How much of the early Christian writings consist of scissors-and-paste jobs, where later editors cut up earlier writings and stitched them together into one continuous work, so that what we have now are not the originals but only the final edited version? Are there books like that, for example, in the New Testament? In a recent post I mentioned how the early Christian writing called the Didache is that kind of thing, with three documents artificially combined into the 16-chapter book we now have. That prompted the following question from a blog member.
It seems like there was a lot of “cutting and pasting” in early Christianity. It reminds me of how I cobbled together different parts of the World Book when I turned in my first high school papers. Do we know whether or not this kind of editing was a common practice during the first three centuries?
Yes, it does appear that we have other examples of that kind of thing in the surviving early Christian writings – including at least a couple that made it into the New Testament. Let me stress: this approach to “editing” a book is not the same as what we find more commonly, for example among the Gospels. When Matthew “used” the Gospel of Mark, he took over many of its stories; in some instances he rearranged their order, changed their wording, added material to what he found, took away material, and so on. That’s not what we’re talking about now. Now we’re talking about an author literally cutting up a text and combining it, wholesale, with very little editing, with another.
The most famous instance of this kind of suspected cut-and-paste job in the New Testament occurs in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, which appears to contain two different letters – or even up to five different letters! Here is …
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