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Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians.

Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians. By Margaret M. Mitchell. Hermeneutische Untersuchungen zur Theologie. Tubingen: Mohr (Siebeck) 1991. Pp. 380. DM 168.

Mitchell's published University of Chicago dissertation constructs an elegant argument for the literary unity of 1 Corinthians and provides an important methodological advance for the study of ancient rhetoric and the New Testament. A secondary objective, to show that the factionalism discussed in 1 Cor 1-4 extends to the issues treated in chapters 5-16 is less successful, but it moves the discussion of connections between the two in the right direction. M.'s comprehensive exegetical study of 1 Corinthians sets out the task and the methodology she employs, describes the genre of deliberative rhetoric, organizes the thematic and rhetorical unity of the letter under the categories of factionalism and reconciliation, presents a compositional analysis designed to show that 1 Corinthians is a unified deliberative letter urging concord, and finally offers conclusions and suggestions as to how future studies might follow up the groundwork laid in this volume.

In this reviewer's opinion the book's greatest value lies in the delineation of deliberative rhetoric in antiquity and the application of that to 1 Corinthians. Partitionists will have to have a serious conversation with M.'s convincing demonstration of the letter's literary integrity. The methodological contributions alone are worth the price of the book. This is not an example of rhetorical criticism as it is usually practiced in NT studies. M. readily acknowledges that without detriment to rhetorical criticism as we have come to know it. In her own words, she practices "historical rhetorical criticism," which attempts "to keep rhetorical criticism under the umbrella of the historical-critical method." To this extent the study really deals with the study of ancient rhetoric and the NT.

The principles upon which this type of rhetorical criticism is based are five: that rhetorical criticism is an historical undertaking; that actual ancient speeches and letters must be consulted along with rhetorical handbooks; that the designation of a rhetorical species of a text, e.g. epideictic, deliberative, or forensic, cannot be begged in the analysis; that the appropriateness of rhetoricl form or genre to content must the demonstrated; and that the rhetorical unit under investigation should be a compositional unit, which can be further substantiated by successful rhetorical analysis. M. is generally faithful to the application of these principles, but shines especially on the second. The sheer volume of examples of actual deliberative speeches and letters is impressive in this study and greatly advances the discussion of how the content of the handbooks played out in the real rhetorical situations of antiquity.

The disclaimer in the conclusion that "in an investigation which so much stresses the factionalism at Corinth, no new comprehensive analysis of the names, composition, socioeconomic background and theological positions of the Corinthian parties is provided," does not absolve the work from the fact that M. does not make tighter connections between the historical situation described in 1 Cor 1-4 and the actual problems addressed in the letter's subsequent chapters. In part, the problem stems from the narrow focus on political factionalism and the terminology associated with that, which M. sets forth in her third chapter. In some places the analysis in forced. Greater precision in the identification and application of topoi is needed. While M. is correct that throughout the letter Paul urges the Corinthians to seek the common good, she has not shown precisely enough how the threat to that mentioned in 1 Cor 1-4 is the source for additional threats taken up in chapters 5-16. While Dahl's observation about the clarity of the relation between the first four chapters and the rest of the epistle is still relevant, M.'s valuable study has done more to close the gap than previous studies have.

In her treatment of factionalism, M. remarkably omits discussion of the relevance of social division at Corinth. There is some brief mention of it in the places where it cannot be escaped, but in light of the literature on the topic it is strange that not more was said. This reviewer was left with a question about whether or not one should distinguish different kinds of division, i.e. socio-economic, theological, and religious, from political factionalism. Paul's use of the rhetoric of reconciliation could still apply if this were the case.

These criticisms do not detract from the book's real strengths, and in no way do they undercut the fact that M. has produced a major study of 1 Corinthians. Scholars will be indebted to her for a long time to come.

Georgetown University Alan C. Mitchell, S.J.
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Author:Mitchell, Alan C.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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