Ephesians 4-6 as Deliberative Rhetoric?

We have said that Ephesians is of the epideictic class of rhetoric. But should we consider Eph 4:1-6:9 to be deliberative rhetoric rather than epideictic? Two contemporary commentaries take opposing positions. Lincoln argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is deliberative, whereas Witherington argues that it is epideictic, like the first three chapters of Ephesians. We will look at the arguments of both commentators, and then we will look at two ancient manuals, the Ad Herennium and Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, concerning deliberative rhetoric, so that we can draw a conclusion in the end.

Lincoln argues that Ephesians combines both epideictic and deliberative genres. To support his thesis, he appeals to R. R. Jeal, “The Relationship Between Theology and Ethics in the Letter to the Ephesians,” Ph.D. dissertation (University of Sheffield, 1990); Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik, 53-61; Berger, Formgeschichte, 17-19; and G. Lyons, Pauline Autobiography: Toward a New Understanding, 64. But his appeal simply refers to these works and does not make an effort to explain their arguments (xli). Lincoln goes on to define deliberative rhetoric as that which persuades to take certain actions. Furthermore, paraenesis is not deliberative necessarily as it can function in both epideictic or deliberative classes. In epideictic rhetoric, paraenesis reiterates common values, while in deliberative it calls for a change, and this change is to be taken in the future. In support of this distinction between the use of paraenesis with epideictic and deliberative rhetoric, Lincoln appeals to Aune, The New Testament in Its Literary Environment, 191, 208. Lincoln concludes that while some of Eph 4:1-6:9 reiterates common values, much of it is concerned with adjusting behavior to be more distinctly Christian, which is to be done in the future, and, therefore, it is deliberative mainly. As part of his defense, he also appeals to T. C. Burgess, “Epideictic Literature,” Studies in Classical Philology 3 (1902): 89-261 (xlii). When discussing the division of Ephesians into two parts, he concludes that Eph 1-3 is epideictic, Eph 4:1-6:9 is deliberative, and Eph 6:10-24 is epideictic. In this discussion, he says, “Characteristic of the style of Ephesians are the repetition and parallelism of its many long, and in some cases, exceedingly long sentences. In the latter category are 1:3-14; 1:15-23; 2:1-7; 3:1-7; 4:11-16; 6:14-20” (xlv). But long periods are an epideictic feature; if Eph 4:1-6:9 is deliberative, why would it have a long period, which Lincoln recognizes? Lincoln’s response to this question would be this statement, taken from the next page in his commentary: “But there are places where something of the style of the first half of the letter flows over into the second, particularly in 4:1-16; 5:21-33; 6:10-20. It is noticeable that these are places where the writer’s distinctive concerns are added to the traditional material” (xlvi). Therefore, the long period itself, according to Lincoln, is not an indicator of epideictic rhetoric in this situation. Thus far, Lincoln has not interacted with Ephesians to demonstrate its deliberative features in Eph 4:1-6:9. We should look to his commentary of the text and see what he offers in defense of his thesis from that which is evidenced in Ephesians.

