Category Archives: Rhetoric

On γαρ’d

Douglas Campbell’s Deliverance of God has generated lots of discussion, especially on Romans 1:18-32. The γαρ in 1:18 has been a problem for interpreters long before Campbell came to it. But Campbell’s work is making folks take another look at the particle in this verse.

Koine “traditionalists” (is there a better word?) assert that γαρ is a discourse connector which logically joins two parts of a discourse, normally in an explanatory way.  This sense is typically translated “therefore”. Example: I have a broken leg, therefore I will not be playing football. If one only reads the NT, then clearly this is the most frequent usage.

But there is other Greek literature out there. Consider Euripides’ Bacchae. In places like lines 477, 483, and 612, γαρ is used to signal a switch in speaker (like from Dionysus to Pentheus or the Chorus leader to Dionysus). This is evidence for how the particle could function in rhetoric, particularly in a Socratic dialogue. To be fair, just because Euripides used γαρ this way sometimes does not automatically mean that’s what Paul did in Romans 1:18. However, it is evidence that I don’t see many people consider before they dismiss it. A better question for the traditionalists might be Why can’t the γαρ in Romans 1:18 indicate a speaker change?

In addition to Euripides, there’s biblical evidence as well. Consider the translation Greek of the LXX. In Job, when he converses with his “friends”, γαρ is twice used in a change of speaker (Job 6:2; 25:2). Also, by my count there are over 45 instances of γαρ symbolizing a speaker change in LXX Isaiah (tweet me if you want the list and begin discussing who is speaking where in Isaiah). (Maybe this requires an intro to the various voices in Isaiah, but…) One of the clearest examples is Cyrus talking to Yahweh in Isa 45:15— συ γαρ ει θεος, και ουκ ηδειμεν, ο θεος του Ισραηλ σωτηρ (You are the God people cannot see. You are the God who saves Israel. ERV)

Long story short: γαρ is a very small form that gets used in lots of contexts. Identifying what the form means from context-to-context should be determined by those contexts, not by a lexicographic straight-jacket.

So does the γαρ in Romans 1:18 signal a switch from Paul’s voice to the Teacher’s voice? I think the evidence suggests so.

@DageshForte

 

 

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Palam, Aperte, Silentium – Something Hidden in Plain Sight? (The Gospel of Mark)

I briefly made use of this in my book, but it bears more examination and given the question I was asked yesterday (see below), I wanted to write a short post on it. James P. Scott, the great writer of resistance, has three transcripts available for writers and audiences alike. They are the public, the hidden, and the double-meaning transcript. The double-meaning transcript allows for the “subordinate group politics” to act itself out in plain sight (Scott, Domination, 18–9). This acting-out involves using folk ways, words, and other things only the group would recognize to tell a story of resistance, but the difference between this and the hidden is the public performance of the former.

There is something along those lines in Latin rhetoric as well, at least according to Quintilian. Palam involves language used by orators and poets meant to be plain or forthright.1 Aperte is that language which is “open,” or rather, open to those who understand it.2 Finally, silentium is used only when there is a need, when the outside and hegemonic group is prancing around with its power, and is done in such a way as to allow the orator/poet to speak freely but to have the audience apply their meaning to it.3 Like the doubling-meaning transcript to the hidden, silentium exists as a subordinate to aperte. It takes place only at the must crucial of times, but in plain view.

Yesterday, I was asked privately (so, no names) about the possibility of understanding the final production if one doesn’t understand or know of the source material. The Gospel of Mark, I contend, contains this apertesilentium rhetoric, where the author is using a known story (namely that of Jesus) to present a hidden transcript in pubic (the double-meaning; i.e., the mirrored-reflection of the Jewish War and the messiahs who followed). My convoluted answer is that yes, on some level every audience will understand something of the final production even without knowing the source material or intention of the author. This doesn’t remove the original intent, nor does it suggest reception is the dominant aspect of the production. On another level, an audience may pick up on that something is being said but not clearly heard, even without the source material. This, I believe, drives our examination for the sources of these works today. But, there will always be an audience who understands the production as the author intended, namely the first audience (hence the importance of Matthew and Luke in reading Mark).4

Unfortunately, we today find it difficult to hear the silentium because the story is now so invested in our culture we see ourselves as the source material, hearing no cues as to the hidden meaning(s). Are we wrong, then, in reading Mark as a simplistic historical narrative of the life of Jesus? Hardly, but we aren’t fully reading it with the ears of the first audience. We have replaced the aperte with our need for palam and that prevents any serious investigation into the Gospel.

short post, short editor, going home now. 

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  1. This is an apple.
  2. This is an apple, where apple means generic “sin.”
  3. This is an apple, whereas apple represents “sin” but a positive view of sexual lust if we were, say, either in grade school or Victorian England.
  4. What the public audience hears is the story of Jesus as a prophet, who lived and died for Israel. What the hidden audience will hear is that Jesus is as the Prophet like Elijah against false pretenders. What the double-meaning audience would hear (again, based on my hypothesis) is only by believing in Jesus and his Resurrection can one undo the plague of Vespasian along with the irony, the false flattery, and other aspects of rhetoric whereby Mark has hidden a rebuttal to the false messiahs and apostate believers, not to mention a redrawing of Christian eschatology. What is always left unsaid is the

Aristotle on the Poet as Creator

For this reason poetry is something more scientific and serious than history, because poetry tends to give general truths while history gives particular facts.

By a “general truth” I mean the sort of thing that a certain type of man will do or say either probably or necessarily. That is what poetry aims at in giving names to the characters. A “particular fact” is what Alcibiades did or what was done to him. In the case of comedy this has now become obvious, for comedians construct their plots out of probable incidents and then put in any names that occur to them. They do not, like the iambic satirists, write about individuals. In tragedy, on the other hand, they keep to real names. The reason is that what is possible carries conviction. If a thing has not happened, we do not yet believe in its possibility, but what has happened is obviously possible. Had it been impossible, it would not have happened.  It is true that in some tragedies one or two of the names are familiar and the rest invented; indeed in some they are all invented, as for instance in Agathon’s Antheus, where both the incidents and the names are invented and yet it is none the less a favourite. One need not therefore endeavor invariably to keep to the traditional stories with which our tragedies deal. Indeed it would be absurd to do that, seeing that the familiar themes are familiar only to a few and yet please all.

It is clear, then, from what we have said that the poet must be a “maker” not of verses but of stories, since he is a poet in virtue of his “representation,” and what he represents is action. Even supposing he represents what has actually happened, he is none the less a poet, for there is nothing to prevent some actual occurrences being the sort of thing that would probably or inevitably happen, and it is in virtue of that that he is their “maker.”

The Historical Pompey v. The Historical Jesus

ideology in cold blood lucan
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First, I’m not going to get into the full discussion – I will side with McGrath because I happen to trust his scholarship, and what’s more, that his scholarship is not driven by an agenda; however, I do find that a study of the way history was recorded, used, and promoted is one which helps the conversation with those who have somewhat of a sane view of the acceptance of facts.

One of those ways is Lucan’s use of the Roman civil wars several generations before his to create a hope for a return to the Republic. In writing De Bello Civili, Lucan uses several rhetorical techniques of the time, and some he seemingly invented, to juxtapose tyranny and freedom. He develops historical characters of which little is actually known, into full fledged heroes of the Roman people – if only the Roman people could accept them as such. Lucan’s hero, his one out of the many, is Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Pompey, the great Roman general. But, Pompey is nearly a complete fabrication of the author’s mind. It’s not that Pompey didn’t exist, but Lucan’s Pompey (we’ll call him LPompey) never did as Lucan portrays him. Lucan creates LPompey to be his hero, to play up the themes of honor, laws, and a host of other issues which the author needs symbolized in a shorten manner. Bartsch writes,

One Pompey is more or less the narrator’s creation; his presence relies on the frequent intervention of the narratorial voice to praise his achievements and his character and to paint them in as tragic a light as possible. For the narrator, Pompey is in the end a hero and Rome’s darling; his death is the last gasp of the moribund Republic.

