A life for others : the rhetorical function of necessity in Luke's bios of Jesus.




Bass, Kenneth Lee.

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This dissertation investigates necessity in Luke’s bios of Jesus using rhetorical and audience-oriented criticism. New Testament scholarship has reached a consensus that the gospels are examples of ancient Greco-Roman biography (bios). According to the guidelines in rhetorical handbooks and the progymnasmata, most ancient biographies are written using the encomiastic topoi lists produced by theorists such as Aristotle, Quintilian, Cicero, and Theon. These guidelines, with the support of ancient ethical material, say that a person should not be praised for acting due to a compulsive necessity. In the ancient Mediterranean world, necessity (in its literary and philosophical dimensions) was thought to be a limiting element on a person’s choice. Of utmost concern for biographical and encomiastic works was the person’s choice and intention that led to particular actions and deeds. In some respects, however, necessity could also be a requirement or an expectation. If a person wants to be a musician, then it is necessary to learn how to play an instrument.
Another component of the guidelines for writing ancient biography was how to treat a person’s external goods, such as a good birth. A biographer should show that a person uses any advantage that comes from external goods, like a good birth, “as is necessary.” This is the necessity of requirement or expectation. A person is not praised for being born into a wealthy family, but if she chooses to use her wealth for the benefit of others, she may be praised. Repeated examples of the same kind of behavior (doing good for others) demonstrate intention, according to ancient theorists.
Jesus is born the Son of God. Luke shows Jesus repeatedly using his great power and offering his great wisdom to others for their benefit. In many cases, necessity is used when Jesus encounters someone whose expectations run counter to his own understanding of his life. Although he is the Messiah, his actions often run counter to popular expectations. When used of Jesus’ actions, necessity in Luke’s bios reorients the audience to see that his purpose is to give life and meaning to others: to seek and to save the lost.



Rhetoric., Luke's Gospel, Genre of the Gospels., Necessity., Encomium., Greco-roman biography.