New Testament Introduction - Lesson 15

Paul’s Letters and Rhetoric (Part 2/2)

In the Old Testament, “hesed” refers to the love God promised to give to the people to whom he betrothed himself (i.e., Jews). The paradigm of “agape” is God in Christ. On the cross, Christ gave with no thought of return. Paul’s letters were meant to be read in a public discourse setting as an act of worship. An effective rhetorical presentation appeals to both the mind and the emotions of people.

Ben Witherington
New Testament Introduction
Lesson 15
Watching Now
Paul’s Letters and Rhetoric (Part 2/2)

Paul’s Letters and Rhetoric (part 2)

I. Greek words for love

A. Relationship between the Hebrew "hesed" and the Greek "agape”

B. Definition of "agape"

II. Form of Paul's letters

A. Opening statements

B. Discourses meant to be read outloud

C. Worship elements

III. Some NT letters are not really in the letter genre

IV. Paul's letters are discourses with epistolary framework

A. Rhetorical structures in Paul's letters

B. ethos, logos, pathos

C. Preaching suggestions

  • When reading the Bible, there is a danger of reading our own ideas into the text and assuming they are there. A text without a context is a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.

  • Dr. Witherington continues the discussion on the importance of using context in interpretation and walks through the different types of context.

  • Matthew, Mark and John are like ancient biographies. Luke-Acts is more like an ancient historical monograph.

  • The terms “Son of Man” and  “kingdom of God” appear often in Matthew and Mark. The kingdom of God is the divine saving activity of God breaking into human history.

  • Luke uses Mark as a primary source. He organizes his material geographically “to” Jerusalem, while Acts is organized “from” Jerusalem.  Luke emphasizes apologetics to make his case that Christianity should be considered a legal religion in the Roman Empire. The divinity of Jesus is more vividly portrayed in the gospel of John than in the synoptics.

  • There was great animosity between the Jews and Samaritans that went back hundreds of years.  In telling the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus was not only challenging stereotypes but shaming a man who thought he was a righteous Jew. It’s unacceptable to use your orthodoxy as a tool to justify your prejudices against other kinds of people.

  • Jesus teaches that there is not always a direct correlation between sickness and sin. The religious officials often thought that Jesus did not measure up to what they thought a prophet should be. All of Jesus’ miracles are acts of compassion, not primarily to prove that he is the messiah.

  • Salvation according to the gnostics is a self-help program for those with inside knowledge. The gnostic gospels were never on any of the canon lists of the early church. The church recognized the canon, they didn’t form the canon. God has revealed enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we don’t have to live by faith each day.

  • Apocalyptic literature arises when justice is deferred. It develops the ideas of the “other world” and the “afterlife.” God is being worshipped for what he is about to do to transform the world into his kingdom. Dispensational theology supports the teaching of a rapture.

  • A genuine prophecy was intended to be understood and it was spoken in known languages. Apocalyptic literature was often written during periods of exile.  Worship is not about giving people what they want, it’s about giving God what he desires and requires. True worship requires that we are in the Spirit and give our whole selves to God.

  • In times of exile, people didn’t see God carrying out justice in their lifetime so they thought it must happen later by God raising them from the dead. Your behavior in this life affects the eternal outcome. When we die, our spirit goes to be with God, our body decays and eventually God gives us a heavenly body that will be everlasting like our spirit.

  • Parable comes from a word meaning figurative or metaphorical speech of any kind. They are analogies and part of wisdom literature. Jesus purposefully spoke in public in figurative ways to challenge people to think about the ideas he was presenting. He gives us insights into God’s character and the relationship between him and God the Father.

  • Parables are intended to tease your mind into active thought about God. You can tell the character of a person by what they do when they think nobody is watching. The parables have both justice and mercy, righteousness and compassion.

  • The first missionary journey started in Antioch. Paul, Barnabas and John Mark worked together. Paul shames his detractors by boasting about things that most people thought were shameful. Paul’s letters were written as conversations in context, not as theological tracts.

  • In the Old Testament, “hesed” refers to the love God promised to give to the people to whom he betrothed himself (i.e., Jews). The paradigm of “agape” is God in Christ. On the cross, Christ gave with no thought of return. Paul’s letters were meant to be read in a public discourse setting as an act of worship. An effective rhetorical presentation appeals to both the mind and the emotions of people.

  • Understanding the structure of rhetoric can help you understand scripture better and preach more effectively.

  • When Jesus came to earth, he accepted a slave’s position and willingly suffered a slave’s death. Jesus “emptied himself” by giving up his divine prerogatives. Jesus assumes the role of “Lord” (God) at resurrection and thereafter. Christ doesn’t reflect God’s glory, he radiates it.

This course is will help you begin to weave yourself through the maze of NT studies. During the course we will be exploring several major subject areas: 1) the history of the period in which the NT was written; 2) the social and cultural milieu in which early Christians lived; 3) the practice of the scholarly study of the NT (source, form, redaction, genre, rhetorical criticism et al.); 4) questions of introduction about the books of the NT (authorship, date, audience, structure, purpose); 5) the practice of exegesis and hermeneutics.

The problem with English is that there’s only one word for love. It’s love. In Greek, there are at least five or six words for love. So, here’s your review, since these words all show up in Paul. Philos. Philia.

By the way, the name of that City, Philadephia, it means sisterly love. It does not mean brotherly love. In order for the city to be named brotherly love, it would be Philadelphos, not Philadelphia, which is a female ending.

Philos, philia is brotherly or sisterly love. It’s the love between siblings. It’s used in an extended form in Paul to refer to the love between fellow Christians who are brothers and sisters in Christ.