Pompey is brought to life, and perhaps a different life than his actual one, by the voice of the narrator. Different LPompeys exist for the different crowds. Lucan is not so much concerned with the historical figure of Pompey, but for the reception of LPompey. LPompey appeals to the many because he is the one who stood against Caesar. Lucan quietly asks the audience to do the same, with the warnings and caveats of martyrdom and the like. I would go so far as to suggest Lucan’s Republic (LRepublic) which he is desperately fighting to restore hope for is itself a creation of the author. Yet, they exist because not because of the historical situation, but because they are constructed first in the mind of the audience and then in the mind of the author (the reverse is true in propaganda, after all. The author is not just telling a story, but crafting a story which the audience will accept; therefore, it is only proper that the audience comes first in story creation). Why does Lucan’s story work? Because LPompey and LRepublic were known to exist, but their memories are resurrected in such a way as to allow the author to shape them into his creation, so that they fit his need.

The same must be said for the Historical Jesus. Paul’s Jesus (PJesus) was no doubt a historical figure. But, when we come to the Gospels, we begin to see a development of Jesus – MJesus, MatJesus, and LJesus along with JJesus. The new reauthors of PJesus use an existing pattern in the mind of the audience, their audience which they know quite well, and rebuild the main character and his story in such a way as to effect something in them. For Lucan, it was the hope of the Republic. For the Evangelists, they sought to renew their communities in PJesus (which no doubt is why Mark seems to have something of Paul in his story. It’s about Plato’s patterns, after all).

For those unconvinced that PJesus existed, there is really no hope for you.

Romans 6-8, Contra Stowers

I’m not going to lie. This was the most difficult paper to do. This is a rough draft, and will forever be so. I simply ran out of time – MY FAULT – but as I do with most of everything I write, you can see it and pick it apart. 

The tome of Paul’s rhetorical theology is to be found in his Epistle to the Romans. This protreptic piece is dedicated to establishing Paul as a leading Christian sophist on his way to the city from which he will work his way unto Spain (15.24-28), a mission trip which the New Testament and history, does not afford a success. This seminal work of the many Christian apologists and detractors stands as a monument to Paul’s rhetorical genius, if only we are allowed to peer below the surface of his writing. This paper will explore as in a general direction Paul’s use of rhetoric in Romans, but focus on Romans 6-8 as an unit of dialogue set in a mild form of prosopopoeia while utilizing other rhetorical devices which is meant to allow an elaboration of his initial argument on justification for his intended rather Jewish audience, an identification which is opposed by the rhetorical critic Stanley K. Stowers who reads Romans 5-8 as a unit devoted to the Gentiles while pointedly avoiding defining such concepts as baptism, works of the law, and engaging in theological discussions. I will critique his argument to show that the rhetorical unit under examination is still devoted to a predominantly Jewish audience whom Paul is attempting to reach through rhetorical devices, and indeed, unlike Stowers’ limitation of certain rhetorical devices to chapters 2 and 7, Paul is continuously in dialogue with his Jewish audience and the anti-Gentile polemics of his day in, at the very least, the first half of the Epistle to the Romans.

After establishing Romans 6-8 as a rhetorical unit, or perhaps a paraenesis if Stowers is correct (23)[1], I will first note several of Stanley K. Stowers’ criticism on the section of Romans under this study in which he attempts to solidify that Paul is indeed speaking to a Gentiles audience. From there, I will seek to answer several of the points raised by Stowers and attempt to show why in fact the unit could have been written to Jews, if not exclusively so, which is more of a probability than having Paul, who began the letter with a reference to the lineage of King David, suddenly switch without any hallmarks of having done so, to speaking to Gentiles. Following this, my goal is to establish two rhetorical structures, which coincide with one another, by which to examine Romans 6-8, while providing some rhetorical background to Paul’s cognitive environment. It is not my intention to delve into the debate of justification, grace, works of the law, and baptism, hoping only to establish that Paul was speaking to a highly educated Jewish audience using familiar rhetorical devices prevalent in his day.

Stowers separates Romans 5-8 as a subsection the rest of the work while Neil Elliot cites 6-8.13 as a rhetorical unit. For the purpose of this paper, I will recognize 6-8 as a separate rhetorical united within a greater framework which Paul is using. I do not include 5 due to the fact that it which seems to stand as both an epilogue and a prologue, uniting 1-4 and 6-8. The first part of chapter 5 is focused more on Christological functions in that Christ is the antithesis of Adam, which furthers Paul’s figures in the previous chapters of Romans while the second part of that chapter begins Paul’s work on justification. For rhetorical purposes, Romans 6-8 is a unit which proceeds from the latter portion of chapter 5 but can stand by itself. I also note that Romans 6 and 8 serve as literary bookends. In 6.1-14, there is a contrast between the sinner and the resurrected believer; 8.1-13 compares the flesh and the spirit, as I mention later, and while this seems to be a natural end of the unit (at verse 13), the remainder of chapter 8 can serve as an epilogue to the entire unit allowing a recapitulation of the thought so far, and especially of the thoughts in 6-8. Further, the question asked in 6.1 is ultimately answered in 8.13. Finally, 6-8 presents a “syllogistic progression,[2]” or ratiocinatio, which builds upon each premise another, to fully expound Paul’s thought on justification in totality[3].

Like most rhetorical critics, Stowers begins Paul’s use of the speech-in-character rhetorical device, prosopopoeia, in chapter 2 and ends it near the beginning of chapter 5. Stowers writes, “One thing that does not continue is dialogue with the teacher. He does not reappear in 5-8.” (Stowers:252), but I contend that this in an inadequate beginning and because of this failure to note the actual beginning, the balance of Paul’s letter has been thrown off leading Stowers and others to miss the intended audience of Romans 6-8. Instead of the apostrophe beginning in chapter 2, Paul’s use of this device begins in Romans 1.16 in which we find the word γὰρ, “a conjunction basically introducing an explanation.[4]” As scholars have noted, “there is a change of voice here and lasts until 1.32[5].” Paul’s opening (1.1-7) is a generally powerful statement full of edifying statements of the goal of his letter. It is filled with Christological concepts which Jewish readers would have picked up on, most notably, that Jesus was from the line of David. This section is followed by 1.8-15 in which Paul establishes the ethos of his mission not just to Rome, but to the entire world as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul is establishing himself as the apostle to the Gentiles, so why is it that he would roundly condemn the entirety of the Gentiles, using contemporary Jewish polemical language and just before a statement is issued that this Gospel which he intends to preach at and beyond Rome is open to both Jews and Greeks equally because is of faith? This is not the same voice in 1.18-32 as we see in the previous verses in the chapter, but a voice wholly unlike contemporary Paul.

Paul begins in earnest dialogue with a statement about the Gospel, that it is the power to save both Jews and Gentiles through faith(fullness). This is the premise which he will now debate. Following this rather robust statement is a counterstatement starting with γὰρ which would stand in contrast with the previous comments by Paul in the mind of the audience. The Apostle is beginning his correction of the normative Jewish thinking that the idol-worshipping Gentiles, without God, had degenerated into something less than human. This was common polemical language which can be found in other deuterocanonical and pseudepigraphical literature of the time[6]. To then go along with it would be out of Paul’s character. Stowers does correctly point to 2.1 as a beginning of a dialogue, although I would point out that I believe that 2.1 is where Paul begins speaking again after his absence in 1.18-32. Simply, Paul issues his statement of what the Gospel is in 1.16-17 to challenge the Jewish polemical language of his time which is personified by the fictitious dialogue partner in 1.18-32. Paul then begins to counter Jewish polemics in 2.1.  There is a reason with which to examine the proper place of beginning the dialogue approach to Romans.

