Friday, April 1, 2011

The Friday Figure

This week's Friday Figure comes from the book of Acts.  The figure is one of my favorites and is that of litotes

Litotes (Deminutio) (figure of thought, Rhet. Her. 4.38.50): The figure in which we say that by nature, fortune, or diligence, we or our clients possess some exceptional advantage, and, in order to avoid the impression of arrogant display, we moderate and soften the statement of it; e.g., “This, men of the jury, I have the right to say—that by our labor and diligence I have contrived to be no laggard in the mastery of military science.” (Use of “no laggard” instead of saying that he was “the best.”).

When Paul is arrested in Acts 21, he uses this figure when describing himself.
Acts 21:39 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Παῦλος· ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος μέν εἰμι Ἰουδαῖος, Ταρσεὺς τῆς Κιλικίας, οὐκ ἀσήμου πόλεως πολίτης· δέομαι δέ σου, ἐπίτρεψόν μοι λαλῆσαι πρὸς τὸν λαόν. 
 Now, look at the NRSV translation: 
Acts 21:39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people.” 
 The NRSV translates  οὐκ ἀσήμου πόλεως πολίτης as "a citizen of an important city" and the sense is correct, but they have totally missed the importance of the figure of speech litotes and therefore the power of the words.  Literally, this phrase should be translated, "a citizen of a not insignificant city."  The effect is that of a double negative, essentially a positive.  Paul is claiming that his home town, Tarsus, was indeed important.  But, by using the figure litotes, Luke highlights the importance of Paul's city, the upstanding nature of Paul himself.   The fact that this figure is used draws more attention to the credentials of Paul than if no figure had been used.

10 comments:

  1. Does litotes differ from meiosis, and if so, how?

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  2. Good question. The two are similar and related. Meiosis and Litotes are both forms of understatement for a rhetorical purpose, yet whereas meiosis is usually a mere understatement, litotes usually employs the double negative, i.e., "no laggard" in the example above, and "not insignificant" in Acts. One humorous example of meiosis would be the black knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the knight says, "it's just a flesh wound."

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  3. I like this figure also. Hebrews uses it; e.g., 4:15; 6:10

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  4. Two questions:
    1. Did you make a list of all the examples of litotes in the Luke/Acts corpus? (and, is it available?)
    2. Would you consider Luke 11: 4 "and lead us not into 'peirasmos'" a litotes?

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  5. Doug,
    I am sorry, I do not have a full list of litotes in Luke-Acts. I have worked extensively with Luke and litotes is a figure that he does not use often. As to your example, I do not think it is litotes. This does not seem to be an understatement. Though, this clause, taken with the following "but deliver us from evil" is a good example of the figure antithesis.

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  6. Thanks, Keith. I didn't think Luke 11:4 was a litotes either. I heard someone characterize it as such recently in an attempt to explain the meaning of this petition, so I thought I'd check with someone more knowledgeable of rhetorical devices. Eventually I found Jeff Gibson's 1998 presentation to SBL, which offers the best construal of this phrase as any I've read.

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  7. Dr. Reich,

    Sorry, this is the only way I could manage to contact you! I have a few questions I would love to be able to ask you about teaching. I'm going to be at Baylor next year and would really appreciate your input if you have time!

    Hherritage(at)gmail(dot)com

    Sincerely,
    Hogan

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  8. CALLING ON THE NAME OF THE LORD?

    On the Day of Pentecost Peter quoted the prophet Joel (Acts 2:21'And it shall be that everyone who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.')

    To call on the name of the Lord is to acknowledge the authority and power of the Lord, and follow in obedience by meeting the terms of pardon.

    The apostle Peter did not tell those on the Day of Pentecost to say the "sinner's prayer." Saying the "sinner's prayer" is not calling on the name of the Lord.

    Peter preached the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Peter declared the Jesus was Lord and Christ. (Acts 2: 22-26) They obviously believed Peter's preaching because they asked the question(Acts 2:37 ....."Brethren what shall we do?")
    Peter did not tell them to say the "sinner's prayer." What was Peter's response to their question? (Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.)


    THE NARRATIVE OF CALLING ON THE NAME OF THE LORD.
    1. FAITH: Believe in the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
    2. CONFESSION: Acknowledge Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God.
    3. REPENTANCE: Make the commitment to turn from sin and turn toward God.
    4. WATER BAPTISM: Be immersed into Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.


    HOW DID THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD? (Acts 8:25-40


    1. Philip preached Jesus to him. (Acts 8:35)
    2. He confessed Jesus as The Christ the Son of God. (Acts 8:37)
    3. He was baptized in water. Immersed by Philip. (Acts 8:38-39)
    The Ethiopian eunuch did not say the sinner's pray nor was he asked to do so by Philip.


    Romans 10:13 for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED."


    Romans 10:9-10 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.


    To call on the name of the Lord is to acknowledge His power and authority and confess Him as Lord and Christ . (Acts 2:26,Acts 8:37, Romans 10:9-10) To call on the Name of the Lord is to repent and be baptized. (Acts 2:38)


    WE ARE TOLD TO CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD TO BE SAVED.


    We are never told we are saved by "faith only." We are never told that saying the "sinner's prayer" is calling on the name of the Lord.


    IF SAYING THE "SINNER'S PRAYER" IS NOT A REQUIREMENT FOR SALVATION? THEN WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR SALVATION.


    THE REQUIREMENTS!
    1. Faith: John 3:16
    2. Belief and baptism: Mark 16:16
    3. Confession and belief: Romans 10:9-10
    4. Born of water and Spirit: John 3:5
    5. Grace and faith: Ephesians 2:8
    6. Buried through baptism: Roman 6:4-5
    7. Water baptism: 1 Peter 3:20-21
    8. Baptism: Acts 22:16
    9. Baptized into Christ: Galatians 3:27
    10. Believe: Acts 16:30-31
    11. Repentance and baptism: Acts 2:38
    12. God's mercy, water baptism, and the Holy Spirit: Titus 3:5
    13. Water baptism: Colossians 2:12-13
    14. Repentance: Acts 3:19


    IF YOU HAVE COMPLETED THESE REQUIREMENTS---THEN YOU HAVE CALLED ON THE NAME OF THE LORD!

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