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Ben Witherington: New Testament Rhetoric

NT RhetoricBen Witherington III, New Testament Rhetoric: An Introductory Guide to the Art of Persuasion in and of the New Testament (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2009), x + 274 pages.

Ben Witherington III is a Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, as well as St. Andrews University. In this text, Witherington addresses the issue that every pastor – whether knowingly or not – has a great stake in: the art of persuasion. The mastery of rhetoric by a pastor is not simply an option, but is a necessity instead. After all, all preachers desire to influence their followers to move from where they are to where God wants them to be. It would be wise, then, to peer into what Witherington has to offer us within this text, and we shall do so in what follows.

This brief guidebook explores rhetorical analysis with reference to various parts of the NT and is composed of eight chapters. In the first, Witherington reviews the oral cultures of the biblical world. Interestingly, he notes the power of speech – and of rhetoric – in this culture, especially in light of the fact the less than 20% of the congregants composing any given church were literate. Additionally, he highlights five elements of rhetorical discourse: first, the exordium, which makes the audience more open to the material that follows; second, the narratio, which is an explanation of the content of the discussion; third, the proposition – i.e. the thesis statement; fourth, the probatio, which is the enumeration of the arguments in favor of the proposition; and fifth, the peroration – i.e. the summary of the major arguments.

Chapter two seeks to define the craft of persuasion, which may singularly be the most important chapter in this title. Chapters three through seven explore the art of rhetoric within the NT, addressing in turn the Gospels of Mark and Luke (which he identifies as gospels of persuasion), Acts (deliberative rhetoric), Paul in general (borrowing much from a previous title of his, The Paul Quest), and then explicates Paul’s method of rhetoric in the pastoral (law-like rhetoric) and general epistles (deliberative rhetoric), respectively. The final chapter accentuates the import of rhetoric in all of the NT, with particular reference to the contemporary art of interpretation.

All in all, this title gives a good unifying thread with which to examine the individual socio-rhetorical commentaries of various NT books that Witherington has previously produced. While probably highly useful for academic courses in NT exegesis, one would also be wise to have this text on their desk when preparing both sermonic material, as well as various teaching units.

Reviewed by Bradford McCall

 

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About the Author: Bradford L. McCall, B.S. in Biology (Georgia Southwestern St. University, 2000), M.Div. (Asbury Theological Seminary, 2005), grew up on a cotton farm in south Georgia. A graduate student at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Bradford has particular interest in teleology, causation and early modern philosophy.

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