Starting in chapter 1 with the dialogue allows us to re-examine Stowers’ view that in Romans 5-8, which is that it is the Gentiles who are in focus. He notes that chapters 3-4 treat the issue of faith which disappears only to reappear in chapters 9-11. In the first set, the covenant, a Jewish concept, is founded by Abraham and then Jesus, and it is their faithfulness which reconciles people unto God. While this is clearly a Jewish concern, or rather, language which would appeal to the Jewish religious sensibility, Stowers goes too far, in my opinion, in stating that 5-8 in effect mirrors 3-4 but focusing on the Gentiles instead which causes an unnatural literary separation between these two paraenetic sections. In several statements, he discounts any opponents to his theories by noting that “there is no place whatsoever for including Jews here (in 5-8) (Stowers:253)” and, boisterously, “Not a shred of sound evidence exists to indicate that he directs himself to Jews or so-called Jewish Christians (Stowers:255).[7]” Further, he construes Paul’s statements in 1.18-32 as aligning himself with other Jews of the time in condemning the denigration of Gentiles. If indeed the structure of the conversation begins not in chapter 2, but in chapter 1.18, after Paul states his brief summary of the Gospel (1.17), then Paul could be said to, opposite of Stowers, to actually condemn the rather Jewish polemical attitude of the Gentiles in Romans 1.18-32, which in turn would turn the entire first half of Romans into a conversation with Jews about Gentiles and their acceptance into the Covenant. Had Stowers began with Romans 1.18 as the start of Paul’s dialogue partner, then his entire view of 5-8 may have been different. I would also add that his disjointed view of 3-4 and 5-8 is problematic as N.T. Wright points out, “The rhetoric of Romans does it differently: Abraham’s family (Romans 4) is founded on God’s justifying action in Christ (Romans 5), which is then explained in terms of membership in the Messianic family (Romans 6)[8]”. Separation 3-4 from 5-8 separates the Jews and the Gentiles in Paul’s thought.

Baptism, in several of the sects of Judaism, allowed Gentiles to cease being Gentile and thus become a Jew. “For Jewish people, baptism was the act by which non-Jews converted to Judaism, the final removal of Gentile impurity; by it one turned one’s back on life in paganism and sin, vowed to follow God’s commandments, and became a new person with regard to Jewish law. [9]” If this alone was true, then we may have difficulty in seeing anyone else but Gentiles in 6-8; however, I would like to call attention to several things which should, at least, allow that this passage was not particularly focused on Gentiles, even those who have converted to Judaism. First, there is the canonical evidence that Jews were being baptized as well as such evidence that baptism is seen as something connected to the narrative of Israel[10], most notably, the baptism of John the Baptizer, not to mention the instances in Acts. Further, as I will demonstrate later, Paul is still dialoging with his Jewish partner as evident by the questioning in 6.1. Finally, Paul notes that he is numbered among those who are baptized which is signified by the plural pronouns. Unless we are led to believe that Paul counted himself among the Gentiles, or perhaps felt the need to be baptized by didn’t see this as a need for fellow Jews, then we can only believe that Paul identified with the audience, whether Jewish or Gentile, who were baptized.

Stowers especially singles out 7 as relating to the Gentiles in which, for him, the chapter represents a stance against the Gentiles needing to follow the works of the law; however, I think that he goes too far in trying to refute Augustine and his theological descendants. It is also in this chapter which Stowers sees Paul returning to prosopopoeia, something he seemingly left in chapter 2. As I have already state, my contention is that Paul is using this form of dialogue beginning in Romans 1.16 and lasting at least until chapter 8, if not afterwards. I want to turn attention to the use of Jewish concepts to denote chapter 7 as relating to an audience who is not simply Gentile and whose focus would have been on the Jews. As I noted before, the voice of the dialogue partner is Jewish, as evidenced by the question asked in 6.15. Further, in 7.1, Paul states that he is speaking to those who know the Law while in 7.7, he quotes a commandment from the Law. This is shortly after Paul’s discourse in 5, especially 18-21, in which the Law is said to come as a direct result of the transgression of Adam. He also identifies with the audience, as he did in chapter 6, by calling them ‘brothers.’ Finally, there seems to be an intertextual connection between the figure presented here and marriage as defined by Deuteronomy (for example, 24.3). These things should allow the possibility that Paul is not just speaking either to or about Gentiles, but so too, and if not exclusively, to the Jews. JDR Kirk notes, as well, that the “Law comes at a pivotal point in the argument in 6.14-15 and then takes center stage in 7.1, remaining central to the discussion until 8.7 (99).[11]” Because of this, Kirk is able to say, and I would concur, that Paul is reinterpreting “Israel’s story through the lens of the Christ event.”

While Stowers did not expressly cover chapter 8 as a hallmark of Paul’s suspected focus on the Gentiles in this section, I believe that it shows, as with 6 and 7, that Paul has not excluded the Jews in his conversation which takes place in this unit but continues to focus on them. Many Jews believed that the Spirit would signify the eschatological end of the Exile, in which God’s power would enliven the children of Israel. We see this view expounded in Isaiah 44.3, 59.21; Ezekiel 39.29; and Joel 2.28-32 in which the Spirit is promised at the end of the Age. Further, there is the notion of the Resurrection of the Righteous as the end of age found in certain sects of Judaism (2 Macc 7.14-15, 12.43) in which at the End of the Age, the pious would be resurrected to rule over the earth. Paul, deeply entrenched in the faith of the resurrection, could then clearly state that the Spirit was life as he did in 8.10, which for him connected together the resurrection and the Spirit. If this was an exclusively Gentile audience, then we could have expected Paul to have used different language and figures which the Gentiles would have expected to have understood but instead, we find language familiar to Paul’s Pharisee tradition.

Paul’s use of prosopopoeia continues in Romans 6-8. As evidence of that, I present the continued questioning of Paul’s premise such as what we find in 6.1. Paul answers this with a stern μὴ γένοιτο[12]. This phrase becomes an anaphora in Romans in which Paul uses it to set off his reply. This type of questioning is repeated in 6.15, 7.7, 7.13 forming an inclusio which establishes a certain structure for Paul to work within[13]. But, the structure is more detailed than that. The question posed by the Jewish questioner in 6.1 is rebuked in 6.2a by Paul, given an explanation in 6.2b-3. 6.4-11 is the explanation of the answer. This pattern is repeated beginning in 6.15-7.6. The question is asked and answered in 6.15-20 with an explanation of what benefit the answer brings to the baptized[14]. It is evident that Paul not only answers a question, but explains the question and how it relates to the audience. I use ‘benefit’ (NASB) as a translation of Paul’s καρπὸν in 6.21 and 22. I also note that in 7.4, Paul uses καρποφορήσωμεν to speak of the goal of being raised from the dead. In 7.7a-7.7b, the same pattern is found in the question/answer formulation. Paul then proceeds to answer the question but with no benefit offered. In 7.13a-7.13b Paul does the same thing once more, but again, without the benefit offered but this time, Paul continues to stretch out his thought throughout chapter 8.

Another way structure which superimposes itself on6-8 is the use of a figure or topic. Baptism in 6.3 is Paul’s topic from which he builds and redoubles his case that through Christ the believer has been justified. 6.3 relates baptism as a matter of fact. His audience and he were baptized, which is why we see the second person plural[15] here but is absent in much of the rest of the pericope. 6.4 begins with the figure of baptism which is set in very physical terms. This image is carried out through 6.14 when suddenly Paul is asked another question which leads to a fuller explanation of the role of sin and grace because of justification. Paul then divides the topic into two subtopics which are participation in the death and in the resurrection of Christ. We see a hint of this in 6.21-22 in which the baptized has been freed by death from death and now, through sanctification, will receive the resurrection. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca note that the use of association and dissociation, such as what we shall soon see, is an identifiable technique of rhetoric. It would have allowed Paul to “bring separate elements together and allow (him) to establish a unity among them, which aim(ed) either at organizing them or at evaluating them.” Further, this technique has the purpose of “dissociating, separating, and disuniting elements which are regarded as forming a whole or at least a unified group within some system of thought.[16]” In other words, Paul takes baptism as a unifying whole, but then dissembles it into death and then the Spirit, or life.