Lincoln, when speaking of Eph 1-3, says, “They secure the audience’s goodwill, inspire them, convince them of the rightness of the writer’s perspective on their situation, and dispose them to carry out the specific injunctions of the exhortatio” (224). Lincoln is trying to set the stage for the exhortatio as deliberative rhetoric, a set of paraenesis that calls the listeners to change in the future. If it were epideictic, the exhortatio would be a set of paraenesis that reaffirms that which the listeners already know. But why, then, does Lincoln say, when explaining Eph 4:17-24, “. . . The use of traditional material means that instruction about the distinctive ethical implications of the new identity can take place by way of reminder of what the readers should already know . . .” (291)? His explanation of Eph 4:17-24 as a reminder of what the listeners already know describes an epideictic use of paraenesis, not deliberative. Furthermore, when explaining Eph 4:25-5:2, Lincoln says, “. . . Costly, sacrificial love is to become the distinguishing mark of the readers’ lives because, as the traditional formulation embellished by the writer’s rhetorical flourish puts it, Christ loved them and gave himself up for them as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (341). Lincoln is highlighting an epideictic feature, amplification or embellishment, or, as Lincoln says, “rhetorical flourish.” If Eph 4:25-5:2 is deliberative, why would it include such an epideictic feature? In his defense, it was possible for Asiatic rhetoric, whether deliberative or epideictic, to contain amplification, so, in and of itself, the rhetorical flourish he mentions does not prove that Eph 4:25-5:2 is epideictic. However, Lincoln does not seek to clarify the evidence or straighten out his argument. Absent from Lincoln’s commentary is any demonstration or explanation of Eph 4:1-6:9 as deliberative rhetoric. He neglected his thesis from the commentary’s introduction, that Eph 4:1-6:9 is mainly deliberative paraenesis, when he was commenting on and explaining those verses. The only evidence he provided in support of his thesis is found in the commentary’s introduction, and said evidence is weak as he makes indirect appeals to other secondary sources. Therefore, his thesis is unconvincing. Witherington’s thesis is rather convincing in contrast to Lincoln’s.

Witherington argues first and foremost that deliberative and epideictic rhetoric are similar in part because they share similar themes, so that, while deliberative advises certain things, epideictic praises those same things, and he appeals to Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria III.vii.28 to defend this statement (221). He appeals to R. R. Jeal, Integrating Theology and Ethics, 43 (the book is adapted from the dissertation), who sees Eph 4:1-6:9 as deliberative rhetoric, which calls for specific future behavioral change (222). Then he asks the following question: “Is Eph 4-6 essentially an attempt to laud the proper behavior and criticize improper behavior (and so an exercise in praise and blame), or is Paul in fact trying to change the behavior of the audience in the near future?” (222). Witherington concludes that Eph 4-6 is hortatory material that is epideictic in character, but maintains the possibility that it could be deliberative in nature (222). Taking the position that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic, he supports his claims by appealing to Quintilian, who said that epideictic is not solely concerned with praise and blame (Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.28; 222), and epideictic required proof when dealing with practical matters (III.vii.4; 280). He concludes that in epideictic rhetoric, practical exhortations are to be substantiated in inartificial proofs such as authoritative documents or logical rationales for the behavior being urged. Ephesians 4:1-16 is substantiated with an appeal to Ps 68, for example (280). Furthermore, as Quintilian states, epideictic’s function was to “amplify and embellish its themes” (III.vii.6), which is what happens in Eph 4:1-6 (281). Witherington says, “Quintilian is right that epideictic and deliberative oratory are close in that the things usually praised in the former are advised in the latter, and since exhortations can be found in both forms, there is something of a thing line between the two rhetorical species when it comes to ethical exhortations (III.vii.28)” (281). But Witherington has already started building a case to demonstrate that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic, such as with the appeal to Ps 68 in Eph 4:1-16, and that epideictic was also known to deal with practical matters. Now Witherington will go on to demonstrate further that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic.

Concerning Eph 4:3, Witherington says that Paul exhorts the listeners to keep the unity, which is a call to contemporary, present action, which is an epideictic exhortation. It is not introducing a new instruction, but rather it is reinforcing what the listeners already know (285). Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 are filled with exhortations for the present to reinforce what they already know, which is epideictic paraenesis.

Concerning Eph 4:16, Witherington says,

Paul’s imagery and redundancies run away with him, but such was permitted in Asiatic and epideictic rhetoric. He speaks of being put together and fitted together by the ligaments, which supply the nutrients one needs to make the body grow, by which he means the building up of each person in love. Here we also have the anomalous idea of the body growing up into the head and in the likeness of the head. Perkins is right to note that in deliberative rhetoric the discussion of unity is brought on by the need to overcome disunity and discord, as in 1 Corinthians. But “Ephesians does not point to a crisis of disunity. Exhortation serves the function of reminding the audience of what has already been true of its experience.” In other words, this is an epideictic use of the theme . . . . (293; Witherington is quoting Perkins, “Ephesians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible: Second Corinthians–Philemon, vol. 11, 423)

Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is not concerned with changing behavior but reinforcing behavior, which is epideictic paraenesis.

