2007-01-19

Another Q versus literary competence argument

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by Neil Godfrey

My copy of George Kennedy’s “New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism” has just arrived today. Can’t recall what footnote originally compelled me to purchase it online however many weeks ago, but already I’m impressed with one little gem.

A doctrinaire insistence on source criticism tends to underestimate Matthew’s abilities as a writer and the perceptual sensitivity of his intended audience; rhetorical criticism can help to redress that estimate. (p.42)

and before that:

He was surely not deliberately leaving his readers clues to unravel his use of sources. (p.42)

That last sentence says heaps. Do we really think that one well enough versed in Greek to compose a gospel that would last 2000 years so limited that they found it too much effort to adjust wording of their sources to fit the thematic contexts of their larger composition?

Kennedy in this section focuses on the apparent contradiction in the Sermon on the Mount that appears to begin with Jesus addressing his inner circle of close disciples only yet concluding as if he had been addressing the larger multitude.

The explanation to Kennedy is really elementary, my dear Watson:

In classical oratory, apostrophe, or the turn from the nominal addressee to someone else, is even more common than in modern public address. What perhaps should be envisioned in Matthew, as in Luke, is that Jesus first looks at the disciples and then begins to refer to the crowd in the third person, shifting abruptly to the second person in 5.11. (p.41)

Kennedy further points to the obvious intended audience throughout the rest of the Sermon — that Matthew clearly intended his Sermon to be read/heard as a speech, and among it audience were “the poor, the grief-stricken, the meek, those contemplating divorce, all Jews who will pray.” (p.40)

There is much, much more to Kennedy’s exposition of Matthew’s rhetoric, but I have chosen to isolate for the purpose of this moment this sole point, which is worth my digesting for before moving on and reading much else.

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Neil Godfrey

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