Last night Indian American girl Kavya Shivashankar, 13, won the televised Scripps National Spelling Bee and its $40,000 prize after rattling off the letters in Laodicean (pronounced lÄ-ˌä-dÉ™-ˈsÄ"-É™n). Like most spelling-bee words, the adjective doesn't get much use in everyday conversation, so news sources today have defined the word using American Heritage and Merriam-Webster Dictionary's entries.

American Heritage, 4th ed., second entry: "Indifferent or lukewarm especially in matters of religion."

Merriam-Webster's first entry is a little more helpful, but not one news source used it: "from the reproach to the church of the Laodiceans in Rev 3:15-16." Its second entry got the most play: "lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics."

Bible readers, of course, will recognize the Greek term from the Book of Revelation and from Paul's letters to the Colossians. Laodicea was a city along the river Lycus in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) founded by King Antiochus II Theos and named for his wife, Laodice, in the 3rd century B.C. Church historians believe that Epaphras, one of Paul's helpers, preached the gospel to the Laodiceans, as he did to the inhabitants in nearby Colossae about 10 miles away.

Paul mentions the Laodicean church in passing five times in his epistle to the Colossians, encouraging them to "see that [this letter] is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea" (4:16).

Laodicea isn't associated with an attitude of lukewarmness until the third chapter of John's Revelation, which lists the church in Laodicea among the seven named churches in Asia Minor.

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!" John warns on behalf of Christ. "So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (3:15-16). The Laodiceans, who were apparently too focused on material riches, were rebuked for their wishy-washiness about the gospel.

Laodicean pops up in conversations today as a label for those who have compromised orthodoxy in order to win cultural acceptance. It's important to note, however, that John's Revelation clearly connects the Lord's warning to the Laodiceans with his love: "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (3:19-20).