As Oliver Cromwell prepared his army to pursue the Irish across a river, he gave some advice. “Put your trust in God,” he entreated, “but mind you, keep your powder dry.” Both before and after Cromwell’s time, faithful people have faced the paradox of both trusting in the Divine and valuing the secular. One of the most common areas we see this is in rhetoric. How much artistic license do we have to make God’s word not only divinely inspired, but also aesthetically pleasing?
Looking from the Judeo-Christian perspective, rhetoric and religion have always been intertwined. The Hebrews frequently used poetry, chiasmus, and other literary devices in their sacred texts. This may have been because of divine direction, but it was also easier in an oral culture for people to remember religious texts if parallelisms, metaphors, and other literary tools were employed.
Unfortunately, some would use their eloquence to impress others instead of for spiritual enlightenment. This practice became so common that Jesus warned, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men” (Matt. 6:5). Unfortunately, many Christians today interpret this to mean that we should eschew any rhetorical style, focusing only on content. However, Jesus himself was rhetorically eloquent, as evidenced by his famous parables. Christ would have agreed with the fourth century A.D. Christian, St. Augustine, when Augustine wrote, “A thing is not necessarily true because badly uttered, nor false because spoken magnificently.” Many early Apostles and Christians followed Christ’s lead, producing a wonderfully rich New Testament from which we constantly draw sources of inspiration.
Today, it is difficult to strike a balance. Street-corner preachers catch the attention, but don’t inspire the heart. Yet, sermons shouldn’t be boring. Personally, I struggled with this issue. I loved giving verbose talks in church, but sometimes I did it for the wrong reason so I began to focus solely on content. During one religion class, my professor began to preach robustly and truthfully. I realized that if God had given me the gift of speech, then I would be burying my talent if I didn’t use it. Drawing largely on Christ’s style of teaching, I realized that we can be rhetorically expressive if our aim is to inspire others to worship God more faithfully.
Rhetorical Analysis: Jacob 2-3
The prophet Jacob, in preaching to his people, aims to convince them to abandon their love of riches and immorality.
In spite of Jacob’s urge to speak about these sins, he doesn’t begin his sermon for about ten verses. Instead, he first establishes his ethos by referring to his religious responsibilities (2:2). He tells the people he knows that they are committing a sin, “which sin appeareth very abominable” (2:5). This could be considered synecdoche, representing the people’s various sins even though “sin” is used singularly. Jacob uses a powerful metaphor to describe the sermon he is about to give as “daggers placed to pierce their souls” (2:9).
Sermon on Riches (2:12-22)
Jacob finally states that the sin that the Nephites are guilty of is searching after money. Jacob briefly refutes his own assertion that the pursuit of riches is evil. Citing a prophetic promise (authority), he points out that God has blessed the land with prosperity (2:12-13). But then, he confirms his own argument by employing anthypophora, asking questions and then immediately answering himself, “Do you behold God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay” (2:14). The prophet continues his relentless condemnation with a string of anaphora. In the third anastrophe, Jacob changes the subject of the anaphora to the listeners to emphasize the action that they need to take in repentance (2:15-16). Then, the word order of the simple, yet profound climax of this section is inverted to, “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God” (2:18)(anastrophe). In verse nineteen, he uses polysyndeton to combine all the purposes for which the wealthy should use their riches. He finishes by employing rhetorical questions or erotema (2:20-21)
Sermon on Chastity (2:23-3:14)
Jacob also decries another sin that the people are committing: adultery. After speaking about riches, this shift is an example of increasing the degree of the subject, the lust of money changing into the lust of physical pleasure. Up to this point, the speech has been greatly pathetic, but here the emphasis is on logos. People reasoned that Solomon had many wives so they could, too (Past Fact, Future Fact). In response, Jacob cites the ultimate authority: God. An example of hyperbole and personification, he ends saying “many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds” (2:35).
The second half of this sermon is addressed more to the people in general. To those who were affected by the sinners, he highlighted the cause and effect of continuing in righteousness with blessings by using anaphora (3:1). After a comparison with the Lamanites, he forcefully lists what he wants the people to do by taking out the punctuation (asyndeton) (3:11). The purpose is to make Jacob’s expectations for the people very clear.
Though there are too much literary depth in these two chapters to explain all of it, Jacob used many literary tools to help him reinforce chastity and proper use of money.