The “not … but” (ou … alla) New Testament Rhetorical Pattern: Its Features and Purposes and the Dangers of Misinterpretation -- By: Nijay Gupta

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 42:0 (NA 2010)
Article: The “not … but” (ou … alla) New Testament Rhetorical Pattern: Its Features and Purposes and the Dangers of Misinterpretation
Author: Nijay Gupta


The “not … but” (ou … alla) New Testament Rhetorical Pattern: Its Features and Purposes and the Dangers of Misinterpretation

Nijay Gupta*

Introduction

The New Testament books are theological texts. Indeed, one may take Romans as a model example of a book that has shaped Christian theology in an incalculable way. Thus, Melanchthon’s famous labeling of Romans as “the compendium of Christian religion.” However, in recent decades, Romans has been read, not only as a coherent piece of theological reasoning, but also as a specimen of rhetoric—that is, a letter written with a particular audience in mind and with specific rhetorical purposes. The going assumption of most Paulinists today is that, if Pauline theology is to be appropriately defined, it must be examined historically, sociologically, and also rhetorically. The same can easily be said for the Gospels—they are certainly resources for looking at the hero of the story—Jesus of Nazareth. However, they are also pieces of rhetoric; it is commonplace to examine how each evangelist works with and through received Jesus traditions and also offers a unique angle on the life and death of Jesus in order to teach the intended readers something specific about him, his God, his community of followers, the world and its ways, the times, and/or salvation.1

When encountering the New Testament texts, modern, western, English-speaking interpreters make many presumptions about what these ancient, Greek texts are talking about and what points they are trying to communicate. This can sometimes initiate a butterfly effect, as a small grammatical or cultural misunderstanding can lead to a wrong reading of the purpose or trajectory of a rhetorical discourse, and the net result is a skewed theological conclusion in some cases.2 One could point to, for example, the pistis Christou debate3 which is a relatively recent controversy, as the subjective reading (“the faithfulness of Christ [himself]”) did not receive a fair and widespread hearing until Richard Hays’ appeal in the late 20th century.4 In this stakes are high, and passionate proponents on each side claim that the other group leaves something missing or enervated in Paul’s theology.5

Our concern in this study (what we will call the “ou … alla” or “not … but” pattern) is similar, in that it deals with a rhetorical pattern that is very ...

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