Does the Corinthian Correspondence Betray that Paul was Rhetorically Trained?

The two recent reviews of Ryan S. Schellenberg’s Rethinking Paul’s Rhetorical Education: Comparative Rhetoric and 2 Corinthians 10–13, mentioned in the previous post by David, are worth having a look at, for those interested in Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. They take part in a lively ongoing debate about the extent to which the apostle Paul employed, and was trained in, Greco-Roman modes of oral and epistolary rhetoric.

The two reviewers of Schellenberg’s work (Duane Watson and Frederick Long) have both made solid contributions to this debate, arguing that the Corinthian correspondence in particular evidences Paul’s training in formal rhetoric. The book they review suggests otherwise – arguing that the rhetorical features visible in the Corinthian correspondence are sufficiently accounted for by ‘general rhetoric.’

One of the reviews points out that this debate is currently vigorous, with a recent interchange between New Testament scholars Stanley Porter (who argues that Paul’s argumentation exhibits functional correspondence with general persuasive techniques) and Ben Witherington (who argues that Paul knowingly makes use of standard rhetorical conventions of his day – see his book New Testament Rhetoric). Others who have taken part in this debate include Margaret Mitchell, who argues that 1 Corinthians is an elegant example of deliberative rhetoric, employed by a trained rhetorician (see her book Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation), and R Dean Anderson (Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Paul) and Philip Kern (Rhetoric and Galatians: Assessing an Approach) – both of whom argue against Mitchell’s approach. As well as this, there are the volumes co-/edited by Porter (e.g. Rhetoric, Scripture and Theology), and the more recent multi-author work Paul and Rhetoric.

It should be pointed out that approaches to Paul’s use of formal rhetoric have become refined over the last couple of decades, especially due to the work of those above. Duane Watson, for example, has pointed out that it is usually too simplistic to apply a singular rhetorical ‘genre’ to a New Testament letter. His recent account of the ‘rhetoric’ of 1 Peter, for example, makes the point that ‘First Peter does not closely follow the conventions of Greco-Roman rhetoric in its invention and arrangement, but many of those conventions are present’ (52). His resulting analysis is appropriately cautious and nuanced.

My own contribution to this discussion comes in my monograph Paul and the Rhetoric of Reversal in 1 Corinthians: The Impact of Paul’s Gospel on his Macro-Rhetoric. I don’t deal head-on with the issue of Paul’s rhetorical training; but I suggest that whatever rhetorical resources Paul had at his disposal (including those of his Hebrew heritage), they have become subservient to the transforming impact of his kerygma of the crucified-and-risen Christ – which affects his language use at multiple levels.

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Categories: Religion, 1 Corinthians, Religion, 2 Corinthians, Religion, St. Paul

Matthew R. Malcolm

Husband, father, lecturer in New Testament at Trinity Theological College, Perth, Western Australia

4 Comments

  1. timothylfox

    Dr. Malcolm,

    This is very helpful! I am doing a PhD on 2 Corinthians under Scott Hafemann at St Andrews — while the rhetoric issue is peripheral to my overall project, I am bumping up against it from time to time. Thus far, I’ve mainly interacted with Vegge’s 2008 monograph, but these resources will help me get a better handle on the issues. From the sounds of it, I think I lean in the direction of your book (which I plan to read soon).

    This blog is very helpful! Thank you!

    Tim

  2. timothylfox

    Yes, it has been fantastic, esp. since Dr. Hafemann is very text-focused, and so has really taught me to pay attention to Paul’s actual arguments, along with seriously whipping my Greek into shape!

    (I’ve just picked up your book this morning from the library and will read it soon.)

    Tim

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