In speaking of the ancient rhetorician, Gorgias, Aristotle (Rhet 1418a 4-37) notes that the orator is able to deliver several of these subtopics on any given subject, allowing them to serve as sources of arguments. Further, in his own work, Topics, Aristotle goes into the use of Question and Answer (we see something like this with Paul’s use of prosopopoeia throughout the book of Romans), in which an argument is presented, but subtopics are developed. All of this, however, has to follow a certain logous eikotas, which I believe we can find if we see Paul as building upon a previous argument, and dividing out the salient points. Paul has found a visible image for his argument of justification in the form of baptism, which for the skilled rhetorician, he was able to use as a topic and then to divide the act into two subtopics.

Richard Longenecker notes that in antiquity, written texts served to aid oral community, perhaps in the area of memory. If we assume that Paul’s audience would have rather heard the letter than read it, quite the opposite today, then the use of topics and subtopics could be explained because it would have been Paul’s way of reinforcing his view of justification. This formula style of delivery was used, as Longenecker writes, for a variety of reasons, but gives four. To sum, the use of repeating concepts, even differently, was to anticipate, highlight, enhance and to gain acceptance. To place this concept upon Paul and his intended audience in Rome, Paul would need to anticipate who the audience was and their previous teachings on the effect of the death of Christ[17]. This would lead him to highlight his own teaching by enhancing, repeatedly, his view on the death of Christ and his subsequent resurrection so that he could gain acceptance. The enhancement which I mean is found best Romans 6.1-13 in which it is said that through the death of Christ, we are dying out to sin with a hopeful resurrection. Paul’s death of Christ is not anti-imperialism (Mark) or the necessary order of things (Luke), but a narrative which needs to be expanded and explained. If Stowers is correct, and Romans is a protreptic letter (113), then this latter reason, to gain acceptance, is Paul’s main goal in making sure that his teaching comes across easily and is fully understood by his audience. To this, William Ong would add “…synonyms, parallelisms, repetitions, neat oppositions, give the individual hearer a second chance if he did not hear well the first time.[18]” Paul was repeating himself to further explain his doctrine in order for his audience in order for them to efficiently digest his doctrine and thereby gain the acceptance which he would need to establish himself in Rome, which would aid him in furthering his missionary journey.

We may also consider 6-8 through the lens of epideictic rhetoric[19]. As noted earlier, 6-8 is a paraenetic unit which is built around a singular idea, or perhaps, ideal. The inclusio which is framed by 6.1-14 and 8.1-13 helps us to establish this unit as something to examine as, perhaps, a speech intended to be given as a whole. If we take this as a speech, we must first determine what species of rhetoric it is. Forensic rhetoric would require rebuttals. In 6-8, there are questions but never really rebuttals. If Paul was using deliberative rhetoric in 6-8, we should expect to see some action being promoted, but since the action, either the justification or baptism, has already occurred in the past, then we can assume that the only species left is epideictic which allows persuasion[20], albeit not to the extent of the other two species of rhetoric (Carey 238). 6.1-14 would serve as the proem, 6.15- 8.13 would serve as the probatio, while the rest of chapter 8 would serve as the summary, or peroratio. Paul is attempting to showcase the ideal theology of interpreting the death of Christ, which, ironically enough, is actually his. The probatio, or body of the speech, would have allowed Paul to develop his topic through examples and praising of it.

In this case, we find a connection to Aristotle’s dialectic in 6-7.6. Fortenbaugh[21] notes that Aristotle issued exercises wherein two opponents participate in a question and answer segment upon a topic. The goal of one opponent is to trap the other in paradoxes, which we can see happening in several of the questions which Paul is asked. Fortenbaugh goes on to note that some of the questions will “involve necessary truths.” He also notes that the person asking the questions “must take account of what the respondent believes or at least is prepared to concede (108).” Later, Fortenbaugh notes that Aristotle demands that the orator give premises which allow for a “if-then mixed hypothetical syllogism (113).” Again, we find that this holds true in 6-8, beginning, of course, in chapter 1. Paul is using what the Jews assumed about the Gentiles and his Gospel. The Gentiles were unsavable, which Paul shows is false, and his Gospel is not a license to sin, but to be obedient to the law of the Spirit. He does this by first stating the topic of baptism and what it figures and as I noted before, he follows this up with two subtopics which dissemble the main topic into a unifying whole.

The first subtopic, which is death, is discussed in chapter 7 which deals with the figure of the widow.  Here, Paul is not asked a question so much as he brings up a point to discuss, which concerns the longevity of the Law over a person. This figure is then thrust upon the audience in which they said to die to the Law through the death of Christ, the end of death through death, which will bring about καρπὸν for God. This first category is discussed with the benefit noted only to be rejoined by a question from Paul’s dialogue partner in 7.7a. The dialogue partner has listened intently to Paul’s explanation and then asks several other questions which requires that Paul present another figure of what has happened to the audience which we find really beginning in chapter 8. If we were to break this subtopic down into even further episodic paraenetic statements, we would see four small units emerge in 6.1-14, 6.15-7.6, 7.7-12, and 7.13-25.

This second subtopic, which is life, takes the form a debate between the flesh and the spirit in which the new law of the Spirit is finally implemented now that the death and resurrection has occurred. For Paul, the flesh is our human-centered weaknesses (cf 6.19) while the Spirit is the empowering force of God. The argument, as we have seen, doesn’t begin here in chapter 8, but refers back to 6.1-13, in which Paul opens up his teaching on what brings justification, which is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our participation in it through baptism. Just as 6.1-13 is framed by the previous section on justification, and our introduction to Grace, it also serves to frame the following two chapters as they serve to supplement Paul’s argument there. The idea of participation is evident throughout 6-8, and the more so when in 8, the baptized are called to participate in the Law of the Spirit. The baptized participate in the death of Christ through baptism and through his resurrection, they will participate in the final resurrection. Or, again, those who participate in the death of Christ will equally participate in his life.

The argument in chapter 8, then, is one which is a subtopic of the argument begun in chapter 6. In 6.1-13, baptism is seen as the entire act of dying and rising with Christ to the hope of a resurrected life (6.4-5). Or, in another way, 6.1-13 encompasses both the dying in Christ and the hope of resurrection. In chapter 7.1-16, the act of dying and what place it has in respect to the Law of Moses is explained using the role of a wife who is no longer bound to her husband upon his death. She is free to marry again and to live a new life. This is used to explain the role in which the dying of and in Christ frees the baptized from the necessity of the Law which allows sin and death to reign[22]. With the first meaning of the act of baptism explained, Paul moves into the second meaning, the resurrection. With this, it behooves us to say that 8.1-11 is Paul’s subtopic in which he discusses the resurrection from the common argument began in Romans 6, while 8.12-17, just as 6.14-23 and 7.7-25 does, serves to provide for the audience the actual benefit of the action just enumerated. It is also worth noting that Paul’s use of the language of sin, death, and law is evident in 6.1-13, 7.1-6 and 8.1-17 in which these things are defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ. (I also note that the use of these concepts tie this unit as a whole.) What is evident is that Paul is using two several devices to relate his ultimate goal of explaining the dialogue of justification found Romans 1-5.

For several commentators, including Stowers and Elliott, the purpose of this section is directed at the Gentiles finds genesis in Paul’s statement in 1.5; however, I believe that Raymond Brown and Longenecker are accurate when they tie this rhetorical unit not to an ethnic group per say, but to the theological treatise found in 1.11. Recounting salvation’s history has been accomplished in 1-5, so what is left in 6-8 is to establish Paul’s Gospel, his spiritual gift, which the Roman Church seemed to be lacking[23]. The gift is simply Paul’s Gospel which is based on the death of Christ through his faithfulness to God which is what justifies a person, and not the works of the Law[24]. The purpose of this section is not about Gentile’s inclusion in the faith, but about expanding the image of justification through the shared experience of baptism which symbolizes physically the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Paul takes the image of baptism, which was an act performed by both Jew and Gentile alike, and uses it to explain his Gospel to the audience, discounting Jewish exclusion of Gentiles as well as calling attention to the role in which the Spirit signifies justification and plays a role in the life of the believer, Jew or Gentile. It is not that Paul is arguing for baptism, but that he is using a known image to represent his vision of the Gospel, something that was countering the Jewish polemics of his day.

