ARTICLES

Volume 21 - Issue 2

Rhetorical Criticism: An Introduction

By Steve Walton

Since Muilenburg’s paper on rhetorical criticism of the OT,1 which may justly be said to have launched the rediscovery of this discipline in biblical studies, numerous studies have appeared using the tools provided by rhetoric, both ancient and modern, to analyse and understand the biblical documents. In NT studies, Betz’s work on Galatians launched this new era,2 followed by the highly influential work of Kennedy,3 who has provided a classicist’s perspective to the development of the discipline.

What these modern scholars are doing is not, of course, a new procedure. In a recent article, Fairweather draws attention to Chrysostom’s use of rhetorical categories in his commentary on Galatians,4as does Kennedy to Augustine working in similar manner (in On Christian Doctrine),5 and Classen to Philip Melanchthon’s use of rhetoric in his works on biblical studies.6

This paper aims to introduce the discipline of rhetorical criticism as currently practised by examining the use of models from classical rhetoric in studying the NT documents, and by considering the legitimacy (or otherwise) of such an enterprise.

What is rhetorical criticism?

So what are the characteristics of this approach? We shall first consider the classical statement of the ‘art’ of rhetoric by Aristotle, as a founding father of the classical discipline, before outlining the method Kennedy has built upon this foundation. We shall then consider the validity of Kennedy’s approach in the light of criticisms of it which have been offered.

Aristotle’s The ‘Art’ of Rhetoric

Aristotle was teaching in the fourth century bc, in which the growth of Greek democracy, combined with the lack of professional advocates, meant that everyone had to be able to speak in the courts, either in self-defence or in prosecuting another, or in the assembly where matters of future policy were debated and decided. The focus of rhetoric, for Aristotle, is discovering the available means of persuasion in relation to any subject whatsoever.7 This locates the subject-matter of rhetoric in the realm of the probable, whether probable past events or the probable consequences of a decision being discussed.

Rhetoric in the Aristotelian tradition has five major components: invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery. In The ‘Art’ of Rhetoric Aristotle writes most fully about the first three, partly because he was in a tradition of philosophical rhetoric, which was less concerned with the speaker himself, rather than in a sophistic tradition, which placed a greater emphasis on the speaker.8

Invention encompasses three areas. First, the question of proofs, that is, the methods open to the speaker to persuade the audience. These divide into two sorts. External (or inartificial) proofs include such things as laws, witnesses, documents and miracles: they are ‘external’ to the speaker in the sense of not having been created by the speaker.9 Internal (or artificial) proofs are devised by the speaker himself and fall into three main groups: pathos, ethos and logos. Pathos appeals to the emotions and seeks to persuade by swinging the emotions of the audience behind the proposition which the speaker supports.10 Ethos focuses on the moral character of the speaker and seeks to impart confidence in his judgment to the audience.11Aristotle believed this to be the most effective means of persuasion.12 Logos centres on presenting a logical case for the proposition which the speaker supports.13 This can be deductive logic, by the use of enthymemes, which are statements with a supporting reason or reasons, a kind of abbreviated syllogism.14It can also be inductive logic, using examples and then arguing from the particular to the general.15 Aristotle regarded enthymemes as superior to examples, stating that enthymemes should first be stated in establishing a point and only then examples.16 The three forms of internal proof were later linked by Cicero to the three duties of an orator: to move (pathos), to please (ethos) and to teach (logos).17

Also under the heading of ‘invention’ is the question of the various species or genres of rhetoric. Aristotle’s division into three classes has been highly influential throughout the history of rhetoric down to the present day. This division results from asking two questions about the speech.18 First, what kind of audience is being addressed? Are the audience there as judges or spectators? Second, if audiences are judges, are they being asked to make a decision about the past or the future?

Judicial (or forensic) rhetoric belongs to a context where the audiences are judges making a judgment about past events. Its normal context is the law court and the question it addresses is the just or the unjust.19 The positive form of judicial rhetoric is prosecution, and its negative counterpart, defence. Deliberative rhetoric also treats the audience as judging, but this time about a future course of action. This means its context is the assembly and the question upon which it focuses, the expedient or the harmful.20 Its positive form is exhortation and the negative counterpart, dissuasion. Epideictic rhetoric, by contrast with the others, treats the audience as a spectator: it is not explicitly required to make a judgment about past or future actions.21 Its context is often ceremonial and its end is praise or blame, such as in a funeral oration. The question upon which epideictic focuses, in Aristotle’s system, is the honourable and the disgraceful, but usually with the hidden agenda of persuading the audience to hold or reaffirm the values being approved in the speech. The positive form of epideictic is encomium and its negative expression is invective.