When speaking of Eph 4:17-32, Witherington underscores the use of “learned Christ.” Clearly this phrase indicates that the listeners have already been instructed in a particular way of life. Paul is not introducing anything new. Instead, he appeals to their already having learned certain things, which is an epideictic use of paraenesis (293-294). Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is concerned with reinforcing behavior, indicating that it is epideictic rhetoric.

Regarding Eph 4:17-32, Witherington also appeals to Quintilian. First, Quintilian said that epideictic rhetoric was a serious task when praising or blaming laws or rules of behavior (Institutio Oratoria II.iv.33). Second, it was important to periodize the material when speaking of the before and after (III.vii.10-13). Third, sometimes the praise should be divided and various virtues should be dealt with separately; furthermore, deeds done under said virtues ought to be described (III.vii.15). Finally, Quintilian said that it was necessary to praise or denounce in accord with what the audience has already learned in order to encourage growth in the direction they have already chosen (III.vii.23; Witherington also makes reference to Aristotle, Rhetoric, i.9). Witherington says that Eph 2:11-22 is an example of what Quintilian meant by periodizing the material when speaking of the before and after, while Eph 4:17-32 is an example of separating the virtues and describing the deeds done under them (295). He concludes with the following argument:

The undergirding assumption of Eph 4:17-32 is that the audience has already “learned Christ” and so learned a particular way of living that is Christ-like, and will readily assent to what Paul is saying here as a familiar and already embraced code of conduct. Some of the themes introduced in this section (darkness, impurity, greed, error, righteousness) will recur later in the discourse. Perhaps more importantly, what we have throughout this section is a reworking of earlier material would recognize that Paul was embellishing and amplifying on already received and accepted teaching in the Christian community. This, too, reflects the epideictic nature and strategy of this discourse. (295)

Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic because it is reinforcing what the listeners already know.

As a matter of comparison, Witherington notes that Eph 4:24, which praises righteousness and holiness, lists the very virtues that Quintilian says should be praised in epideictic rhetoric (III.vii.15; 299). Witherington is arguing that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic because it includes the same things that Quintilian described ought to be included in epideictic rhetoric.

In discussing Eph 5:1-21, Witherington states that Paul reinforces teaching and does not introduce new things. Paul used praise and blame of attitudes and conduct, amplification of traditional material made explicitly his own and explicitly Christian, implying that epideictic features are utilized and, therefore, it is clearly epideictic paraenesis (304). Commenting on Eph 5:1-2, Witherington states that imitation, though primarily a deliberative theme, was used to reinforce the call to graciousness, so it is epideictic in this instance (306). Witherington explained that in Eph 5:3-4 there are more epideictic themes, such as appropriate conduct that is honorable and praiseworthy (307). When explaining Eph 5:5, Witherington notes that Paul recognizes that his audience already knows the things he is instructing. Therefore, the approach Paul uses is “the essence of epideictic hortatory material” (308). Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is of the epideictic class of rhetoric as it contains various epideictic features and is concerned with reinforcing that which the listeners already know.

When explaining the household code, Witherington says that the rhetorical force of the haustafeln depends on four things, which are as follows: first, the audience’s familiarity with the material. Paul is making an appeal to already received code with embellishment, which indicates that it is epideictic rhetoric. Second, ready assent is produced through self-explanatory rationale. Third, an egalitarian trajectory is given in address of the male figure throughout the code. Last, there is an emphasis on the marriage relationship. Witherington’s main argument here is that Eph 5:21-6:9 is an expansion on the Colossians haustafeln, which means it is epideictic. He says, “There is no reason to assume that Paul is drawing on any sources other than Colossians in his treatment of the household code, whatever sources he may have relied on in composing the Colossian code, and so we are dealing with rhetorical amplification of a known source . . .” (314-315). Later, specifically when speaking about Eph 6:1-4, he says, “. . . Again we see that the code in Ephesians seems to be an expansion on what we find in Colossians” (335). Since there seems to be an expansion or amplification, the Ephesians haustafeln is of the epideictic class. The epideictic character of the household code is further demonstrated in the exhortation to the wives to submit to their husbands in all things. Witherington says, “. . . Again, Paul is envisioning the ideal situation here, not addressing particular problems that could and do arise. This is the nature of praise and wisdom in an epideictic piece of rhetoric in any case” (326, note 205). Furthermore, the epideictic class is evidenced also in the haustafeln in that it appeals to what they already know. When discussing Eph 6:5-9, Witherington says, “V. 8 brings in a reference to eschatological reward. Paul in good epideictic fashion relies in both v. 8 and v. 9 on what the audience already knows about their Lord and their faith (eidotes hoti in both verses). . . .” (341). Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic rhetoric because it appeals to that which the listeners already know, thus reinforcing a way of life already chosen by the listeners, which is evident in the language of “knowing” and the use of the familiar code that has been amplified and expounded.