A second word for love is storge. This is the normal word for family or kinship love…The love that exists between parents and children, and children and children, and first cousins and first cousins, and your kinship group. Storge, the family love.

Now, this one, you’ll know. Eros from which we get the word erotic, of course, is physical love. One of the problems we have with the word erotic is we always associate it with lust but eros simply means the physical expression of love. It may mean intercourse but, but it, it’s tactile love.

It doesn’t necessarily have what my granny would’ve called a dirty connotation. I mean, eros is what a husband and wife share in the Greek literature, so not necessarily lust. You wouldn’t necessarily translate this lust. And then, of course, there’s this word, which I’ll give to you in the Greek. Agape.

What seems like ages ago, I talked to you about the different between philos and agape in John 21 when Jesus has his dialogue with Peter. Remember? So, we, we won’t go over that again but what I can say is that this word does not show up much, at all, in Greek literature. It’s very rare.

It’s kind of like the discussion we had about the father language. What was rare, previously, shows up all over the place in the New Testament. Agape becomes the dominant word for love in the New Testament.

The paradigm, of course, is God’s love, an unconditional love. So let’s take this a step further, because sometimes and in some context, people will say to you, ‘This is the Greek representation of covenant love.’ That is a love that God promised to give to those he was in covenant with.

I don’t think that’s actually what agape is, because, for example, in John 3:16, we hear that God so loved the world. That’s not covenant love. He didn’t promise to love the whole world. He promised to love his people. So, you see, I don’t think you can say that agape, in the New Testament, is kind of limited to the love of the elect.

There are actually reformed scholars who argue this. I don’t think it’s right and I think it’s a misreading of Paul, especially. I think it’s unfair to Paul. Paul’s an evangelist. He’s out there spreading the love of God to the world, you know. It’s not just about the love of the elect or the love of those who already love you.

And that, in turn, leads to a further reflection, which is…The question is, what is the relationship between this Hebrew word hesed and agape? This is a Hebrew word that, uh, you need a glottal stop for. It’s “Hes’ed.” It’s like you’re hacking up a cold, you know. Hesed is the word. This is the word in the King James that is translated loving-kindness over and over again in the Old Testament, loving-kindness.

For what pleases God is if, is that you do justice and loving-kindness and walk humbly with your God. It’s hesed. This word, in some context in the Old Testament, does seem to mean covenant love. It does seem to mean God’s special love for his chosen people and vice versa. Normally, from the divine side down.

Very rarely is hesed said to be a normal attribute of Israel. They’re supposed to but it’s not a descriptor of Israel very often. Amos says they should manifest justice and should manifest loving-kindness but this is an exhortation, not a description. You see the difference?

But it is true that there are places where hesed, in the Old Testament, refers to God’s love that he, when he betrothed himself to a people, this is the love he promised to give. Now having said that, in the Greek Old Testament, the LXX, once in a while but not consistently, hesed is translated agape and this is where I think some reform scholars have gotten the idea, that agape must be a reference to covenant love.

I don’t think it is, in the New Testament. At least, I don’t think it, exclusively, refers to that. So, there’s your love languages. If you’ve never read C. S. Lewis’ nice little book, The Four Languages of Love, you should read it. It’s about these words and it’s a great little word study.

He makes a point that needs to be made. Friends, you need to be able to distinguish the difference between warm fuzzy feelings and love. Now, an awful lot of young people say, ‘we’re in love’ but what’s the real case is that they’re just in heat. It’s the hormones working overtime. It’s not the same thing.

So if we ask the question, what is this agape with, that Paul talks about at length in 1 Corinthians 13? What is this self- sacrificial agape that gives with no thought of return? That gives unconditionally? What should we make of this love?

There are a few things that we ought to say that Paul would say to us. If we did a word study of the word love in Paul, he would the following things. First of all, he would say that, obviously, the paradigm of this love is God in Christ and it’s manifested especially on the cross.

So the essence of this love is self-sacrificial love. It’s not narcissist. It’s not self-indulgent love. It’s a love given with no thought of return. It’s a non-reciprocity love. You’re gonna give it whether anybody returns it or not. It’s a non-reciprocity love. That, in itself, will preach for a long time.

Wanna hear about a non-reciprocity love? Let’s listen for a minute to Hosea 11. “When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt, I called my son but the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed the Baals. They burned incense to the images.”

“But it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms. But they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness and with ties of love. To them, I was like one who lifts a little child up to the cheek and I bent down to feed them.”

“Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them, because they refuse to respond in kind. They refuse to repent. Swords will flash and their cities, will destroy the bars of their gates, put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn on me.”

This is the opposite of reciprocating in kind. “Even though they call me God Most High, I will, by no means, exault them. But then, I said, how can I give you up, oh Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like the Zeboyim?”

“My heart turns within me and all my compassion is rou-, aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again, for I am God and not a human being. The Holy One amongst you and I will not come against their cities.”

“They will follow the Lord. He will roar like Aslan and when he roars, his children will come trembling from the west, come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Asyria and I will settle them in their homes once more says the Lord.”

Now that’s love. That’s the character of God. It’s a chapter like that from the prophets from which the New Testaments writers like Paul and the beloved disciple get their paradigm and image of what is the character of God like when we say God so loved the world.

This passage is…It’s true about God’s love of his own people. But it tells you something about the character of God, in general. It’s a love that doesn’t give up. It’s a love that doesn’t give out. It’s a love that doesn’t stop trying. It’s a love that does not turn its back on others even when they have turned their back on you. It is agape. It is agape.

