Colossians 4:16 mentions an epistle to the Laodiceans; what is that?

In Colossians 4:16, Paul gives these instructions: "And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea." This shows that clearly there was a church in Laodicea and that there was a letter they had that Paul also wanted shared with the Colossians. This verse also shows that the apostles' epistles were intended to be shared with the church at large, for they were beneficial for all believers (2 Timothy 3:16–17; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:27).

We can infer, based on this instruction from Paul, that the Laodicean church and the Colossian church were geographically close and had some level of communication established. Laodicea was a prosperous city filled with industry, and it was located in the province of Phrygia in the Lycos Valley, in the current region of Denizli, Turkey. Colossae, the location of the Colossian church, was approximately nine miles away. We don't know the details of the letter, but there are a few perspectives to consider.

The letter to the Laodiceans was not written by Paul while in Laodicea, because he says in Colossians 2:1 that the Laodiceans had never actually seen him. So, if the letter originated in Laodicea, he was not the one who wrote it. There's no historical evidence to suggest that the letter originated in Laodicea, however, in spite of the odd phrasing "letter from Laodicea." Of course, it is possible that Paul wrote a noncanonical letter to the Laodicean church, but there is no mention of it anywhere else by historians.

The most probable theory is that the epistle to the Laodiceans is actually one and the same as Paul's letter to the Ephesians. This is based on that fact that the epistle to the Ephesians was being shared widely throughout the church at that time, and it was likely being shared in Laodicea via Paul's assistant, Tychius (Colossians 4:7). This theory holds the most credibility due to the fact that the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians are similar to each other and were both authored by Paul. It makes sense that he would want both letters shared throughout the church.

Several years after Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians, we see the Laodicean church mentioned one more time in the Bible, in the book of Revelation. In this instance the church receives a letter of rebuke from Jesus Christ through the apostle John. The Laodicean church had become lukewarm in their stated devotion to Jesus and the letter alerted them to the danger of their condition and the discipline that could follow (Revelation 3:14–22).

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