Witherington gives a very convincing argument for Eph 4:1-6:9 as epideictic rhetoric. He demonstrates throughout that the concern of Eph 4:1-6:9 is to reinforce that which the listeners already knew. He demonstrates also that this large part of Ephesians is filled with various epideictic features, such as praise and blame, discussion of virtues and associated deeds, amplification and embellishment, and appealing to and expounding upon traditions and other authoritative sources.

We have thus seen that Lincoln argues unconvincingly for Eph 4:1-6:9 as deliberative whereas Witherington for epideictic. What can we learn about Eph 4:1-6:9 based on the ancient rhetorical manuals, the Ad Herennium and the Institutio Oratoria, in terms of the deliberative class? We will look not only for a broad understanding of deliberative rhetoric but also in particular its use of paraenesis, and we will compare such material to Ephesians.

For Ad Herennium, deliberative rhetoric is concerned with policy through embracing the art of persuasion or dissuasion (I.ii.2). It would, through a question, require a choice between two or more courses of action (III.ii.2). The deliberative orator would properly set up advantage as the goal of the speech. Ad Herennium discusses political deliberation as it regards advantage. The goal of political deliberation is of either security or honor. For security, which is the advising of a plan for avoiding a danger, it is broken down into two subtopics, might, which are armies, fleets, etc., and craft (or strategy), which are the means, money, promises, etc. For honor, there are two subtopics, right and praiseworthy. Under the subtopic of right, there are four categories, which are as follows: wisdom, the intelligence to distinguish between good and bad; justice, the equity that is proportionate in giving in direct relation to worth; courage, the reaching for great things and contempt for what is mean; and temperance, self-control that moderates our desires (III.ii.3). In deliberative rhetoric, virtues of these kinds are to be enlarged upon if they are being recommended, but they are to be depreciated if they are to be disregarded. Such opposites would be cowardice, sloth, and perverse generosity for justice, impertinent, babbling, and offensive cleverness for wisdom, inaction and lax indifference for temperance, and reckless temerity of a gladiator for courage (III.iii.6). The other subtopic, praiseworthy, concerns that which produces an honorable remembrance at the event and afterwards. When something is shown to be right, in deliberative rhetoric it is also necessary to show that it is praiseworthy (III.iii.7). Deliberative rhetoric, which has advantage as its goal, will either argue both for security and honor, or it will argue one over the other. One’s argument had to include a promise of what they were setting out to do, either to prove both or just the one (III.iii.8). Deliberative rhetoric followed the following construction: introduction; statement of facts, which was not required; proof and refutation; and conclusion (III.iii.8-9). The section for proof was where the orator would establish in his favor the topics for security or honor (III.iii.8). It was to be filled with the following structure for arguments: the proposition; the reason; the proof of the reason; the embellishment; and the résumé (II.xviii.28). In the proposition, the orator had to set forth in summary fashion what he intended to prove. In the reason, he had to set forth the basis for the proposition through brief explanations, and in so doing establish the truth of what he is urging. In the proof of the reason, the brief reason already stated is corroborated through additional arguments. In the embellishment, which could be left out in certain situations, the argument is adorned and enriched once the proof has been established. Finally, in the résumé, which could be left out when the full argument is brief enough, a brief conclusion of the argument is provided (II.xviii.28, 30).

