Scholars dispute whether there was such a thing as an "Epistle to the Laodiceans"
, which Paul may be referring to at the end of his letter to Colossians:
"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."
Here is the Greek:
καὶ ὅταν ἀναγνωσθῇ παρ’ ὑμῖν ἡ ἐπιστολή, ποιήσατε ἵνα καὶ ἐν τῇ Λαοδικέων ἐκκλησίᾳ ἀναγνωσθῇ, καὶ τὴν ἐκ Λαοδικείας ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀναγνῶτε.
- A) It's a letter from Paul to Laodicea that he wants the Laodiceans to forward on to the Colossians. In that case, the letter could have been lost, and the one(s) existing in the 2nd century like the Marcionite and/or Vulgate epistle could be forgeries.
B) It's an encyclical that is already in the New Testament, and is one that he sent to others (eg. his letter to the Ephesians).
C) It's a letter by Laodiceans to Colossians.
Wikipedia's page on this Epistle talks about the possibility that the Church passed down a copy that made its way into Latin Bibles:
The Marcionist Epistle to the Laodiceans
According to the Muratorian fragment, Marcion's canon contained an epistle called the Epistle to the Laodiceans which is commonly thought to be a forgery written to conform to his own point of view. This is not at all clear, however, since none of the text survives. It is not known what this letter might have contained. Some scholars suggest it may have been the Vulgate epistle described below...
The Latin Vulgate Epistle to the Laodiceans
For centuries some Western Latin Bibles used to contain a small Epistle from Paul to the Laodiceans. The oldest known Bible copy of this epistle is in a Fulda manuscript written for Victor of Capua in 546. It is mentioned by various writers from the fourth century onwards, notably by Pope Gregory the Great, to whose influence may ultimately be due the frequent occurrence of it in Bibles written in England; for it is commoner in English Bibles than in others. John Wycliffe included Paul's letter to the Laodiceans in his Bible translation from the Latin to English. However this epistle is not without controversy because there is no evidence of a Greek text. It contains almost no doctrine, teachings, or narrative not found elsewhere, and its exclusion from the Biblical canon has little effect.
The text was almost unanimously considered pseudepigraphal when the Christian Biblical canon was decided upon, and does not appear in any Greek copies of the Bible at all, nor is it known in Syriac or other versions. Jerome, who wrote the Latin Vulgate translation, wrote in the 4th century, "it is rejected by everyone". However, it evidently gained a certain degree of respect. It appeared in over 100 surviving early Latin copies of the Bible. ... The apocryphal epistle is generally considered a transparent attempt to supply this supposed lost sacred document. Some scholars suggest that it was created to offset the popularity of the Marcionite epistle.
Marcion had his own heretical version of the Bible that he changed. He could have either made up a copy of the Epistle to the Laodiceans or have altered it. The Latin Vulgate one is at least 4th c. since Jerome knew of it.
The Early Writings site dates the Vulgate one as:
150-350 Epistle to the Laodiceans
in the Muratori Canon (cf. vol. I, p. 36) two Marcionite forgeries, an epistle to the Laodiceans and one to the Alexandrians, are mentioned and rejected. Apart from the suggestion that these books were 'forged in Paul's name for the sect of Marcion' (lines 64f.), the passage provides no sort of clue to any closer identification of this epistle. Tertullian reports (adv. Marc. V 11 and 17) that the heretics, i.e. the Marcionites, regarded Ephesians as the Epistle to the Laodiceans and that Marcionite himself had made this change in the title. This note is confirmed to some extent by Epiphanius of Salamis (Haer. 42.9.4 and 42.12.3), who, it is true, gives no clear information as to whether the source which he copies here (Hippolytus) recognised Ephesians as the Epistle to the Laodiceans or whether in addition to Ephesians an Epistle to the Laodiceans also stood in the Marcionite canon. http://earlychristianwritings.com/laodiceans.html