There is, naturally, some overlap of these categories. Aristotle was teaching students, and, in teaching, a certain amount of oversimplification is almost inevitable. This is evidenced by Aristotle’s observation that praise and blame, the key characteristics of epideictic, may be used in judicial and deliberative discourse too.22 Aristotle also allows that there are ‘proofs common to all branches of rhetoric’,23 again demonstrating that the categories overlap.

Finally, under the heading of ‘invention’ also come the various ‘topics’ (often called topoi). These are the ‘headings’ that will be used in arguing a case. Aristotle believed that there were topoi peculiar to the three rhetorical genres, as well as those common to all three species.24 Topoi are lined to the stasis, or question at issue, whether a question of fact, of definition, of quality, or of jurisdiction. Aristotle includes a considerable discussion of the various topoi that might be utilized in a speech, and wrote another treatise, Topics, on this subject.

Aristotle’s second component of rhetoric, arrangement, is the composition of the parts of a discourse into an effective (that is, persuasive) whole. By contrast with more elaborate schemes developed later, Aristotle argues that a speech needs no more than four parts.25 The most important are the central two, the statement of the case and the proof (which includes any refutation of another view). Before the statement of case comes the exordium, which seeks to obtain the goodwill and the ear of the audience. After the proof comes the epilogue, which seeks to dispose the audience favourably towards oneself and unfavourably towards the adversary, amplifies and depreciates, recapitulates, and appeals to the emotions of the audience. Aristotle favoured brief conclusions, offering a four-word one of his own: eirēka, akēkoate, echete, krinate (= ‘I have spoken; you have heard; you have [the facts]; now decide’).26

Aristotle’s third division of rhetoric is style, which concerns the choice of words and their arrangement into sentences. This subdivides into two areas: diction, the choice of words (including the use of metaphor), and synthesis, the study of composition. Aristotle gives much of Book 3 of The ‘Art’ of Rhetoric to style, arguing that the key virtues to be sought in style are propriety (that is, matching the style to the content) and perspicuity.27 Later writers were to analyse three styles, each linked to one of the three aims of rhetoric: the plain, used to teach; the grand, characterized by abruptness, used to move; and the middle, characterized by smoothness, used to please.28

The key to preparation for delivery was memorization, Aristotle’s fourth component of rhetoric, for orators in antiquity spoke without a written text. In this sphere Aristotle has little to say and it was left to later writers to develop systems for memorization, such as in the Rhetorica ad Herennium (3.28–40).29

Delivery formed the final part of classical rhetoric and Aristotle’s words on this topic indicate that he believed it to be neglected.30 Aristotle saw the need for variation of volume, pitch and rhythm and argued that the proper use of these was highly influential and persuasive. He evidences some distaste for such devices, but states that ‘it is of great importance owing to the corruption of the hearer’.31

Kennedy’s model of rhetorical criticism

Kennedy takes the credit for being the first in the modern period to have systematized rhetorical criticism, his system often being cited as the method a particular scholar adopts for analysing a text.32 This approach involves five steps.

The first step involves a process parallel to that of form criticism, namely identifying the rhetorical unit or delimiting the unit for study.33 A rhetorical unit is a persuasive or convincing unit and has a beginning, a middle and an end. Therefore, identifying a rhetorical unit is not the same process as form criticism, because rhetorical units can be larger or smaller. The smallest rhetorical units include parables and metaphors, simple sayings, blessings, hymns and brief commandments. The next size grouping are combinations of smaller units, such as (from the NT) the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5–7), the ‘Little Apocalypse’ (Mk. 13), and Paul’s ‘Fool’s Speech’ (2 Cor. 11). Finally, there is the largest rhetorical unit, the text as a whole, both a given document or a collection of documents, such as the letters of Paul or the whole NT canon.

The second step is to define the rhetorical situation of the unit. Kennedy refers to Bitzer’s seminal article on ‘rhetorical situation’, which defines this idea.34 Bitzer understands the rhetorical situation to be the ‘specific condition or situation which invites utterance’.35 He argues that rhetoric is a method of altering reality through discourse and its results. Within such a line of thought, scholars speak of an ‘exigence’, by which they mean that situation or condition which calls forth discourse in order to affect it. The exigence(s) of a discourse may include people, events, objects and the interrelationships they all have. Aristotle regarded the audience as very important to the nature of the speech delivered, offering advice on how to speak to different age groups and people from different wealth and power brackets.36 The speaker may face hostility from the audience and need to overcome it, especially in the exordium and the epilogue. Equally, there may be a central stasis or point at issue. The shaping of the discourse will clearly be influenced by the response that is being sought from the audience, according to which of the three rhetorical genres is being employed.

