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New Testament Rhetoric: An Introductory Guide to the Art of Persuasion in and of the New Testament Paperback – January 1, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Wipf & Stock Pub (January 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556359292
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556359293
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.6 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Dr. Marc Axelrod VINE VOICE on December 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a study of the rhetorical forms found in the New Testament. Dr. Witherington defines rhetoric as the art of persuasion. He feels strongly that understanding rhetorical structures and techniques in the NT documents will help us understand them better. Ben stresses that the first century Greco-Roman world was an oral/aural culture, and that great value was placed on being a wordsmith. He believes that we can not only find rhetorical devices in the NT like enthymeme and comparison and irony and personification in the NT, but that whole books are rhetorically structured.

He gives a brief history of rhetoric, noting the manuals of Aristotle and Quintilian. He highlights the five elements of a rhetorical discourse: the exordium, which makes the audience more open to the material that follows, the narratio, which is an explanation of the facts relevant to the discussion, the propositio, which is the thesis statement, the probatio, which enumerates the arguments for the propositio, and is sometimes followed by the refutatio, which are the arguments against the propositio (we see this to a certain degree in Paul's letter to the Romans), and finally, the peroratio, which sums up the major arguments and makes a closing appeal to the hearer.

There is a chapter discussing the gospels of Mark and Luke, which Ben identifies as gospels of persuasion. He notes that Luke is a much more elegant rhetorician than Mark. Mark uses chreia (sayings, such as found in 6:1-6) and parables and comparisons, while Luke has a full blown rhetorically shaped exordium in 1:1-4, while his parables pack a powerful rhetorical punch.

Ben also mentions the rhetorical flourishes in the speeches in Acts.
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Format: Paperback
It's impossible to really understand the New Testament without understanding the cultural background of those who wrote it.

Witherington, who is always good, manages to explain how rhetoric was used in language that is accessible for even the most casual student of the New Testament.

Make no mistake about it, the ancient world relied more on orality than the written word. Rhetoric was considered one of the most basic of educational lessons; indeed, Witherington argues that "most of the NT owes far more to rhetoric ..than it ever owed to the nascent practice of writing letter essays" (p 5).

There are many examples of rhetorical devices used by Paul and others. Luke, using the most elegant Greek in the NT, indicates how "Stephen's demise closely parallels that of his master Jesus" (p 55). Witherington argues that many scholars have stumbled badly when trying to interpret Stephen's speech, because of a lack of knowledge of the standard rhetorical devices in ancient times. (Bultmann, of course, flies to mind).

One consideration to ponder is that literacy must have been "a criteria for Christian leadership in the early church" (p 97). It's clear that all the NT writers had been well educated, and were likely to have been among the top 5-10% in regards to educational background.

Ben Sira had insisted that all male children be taught to read scripture. How many actually did is debatable (for a good book on this subject, see "Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus".) It is clear from the hodgepodge of Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek inscriptions in Israel at the time that the majority of Jews appear, at least, to have been bilingual. And there is evidence of Greek shorthand as well.
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Excellent book. It explains the structure of the New Testament and and helps the reader better understand the intent of the writers. Every Christian should familiarize themselves with the content of this book.
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