Schneemelcher writes concerning the date of the text, "The dating of the Epistle to the Laodiceans is difficult for the reason that it depends on the question of the identity of this apocryphon with the one mentioned in the Muratori Canon, and this again is closely connected with the problem of its Marcionite derivation. Either the Muratori Canon means the Epistle to the Ephesians, the name of which was changed by Marcion into the Epistle to the Laodiceans (so Tertullian) - that, however, is unlikely, since Ephesians is mentioned in the Muratori Canon - or it had actually in view a separate Epistle to the Laodiceans, and then it must be the Latin Epistle to the Laodiceans that has come down to us, if we are not to assume several pseudo-Pauline letters to Laodicea. Certainly the Latin Epistle to the Laodiceans shows no sort of Marcionite character such as ought to be expected according to the statement of the Muratori Canon." (New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, p. 43)
Schneemelcher reviews some arguments made by Harnack and Quispel to attempt to show the Marcionite character of the text known to us from Latin copies as the Epistle to the Laodiceans, "it may be said that the Marcionite origin of the Latin Epistle to the Laodiceans is an hypothesis that can neither be proved nor sustained. It is rather a clumsy forgery, the purpose of which is to have in the Pauline corpus the Epistle to the Laodiceans mentioned in Col. 4:16. Whether the Epistle to the Laodiceans mentioned in the Muratori Canon is identical with this apocryphon remains unsettled. With that possibility of an accurate dating also falls out. As the time of composition there comes into question the period between the 2nd century and the 4th." (New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, p. 44)
One curious feature of many manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate is the inclusion of the apocryphal Epistola ad Laodicenses. There is no extant Greek text for this epistle. It is not listed as a canonical book or cited as Scripture by the Church Fathers, and it was explicitly rejected by Jerome and others in ancient times. 1 Most scholars today think it was first composed in Latin, during the fourth century, although J.B. Lightfoot gives some reasons to suspect that it was translated from a Greek original. It appears to be a patchwork of phrases drawn from Paul’s authentic epistles, put together by someone who wished to provide a plausible text for the Laodicean epistle mentioned in Colossians 4:16.
We can only guess at the reason for this fraud. There is nothing of a controversial or polemical nature in it, nor even anything very interesting.
I am open to thinking that the copy we have is actually by Paul or else a forgery by Marcion. Paul does mention a letter to Laodicea and the Muratorion canon and Jerome mention a Marcionite one and rejected one, respectively. Naturally, a Marcionite one would be rejected, so Jerome could be talking about a Marcionite one there. There is no need for Marcion to have forged it so badly that it taught Marcionism, he could have just forged it in the course of making his own Bible.
To posit a third Epistle to the Laodiceans seems to go against Occam's razor, since at most only two are ever clearly mentioned (Paul's and Marcion's), except that the Marcionite one is sometimes called a retitled one to the Ephesians, which the extent Vulgate copy is not. But then again, Marcion's books of the Bible were the same as the original, but mutilated by Marcion. If the Vulgate Epistle to the Laodiceans is really a Marcionite Epistle to the Ephesians, it's no surprise then if Marcion reworked it into its current form that we have. Further, Jerome is known to have translated or used apocryphal, or often-doubted writings like Gospel of Hebrews, Shepherd of Hermas, and 4 Esdras. He could realistically have translated Marcion's one into his own Vulgate, which is where we find the only one we have remaining to us today.
According to M.R. James, "It exists only in Latin [i.e., not in Greek]: the oldest copy is in the Fulda MS. written for Victor of Capua in 546. It is mentioned by various writers from the fourth century onwards, notably by Gregory the Great, to whose influence may ultimately be due the frequent occurrence of it in Bibles written in EnglandMy guess then is that the Marcionite one and the one Jerome says is rejected are all the same copy. And the only question for me that remains is whether the one we have today was actually the one referred to by Paul or a Marcionite version of Epistle to the Ephesians.
To do this, you might want to see how much E.Laodiceans lines up with E.Ephesians.
It looks like the 6th c. Roman Pope St. Gregory the Great accepted it, it's noncanonical, and Jerome said everyone rejected it, but translated it into the Vulgate anyway.
