We are witnessing these days a remarkable rapprochement between the study of rhetoric and the study of narrative. Indeed, these two approaches to New Testament texts are apparently so different that in 2008, Vernon Robbins could lament the “widespread consensus” among scholars that it is “not possible to formulate a systematic rhetorical approach to narrative portions of the Gospels and Acts.” And yet, this bifurcation has been shortsighted. It is not only possible but also necessary and beneficial to bring the resources and insights of narratology into conversation with the resources and insights of rhetorical criticism. This article participates in the move to build bridges across the theoretical crevasses that have divided “New Testament rhetoric” and “New Testament narrative.” First, I take a panoramic view, broadly outlining several reasons that the dividing lines continue to hold currency in New Testament scholarship, and why these views are misguided. I then propose that we reimagine the boundaries of the “New Testament and rhetoric” to include narrative as a mode of persuasion in and of itself, using resources from the literary subfield of rhetorical narratology. Finally, I offer a brief analysis of the uses of speech and silence in Acts 15:1–35 in order to demonstrate how the tools of rhetorical narratology can help us to think in fresh ways about the rhetorical force of New Testament narratives.
This chapter begins by interrogating mainstream scholarly assumptions about New Testament exegesis, many of which are inextricably bound up with the problematics of authorial intention. Exegesis as traditionally conceived – that is, as leading meaning out of the text, from ek, “out” + hēgeisthai, “to lead” – considers textual meaning to result from a subject (God, author, reader or biblical critic) acting on a passive object (text or reader). I argue that this view of exegesis is predicated upon modern discourses of objectivity and agency, which ancient people did not share. Consequently, I propose that we instead think about textual meaning in terms of intersubjective diēgēsis – that is, the result of a “leading between,” from dia, “between” + hēgeisthai, “to lead.” With reference to reader-response theories, anthropological studies of storytelling and ancient views of textual agency, I argue that meaning is best understood as instantiated in the unpredictable, intersubjective space between texts and readers. The chapter closes with a discussion of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence in light of this proposal.