Some have worried themselves over whether there are some books missing from the New Testament canon. Three books in particular have been called into question.
A Previous Epistle
In 1 Corinthians 5:9 Paul writes, “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.” Some believe this verse is an illusion to a previous epistle that Paul had written to these brethren, which we no longer have. Does this refer to a missing New Testament book? Should there be a 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians and a 3rd Corinthians? Should 1st Corinthians be titled 2nd Corinthians and 2nd Corinthians be titled 3rd Corinthians?
I see no reason for such conclusions. It seems to me that the reference is to this very book of 1st Corinthians. This may be an Epistolary Aorist much as John used in 1 John 2:12-14. That is Paul says, “I wrote” (past tense) because Paul is putting it from the reader’s perspective.
If I wrote a letter to someone and in it said, “While I am out-of-town feed my dog after you get off work everyday” and later in the same letter went on to say, “I wrote to you about feeding my dog after you get off work each day – let me explain to you more fully about what I want you to do.” One would not conclude that I was referring to a previous letter, would he? Paul is doing the same thing.
Watch the context. Paul had just told these brethren to withdraw from a brother who was engaged in a life of fornication (1 Corinthians 5:1-8). Now, he is simply cautioning them not to think that he means that it is their duty to withdraw themselves from everybody in the world that lived such a sinful life (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). Adam Clark agrees writing, “The wisest and best skilled in Biblical criticism agree that the apostle does not refer to any other epistle than this; and that he speaks here of some general directions which he had given in the foregoing part of it…”
The Epistle of Laodicea?
In Colossians 4:16 Paul writes, “Now when this epistles is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.”
Again, some believe that this verse is an allusion to an inspired epistle probably written by Paul, that is now lost. But is such the case?
Consider these things: (1) The text does not actually call it, “the Laodicean epistle,” or “The epistle of Laodicea,” but “the epistle from Laodicea.” Such is a big difference. The epistles were circulated (Colossians 4:16; 2 Peter 3:15-16; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Revelation 1:11). It is conceivable that the epistle in question was not originally written to Laodicea, but they were now in possession of it, and were to pass it next to the church at Colossae. (2) The cities of Laodicea and Colossae were neighboring cities. They were located just a short distance apart. Foy Wallace, Jr. even gives reason to conclude that the churches in these two cities merged at a later time (The book of Revelation, page. 36). (3) The themes of the books of Ephesians and Colossians complement one another well. The book of Ephesians emphasized the place of the church in God’s plan. The book of Colossians emphasizes the Christ in God’s plan. It would be natural to read these two books one after the other. Moreover, it is clear that these two books were written about the same time. (4) Adam Clark says, “Marcion… of the second century, as quoted by Tertullian… in the beginning of the third century calls it (the book of Ephesians – B.H.) the epistle to the Laodiceans.” Besides this, there is not reference to a Laodicean epistle in the early church. Geisler and Nix’s, “A General Introduction to the Bible,” concludes, The Laodicean letter is probably the canonical book of Ephesians” (page 26).
Another Epistle of Peter?
2 Peter 3:1 – “This second epistle, beloved I now write to you in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance.”
Some have denied that the mentioning of this epistle as being a second epistle, means that what we call 1 Peter was the other epistle. Some think that Peter wrote another letter that is now missing. The main reason that they do so is because it is thought that 2 Peter addresses itself to a totally different concern than that of 1 Peter. Yet, 2 Peter 3:1 speaks of a similar purpose. Thus, there must be a missing epistle.
Ridiculous! While it is true that the theme is somewhat different, still there is a similarity between the two epistles. Both epistles speak of Noah and the flood to teach us today (1 Peter 3:20-21; cf. 2 Peter 3:1-7). Such is the reference in 2 Peter 3:1. Add to this, both epistles speak of the need to grow (1 Peter 2:1-2 cf. 2 Peter 1:5-7 and 2 Peter 3:18). Additionally, both were written to affect the mind (1 Peter 1:13, 3:8; 4:1; 5:2 cf. 2 Peter 3:1-2).
There simply is no necessary reason to conclude that this refers to some missing book. Where is the evidence of this missing book? Where does the early church ever allude to such? Moreover, would one, just by reading 2 Peter 3:1, even think there to be a lost book?
Put your mind at ease. God has promised to preserve His words (Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35; Luke 16:17). Geisler and Nix wrote, “It seems highly unlikely that God would have inspired a book that He did not preserve” (page 217). Moreover there is no evidence which warrants the conclusion that any books are missing.