For a long time, I pondered why it was in 1 Corinthians 13 that Paul said, “faith, hope, love, but the greaterest of these is agape.” I thought, ‘what could be better than faith?’ It’s faith through which I was saved. Why is the love the greatest of these three? And then it dawned on me that he, he’s speaking in 1 Corinthians 13, eschatologically.

You see, there’s going to be a day, as he says, when we see si-, face to face. There’s going to be a day when faith becomes sight. There’s going to be a day when hope is realized. But the one quality that you can practice now that endures unto eternity and will be part of your kingdom relationship with God and his people is love.

You are the forever family of God in Christ. We need to get on with loving each other now, because we’re gonna have to do it for an eternity. Faith becomes sight. Hope will be realized. But love endures forever. It’s the one quality of the Christian life that simply is enhanced rather than transmuted into something else when we reach the kingdom. That’s why love is the greatest.

Paul wrote letters. And his letters have a pretty regular characteristic form. If you analyze them as letters, here’s the form. There’s a prescript that involves the opening, the sender, the addressee, greetings, thanksgiving, blessing prayer.

Then there’s the body of the letter, which has an introductory formula. There’s some substance. Usually, there’s an eschatological conclusion. And maybe a travel log, ‘I’m hoping to come see you,’ etc., etc.

And then there’s paraenesis. Paraenesis is the ethical or practical remarks. They tend to come later in the discourse. A good example of this would be Ephesians. Ephesians 1-3, theology. Ephesians 4-6, ethics. Now, it’s not always that clear-cut. A lot of times, he toggles back and forth, but that’s what paraenesis is, is ethical exhortations.

And then you have the closing part of the document, closing greetings or instructions, mentions of a writing process and then maybe a benediction. So you can certainly analyze Paul’s documents as letters but if you have, but at least begun to read New Testament rhetoric, you know that I don’t think that’s the main way you should analyze them.

That would be like analyzing the bones of a corpse and ignoring the rest of the body when you’re trying to do a toxology report. You’re gonna learn a whole lot more from the substance of the corpse than just the skeleton of the corpse. There are typical opening statements that Paul makes that indicates he’s transitioned from the preliminary bits to the bits that he really needs to emphasize.

So sometimes you’ll have an opening that involves an appeal or a request. ‘I appeal to you for something.’ 1 Corinthians 1:10 would be an example of this. Or you have a disclosure statement. ‘For I want you to know.’ Romans 1:13. 2 Corinthians 1:8. Or you have a joy remark. ‘I rejoice greatly that.’ Or when he’s really put out, ‘I am astonished that!’

Galatians is the only letter of Paul where we find neither a thanksgiving prayer nor a blessing prayer at the outset, nor a benediction, nor a doxology. He is so right royally ticked off with the Galatians that he just starts firing silver bullets right after the prescript. And that tells you something.

I mean, it tells you something about the state of the relationship and how problematic he sees the situation in Galatia that he just skips over the usual niceties and goes right to lambasting them. Sometimes, the transition from the opening of the document to the document itself begins with, ‘I have heard,’ or ‘I hear of,’ which is a polite way to say, ‘Somebody tattled on you,’ and here’s what I’m hearing.

You can find that in several of Paul’s letters. So these are ways to make the transition from the prescript into the body of a letter and these are some of the ways that Paul does this. And you can certainly analyze Paul’s documents according to these kinds of structures. Now, let me tell you the problem with that.

First of all, if you actually take the time to study Paul’s letters and compare of them to other ancient letters, here are some following facts. 1. Paul’s letters are way way longer than ancient letters. There’s almost no exception to that rule.

Let me quote to you an ancient letter written the same year Galatians was written: “[Pobillius[18:47] to his own stowedious] greetings, I trust you are well. I sent my servant, Blastus to you to collect the fork sticks for the vineyard. See that he does not loiter as he is apt to do. Send him back straight way to me, valet. Hail and farewell.”

That, a first century letter. It’s practical. It’s to the point. It doesn’t have a long thanksgiving prayer. It doesn’t have a long theological or ethical [hearing][19:26]. It gets right to the point and we’re done. Now, that’s a typical first century letter. Aren’t you glad we don’t have 13 of those in the canon?

Not riveting. We wouldn’t get great long sermons out of letters like that, you know. But that’s a typical first century letter. So right off the bat, I would say to you that it’s not terribly helpful to analyze these documents as letters, comparing them to other letters, because in fact what we have in these documents is much more than a letter. It is actually an address.

It’s an actually a discourse. It’s actually intended to be read orally and out loud to the audience when it arrives at the destination. And since it’s written in scriptive continuum, that is a continuous flow of letters, then it jolly well be, better be read by somebody who already knows the document.

Somebody already knows where the nuances are, where the pauses are, where the emphases are, how to put the emphasis on the right syllable and so on. Into whose hands does Paul entrust these documents? His coworkers, atimothy, aTitus, aPhoebe, [Anaprilaqua][20:48], Aquila, aPriscilla. They’re the ones who go and proclaim this document out loud to an audience.

These are oral documents that are meant to be heard and, yes, Paul’s letters do conform, especially at the beginning of the document and the end of the document. He does tend to conform them, somewhat, to the way ancient letters were written, because they’re sent from a distance. He needs to do that. Makes clear he’s not with them, you know.

But here’s where I tell you that ancient letters, if we go back to this for a minute, ancient letters do not end with a benediction. This is the Christian worship element. It’s not a epistolary form. And while I’m at it, thanksgiving prayer, not a regular epistolary form, either. This is the Christian worship element.

So there’s a third thing going on. Not only do you have to reckon with the difference between letter conventions and rhetoric conventions, orality conventions but you’ve gotta throw a third thing into the mix. These are documents meant to be proclaimed in worship and, therefore, they have worship elements in them.

