Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Letter from Laodicea?

"After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea" (Colossians 4:16).

We are not in a position to make a final determination whether “in Ephesus” belongs in Ephesians 1:1, but many conservative scholars believe it does not. Why do they think that?

As we saw yesterday, the phrase “in Ephesus” is not found in a few of the early copies of the New Testament. In fact, it is not found in a few of the earliest and best copies. By itself, however, this does not settle the issue.

Christian scholars note that Paul founded the church in Ephesus (Acts 19), yet in Ephesians 1:15 he writes “since I heard about your faith,” which indicates that he did not personally know the people to whom he is writing. Moreover, in all the other letters Paul writes to familiar churches, he includes greetings and directions to particular members. Ephesians, however, does not contain such things. This indicates that this letter was written to a church, or some churches, that Paul had not personally visited.

Additionally, we have an interesting statement in Colossians 4:16. Colossians is very similar to Ephesians in outline and in subject matter. Clearly it was written at about the same time. Colossians 4:16 tells the Colossians to share their letter with other churches and to read the letter coming from Laodicea. We can safely assume that this “Laodicean letter” was from Paul and written about the same time as Colossians. Is the Laodicean letter the same as Ephesians? As you can see, it could easily be.

What emerges from these considerations is the following scenario. While in prison in Rome, Paul wrote a letter to the Colossians and sent along with it a personal letter to Philemon. At the same time, Paul wrote a general letter to the churches of Asia Minor, including Ephesus. These letters were carried by Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7). Paul’s scribe may have made more than one copy of the circular letter and addressed one of them to Ephesus; or it may be that the letter had no address and later on someone added “in Ephesus” to the heading. Either of these circumstances could account for the diversity of manuscripts we presently possess.

Does this bother you? Remember, nothing in these considerations takes away anything from the infallibility of the Word. Consider also that these letters were real, sent from a historical man to historical people. Remember that these letters are for you as well, that they continue to circulate.