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When ‘Preaching’ is No Longer ‘Christian’: A Study of Paul’s Opposition to Oratory in His Day—and Ours

Introduction:

Paul faced a major challenge in his missionary proclamation: he needed to distinguish himself from other public speakers of his day in both what he proclaimed and how he presented the Gospel.  Like them, Paul showed up at a new city and needed to find a hearing from people he did not personally know.  Yet that is about as much as Paul would have wanted to acknowledge he had in common with the Greek or Roman orators of his day.  To be sure, some public orators, like Dio Chrysostom (c. AD 40-c. 115), also wanted to distinguish themselves from popular orators for similar reasons to Paul.  Paul was not unfamiliar with the rhetorical methods of his day and could show himself an able writer and speaker.  Yet, for reasons of both a different content to his message and a concern for truth rather than persuasive methods of delivery, Paul was no orator.  He found the conventions of his day antithetical to the Gospel itself.

This essay seeks to show how Paul distinguished himself from orators of antiquity. He often had to challenge those who taught a false Gospel, but here the focus is on a false median for the Gospel—the conventions of Greek and Roman oratory.  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.[1]  The following discussion builds from his study, which will prove useful to any wishing to pursue this further.  Some further comments and quotes are given from ancient sources, as well as full quotations from Paul on this subject matter.

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.  While we might first think of modern day politicians as the foil for Paul’s words in our day, many contemporary speakers in the Church need to hear Paul afresh.  While only a few comments are made here on how Paul’s words apply to our day, the study of Paul in his context offers rich fodder for further thought about contemporary Christian ministry.

I. 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.  He mentions his ‘entry’ (eisodos), although the ESV and the NRSV both obscure this by translating the Greek term as ‘reception’ and ‘welcome,’ respectively.  But Paul actually says, ‘For they reported about us what sort of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…’ (1 Th. 1.9).[2]  According to Winter, the Greek orators entered a city with great fanfare, expecting an enthusiastic (zēlos) welcome and honour (philotimia) befitting a great orator.  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. 3.1-2).

II. 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.

In Paul’s case, however, his entry involved connecting with the local synagogue, as was his custom (Acts 17.1-2), and this created an entirely different dynamic.  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. As Winter explains, the Greek orators’ initial speech[3] involved some introductions, explaining their own renown or praising[4] the city and its citizens.  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.  Paul, on the other hand, gladly declares that he had a single message: ‘For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2.2; this and subsequent translations are from the ESV).  This was a piece of Good News that he delivered over and over again from city to city.

III. The Speech

‘Rhetoric’ is defined as the ‘art of persuasion.’  Greeks (e.g., Aristotle) and Romans (e.g., Cicero, Quintilian) produced detailed rhetorical handbooks to teach this fundamental skill in all its forms.  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).  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.  With the focus on rhetoric, there was, inevitably, an uneasy tension between the persuasiveness of speech and the truth of a matter.

Paul’s synagogue audiences, on the other hand, wanted to hear an interpretation of the Scriptures, not a rhetorical flourish, an ornamented speech (or sermon) that would amaze the audience.  His message was not a piece of reasoning per se but a reasoning from a sacred text—an interpretation of a community’s authoritative text.  He ‘reasoned with them [the Thessalonian Jews] from the Scriptures’ (Acts 17.2).  Paul would explain and prove from Scripture (the Old Testament) that ‘it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead,’ and that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 17.3).  The synagogue was not interested in Greek or Roman styled speeches—frankly, ‘preaching’—but wanted to hear people interpret the Word of God.  This is why, no doubt, the activities of the church were never described in terms of ‘preaching’—English translations of Scripture that use the word ‘preaching’ would probably do better with the word ‘proclamation,’ since the meaning in those contexts is a setting forth of the Gospel—evangelistic proclamation—not what we have come to expect from the pulpit on a Sunday morning in our form of the regular ‘church service.’  Acts 2.42 summarizes the activities of the Jerusalem church as devotion to ‘the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’  The ‘gifts’ given to the church do not include preachers, but they do include teachers (1 Corinthians 12.28-29; Romans 12.6-8; Ephesians 4.11).  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.  It is to say that we are warned of the dangers of sermons being crafted as speeches that appeal to an audience through their rhetorical strengths over their strengths in accurate interpretation of God’s Word.  Audiences have to be taught the right expectations.  If one regularly leaves a church service asking others, ‘Did you like the sermon?’ instead of ‘Did you understand the Biblical interpretation?’, the audience has been poorly trained in the purpose of speech in the church service.  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.  The more the contemporary ‘sermon’ leans towards rhetoric—in gripping illustrations, in opinions on topics, in some ‘big idea’ encapsulated in a brilliant story rather than proven from the Biblical text—the more it departs from the teaching mode of communication of the synagogue—and of Paul.  In Berea, Jews listened to Paul’s teaching the about Jesus Christ in the synagogue and daily examined the Scriptures to see if these things were possibly so (Acts 17.11).  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. 

