SBL 2017 – Boston

Insinuatio and Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17:22-31

I am posting my 2017 SBL paper presented in Boston, MA on November 20, 2017 entitled “Insinuatio and Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17:22-31.” This was for the Greco-Roman Religions program unit with the theme of Interactions with Cultic Spaces. The paper is taken from portions of my dissertation (still finishing). You can listen to the recording above, use the PowerPoint below, and read along with the paper below. The presentation with feedback lasted 52 minutes! Not the normal length at SBL, but this was because I presented last, they had extra time for the session, and there was a business meeting afterwards for the program unit. They questioned me for about 20 minutes, some people being polite and others (ignorantly) mocking (the consensus among scholars that Greeks and Romans did not accept the Jewish-Christian theology of future, bodily, transformative resurrection).

Please properly cite this paper as such (SBLHS):

Christian, Timothy J. 2017. Insinuatio and Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17:22-31. Paper presented at the annual meeting of SBL. Boston, MA. November 20.

(Christian 2017, 15)

PDF – Insinuatio and Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17.22-31

PowerPoint – Insinuatio and Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17.22-31 – PowerPoint


Why Rhetoric Is So Important for Understanding the New Tesament

Timothy J. Christian. Summary of Ben Witherington III, “‘Almost Thou Persuadest Me…’: The Importance of Greco-Roman Rhetoric for the Understanding of the Text and Context of the NT,” JETS 58 (2015): 63-88.

In this article, Witherington puts forth and all out defense of NT rhetorical criticism (RC), refuting common objections in part I, confirming/validating the practice in part II, and demonstrating its important use to interpreting the NT (using examples) in part III.


  • Rhetorical analysis of the NT is not a “new method.”
  • It was practiced by many Greek Fathers
    • Origen, Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Gregory Nazianzus), and John Chrysostom, etc.
  • Problems lies with scholars who have not kept up with classicists and patristic scholars.
  • Nothing is new about RC of the NT.
  • RC is time-honored
    • Been in use for well over a 1,000 years.
    • Predates epistolary analysis by 1,000 years.
  • The rise of all the biblical criticisms during the 19th-21st centuries are “new.”
  • RC is not an antique method.
  • RC was used up until WWI.
  • RC fell out of usage in the 20th century due to changes in university curriculum.
    • Major universities dropped requirements for classical courses.
    • Major universities AND seminaries dropped requirements for rhetorical courses.
  • RC was a pattern of NT interpretation for the Western Church and Protestant tradition.
    • Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana
    • Luther
    • Calvin
    • Philip Melanchthon –commentaries analyzing NT with Greco-Roman (GR) rhetoric, and handbook of GR handbooks for NT.
  • If this is correct, then scholars have misread the NT for a long time.
    • Yes – We’ve missed out.
    • No – We shouldn’t ONLY use rhetoric to interpret the NT. Other methods are helpful/useful/valid.
    • However, those who ignore rhetoric are missing enormous insights into the NT.
  • Most objectors to NT RC espouse that early Christians were not highly educated, which means that they could not have known GR rhetoric, and rather argued mainly from the OT.
    • Below are 12 responses to 12 common objects like this.