Thirdly, the rhetorical critic must analyse the arrangement of the discourse.37 This step involves identifying the anatomy of the rhetorical unit under discussion, seeking the sub-divisions which exist. Often this process utilizes the classical division into exordium, statement, proof and epilogue, sometimes to the degree of identifying sub-sections of the four major parts.38

Fourthly, it is important to consider invention and style in each part of the discourse.39 This stage of rhetorical criticism involves line-by-line analysis of the rhetorical unit, seeking to unravel the argument and the devices used in developing that argument. Examination of the kinds of proofs offered will be important and the relative proportions of the three types of internal proofs, ethos, pathos and logos. Also vital will be a grasp of the figures of thought and speech used, as well as the specific lexical choices made by the author.

Having taken the unit apart, the final stage seeks to put it back together, in reviewing the whole rhetorical unit’s effectiveness. This part of the process looks for its power in achieving its persuasive object. How far has the discourse met its rhetorical exigence appropriately? What implications does the discourse have for the speaker and the audience? At this final stage, Kennedy believes, the rhetorical whole will be seen as greater than the sum of its rhetorical parts.40

Key marks of rhetorical criticism

At this point we may review five key marks of this discipline, having first noted that Kennedy’s is not the only approach available. For example, Jewett and Johanson both use rhetorical approaches less indebted to the classical rhetorical handbooks and more informed by the ‘New Rhetoric’ in their work on 1 Thessalonians.41Nevertheless, the marks to be enunciated seem to be common to a wide range of scholars working under the banner of ‘rhetorical criticism’.

First, rhetorical criticism is a holistic approach to texts. It treats the form of the text as we have it as its subject, rather than some reconstructed earlier form of the text or part of the text. Thus, even when a part of a Pauline letter is analysed, as can be profitably done, the concerns are not so much archaeological, as we might say, focusing on the pre-history of the text and how it got into its present form, but rather teleological, focusing on the communicative and persuasive power of the text as we have it towards its end, and the contribution which the particular section being considered makes to that power.

Second, rhetorical criticism focuses on argumentation and persuasion. It works with the assumption that the reason for speaking or writing is to persuade. This can be persuasion to continue in a particular direction, to alter the direction, or to remain static: persuasion takes many forms. Rhetorical criticism utilizes technical discussions of rhetoric as being relevant to the process of communication and persuasion in which the NT documents engage. This need not imply that Paul (for example) had a formal rhetorical training, but simply that the world in which he lived was so imbued with rhetoric that it would be inescapable. (We shall discuss this point further in responding to criticisms of using ancient rhetorical handbooks in analysing the Pauline corpus.)

Third, rhetorical criticism treats the author’s perspective as important, for it seeks the persuasive effect that the author was trying to achieve. There has been considerable discussion in recent years of the ‘intentional fallacy’, noticing that the only access we have to the mind of an author is through the text we read. Rhetorical criticism seeks to use the conventions of rhetoric to provide a certain objectivity in accessing the author’s mind as accurately as it is possible to do at 2,000 years’ distance.

Fourth, rhetorical criticism is a parallel, but not identical, discipline to form criticism. It is interesting that some of the roots of the modern discipline are in form criticism, notably in OT studies.42 The growth of rhetorical criticism stemmed, at least in part, from the attempt to provide more culturally relevant ‘forms’ by considering how argumentation happened in the ancient world. Equally, it stepped beyond form criticism in asking what the author was trying to achieve through the text, rather than simply asking how the text was put together. Form criticism can tend to universalize the sections of texts which it isolates, notably in study of the Gospels, whereas rhetorical criticism particularizes them: it asks what purpose a unit has in this particularact of communication.

Fifth, the view of the majority of practitioners of rhetorical criticism is that it provides an interpretative key to texts, but not the interpretative key. In other words, it yields its most useful results when used in conjunction with other approaches, as is evidenced by the work of Jewett and Johanson on 1 Thessalonians, both of whom use rhetorical criticism in combination with another approach, Jewett using social-scientific perspectives and Johanson linguistic ones.43

The legitimacy of rhetorical criticism

Since the advent of Betz and Kennedy’s work there have been considerable criticisms offered of the use of ancient rhetorical categories as tools for analysing NT texts. In what follows, we shall confine our discussion to the Pauline letters and notice, first, arguments in favour of such an approach and then arguments to the contrary.