There is another purpose to Paul’s work here. In 6.8, Paul takes the past to look forward to the future symbolized in the “we shall also live with him.” In the first inclusio, Paul is setting out the effects of the death of Christ. There is not a momentary event which is called death, but a state in which the baptized live. The baptized are still dead to sin but yet to fully live with Christ. By employing several rhetorical techniques, Paul reaffirms the state of dead to sin, only to find the final inclusio promising life in the New Creation. Further, this state only exists in Christ Jesus, a particular phrase which first appears in Romans 6. These purposes enforce the idea that participation in the actual event, the death of Christ, is necessary to allow for participation in the hopeful event, the resurrection. Baptism is Paul’s figure which symbolizes the union with Christ and is used to explain his Gospel to the Roman audience. It is one of eschatological hope and a reinterpretation of Israel’s history through Christ.

Limiting Paul’s audience to Gentiles does an injustice to the message which he is presenting in Romans 1-8. If the apostrophe is moved back from Romans 2.1, which is where Stowers and others suggest it begins, to Romans 1.16 allowing that Paul begins the dialogue only to be rejoined by a Jewish polemicist who is arguing that Paul’s Gospel which is for the Jew and Gentile alike is impossible because of the moral degeneration of the Gentiles. This dialogue continues throughout 2-4 allowing Paul to give a long-winded speech on justification in chapter 5 while building to an interpretation of the death of Christ and what it means for the justified. After intently listening, the polemicist engages Paul, trying to trap him into saying that those in Christ Jesus are allowed to sin and break the Law among other questions. Paul’s masterful reply is found in 6-8 in which sin, death, and law are defeated, leaving the law of the Spirit for those, all of those, Jew and Gentile alike, in Christ. The focus of the Epistle, contrary to Stowers (and Elliott), is not Gentile, but Jewish and more, Jewish polemicists who might not accept Paul’s Gospel, which would perhaps limit his expected missionary journeys into Europe. By speaking directly to them and their concerns for his Gospel, Paul is able to take the rejections which he has no doubt commonly heard and engage them in front of his audience before he even arrives so that they will be ready to accept him. His Gospel is one well within line with Jewish Tradition, albeit a tradition interpreted through Christ, and more, it is one which encompasses both Jews and Gentiles.



[1] Stowers, Stanley K. A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles. New Haven: Yale University, 1994. Here, Stowers notes that the traditional use of paraenesis has been misunderstood. As I will explain later, 6-8 is a complete unit, but even within these chapters, there are paraenetic episodes of dialogue.

[2]N. Elliott, The Rhetoric of Romans: Argumentative Constraint and Stratagey and Paul’s Dialogue with Judaism (JSNTS 45; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990), p. 236. See Cicero, De Invetione 1.57, Rhetorica ad Herennium 4.23-24

[3] It would not be easy to argue for an enthymeme in Romans 6-8, as Paul is clearly trying to provide to his audience a sum total of how he sees justification.

[4] Friberg Analytical Greek Lexicon.

[5] Dunn calls this section a “characteristic of Jewish polemic against Gentile idolatry.” (p217) while in another place his notes that this is a “typically Hellenistic Jewish polemic against gentile idolatry” (p165), comparing the list of sins and vices here to those in deuterocanonical literature. Stowers notes that this is directed towards the Gentile, but still places the voice within Paul (128). (Dunn, James G. The New Perspective on Paul. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007.)

[6] The use of non-canonical but contemporary literature as Paul’s dialogue partner should be explored. For example, the use of the Law in Romans 7 may be compared to Psalms of Solomon 14.1-1.

[7] Elliott also has this prejudice (p238).

[8] Wright, N.T.. Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press Academic, 2009.

[9] Craig S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament, Ro 6:1 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993).

[10] 1 Co 10.2

[11] Kirk, J. Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008.

[12] In 1 Co 6.15, Lee suggests that Paul uses the phrase μὴ γένοιτο to object to foolish questions (Lee, Jae Hyun. Paul’s Gospel in Romans: A Discourse Analysis in Romans 1.16-8.39. Leiden: Brill, 2010, p188).

[13] Lee notes these questions, calling them “ridiculous objections” but noting that they serve to bridge the sub-units. (310)

[14] I do not wish to comment on the nature of the baptism, but as Paul began this section speaking with those, who like him, have been baptized, I have chosen to remain calling them the baptized.

[15] See p127 and 255 in Stowers for the use of pronouns singling out discourses.

[16] Perelman, Chaim, and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric. Chicago: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991., p190.

[17] Longenecker, Richard N. Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011. (Kindle Version 2360/7012)

[18] Ong, Walter J. Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture. Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1982, 114

[19] I note that Witherington (see his Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Romans) sees this section cast in the light of deliberative rhetoric, basing this on Quintilian’s admonition that deliberative rhetoric is “always involved with questions where some doubt exists.” (154)

[20] Elliott sees a cosmological connection in Romans 6-8.13 in which Paul is relating to the audience the movement between spheres of dominion. While this is not a particular view which I believe fits Romans, it may be worth considering Elliott’s hypothesis here along with what Carey says of using epideictic rhetoric in the tradition of funeral oration. Carey writes, “The Athenian funeral oration appropriates the role previously played by such laments and places those who die for the democratic polis on the same level as the aristocratic dead of former generations.” He goes on to note that the funeral speeches are given as an “act of collective self-definition and self-assertion.” The speeches would give value to the cause for which the person died. If Elliot is correct, then Paul may be issuing some form of funeral speech in which the death of Christ is seen as this act of self-definition and self-assertion. Kirk and Richard Hayes equally see a more cosmological aspect in Romans.

[21] Worthington, Ian, ed. A Companion to Greek Rhetoric. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007

[22] It would stand to reason that the only people who could be married to the Law were the Jews.

[23] Longenecker ties his interpretation to Brown’s who denied the focus on ethnicity and then expands it a little. I note, however, that for Longenecker, the rhetorical unit is 5-8. Arguably, 5-8 can represent a rhetorical unit, finding an inclusio in the first portion of 5 and the latter half of 8; however, I maintain that if this was delivered orally, than the tighter framework would include 6-8. (4863/7012).

[24] I do not intend to offer what I meant by this, but only to suggest that this phrase is tied to ethnic concerns.

What does Plutarch have to do with Deutero-Pauline?

Plutarch, greek historian.
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Plutarch (46 – 120 AD) records that the great orator Gorgias delivered a speech to the Greeks regarding concord, a detractor replied,

This fellow is giving us advice about concord, and yet in his own household he has not prevailed upon himself, his wife, and maidservant, three persons only, to live in concord… A man therefore ought to have his household well harmonized who is going to harmonize State, Forum, and friends.” (Plutarch, Mor. 144B-C)

The author of 1st Timothy writes, of the Church leadership,

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of  overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, bthe husband of one wife, ctemperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine 1or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of athe church of God?), (1Ti 3:1-5 NASB)

Considering that Timothy is written to a church leader, with some focus on concord, there is a connect here, I think (at least in the supporting culture). Anyway, this caught me as interesting in the reading this morning!

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Kennedy, Rhetoric and Romans

English: By Rembrandt.
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One of the striking images which Kennedy paints is by the brush of Ernesto Grassi, upon whose canvas the picture of sacred language breaks forth. Part of the draw of rhetorical criticism has been to discover the power of the texts upon the audience and why these particular texts have so embedded themselves into the psyche of the mind, so that even those who simply do not believe them in any way still find them attractive. The idea which Grassi proposes revolves around the concept of the kerygma, a proclamation. Out of five characteristics which Grassi gives (6), the first one brings the most to bear on my current thought. Sacred language “has a purely revealing or evangelical character, not a demonstrative or proving function; it does not arise out of a process of inference, but authoritatively proclaims the truth.” Kennedy notes that the message of Jesus was “essentially proclaimed” although later, he notes the use of miracles which often times accompanied the message in the Gospels as serving a vital function in the scheme of invention. Of course, Kennedy also notes that often times, a “radical Christian rhetoric” is seen when a “Christian doctrine is purely proclaimed and not couched in enthymemes.” Kennedy notes that these vibrant strokes of rhetorical artistry can be seen in pericopes as well as the entire Gospel of Mark. (7).

