Narratio: Eph 2:1-3:21

Following the exordium, the narratio enters into Ephesians, picking up on the praise of God’s works by expounding upon the facts previously presented. It is the narratio’s job to amplify and provide the moral end of those deeds (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, I.ix.38; III.xvi.1-10).

Ephesians 2:1-3:21 provides breaks down into three sections. First, Eph 2:1-10. This section talks about how the audience was dead in their sins, yet God, rich in mercy and love, made them alive with Christ, raised them up and caused them to sit down in the heavenly places with Christ, to show his surpassing abundance of his grace. What we have here is good epideictic rhetoric, for God’s abundant grace for humanity is praised (cf.Aristotle, Rhetoric, I.ix.38; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.6-8). But it doesn’t stop with praise; it identifies the moral end of God’s actions. It is by grace that the audience is being saved, which is God’s gift, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, in order that we might walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10). The purpose of God’s grace, his raising them to life and causing them to sit down in the heavenly places with Christ, is to have them do good deeds that he prepared beforehand. This purpose follows good epideictic style for the narratio (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, III.xvi.1-10).

Second, Eph 2:11-22. While the first section concerned the audience’s former condition of being in death (dead in their sins), this section concerns their former condition of being in flesh (uncircumcision). The audience was called “the uncircumcision” by Israel, “the circumcision.” They were separate from Christ and alienated from Israel. Christ, acting as God’s agent, as destroyed the dividing wall between the uncircumcision and the circumcision, joining the two into one new being, thus bringing the audience near though they were once far away. As a result, those who are in this new person have access in one spirit to the Father. He took strangers and aliens and made them members of God’s household. Furthermore, they are being built up into a dwelling of God. Again, we are seeing good epideictic rhetorical fashion, for this narratio is continuing to expound upon the deeds mentioned in the exordium by praising God for his works. In this case, Christ is the active agent of God. Where Christ works, God is working, for it is God’s power at work in Christ (cf. Eph 1:20). The moral end of these deeds is revealed in the next section.

Third, Eph 3:1-21. The author first gives an aside about the mystery of Christ for Gentiles to be co-heirs belonging to the same body and sharing in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Now, the audience, the Gentiles, are built up into a dwelling place for God, and to what end? The author identifies the purpose of these deeds, which is for them to make known the diverse wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The diverse wisdom of God is the administration of his grace, the mysterious plan. This third section is entirely independent, but it does shed light on the purpose of the previous section. It is independent in that it gives its own deeds–God’s making the Gentiles co-heirs, members of the same body, sharers of the promise–while also giving the moral purpose–for the Gentiles to make known the diverse wisdom of God. But this role of the Church to make known God’s wisdom is bound to the preceding section. The Church is the dwelling place of God, the holy temple. The rulers and authorities look upon this building, the Church, and see God’s wisdom. Because the Church bears this purpose, the author gives a prayer for them, following good epideictic style (cf. Cicero, Orator, 137-138; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, VIII.v.1-7). In this prayer, he seeks for God to give them strength, to cause Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, to root and perfect them in love, to cause them to know fully the width, length, height, and depth, to cause them to know the surpassing love of knowledge of Christ, and for them to be filled. In closing, the prayer is extended into a closing eulogy that parallels the exordium when it speaks of God as the one who is able to exceed anything that the author and his audience could possibly imagine, and he seeks glory for God in the church and in Christ for all generations forever and ever.

Let’s take a quick look at the deeds set forth in the exordium and see how they are amplified in the narratio.

  • God predestined them to be children (1:5) = Christ’s work on the cross has made them members of God’s household (2:19)
  • God freely gave them grace (1:6) = God gives grace and is saving the audience by grace (2:5, 8)
  • God provided a ransom, his Son, for them (1:7) = Christ used the cross to reconcile them (2:1-22)
  • God revealed the mystery of his will to them (1:9) = God revealed the mystery to the author who revealed it to the audience (3:2-7)
  • God sealed them with the Holy Spirit (1:13) = God built them up in the Spirit (2:22)
  • God raised Christ from the dead (1:20) = God raised them with Christ (2:5)
  • God placed Christ at his right hand in heaven (1:20) = God placed them with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6)
Let’s also look at the moral ends of the deeds established in the narratio:
  • to live in good works prepared beforehand by God (2:10)
  • to make known the mystery, the plan, God’s diverse wisdom (3:10)

In the narratio, the author of Ephesians further explains in more detail God’s deeds, thus providing more praise for God. He is worthy of praise because he has raised up the audience from death to life with Christ, he sat them down with Christ in the heavens, he has made them co-heirs with Israel, making one new being rather than two hostile entities. God has revealed his mystery, and it is the new being. His grace and mercy are indeed worthy of praise. And these deeds call the audience to do good deeds and make known God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Now that the narratio has come to a close, the next section, the exhortatio, is able to come in and expound upon the moral end.


Rethinking the Literary Structure of Ephesians

In an earlier post, I argued for the following chiastic structure in Ephesians:

A. Epistolary Prescript (Eph 1:1-2);
B. Exordium (Eph 1:3-23);
C. Narratio (Eph 2:1-3:13);
D. Prayer and Doxology (Eph 3:14-21);
c. Exhortatio (Eph 4:1-6:9);
b. Peroratio (Eph 6:10-20);
a. Epistolary Postscript (Eph 6:21-24).

In another post, I explained the complexities of the exhortatio in an effort to show that there is still only three broad sections there, so that the three sections of the narratio would still correspond neatly.

I looked at Ephesians first in light of rhetorical arrangement (exordium, narratio, exhortatio, peroratio), and then determined that there is a corresponding literary structure (a chiasm). I argued further that there is a smaller set of chiastic structures in both the narratio and exhortatio, so that there are several parallel points of comparison. I must admit, it seems as though such an analysis is getting to be so complex that I think my analysis is more genius than what the original author intended.