Paul’s fitting into the rhythm of synagogue life, therefore, meant not only that he did not have to find a time and a place for a public speech, send out invitations, and try to assemble a crowd as Greek and Roman orators.  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.  We see this in what Luke says about Paul’s ministry in Athens in his mode of communication among both Jews in the synagogue and Gentiles in the marketplace:

Acts 17:17-18 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.  18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, "What does this babbler wish to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a preacher [katangelous, proclaimer] of foreign divinities"- because he was preaching [euēngelizeto, proclaimed the good news of] Jesus and the resurrection.

This text adds to what has been said to this point that Paul’s proclamation was also to a non-Jewish audience in the marketplace.  Here, the nature of his discourse was more that of the Greek and Roman philosophers, where reasoning rather than rhetoric was expected.  Paul would certainly have been challenged to present the Gospel without an appeal to Scripture.  He was challenged to demonstrate that the facts of the Gospel—Jesus’ death on a cross and his resurrection from the dead—spoke to the philosophical issues of the day.  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.

IV. Rewards

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.

V. Criticism of Ancient Orators

Some of the criticism of ancient orators in Greek and Roman authors overlaps with Paul’s concerns about oratory.  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.  Paul’s 1 Thessalonians and both of his surviving letters to the Corinthians, in particular, distance him from these orators.  His brief time in Thessalonica could be interpreted as a travelling orator’s exploitation of an audience in a city rather than in terms of a persecuted apostle run out of town due to the offence of the Gospel.  In Corinth, there was a particularly susceptible citizenship to the sophists’ oratory and the factions that they produced:

The time of the bi-annual Isthmian games at Corinth was ‘when one could hear crowds of wretched sophists around Poseidon’s temple shouting and reviling one another, and their disciples, as they were called, fighting with one another (Dio Chrysostom, Oracle 8.9).

Some in the early Corinthian congregation gave in to this sort of partisanship.  In response, Paul says,

1 Corinthians 1:10-12 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.  11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.  12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ."

In 1 Thessalonians and 1 and 2 Corinthians in particular, but also in other letters of Paul, we catch his critique of such oratory.  Paul’s concerns compare to criticisms offered by persons such as Plato, Dio Chrysostom, and Philo.  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.  For though the words I speak are not great in themselves, they treat of topics of the greatest possible importance (Dio Chrysostom, Oracle 32.39).

Plato refers to a sophist as an entertainer or juggler (Sophist 235A, B).

Orators were also criticized for wanting money from their audiences.[5]  Philo speaks of sophists selling doctrines and reasoning, just like any other commodity (Philo, Moses II.212). They were thought of as persons’ whose primary motivation was praise from their audiences:

Gentlemen, I have come before you not to display my talents as a speaker nor because I want money from you, or expect your praise (Dio Chrysostom, Oracle 35.1).[6]

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…. (Dio Chrysostom, Oracle 35.8).

