The second-century philosopher Celsus disparaged Christians who “alter the original text of the Gospel three or four or many times” (Cels. 2.27). Scholars have understood this passage as a critique of multiple distinct Gospels, but Celsus’ invective is better explained by comparison with elite second-century polemics (e.g., Gellius, Lucian, Galen) against readers who lack discernment and arbitrarily alter manuscripts. For Celsus, Christians’ irresponsible textual practices reveal their cultural inferiority. The complaint is about varying copies of what Celsus thinks to be the same work: “the Gospel.” Christian thinkers in the second and third centuries—including Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and the author(s) of the Little Labyrinth—also participate in this discourse about good and bad readers. This article thus illuminates the wider ancient Mediterranean politics of reading in which early Christian textuality emerged.
Coogan, J. (2023). Meddling with the Gospel: Celsus, Early Christian Textuality, and the Politics of Reading. Novum Testamentum, 65(3), 400–422. https://doi.org/10.1163/15685365-bja10044