In addition, there are still some complexities with this arrangement and analysis that I do not think I can explain without coming up with an ingenious solution that the author did not intend. Here are two examples. First, if the narratio is made up of a chiasm, then the first and last points should have similarities. Ephesians 2:1-10 talks about grace, and Ephesians 3:1-13 mentions grace. Therefore, I concluded that they are similar and the narratio is arranged in such a way so as to form a chiasm. But this similarity is founded on a single word. Am I arguing that a single word is enough to form the connection and to construct a chiasm? It seems that I was attempting to make that argument. For the moment, we can say that I have a valid point and that there is such a chiasm. If that is the case, then the chiasm is betrayed by οἰκοδομὴ (Eph 2:21; cf. Eph 4:12), which breaks outside of the parallel and corresponding sections of the separate chiasms. My original literary structure is therefore not able to account for all everything in Ephesians. Therefore, it is not likely to be correct.

Second, the exhortatio is made up of more rhetorical units than what the narratio contains. I attempted to explain how it contains only three literary units that correspond with the three literary units of the narratio. But if that is the case, how does my explanation account fully for the use of περιπατέω (Eph 4:1, 17; 5:1, 15)? The exhortatio is marked up into separate units through the use of περιπατέω, which gives us at least four units, whereas the narratio only has three. In my original explanation, I maintained that the two middle units function together as one unit in two parts. While there may be some merit to my explanation, it does not quite account for everything. Would an audience who hears the letter read aloud also hear the two middle sections as one, or would they simply hear περιπατέω and associate it with a new section? Furthermore, how is it then that there is a connection between Christ’s sacrifice in Eph 5:1 and in the last literary section with Eph 5:25? These sections are supposed to be unrelated, and yet there is a strong connection. My explanation simply cannot suffice.

Therefore, it is better to adhere to the basic rhetorical arrangement and not attempt to find any sort of intricate literary structure. The style of epideictic rhetoric is itself redundant and permits for words and phrases to be used several times and embellished, which accounts for the things I have not been able to explain. Through the epideictic style, οἰκοδομὴ can be reused at any point, and likewise for περιπατέω. The same is true also of Christ’s giving himself up. Even though they are reused in different rhetorical units within the letter’s arrangement, the epideictic style not only permits it, but it expects it and it accounts for everything. There is no need to look further or deeper since the style itself provides us with a perfectly good explanation.

We will leave the letter’s arrangement to the following structure:

Epistolary Prescript (Eph 1:1-2);
Exordium (Eph 1:3-23);
Narratio (Eph 2:1-3:21);
Exhortatio (Eph 4:1-6:9);
Peroratio (Eph 6:10-20);
Epistolary Postscript (Eph 6:21-24).

Does Ephesians Have a Propositio?

It may be appealing to find a propositio in Ephesians, a formal section containing the premise of the argument, not least because the concept of thesis has been associated with propositio. As such, with the general contemporary understanding that oral and written pieces contain some sort of thesis, it follows in theory that no rhetorical work could lack a propositio. Does the Letter to the Ephesians have a formal propositio? In an effort to determine if Ephesians has a propositio, we will look first to the works of Lincoln and Witherington, and second to the works of Aristotle, Quintilian, and Ad Herennium, and, in the end, we will note the importance of this discussion.

We must remember first and foremost that Ephesians is epideictic rhetoric, which will prove important in our discussion from the primary sources. Second, two influential commentaries on Ephesians concerned with rhetoric have mixed information in support of a propositio in Ephesians, which are Lincoln’s Ephesians (vol. 42, WBC) and Witherington’s The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians. In his rhetorical outline of Ephesians found in his introduction to his commentary, Lincoln does not recognize a propositio whatsoever (xliii). His commentary has been a standard rhetorical treatment of Ephesians for a while now, and, yet, he does not recognize a propositio in Ephesians. In Witherington’s introduction to his commentary, he does not formally recognize a propositio as indicated in his rhetorical outline of Ephesians, but by way of a footnote he informally declares that Eph 1:9-10 functions as a propositio (20). However, in his discussion of both the eulogy (Eph 1:3-14; 227-237) and specifically Eph 1:9-10 (236), Witherington does not support his brief claim that Ephesians does have a propositio. He mentioned it in passing through a footnote, but he did not support that claim in any way.

Thus far, the secondary evidence for a propositio is rather weak, and it only gets weaker. Witherington argues later that Eph 1:15-23 is a sort of propositio as it is comparable to the peroratio, and he refers his readers to Schnackenburg’s Ephesians (85) to find support for that claim. Because Ephesians is epideictic rhetoric, Witherington claims that this propositio is not something to be proved as in deliberative or judicial (forensic) rhetoric, but rather it is something to be praised and expounded (239).

These two commentaries together have not been helpful and have merely raised additional questions. Lincoln’s work is not confusing. Clearly he does not support the view that Ephesians contains a propositio. Witherington is rather confusing. First, he unfoundedly argues for Eph 1:9-10 to be the propositio, and in his discussion of said verses he makes no mention or explanation of them being the propositio. Second, he argues for Eph 1:15-23 as the propositio but does not provide any support; instead, he points to a different work as evidence of his claim. But now we have some more questions. If Eph 1:9-10 is the propositio, what is Eph 1:15-23? Are there two present in Ephesians? If Ephesians does have a propositio, is it true that it would be of a different kind than that of deliberative or forensic rhetoric? Does epideictic rhetoric provide a propositio not to prove it but to expound it? At this point, we can only turn to the ancient documents in an effort to answer such questions.

In The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle says very little about the use of a propositio in a rhetorical piece. For him, an enthymeme is a syllogism consisting of propositions (any necessary signs, probabilities, or signs that deal with the possible or impossible, that which has actually happened or not, that which is great or small, or that which is universal or particular). Aristotle says that every kind of orator must have propositions at hand (I.iii.7-9). Based on what he stated, it logically follows that Ephesians would have some sort of propositio. But what Aristotle is describing is a rhetorical tool and not a formal section of a rhetorical piece. In other words, he is describing a tool for making a good argument as opposed to a formal section of the argument that must fall in order and contain certain features. Since Aristotle does not go into any other details and because what he has written does not seem to help answer our questions at this time, we should move on to the next ancient document, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria.