Arguments in favour

Quite often scholars propounding a rhetorical critical approach simply state that Paul’s world was a world in which rhetorical training formed higher education, a world which was pervaded by knowledge of the conventions of rhetoric. Accordingly, it is argued, Paul had to use rhetorical conventions, at least to some extent, in order to communicate at all.44 Thus Judge points to the Talmud’s statement that half of Gamaliel’s 1,000 pupils were trained in the wisdom of the Greeks.45 Further, Judge observes, Paul held the Alexandrian rhetorician Apollos in high regard—a man described as anēr logios (Acts 18:24), using the same phrase as is found in the tribute of Augustus to Cicero as an orator.46 Paul did not disdain Apollos’s oratorical powers, but valued his ministry. Judge concludes:

Whatever the circumstances of his upbringing and education, it is beyond doubt that Paul was, in practice at least, familiar with the rhetorical fashions of the time.47

The pervasiveness of Hellenism by the first century ad is further noted by Mack and Fairweather as relevant to this discussion, for it was an important part of Hellenism to teach rhetoric.48 Fairweather points to the books of Maccabees to illustrate the breadth of Hellenistic influence on Jewish literature. She goes on to point to the use of technical terms from rhetoric in the Pauline corpus, listing makarismos (Gal. 4:15; Rom. 4:6, 9), allēgoroumena (Gal. 4:24) and metaschēmetizein (1 Cor. 4:6).49 She suggests that the use of the latter, in particular, implies that Paul’s grasp of classical rhetorical techniques was both extensive and advanced.

Classen, on the other hand, argues that Paul’s Jewish background suggests a knowledge of rhetorical techniques, on the basis that the OT displays ‘rhetorical qualities’.50

A number of scholars comment on the danger of an over-sharp distinction between written and oral delivery. One criticism that is often cited (and which we will note below) of the application of classical rhetorical theory to the biblical documents is that the conventions of classical rhetoric were for speeches, not for written letters. Two significant points are noteworthy in this connection.

First, there is a considerable overlap of speech and letter as means of communication. Aune observes that epistolē first referred to an oral communication sent through a messenger.51 In both oral and written messages, the etiquette was to have an opening greeting and a closing. Accordingly, on the basis of the pervasiveness of rhetoric in antiquity, Aune concludes that the conventions of rhetoric are important for understanding ancient letters.

Second, we need to observe that written communications had a quality of orality because reading aloud was the norm in antiquity.52 This observation is made the more important by the very nature of Paul’s letters which were designed precisely to be read aloud to the Christian community when that body met together. Botha cites Hester on Paul’s style, which he regards as being ‘as much oral as it is written. It is as though Paul wrote speeches’.53 Three further points made by Botha develop this idea.

Because the letter was designed to be read aloud, and because literacy was not highly prized in ancient education (one could be considered to be highly educated but barely able to read), the likelihood is that very few of the recipients of Paul’s letters ever read the text themselves. Botha comments:

They did not experience it [the letter] as knowledge that could be arranged, ordered and easily represented in diagrammatic or tabular form.54

Further, Paul’s letters functioned in place of his physical presence. He was not able, for one reason or another, to visit personally, and therefore he wrote letters. They were a major means of exercising his apostolic authority within the communities.55

Finally, Botha draws attention to the mail system of the first century. Paul’s method of sending a letter required the sending of a messenger to bear the letter:

[Paul] sent a hand-written, corrected, but not without errors, ambiguous, damaged, travel-worn manuscript with someone he trusted, to have that one, or someone else, present his intentions and symbols verbally and bodily to others. What we are looking for is the ‘objective’ argument, the ‘line of thought’, the ‘flow’ of the argument, which can be represented in spatial lines, diagrammatically on paper. What we should be looking for is an emotional, subjective, playing-up-to-the-audience human being, making meaning present and evoking authority.56

Botha proposes that Paul would have ‘coached’ the bearer of the letter, who would likely be the reader of the letter also. Even if not, the high likelihood is that the bearer of the letter would be questioned about Paul’s meaning, both of what he had written in the letter and filling in the gaps in the letter. Botha therefore suggests that Paul would have prepared the bearer of the letter for this either as he dictated the letter or before sending the bearer off.57 This briefing might well have included explanation by Paul of the major points to emphasize in delivery, and some anticipation of questions that might be asked.

These points add up to a substantial case for utilizing the categories of classical rhetoric as at least influential on Paul’s composition of his letters. What criticisms have been offered of such a process?

Arguments against

Some scholars suggest that it is mistaken to analyse the Pauline letters using the categories of classical rhetoric regarding speeches, but rather that handbooks on letter-writing should be used.58 Classen claims that rhetoric and epistolography were distinct disciplines in ancient times.

