I heard about the new archaeological find in Egypt. An ancient burial shaft and a mummification workshop 30 metres underground have been discovered near the Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo. It is simply exciting to think – well, I think so! – that there is still history to find – a chamber, a jar, a coin, a manuscript – even better, lots of manuscripts, and more – move over Indiana Jones!
And so I am reminded that I have thought on numerous occasions, should I find myself on holidays in Turkey – and around the Laodicea – I’d like to be an archaeologist. Wouldn’t it be amazing, I think to myself, to wander the region and then find a treasure trove of manuscripts – another Dead Sea Scrolls type discovery – and, best of all, to find St Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans? He wrote about it in his letter to the Colossians.
Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:15,16 ESV)
Most of the New Testament are letters – and letters are written to specific people in the sp-cific times and places about specific things. Yes, these letters to Christian communities included teaching and answers and specific references to people and greetings. And yes, as these letters were shared and copied, the communities accepted some as true, disputed a few, and simply said, when they heard other things, ‘No, that’s not the Jesus I know’. Thus the Church accepted Jesus’ revelation revealed to John (Revelation) but never accepted the ac-count of the child Jesus making clay pigeons and bringing them to life or his stretching a beam of wood to help Joseph build a bed (The Infancy Gospel of Thomas). We say that is how the Holy Spirit guided the Christian communities to agree on what documents accurately presented the apostles’ teaching.
We assume that Revelation was composed towards the end of the 1st century AD and this Infancy Gospel of Thomas well into the 2nd century AD. Assuming that this letter to the Laodiceans was written at the same time as Colossians – in the 50sAD – then that is early and it’d be fascinating to read. In Revelation we discover that the Church in Laodicea was luke-warm and insipid in their faith (Revelation 3:14-22) and we wonder what Paul might be saying to them decades earlier. Were the seeds of being ‘neither hot nor cold’ already there? There are so many things we’d like to know about Jesus and the Early Church! One of the reasons for so many manuscripts in the following centuries was that people had their theories, their views, their theologies, their answers and they ‘filled in the gaps’ at times. Of course, for us today, who view all such documents as historical, we can wonder what to regard as true. Not everything written today – or in the past – is true!
We assume that John is the last of the apostles to die and in his Gospel account he addresses
this issue, I think, when he writes: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30,31 ESV)
In other words, for all my hankering to find Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans, I already have what I need to meet Jesus, to get to know him, to be captured and enthralled by what he has done for us all, and then to seek to follow him.