Bruce Winter has offered a particularly helpful description of ancient orators in regard to their entrance into a city, their public speaking, and the results or rewards they hoped to gain from their speeches. Some further comments and quotes are given from ancient sources, as well as full quotations from Paul on this subject matter.
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The essay also seeks to raise the challenge such a study poses to modern day preachers, evangelists, and Christian speakers, as well as to audiences. As in the case of Paul, the orthodox Church regularly has to challenge a false Gospel from teachers who distort the truth. Yet the application of this essay is more in regard to a false mode of speech and ministry that has similarities to Graeco-Roman oratory.
The Entry eisodos of the orator into a city. Paul gives particular attention to the difference between his ministry and Greek orators in 1 Thessalonians. He had only been in the city a short while, and this could be mistaken for the self-serving motives of such orators. Paul, on the other hand, entered the city with no advance reputation or staged welcome. In fact, in 2 Corinthians, he and his mission associates need no letters of recommendation, as some do.
Instead, the Corinthians are their letter of recommendation, written on their hearts, known and read by all 2 Cor. The Initial Speech. The Greek orators offered an initial speech that helped whet the appetite of the audience for more. Upon entry, the visiting orators would make arrangements for a public place so that they could deliver an exemplary speech.
This place might be a lecture hall, the precincts of a temple, or a theatre and, as Winter notes, invitations would then be sent out for the initial speech. His audience was fellow Jews and any God-fearing Gentiles attached to the synagogue. He did not need an initial speech but simply fit into the expected interaction around interpreting the Scriptures.
The orator then invited the audience to nominate topics for a speech. He would either offer an impromptu speech or set a plan for a later delivery. Either way, the speech ought to be original rather than something that had been delivered before. This was a piece of Good News that he delivered over and over again from city to city. The Speech. It was an essential skill for social success in antiquity. It was needed in the courts judicial speech , in the public assemblies deliberative speech , and on public occasions epideictic speech.
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Thus, Greek and Roman audiences had learned to listen to public speakers employ their craft, and they could be rather critical of persons who lacked the skills taught in the rhetorical handbooks and displayed by the great orators of the day. The rhetorical expectations for the church that Paul encouraged were those of the synagogue, not the expectations of a Graeco-Roman audience. Not speeches but Biblical interpretation in light of the coming of Jesus Christ was the appropriate focus in the church—along with prophecy, utterances of Spirit-inspired wisdom and knowledge, discernment of spirits, and tongues and their interpretation; that is, not preaching.
This is not to say that we should do away with the sermon as an un-Biblical practice. Audiences have to be taught the right expectations. The more a sermon tries to hit home an idea through rhetoric rather than demonstrate an interpretation, the further it moves away from the practice that Paul encouraged in his churches.
Since people would not have had their own collection of Biblical scrolls at home, this searching of the Scriptures would have taken place together at the synagogue. It meant that his rhetoric would not be a speech trying to persuade an audience through rhetoric but a teaching in the sense of Jewish study of the Scriptures. Inasmuch as his mode of delivery was teaching, it was dialogical. And some said, "What does this babbler wish to say? Given the religious world of antiquity, this further meant that philosophy was not separated from religion but intertwined with it.
The mode of discourse was still dialogical; it was evaluated on the basis of reason rather than persuasion rhetoric , even if the means of proof had to shift from proof from the Scriptures before a Biblically literate audience in the synagogue to proof from facts and their implications before a philosophically engaged audience in the marketplace. Bruce Winter also considers the nature of Greek oratory in terms of the rewards that the orators expected.
The greatest reward for an orator might be to establish a school in the city—to receive paying pupils. He might move on to another city once a crop of students had been educated, but it would suit him well to be received by the city to train its youth for public oratory. An orator might also be employed by the city to represent it in some ambassadorial role.
More modestly, an orator might hope to be engaged to represent a citizen in court. Criticism of Ancient Orators. Apparently, some persons in early Christian circles adopted the methods of Greek and Roman orators, no doubt with the success that might be expected in a context that so highly prized such oratory. Some in the early Corinthian congregation gave in to this sort of partisanship. In response, Paul says,. In 1 Thessalonians and 1 and 2 Corinthians in particular, but also in other letters of Paul, we catch his critique of such oratory. Orators were criticized for wanting to display their talents—over against addressing serious issues in serious ways:.
My purpose is … neither to elate you nor to range myself beside those who habitually sing such strains, whether orators or poets. For they are clever persons, mighty sophists, wonder-workers, but I am quite ordinary and prosaic in my utterance, though not ordinary in my theme.
Orators were also criticized for wanting money from their audiences. As people-pleasers, sophists inevitably formed their speeches in accordance with what audiences wanted to hear. The sophists also can't help adopting the thought of their listeners, saying and thinking such things as fit the nature of those listeners, whatever it happens to be…. Seeking public honour could involve more than public applause. Honour could involve imperial and civic recognition, immortalization with a statue, or a publically displayed inscription.
An emphasis on rhetoric and the motivation to receive public praise inevitably also entailed such persons being less interested in the truth. They were accused of putting forward as fact what was not proven but merely sounded plausible to the audience. They might even intentionally put forward falsehoods to accomplish their purposes. Philo says:. Orators played with the truth through their use of clever rather than ordinary speech:. Can we point out a more enormous instance of iniquity in any speaker than this inconsistency between his words and actions?
Paul's Opposition to Oratory. Instead of public honours, he gladly suffered persecution as a testimony to his motives as well as participation in the sufferings of Christ. Thus he could not be accused of gaining from deception, from putting forward false or impure teaching.
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