Moving into the five parts of rhetoric, Kennedy deals with the first three which are more likely to be the concern of the letter writers in the New Testament. Invention is covered first and the most extensively. Given that within Invention, we find the key elements of rhetoric which are ethos, pathos and logos, then Invention seems to be the most important piece of good rhetoric (15). Kennedy notes that invention is “based either on external proofs,” those things which the author uses but does not invent, and internal proofs which is the license of the artist. In the New Testament, the writers have three external proofs given to them which are “quotations of Scripture, the evidence of miracles, and the naming of the witnesses.” (14) Later, I will argue that Kennedy misses the internal proof which the New Testament writers willingly made use of, which is the claiming of the Spirit, but for now, one must agree that Kennedy has accurately singled out the right proofs which the New Testament writers use. I would also note that the use of witnesses fits well with the use of Scripture which in one place demands the use of them to confirm the truth[1]. Previously, Kennedy had noted that one cannot judge New Testament rhetoric purely by Greek standards, but must find a way to acknowledge the cultural influence and necessities of the situation (11-12), so it may be that the three proofs in the New Testament which align with the rhetorical device of Invention is better understood as a Jewish expression of a Greek thought.

I wanted to briefly mention the use of ethos, pathos and logos, the styles of inductive and deductive syllogisms as well as ergasia (15-17, 22). Ethos is the character of the speaker, which relates back to Kennedy’s assertion, based somewhat on Grassi’s notion of sacred language, that acceptance of religious rhetoric is based in part on the perceived qualities of the speaker, or in our case, the author of the letters. This would explain Paul’s need to self-boast and to parade his commissioning account and perhaps, even the so-called secret motif in Mark which would have defended Jesus from the charge of self-inflation. There is also pathos to consider, which must come into play when examining the expected reaction from the audience. The New Testament writers expected some sort of response to their works, as did the Evangelists. I would go further to say that Mark’s shorter ending causes the most reaction, even today, and should thus be considered the better choice based on that reason alone. In the logos portion, or logical argument, Kennedy details the inductive style which has the author presenting examples which then lead to a conclusion compared to the deductive style which has the ancient author presenting premises which then require the audience to make conclusion.

Lastly, there are the two rhetorical devices, epicheireme and ergasia consider. The former, Kennedy notes, consists of a “full statement of major premise, minor premise, and conclusion” but would only be delivered to a group of peers in a tightly reasoned philosophical argument (17). Ergasia is the “working out” of topics, which are those things generally given to serve as a point of discussion. These arguments which are not merely given, but stretched out to include smaller arguments, relate well to the notion of topics as Kennedy gives them. More importantly, is the idea that within these larger workers, rhetorical units are going to still have identifiable beginning, middle and ends (33)[2].

Kennedy writes about “radical Christian rhetoric” in which, akin to Grassi’s first characteristic, a doctrine is simply proclaimed. While I might differ with Kennedy as to what a doctrine actually is, I believe that overall, to understand that statements which would perhaps serve as headings as being proclaimed in such a way  which wouldn’t require proofs would not be far off from Kennedy’s understanding. For example, a great body of doctrine is built upon the statement in Romans 1.16 but Paul says this without offering a sign; however, I believe that he goes into a discourse related to this topic much later in the Epistle[3]. Contrasted to this statement is Paul’s statement in 4.25 which is not simply left alone, only to be picked up at a later time, but is developed over the course of the next few chapters in which Paul explains this concept of δικαίωσιν. In Chapters 5 through 8, the idea of δικαίωσιν is carried through several stages and given a more robust picture, calling to mind the epicheireme.

Earlier, I noted that I believe that Kennedy missed the internal proof Paul would have alleged to prove his argument. Throughout Romans, we are given an ample painter’s palette to work with for external proofs. First, Paul creatively uses Scripture as an armature for his overall epistle. It is then followed up with an almost encaustic attempt to paint into the background of Paul himself the ancient figures of Adam, Abraham and Moses, serving as witnesses to validate the message. The resurrection, then, is the impasto miracle. All of these things can be easily seen by the audience, but the internal proof is what gives Paul the edge. Paul cites the role of the Spirit working inwardly (Roman 2:25) which inaugurates a new creation. Further, throughout chapter 8, Paul relies heavily upon the use of the Spirit to vindicate that the believers in Jesus are the children of God (Romans 8.16). This would have been an internal proof which would have served at least two purposes. One, it could only be verified by those with the Spirit and two, it was not likely to be openly challenged because those who challenged it could have just as easily been said not to have the Spirit.

Kennedy notes that Paul’s Epistle to the Romans lack a proper moment of ethos (152), but I would argue that Paul’s ethos is not so achromatic, especially if we consider it a protreptic letter[4]. I would offer proof of this in that Paul is writing to a more sophisticated audience and would have had to develop a more sophisticated style. Further, he makes an impassioned plea on behalf of Israel (Romans 11.1). Paul’s ethos and his attention to the pathos of the audience comes through especially in 9-11, in that the argument between the Jews and the Gentiles are argued in front of the audience, finally come to a conclusion, drawing the audience along through the deductive style.

Kennedy instructs his students to take the New Testament in the overall situation of being given in an oral culture (37-38). He further suggests that a “line by line analysis” is required to “reveal how the raw material has been worked out or rhetorically amplified both in content and in style.” Previously, he concludes, “The ultimate goal of rhetorical analysis, briefly put, is the discovery of the author’s intent and of how that is transmitted through a text to an audience (12).” In examining Romans under the lens of rhetorical criticism, one must be careful not to supplement one theologian or the next for Paul’s intent. Further, one must look for examples of dialogue within the text, as well as to take Romans as a work in of itself so that a one is not looking for a comprehensive doctrine by placing side by side various passages in various epistles, but the examiner must take the pericopes, these episodic thoughts in the epistle, as a self-contained rhetoric unit and build Paul’s intent with them, and then the whole of the epistle.



[1] 2 Co 13.1

[2] Kennedy notes on p33 that Mark 5:20 serves as an ending of a rhetorical unit because it sums up what went on before and what is happening now.

[3] Kennedy notes that the introduction to the Epistle includes several topics which are later developed throughout the Epistle.

[4] If it is a protreptic letter, Paul would have had to use the letter as an introduction to himself, meaning that the entire letter should be looked at as ethos.

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What is and isn’t the Word of God – I guess I’m Barthian

“The statement that the Bible is the Word of God cannot therefore say that the Word of God is tied to the Bible. On the contrary, what it must say is that the Bible is tied to the Word of God.” (ht)

I am thoroughly Barthian in my view of Scripture, I’ve been told. To me, Scripture contains the word of God, but is not the word of God. The Word of God alone is Christ. Christ alone is the fullness of the revelation of God.

The word of God is preaching and the prophetic messages, even of modern day prophets,

“Real proclamation, then, means the Word of God preached and the Word of God preached means… man’s talk about God on the basis of God’s own direction, which fundamentally transcends all human causation, which cannot, then, be put on a human basis, but which simply takes place, and has to be acknowledged, as a fact” (CD I/1, 90).

Dorothy Day. Martin Luther King, Jr. John Calvin, and others.

To say then, that Scripture is the Word of God, something it never actually says about itself, or perhaps, the authors ever contemplated when they were recording the collective memory of those who came before, is misleading and indeed, disallowing the real word of God. Scripture contains the word of God, but unless acted upon, are mere words. When it is proclaimed, that proclamation becomes the word of God.

This power in the proclamation is what has, I guess, attracted me to rhetorical criticism of Scripture. George Kennedy summarizes Ernesto Grassi in relating the power of the preaching, the kerygma, and of course, why Scripture is Scripture. He believes that the rhetoric of sacred language embodies five characteristics:

  1. It has a purely revealing or evangelical character, not a demonstrative or proving function; it does not arise out of a process of inference, but authoritatively proclaims the truth.
  2. Its statements are immediate, formulated without mediation or contemplation
  3. They are imagistic and metaphorical, lending the reality of sensory appearances a new meaning.
  4. Its assertions are absolute and urgent; whatever does not fit with them is treated outrageous
  5. Its pronouncements are outside of time.

