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Paul and Pathos
Thomas Olbricht, Jerry L. Sumney
SymS 16
Publication Date
October 2001


Arguments from emotion, or pathos, are often viewed with suspicion in modern (and to a lesser degree postmodern) culture, and the study of Paul’s epistles has largely focused on rational or logical persuasion. Such an approach misses a crucial aspect of the persuasive art employed by Paul and so fails to grasp its rhetorical effectiveness on the initial readers. Ancient rhetoricians respected pathos as valid and necessary for successfully swaying an audience. The contributors to this volume investigate the understanding and use of pathos in Hellenistic culture (Thomas H. Olbricht, Carol Poster, and Steven J. Kraftchick) and the different uses of pathos in several Pauline letters (Leander E. Keck, Lauri Thurén, Anders Eriksson, James W. Thompson, Jerry L. Sumney, David E. Frederickson, and Troy W. Martin). Some argue that the comments of the classical rhetoricians on pathos are relevant for assessing the pathos in biblical documents; others conclude that, while many observations of the classical rhetoricans are helpful, more work needs to be done in order to discern and describe accurately the wellsprings of pathos in biblical authors. Together the essays show the importance of recognizing the role of pathos in Paul's argumentation and call for a reassessment of the ways in which interpreters approach the rhetoric of Paul’s letters.

“Even after two decades marked by extensive rhetorical analysis of Paul’s letters, one can find interpreters who—perhaps unknown to themselves—regret the fact that Paul composed passages heavy with notes of pathos. They introduce us, then, to an apostle given largely to the cool and balanced rationality of an Oxford don. In point of fact, Paul marches off such a restrictive map, convinced as he is that the arguments of true theology involve the whole of the human being, including deeply affective dimensions. Composed by scholars genuinely learned in rhetoric, this volume is thus both corrective and enriching, helping serious students of Paul in their efforts to sense the holistic profundity of his message.”
—J. Louis Martyn, Edward Robinson Professor of Biblical Theology Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York

“Not only did Paul persuade readers by the force of his logic, but also by appealing to the heart. Even in a densely argued letter like Romans, affective language served to build solidarity with a community not yet visited. This balanced collection of studies of pathos by a distinguished group of scholars fills a large and important niche in our understanding of the letters of Paul.”
—Charles B. Cousar, Columbia Theological Seminary

Thomas H. Olbricht is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Religion at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, and resides in South Berwick, Maine.
Jerry L. Sumney is Professor of Biblical Studies at Lexington Theological Seminary, Lexington, Kentucky.

Click here to preview Lauri Thurén, “By Means of Hyperbole” (1 Cor 12:31b).

Click here to preview or buy a PDF copy of Anders Eriksson, Fear of Eternal Damnation: Pathos Appeal in 1 Corinthians 15 and 16.