When discussing forensic rhetoric, Quintilian states that there is an order to follow, which is the exordium, the narratio, the proof, the refutatio, and the peroratio. He identified that the section of proof could be broken down into a propositio and a digressio that are placed prior to the refutatio (Institutio Oratoria III.iv.1). He claims Aristotle as listing the propositio after the exordium (The Art of Rhetoric III.xiii), but Aristotle does not say the propositio goes after the exordium; instead, what he does say is that a basic statement is always necessary while a full statement is essential for forensic rhetoric, and he even provides the order of the speech as follows: exordium, statement of facts, proof, and epilogue. It seems that Aristotle and Quintilian do not mean the same thing when they use the word propositio (to be clear, Aristotle did not speak Latin, so we are speaking anachronistically; the term Aristotle used was προτάσις, meaning “proposition” or “premise”). Here is our first clue that there is a distinction between a formal section of the speech, the propositio, from figures of speech or premises of the argument being made, the propositions.

Quintilian states later that it was possible for the narratio to be left out and the propositio to fill its place, where it would function as a brief summary statement of the facts (IV.ii.30). He also lists the proposition first before the statement of facts as it is reported to be in the school of Theodorus (III.ii.27). Quintilian never permits such a thing, but it appears that there was some flexibility in the order in some opinions and schools in antiquity. Again, while discussing forensic rhetoric, Quintilian describes the propositio as the beginning of the proof. He provides two kinds of examples. First, the demonstration of the main question. Second, the enunciation of individual arguments. Whens speaking of the first kind, he says also that it is not always necessary to use the propositio (IV.iv.1). In any case, the propositio must always be clear and lucid, for its purpose is to prevent obscurity. Furthermore, it must be brief and contain neither any excessive words nor redundancy, for its purpose is to explain what will be said. Finally, whatever is the order within the propositio, it must be followed exactly in the proof section of the speech (IV.v.26).

In sum, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria discusses the propositio as a formal section of the speech, which is not the same as how Aristotle speaks of it. His manual also discusses the propositio in connection with forensic rhetoric. Ephesians is not of the forensic type, but rather it is epideictic. However, there are some things that we can determine at this point. First, as a formal section of a rhetorical speech, the propositio followed the narratio. Second, there was the opinion that existed prior to or during the time Quintilian wrote that allowed the propositio to precede the narratio. Third, the propositio is connected to the proof. Fourth, the narratio could drop and the propositio could take its place. Last, the function of the propositio was to provide in summary form the order of the proofs about to be taken up; it functioned like a road map complete with directions for where the orator was taking his audience. Because he discusses the propositio in connection with forensic rhetoric, we must be cautious to attribute this information from Quintilian to the Letter to the Ephesians. We should look also to Ad Herennium to attempt to answer our questions.

This ancient text has some important aspects for this discussion, not least because it is the only one to go into more detail for epideictic rhetoric, while Aristotle and Quintilian discuss the propositio in terms of forensic rhetoric only. But even in Ad Herennium there is some flexibility of terminology or some confusing aspects. When discussing the perfect argument for forensic speeches, the use of the propositio is included as the first part of the argument. It is followed by the reason, then the proof of the reason, then the embellishment, and concluded with the résumé. It is the propositio that sets forth in a summary form what is intended to be proven (II.xviii.27-28). We see agreement here between Quintilian and Ad Herennium in that the propositio is like a road map for the speech. However, Quintilian speaks of it as a formal section of the speech, whereas Ad Herennium speaks of it as the beginning of an argument. Both are speaking in terms of forensic rhetoric. We must determine if the two texts are speaking of the same thing, however, for we have seen how Aristotle and Quintilian, while utilizing the same terminology, had in mind two separate things. Shortly after speaking of the perfect argument, Ad Herennium uses a different term, expositio, in reference to what we called the propositio earlier (II.xx.32), which is our second clue that the terminology between the two texts are concerned with different things. It seems that Ad Herennium is talking about something else than Quintilian, something more along the lines of Aristotle’s use of the term.

Ad Herennium speaks of two kinds of arrangements, first of the individual argument, and second of the entire speech. We have seen the order suggested for the individual argument, which starts with the propositio or expositio. For the entire speech, it should have an introduction, a statement of facts, a division, a proof, a refutation, and a conclusion. This ancient text permits for a different order of the whole speech, such as the proof before the statement of facts, but only when the situation demands it. Still, this discussion in Ad Herennium is concerned with forensic rhetoric (III.ix.16-17). This arrangement is similar to Quintilian’s with the addition of the division. The division, according to Ad Herennium, is the part of the speech that identifies what matters are not only agreed upon but also contested, and it also identifies what points are going to be taken up (I.iii). What Quintilian calls the propositio sounds quite like what Ad Herennium calls the division. As indicated already, what we have seen thus far in this ancient text has pertained only to forensic rhetoric. However, it does discuss epideictic rhetoric, and we will focus on what it says about the division.

In epideictic rhetoric, the speech should be structured according to four sections, which are as follows: the introduction, the statement of the facts, the division, and the conclusion. In the portrayal of life, the external circumstances, physical attributes, and qualities of character of the person being praised or blamed functions in and of itself as the proof of the speech, which is why there is no section of proof or refutation (Ad Herennium The statement of facts is permitted to be skipped if the introduction is done correctly, but if it is to be included, Ad Herennium requires that it follow the method of forensic rhetoric (III.vii.13; cf. I.viii.12-I.ix.16). It is the division that sets forth the things intended to be praised or blamed. It is the division that recounts the events, observing their precise sequence and chronology, and the portrayal of the life should follow a specific order, first by observing the external circumstances, second by observing the physical advantages, and last return to external circumstances (III.vii.13).

To summarize the situation, it appears that Ad Herennium’s division sounds like Quintilian’s propositio, while Ad Herennium’s propositio sounds like Aristotle’s propositio. Quintilian’s propositio is a formal section of the entire speech, while Aristotle’s and Ad Herennium’s is a formal section of a proper and perfect argument within the speech. Only Ad Herennium discusses the arrangement of epideictic rhetoric itself, but it does not include the use of propositio in said arrangement.