However, this needs considerable qualification. We have already suggested that this distinction is by no means as hard and fast as such scholars propose. Moreover, Aristotle discusses written communication in The ‘Art’ of Rhetoric (3.5), which again suggests that the boundary between written and oral communication was seen as porous. This observation applies to Porter’s caricature of Kennedy, whom he characterizes as believing that the Pauline letters are ‘essentially speeches, almost incidentally with epistolary openings and closings attached’.59 Porter goes on to argue that there is a lack of evidence that the rhetorical handbooks were written with the intention of teaching the analysis of speeches or written documents.60 Accordingly, he argues, the only legitimate use of rhetorical criticism is in the analysis of style.61 But this seems to overlook the fact that the handbooks were designed to teach students of rhetoric. When analysis was done, the tools used would be those which the students had been taught as the basis of rhetoric, that is, those found in the handbooks. The handbooks, in other words, were elementary documents, not advanced (we might say, postgraduate) works.

A considerable danger, identified by Aune, Johanson and Reed, is that of treating the three rhetorical genres as exclusive.62 Aune points to the ‘mixed’ genre of letter in Pseudo-Libanius. Johanson and Reed criticize Kennedy for the assumption that a letter must have one and only one rhetorical genre. Equally, Johanson criticizes Kennedy’s assumption (used by Wanamaker in his analysis of the Thessalonian letters)63 that the three rhetorical genres are universalizable, that is, that all speech and writing can be categorized into one or other of the three genres.64 Nevertheless, the pervasiveness of classical rhetoric in the first century suggests that it is to the three classical rhetorical genres that we ought first to look in analysing a document, whilst maintaining an openness to the possibility that we may meet something which has a ‘mixed’ form or which does not fit any of the three classical genres exactly.

Some scholars criticize rhetorical critics for an assumption which none seem to hold, namely that Paul must have had formal rhetorical training.65 As Classen observes, there are four possible sources for elements or features known to us from the classical handbooks: conscious use of rhetorical theory; conscious imitation of written or spoken practice; unconscious borrowing from the practice of others; and a natural gift for effective speaking or writing.66 But this does not preclude the use of the handbooks as means for analysing ancient material, for the handbooks show us the accepted conventions of the time.

The most significant criticism of rhetorical criticism’s approach is to observe that Paul himself seems to disavow the use of rhetoric in 1 Corinthians 1–3. Interestingly, Kennedy himself appears to accept this criticism and draws a distinction in his later work between ‘radical Christian rhetoric’, which simply proclaims the word of the Lord with no use of argumentation, in the manner of the OT prophets, and the use of classical rhetorical techniques by early Christian writers.67 However, as Levison points out, this distinction is unclear or at least not clearly defined by Kennedy. Levison goes on to point out the tradition in Judaism of the Spirit as ‘artificer’, that is, the Spirit as equipping the wise person to be persuasive in speech, as well as the existence of the ‘radical’ tradition of the Spirit simply ‘overcoming’ the speaker.68 He also observes the irony that Paul, in appearing to disparage rhetoric, uses rhetorical devices in 1 Corinthians 1–2.69 Paul, he argues, offers ‘a studied and prepared display of rhetorical ability’.70 The truth emerges more fully, Levison argues, in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, where ‘eloquence and the Spirit complement each other’.71 In this less polemical context Paul’s view is that his preaching is a combination of rhetoric and the Spirit, similar to the ‘Spirit as artificer’ view found in Judaism. 1 Corinthians 1–3 should be seen as in part ironical, in that Paul rejects rhetoric whilst showing himself to be capable of using the skills of a rhetor.

Finally on 1 Corinthians 1–3, we may note Winter’s argument that what Paul is rejecting in 1 Corinthians 1–3 is sophistic rhetoric, the rhetoric of the virtuoso rhetors.72 This opens the way for a reading of 1 Corinthians 1–3 which allows for Paul’s use of rhetorical techniques and structures, whilst acknowledging that he wanted the content of his message to be determinative for its presentation.

Conclusion

Rhetorical criticism is back to stay, and will certainly continue to be of importance in NT studies. The contribution already made by rhetorical criticism suggests that it needs to be recognized as a further tool in the tool-box of NT scholars, not least because it seeks to interpret the documents against a pervasive perspective of antiquity: the art of rhetoric.73

Bibliography

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David E. Aune, The New Testament in its Literary Environment (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1988).

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Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979).

Lloyd F. Bitzer, ‘The Rhetorical Situation’, in Walter R. Fisher (ed.), Rhetoric: A Tradition in Transition. In Honor of Donald C. Bryant (Ann Arbor: Michigan State University Press, 1974), pp. 247–260.

