One Letter or Two -- Was the Collapsing of Two Letters Into One a Common Ancient Practice?
Ever just recently thought about a question that had occured to you a few times before but had not been answered only to stumble upon the answer in an unexpected place?
I have read theories about how 1 Thessalonians was two Pauline letters collapsed into one, as well as similar theories about 1 Corinthians and even the Epistle of Polycarp. None of them are based on the actual manuscript evidence, but usually rest on identifying certain "themes" or "occasions" or "emphasis" that are subjectively deemed not to fit together into one letter. I admit to a certain initial skepticism about such theories, but the question that always bugged me was whether this was known to be a common practice in ancient times? Did people who collected another's letters together and transmitted them to the next generation really take two or three letters and rework them into one? If they did, I'd be more open to the idea. If not, more skeptical.
Again, this was one of those issues that popped into my mind on occasion, but never bugged me enough to research it. So I saved myself a trip by stumbling across some information on the issue while reading Rainer Riesner's Paul's Early Period, Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology. Citing Kummel's 1972 edition of Introducing the New Testament, Reisner notes:
The conclusion of W.G. Kummel still applies, namely, that 'in antiquity there are no parallels,' for someone other than the original author 'piecing together' several letters by that author. [Kummel, page 262]. The most recent studies by W.G. Doty, S.K. Stowers, and L.J. White, all of which compare ancient and early Christian letters, are indeed silent concerning hypothesis of letter division. Neither abbreviations and omissions in letter outlines, nor portions added as addenda, represent an analogy to the situation postulated here.
So the question is finally answered. And with no intentional effort on my part.
As a result, I am more skeptical of the "collapsing" theories (though I do intend to look closer at the one regarding Polycarp some day).