Based on our findings, we can now attempt to answer our questions, and we will do it in one fell swoop. It is difficult to say if the letter includes a formal section identified as a propositio. Aristotle did not consider a propositio to be a formal section of a speech and does not discuss it in relation to epideictic rhetoric. Quintilian did recognize the propositio to be a formal section of a speech, but he does not discuss it in relation to epideictic rhetoric. Ad Herennium recognizes the division to be a formal section of a speech, and it sounds rather similar to Quntilian’s understanding of the propositio, and it discusses the division in relation to epideictic rhetoric. However, in its discussion, it states that the narratio comes first and then the division. Ephesians does have a narratio, but after it concludes it goes straight into an exhortatio, a paraenetic section functioning as the proof. If Ad Herennium’s division is the equivalent to Quintilian’s propositio, it is hard to show one present in Ephesians following the narratio. We did see that there was an opinion present at the time of Quintilian’s writing that listed the propositio before the narratio, so it could be possible at the very least to have the propositio precede the narratio. However, even if that is the case in Ephesians, and if Eph 1:9-10, 1:15-23, or 1:20-23 is considered to be the propositio, the expected exactness and summary fashion for a propositio betrays these verses as they are not precise, they do not set forth exactly the points that are about to be taken up by the author, and they are not in summary form, but rather, they are redundant and superfluous. Furthermore, where the propositio precedes the narratio is discussed it is in relation to forensic rhetoric. We still have no indication that it was possible or acceptable to have such an order in epideictic rhetoric. The closest we get is in Ad Herennium’s acceptance of the narratio dropping out and the division taking its place in epideictic, but we know Ephesians contains a narratio. Even if Ephesians did have a propositio, there is no indication in Aristotle, Quintilian, or Ad Herennium that the purpose of propositions differ from epideictic to forensic rhetoric as Witherington suggested, that the propositio is something to be expounded rather than proven. What we see here is how difficult it is to provide a good explanation in support of a propositio in Ephesians. It seems very unlikely that one is present if we take the term to mean a formal section of the rhetorical piece.

We can look at Ephesians itself and see if it contains a propositio, so that we are not relying on the ancient rhetorical manuals only. We know that Witherington has argued for both Eph 1:9-10 and Eph 1:15-23 to be the propositio. Disregarding the fact that the propositio was supposed to follow the narratio, we can entertain these two portions of Ephesians. Starting in Eph 2, we have the following thought structure: grace and gift (Eph 2:1-10); new person, alienated (Eph 2:11-22); wisdom, mystery, household (Eph 3:1-13); walk worthily of the calling in unity, in grace, and with the gifts (Eph 4:1-16); walk not as the Gentiles but as God does in love, as a new person no longer alienated (Eph 4:17-5:14); carefully walk in wisdom even in the household (Eph 5:15-6:9); be strong in the Lord (Eph 6:10-20). Is there a verse or a set of verses in Ephesians that carefully details each of these points to be taken up? Witherington first asserted Eph 1:9-10 as the propositio, which reads, “revealing to us the mystery of his will, according to his good will which he predestined in him for the plan of the full measure of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, all things in the heavens and all things on the earth in him” (my translation). Comparing the thought structure to this translation, there seems to be no premise clearly defined and laid out indicating where the author is headed. Ephesians 1:9-10 cannot be a propositio. Witherington also asserted Eph 1:15-23 as the propositio. Due to length, we will summarize that section of Ephesians. It starts out by expressing personal feelings from the author to the audience (vv. 15-16). It talks of faith, love, and giving thanks. The author declares the content of his prayer (vv. 17-19). He wants God to give them a spirit of wisdom and a revelation in his knowledge. He wants them to be enlightened for for them to know the hope of his calling. He wants them to know the riches of his glorious inheritance and the overpassing greatness of his power. In vv. 20-23, the power mentioned in v. 19 is further explained. That power was at work in Christ when he was raised from the dead and caused to sit down at God’s right hand in the heavenly places. All things were placed under his feet and he was given as head over the church, which is his body. To be sure, there are themes present here that are found later and earlier in Ephesians, so we can say that it is connected to the rest of the letter. But as a propositio, it does not work, for it is lengthy, redundant, and it does not provide any set of premises that will be taken up in any particular order. Comparing its content to that of the thought structure of Ephesians, there is no apparent relationship.

We can thus conclude that Ephesians bears no propositio. It does not have a road map indicating where the orator is headed in exact detail. It does not have a section in connection with proof that lists the premises of the argument. It does not have a brief and non-redundant thesis following the statement of facts that provides the points to be taken up. Ephesians does not have a propositio, which is an acceptable fact because the letter is epideictic rhetoric and does not require one in the way that forensic or deliberative does.

We have only looked at three ancient texts. Surely others ought to be examined. However, The Art of Rhetoric, Institutio Oratoria, and Ad Herennium are three powerhouse texts on ancient rhetoric. If these three texts cannot be combined to demonstrate the presence of a propositio in Ephesians, it is doubtful that other texts would prove otherwise. It seems that our conclusion is safe, but there is a possibility of another ancient text informing our understanding, thus requiring a change, and, therefore, we must remain open to the possibility of being wrong. Yet, we are in good company, for Lincoln did not recognize a propositio in Ephesians, and, even though he argued for two different texts in Ephesians to be the propositio, Witherington did not provide any concrete evidence in support of one.

