Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul

By Lincicum, David | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul


Lincicum, David, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul. By Christopher D. Stanley. London: T & T Clark International, 2004, 196 pp., $34.95 paper.

In Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul, Christopher D. Stanley has offered his promised second volume on Paul's quotations. While his first book, Paul and the Language of Scripture: Citation Technique in the Pauline Epistles and Contemporary Literature (SNTSMS 74; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), focused on the technical aspects of Paul's technique, his Vorlage, and his changes to the OT text, Arguing with Scripture poses the more interpretive questions: "(1) how do Paul's quotations serve to advance the developing arguments of his letters? and (2) how well does Paul's strategy of biblical argumentation cohere with what we can surmise about the capabilities and inclinations of his audiences?" (p. 171).

To answer these questions, Stanley draws on contemporary rhetorical and literary studies, historical estimations of ancient literacy, and NT scholarship. The book is divided into two parts, the first methodological, the second illustrative. In part 1, "The Rhetoric of Quotations," Stanley elaborates on his basic approach to the fundamental goal of the book: to understand how Paul's original audiences, in all of their various capacities as hearers/readers, would have understood his quotations of the Jewish Scriptures (= OT). Stanley approaches this problem from the angle of general rhetorical studies, of specific studies of literary quotations, and of the historical reconstruction of Paul's first-century audiences.

In what will likely be the two most interesting chapters in part 1 for students of the NT (chaps. 3-4), Stanley focuses on understanding Paul's audience(s) and on framing a method for approaching his quotations. In chapter 3 Stanley notes that any understanding of Paul's effectiveness necessarily implies a view of Paul's audience(s). Many scholars have held historically unsupportable assumptions about these groups of hearers/readers, and nine of these assumptions here come up for review (some escaping more unscathed than others). Stanley, drawing on recent works on ancient literacy (especially those of William Harris, Ancient Literacy [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989] and Harry Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995]), points to the low levels of literacy in the ancient world, suggesting that this undermines the views of those who assume that Paul's hearers/readers could have examined the Scriptures in their original context for themselves. This, in turn, implies that sometimes his audience(s) did not recognize quotations, when not explicitly marked, and that they were even unable to evaluate Paul's fidelity to the Jewish Scriptures. Such misapprehensions have come about from interpretive approaches that are decidedly "author-centered," seeking to explain how Paul read Scripture instead of how his audience would have heard his letters.

Yet surely some among Paul's audience(s) understood? In fact, Stanley recognizes a diversity of hearers/readers, and his fourth chapter sets out a typology (admittedly somewhat artificial) of three levels of audience competency. First, the "informed audience" is comprised of those who know "the original context of every one of Paul's quotations" and are "willing to engage in critical dialogue with Paul about his handling of the biblical text" (p. 68). Stanley suggests this would have been a very small percentage of Paul's hearers/readers. second, the "competent audience" knows "just enough of the Jewish Scriptures to grasp the point of Paul's quotations in their current rhetorical context" (p. 68). Finally, the "minimal audience" includes those who have "little specific knowledge about the content of the Jewish Scriptures," and here Stanley places most Gentile converts. …

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