The Development of the Canon of the New Testament
Epistle to the Laodiceans (close of the 3rd century CE)
At the close of the Epistle to the Colossians this request is made of its recipients:
When this epistle has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read the epistle from Laodicea. (Col. 4:16)
This tantalizing reference, though somewhat ambiguous as to who wrote whom (see [Lightfoot] for a discussion), offers a tempting invitation to some unknown author to provide the text of an Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, who were the neighbors of the congregation at Colossae.
The epistle discussed below is probably not the one mentioned in the Muratorian Canon, see pp. 42-44 v. 2 of [Schneemelcher] for discussion of this unsettled matter. Composed perhaps at the close of the 3rd century, by the 4th century Jerome reports that 'some read the Epistle to the Laodiceans, but it is rejected by everyone' (De viris ill. 5). Of all the spurious pieces produced in the early Church, this is one of the most feeble. It is mystifying how it could have commanded so much respect in the Western Church for period of 1000 years. Comprising only 20 verses, the epistle is a pedestrian patchwork of phrases and sentences plagiarized from the genuine Pauline Epistles, particularly Philippians. After the author has expressed his joy at the faith and virtue of the Laodiceans, he warns them against heretics, and exhorts them to remain faithful to Christian doctrines and the Christian pattern of life. The epistle purports to have been written from prison.
There is no evidence of a Greek text. The epistle appears in more than 100 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate (including the oldest, the celebrated codex Fuldensis, 546 CE), as well as in manuscripts of early Albigensian, Bohemian, English, and Flemish versions. At the close of the 10th century Aelfric, a monk in Dorset, wrote a treatise in Anglo-Saxon on the Old and New Testaments, in which he states that the apostle Paul wrote 15 Epistles. In his enumeration of them he place Laodiceans after Philemon. About 1165 CE John of Salisbury, writing about the canon to Henry count of Champagne (Epist. 209), acknowledges that 'it is the common, indeed almost universal, opinion that there are only 14 Epistles of Paul ... But the 15th is that which is written to the church of the Laodiceans'.
The Epistle to the Laodiceans is included in all 18 German Bibles printed prior to Luther's translation, beginning with the first German Bible, issued by Johann Mental at Strassburg in 1488. In these the Pauline Epistles, with the Epistle to the Hebrews, immediately follow the Gospels, with Laodiceans standing between Galatians and Ephesians. In the first Czech (Bohemian) Bible, published at Prague in 1488 and reprinted several times in the 16th and 17th centuries, Laodiceans follows Colossians and precedes I Thessalonians. Thus, as Bishop Lightfoot phrased it:
... for more than nine centuries this forged epistle hovered about the doors of the sacred Canon, without either finding admission or being peremptorily excluded. ([Lightfoot] p. 297)
It was not until the Council of Florence (1439-43) that the See of Rome delivered for the first time a categorical opinion on the Scriptural canon. In the list of 27 books of the New Testament there are 14 Pauline Epistles, that to the Hebrews being last, with the book of Acts coming immediately before the Revelation of John. The Epistle to the Laodiceans is not even mentioned.
Epistle to the Laodiceans
And from the Vulgate:
Epistula ad Laodicaeos
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