Why is this discussion important? Does it really matter if Ephesians has a propositio? This discussion is ultimately important for understanding Ephesians as a whole. Ephesians is constructed of several different rhetorical parts that relate to each other. One cannot fully understand and appreciate a smaller part of Ephesians without understanding the letter’s bigger picture. It is essential for understanding the context of Ephesians to consider its rhetorical features. If it did have a propositio, we would see a central set of premises that would be taken up in a particular order. We would be able to follow the argument of the author and know which parts of the letter are the major premises through a metaphorical road map. But Ephesians does not have one. It is imperative that Ephesians be understood according to its kind, epideictic rhetoric, and that we do not try to force other rhetorical features onto this letter, such as a propositio. If we force other features onto the letter, we can draw incorrect conclusions about the letter and its contents. We need to be careful and not careless. If we want to be true to the text, we have to let it speak for itself. Ephesians does not bear the markers of a propositio in accord with the ancient texts we examined. Therefore, based on such evidence it is important for us to conclude that Ephesians does not have a propositio, and, as a result, we can more properly study the other features that it does possess, an exordium, narratio, exhortatio, and peroratio, in order to accurately ascertain its meaning and value, which is why this discussion is important.

Ephesians as Epideictic Rhetoric

The Letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians) reflects an epideictic style of rhetoric. The letter does not seek to prove anything, and therefore it is not forensic or judicial rhetoric. Ephesians does not seek to persuade, so it is not deliberative rhetoric. Instead, the letter seeks to praise God for his work. This art of praise is called epideictic rhetoric. We will look in more detail at the features of epideictic rhetoric, and we will see that Ephesians utilizes this class of rhetoric. In this discussion, we will consider the following ancient works on rhetoric: Aristotle’s Rhetoric; Cicero’s Brutus and Orator; the Ad Herennium; and Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric

Aristotle wrote one of the first manuals on rhetoric. In Rhetoric, he described the three classes of rhetoric. Deliberative rhetoric is that which persuades or dissuades and is usually concerned with the future, but sometimes it can be concerned with the present. Its goal is to persuade people to do something because it would be good or to dissuade from something because it would be bad. Forensic rhetoric is that which seeks to prove or disprove and is usually concerned with the past. Its goal is to prove or disprove something to be either just or unjust. Epideictic rhetoric is that which promotes or demotes and is generally concerned with present circumstances, although it does not exclude past or future. It seeks to promote the honorable and demote the dishonorable (I.iii.3-9). We are concerned with epideictic rhetoric. Its focus is on praise. But what is praised in epideictic rhetoric?

According to Aristotle, noble deeds and people were praised in epideictic rhetoric. Aristotle defined “noble” as that which was worthy of praise or that was good and therefore pleasant. In his view, virtue was necessarily noble. Now virtue consisted in justice, courage, self-control, splendor, generosity, liberality, gentleness, and practical and speculative wisdom. Therefore, these same things were noble since they were virtuous. As a result, these virtues were to be praised. Furthermore, things done not for one’s own sake were noble and worthy to be praised (I.ix.1). Aristotle also thought that praise should be founded on actions that were done according to a moral purpose of a worthy person (I.ix.32). He also thought that praise and advice could easily be interchangeable, so that while we could praise that which ought to be done, we could also alter our phrases to make them simple suggestions (I.ix.35-37). Epideictic rhetoric was about praise, but within the praise there could be some advice, suggestions, or counsel.

One of the main features of epideictic rhetoric was amplification. Narratives may contain elements of the person’s life that amplify praise, such as anything that person did alone or first, or if the actions surpassed all expectations. Amplification consisted in superiority, which was one of the noble things worthy of praise (I.ix.38). Therefore, the praise was based upon glorious deeds (II.xxii.6).

Aristotle held that there were four parts to a rhetorical speech: the exordium; the narratio; the proofs; and the peroratio (III.xiii.4). He thought that each class of rhetoric used these four sections in different ways. For epideictic rhetoric, the exordium was like a prelude to a song. It had a key note throughout that linked it with the rest of the song. The source for the exordium could be praise, blame, exhortation, or dissuasion. According to Aristotle, the exordium was constructed in such a way that it made the audience believe that they were sharing in the praise or the blame that was being delivered (III. xiv.1-11).

In epideictic rhetoric, the narratio was a disjointed set of facts that were one part in-artificial and one part artificial. The facts were in-artificial in the sense that the orator would tell the facts as they were, but they were artificial in their presentation, for the orator would artfully tell the facts by showing that the actions did take place, whether they were incredible, of a certain kind, or of a certain importance (III.xvi.1). But the facts themselves were not disputed (I.ix.40). The narratio was to have a sense of moral character. It was to make clear the moral purpose of the facts, and that purpose was the end goal for the audience. Furthermore, the narratio was to draw upon the emotions (III.xvi.1-10). According to Aristotle, epideictic speeches did not have a formal set of proofs. Instead, amplification within the narratio functioned to prove the things that were honorable or useful. The validity of the facts themselves were taken on trust (III.xvii.3).

The peroratio served four functions according to Aristotle. First, it served to dispose the listener favorably towards the orator and unfavorably towards the adversary. Second, it amplified or depreciated. Third, it served to heavily excite the emotions of the audience. Finally, it recapitulated the proofs. It would appeal to pity, anger, jealousy, or emulation (III.xix.1-6).

Cicero’s Brutus and Orator

Cicero was an important rhetorician who was from Rome but studied rhetoric in Asia Minor. It was from Cicero that many later rhetoricians derived their style. We cannot miss what he had written about rhetoric. While he wrote other important works on rhetoric, we will be looking at two, Brutus and Orator, as they supplement Aristotle’s Rhetoric.

Cicero noted that there were two types of rhetoric—Attic and Asiatic. Attic rhetoric was a dry and colorless style (Brutus, 284-291). Asiatic rhetoric had a rich language dressing, but it lacked in weight and authority compared to Attic. Asiatic had two types itself. There was a kind that was full of wisdom and meaning, it was well-versed, and it was charming with its balance and symmetry. Then there was a kind that was swift, forceful, ornate and refined in vocabulary, which was a general trait of Asia at the time, and it provoked admiration (325-327).

In terms of delivery, Cicero said that it was important for the orator to address the audience in the manner that they approve. It was important to use rich diction when addressing the people around Asia Minor (“Caria, Phrygia, and Mysia”), not rich diction with the Rhodians, certainly not rich diction with the Greeks, and the opposite of rich diction though pure and well-chosen words with the Athenians (Orator, 24-25).

