The Lukewarmness Of Laodicea (Rev. 3:16) -- By: M. J. S. Rudwick
TynBul 3:1 (1957) p. 2
The Lukewarmness Of Laodicea (Rev. 3:16)
In his study of the Letters to the Seven Churches, Sir William Ramsay argued that, at the time that the Apocalypse was written, each letter had been especially appropriate to the particular church to which it was addressed. The phraseology of each letter contained allusions to the contemporary circumstances of the city concerned. These allusions had been used as symbolic material to portray the spiritual character of each church. Some have dismissed Ramsay’s interpretation as far-fetched, but on a recent visit to the sites of the seven cities it was felt that the majority of the suggested geographical allusions were plausible. This note arises out of some observations made around Laodicea. and is concerned with the significance of the terms ‘hot ‘, ‘cold’ and ‘lukewarm’. It is curious that Ramsay offered no interpretation of this part of the letter. Most other commentators have taken ‘lukewarmness ‘as a symbol of compromise between the fervent ‘heat ‘of a believer and the indifferent ‘cold ‘of an unbeliever. But this interpretation involves a straining of the text. It assumes that even ‘cold’ is better than ‘lukewarmness ‘, that even a pagan unbeliever is preferable in God’s sight to a lapsed Christian; whereas in the text the association of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ is repeated three times in a way which suggests very strongly that they symbolise equally commendable alternatives to ‘lukewarmness.’
Ramsay pointed out that Laodicea was built on a site which was chosen only for its position at an important road-junction. It lacked a natural water supply, and had to obtain its water from some source lying to the south, for the terminal part of an aqueduct from that direction is still extant. It is in the unusual form of two stone pipes, which are badly choked with mineral matter similar to that deposited by the hot-springs at Hierapolis a few miles away. Hot-springs are not uncommon in the area, and it is possible that, in the absence of any permanent source of more normal water in the neighbourhood, Laodicea had to obtain its supply from another such hot-spring. If this was so, the hot water would have cooled very slowly in stone pipes, and even after flowing several miles it would probably still be warm when it reached the city. The ‘lukewarmness’ of the Laodicean church may therefore be an allusion to the city’s water supply.
It is possible that the terms ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ also had definite local significance. At Hierapolis the hot-spring water apparently played a major part in the healing cult which flourished there. The mineral matter deposited from the water has formed a terrace edged with spectacular white cascades. These are clearly visible from...
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