Friday, August 6, 2010

Why Rhetorical Criticism Part II: Integrity and Genre of Texts

This is the second in a multi-part post explaining why I think rhetorical criticism is a valid and helpful tool for examining New Testament texts.  In part I, I talked about texts having an origin and an audience.  That is merely to say that all texts, including those in the Bible were written by a specific author or authors, at a specific time to a specific audience.

In this post I will talk about texts having an integrity and a genre.

I contend that all texts have integrity in the sense that they should not be broken up into little pieces, separated, cut, pasted, tweaked, and in any other way be modified to fit some historical theory.  This call for textual integrity is in response to the abuses of other forms of biblical criticism.  For too long in the biblical guild, texts were dissected to determine what lay behind them.  For example, form critics on the gospels attempted to remove layers of the text to arrive at some primitive form in the hopes of finding something Jesus actually said.  The same can be said of source and redaction critics as they focused on what came before the text, and unfortunately end up all too often ignoring the text itself.  This is not to say that nothing good came out of these various forms of historical critical studies of the NT.  But, these are issues that I am just not interested in.  I contend that a text should be read as it was meant to be received by an original audience.

This leads us to my second point in this post: all texts have a genre.  In order to understand a text, one must understand the genre in which it belongs.  For example, one does not read the Psalms in the same way one reads I Samuel.  Likewise, one should not read Revelation with the same expectations as when one reads a Pauline Epistle or a Gospel.

Once again, this seems very basic, but all too often readers of the bible ignore genre and read it all like it was an instruction manual or a textbook.

In my next post I will speak about literary criticism as one way to read a text with textual integrity and genre considerations. (Part III).

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