They have prayers in them. They have doxologies in them. They have benedictions in them. Okay? This is a kind of thing that you should not envision as a private correspondence where you put on your glasses and say, ‘Oh, Paul wrote me a private letter. How nice.’ There are no private letters in the 13 of Paul’s correspondence.

Not even the letters to, letter to Philemon is a private letter. It’s written to Philemon and the church that meets in his house. It’s a group correspondence. It’s a group communication. The closest thing to private letters we have are the letters to Timothy and Titus and, yet, they’re in the canon. Now, think about that. Would you want your mail in the canon?

Obviously, somebody, probably named Timothy and Titus, thought that this had a larger relevance to more than just Timothy and Titus and so they are in the canon and we’re reading somebody else’s mail. The documents in the New Testament that are closest to ancient letters are, in fact, 2 John and 3 John.

They are the ones that look most like other ancient letters and they’re about the right length, which is to say short, really short, less than a whole chapter. What we want to do, this morning, and if we possibly can, is we wanna get a fix on those three elements that I’ve just mentioned. The letter form, epistolary conventions, the oral nature of the discourse.

We wannna understand the discourse. We wanna understand the substance. I mean, the fact that there is a greeting at the beginning and closing greetings at the end really tells us nothing about the theological and ethical substance of these documents. It’s when we get into the rhetoric and the discourse substance that we’re making some progress as to what the substance of this is.

And we want to take into consideration that we are dealing with documents that were intended to be used in worship. So they have many worship elements in them. In fact, we could study Paul’s letters for the worship elements in them.

Here are the following worship elements. Citations of a creed. We have some credal formulae in the Paul’s letters. References to hems. We have crystalogical hem fragments in Paul’s letters. Doxologies or, a, benedictions. By the way, what’s the difference between a doxology and a benediction? A doxology is directed towards God and a benediction is directed towards y’all, the people of God. Right?

We have both of those in Paul’s letters. We have benedictions and we have doxologies. Sometimes we, he breaks into doxology at the end of an important argument. Romans 8. You know? He’s really going to town. He’s waxing eloquent.

You know, “And neither height, nor depth, nor powers, nor principalities, nor things present…” I mean you can Beethoven’s 5th symphony in the background. You know? “Nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything and all of creation, you know, and he’s just going to town and thanks be to God. Woo boom!

And, you know, and we’re thinking, ‘Okay, we’re done now.’ And then there’s Romans 9:1 and he starts all over again. So what happens is that you have doxological moments in the middle of the discourse. Paul breaks into doxology, because this is a document that’s not an abstract argument to cont-, be contemplated in the quiet of your study.

This is a discourse with a congregation in worship. It’s part of an act of worship. It’s intended to be part of an act of worship. So we’re gonna look at some of the elements in the discourses that are worship elements and talk about how they function, as well. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

Now, there’s some other provisos that I wanna start with. First of all, a lot of the things that are in the New Testament that we call letters, quite a few of ‘em are not letters. They’re just straight up sermons. For example, 1 John, tain’t a letter. It has no epistolary features.

Remember 1 John? I mean, think about it for a minute. There’s no greetings. There’s no names. There’s no nothing. This is not a letter. This is just a straight up sermon, period, exclamation point. I mean, listen to this, this is how it begins.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning the word of life. The life appeared. We have seen it and testified to it, and we proclaim to you, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen.”

This is all about proclaiming, friends. You know what this is? It’s a Jewish sermon. And it’s a good one, too. It’s a piece of epidictic rhetoric, is what it is and it’s a powerful piece of epidictic rhetoric. And in epidictic rhetoric, you repeat things. You stick to key terms.

You make the main thing the main thing. So one of the reasons in 1 John 1 through 1 John 5, we have some of the same words that he rings the changes on over and over again and the same concepts. He goes over and over again. It’s because it’s a sermon. You know what I was taught in Homiletics? First, you tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em. Then you tell ‘em. Then you tell ‘em what you just told ‘em.

One of the three times, it may register. You know? Repetition is the essence of good homiletics. It’s the essence of good homiletics, because people are not always concentrating. They may well be distracted. And they may have well of gotten caught up in love, wonder and praise of God and they’re ignoring the preacher at the moment. This happens, too. Thanks be to God.

So some of the documents in the New Testament are sermons. 1 John is a sermon. James is a sermon. And just like 1 John, James repeats some of the same themes over and over again throughout the discourse. This is not because they had limited mental capacity. It’s a deliberate rhetorical technique.

Repetition aids people to learn, and to even memorize what’s being said in an oral culture. The function of repetition in an oral culture is, first of all, as a trigger for memorization. Let those who have two good ears hear. Another example…I’m just gonna go through the examples. The way you can tell what kind of document it is, or is it, it’s intended to be is by looking at the beginning of the document.

Let’s look at the beginning of Hebrews. In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times in various ways but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son. Does this sound like the beginning of a letter? I’m thinking not. You would never guess this was a letter from reading Hebrews 1 or Hebrews 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 or 11 or 12.

But when you get to Hebrews 13, at the very end, there are some greetings. Now, what does that mean? It’s a sermon sent from a distance. Proclaimed locally when it got there but a sermon sent from a distance. This is a big ole honking long sermon. This is one, a kind of sermon that made Eutychus fall out the window when Paul was preaching. [laughter] It’s one of those kinds of sermons. Okay?

But it’s a sermon. And like all good sermons, the oral form is far richer than just the written text. You know, one of the things that happened to me when I studied John Wesley is, om, the very first teaching job I ever had was teaching the sermons of John Wesley at Duke Divinity School, which was great fun.

