Rhetorical Criticism

So I’m currently planning to follow my Ignatius/Paul paper with a more focused defense of Ignatius. The last paper focused a bit too much on Paul and not enough time on Ignatius. In doing so, I’m planning to defend him on rhetorical and theological grounds. Of course, this requires me understanding rhetoric and its function. I’ve found a terrificly useful rhetorical analysis of Ignatius here. I’ve also got my hands on some of the ancient writing on rhetoric, notably Aristotle’s “The Art of Rhetoric” and Quintilian’s work (Ars Rhetorica?).

That said, I’m curious to see other works on Rhetoric. What are some commentaries that do a good job with rhetorical analysis? Works on Pauline letters in particular would be useful. Or are there books which simply introduce rhetorical criticism that might be useful? I know this tool can be overdone, but I definitely recognize its usefulness when employed correctly.

Thoughts? Suggestions?


Reading Old Texts

Ben, over at Dunelm Road, has created a list of recommended background reading for the NT and Patristics study. I’m quite thankful for the list: there’s a lot of good recommendations! However, I’m also sad that my Greek and Latin aren’t better. I want to read those texts in their original languages! I’m currently working my way slowly through the Greek Psalms and Ignatius of Antioch. It’s terrific fun, but it is slow going. My Greek is improving, but I’m still a long ways off from being able to read like I can in French. I’ve found that reading outside the NT is quite helpful for Greek practice. I’m simply too familiar with most of the NT in English for it to benefit my Greek knowledge, ironically enough. I can’t say the same regarding the Psalms or Apostolic Fathers. Hopefully my Latin will progress quickly so I can actually start reading stuff. I’ve printed off a few pages of Tertullian but I can’t tell the verbs from the nouns yet ;-).

May God continue to empower our study of His languages!


ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ in the Apostolic Fathers

So I’m thinking of doing some posts on πίστις Χριστοῦ in the apostolic fathers. I’m rather interested to see how the early Fathers understood the now controversial phrase, which can be understood as either “faith in Jesus Christ” or “faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” This is a huge debate in Pauline scholarship right now. I’m tentatively in the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” camp, though I haven’t really read enough of either side. I’ve run some searches through accordance to see what I could find. One particularly interesting bit came in chapter 1 of Ignatius’ letter to the Magnesians. I’ll post the Greek and English here (Michael Holmes’s translation).

“Γνοὺς ὑμῶν τὸ πολυεύτακτον τῆς κατὰ θεὸν ἀγάπης, ἀγαλλιώμενος, προειλάμην ἐν πίστει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ προσλαλῆσαι ὑμῖν.
καταξιωθεὶς γὰρ ὀνόματος θεοπρεπεστάτου, ἐν οἷς περιφέρω δεσμοῖς ᾄδω τὰς ἐκκλησίας, ἐν αἷς ἕνωσιν εὔχομαι σαρκὸς καὶ πνεύματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, τοῦ διὰ παντὸς ἡμῶν ζῆν, πίστεώς τε καὶ ἀγάπης, ἧς οὐδὲν προκέκριται, τὸ δὲ κυριώτερον, Ἰησοῦ καὶ πατρός·
ἐν ᾧ ὑπομένοντες τὴν πᾶσαν ἐπήρειαν τοῦ ἄρχοντος τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου καὶ διαφυγόντες θεοῦ τευξόμεθα.”

1) “When I learned how well ordered your love toward God is, I rejoiced and resolved to address you in the faith of Jesus Christ.
2) For inasmuch as I have been judged worthy to bear a most godly name, in these chains that I bear I sing the praises of the churches, and I pray that in them there may be a union of flesh and spirit that comes from Jesus Christ, our never-failing life, and of faith and love, to which nothing is preferable, and—what is more important—of Jesus and the Father.
In him we will reach God, if we patiently endure all the abuse of the ruler of this age and escape.”

Whenever I try to resolve this question, I feel the weight of my Greek ignorance! I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough to make a reliable judgment on the basis of grammar and syntax, but hopefully I can appeal somewhat to theology and context (two things I can do a bit better than Greek thankfully ;-) ).