In the light of the description of deliberative rhetoric in Ad Herennium, we have at least three questions to consider. First, Is Eph 4:1-6:9 concerning advantage in terms of security or honor? It does not appear that advantage is the aim, but certain terms could be seen to be related to honor as categorized and explained in the Ad Herennium. For example, “Therefore, I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthily . . .” (Eph 4:1). Take for example Eph 5:15-16, which says, “Therefore, give careful attention how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of the time, . . .”  The first example is a general term that some could interpret to be a term of honor. The second example is a subcategory of honor as set forth by Ad Herennium, wisdom. But again, advantage is not the aim.

Second, Is Eph 4:1-6:9 establishing in the author’s favor the topics previously set forth to be of the secure or honorable goal? It appears that there is no pressing and immediate connection between Eph 1:1-3:21 and Eph 4:1-6:9. Furthermore, the topics in Eph 1:1-3:22 are not being established favorably in Eph 4:1-6:9. However, Eph 4:1-6:9 does reiterate a few themes mentioned earlier in the letter, but not in any particular order. For example, the building theme (“being joined together”) is used in Eph 2:21 as well as in Eph 4:16, whereas the new person theme is used in Eph 2:15 and Eph 4:24. Yet, these themes are not reiterated in the exhortatio to establish them favorably. They are presented in such a way that does not match deliberative classification. There is simply no indication that honor is being established.

Last, deliberative rhetoric advances its argument through the introduction, statement of facts, proof and refutation, and conclusion, so why would the author of Ephesians not properly develop his argument by using epideictic themes and style prior to and after Eph 4:1-6:9? It seems unlikely that the exhortatio is of the deliberative class when the rest of the letter is epideictic, for deliberative rhetoric according to Ad Herennium used the structure of the speech to develop the argument and secure the advantage.

Of particular note, Ad Herennium makes no mention of paraenesis or a use of an exhortatio in deliberative rhetoric whatsoever. However, deliberative rhetoric is the class that pertains to policy. Ephesians 4:1-6:9 does appear to be laying out Christian policy, only it is not doing it in a way to persuade with an aim towards establishing honor. It is an oddity for sure. Perhaps Quintilian has something to say about it?

In the Institutio Oratoria, Quintilian stated that some rhetoricians held that paraenesis was a valid form of figure (IX.ii.103). Figures were a way to add eloquence to the matter, but they were associated with proof (IX.i.19). Additionally, every orator was to instruct, move, and charm the hearers according to Quintilian (III.v.2). Paraenesis in itself does not provide sufficient evidence in favor of epideictic or deliberative rhetoric. But Quintilian’s discussion of deliberative rhetoric does not sound like Eph 4:1-6:9.

Quintilian described epideictic (panegyric or demonstrative) rhetoric as something concerned with lots of themes, especially that which is honorable (III.vii.28), but in comparison deliberative is solely concerned with that which is honorable and expedient (III.viii.1, 22). Furthermore, he noted that the epideictic and deliberative classes are related to each other, for what epideictic praised deliberative advised (III.vii.28). But deliberative rhetoric is the advisory department. It deliberates on the future and makes inquiries of the past. Its function was to advise and dissuade (III.viii.6). Furthermore, deliberative’s sole concern is advantage, whereas epideictic is praise (III.viii.7). All deliberative speeches were to be based on comparisons for advantage versus disadvantage (III.xviii.34). As a final note, Quintilian understood that each class of rhetoric was mutually aided by the others, so there are similarities that run across epideictic, deliberative, and forensic classes. Epideictic could deal with justice (typically of forensic) or expediency (typically of deliberative); deliberative could deal with honor (which could also be epideictic generally); forensic could include both honor, expediency, and justice (III.iv.16).