C. Clifton Black II, ‘Rhetorical Criticism and Biblical Interpretation’, Expository Times C (1988–89), 252–258.

Pieter J.J. Botha, ‘The Verbal Art of the Pauline Letters: Rhetoric, Performance and Presence’, in Stanley E. Porter and Thomas H. Olbricht (eds), Rhetoric and the New Testament: Essays from the 1992 Heidelberg Conference (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), pp. 409–428.

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Janet Fairweather, ‘The Epistle to the Galatians and Classical Rhetoric: Parts 1 & 2’, Tyndale Bulletin 45 (1994), 1–38.

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Edwin A. Judge, ‘Paul’s Boasting in Relation to Contemporary Professional Practice’, Australian Biblical Review XVI (1968), 37–50.

George A. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric and its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980).

George A. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).

Bernard M.W. Knox, ‘Silent Reading in Antiquity’, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 9 (1968), 421–435.

John R. Levison, ‘Did the Spirit Inspire Rhetoric? An Exploration of George Kennedy’s Definition of Early Christian Rhetoric’, in Duane F. Watson (ed.), Persuasive Artistry: Studies in New Testament Rhetoric in Honor of George A. Kennedy (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), pp. 25–40.

Burton L. Mack, Rhetoric and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990).

Abraham J. Malherbe, Ancient Epistolary Theorists (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988).

James Muilenburg, ‘Form Criticism and Beyond’, Journal of Biblical Literature 88 (1969), 1–18.

Thomas H. Olbricht, ‘An Aristotelian Rhetorical Analysis of 1 Thessalonians’, in David L. Balch, Everett Ferguson and Wayne A. Meeks (eds), Greeks, Romans and Christians: Essays in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), pp. 216–236.

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Jeffrey T. Reed, ‘Using Ancient Rhetorical Categories to Interpret Paul’s Letters: A Question of Genre’, in Stanley E. Porter and Thomas H. Olbricht (eds), Rhetoric and the New Testament: Essays from the 1992 Heidelberg Conference (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), pp. 292–324.

Paul Saenger, ‘Silent Reading: Its Impact on Late Medieval Script and Society’, Viator 13 (1982), 367–414.

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Bruce W. Winter, ‘Entries and Ethics of the Orators and Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:1–12)’, Tyndale Bulletin 44 (1993), 55–74.

Wilhelm Wuellner, ‘Where is Rhetorical Criticism Taking Us?’, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49 (1987), 448–463.


1 James Muilenburg, ‘Form Criticism and Beyond’, Journal of Biblical Literature 88 (1969), 1–18.

2 Hans Dieter Betz, ‘The Literary Composition and Function of Paul’s Letters to the Galatians’, New Testament Studies XXI (1975), 353–379; idem, Galatians: A commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979).

3 George A. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric and its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980); idem, New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).

4 Janet Fairweather, ‘The Epistle to the Galatians and Classical Rhetoric: Parts 1 & 2’, Tyndale Bulletin 45 (1994), 1–38 (the discussion of Chrysostom is 2–22).

5 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, p. 11.

6 C. Joachim Classen, ‘St Paul’s Epistles and Ancient Greek and Roman Rhetoric’, in Stanley E. Porter and Thomas H. Olbricht (eds), Rhetoric and the New Testament: Essays from the 1992 Heidelberg Conference(Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), pp. 265–291.

7 Aristotle, The ‘Art’ of Rhetoric, 1.2.1. References to The ‘Art’ of Rhetoric are to the Loeb Classical Library edition, edited by J. H. Freese (Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard UP/Heinemann, 1926).

8 For this distinction, see Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric, pp. 16–17.

9 Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1.2.2.

10 Johanson cites 1 Thes. 1:6 as a Pauline example, in which Paul seeks to strengthen the authors-addressees relationship by linking the imitation of the Lord with the imitation of the authors, in Bruce C. Johanson, To All the Brethren: A Text-Linguistic and Rhetorical Approach to 1 Thessalonians (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1987), p. 84; cf. Thomas H. Olbricht, ‘An Aristotelian Rhetorical Analysis of 1 Thessalonians’, in David L. Balch, Everett Ferguson and Wayne A. Meeks (eds.), Greeks, Romans and Christians: Essays in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), p. 230.

11 Johanson offers 1 Thes. 1:4–5 as an example, in which the testimony of the Spirit alongside that of the authors indicates that their ethos is approved by God, thus reinforcing their genuineness (To All the Brethren, p. 84; cf. Olbricht, ‘An Aristotelian Rhetorical Analysis’, pp. 228–230).

12 Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1.2.4.