Cicero described the epideictic class of rhetoric as that which increased one’s vocabulary and had a greater freedom in rhythm and sentence structure. It often contained a neat sentence structure with symmetrical sentences. It was permitted to use well rounded and defined periods. Epideictic rhetoric was ornamented purposefully and openly, so that words corresponded to other words in equal measure. Clauses would end in similar ways and with similar sounds (Orator, 37-38). Cicero described it as having a sweet, fluent, and abundant style with bright metaphors and sounding phrases (42). For Cicero, the narrative was to be credible, clearly expressed, and presented with the tone of everyday conversation. The whole speech was to be adorned with praiseworthy language and amplification (124-126). In addition, the orator was to use carefully chosen words and phrases, metaphors, and figures (134-135). Of all the possible figures given, there were six that we will highlight. First, the orator was to portray the talk and ways of men. Second, the orator was to warn the audience to be on their guard. Third, the orator was to take the liberty to speak boldly. Fourth, the orator was to digress briefly. Fifth, the orator was to pray or curse. And sixth, the orator was to place him or herself on terms of intimacy with his or her audience (137-138).

Ad Herennium

Ad Herennium was another ancient systematic work on rhetoric. It reiterated what Aristotle stated, that epideictic rhetoric was that which was devoted to the praise or blame of a person (I.ii.2). Furthermore, external circumstances, physical attributes, or qualities of character could all function as proof for epideictic rhetoric ( When praising the person under discussion from the point of view of the audience listening, it was important for the orator in the exordium to refresh the audience’s memories of the person’s actions. The orator could also say that we do not know what to praise in particular, fearing that in discussing several things we might neglect even more. But the orator must pass on anything that would carry like sentiments (

Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria

Quintilian was a contemporary of Jesus and Paul. He was a Roman skilled in the art of rhetoric. He wrote a massive manual on rhetoric, the Institutio Oratoria. We will give special attention to his work on this matter.

Quintilian wrote that the rhetorician was to start with a historical narrative, the exposition of the facts, which possessed a force that was proportionate to the truth (II.iv.2). This narrative was to be neither extremely elaborate nor dry, but it was to be written with special care (II.iv.3-4, 15). Of the more important themes, the narrative was to involve the praise of famous men and the denunciation of wicked men. According to Quintilian, one’s mind benefited from the facts and one’s character benefited from the contemplation of virtue or vice (II.iv.20).

Quintilian understood that the epideictic class of rhetoric amplified and embellished its themes. In epideictic rhetoric, when praising the gods, it was important to express respect of their majesty in general terms and to praise the special power of the individual god in focus and the work it had done to benefit humans. It was also important to record its exploits as handed down from antiquity (III.vii.6-8). When praising men, it was important to praise the deeds of the hero, especially when he was the first or only man or one of the few to perform the deed. In addition, it was important to praise any achievements that surpassed everyone’s expectations and emphasize what was done for the sake of others rather than what was achieved for himself (III.vii.16). And the rhetorician was also to include the audience by utilizing a few words of praise for the listeners in an effort to win their favor and to advance the case (III.vii.24).

Quintilian described several parts of the speech. In describing the exordium, Quintilian likened it to a prelude of a musical masterpiece, for it won the favor of the audience before setting into the regular portion of the song. The exordium functioned to provide an acquaintance or introduction with the subject matter, assuming that the audience was not already familiar with it. It served to equip the listeners with a ready ear for the rest of the speech (IV.i.1-5). But the exordium was not free from restraint; it did not let loose the emotions. The peroratio, in contrast, was unrestrained. It gave way to the full reign of emotions. It could use fictitious speeches, call the dead to life, appeal to friends and family, and tug on the strings of the heart (IV.i.28). Quintilian also stated that it was to recapitulate the arguments of the speech. In the peroratio, the rhetorician was to display the full strength of the case and attempt to excite envy, goodwill, dislike, or pity. He added that in the peroratio the whole torrent of one’s eloquence must be let loose, which would primarily be done through amplification and the free use of ornate words and magnificent reflections (VI.i.1-11, 51-52).

When it comes to eloquence, it was expected that the rhetorician would ornament the speech with the most attractive reflections, brilliant language, use of figures, magnificent metaphors, and an elaborate composition (VIII.iii.12). When it came to amplification, the rhetorician could expound or augment the narrative, making the event most impressive, he could draw up a memorable comparison, he could make a logical inference, or he could build up an idea or concept throughout a series of clauses or sentences (VIII.iv.3-27). When it came to reflection, Quintilian was referring to the appeal to one’s opinion, giving the speech a personal touch (VIII.v.1-7). Of particular interest, Quintilian also stated that exhortation or paraenesis was viewed by some to be an acceptable form of figure (IX.ii.103). Figures were a way of employing eloquence, but Quintilian noted that they had an effect on proof (IX.i.19).

Note also Quintilian’s position on writing. He wrote that writing and oratory went together. He thought that the speech was preserved in writing and could be brought to light to meet the demands of particular circumstances (X.iii.6).

Ephesians as Epideictic Rhetoric

We have seen what five ancient texts have to say about epideictic rhetoric. So, how does Ephesians compare?

