What is Rhetorical Analysis?
Every text—oral or written—is, in some sense rhetorical, which is to say, every
text is a strategic presentation of particular ideas. Typically, we understand, or fail to
understand, the meaning of a text without thinking about how or why it works the way it
seeks, more explicitly, to understand how texts are used to
create meaning, construct knowledge, and induce the reader or hearer to take action.
Rhetorical analysis assumes that an individual author may have one or more aims
in writing—to inform, to teach, to delight, to entertain, to analyze, to defend, to attack, to
explore, to meditate, to praise, to blame, and/or to persuade.
Generally speaking, then,
rhetorical analysis aims to understand how
and texts function to persuade
readers / hearers to adopt ideas or act in certain ways.
Rhetorical analysis, according to
Donald Juel, is applied to the New Testament at three levels:
On the level of the New Testament text itself.
The assumption is that NT authors
seek to argue a case, whether by poetry, letter, or narrative.
On the level of the history of interpretation.
The assumption is that NT
interpreters seek to persuade readers to adopt ideas and actions in light of their
particular historical situation.
On the level of contemporaneous interpretation.
Like interpreters from the past
we too seek to make a case for a particular understanding of the NT text.
Rhetorical analysis assumes that all interpretation is undertaken for particular
purposes and for particular audiences.
Rhetorical analysis seeks to understand and make
clear how this works.
Rhetorical analysis is interested to know how the NT functions in
the arguments we make to one another and what arguments ought to be made.
Aristotle and Rhetorical Analysis
Aristotle observed that all speaking involves three characters: the speaker’s (ethos),
the text’s (logos), and the audience’s (pathos).
Aristotle’s point is that authors use
essentially three basic ways to persuade a readership to adopt his/her ideas or to
encourage the adoption of a course of action—ethos, logos, pathos.
relies on the reputation of the author.
Aristotle: If hearers believe that a speaker has good sense, good moral
character, and goodwill they will be inclined to believe what the speaker
Today we would add consideration of the speaker’s expertise of authority
in the select subject matter.
That’s the reason people hawking aspirin in
For the purposes of this course we are using “rhetor” to name the one who produces a text or speech.
term draws attention to the purpose(s) which the author or orator seeks to accomplish.