 

I like them all, but the first one has an important and immediate meaning. When we attempt to logically declare Scripture anything more than it declares itself, we are removing the sacred language of it, and inferring upon it the need for it to be something more than that which it claims. It never once claims to the pure, without error, infallible word of God, but many have a need and will go through great lengths to infer that because of a, b, and c, then d equals that it is the word of God. It doesn’t. No logical or post-scriptural formulation infers upon it anything which is actually needed. To call it, then, the Word of God, is to remove from it the actual authority which they who insist upon calling it, and then appending to such a title adjectives as infallible and inerrant, insist it has. Scripture doesn’t need our help. Proclaim the grand narrative of Scripture, denying nothing in it, even the contradictions, but instead, relying that when the Spirit moves, the effective proclamation of Scripture becomes the word of God.

Scripture is holy and the Word of God,” he indicated, “because by the Holy Spirit it became and will become to the Church a witness to divine revelation.”

Quick Thoughts on Philemon

I wrote this real quick sorta on the plane yesterday and sorta not…. so… sorry….

That the open theme in Philemon is connected to slavery is nothing new and has been seen in a variety of ways including Paul’s near condemnation of the practice by various interpreters; however, I have come to compare it with Dio Chrysostom’s letter to the Prusites, his letter of friendship as it were, and find that Paul may be saying more than what some have given him credit for or have denied to him.

In the recent Two Horizon’s commentary, Marianne Meye Thompson compares Paul’s letter to Philemon to Pliny’s letter to his friend Sabinianus which oddly enough involved much to the same situation in that a runaway slave had come to Pliny only to be sent back to the former master with a letter in hand[1]. Pliny, like Paul in 1.8-9, even suggests that he would only request, rather than command, that the slave be forgiven. Paul remained cordial and polite, perhaps trying to invest into the letter a sense of the client-patron system. We may see some of this in Paul’s drawing near to Philemon as a friend and reminding him that Philemon owes to Paul his own self[2]. While we do not see the same overt plea to friendship in Paul’s letter as we do in Dio Chrysostom’s plea to his home city not to engage in an independence movement, I believe that Paul’s push to rely on Philemon’s friendship is clear. It is this friendship then, whether couched in the familiar patron-client relationship or Dio Chrysostom’s friendship epistles that suggests that while Paul does not explicitly ask for Onesimus’ release, he never the less would want nothing less than freedom for the escaped slave.

Thompson writes,

“Whatever, then, it means to be united in Christ, it apparently does not change the basic social situation of master and slave (198)…. He does not, therefore, send Onesimus, the slave back to Philemon, the master; he sends one bother in Christ to another so that they can acknowledge each other as such (199).

It would be my contention that Thompson is wrong. It may be rather forcefully argued that Paul’s letter to the Philippians is similar in vein to Dio Chrysostom and that Paul himself was known to employ other forms of rhetoric as well (I would compare Paul’s letter to the Romans with Seneca’s Epistle 90, for starters); therefore, it would not be inconceivable that such a straightforward reading as Thompson is giving the Paul’s letter to Philemon would miss the finer details, the suggestion that Philemon free his slave as Paul through Christ freed Philemon. Further, I would argue that given the patrion-client relationship and the common theme as expressed in the letter of reciprocity (for example, 1.17-20; see MP 392), that Philemon would have had no choice not just to forgive Onesimus but to free him. Onesimus would serve as a token of obligation and perhaps even as a way for Philemon to publicly praise Paul.

Given the climate against the Christians, it would not behoove Paul to publically call for the overturning of such an ancient and recognized order such as Roman slavery. Yet, using the systems of classical rhetoric, and mimicking well known rhetoricians, Paul was calling for that exact thing, albeit in a way untraceable. Like Dio Chrysostom who didn’t urge for complete surrender of hope of self-rule but sought to show examples of how a city through morality may gain it, Paul simply suggested that Philemon remember what he owed Paul. What did he owe Paul but a debt which entailed preaching the good news?

In our modern setting, we are given the freedom of speech to shout what we want to. We like to pretend that the Church uses this to proclaim the prophetic voice, tying somehow freedom with the absolute fact of having to do something. In other words, many Christians would have the Church speak out on every moral vice or injustice simply because it can. Paul, like Pliny after him, was in a position to demand whatever he wanted, but that may have cost the Church the house of Philemon and a good friend. It wasn’t that Paul was sacrificing Onesimus on the altar of friendship, but using the escaped slave to test it and to lead others to the cause of Christ. We know by Church Tradition that Onesimus would later become an important bishop. Paul’s faith in Philemon and his own self-indulgent silence on calling for abolition and manumission vouchsafed the work of the Spirit to move, albeit slowly, in Onesimus’ life. Had Paul called for the outright end of slavery it would have brought down the might of Rome, more than it already had; or perhaps, just Onesimus’s manumission would have led to charges against Paul from others who already lying in wait for his errors. The Church, then, should follow Paul’s example and know when to speak or when to simply suggest, hoping that the tokens of friendship would be returned.



[1] Thompson, Marianne M. Colossians and Philemon (Two Horizons Commentary New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans , 2005. P196

[2] See 1.19, as well as v17. Compare with MP, 382, in which I would place Philemon as the client and Paul as the patron. Further. Paul now takes Onesimus as a kinsman further completely the picture of such a relationship. I would also suggest that Onesimus may sever as a toke of obligation between Paul and Philemon. See MP, 383).

Stowers, Protreptic Rhetoric and Romans

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is a much heralded work to which has been contributed the greatest theological revolutions, from Augustine to Luther to Calvin, so when Stowers comments that early scholars found hesitation in assigning genre to the New Testament because some feared that is would be “as aspersion against the Holy Spirit” (17) I can understand any trepidation in examining Romans as anything less than theological. Yet, the purpose of Paul’s letter should be in the foreground before theological discussions can commence. Before understanding the purpose, however, one must be able to understand that, as Stowers says, constructing the occasion of the letter based only on the letter itself leads to circular logic. He suggests that a comparative study be made between the letters in the New Testament and those of the culture which surrounded the authors (25). To this, I would agree, noting to do otherwise is to create a patina of interpretive layers which may never lead to the actual purpose of the letter and in many ways cover the real theological treatise which is Romans. It is this purpose which is important, and I would contend, is sometimes separate, but always informed by, of the author’s theology.

Before I move into the assessment of Romans as protrepic rhetoric, I want to note two things mentioned by Stowers which I have found to be something to further use in understanding Romans. First, Stowers notes that Paul’s use of paraenesis has been misunderstood. This concept of paraenesis, in which an author in writing his or her letter would tie together various subsections in support over the overall purpose is one which I believe can be found in Romans. After all, what is recognizable is Romans 9-11 in which Paul makes the case of the continued election of the Jews. I would contend as well, alongside of Stowers comments that both “supporting argumentation” and “use of examples” fit within the definition of paraenesis, that Romans 5-8 is a paraenetic section in which Paul presents and argument for justification and follows it through using the ritual of baptism as the symbol of it, while explaining what actually happens in baptism in chapters 7 and 8. (23)

Second is the mention of conversion literature (37). Stowers previously mentioned that letter writing remained on the fringes of the use of rhetoric; however, letters picked up rhetoric naturally as rhetoricians who wrote letters included their training and style in them. When Seneca the Younger began to write his letters to Lucilius, he incorporated his rhetoric into them so that they became written rhetoric to be published, reaching a wide audience. No doubt, the written rhetoric served the pursuit of philosophy well, as we see in Epistle 90 from Seneca. Stowers notes that the pursuit of philosophy created schools around leaders (36-37).  Conversion to philosophy came through persuasion and, as Stowers notes, could range from “a quiet commitment or a dramatic transformation” which was not considered to be enough. Thus, conversion literature was developed which helped to inform and guide the catechumen into a better understanding of philosophy.  These letters served as examples of life which promoted the readers in their journey. Further, Stowers notes that these letters were to help the converted share in the conversion and “friendship of his guide.”

