Friday, January 06, 2017

Rhetoric and the New Testament/Christian-Greek Scriptures

Classical rhetoric acquired a bad name largely because of the Sophists, who also gave argumentation a bad reputation too. However, it seems hard to deny that the Bible, particularly the GNT, contains rhetorical devices. Granted, later church writers were trained rhetoricians and even they had some conflict with the profession (e.g., Tertullian, Tatian, Arnobius, Lactantius, Augustine). Nevertheless, one gainsays the presence of rhetorical devices in scripture at his/her own peril.

Craig R. Koester points to one literary device at Heb. 9:5. Remarking upon the Greek construction, PERI hWN OUK ESTIN NUN LEGEIN KATA MEROS, he writes:

"The author concludes his description of the furnishings [of the Tabernacle] by commenting that he cannot deal with these things in detail (cf. 11:32). Rhetorically, passing by something without detailed comment was called PARALEIPSIS (Rhet. ad Her. 4.27 Sec. 37' Lausberg, Handbook SS 882-886)." By identifying some aspects of a large topic while refusing to make detailed comment, the speaker alludes to his familiarity with the subject matter, while relativizing its importance. Here, Hebrews makes clear that what is most important is not the sanctuary, but the ministry that takes place within it" (Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 2001), p. 404.

George Guthrie likewise supplies these details:

"Most importantly, he [Leon Vaganay] advanced discussion on the structure of Hebrews with his identification of mot-crochets, 'hook words,' in the book. Hook words were a rhetorical device used in the ancient world to tie two sections of material together. A word was positioned at the end of one section and at the beginning of the next to effect a transition between the two" (The Structure of Hebrews, page 12).

One example of a writer employing hook words is Heb. 1:4-5 (which evidently represents the start of a new section), where we find the author using TWN AGGELWN in both verses. TWN AGGELWN thus joins together Heb. 1:1-4 with the following section of Hebrews which begins with Heb 1:5.

According to Richard Lanham, an expert in literary devices, the word "hyperbole" denotes: "Exaggerated or extravagant terms used for emphasis and not intended to be understood literally; self-conscious exaggeration."

Heinrich Lausberg writes: "Hyperbole is an extreme, literally implausible onomastic surpassing of the verbum proprium." Furthermore, "hyperbole is a metaphor with vertical gradations" that stimulates the imagination (Handbook of Literary Rhetoric, section 579).

The September 1, 2002 WT notes that hyperbole is an intentional exaggeration that someone utters for the purpose of emphasis or to make a point. We see vivid examples of hyperbole in the Gospels and Pauline Epistles.


Sean Killackey said...

You mean that Paul wasn't being serious when he said that the Galatians would have gouged their eyes out to give them to him? (Galatians 4:15) That he was merely saying this to say how much they loved him, alot? While I knew Jesus command to 'cut off your hand and remove your right eye' was figurative, I always thought that Paul meant that the Galatians were so devoted that they didn't want to even have sight anymore, lest they walk by it and not faith, which would grieve Paul. Now I regret following (what I thought was) their example! At least I decided to wait a while before I took out my other eye.

Another funny thing that Paul says in Galatians, "I wish the men who are trying to unsettle you would emasculate themselves." (5:12)

Edgar Foster said...

Yeah, Sean, an interesting passage there in Gal. 5:12. Some commentators reference Deut. 23:1; Philippians 3:2; Paul's intent seems clear and rhetorical. Those promoting circumcision should go all the way and mutilate/castrate themselves.

You made some good points about Pauline rhetoric.