Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period : 330 B.C.-A.D. 400

By Stanley E. Porter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
THE GENERAL NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS

Lauri Thuren

Abo Academy, Finland


I. INTRODUCTION

The general New Testament writings have common features, which have proven arduous for conventional exegesis. Biblical scholars are wont to discuss most questions in a historical frame of reference, but in the case of the general writings this is difficult. The lack of historical information affects particularly the understanding of their message and theology. A typical question is whether or not they represent “early Catholicism”, degenerated from an “original Christianity”. However, when different opinions depend heavily on some weakly supported hypotheses about the historical situation, convincing re sults are difficult to obtain. Instead, such a fixed point of departure endangers the understanding of the signals in the text by excluding alternative readings from the outset.1

Rhetorical criticism2 avoids this problem by focusing on the audience and the situation as these are implied in the letters.3 The theological questions are also seen in a new light when it is comprehended that the authors did not describe their ideologies, but sought to modify the addressees' opinions, attitudes, and behaviour. Only after a text is de-rhetorized by identification of the functions of the different strate gies and devices, can the theology behind it be revealed.

Furthermore, most of the general writings lack a clear formal struc ture, and their literary integrity is often questionable. A study of the interactive functions of the sections can however reveal a conventional,

1 It also limits the text's ability to communicate with modern readers.

2 In this article “rhetorical criticism” means a flexible approach, in which both
ancient and modern perspectives are utilized.

3 Yet historical knowledge is utilized and the real situation can be inferred.

-587-

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