The problem was that when the students read the verbatims of Wesley’s sermons, they went, “This is dry as dust. Okay, 3 points and a poem. This is boring. You know, this guy, can’t he do any better than that?” So, you know, what I had to do is I had to do dramatic performances of the sermons and then all of a sudden, they went, “Oh, I get it now.”

You see, because the thing is that 33% of communication of sermons is oral. It involves tone of voice. It involves gestures. It involves slowing down and speeding up. It involves throwing in anecdotal illustrations that are not in the text of your sermon. You know. There are lots of things to do. It involves wrapping on the pulpit when you come to an important point.

I mean, there are a lot of, um, features to preaching a sermon that you can’t find just in the text. Now, the good news is that we have these sermons in the original language so what we haven’t lost, in the Greek sermon called Hebrews, is its assonance and alliteration and automatopia and rhythm and rhyme. It’s all there if you just know Greek. It’s great.

I want you to listen to the beginning of Hebrews. Hebrews is some of the best rhetoric and, certainly, some of the best Greek in the whole of the New Testament, certainly some of the most eloquent Greek in the whole of the New Testament. Listen to this. He’s gonna start with a bang. [32:14](Paul Eumaris, Ki Paul Utropos Poli, Hothais Lalasi toss patras, intos prophatus.] We’ve got six examples in the first verse of words that start with Pph, Pph, Pph. We’ve got alliteration right on through the first verse.

The second verse, it’s full of assonance and end rhyme. This is very carefully composed and it’s supposed to make a pleasant effect on the hearing, so that people will be well disposed to thinking, ‘Oh, this preacher knows what the heck they’re doing. We’d better listen to him.’ You see, the way eloquence functioned in antiquity is not just showing off your erudition or your vocabulary.

The way eloquence worked in antiquity is it conveyed the message, ‘This is something important. We should listen closely.’ When people get overcome with the exuberance of their verbosity in our casual culture, people say things like, ‘Oh, he’s being stuffy. He’s being hoity-toity. He’s being ‘better than’ and all of that sort of stuff.

Americans don’t tend to like diction that sounds like you’re talking down to them. You know? But, you see, that says more about our casual culture than it says about the real significance of what’s being said. In antiquity, even an uneducated person was a consumer of rhetoric and when he heard eloquence, he wanted to hear more of it.

It’s like the reaction many Americans have to Shakespeare. I mean, they hear some of Shakespeare, and they may not even understand some of the Archaean vocabulary but boy, it sounds good and I’d like to hear more of this. Well, that’s the affect that eloquence had in antiquity. It’s not a matter of form over substance. It’s not a matter of style over substance. It’s a matter of the incarnation of substance in good form.

See the difference? It’s not fluff instead of substance. It’s elegance. Good ancient rhetoric is powerful in form and also in substance and Hebrews is one of the most powerful theological and ethical discourses in the whole canon. This is not words full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. It is not that. That’s for sure.

So, we have sermons like 1 John. We have sermons like James. We have big ole honking long sermons like Hebrews. What would we say, then, about Paul’s letters? Well, I prefer to call them discourses with epistolary sprinkles. I prefer to call them discourses with an epistolary framework. The right way to say it, is it’s a discourse with an epistolary framework, because it had to be sent at a distance. That, that’s what it is.

And I would draw an analogy with the Book of Revelation. Remember the Book of Revelation? What did I tell you about Revelation? Revelation 2 and 3 is letters. Epistolary element. Revelation 22 has some epistolary closing elements but if you were to tell to tell somebody, “You know the Book of Revelation is a letter,” they’d look at you like you were crazy, ‘cause the vast majority of the document is apocalyptic visions. It’s not a letter.

Neither are Paul’s documents. They are not, primarily, letters. They are, primarily, discourses meant to be heard. Now, the difference between a sermon and a discourse is simply this. A sermon tends to focus on matters ethical. For example, James. There’s a lot of ethics in James. There’s not a heck of a lot of theology. Same with 1 John.

1 John is all about behavior and character. It’s paraenesis more than it is theologizing. There is some theology in there but it’s not the focus. And this is the Jewish tradition. If you had gone to a synagogue in the 1st century AD and listened to a homily, 9 out of the 10 homilies would be ethical or praxis oriented. This is the way you ought to practice bathing in the mikvah. That could be a whole sermon.

Judaism was all about orthopraxy. That was the primary thing. Orthodoxy was a secondary concern. You’re hard pressed to find creeds from ancient Israel. The closest thing you have is the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one, you shall love the Lord your God.” I mean, that’s the closest thing that you have to a credo on monotheism for Judaism.

If you look at the prophets, most of what they’re doing is slamming people, ethically. That’s what’s going on. Even the prophecies are about how God’s going to slam them, ethically, unless they repent. You see? One of the things that’s different about Paul is this huge quantity of theological substance in his documents.

Most ancient sermons were not that way. Paul was not simply longwinded. He was far more theological than most early Jewish preachers and when you look at typical Jewish sermons, James is closer to a typical early Jewish sermon than what we find in Paul’s letters. And there’s a reason for this. Think about this for a minute.

One of the most important things you can do when we’re talking about preaching is know your audience. You know, whenever I go to preach anywhere, I always ask the person who’s invited me, tell me about the audience. I wanna know the audience.

I wanna know first of all how biblically literate, how spiritually mature are they, where are they in their walk with the Lord, what issues are up in the church now, what are you concerned with. I’m gonna give him 25 questions so that I know the audience better before I walk into that pulpit, because, you see, the thing about a sermon is it’s supposed to be a word on target.

