Figuring Jesus: The Power of Rhetorical Figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke
Keith A. Reich, Ph.D.
Mentor: Mikeal C. Parsons, Ph.D.
This dissertation examines Luke's use of rhetorical figures of speech on the lips of Jesus as a means of persuading his audience to accept a role-reversing message that challenged the social, religious, economic and political systems in the Roman Empire. A figure of speech is the use of either words or thoughts in a way that is uncommon or out of the ordinary. Because figures of speech are the "uncommon" use of language, they stand out to an audience and grab their attention. They are an artful ordering of words designed to be powerful, memorable, and to seize attention. This dissertation takes seriously the adage that says, "It’s not what you say, it's how you say it." The form of the Lukan Jesus' speech is just as important as the content of that speech. To ignore the form of Jesus' speech is to ignore the power and persuasiveness of his message.
Luke uses figures of speech in various ways to persuade his audience of the gospel message. He uses figures of speech to fulfill the stylistic virtues of clarity and ornamentation. Fulfilling these stylistic virtues makes the Lukan Jesus' argument easy to follow and impressive, serving as an ethos argument to portray Jesus as one who speaks like the social elites. Further, Luke uses figures as a means of argument and persuasion to draw the audience to side with Jesus and to participate in his message. These figures serve as arguments of ethos, logos, and pathos and create audience members who are invested in the character of Jesus and the gospel message. Finally, Luke uses powerful and memorable figures of speech to proclaim a message of role reversals in the major social, religious, economic, and political systems of the Roman Empire. Using figures of speech that are highly refined and artful allows the proclamation of this role-reversing message to resonate with the audience and ultimately to form its members.