Response to 12 objections

  1. Historically, Hellenization swept the Jewish world (Jews, Galilee, Judea) so much so that GR rhetoric was taught in Jerusalem schools.
  2. Early Christianity was not led by illiterate Jewish peasants (contra John Dominic Crossan).
    • Peter and John were probably educated in Galilee.
    • Acts 4:13 (agrammatoi kai idiotai) – doesn’t mean they were uneducated idiots, but that they did not study with scribes in Jerusalem.
    • This is typical snobbery of Jerusalem elites.
  3. Greek education was all over the world, even in the Holy Land.
    • Josephus (historian), Theodorus (rhetorician), Meleager (poet), and Philodemus (philosopher) were all educated in GALILEE!
    • Both grammarians (grammateus) and rhetoricians (rhetors) taught each other’s subjects – they both taught grammar and rhetoric.
    • And this in SAMARIA and GALILEE (where Jesus was raised and disciples were from)!
  4. Rhetoric was the basic education of the day.
    • Rhetoric could be used in epistles.
      • letters of Demosthenes; Fred Long’s Ancient Rhetoric and Paul’s Apology.
    • Rhetorical discourses could have epistolary frameworks.
      • Many ancient documents had epistolary openings in non-epistle genres.
    • A high, formal education in rhetoric was not needed to use and recognize it.
  5. The Roman Empire was rhetorically saturated.
    • In education, public speeches, inscriptions, Imperial propaganda, etc.
    • Most Greek speakers were either “producers or avid consumers of rhetoric” (69).
    • “If early Christianity really was an evangelistic religion wanting to persuade a Greek-speaking world about the odd notion that a crucified manual worker from Nazareth rose from the dead and was King of kings and Lords of lords, this was going to take some serious ‘persuasion,’ and the chief tool in the arsenal of all well-known persuaders, orators, rhetoricians in the Greco-Roman world was rhetoric” (69).
      • This quote helps demonstrate the contribution that RC gives to explaining the rise of early Christianity (contra Scott Hafemann in DPL [IVP] article on “Paul and His Interpreters” [1993] where he states that rhetorical and sociological studies of the NT do not contribute much to the perennial discussion of the rise and development of early Christianity).
  1. Early Gentile Christianity was led by gifted, educated people – Paul, Apollos, Luke – who used oral means (rhetorical preaching) for an oral culture.
    • Paul’s letters are surrogates for oral messages.
  2. Ancient book trade was highly expensive and only for Roman elites.
    • Also, the ancient book trade was only in the beginning stages during the 1st century AD.
    • Thus, texts were understood as oral and always read aloud.
  3. 1 Cor 1-2 is not Paul rejecting rhetoric in general, but particularly sophistic rhetoric.
  4. Epistolary analysis cannot be primary – RC is primary, whereas epistolary criticism (EC) is appropriate though secondary.
    • Cicero says a letter is “a speech in written medium” (Att. 8.14.1; cf. Pseudo-Demetrius, Eloc. 223).
    • Further, epistolary handbooks were later than the NT times and were not widely used/taught in schools.
  5. 1 John and Hebrews are homilies (rhetoric), not epistles – though many NT scholars wrongly attempt to classify them as epistles.
  6. The NT letters are not private (though they are personal), but communal letters for groups and thus are meant to be performed.
    • Not private communication like Cicero to Atticus.
  7. Objections about there not being a scholarly consensus on the rhetoric in NT passages does not mean that rhetoric is not in the NT.
    • Further, mere epistolary scholars also share no consensus either!
    • And that is scholarship! Rarely do scholars enjoy the pleasures of consensus.
    • Perhaps NT rhetorical critics are all too persuasive (my joke, not BW3)!


  • Rhetoric was the staple of GR education, not letter-writing.
  • Letter-writing helps with prescripts, greetings, and postscripts, but “That is all” (73).
  • EC provides little to no help in analyzing the bulk of NT letters (particularly, the letter body).
    • “Middle body” wasn’t even a category in ancient epistolary theory.
  • Scholars need to unlearn the anachronisms of EC, because epistolary theory developed after NT times.
  • No big chiasms in the NT letters!
    • Chiasms must be seen, but the NT was primarily heard (only the lectors/oral deliverers saw the NT texts)
    • Sorry Kenneth Bailey (Paul through Mediterranean Eyes)
      • I should write a book called Paul through Mediterranean Ears that furthers Witherington’s (and my own) view of NT RC.
    • Duane Watson strongly critiques chiasm studies.
      • Note (mine, not BW3): this is why in IBS Bauer urges that chiasm must be used with other primary Major Structural Relationships (MSR), since chiasm is a secondary MSR dependent upon primary MSRs.
    • Delivery of Paul’s “epistles” was entrusted to trustworthy coworkers.
    • It helped hearers if written/read documents were structured using common (κοινη) rhetorical structures.
      • Ears were trained to hear these features and even anticipate them.
    • The rhetorical force of the NT documents is largely lost in translation today.
      • We need clever translators!
    • The NT is full of oral documents.
      • This means that rhetoric is needed to analyze the NT
      • BECAUSE the NT was meant to persuade and preach; and the NT itself is persuasion and preaching.


