Employing Speech Act Theory as an Exegetical Tool on the Matthean Beatitudes -- By: Timothy D. Howell

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 11:1 (Mar 2011)
Article: Employing Speech Act Theory as an Exegetical Tool on the Matthean Beatitudes
Author: Timothy D. Howell

Employing Speech Act Theory as an Exegetical Tool on the Matthean Beatitudes

Timothy D. Howell


Daniel T. Lioy1


The literary nature of the Beatitudes demonstrates a composition that developed orally. Speech act theory is utilized in understanding the oral features of the text as well as demonstrating what Jesus did in his utterances. The significance of the Beatitudes lies in the authoritative utterances of Jesus. Speech act theory allows for an investigation into the nature of those utterances. This paper recognizes six principles guiding speech act theory on the Beatitudes. A speech act model is presented and applied to the Beatitudes pericope (Matt 5:3-16). The formula is SP+(EE)CH=ACT: analyse the situated performativity of a text, add it to the multiplying nature of existential engagement by the interpreter with the illocutionary force found through the critical horizon of guiding worldviews, and the result is an Acquired Communal Translation for the social body.

It is understood that Matthew intended to compose a pericope in serving as a paradigmatic utterance to guide the Matthean community in its existence and mission in the world. In addition, the paradigm is to be adopted by all Christian communities in their mission to the world.

1. Background to the Study

For centuries, the beauty of the Beatitudes has amazed readers with both its literary and rhythmic quality, as well as its theological significance. It is probably one of the most familiar pericopes, besides the Lord’s Prayer, in the New Testament (Matt 5:3-12). The sayings attributed to Jesus by Matthew, formed a purpose for the new community as it struggled in its infancy. This new community Matthew addressed consisted primarily of Jewish Christians at its inception, but incorporated Gentile believers over time (Davies and Allison 1988:33; 133-138; Hagner 1993:lxiv-lxxi; Stanton 1993:124-145; Betz 1995:1-4; Barnett 1999:362; Skarsaune 2002:222-223; France 2007:17-18; Luz 2007:45-55, 84-87).

1.1. The Matthean community in an oral environment

Identity clarification was critical at this juncture of the church’s beginning. One of the major struggles within the Matthean community related to how much of their Jewish past would be involved in the expression of Christ-cantered worship. With roots in their past, Matthew addressed how the Matthean community reflected those concepts as reflective of God’s presence through Jesus, as metaphorically represented in ‘salt’ and ‘light’ (<...

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