It’s not supposed to be like firing a shotgun, buck shot going in all direction and you hope you hit something. Right? No, it’s supposed to be a word on target. Paul’s discourses are not typical of even ancient Jewish sermons. They are proper rhetorical discourses, because the majority audience is whom? Gentiles who are absolutely enamored with rhetoric who are living in a rhetoric saturated in environment.

They were fanatics for rhetoric the same way American males are often fanatics for football or baseball or basketball and they go around repeating the clichés of their favorite sports commentators. In antiquity, males ran around quoting their favorite rhetoricians. This was not only education. It was entertainment.

You went to see the rhetorician and watched the performance and hear the discourse. It was important for Paul to be able to communicate to the audience in a way that would persuade them. I mean, this is the bottom line. What is it going to take to persuade this audience about Jesus? What is it gonna take?

Paul was a wise man in that regard and, so, his discourses reflect that kind of knowledge and understanding. Even when he’s writing a more personal thing like Philemon. I mean, it’s powerful rhetoric.

Now, what I want to at this moment is start looking at the rhetorical structures in Paul’s letters. I’m gonna talk about and review rhetoric. This material is all in your little book New Testament rhetoric. But, uh, as the rhetoricians said, “Repetition is good.” Repetition is good. Right?

So, first of all, let’s talk about the emotions of a discourse and maybe we’d better talk about the emotional character of the culture first. The emotional character of different subcultures in America varies from one to another. The culture that Paul lived in was the culture where you wore your emotions on your sleeve.

If you wanna get a flavor for this, go spend some time in Italy for a while. It’s still this way. I mean, they’re a passionate about everything from spaghetti to speeding tickets. Is there anything they don’t care about? I don’t think so. It’s always the big thing. You know?

Well, this is the culture that Paul lived in and he knew this perfectly well. So there are a lot of sentences in his letters that have exclamation points after them. They’re loud. “Oh, you idiot, Galatians.” Do not try this with your congregation. They have a different ethos. They have a different emo-, emotional character. It’s not gonna work!

You better know your audience. Paul knew perfectly well that emotional appeals were not considered inappropriate arm twisting. Let me say that again. Emotional appeals in Paul’s world were not considered inappropriate arm twisting and he is a master at it. You know, if you wanna learn how to put somebody on a guilt trip, read Philemon. I mean, this is, this is great.

Listen to this. “So if you consider me a partner, welcome Onesimus, the slave, as you would welcome me. And if he’s done anything wrong or owes you anything, well then just charge it to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back. Here’s the IOU. Not to mention that you owe me your very spiritual life.”

I mean, this is emotional arm twisting. It’s okay in this culture. There are some cultures where this is not okay. Let me tell you where this rhetoric really doesn’t work. In the UK. Don’t try this in Durham, England. This would be way over the top. You need to understand that the old school British are very formal.

J. B. Phillips couldn’t handle it when Paul said, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” You know how he translated that? “Greet one another with a hearty hand shake.” They are emotionally under control! They are aloof and remote and distant. Okay? This is them. They’re like some people from New England.

So what happens with emotional rhetoric when you’re dealing with non-emotional people? It turns them off. It doesn’t turn them on and persuade them. It turns them off. Now, sometimes, the way you convey the emotions is the key thing.

I once heard a avocado salesman in the new Quincy Market in Boston and he was trying hard to sell his product but this is what he sounded like, “Get yo avocados! I know ya love ‘em! Come right on down and get yo avocados! Ya need ‘em today! They’re green! They’re good! They’re fresh!” And unfortunately, the voice and the message were not in sync and people were going, ‘If the avocados are like his voice, I’m so not buying avocados from this townie. [laughter] I am not going there.’

You see, there’s an incongruity between the form and the substance here. You know? I can just imagine a preacher in Boston trying to do that. ‘Don’t ya love Jesus?! Ya need to get down and love Jesus!’ [laughter] This is so not working. The form matters! It needs to comport with the substance! And it needs to be audience-sensitive.

So, a rhetoric of emotional appeals. Ethos, Logos, Pathos. Ethos is the emotion you attend to at the beginning of the discourse. You are establishing rapport with your audience. Ethos is where you establish rapport with the audience. Now how does Paul do that?

One of the reas-, ways he does that is he prays for them and he thanks God for them even if he’s not particularly thankful for them on this occasion. For example, 1 Corinthians is a problem solving letter. It just is. It’s a problem solving letter.

Listen to this Thanksgiving prayer. I mean, there are lots of problems in Carth. Listen to this. “I always thank my God, always for you, because of his grace given you in Christ! For in him, you have been enriched in every way with all kinds of speech and all kinds of knowledge.”

Wait a minute. Isn’t he going to be correcting the way they’re using all these kinds of speeches and knowledges and prophecies later in this? Yes, but right now, he’s sucking up to them and saying, ‘It’s so good y’all have got spiritual gifts. I’m really glad about this. You know?’ And they’re all going, ‘That warms the cockles of my heart. I will listen to the rest of this discourse.’

That’s exactly what’s going on here. “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus, for in him you have been enriched in every way with all kinds of speech and all knowledge. God thus confirming our testimony about Christ amongst you. Therefore, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus to be revealed. And he will also keep you firm to the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus. God is faithful who is called you into fellowship with his son Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

And they’re all going, ‘Aw, isn’t that special? And I especially like that part about he likes our spiritual gifts. See, he knows that we’ve got those divine gifts. Carry on, Paul. We’ll listen.’ That’s Ethos. You establish rapport with your audience. Now, rapport is not just what you say to them. It’s how you say it. And it also has to do, if you are in a culture that is appearance conscious like my mama.

