This blog post is more light-hearted than usual but it’s something I found interesting, given my interest in early Church history and in linguistics.

Normally a spelling bee wouldn’t be something I report on. It just happens that the one that recently concluded included a reference to the early history of Christianity, something I’m an aficionado of (this report is by CNN):

Thirteen-year-old Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, spelled “laodicean,” Thursday night to take top honors in the 82nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The eighth-grader won $40,000 in cash and prizes for nailing the final word. Pronounced lay-odd-uh-see-an, the word means lukewarm or indifferent, particularly in matters of politics or religion.

This obscure English word comes from the name of a city in Anatolia, Laodicea. The association between this city and indecision or indifference is a result of the book of Revelation, specifically the letter Jesus dictated to the church in Laodicea, which is contained therein (Revelation 3:14-22). In it, Jesus accuses that church of being apathetic:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. (Rev 3:15-16).

Hence, anyone who’s apathetic … particular in religion … is “Laodicean” or “like the Christians of the church of Laodicea.”

Interestingly there is some Christian legend about an epistle written by Paul to the Laodicean church, first known by way of a reference in the epistle to the Colossians (in Colossians 4:16 to be precise). Exactly what this letter was, is unknown, especially since the epistle to the Colossians that first mentioned it, was itself not written by Paul but was an early- to mid-2nd century document. A forgery mentioning a document is not exactly the best testimony to its existence!

The Marcionites — an early quasi-Gnostic and therefore non-orthodox sect which, for a time, had a large following in Anatolia and in the central Empire — had an epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, but its contents have since been lost. There is also a very-brief epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, which exists only in Latin and not in Greek, Coptic, Aramaic, or any other language used by early Christians. As a document it was considered inconsequential and for the most part never accepted as canonical. In modern times there have been “Epistles to the Laodiceans” written as religious literature.

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