The Letter to Laodicea

“To the Ephesians” (Eph. 1.1), in some preserved biblical texts, is most likely a later addition inserted into Paul’s letter. Many early manuscripts, such as Papyrus 46 (P. Chester Beatty II), do have: “to Ephesus.” Since the letter to the church of the Laodiceans was specifically intended to be circular (see below), this makes it unlikely that the missive would be lost to history. So, where is the letter to Laodicea? Since the letter was spread to other churches by way of Paul’s command, the address “to Laodicea” could have been deleted by subsequent copyists of other churches because of the universality of its contents.

It can be said with certainty that copies of this letter found its way to Ephesus since a major trade route connected it to Laodicea, scarcely 100 miles away. Ephesus was one of the largest and most important cities of the Roman Empire during the first century. Simon Peter, in his last correspondence to the churches, was aware of Paul’s letters and endorsed them as scripture (2Pet. 3.15-16). This reference shows that the churches were making copies of these new scriptures and sharing them with other Christians. The scribe, who copied the text of the address-less exemplar, probably felt the need to designate it, and, since his copy was in Ephesus, thought the letter was addressed to this church. Every church in the region, of course, wanted to retain a copy for itself, and the route of transmission to Ephesus, became obscured.

Paul ministered in Ephesus for nearly three years and knew the elders of that church intimately, as Acts 20.16ff so poignantly reveals. Eph. 1.15 states that Paul only “heard about their faith,” a statement hardly comporting with Paul’s trials and ministry in that city, along with the Acts 20 episode. There is not one personal reference in the whole of “Ephesians” which fact diverges from his pattern of personal address in his other epistles. However, if the letter was to Laodicea, then the lack of personal reference makes sense since he said about the same thing in Colossians, a closely neighboring city: because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people (1.4 NIV). Paul, evidently, spent no, or very little time in this region of Hierapolis, Colossae, and Laodicea.

Paul thought his letter to Laodicea contained important information which was complementary to the letter “Colossians.” One example is the reference to “rulers and authorities” in Eph. 3.10. The text doesn’t specify whether they are good or evil angelic entities. If one reads Col. 2.15 in comparison, then it appears that Paul was most likely speaking of fallen angelic rulers (see also Eph. 6.12). By reading the texts together, the Colossians would probably obtain better insight to what Paul was trying to convey: 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 (Col. 4.16 NIV).