Plato says that sophistry or flattery aims at what is pleasant instead of what is best (Gorgias 465a; Agr. 1.164).  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.[7]

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:

But being clothed in the much-variegated web of political affairs, with which the smallest possible portion of truth is mixed up; and also many and large portions of plausible, probable, and likely falsehoods, from which all the sophists of Egypt, and all the augurs, and ventriloquists, and sorcerers spring; men skilful in juggling, and in incantations, and in tricks of all kinds, from whose treacherous arts it is very difficult to escape’ (On Dreams 1.220).[8]

Orators played with the truth through their use of clever rather than ordinary speech: 

For it is my nature to talk quite simply and unaffectedly and in a manner in no wise better than that of any ordinary person; whereas you are devoted to oratory to a degree that is remarkable, I may even say excessive, and you tolerate as speakers only those who are very clever (Dio Chrysostom, Oracle 35.1).[9]

The deceptive speech of such orators could either have to do with hypocrisy, the orators’ not living according to the virtues they taught, or with deceiving their audiences by means of their rhetorical powers.[10]  As Demosthenes says,

Can we point out a more enormous instance of iniquity in any speaker than this inconsistency between his words and actions?’ (On the Crown).

Paul's Opposition to Oratory 

In contrast to these Greek orators, whose reputation had developed over hundreds of years by Paul’s day, Paul sought to address the truth.  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.  The opposition he encountered absolved him of any charge of flattery.  His working to support his ministry undercut any charge of greed.  He did not relate to an audience as a salesman but to a family community as a mother caring for her children.  All this Paul states in 1 Thessalonians,

1 Thessalonians 2:2-13 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.  3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive,  4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.  5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed- God is witness.  6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.  7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.  8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.  9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.  10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.  11 For you know how, like a father with his children,  12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.  13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Paul’s concern to distinguish himself from rhetorical persuasion in order to proclaim truth and truth alone is also something that he needs to state to the Corinthians.  His power is through spiritual truth, not human wisdom or rhetoric.  He says,

1 Corinthians 2:1-16 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God….  12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.  16 "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

Unlike other orators, Paul arrives with no letters of recommendation to establish his credentials.  His commission is from God, his authority Christ’s.  His ‘recommendation’ is in the changed hearts of his audience.  He rejects means of persuasion—the rhetoric and antics of orators—so that the only basis of persuasion is the truth of the Gospel found in God’s Word:

2 Corinthians 2:17 - 3:2, 4.2 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.  3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?  2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all…. 4:2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.

The challenge Paul faced was not only from non-Christian orators but also from Christians who had adopted the means and methods of Greek oratory.  He notes that ‘some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will’ (Philippians 1.15).  Chapters 10-12 of 2 Corinthians particularly address this problem of what today might be called ‘seeker sensitive’ oratory.  The following lengthy quotations show Paul’s radical departure from accepted methods of oratory.  What is clear in Paul’s defense of a ‘Christian oratory’ is that the content of the Gospel—Jesus Christ and him crucified—also establishes the method of oratory and ministry.

2 Corinthians 10:10-18 For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account."  11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.  12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.  13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you.  14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. We were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.  15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged,  16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's area of influence.  17 "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."  18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 11:5 - 12:1 I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles.  6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.  7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel to you free of charge?  8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you.  9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.  10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia.  11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!  12 And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.  13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.  16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.  17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not with the Lord's authority but as a fool.  18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.  19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves!  20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.  21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of- I am speaking as a fool- I also dare to boast of that.  22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.  23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one- I am talking like a madman- with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.  24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.  29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?  30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.  31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.  32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me,  33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.  ESV 2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord…. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works….

2 Corinthians 13:3-4 since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.  4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God…. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.  10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

Conclusion

This study is offered for two reasons.  First, a study of Paul’s proclamation in the context of ancient Greek oratory (beginning with an important essay by Bruce Winter) helps illuminate several passages in his letters, especially in 1 Thessalonians and 1 and 2 Corinthians.  What stands out is that Paul was deeply concerned to distinguish his ministry from these orators, who were part of a tradition stretching back several hundred years in Greek and Roman society.  To proclaim the Gospel required not only a different message to the Gentile audience but also a different means of proclamation.  Paul saw that the means of proclamation had to conform to the content of the proclamation—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul embodied the message he proclaimed.  Moreover, Christianity, following the practice of the synagogue, focussed speaking on interpretation of God's Word, not oratory.  Classics scholar George Kennedy, assessing Christian speaking up to about AD 200, came to a similar conclusion:[11]

The primary function of the Christian orator, in contrast [to classical orators], was to interpret and bring into practice the holy word.  Homiletic preaching was basically ‘a projection of the eloquence of Scripture’ and not an achievement of the eloquence of the preacher.

