Kennedy, Rhetoric and Romans

English: By Rembrandt.
Image via Wikipedia

One of the striking images which Kennedy paints is by the brush of ]], 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. 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).

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. 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. 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.



2 Co 13.1

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.

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

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.