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Paul’s Letter to the Laodiceans

The New Testament book of Colossians mentions a letter sent by Paul to the church of Laodicea in Asia Minor (Col 4:16).1 No letter addressed to the Laodiceans survives from Paul’s own hand, but we know that one had been placed in circulation by the second century, since the Muratorian canon (see below) warns against it as a Marcionite forgery.2 At a later time another letter to the Laodiceans appeared, also claiming to be from Paul; the letter became exceedingly popular: it is found in a number of Latin manuscripts of the New Testament down through the Middle Ages. This letter—which is given below—is evidently not, however, the Marcionite forgery mentioned in the Muratorian canon. For there are no clear and compelling Marcionite tendencies here. In fact, the letter shows few tendencies of any kind. It instead represents a kind of pastiche of statements drawn from Paul’s canonical writings, especially Philippians: it evidences no specific occasion and addresses no clear theological or ethical issues. It is difficult to see why a pseudonymous author would choose to forge a letter in the name of Paul without trying to achieve some kind of over­ arching purpose such as attacking a particular heresy (cf. 3 Corinthians) or promoting Paul’s apostolic status (cf. the correspondence of Paul and Sen­ eca). It may be that this particular letter was forged by a proto-orthodox author precisely in order to counter the Marcionite Letter to the Laodiceans. By compiling a number of Pauline commonplaces, the author could claim that this, rather than the heretical forgery of Marcion’s followers, was actually the letter Paul had mentioned at the end of his epistle to the Colossians. It is difficult to determine when this letter was written, but most scholars would date it to the second or third centuries.

1

See further, Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 213–15. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 103–09.

2

On the life and teachings of Marcion, see

Translation by J. K. Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 546; used with permission.

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