  1. Macro-rhetoric revisited
  • Revisits whether macro-rhetoric is applicable to NT letters.
  • 1 Cor 1:4-9’s thanksgiving also functions as an exordium which prepares the audience for topics to be discussed throughout the discourse and also to make them well disposed towards Paul.
  • Arrangement can be flexible – doesn’t always have to follow by the book, but flexible to suit the needs of the occasion and audience.
  • Rhetorical species can be mixed – 1 Cor is deliberative rhetoric though it has an epideictic digression in 1 Cor 13.
  • Methodologically, NT rhetorical critics must compare the NT not only with the GR rhetorical handbooks, but also especially from actual GR speeches.
    • Margaret M. Mitchell set this methodological precedent in 1991 with her Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation.
    • Fred Long also gives copious evidence on this score.
  • Romans 9-11 is an insinuatio. ******HUGE FOR MY DISSERTATION******
  • Changes in style explain why Paul’s language, syntax, etc. differs significantly in Ephesians, Colossians, and Pastorals.
    • Paul uses Asiatic rhetoric (style) in Ephesians and Colossians.
    • T. Johnson – “changing style was a common rhetorical tactic to be persuasive to differing audiences. It is not a matter of different authors. It is a matter of flexibility in rhetoric” (78).
  • Paul and other NT writers knew rhetoric extremely well and in detail (79).
    • Stanley Stowers
      • Paul hade instruction from a grammaticus
      • Further study in letter writing and elementary rhetoric
      • Including progymnasmic exercises.
    • Jerome Neyrey
      • Paul had a tertiary-level education including rhetoric and philosophy
    • Ron Hock
      • Same conclusion based on Paul’s use of invention and arrangement in the undisputed Paulines.
    • “It is time for us to give the apostle to the Gentiles his rhetorical due” (79).
  1. Rhetoric on full display
  • Witherington’s Rom 7 spiel.
  • “This text proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul did not use rhetoric in some purely superficial or sparing way (e.g. using rhetorical questions). To the contrary, the very warp and woof of his argument here reflects, and indeed requires an understanding of, sophisticated rhetorical techniques to make sense of the content of this passage and the way it attempts to persuade the Roman audience” (79).
  • “In short, if Paul can go to these sorts of lengths to use rhetorical conventions to convict and persuade a Roman audience that he has not even met, we may be sure that it is a mistake to underestimate what was rhetorically possible for Paul and other writers of the NT. Not all of them had Paul’s skills and finesse. But almost all of them had some knowledge and made some use of not just micro-rhetoric but also macro-rhetoric, and it is high time we are in more agreement with Origen and Chrysostom and Jerome and Melanchthon and others on this score” (87).
  1. And so?
  • “One ignores Greco-Roman rhetoric at one’s peril if one wants to understand the NT. It is not enough to have a nodding acquaintance with minor rhetorical devices and how they work” (87).

The Rhetoric of Insinuatio: Theory and Practice (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of my lectures on the ancient rhetorical practice of insinuatio that I gave in my dissertation mentor’s (Dr. Ben Witherington III) doctoral course entitled “Socio-Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament” (NT903) on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. This second lecture mainly covers insinuatio in ancient speeches (rhetorical praxis) from Thucydides, Lysias, Isocrates, Demosthenes, and of course Cicero. This is Part 2 of The Rhetoric of Insinuatio: Theory and Practice. Click here for Part 1.

Below is the link for the PowerPoint:

The Rhetoric of Insinuatio – Theory and Practice

The Rhetoric of Insinuatio: Theory and Practice (Part 1)

My dissertation mentor, Dr. Ben Witherington III, invited me to come and lecture on my dissertation topic (the rhetorical device called insinuatio [Latin]) in his doctoral course entitled “Socio-Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament” (NT903) on Thursday, October 12, 2017. Apparently I intrigued them all enough to warrant a second invite for the following Tuesday (Part 2). You can listen here to my first lecture from Thursday which mainly covers what insinuatio is, and what the ancient Greek and Roman rhetorical handbooks have to say about it. This is Part 1 of The Rhetoric of Insinuatio: Theory and Practice. Click here for Part 2.

The link below is the PowerPoint for my lectures:

The Rhetoric of Insinuatio – Theory and Practice

SBL 2014 – Rhetoric and the New Testament



Here is my paper presentation from SBL this past year in November at San Diego, CA. I had the honor of giving the very first paper for the “Rhetoric and the New Testament” section. I was very happy with how it went and with the feedback I received. I was also very thankful for my Ph.D. advisor, Ben Witherington III, coming to hear my paper. In addition, Greg Carey who presided over the session said at the end of the session, “Well, you’ve convinced me.” This affirmation has given me a lot of encouragement as I continue to seek this topic for my dissertation.

I welcome more feedback, positive and negative, so long as it is constructive.