Lopuhin's comment is that what happened is that people in Pontus got the letter to the Ephesians sent to them from Laodicea, and since Marcion was from Pontus, Marcion considered the letter to the Ephesians to the one from Laodicea. So Lopuhin is going with the first option at the beginning of this message.https://azbyka.ru/otechnik/Lopuhin/tolkovaja_biblija_69/4
The Letter to the Ephesians begins:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the holy ones who are [in Ephesus]* faithful in Christ Jesus
grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,c who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
* [In Ephesus]: the phrase is lacking in important early witnesses such as P46 (3rd cent.), and Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (4th cent.), appearing in the latter two as a fifth-century addition. Basil and Origen mention its absence from manuscripts. See Introduction. Without the phrase, the Greek can be rendered, as in Col 1:2, “to the holy ones and faithful brothers in Christ.”
It then talks about The Father’s Plan of Salvation.
This lack of In Ephesus can explain possible confusion that arose. If it lacked that title, it could really have been an encyclical as Lopuhin suggests that then was received in Laodicea too, and forwarded from Laodicea to Pontus from where Marcion came, thus creating confusing in the mind of Marcion.
Here is the opening of the Vulgate Ep. Laodiceans:
1. Paul an Apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, to the brethren which are at Laodicea.
2. Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. I thank Christ in every prayer of mine, that you may continue and persevere in good works, looking for that which is promised in the day of judgment.
Looking briefly over the rest of it, it looks very different from E. Ephesians, even though the first two verses are similar.
This Orthodox site instead matches its verses up with E.Philippians throughout:http://www.orthodox.cn/patristics/apostolicfathers/laodicea.htm
I also notice there is not much reference to the Old Testament, and the silence there seems Marcionite. Its talk about "good works" twice and lack of mention of "faith" seems un-Pauline. It's also quite short for a Pauline epistle.
The Holy Trinity Mission takes an opposite view from Lopuhin on whether the E.Laodiceans was the same as E.Ephesians:
One thing, however, is certain, once the authenticity of the Epistles to the Colossians and to the Ephesians is admitted, and that is that they were written at the same time. They both show fundamentally and formally a very close connection of which we shall speak later on. Tychicus was appointed to convey both Epistles to those to whom they were respectively addressed and to fulfil the same mission in behalf of them (Col. 4:7 sq; Eph. 6:21 sq.). Verse 16 of chapter 4 of Colossians does not seem to allude to the letter to the Ephisians, which would need to have been written first; besides, the Epistle here mentioned is scarcely an encyclical, the context leading us to look upon it as a special letter of the same nature as that sent to the Colossians. If, moreover, Paul knew that, before reaching Colossae, Tychicus would deliver the Epistle to the Ephesians to the Christians at Laodicea, there was no reason why he should insert greetings for the Laodiceans in his Epistle to the Colossians (Col. 4:15). It is more probable that the Epistle to the Ephesians was written in the second place. It would be less easy to understand why, in repeating to the Colossians the same exhortations that he had made to the Ephesians, for instance, on remarriage (Eph. 5:22 sqq.), the author should have completely suppressed the sublime dogmatic considerations upon which these exhortations had been based. Moreover we believe with Godet that: It is more natural to think that, of these two mutually complemental letters, the one provoked by a positive request and a definite need [Col.] came first, and that the other [Eph.] was due to the greater solicitude evoked by the composition of the former."http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/bible_books_new_1.htm
Pseudo-epistle to the Laodiceans
In the genuine Epistle to the Colossians, Paul, after instructing them to send their Epistle to Laodicea, adds: "read that which is from the Laodiceans." This most probably regards a circular letter, the canonical "Ephesians"; but it has been held to be a lost letter to the Laodicean Christians. The apocryphal epistle is a transparent attempt to supply this supposed lost sacred document. It consists of twenty short lines and is mainly made of matter taken from Philippians and other Epistles, and pieced together without sequence or logical aim. Our apocryphon exists only in Latin and translations from the Latin, though it gives signs of a Greek original. It can hardly be the pseudo-Laodicean letter said by the Muratorian Fragment to have been invented by the heresiarch Marcion. Despite its insipid and suspicious character, this compilation was frequently copied in the Middle Ages, and enjoyed a certain degree of respect, although St. Jerome had written of it: ab omnibus exploditur.
I have no idea why it says the part I put in bold.
Orthodox.cn translation with commentary:http://www.orthodox.cn/patristics/apostolicfathers/laodicea.htm
Bible Researcher Translation:https://web.archive.org/web/20140701154417/http://bible-researcher.com/laodiceans.html