Ephesians has a vast amount of epideictic features. After the epistolary prescript, the letter starts with praise (Eph 1:3). Ephesians is concerned with praising God for what he has done in and through Christ for the benefit of the people. It also denounces the old lifestyle of the Gentiles (Eph 2:1-3, 12; 4:17-5:14), so it both promotes and demotes. It begins with a section purely devoted to the praise of God (Eph 1:3-14). God’s work is good and therefore worthy of praise. God’s work in and through Christ consisted in justice (Eph 1:20-22), splendor (Eph 1:19; 2:7), generosity (Eph 1:8; 2:4), liberality (Eph 1:6-7; 2:4-10), gentleness (Eph 2:4), and wisdom (Eph 1:8). In sum, the subject matter of God’s work is comprised of that which was considered to be virtuous and noble, and therefore it is worthy of praise. Furthermore, it emphasizes that God performed these deeds for the listeners and not for his own sake (Eph 1:3-14, 20; 2:4-10, 14-18; 4:7-12; 5:2, 25). The praise was also based upon the moral end of God’s actions. God performed his work in us through Christ in order that we might fulfill the good works that he predestined for us to do (Eph 2:8-10). Epideictic rhetoric was especially concerned with amplification by emphasizing deeds that the person or god being praised were done alone or done first, if the actions surpassed all expectations, or if they reflected superiority. Ephesians contains such elements. In relation to Christ, there is a surpassing or superior greatness of his power for those who believe (Eph 1:19). In Christ, there is a surpassing wealth of his grace (Eph 2:7). And Christ’s love surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:19). Christ’s power, grace, and love surpasses all expectations. But Christ is also superior in position, because God has placed him in authority over all things (Eph 1:20-22; 3:20-21; 6:9). The letter is adorned with several notable figures. It portrays the talk and ways of men (Eph 2:1-3, 12; 4:17-5:14). It warns the audience to be on their guard (Eph 4:27; 5:15-16; 6:10-18). It takes the liberty of bold speech (Eph 4:17-5:14). It contains a brief digression (Eph 3:1-7). It contains a couple of prayers (Eph 1:15-23; 3:14-21). And the letter is placed on intimate terms between the author and the audience (Eph 3:13; 6:19-20). There are at least eight long sentences of Ephesians, which are as follows:

Eph 1:3-14;
Eph 1:15-23;
Eph 2:1-7;
Eph 3:1-7;
Eph 3:8-12;
Eph 3:14-19;
Eph 4:11-16;
Eph 5:18-24.

These long sentences further demonstrate the letter’s redundant but ornate style, which was typical of the second kind of Asiatic rhetoric for the area of Asia Minor.

Ephesians contains an exordium in 1:3-23. The exordium contains a key note throughout that links it with the rest of the letter. Christ is the key note. Christ rings throughout the exordium, but then he also rings throughout the rest of the letter. In the exordium’s eulogy (1:3-14), Christ (either “in Christ” or the equivalent) appears 10 times within 12 verses. Throughout the rest of the letter, Christ appears as follows:

1:15 (faith in Christ);
1:20 (God’s work in Christ);
1:22 (all things subject to Christ);
2:5 (God made us alive with Christ);
2:6 (God sat us with Christ);
2:7 (God’s stored up immeasurable riches for us in Christ);
2:10 (we were created in Christ);
2:12 (we were formerly without Christ);
2:13 (now in Christ we are near);
2:14 (Christ is our peace);
2:20 (Chris is the cornerstone);
2:21 (in Christ the church is joined together);
2:22 (in Christ the church was built spiritually);
3:1 (Paul is prisoner for Christ);
3:4 (the mystery of Christ);
3:6 (in Christ Gentiles are fellow-heirs);
3:11 (God’s eternal purpose is carried out in Christ);
3:21 (glory be to God in Christ);
4:7 (Christ gave gifts);
4:13 (we are to measure up to Christ’s stature);
4:15 (the church grows up into Christ);
4:21 (we are taught in Christ);
4:32 (God forgave us in Christ);
5:8 (in Christ we are light);
5:22 (wives subject themselves to their husbands as to the Lord);
5:24 (Christ is the head of the church);
6:1 (children obey parents in the Lord);
6:4 (fathers train up their children in the instruction of the Lord);
6:5 (slaves serve as though it is to Christ);
6:9 (masters share the same Master as their slaves);
6:10 (be strong in the Lord).

In addition to the key note, the exordium is connected to the narratio and exhortatio by other various topics, which are presented thusly:

1:2, 20 (heavenly places) – 2:6; 3:10;
1:5, 9, 11 (good pleasure, will, accomplish, counsel) – 2:10; 5:15-17;
1:6, 8, 14, 18-19 (praise glorious grace, riches of grace, immeasurable greatness) – 2:4-7; 3:1-13; 4:1-16;
1:7 (forgiveness of sins/trespasses, redemption) – 2:4-7;
1:8-9, 16, 18 (wisdom, insight, mystery, enlightened, revelation) – 3:1-13, 19; 5:3-14, 15-16, 32;
1:10 (fullness) – 3:19;
1:11, 14 (inheritance) – 3:6;
1:12, 18 (hope) – 2:11-13;
1:13 (truth, gospel, salvation) – 4:17-5:14;
1:20 (God raised Christ from death and seated him in the heavenly places) – 2:5-7;
1:20 (God made Christ head of church) – 4:15; 5:25.

Within the exordium, the rhetorician was also to make the audience believe that they were sharing in the praise that was being delivered. Ephesians 1:3-14 utilizes “us” throughout, which includes the audience in the praise being given to God. It also refreshes the memory of the audience as to the deeds of God before going into further detail in the narratio.

Ephesians contains a narratio in 2:1-3:13. This section portrays the moral goal for the audience (Eph 2:10; 3:10). It also draws upon the emotions, which is what it does at the end (Eph 3:13). It mainly functions to tell the facts in the tone of everyday conversation but in a careful and artful way where the facts carry like sentiments. Since the narratio was also to be amplified, it could build up ideas or concepts throughout a series of clauses or sentences. Ephesians 2:1-3:13 tells the facts in everyday language and with the use of artful description, but it mostly builds upon concepts and ideas throughout a series of clauses and sentences to amplify the facts. It is easy to see the amplification through the series of clauses, which is made plainly evident here:

