "hot" is good and "cold" is bad, but that both hot and cold water are useful, whereas lukewarm water is useless.

"Poor, blind, and naked" (3:17–18)

"Because you say, 'I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;' and don't know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich; and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see"

The words attributed to the Laodiceans obviously mark an ironic over-confidence in regard to spiritual wealth. They are unable to recognise their bankruptcy. However the image may also be drawing on the perceived worldly wealth of the city.

The reference to eye medication is again often thought to reflect the historical situation of Laodicea. According to Strabo (12.8.20) there was a medical school in the city, where a famous ophthalmologist practiced. The city also lies within the boundaries of ancient Phrygia, from where an ingredient of eye-lotions, the so-called "Phrygian powder", was supposed to have originated.

"Behold, I stand" (3:20)

Hunt Light of the World

Holman Hunt's painting The Light of the World inspired by Rev 3:20's metaphor of Christ knocking at the door of the Laodicean Church.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me"

This is among the most famous images of the Revelation, and is the subject of the famous painting The Light of the World by Holman Hunt. It bears similarities to a saying of Jesus in Mark 13:33–37, and Luke 12:35–38.

Commentators variously view it as a metaphor of intimate fellowship, and/or a reference to the eschatological parousia of Christ. It is noted that the theme of divine invitations to eat, are found both in the New Testament (e.g. the Parable of the Wedding Feast) and in Graeco-Roman religion. Various papyri, such as POxy 3693, include invitations to attend a dinner with gods such as Sarapis, however these are issued by specified individuals to feasts at a temple of a god – and do not suggest the visitation of the home by the divinity.

Later Christian Laodicea

There was a Council in Laodicea, A.D. c.363-64, although the date is disputed. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 approved the canon of this council, making these canon ecumenical. The city remains a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church, Laodicensis in Phrygia; the seat has been vacant since 1968.

External links


  • Aune, David, Revelation, Word Biblical Commentary, Dallas Texas, 1997.
  • Barclay, William, Letters to the Seven Churches, Edinburgh, 1957 (reprinted 2001).

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