Second, such a study is offered because of its relevance today.  The problem we face is not only of certain flashy television evangelists or mega-church orators (erroneously called ‘pastors’) seeking public praise and honour, getting rich off of gullible audiences, and building their own little independent empire.  The problem is also where successful oratory rather than the Gospel grows the congregation, not only creating a shallow discipleship but also a mistaken ecclesiology.  Churches are first and foremost conceived of in the New Testament as God’s holy people (a living temple of God filled with the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 2.19-22).  The primary image for the church is that of a family, for the Gospel knits together a close community of persons contributing their various gifts to upbuilding (1 Corinthians 12) or maturing (Ephesians 4.11-13) the people.  Large crowds gathered to hear a successful speaker can hardly consider themselves a church, let alone when the message of the Gospel and the nature of worship is ‘sanitized’ from too Christian a focus so that ‘seekers’ are comfortable during the performance.  The more that speaking (preaching) in the church is confused with oratory rather than interpretation of Scripture, the more ‘preaching’ actually contributes to Biblical illiteracy in the church.  In light of increasing Biblical illiteracy in the western Church, whether liberal or evangelical (and this for various reasons), the more it is important to recover the early church’s focus on interpretation of the Scriptures—teaching the Word—as the concern during Christian assembly, not preaching in the sense of persuasive oratory.




[1] Bruce Winter, ‘The Entries and Ethics of Orators and Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12),’ Tyndale Bulletin 44.1 (1993): 55-74.  Online at:
[2] The term ‘eisodos’ is repeated in 1 Th. 2.1.  My translation.
[3] This might be called a dialexis—also called proagōn, prolalia, lalia.
[4] An encomium.
[5] They have ‘little regard for education … [they] concern themselves with making money. . .they zealously pursue wealth… [and] the luxurious life’ (Abraham Malherbe, referencing a 1st century Cynic epistle; cf. A. Malherbe (ed.), Cynic Epistles (Missoula, Scholars Press 1977) 1.4, 6 6.1-2).  Some orators had costly fees; some philosophers allowed those who had little resources to attend as well (Cynic Epistles, 1.2; referenced by B. Winter, p. 61).  Dio Chrystostom criticizes flatterers and persons who seek money, reputation, or something else pleasurable from their speaking (3.12-14).
[6] See D.A. Russell, Greek Declamations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
[7] B. Winter writes (pp. 61-62): ‘Polemo received imperial honours, and Nicetes from the Neronean era was awarded civic honours [Philostratus, Lives of Sophists, #532-3]. Favorinus had been cast in bronze by the Corinthian citizens, in front of the library in the forum, and public inscriptions in that Roman colony also recorded the names of its orators who were honoured for posterity [Or. 37.20, J.H. Kent, Corinth: Inscriptions 1926-1950; Corinth: Results 8.3 (Princeton, American School of Archaeology in Athens 1966) nos. 226, 264, 268-9.].
[8] The Works of Philo Judaeus, the Contemporary of Josephus, trans. C. D. Yonge, 4 vols. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854-55).
[9] Dio Chrysostom, III, Discourses 31-36, trans. J. W. Cohoon and H. Lamar Crosby (Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1940).
[10] B. Winter, p. 63. Cf. Philo, in Who is Heir of Divine Things (Her. 1.302), speaks of persons who misuse speech being ‘flatterers, imposters, devisers of plausible sophistries, men who rather cultivate the skill to delude and to cheat, and who have no care to speak truly, and these men study indistinctness.’

[11] George A. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 1980), p. 137.  His quote is from John S. Chamberlin, Increase and Multiply: Arts of Discourse Procedure in the Preaching of Donne (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina, 1976), p. 28.