• Jan Botha Stellenbosch University


The dominant current conception of rhetoric is defined in this article as ‘a less important, formal aspect of the use of language in (oral) human communication, not (necessarily) expressing truth; a practice which contains in its essence of the use of stylistic figures with the purpose of evoking an emotional effect in an audience’. This conception, however, differs significantly from rhetoric as it was seen by the ancient Greek and Roman rhetoricians. In the 20th century the study of rhetoric revived – building on classical conceptions but also with significant emphases: genesis (the process of creation) as well as analysis (the process of interpretation) is the mark of modern rhetorics. Thus the wider social relations between speakers and their audience, writers and readers, fall within the rhetorician’s purview. This implies that two levels of discourse have to be dealt with: the level of rhetoric in Scripture (i e, how the texts ‘works’ or ‘functions’), and the level of the rhetoric of the interpretation of Scripture (i e, how modern scholars – as readers within specific social relations- argue their case about the interpretation and methods of interpretation of the New Testament. It is argued that the ‘reinvention’ of rhetoric, as seen by the emergence of rhetoric criticism in New Testament interpretation, needs to affect both the practice of New Testament interpretation itself, and the institutionalizing of New Testament scholarship in seminaries, faculties of theology and scientific societies in South Africa. Rhetorical criticism can get us into contact with texts as power once again, and not just with texts as embodiment of content.

Author Biography

Jan Botha, Stellenbosch University
Centre for Contextual Hermeneutics