13 Johanson sees 1 Thes. 3:3–4 as a ‘quasi-logical’ appeal to the fulfilment of the authors’ prophecy of suffering (To All the Brethren, p. 105; cf. Olbricht, ‘An Aristotelian Rhetorical Analysis’), pp. 230–232).

14 Aristotle, Rhetoric, 2.22.

15 Ibid., 2.20.2–9.

16 Ibid., 2.20.9.

17 Cicero, Orator 69, cited by Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, p. 18.

18 Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1.3.1–3.

19 Ibid., 1.3.5; 1.10–14.

20 Ibid., 1.3.5; 1.4–8.

21 Ibid., 1.9. See J. Richard Chase, ‘The Classical Conception of Epideictic’, Quarterly Journal of SpeechXLVII (1961), 293–300, and Theodore Chalon Burgess, Epideictic Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1902) for a fuller account of epideictic in antiquity, and Ch. Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (Notre Dame/London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969), pp. 47–51, for a contemporary perspective from within an Aristotelian tradition.

22 Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1.9.40–41.

23 Ibid., 2.20.1.

24 Ibid., 2.19.

25 Ibid., 3.13.4.

26 Ibid., 3.19.6.

27 Ibid., 3.2.1–2.

28 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, p. 25, cites Cicero, Orator, and Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book 4, as examples of such categorization.

29 Discussed in Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric, p. 98.

30 Aristotle, Rhetoric, 3.1.3–7.

31 Ibid., 3.1.5.

32 E.g. C. Clifton Black II, ‘Rhetorical Criticism and Biblical Interpretation’, Expository Times C (1988–89), 252–258; Wilhelm Wuellner, ‘Where is Rhetorical Criticism Taking Us?’, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49 (1987), 455–459.

33 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, pp. 33–34; cf. Wuellner, ‘Where is Rhetorical Criticism Taking Us?’, 455.

34 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, pp. 34–37; Lloyd F. Bitzer, ‘The Rhetorical Situation’, in Walter R. Fisher (ed.), Rhetoric: A Tradition in Transition. In Honor of Donald C. Bryant (Ann Arbor: Michigan State University Press, 1974), pp. 247–260.

35 Bitzer, ‘The Rhetorical Situation’, p. 250.

36 Aristotle, Rhetoric, 2.12–17.

37 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, pp. 23–25.

38 See, e.g., the sub-divisions of 1 Thessalonians produced by various rhetorical analyses in the chart in Robert Jewett, The Thessalonian Correspondence: Pauline Rhetoric and Millenarian Piety (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), p. 221.

39 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, pp. 25–30, 37–38.

40 Ibid., p. 38.

41 Jewett, The Thessalonian Correspondence; Johanson, To All the Brethren.

42 E.g. Muilenburg, ‘Form Criticism and Beyond’.

43 Jewett, The Thessalonian Correspondence; Johanson, To All the Brethren.

44 For this argument, see Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, pp. 9–10.

45 Edwin A. Judge, ‘Paul’s Boasting in Relation to Contemporary Professional Practice’, Australian Biblical Review XVI (1968), 40.

46 Ibid., 40, citing Plutarch, Cicero 49.5, in which Caesar says to one of his daughter’s sons, regarding Cicero: Logios anēr, ō pai, logios kai philopatris (= ‘A learned man, my child, a learned man and a lover of his country’).

47 Judge, ‘Paul’s Boasting’, 41.

48 Burton L. Mack, Rhetoric and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), p. 31; Fairweather, ‘The Epistle to the Galatians’, 24–25.

49 Fairweather, ‘The Epistle to the Galatians’, 33–36.

50 Classen, ‘St Paul’s Epistles’, p. 269. He also draws attention to Paul’s writing Greek ‘effectively’, which, he suggests, means that Paul must have read a great deal in Greek and therefore assimilated rhetoric from others, albeit at second hand.

51 He cites Herodotus 4.10.1 and Thucydides 7.11.1 in David E. Aune, The New Testament in its Literary Environment (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1988), p. 158.

