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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

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(lay ahd ih cee' uh) A city in southwest Asia Minor on an ancient highway running from Ephesus to Syria ten miles west of Colossae and six miles south of Hierapolis. Christian communities existed in all three cities (Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:13-16 ), though the one in Colossae is the best known. Paul wrote a letter to the Laodiceans (Colossians 4:16 ) which has not survived, though some scholars have attempted to identify this missing letter with either of the Books of Ephesians or Philemon.

Laodicea was well known in the ancient world for its wealth. The extent of its wealth is illustrated by the fact that Laodicea was rebuilt without the financial help of Rome after the disastrous earthquake of A.D. 60. Laodicea earned its wealth in the textile industry in the production of black wool and in the banking industry. Laodicea was also known for its medical school which concocted a spice nard for the treatment of ears and an eyesalve. The major weakness of Laodicea was its lack of a water supply. This need was met by bringing water six miles north from Denizli through a system of stone pipes (another sign of Laodicea's wealth).

Laodicea is best known today to readers of Revelation where Jesus criticized Laodicea, using imagery drawn from its daily life (Revelation 3:14-22 ). First, Jesus said Laodicea is neither cold (like the cold, pure waters of Colossae) nor hot (like the therapeutic hot springs of Hierapolis). Laodicea is lukewarm and provides neither refreshment for the spiritually weary nor healing for the spiritually sick (Revelation 3:15-16 ). Despite their apparent spiritual uselessness, the Laodiceans were claiming a spiritual wealth equal to their material wealth; and further, they were claiming to have acquired both by their own efforts. In reality, however, the Laodiceans, while they may have had material wealth, were spiritually poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17 )—an obvious reference to the textile and banking industry and medical school of Laodicea. According to Jesus, what the Laodiceans needed more than anything else was the true gold, white (not black) garments, and eyesalve that only Christ could give (Revelation 3:18 ). A true spiritual foundation is laid only in Christ, not human effort.

The letter of the risen Christ to the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22 ) contains numerous allusions to conditions in the city. A five-mile-long aqueduct supplied the city with tepid water that served as an image for “lukewarm” Christianity (Revelation 3:15-16 ). The Laodicean claim to be rich and prosperous reflects the self-reliant refusal of this city to accept Roman aid for rebuilding after an earthquake of about A.D. 60 (Revelation 3:17 ). The charge that the Laodicean Christians were naked, blind, and in need of clothing and eyesalve (Revelation 3:17-18 ) reflects the city's well-known school of ophthalmology and its fine garments of raven-black wool of local sheep.

Phil Logan

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Laodicea'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​l/laodicea.html. 1991.
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