Holmes here translates the first bolded phrase as “address you in the faith of Jesus Christ.” To me, this reading sounds like it’s focused on doctrine. “I address you as one who believes the correct things about Jesus.” I don’t think that’s the best way to understand the phrase though. (One thing to do would be to look and see if Ignatius uses “faith” as a short way of saying “Christianity.” He may, though I can’t think of any off the top of my head). I think a better way to render the phrase is “by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” with the rest of the chapter as supporting context.

My primary reasons here come from the beginning and end of verse 2. In the beginning of the verse, Ignatius writes, “in these chains I bear, I sing the praises of the churches.” I think the echo is a liturgical one; he’s drawing on the practice of singing together during the Eucharist. The next line follows the “song” with a prayer for the unity of the Church. The liturgy, as Ignatius understood it, was fundamentally participatory. In the Eucharist, the Church shared in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus (according to 1 Cor 10:14-17). This supports a “faithfulness of Jesus” reading because Ignatius is participating in the faithfulness of Christ. He is able to address this church only because of Christ’s faithfulness. In suffering for him, Ignatius shares in his sufferings, and thus shares in Jesus’ faithfulness.

This point is reinforced by the final part of the verse, where Ignatius writes, “In him we will reach God, if we patiently endure all the abuse of the ruler of this age and escape.” The exhortation here is to faithful sufferings, but the basis is participatory: “in him we will reach…” Because of the echoes to the liturgy and to faithful suffering, I think that a “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” reading is justified. Indeed, with Ignatius’ strong emphasis throughout his letters on “suffering with Christ,” many of uses as πἰστις probably have strong “faithfulness” connotations.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. More to come later!


On Paul and the Apostolic Fathers

I loved reading through the Apostolic Fathers and seeing the allusions to the New Testament. I’ve just been going over Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 5. It’s remarkable how he combines so many Pauline themes into his epistle. Polycarp’s Philippians 5 definitely alludes to Galatians. It starts with “God is not mocked (Θεὸς ού μυκτηρίζεται).” We also get his allusion back to “walking in the Spirit” with Polycarp’s reference to “the walk (περιπατειν).” Tracing this through to v. 3, we see the “flesh versus Spirit” dichotomy, with Polycarp sharply warning against the “desires of the world (επιθυμια ἐν τῳ κοσμῳ).”

Another fascinating aspect of this is how he conflates several related Pauline letters. For instance, Galatians 5 contains a vice list which ends with “those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (βασίλεαν θεοῦ κληρονομήσουσιν)” But Polycarp shows full awareness of the very similar vice list in 1 Corinthians 6 because he quotes vices from that list that aren’t in Galatians. Both end with the bit on not inheriting the kingdom. We also have a subtle allusion to early parts of 1 Corinthians in Polycarp’s Philippians 5:2. Polycarp says that “if we live in a manner worth of him, we will rule with him (συμβασιλεύσομεν), if indeed we trust.” The same word for ruling is used ironically in 1 Corinthians 4:8, where Paul says, “Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you (συμβασιλεύσωμεν)!” In light of chapter 6, where Paul talks about the church judging on the last day, the irony here is not that the Corinthians “are kings,” (they will be someday), but that they are already kings.

Likewise, the flesh/Spirit antithesis in Galatians 5 seems to bring in Ephesians 4-6. Polycarp not only speaks of the flesh “desiring what is contrary to the Spirit,” but also talks about the flesh “waging war against the Spirit. (στρατευεται, literally to serve in the military).” This echoes the great military language of Ephesians 6, where we are instructed to “put on the full armor of God.” Likewise, Polycarp’s affinity for παριπατεω (to walk) links with the adverb αξιῶς (worthy). Paul puts the two together Ephesians 4:1, where the Church is urged to “walk (περιπαῆσαι) in a manner worthy (αξιῶς) of the calling you have received.”

Watching the Apostolic Fathers read Paul is a treat. Or rather, watching Paul write through the Apostolic Fathers is a treat ;-) In this one chapter, Polycarp has leveraged at the very least, 1 Cor 4-6, Eph 4-6, and Gal 5-6. And those are just the ones I found. This early bishop was clearly significantly shaped by Paul, both by his letters, and no doubt by the liturgy that developed from his work. We have a lot to learn from these guys!


Essay Excerpt: Ignatius and θεοφορός (Part One)

Here’s an excerpt from the essay I wrote on Paul and Ignatius. It concerns his use of the term θεοφορός, ‘God-bearer.’