2:1 (dead in transgressions);
2:2 (used to live in sin);
2:2 (used to follow the course of the world);
2:2 (used to follow the ruler of the power of the air);
2:3 (used to live according to the desires of the flesh);
2:3 (was a child of wrath by nature);
2:4-5 (but God made us alive with Christ);
2:4-5 (God is rich in mercy);
2:4-5 (by grace you are saved);
2:6 (God raised us up with Christ);
2:6 (God sat us with Christ);
2:8-9 (by grace you’re saved);
2:8-9 (it is not by your works);
2:10 (we are created for good works);
2:11 (we were Gentiles or “uncircumcision”);
2:12 (we were without Christ);
2:12 (we were aliens and strangers);
2:12 (we had no hope);
2:12 (we were without God);
2:13 (but in Christ we have been brought near);
2:14 (he is our peace);
2:14 (he made both of us one person);
2:15 (he abolished the law);
2:16 (he reconciled both through the cross);
2:17 (he proclaimed peace);
2:18 (through him both have access to God);
3:1 (Paul is prisoner for Christ);
3:2 (Paul was commissioned to preach God’s grace);
3:3 (the mystery was revealed to Paul);
3:5 (mystery was not revealed in earlier generations);
3:5 (but it has been revealed now to the apostles and prophets);
3:6 (the Gentiles become fellow-heirs);
3:6 (the Gentiles become members of the same body);
3:6 (the Gentiles have become sharers in the promise of Christ);
3:7 (Paul serves to spread this gospel);
3:8 (it was for Paul to bring this news to the Gentiles);
3:9 (and to make everyone see the mystery);
3:10 (the wisdom of God is to be revealed through the church);
3:11 (this was according to God’s eternal plan in Christ);
3:12 (in Christ we have bold and confident access to God).

Note also the artful language in the narratio, which is demonstrated as follows:

2:19 (citizens of God’s household);
2:20 (God’s household was built upon the foundation of Christ, who is the cornerstone, and on the apostles and the prophets);
2:21 (this whole structure is a holy temple).

Generally, Ephesians tells the facts as they are. But in a few instances it proclaims the facts with vivid images. The facts are built up and amplified, following in good epideictic style for the area of Asia Minor.

Ephesians contains a set of proofs in 4:1-6:9. This set of proofs is in the form of an exhortatio. Both Aristotle and Quintilian admitted that praise can easily turn into counsel. Aristotle stated that epideictic speeches did not have a formal set of proofs, but rather, the narratio heavily utilized amplification. Quintilian stated that exhortation was understood by some to be an acceptable figure, and figures were associated with proof. Therefore, it is permissible to see Eph 4:1-6:9 as the set of proofs of the rhetorical composition.

Ephesians 6:10-20 constitutes the peroratio. This section serves the letter in four ways. First, it disposes the audience favorably towards God and unfavorably towards the devil (Eph 6:11). Second, it amplifies by use of metaphor and ornate imagery (Eph 6:14-18). Third, it excites the emotions, appealing to terrifying imagery (Eph 6:16). Finally, it recapitulates both the narratio and exhortatio. The counsel to put on the armor of God in order to be able to stand in the wicked day (Eph 6:13) echoes the whole of Eph 4:1-6:9. Indeed, for there are many connections between the narratio and the exhortatio with the peroratio, as seen here:

6:11 (“wiles”) – 4:14;
6:12 (enemy is rulers, authorities, world powers, spiritual forces) – 2:2; 3:10;
6:13 (evil day) – 5:16;
6:14 (truth) – 4:15, 21, 25; 5:9;
6:14 (righteousness) – 4:24; 5:9;
6:15 (peace) – 2:14-15, 17; 4:3;
6:16 (faith) – 2:8; 3:12, 17; 4:5;
6:17 (Spirit) – 5:18;
6:18 (pray in the Spirit) – 5:19-21;
6:19-20 (pray also for me to speak boldly) – 1:15-23; 3:14-21.

Furthermore, the whole letter is concerned with praising God for what he has done in and through Christ on our behalf. The peroratio follows in that path, for it instructs the audience to put on the armor of God. Not only has God done all the things previously described in the letter, but he also provides the equipment necessary for withstanding the wiles of the devil. He is still doing glorious things by providing for us!


We have seen what the ancient’s thought about epideictic rhetoric. We have seen how Ephesians reflects this class of rhetoric. Furthermore, we have explored the rhetorical composition of Ephesians as epideictic rhetoric in light of the ancient texts concerning rhetoric. As a result, we have determined that Ephesians is an epideictic rhetorical composition, and that it contains an exordium (Eph 1:3-23), a narratio (Eph 2:1-3:13), an exhortatio (Eph 4:1-6:9), and a peroratio (Eph 6:10-20). There are some who say that Paul was not trained in rhetoric. Regardless if it was Paul who wrote Ephesians or whether the author was trained in rhetoric, the letter contains a vast amount of rhetorical elements, especially of the epideictic class, and it certainly has the main parts of a rhetorical composition. Furthermore, even Quintilian understood the importance of writing down one’s speeches for the very purpose of being able to bring them out when in need. A letter could function in this way. A speech could be recorded in a letter and then read aloud to an audience. Simply because Ephesians is a letter does not mean that rhetorical principles do not apply. On the contrary, letters were read aloud in the early church! Finally, the people in the region in and around Ephesus expected to be spoken to in a particular way according to Cicero, which was a vibrant, ornate, and redundant style. Ephesians reflects this style. It makes perfectly good sense for it to reflect this style, because if it was written to an audience in the region of Asia Minor, and if the audience expected it to have a vibrant, ornate, and redundant style, then the author, if he had a right mind, would have met the expectations of his audience. Therefore, regardless of authorship and training, we can say that Ephesians is an epideictic piece of rhetoric and it reflects the style that was expected by the area that Ephesus was located in.

The fact that Ephesians reflects the epideictic style helps us to see the flow of the letter (from exordium to peroratio). It also helps us to account for the long sentences and the redundant but ornate style. Ephesians has a different style from that of the undisputed letters of Paul. Despite the stylistic difference, which in itself does not indicate that Paul could not have been the author necessarily, it seems best to understand the difference in light of the delivery requirement of the recipients of the letter. Those in Asia Minor expected to receive something in a particular way, and Ephesians reflects that expectation. If Paul did write Ephesians, we can state positively that he wrote it in a different style so as to meet the expectations of his audience. When reading and interpreting Ephesians, we would do well to remember that it is a rhetorical composition of the epideictic class. It will help us as we determine what the author was driving at, emphasizing, and communicating.