The Epistle to the Laodiceans
Paul in Col. 4: 16 probably refers to a letter he wrote to the Laodiceans. That letter did not survive. The cue for much writing now labelled ‘New Testament Apocrypha’ is to be found within the canonical New Testament. So it is in this case. The apocryphal letter to the Laodiceans has been written to create an epistle intended to be accepted as that referred to by Paul.
As a document it is a harmless theological forgery, being a cento of Pauline phrases taken mainly from Philippians and Galatians. 1 e.g. Phil. 1: 2, 3, 12, 13, 18, 19–20, 21; 2: 12, 13, 14; 3: 1; 4: 6, 8, 9, 22, 23; Gal. 1: 3, 11; 6: 18 . There is no obvious doctrinal motive behind its composition.
Although it has survived only in Latin (and in modern vernacular translations from the Latin) the language of the original is likely to have been Greek. The Latin reflects Greek idiom, and the Pauline language does not follow known Latin versions of the canonical epistles. Some early Greek Fathers (Theodore, Theodoret for example) seem to have known this work (or at least an epistle to the Laodiceans) although there are no extant examples of the text in Greek.
The epistle is found in several Latin manuscripts of the New Testament, including Fuldensis, Cavensis, and Ardmachanus, usually placed at the end of the New Testament, and although it was never included in the canon was favourably received by the Church in the West.
The date of composition is a vexed question because although a Letter to the Laodiceans is listed in the Muratorian Fragment (line 64) it is not certain that our apocryphon was meant. Tertullian, adversus Marcionem. 5. 11 and 5. 17 (ed. E. Kroymann, CSEL 47 (Vienna, Leipzig, 1906), pp. 614, 632), suggested that Marcion named the canonical Ephesians as Laodiceans, and it may be that the Muratorian Fragment means the former, although that seems unlikely in so far as Ephesians is also included in the list; and as that canonical epistle does not qualify for the Marcionite character given to the epistle in the Fragment, possibly the Muratorian list knew of another forgery. The words of Col. 4: 16 would doubtless have offered a temptation to more than one forger. The suggestion, originally proposed by Harnack, that Marcion was responsible for the authorship of the letter now finds little favour. It is unlikely that either Marcion or one of his followers wrote it.
Much early patristic evidence about the letter is unclear, but the mention of it in Latin fathers of the fourth century means that the date of the composition is between the second and fourth centuries. Jerome denounced it (de Vir. Ill. 5 (Richardson, pp. 10–11)), but Gregory the Great favoured its canonicity, stating that the Church had restricted the number of Paul's letters to create the significant number of fourteen. Later writers were influenced by Gregory's judgement that Paul had actually written fifteen letters.
The translation below is from Harnack's edition of the Latin (Kleine Texte 12).
Biblia Sacra Vulgata, ed. R. Weber et al. (Stuttgart, 31983), Appendix, p. 1976.
R. Anger, Über den Laodicinerbrief: eine biblische‐kritische Untersuchung (Leipzig, 1843), 155–65 (= Beiträge zur historisch‐kritischen Einleitung in das Alte und Neue Testament). J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (London and New York, 31879), 272–99 (with Greek retroversion).
A. von Harnack, Apocrypha, iv. Die apokryphen Briefe des Paulus an die Laodicener und Korinther (Bonn 1905, 21912; Berlin, 31931), 2–6 (= Kleine Texte 12 ed. H. Lietzmann).
——Marcion, das Evangelium vom fremden Gott (Leipzig, 21924; repr. Darmstadt, 1985, 134*–49* (= TU 15 (= 45)) (Latin and Lightfoot's Greek retroversion).
Fabricius, ii. 873–9.
E. J. Goodspeed, ‘The Madrid MS. of Laodiceans’, AJT 8 (1904), 536–8.
——‘A Toledo Manuscript of Laodiceans, JBL 23 (1904), 76–8.
R. Y. Ebied, ‘A Triglot Volume of the Epistle to the Laodiceans, Psalm 151 and other Biblical Materials’, Biblica 47 (1966), 343–54, esp. 348–51 (Hebrew text). [The manuscript contains Epistle in Hebrew, Greek 2 The Greek seems to be based on Elias Hutter's polyglot New Testament of 1599–1600. , and Latin.]
Arabic (Translated from Latin)
B. Carra de Vaux, ‘L’Épitre aux Laodiceans en arabe’, Rev. Bib. 5 (1896), 221–6 (with Arabic text).
de Santos Otero, Altslav. Apok. i. 147–8.
Hennecke3, ii. 128–32.
Hennecke5, ii. 42–6.
Vouaux, 315–26 (with Latin text).
Migne, Dictionnaire, i, cols. 1285–90.
Hennecke1, 138–40 (R. Knopf); cf. Handbuch, 204.
Hennecke3, ii. 80–4 (W. Schneemelcher).
Hennecke5, ii. 41–4 (W. Schneemelcher).
Moraldi, ii. 1720–3, 1733–4, 1737–8.
Erbetta, iii. 63–7.
Zahn, Kanon, ii. 566–85 (with Latin text, 586–7).
E. Jacquier, Le Nouveau Testament dans l’Église chrétienne, i (Paris, 1911), 345–51.
K. Pink, ‘Die Pseudo‐Paulinischen Briefe, ii: (2) Der Laodizinerbrief,’ Biblica 6 (1925), 179–92.
To the Laodiceans
1. Paul, an apostle not of men and not through man, but through Jesus Christ, to the brethren who are in Laodicea: 2. Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. I thank Christ in all my prayer that you continue in him and persevere in his works, in expectation of the promise at the day of judgement. 4. And may you not be deceived by the vain talk of some people who tell tales that they may lead you away from the truth of the gospel which is proclaimed by me. 5. And now may God grant that those who come from me for the furtherance of the truth of the gospel ( . . .) may be able to serve and to do good works for the well‐being of eternal life.
6. And now my bonds are manifest, which I suffer in Christ, on account of which I am glad and rejoice. 7. This to me leads to eternal salvation, which itself is brought about through our prayers and by the help of the Holy Spirit, whether it be through life or through death. 8. For my life is in Christ and to die is joy.
9. And his mercy will work in you, that you may have the same love and be of one mind. 10. Therefore, beloved, as you have heard in my presence, so hold fast and work in the fear of God, and eternal life will be yours. 11. For it is God who works in you. 12. And do without hesitation what you do. 13. And for the rest, beloved, rejoice in Christ and beware of those who are out for sordid gain. 14. May all your requests be manifest before God, and be steadfast in the mind of Christ. 15. And do what is pure, true, proper, just and lovely. 16. And what you have heard and received, hold in your heart, and peace will be with you.
17. 1 V. 17 is absent in some manuscripts. Salute all the brethren with the holy kiss. 18. The saints salute you. 19. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. 20. And see that (this epistle) is read to the Colossians 2 Some MSS omit ‘to the Colossians’. and that of the Colossians to you.
2 The Greek seems to be based on Elias Hutter's polyglot New Testament of 1599–1600.
1 V. 17 is absent in some manuscripts.
2 Some MSS omit ‘to the Colossians’.