Monday, April 27, 2009

More on the Roman Catholic Apocrypha - The Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans

I promised to write some more on this text in my first piece on the Roman Catholic Apocrypha in the Vulgate Appendix. The Epistle to the Laodiceans is a very short piece which was part of the Latin New Testament of Western Christendom for almost a thousand years. Its oldest appearance is in a manuscript from the 6th century, the Fulda manuscript from 546. From then on it's found in a wide variety of manuscripts of the Vulgate. It was also included in all the printed German bibles before Luther's. It was also part of the first Czech Bible and was included in the Wycliffe Bible too.

However at the the Council of Florence, 1439-43, it was formally removed from the Western New Testament canon. Nevertheless it, too, was accorded a place in the Vulgate appendix along with the texts that had been part of the of Vulgate Old Testament, 1 & 2 Esdras, Psalm 151 and Prayer of Manasseh, texts which the Anglican and Lutheran churches count as part of the Old Testament Apocrypha. As I said in my previous post, these four Old Testament texts are effectively Roman Catholic Old Testament Apocrypha (although most Roman Catholics don't know about them). Being placed with them, the Epistle to the Laodiceans effectively represents a Roman Catholic New Testament Apocryphon. In theory then it's possible for Roman Catholic bibls to include not only an appendix for Old Testament Apocrypha, as was the case for the 1609/10 Douai-Rheims Old Testament, but to also have an appendix for New Testament Apocrypha too. It has to include Laodiceans but this little epistle shouldn't be left on its own; there are a range of other texts that could be included too. But more in that another time. For those who don't know it, below is the text of that little lost epistle from the Wesley Centre Non-Canonical Writings site. More information at here at Wikipedia, Reluctant Messenger and New Testament Apocrypha at the Development of the Canon of the New Testament site.

1 Paul, an apostle not of men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ, unto the brethren that are at Laodicea.

2 Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I give thanks unto Christ in all my prayers, that ye continue in him and persevere in his works, looking for the promise at the day of judgement.

4 Neither do the vain talkings of some overset you, which creep in, that they may turn you away from the truth of the Gospel which is preached by me.

5 And now shall God cause that they that are of me shall continue ministering unto the increase of the truth of the Gospel and accomplishing goodness, and the work of salvation, even eternal life.

5 And now are my bonds seen of all men, which I suffer in Christ, wherein I rejoice and am glad.

7 And unto me this is for everlasting salvation, which also is brought about by your prayers, and the ministry of the Holy Ghost, whether by life or by death.

8 For verily to me life is in Christ, and to die is joy.

9 And unto him (or And also) shall he work his mercy in you that ye may have the same love, and be of one mind.

10 Therefore, dearly beloved, as ye have heard in my presence so hold fast and work in the fear of God, and it shall be unto you for life eternal.

11 For it is God that worketh in you.

12 And do ye without afterthought whatsoever ye do.

13 And for the rest, dearly beloved, rejoice in Christ, and beware of them that are filthy in lucre.

14 Let all your petitions be made openly before God, and be ye steadfast in the mind of Christ.

15 And what things are sound and true and sober and just and to be loved, do ye.

16 And what ye have heard and received, keep fast in your heart.

17 And peace shall be unto you.

18 The saints salute you.

19 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with your spirit.

20 And cause this epistle to be read unto them of Colossae, and the epistle of the Colossians to be read unto you.

I hope to be writing soon on parables and also on prophecy.


  1. A real curio this one. I can't admit to be too surprised it eventually got relegated to the apocryphal bin. It's a short quite suprisingly vapid piece of Pauline pastiche that doesn't address the sort of things we might expect given the ultra strong address to Laodicea in Revelation. A really strange piece; it's hard even to see the point of its composition because it's not like it's taking up cudgels for some doctrine or heresy or apostle or whatever. There's no feeling of spiritual/literary authority in it and actually I am left wondering if a feeling of authority as much as anything else hasn't been a factor in canon making.

  2. It's a strange piece, indeed, and even through dropped from the Western New Testament canon it was still felt important to keep it in the Vulgate appendix 'lest it be lost'. Just as intersting is the information on one of the sites that I linked to for this post, possibly the Reluctant Messenger, that the early Quakers were especially attached to it and wanted to retain it in the New Testament. Clearly there was an ongoing debate about it in the English churches in the 17th century.

  3. If the practice was to assign a peice of text to the famous figure of whom the documents can be traced back to as the "author" then would it make sense to call this document a Pauline letter, or does this practice not apply to letter-wrting, only story writing?

  4. I understand that the text is titles the Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans. Thing is, there are references in the Pauline corpus, I think Colossians, to a letter to Laodicea, and we have references in early Christian writings to a Laodicean epistle. Whether that's the same as this who can say. Ironically, Laodiceans is probably Pauline in the sense that it is most likely cobbled together from the rest of the Pauline corpus. It's also only really known in the Latin West i.e. we only know it in Latin or translations from the Latin. To the best of my knowledge this text was unknown in the East. Compare to the other Pauline apocryphon, 3 Corinthians, which was quite popular in the East, and was not only incorporated into the Acts of Paul but for a long period of time was considered a canonical New Testament text by the Armenian church (much as Laodiceans was a canonical New Testament text for over a millennium in the Latin Church). It had great authority in the Syriac church too. I believe Ephrem Syrus accepted it as from Paul and considered it as canonical (which probably accounts for its Armenian acceptance).

    I hope to write about 3 Corinthians sometime too. I also believe that there should be an appendix to the New testament in Christian bibles as a matter of course to include such texts as these 2 Pauline apocrypha and others that achieved canonical and near canonical status in Christian history.