‘Son, you need to tuck in that shirt. It doesn’t, it’s distracting at, you know, people not gonna pay attention to your message unless you look good.’ Right? That has to do with appearance and it did in antiquity. There’s a hilarious story told by Plutarch about a famous rhetorician who wore a toupee and it was a windy day and he’s, as most rhetoricians did, he’s proclaiming outdoors in the Agora, in the marketplace in Athens and all the sudden, this wind comes along and blows his toupee off as he’s beginning his discourse.

This is what you call having a bad Ethos day. Nobody was gonna take anything he said after that seriously after he looked ridiculous at the beginning of the discourse. Ethos has to do with establishing rapport with the audience. But do you see, here’s the other part of it. It has to do with establishing your authority to speak to the audience.

It’s not just about ‘hail fellow, well met.’ It’s about establishing your authority, so it is not an accident that Paul, at the beginning of his discourses, emphasizes he’s their apostle or he’s a servant of Christ or he’s this or he’s that. It’s not an accident and here’s something that you can track. In letters that begin with Paul saying, ‘I, Paul the apostle,’ there is more of an authority problem.

And letters that begin ‘I, Paul, servant of Christ,’ I don’t have to play the trump card of authority, there’s less of an authority problem, like Philippians. ‘I, Paul, servant of Christ.’ You will notice that he hedges his bets in Romans. In Roman’s, he’s writing to a congregation that’s not his own. He’s writing to a congregation he’s not even visited yet.

So listen to how he begins. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus but also called to be an apostle.” So what is he going to do? ‘I am the apostle to the Gentiles. I do have authority over you even if that has never dawned on you before but I’m gonna soft soap it. I’m gonna talk about being a servant of Christ first.’

You see, he’s in a delicate situation with the Romans, because he can’t exercise authority over them in the same way he could a group of his own converts, a church that he had planted. It’s not an accident in 1 Corinthians that he says ‘Paul, the apostle. I am your apostle and you, baby, are gonna listen.’

So the beginning part of the speech is to establish rapport but also to establish your authority and right to address ‘em in the fashion that you’re going to address them. Ethos. Logos. The whole middle of the discourse is arguments, acts of persuasion.

Now here’s the thing, even when you’re giving a syllogism, if A, then B. If B, then C. You can give it in a way that’s enthusiastic. You can give it in a way that’s persuasive. Me, trying to be a good rhetorician realizes that 20 hours in 2 and a half days is too much. So I’m trying to inject as much enthusiasm into it as I can, because I happen to know that people respond emotionally to enthusiasm.

Now I happen to also be really enthusiastic about all this material, so that helps. I’m not fanning enthusiasm for this. But the truth of the matter is that the arguments in the middle of a discourse are emotion charged arguments. Some of ‘em are life and death arguments.

“If you get yourself circumcised,” says Paul, “you have cut yourself off. If you cut off that piece of skin, you’ve cut yourself off from Christ.” Now that’s what I call dramatic rhetoric. Bound to get attention of the men more than the women but, you know, powerful.

And then he turns around and says about those who are bewitching you, he said, “For those who are so keen about cutting off of the flesh, I just wish they would let the knife slip.” This is not gonna preach. [laughter] This is not gonna preach. He says this in Galatians 4 but this is not going to preach here. I don’t expect you to have that verse at the end of Galatians 4 as you’re on your sign outside your church, “We will be preaching on ‘Let the knife slip,’ this week.” [laughter]

It won’t work in our culture. Logos, emotion charged arguments. Here is the meat of the acts of persuasion and then Pathos. The more surface emotions are appealed to at the beginning of the discourse. The deeper emotions are appealed to at the end of the discourse. Rhetoricians are very clear about this.

The deeper emotions, love and hate, jealousy, envy, grief, sorrow, the deeper emotions, vengeance. So, a stewardship sermon, getting to the peroration, could go like this. ‘I was reflecting on that stained glass window just yesterday. Sister Sarah’s father gave that. She was a sweet young girl with leukemia. Yet on the last Sunday she was in church, she gave all of her piggy bank into the offering plate and I was thinking, like the widow’s mite story, what an example that is for all of you. If you loved little Sarah, if you love your church, if you love me, your pastor, then surely you will want to give sacrificially for our budget for the coming year.’

Now, in many contexts, even in America, that would be over the top. That would be emotionally too much and it would be arm twisting and it would be manipulative. It would be manipulative and it would be seen as manipulative. It ain’t manipulative in Paul’s world.

‘If he owes you anything, credit it to my account. I’m writing out my IOU. Did I mention that you owe me your spiritual life?’ Now, that would be manipulative. ‘You owe me the pay back. I’ve done you a favor. Now you gotta do me a favor.’ It’s what it sound like, right? Sounds like the mafia. That’s what it sounds like.

Well, what’s manipulative in one cour-, context is in fact normal day-to-day ways you use emotion in Paul’s world and so we have that. The deeper emotions are appealed to at the end of the discourse during the final emotional [hearing][55:24], which is called the peroration, the peroratio.

Now that’s just the emotional framework, Ethos, Logos, Pathos. That’s not actually the structure of the arguments. That’s the emotional palate that you’re gonna go through and in a good speech, you’re gonna take ‘em through the whole gamut of emotions. You’re gonna wanna make ‘em laugh. You’re gonna wanna make ‘em cry.

You know, a good rhetorician like Cicero, man, he could get ‘em from one end to the other. Get ‘em angry. Make ‘em happy. You know, a good speech is going to appeal to [inaudible][56:00], ‘cause here’s what you know. If you just appeal to the intellect, you may convince them, intellectually, but not persuade their hearts.

If you just persuade the heart, they’re gonna be some intellectual objections or issues. So the perfect rhetorical discourse is going to appeal to the whole person. Both the mind and the heart. Both the cognitive and the affective. Ancient rhetoricians knew this. Paul knew this. Some modern preachers haven’t got the memo.