We have already asked questions about Eph 4:1-6:9 in light of our findings in the Ad Herennium. Now we must ask more questions based on the Institutio Oratoria. We have no less than five questions to consider. First, is Eph 4:1-6:9 concerned solely with what is honorable and expedient?  We have seen already that Eph 4:1-6:9 contains the language of honor. However, as Quintilian noted, epideictic rhetoric also concerned honor. The language of honor itself is not sufficient to demonstrate the use of deliberative rhetoric. It could be said that the language of unity in Eph 4:1-6 lends itself to that which is expedient. Additionally, the whole of Eph 4:1-6:9 can be described as expedient as it is a series of instructions or advice to the audience to do that which is proper for believers and not to do that which is improper. But expediency had more to do with ready advantage than it did with the language of propriety. Yet, Eph 4:1-6:9 is not solely concerned with expediency or honor.

Second, does Eph 4:1-6:9 deliberate on the future? There is no indication in the text of Ephesians that the future is in view for the purposes of deliberation. Note that we are not talking about eschatology. Instead, for example, there are no questions concerning what will be done. There are some uses of the future in Eph 6:1-9. Children are instructed to obey, slaves to do good, and lords to do the same. Children will be rewarded with long life for obedience; slaves will be rewarded for their good work; lords will not be shown favoritism. But the future tense is not a key indicator of deliberations on the future. Questions are not being asked concerning a choice between at least two options. Instead, the future tense is used to indicate what will happen. The futures are used either as gnomic or predictive future verbs, but in either case there is no question about it.

Third, does Eph 4:1-6:9 make inquiries of the past? There are no inquiries of the past in the text. No information from the past is requested, for example.

Fourth, is Eph 4:1-6:9 concerned with advantage? There does not seem to be any indication in the text that it is concerned with advantage or disadvantage. Ephesians 6:1-3 could be listed as an example, for children are exhorted to obey their parents, and they will be rewarded as a result. Ephesians 6:4-8 could also be listed as an example, for slaves are exhorted to do good knowing that they will be rewarded by their Lord in heaven. Likewise, Ephesians 6:9 could also be an example, for lords are exhorted to do good because the Lord will not show favoritism. These concerns seem to indicate advantage is in view, at least in these examples. But these are merely three examples out of the whole text. The rest of Eph 4:1-6:9 does not have such a concern.

Finally, does Eph 4:1-6:9 make comparisons towards advantage or disadvantage? No, Eph 4:1-6:9 does not make any such comparisons. It makes a few assertions that do pertain to advantage, as we have seen in the previous question’s answer, but it does not consider the disadvantages and make comparisons.

There are many similarities between epideictic and deliberative classes. Furthermore, as Quintilian saw it, each class of rhetoric could help the others. It was therefore possible to have elements of one class in another. It is possible for Ephesians, as a result, to be epideictic with deliberative themes or vice versa. However, Eph 4:1-6:9 does not match the style of the deliberative class very well. It does have some deliberative themes, such as honor and expedience, and arguably advantage. But advantage is not its sole concern, and, in addition, it is not solely focused on that which is honorable. It does not deliberate on the future nor make inquiries of the past. The key features of deliberative rhetoric simply are not present. We have already demonstrated that Ephesians is epideictic. Since we cannot demonstrate the letter’s exhortatio to be of the deliberative class, and certainly it is not forensic, we should continue to understand it in light of epideictic rhetoric. Simply because it is paraenesis does not mean that it is deliberative rhetoric. We do know that Quintilian associated the figure of paraenesis with proof, and since epideictic did not need to prove anything, the author of Ephesians could have used an exhortatio in place of proof. Furthermore, every orator from any class was to be able to instruct, move, and charm his audience. Any speech could have an element of instruction just like Ephesians. We may conclude that Witherington’s argument is correct, that Ephesians 4:1-6:9 is epideictic, not deliberative. There simply is not enough evidence to support Lincoln’s assertion. The use of the present verbs throughout and the concern for present circumstances, the use of redundancy or amplification (e.g., Eph 4:14-16), the reinforcement of an already accepted way of life (e.g., Eph 4:20-24), and the embellishment and amplification of traditional Christian material (e.g., Eph 5:22-6:9) demonstrate that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic rhetoric.