The “Lost” Letter to Laodicea?
– Bradley S. Cobb
Opinions vary as to the identification of the “Letter from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). Some believe that Ephesians is that letter, because some ancient Greek manuscripts left out the words “at Ephesus” from Ephesians 1:1. Others believe it is a letter of Paul which no longer exists. The purpose of this article is to encourage you to look to the Bible and see if there is a better, more logical explanation. Please consider the following:
Paul tells the Colossian brethren to make sure that the church in Laodicea reads “Colossians,” and that likewise they read the letter from Laodicea (Colossians 4:16). Paul’s command shows that—by the time the Colossians got this letter—they would not have had the opportunity to read the letter from Laodicea yet. Laodicea and Colosse were only nine miles apart, so the only way Paul could know that they had not read it yet is if they were sent at the same time, and thus both congregations would have received the letters at approximately the same time. We know for sure of one letter which was delivered and received at approximately the same time as Colossians. That is the letter to Philemon. With the two cities so close together, and the two letters being delivered at the same time, one would expect that the same person was delivering both letters. Onesimus delivered the letter to the Colossians (Colossians 4:9). We also know that Onesimus delivered the letter to Philemon (Philemon 10). In Colossians 4:16-17, Paul tells the Colossians to go to Laodicea, and in the same breath, tells them to “say to Archippus, take heed to the ministry…” A reading of this passage makes it appear that Archippus is someone who is involved with the church at Laodicea. Archippus is also mentioned as a recipient of the letter we call Philemon (Philemon 1-2). Wherever Archippus worshipped is where Philemon worshipped, for the church met in Philemon’s house. It appears, then that Philemon lived in Laodicea as well. Onesimus was introduced to the Colossian brethren by way of Paul’s letter (Colossians 4:9). Paul had to let them know that he was (1) a faithful brother and (2) originally a Colossian. It is apparent that the Colossians did not know Onesimus prior to his delivering this letter to them. Since Philemon (the master of Onesimus) had the church meet in his house, this lets us know that Philemon did not live in Colosse. If he had, then the Christians there would have known Onesimus already and Paul would not have had to introduce him. The conclusion? The letter to Philemon (who lived in Laodicea) was written and delivered at the same time as the letter to the Colossians. If the Christians from Colosse went to Laodicea looking for a letter from Paul, which they hadn’t read yet, the letter to Philemon would certainly fit the bill.