We may begin our analysis of Ignatius by examining the term Θεοφορός, the title that Ignatius uses at the beginning of all letters: “Ἰγνάτιος, ὁ καὶ Θεοφόρος.” The term is a compound of the noun θεὸς and the participle φορὸς, meaning “God-bearer.” The interpretation of this term is controversial, but it has the ability to shed light on Ignatius’ self-understanding and the depth of his identification with Christ. Two interpretative options will be given, and then I will show the participatory implications of both.

The first option presents the term functioning as an additional name for Ignatius. Thus, Lightfoot translates the opening, “Ignatius, also called Theophorus,” and leaves the term untranslated. Supporters of the second option believe the word functions as a semi-technical cultic title that has been re-appropriated in a Christian way. Holmes thus translates the phrase this way, “Ignatius the Image-bearer.” The adaptation in this case would come from Greco-Roman epiphany processions. In these processions, an “image-bearer” would carry an image that was supposed to mediate the presence of a deity. Some argue that this is the material Paul is drawing on when he speaks of “always bearing (περιφεροντες) in our bodies the death of Jesus.” Likewise, it is argued that Ignatius is using Pagan cultic practices and redrawing them around Jesus.

Reading θεοφορός as an additional name readily coheres with what we know of early Christianity. Early Christian leaders regularly had name changes, or additional names given. Saul became Paul following his conversion in the narrative of Acts. Even more famously, Simon became Peter in Matthew 16:18. Names had important theological implications, in both the Old and New Testaments. There are copious examples to choose from, but one famous example comes from Isaiah 7:14 where the child was to be named “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.” Of course, this gets picked up by the New Testament writers and applied to Jesus. So even if θεοφορός is an additional name for Ignatius, it is still legitimate to explore the theological implications of the term. The idea of “bearing God” in his body certainly shaped Ignatius as he reflected on his approaching death.

The second option reads θεοφορός as a title that has been drawn from the Greco-Roman epiphany processions. Since a θεοφορός denoted the personal carrying an image of a deity in these Pagan practices, this reading argues that Ignatius draws on this practice, redefining it in Christian terms. Instead of mediating the presence of a god through an image, Ignatius as a θεοφορός would evoke notions of carrying the presence of God in his own body. He is the true “God-bearer”, over against the pagan θεοφόροι. This reading is particularly strong if Paul is doing the same thing in 2 Corinthians. For several reasons, I find this reading more plausible. Ignatius uses the term when referring to the Ephesian Church in Ephesians 9:2. Holmes notes that if θεοφορός is functioning as a name, “it would be the first instance of such a usage.” Finally, it may function as a parallel to Paul’s use of ἀπόστολος. However, we will see strong participatory significance in either case.

First, if θεοφορός is a name for Ignatius, then it is would have played a significant part in his self-reflection. It may have been given to him at his baptism, or at some other significant even in his life. It may have come out of a charismatic experience similar to what he describes in Philadelphians, or that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14. One cannot do much more than speculate about the source of the name, but if it were a name then it surely would have had significance.

On the other hand, if θεοφορός is a title, then Ignatius is deliberately making an ironic ploy. In this case, he defines himself over against the pagan image-bearers as the “image-bearer” of the one, true God. The image is not an idol made of gold, but rather his own body and ministry. The presence of God within him is best seen as he participates in the suffering of Christ. Indeed, he speaks of “rejoicing in the suffering of our Lord” (Ign Phld Salutation).

We may further note the similarity between θεοφορός for Ignatius and ἀπόστολος for Paul. Structurally, they come at nearly identical places in the letter. Paul most often begins his letters with, “Παυλος ἀπόστολος.” Ignatius begins every one of his letters with “Ιγνάτιος ὁ και θεοφορός.” The immediate difference is the presence of the article ὁ and the conjunction καὶ. Still, the similarities are significant. Paul’s self-understanding as an apostle of Jesus shaped and influenced everything he did. We see this throughout his letters, but especially in 2 Corinthians, which we examined earlier. I suggest that θεοφορός shares similar significance for Ignatius. This is a strong claim, and would take rather detailed exegesis to argue in full detail. For now it is sufficient to note the participatory significance of θεοφορός. At the present, we may finally turn to the texts in more detail.

Perhaps more to come…