They’re far too cerebral and not sufficiently appealing to the affective side of things. Now, let me tell you one thing about teaching and preaching that you need to understand about human psychology in the West. In the West, humor is important. And here’s what humor does. Humor causes people to lower their defenses.

If they can laugh a little bit, then some of those defenses against being some of those protected devices where they’re protecting their heart from having to make some kind of big commitment. Some of that barrier goes down through a little bit of humor. There’s good humor and there’s bad humor but humor can backfire.

In certain contexts, certain humor doesn’t work. I tried some of my North Carolina jokes the first year I was preaching in England. No laughing. I went, ‘I need more British jokes.’ Humor is important, because it causes people to lower their defenses and then you have an opportunity to reach them for Christ. And so, you know, it’s important that you understand the psychology of preaching and how it works.

I was once taught that a discourse should be like a girl’s dress. It should be long enough to cover the subject but short enough to make it interesting. In regard to talking about yourself, it’s okay to do that some, especially one of the most effective means is self-effacing, sharing, where you share some of your own foibles.

Now let me just say a word of caution about that. It is not good rhetoric to air your dirty laundry every Sunday from the pulpit. This undercuts your Ethos and your authority over and over again. But moments of honesty and clarity, which reveal that you know you are not God’s gift to whoever, right(?) are good. That’s good, because those moments let the audience know that you are not putting yourself up on some pedestal that they could never ascend to.

You can relate to them and their problems. All of that’s good. Yet, Americans are relational people and they need some reassurance that the minister is not sort of thundering from the top of Sinai and become such an unapproachable person that they could never relate to this person. So self-effacing, storytelling is good.

I, I’ll give you an illustration. I was going to Seattle Pacific to lecture in Seattle Pacific University. I had a brand new suit on and I had flown from Lexington to St. Louis and my plane was late leaving Lexington, late getting to St. Louis and I, I had to do one of these O. J. Simpson run through the airport things, you know. If you’re old enough to remember that, then you’re as old as me.

But, in any case, I was running through the airport at 900, I had my ticket in my hand. Right? I’m running. I’m running. I get to the gate and they said, “Oh no. It’s 3 more gates down.” So I’m running some more and running some more and they’re closing the door. They are closing the door.

I said, “Don’t close the door! I’ve got to meet the president of Seattle Pacific and then I gotta speak within 30 minutes after I get there. I have to make this flight.” So, she opened the door back up and I’m running down the corridor and I get to the end of the corridor and there’s this little gap between the end of the corridor and the beginning of the plane and I drop my ticket, somehow miraculously, through that little slit [laughter] onto the tarmac below and my instinctive reaction was to lean over and try to grab it and I ripped the back of my pants wide open.

Stewardess is standing there at the entrant portal to the, to the plane watching this whole charade, you know. So I’m pulling my shirt out, pulling it down over my rear end, ‘cause I wasn’t sure how far the rip went, you know, kind of flinking into the plane like this and I’m thinking, ‘Great, I’ve got the president meeting me at the airport at the end of this next 2 and a half hour flight. What in the world am…I’m gonna have a horrible time when I get there.’

So I’m just praying, ‘Lord, whatever you can do for me. You know, I, I’m okay with being humbled but totally humiliated before the president of Seattle Pacific, I’m not up for that this morning, right?’

So I get there and I get off the plane and I walk off the plane and there’s this young man with a red and black checkered corduroy shirt and blue jeans and a scraggly beard and hair not combed with a sign that said ‘Witherton.’ Didn’t even spell my name right. I thought, ‘Thank you, Jesus. You brought me a slob to take me to the University. So I can change my clothes first and the president need not know.’

So that was a bad Ethos day but it turned out okay at the end. Telling a story like that about yourself is good because it, it humanizes you. It’s okay to sprinkle that in from time-to-time. It’s kind of like my granny used to put rum in the Tipsy Parson from time-to-time, in the bottom of the cake and every now and again, you’d get this bite and you’d go, “Wooh! What was that?” you know.

It’s okay to sprinkle that in from time-to-time but if you make a regular practice of that, then it, the pulpit seems to become Ben’s confessional and, see, that’s not healthy. Confession should be done in the context of accountability, not just sort of fired off from the pulpit.

I’ll tell you something else you also better not do from a teaching or preaching platform is that you better not button hole a particular member of your church and their problems from the pulpit. If we’re talking about a confidential situation where somebody has a problem, it’s a huge mistake to call them out in front of the congregation, even indirectly, because if you are descriptive enough about what the problem is, there’s gonna be a lot of people in that group who will figure out who the heck you’re talking about real quick and then all hades breaks loose.

It’s a huge, it’s a huge mistake. And you see and the temptation for a minister is, ‘Oh, we’ve got this problem in the church. I’m gonna preach about it.’ See, now that’s the temptation. See, it, that’s a big mistake. That’s what you call need space preaching instead of God-based preaching.

Your preaching needs to come from your time in touch with God and with the Word of God. It needs to be relevant to your congregation but it needs to not be based on the dirty laundry of your congregation. Let the Holy Spirit do the convicting and convincing in regard to people’s dirty laundry. You take the high road and simply preach the Word of God. Attend to the text and the text will exegete them, let me tell you.

The text will do it. You don’t have to help the text along to get the job done. The Word of God will get it done. You’ve got to be very careful about how you address problems in the congregation, especially personal problems. I’m talking about personal problems. I’m not talking about, ‘We ain’t got enough money and we’re gonna have to close the building.’ Yeah, you have to talk to the congregation about those kinds of things. I’m talking about personal problems.