Carnegie Mellon University

Finding Belief in the Words: The Rhetoric of Paul the Apostle's Confession of Faith

Author: Robin Lucy Reames
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2009

This dissertation attempts to situate Paul the Apostle in the rhetorical tradition, not only as a practitioner of rhetoric, but also as a rhetorical theorist. Through both historical and rhetorical analyses, I argue that the letters credited to Paul’s pen reflect substantial rhetorical training, that this training was instrumental in formulating not only the style but also the content of his thought, and that his use of rhetorical terminology represents a singular artifact of rhetorical theory from the first century Greco-Roman world. In particular, I suggest that Paul’s so-called “confession of faith”, found in his epistle to the church in Rome, transforms some of our common notions of rhetorical heuresis (finding, or “invention”), pistis, and logos—finding, belief, and language.

Chapter One provides a genealogical review of the concept of rhetorical logos and its relationship to invention. I trace the power assigned to rhetoric by the ancients, particularly Plato and Aristotle, to a concept of logos not as logic or reasoning, but as supernaturally powerful speech that places language users in a relatively passive role. This understanding of rhetorical logos is lost for us primarily because, as I show, it rests on a conception of speech that is alien to modern sensibilities. I argue Paul’s confession preserves this notion of rhetorical logos and therefore speech. The passivity and power contained within this concept of logos is highlighted within the rhetorical tradition by its proximal relationship to heuresis, which suggests a kind of happy stumbling upon, or “finding out in words,” rather than “inventing the words.”

The significance of the relationship between rhetorical heuresis/inventio and the affective power of religious experience is by no means alien to the rhetorical tradition. In Chapter Two, I suggest that the role for invention in the tradition of religious rhetoric has already been recognized as a response to spiritual power. I examine how Augustine reworks and transforms the traditional conception of rhetorical invention, and in so doing, explicitly relates it to the exstasis of religious experience. For Augustine, religious experience is necessarily reliant on a powerful religious experience with language, much like the power of logos, defined in Chapter One. Augustine roots rhetorical invention in Scriptural hermeneutics, which ultimately must be grounded in this religious experience. I suggest that Augustine gains this concept of rhetorical invention largely from Paul, and that, conversely, this religious role for heuresis/inventio becomes a foundation for interpreting Paul’s confession of faith as a module of rhetorical theory that redefines common notions of rhetorical logos and pistis.

In Chapter Three I attempt to historically establish Paul as a figure in the rhetorical tradition. I do this through an analysis of the general culture he was likely to have inhabited and the education he was likely to have received. I hypothesize that Paul received a secondary rhetorical education, and I explain that this education most likely would have emphasized both literary composition and extemporaneous oral declamation. I also hypothesize how this rhetorical education might have been integrated with Paul’s Hebrew training.

In the fourth chapter, I suggest that Paul’s work as a whole has been received as a product of either Greek philosophical, Jewish rabbinical, or sophistical thought systems. The Greek philosophical receptions interpret Paul’s thought to be a specimen of Stoic, Platonist, or Gnostic thought. These explanations are unsatisfactory, I argue, because Paul’s theology denies an element essential to all these thought systems: he confounds the idea of a process of intellectual purification. Rather, he describes a stalemate between his body and his mind that cannot be overcome, and not a process by which his mind overcomes his body. The Jewish rabbinical interpretations are troublesome, I argue, because they cannot account for the radical—if not blasphemous—way Paul treats the Jewish law. That is, he credits the law with the creation of sin. And toward the end, I introduce the debate regarding Paul’s intersection with the second sophistic movement.

In Chapter Five, I conduct an analysis of Paul’s thought, employing the criteria developed in the previous four chapters. I demonstrate that rhetorical declamation (and particularly controversaria) works as a model for Paul’s discourse on the law. I show how Paul configures the Jewish law and justice as conflicting with one another, resulting in a dilemma. To resolve the dilemma, either the law must be mitigated, or the individual must be sacrificed. Paul’s discourse on the law, and the confession he proposes as an answer to the dilemma, follow precisely the pattern of rhetorical controversaria. Furthermore, Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ literary composition works as a model for Paul’s stylistic composition choices and his handling of the Hebrew scriptures. Because of these stylistic choices, he is able to clausally re-arrange the scriptures in order to compose rhetorical maxims (or sententiae) that gird his response to the legal dilemma. And finally, Paul’s rhetorical terminology (pistis, logos, apodeixis, etc.) reflect a distinct rhetorical theory of the relationship among these terms. As a result, Paul’s use of rhetoric transforms our common notions of rhetorical logos, pistis, and inventio and recovers their ancient uses. In re-reading Paul as a rhetorical theorist, we discover how belief becomes proof through confessing the logos. Thus, inventio is not so much a process of actively “coming up with” what to say, but a passive process of “finding out” the truth in words. In short, Paul’s rhetorical theory recovers a lost rhetoric that is further removed from dialectic.