In discussing the types of letters, Stowers explicitly states that “Paul’s letter to the Romans is a protreptic letter.” These letters of recruitment served to exhort students to convert to particular schools (113). Further, Stowers notes that these letters were dominated, regardless of the school, with philosophy. They were, in my estimation, letters which exhorted philosophy overall, but served the particular school in calling attention to what they had to offer while answering any contentions about their own philosophical outlook. Stowers makes the rather obvious connection that these letters would serve the Christian community given the “missionary impulse.” He notes, without calling it as such (at least in this book), Paul’s use of prosopopeia in Romans, although I would contend that instead of limiting the use of this technique to Romans 3-11, Paul begins this form of rhetoric in chapter 1. In this, Paul is using Romans to present himself as a “Master Teacher” to a group of like-minded believers who have never met him before. Further, Stowers notes that Paul is trying to correct some of the “pretentiousness” and other attitudes which prevent both Jews and Gentiles from accepting his gospel.

I am convinced by his argument due to my understanding of Paul’s cognitive environment and further, due to Paul’s connection to Seneca[1]. If it can be an assumed supposition that Paul’s preaching of Christ can be contrived in such a way as to mimic the pursuit of philosophy, as was often seen by later Christian philosophers such as Justin, Augustine, and Aquinas, then we might understand Paul’s letter to the Romans, arguably the most intense of his letters, to be a protreptic letter which perhaps sought to do more than to, as Stowers suggested, establish Paul as a “Master Teacher” but to make the Roman congregation one of Paul’s own. We know from Paul’s other letters that he had rivalries within the Christian community. In Galatians, he is writing, much in the way in which Stowers describes some of the Cynic school, to brutally squash his “Judaizing” rivals in that city, although that city was one of his congregations which he felt obliged too. We see some of this in the Corinthian letters as well. According to most commentators, Paul was intending to go to Spain after his trip to Rome; it would then behoove Paul to have a strong European base which was attached to him and his Gospel for support of the mission. While I would agree with Stowers that Romans is a protreptic letter, I would further narrow it down to suggest that Paul was engaging in recruitment, and not just laying the groundwork for his visit.

As noted earlier, I would agree that Paul was using prosopopeia in his Epistle to the Romans. While this paper is not the space to argue or to define the full details of his usage, I would suggest that it doesn’t merely begin in Romans 3, but begins in Romans 1.17 in which Paul begins his dialogue in earnest in which, surprising to those who would use such verses wrongly, begins by condemning the Jewish believe that Gentiles were idol worshipers and worse and because of this, could not be saved. Further, I may extend it even further, and instead allowing Paul just one dialogue partner which was Jewish, having him engage with a Gentile partner. Stowers notes that even protreptic letters had hortatory features, which allows that the prologue in Romans, in which great praise is given to the Roman congregation as a whole, as well as the closing chapters, regardless of critical arrangement, to become a letter with the hortatory introductions and conclusions giving added urging to the congregation to consider what Paul will say and the great care he will extend to them.

Further, I would assign, as stated above, Paul’s continued development of justification to rhetorical paraenesis in which he uses examples and examples to develop the ritual of baptism as a sign of justification. Of course, I admit that as with most things, the subject of baptism in Pauline thought, can rarely be separate from the various theologies often applied to it. As conceded before, when rediscovering Romans through the lens of rhetorical criticism, it will be difficult to separate what we believe to be Pauline purpose from our reception of the letter through theological interpretation.  For example, in the Reformed Tradition, there is a great deal made of a forensic view of justification in Romans as well as a lesser meaning assigned to baptism. Any challenge to this is often met with violent reactions that somehow Scripture has lost its authority. Yet, if it is shown that Paul was writing not so much with a theological purpose to accurately state justification by faith alone, but to present a protreptic piece, I would be concerned with the ability of some to separate a background theology brought forward by later interpretations rather than focusing on the overall purpose of the letter. With that said, Paul’s protreptic purpose would have no doubt included his theological agenda, as he would have felt, if indeed this was a protreptic letter, that the Romans would somehow benefit more from his teaching than what they were currently receiving (See Romans 1.11-12, in which Paul first wants to strength them, but as a second thought, would rather be mutually encouraging).

With that said, however, I believe that Paul was using rhetoric, and from a cursory reading of Romans, as well as in my studies thus far in this semester, I can only believe that Paul’s letters have endured where others failed because he was successful in his rhetoric[2]. In Romans, we find a protreptic piece in an ideal situation. Paul, who had never been to Rome, was going there before he went to Spain. It was the perfect occasion to send such a rhetorical letter in hopes of securing a base of support for his mission work. Further, as scholars note, Paul uses paraenesis and prosopopeia in Romans to a recognizable degree. What remains is to separate, naturally, our theological understanding and other patina of Christian tradition, including even chapter and verse, from Romans to allow Paul’s original theology which would have been second to his purpose to come forward.



[1] In my previous work, I failed to note that Paul had actually met Seneca’s brother Gallio (Acts 18.12-17)

[2] I do not mean to discount any understandings of inspiration which may be tied to reception and canonization.

More thoughts on Seneca and Paul

Narrowing it down to Romans only, the idea that the Law is human weakness can be compared to the Seneca’s notion that after the golden age, laws were needed to curtail abuses by tyrants. Further, Seneca notes his disagree with Posidonius in what constitutes works of wisdom. The latter believed that house was a work of wisdom while Seneca countered that these houses led to the human swarms found in the cities. Seneca notes other items Posidonius calls wise are nothing more than the works of the flesh as they have not, in fact brought about human advancement, but destruction. Paul separates the knowledge of the law which brings sin (Rom 3.20) which is comparable to Seneca. Human advancement, the Law or works of the flesh, brings apparent success but it will lead to destruction

One thing which I didn’t cover in my previous paper was Seneca’s vision of Wisdom which appealed to all humanity, summoning everyone to concord. Her voice was peace. Further, she reveals her nature. Also, she delivers immortality. But, beyond all of this, Wisdom doesn’t unlock a “village shrine” which is particular to some tribe, but she unlocks “the vast temple of the all the gods – the universe itself, whose true apparitions and true aspects she offers to the gaze of our minds.” In this, we can compare Seneca’s vision of a higher gift not just the Romans which redeems the cosmos to the gods to Paul’s vision of the cosmic Christ. Christ brings peace between God and humanity (Romans 5.1) and allows humanity access directly to God (Romans 5.2). Further, there is the universalism in Paul in which it is not just the Jews who have access to God through Christ but all of us who were enemies to God (Romans 5.10-21). This is a notion which Seneca dealt with from the beginning – a notion of universalism in which the good life is not closed to everyone except a select view, but it was open to all who would pursue it. Paul and Christianity were discovering this type of universalism, and it a universalism we see in Romans.

In comparing Seneca and Paul’s work in Romans, I come to the conclusion that both men saw in their respective philosophy – and make no mistake, the Apostle Paul was a philosopher – a new hope for all of humanity. In Wisdom’s gift of Philosophy, Seneca sees a return to a better time in which humanity advanced not in materialistic gain or ‘ease of life’, but to a time in which less is more and the pursuit of happiness was of the utmost goal. For Paul, we see in Romans the argument that Christ is the penultimate point in God’s plan, and that the new relationship inaugurated by Christ was a return to a golden age in which faith was the method in God accepted to bestow righteousness. While I enjoy the New Perspective on Paul, much more than the Reformation view on Paul’s use of the works of the Law, by reading Seneca, there seems to me more than either an ethnocentric view of the Law or a view that the works were essentially human merit, but that Paul may be using the works of the Law in such a way as stand in opposite to the life in Christ to show that the Law is something that slows the advancement of humanity down. It is a materialistic enterprise which, while meant to remove sin, grew to the point where it simply actually created sin. Paul shows, then, next to Seneca, that his wise preaching is what will draw humanity to God because it is a return to the golden age (of Abraham).