Rhetorical Criticism

I have really enjoyed Ben Witherington’s commentaries on the Pauline epistles, especially because of their intricate rhetorical analysis. Before reading Witherington, I had no idea that Paul was adhering to a rather strict structure for his letters. Hans Dieter Betz is the first scholar (that I can find) to publish a major commentary that dealt with these issues. Richard Longenecker in his Word Biblical Commentary (WBC), pp.cix-cx, on Galatians sums up what ancient sources to get to learn about Paul’s rhetorical structure:
1. Aristotle, Rhetoric
2. Cicero, De inventioneand De optimo genere oratorum
3. Quintillian Institutio Oratoria (I checked this one out last week. It’s four volumes!)
4. Anonymous, Rhetorica ad Herennium

Ancient examples of rhetoric:
1. Plato, Epistle 7
2. Isocrates, Antidosis
3. Demosthenes, De Corona
4. Cicero, Brutus
5. Libanius, Oratio 1

Structure of ancient Greco-Roman “forensic rhetoric”*, which is generally followed by Paul:
1. Exordium – Introduction: introduces speaker and topics
2. Narratio – Narration: statement of facts
3. Propositio – Proposition: states points of agreement and contention
4. Probatio – Confirmation: development of the argument
5. Refutatio – Refutation: rebuttal of the opponent
6. Peroratio – Conclusion: summarizes, evokes a sympathetic response

*”Foresic rhetoric” is speech techniques and patterns used in ancient law courts. A lawyer would follow this pattern when presenting his case. Kinda interesting how Paul’s letters do often sound rather, er, legal.

Reading Paul’s letters with this structure in mind keeps the reader aware of his surroundings and helps him follow the argument being made. It is easy to get lost in this structure if you’re not looking for it – kinda like driving on the right hand side of the road in England. Sort of.

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