Thursday, January 05, 2012


Hi everyone,

The long sentences that sometime appear in the Apostle Paul's letters is one reason that I am led to believe that he intentionally employs rhetorical devices in his theopneustic missives. For instance, long "sentences" in Greek are called PERIODOI. Rhetoricians and orators use them liberally in Classical treatises. Aristotle also provides explicit details on PERIODOI in his famed work, _Rhetoric_.

Richard A. Lanham (_A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms_, pages 112-113) discusses Classical and Renaissance views on periodic sentences. He notes that there are two kinds of periodic sentences (per Quintilian), namely, structured and unstructured types. We usually find PERIODOI that are more loosely structured in dialogues and letters. This could well explain why Paul's epistles often contain protracted SENTENTIAE.

According to Aristotle, PERIODOI must contain whole thoughts and avoid being too short or too long. The usual parts of a PERIOD are called COLA. That is because the colon is the basic constituent of a PERIOD. Lanham has much to say about the PERIOD that is of interest. I particularly like Cicero's remark that a PERIOD must not be longer than "four iambic trimeters." I'm sure that you poetry buffs will immediately apprehend the gist of Tully's thought.

Finally, the reason for a PERIOD is to suspend syntax. In other words, a reader doesn't know the writer's complete thought until he/she arrives at the end of the PERIOD.


Mariam said...

Very interesting..makes lots of sense..: )I enjoyed the commentary..thank you

Anonymous said...

Brother Foster:

An interesting subject. Any pointers towards something written more for, shall we say, the "average intelligent reader" on this topic. Possibly a book that explains why Paul used such rhetorical devices, referring to specific example in his letters.

Edgar Foster said...

Mariam: thank you. Glad you liked it and that the commentary made sense. :)

2aeed (etc): a number of books have been published on this subject. One rather accessible book is by Ben Witherington III. See his text New Testament Rhetoric. You can find it on amazon. Stanley Porter has also edited a text on rhetoric in the New Testament, but it's quite advanced. See

Edgar Foster said...

Moreover, I want to expand my paper on periodoi, if time and circumstances permit. For starters, you might also look at Ephesians 1:1-14 in Greek.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I'll check those out.

Anonymous said...

Just looked at the Kingdom Interlinear for Eph 1:1 - 14. I never realized that vss 2 - 14 are one continuous unit, and that there are small dots at the upper right corner of the words in greek that have a semi-colon after it in English. It seems that the NWT breaks this up for greater ease of reading. It has always seemed to me that the NWT makes much more extensive use of punctuation than most bible translations. I wonder if this has to do with the translators awareness of these elements in the greek text. I'm no greek scholar so i wouldn't know. This blog page's software doesn't allow you to log in via Facebook, which is my preferred choice of social networking program, so I can't seem to avoid that weird string of characters that are used to identify me. I'm brother Robert Paglia, from Nutley, NJ.

Edgar Foster said...

Greetings Brother Paglia,

I believe that you're right about the NWT breaking up the long Greek unit, which is to be expected, since adhering to a very literal rendering of the Greek structure may result in a translation that's not all that readable. For example, English sounds better when the grammatical subject appears first or earlier in a sentence. But Greek operates according to different rules. I believe that the NW translators show great awareness of these elements in Greek.