52 We may think, in the NT, of the Ethiopian eunuch as an example (Acts 8:28–30). Bruce observes, ‘Readers in antiquity almost invariably read aloud; the reason is apparent to anyone who tries to read an ancient MS, where the writing has to be spelled out syllable by syllable’ (F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, Leicester: Apollos, 1990, p. 226); cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, 3.5.6: ‘Generally speaking, that which is written should be easy to read or easy to utter, which is the same thing [esti de to auto]’ (italics mine). This question has been debated at length this century. J. Balogh, ‘ “Voces Paginarum”: Beiträge zur Geschichte des lauten Lesens und Schreibens’, Philologus 82 (1927), 84–109, 202–240; G.L. Hendrickson, ‘Ancient Reading’, Classical Journal 25 (1929), 182–196; and W.P. Clark, ‘Ancient Reading’, Classical Journal 26 (1931), 698–700, argued that silent reading was virtually unknown in antiquity. Subsequently evidence that silent reading, although unusual, was known, was presented by Bernard M.W. Knox, ‘Silent Reading in Antiquity’, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 9 (1968), 421–435; and Frank D. Gilliard, ‘More Silent Reading in Antiquity: Non Omne Verbum Sonabat’, Journal of Biblical Literature 112 (1993), 689–696. The consensus view, that silent reading, though occasionally known, was unusual, is represented by Paul J. Achtemeier, ‘Omne Verbum Sonat: The New Testament and the Oral Environment of Late Western Antiquity’, Journal of Biblical Literature 109 (1990), 3–27; Paul Saenger, ‘Silent Reading: Its Impact on Late Medieval Script and Society’, Viator 13 (1982), 367–414; Michael Slusser, ‘Reading Silently in Antiquity’, Journal of Biblical Literature 111 (1992), 499; W.B. Stanford, The Sound of Greek: Studies in the Greek Theory and Practice of Euphony (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967); Jesper Svenbro, Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993); idem, ‘The “Interior” Voice: On the Invention of Silent Reading’, in John J. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin (eds), Nothing to Do with Dionysios? Athenian Drama in its Social Context (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), pp. 366–384. Achtemeier, in particular, draws attention to the implications of the oral environment of late western antiquity for the way that the NT documents are read, along similar lines to those argued in this paper.

53 Hester, quoted in Pieter J.J. Botha, ‘The Verbal Art of the Pauline Letters: Rhetoric, Performance and Presence’, in Porter and Olbricht (eds), Rhetoric and the New Testament, p. 409 (italics mine).

54 Botha, ‘The Verbal Art’, p. 413.

55 Ibid., p. 420.

56 Ibid., p. 413.

57 Ibid., pp. 417, 418, 419.

58 Abraham J. Malherbe, Ancient Epistolary Theorists (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988); Classen, ‘St Paul’s Epistles’, p. 288.

59 Stanley E. Porter, ‘The Theoretical Justification for Application of Rhetorical Categories to Pauline Epistolary Literature’, in Porter and Olbricht (eds), Rhetoric and the New Testament, pp. 101–102.

60 Porter, ‘The Theoretical Justification’, p. 105.

61 Ibid., pp. 111–116.

62 Aune, The New Testament in its Literary Environment, p. 203; Johanson, To All the Brethren, p. 39; Jeffrey T. Reed, ‘Using Ancient Rhetorical Categories to Interpret Paul’s Letters: A Question of Genre’, in Porter and Olbricht (eds), Rhetoric and the New Testament, pp. 292–324 (esp. 299–309, 314, 322).

63 Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids/Exeter: Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1990), p. 46.

64 There are three species of rhetoric … judicial, deliberative, and epideictic. Although these categories specifically refer to the circumstances of classical civic oratory, they are in fact applicable to all discourse.’ (Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, p. 19, italics mine).

65 Porter, ‘The Theoretical Justification’, p. 105.

66 Classen, ‘St Paul’s Epistles’, pp. 268–269.

67 See the helpful analysis of this development in Kennedy’s thought in John R. Levison, ‘Did the Spirit Inspire Rhetoric? An Exploration of George Kennedy’s Definition of Early Christian Rhetoric’, in Duane F. Watson (ed.), Persuasive Artistry: Studies in New Testament Rhetoric in Honor of George A. Kennedy(Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), pp. 25–40 (esp. 25–28).

68 Levison, ‘Did the Spirit Inspire Rhetoric?’, pp. 28–34.

69 He lists antithesis (1:17), anaphora and litotes (1:26), antistrophe (1:26–28), accumulation (2:1–5), the use of enthymemes (2:10), and the use of an ethos appeal, since Paul’s authority is here at stake (ibid., p. 36).

70 lbid., p. 37 (italics his).

71 lbid., p. 39.

72 Bruce W. Winter, ‘Entries and Ethics of the Orators and Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:1–12)’, Tyndale Bulletin44 (1993), 55–74 (esp. 68–70).

73 I have applied some of the insights of rhetorical criticism to 1 Thessalonians in my article ‘What Does Aristotle Have to Do with Paul? Rhetorical Criticism and 1 Thessalonians’, Tyndale Bulletin 46.2 (1995).

Steve Walton

Steve Walton
St Mary’s University, Twickenham
London, UK