New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism

New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism

New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism

New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism


New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism provides readers of the Bible with an important tool for understanding the Scriptures. Based on the theory and practice of Greek rhetoric in the New Testament, George Kennedy's approach acknowledges that New Testament writers wrote to persuade an audience of the truth of their messages. These writers employed rhetorical conventions that were widely known and imitated in the society of the times. Sometimes confirming but often challenging common interpretations of texts, this is the first systematic study of the rhetorical composition of the New Testament.

As a complement to form criticism, historical criticism, and other methods of biblical analysis, rhetorical criticism focuses on the text as we have it and seeks to discover the basis of its powerful appeal and the intent of its authors. Kennedy shows that biblical writers employed both "external" modes of persuasion, such as scriptural authority, the evidence of miracles, and the testimony of witnesses, and "internal" methods, such as ethos (authority and character of the speaker), pathos (emotional appeal to the audience), and logos (deductive and inductive argument in the text).

In the opening chapter Kennedy presents a survey of how rhetoric was taught in the New Testament period and outlines a rigorous method of rhetorical criticism that involves a series of steps. He provides in succeeding chapters examples of rhetorical analysis, looking closely at the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus' farewell to the disciples in John's Gospel, the distinctive rhetoric of Jesus, the speeches in Acts, and the approach of Saint Paul in Second Corinthians, Thessalonians, Galatians, and Romans.


Although I recognized many years ago that a comprehensive historical understanding of rhetoric must take account of the rhetorical traditions of Christianity, I probably would not have written this book had it not been for a succession of students of biblical literature who have come to me to study rhetoric as a method of interpretation. Yehoshua Gitay was the first, followed by Anthony Lynch, John Levison, and Richard Vinson, and more recently Clifton Black, Jeffrey Gillette, Rollin Grams, Robert Hall, Clarice Martin, and Duane Watson. I have learned much from them, and it was their interest which encouraged me to try to set forth my ideas on the subject in hopes that these would be useful to others. The discussion of Galatians in Chapter 7 is especially indebted to suggestions of Mr. Hall, who read and discussed Betz's commentary with me.

This is not the first time that I have ventured out of my special field of scholarship, and I am very much aware of the dangers involved and of the probability of displaying my ignorance or naïveté on some matters, religious, critical, or historical. To date, biblical scholars have shown a patience notably greater than that of the professional students of some other fields into which I have stumbled. An anonymous reader for The University of North Carolina Press made a number of valuable suggestions and criticisms, and I am greatly indebted as well to Professor Roland M. Frye of the Department of English of the University of Pennsylvania, who read an earlier version of the text and shared generously of his deep understanding of Christianity and criticism. Mrs. Juanita Mason of the staff of the UNC Department of Classics typed and retyped the manuscript for me efficiently and patiently. Finally, it has been a pleasure to have once again the fine services of . . .

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