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.

Rethinking Paul’s Rhetorical Education: Comparative Rhetoric and 2 Corinthians 10–13

The most recent issue of the Review of Biblical Literature contains two critical reviews of Ryan S. Schellenberg’s Rethinking Paul’s Rhetorical Education: Comparative Rhetoric and 2 Corinthians 10–13, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013 pp. xiv + 406.

Here’s the book description:

Did Paul have formal training in Greco-Roman rhetoric, or did he learn what he knew of persuasion informally, as social practice? Pauline scholars recognize the importance of this question both for determining Paul’s social status and for conceptualizing the nature of his letters, but they have been unable to reach a consensus. Using 2 Corinthians 10–13 as a test case, Ryan Schellenberg undertakes a set of comparisons with non-Western speakers—most compellingly, the Seneca orator Red Jacket—to demonstrate that the rhetorical strategies Paul employs in this text are also attested in speakers known to have had no formal training in Greco-Roman rhetoric. Since there are no specific indicators of formal training in the way Paul uses these strategies, their appearance in his letters does not constitute evidence that Paul received formal rhetorical education.

And links to the reviews:

A Review of Corinth in Context

If you just haven’t found time in the last couple of years to look at the book, Corinth in Context: Comparative Studies of Religion and Society (2010) edited by Steven Friesen, Dan Schowalter, and James Walters, Amelia Brown’s recent review at BMCR provides a synopsis of the book. I would venture to guess this will be the last review. Unlike earlier reviews at The Expository Times, The Journal of Theological Studies, and the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, which focused generally on the chapters related directly to New Testament studies (Erastus, house churches, and Christian meals), Brown summarizes the entire book at length. And this may be the only formal review of the book that is free and accessible to anyone, not locked behind a subscription wall.