Rhetoric of the New Testament

Duane F. Watson

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:
Rhetoric of the New Testament


Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. In the Western world, its practice is rooted in Greece and Rome where the ability to speak well was essential to political life and perpetuating the power of the upper class. Rhetoric provided the content of secondary and tertiary education as it prepared the sons of the wealthy to take their places in the judicial and political system. Rhetoric was carefully systematized and influenced both oral and written speech. Its use is evident in the New Testament at every turn, including the Gospel writers’ development of Jesus’ sayings into more elaborate pronouncement stories, Luke’s composition of the speeches in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s sophisticated use of argumentation in 2 Corinthians 10–13, and John’s multivalent and emotive use of imagery in Revelation. Rightly, rhetoric has been used intermittently throughout church history to interpret the New Testament. Its use is conspicuous in the writings of the early church fathers up to and including Augustine, only to be mentioned sporadically by a handful of scholars during the medieval period. Its use is revived in the Reformation, especially by Melancthon, and continued to be a vital part of interpretation until the end of the 19th century with a crescendo of works produced in Germany. It plays only a nominal role throughout most of the 20th century, until the mid-1970s when works by Hans Dieter Betz and George A. Kennedy, among others, revived the role of rhetoric in interpretation. In fact, rhetoric is currently one of the more prominent tools used in New Testament interpretation, both as a historical enterprise using Greco-Roman rhetoric and in broader studies using the New Rhetoric that seek to understand the functions of rhetoric using modern rhetoric.

Article.  8542 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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