Thursday, January 17, 2019

Is Paul's Letter To The Laodiceans A Lost Book?

        "When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea." (Colossians 4:16)

        Liberal critics of the New Testament sometimes make reference to this text from Colossians in their attempts to prove that books of the Bible have been lost. If the canon of Scripture is incomplete, then what happens to the doctrine of inerrancy? What can be said regarding the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Laodiceans? Skeptics have brought up a letter which bears that name.

        This nineteen-verse letter is essentially a collection of short excerpts from the canonical Pauline writings. It does not contain any new teachings. It does not contain any new commandments from God. It does not contradict anything found in the New Testament. It does not negatively impact Scripture. The writing style is by no means exceptional. In short, this letter is completely harmless. It does not alter the message of God.

        Most scholars believe that this Letter to the Laodiceans was originally written in Latin during the fourth century. It is generally regarded as a forgery. The textual basis for it is poor. No existing Greek copies of the New Testament contain it. The church father Jerome made mention of this letter and considered it to be a counterfeit document. It was never widely thought of as inspired Scripture. As to why this letter was written, all that we can really do is speculate. 

        It does not qualify as a lost book of the Bible. But what about the circulated letter that Paul spoke of in Colossians 4:16? Some have identified it to be either Ephesians or Philemon, which is a reasonable solution. Whatever the case, we can rest assured that God has given to us everything He intended us to have. Even if we do not have Paul's circulated letter, it does not follow that there are books missing from the canon of Scripture. The doctrine of inerrancy does not require us to have in our possession every written text by an apostle or prophet.

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