Our society has always tried to view religion as pure, as untainted by worldly ideas, and definitely not as manipulative. People want to be converted to a faith because they believe that it’s right and rings true spiritually, not just because there was a particularly eloquent speaker. According to this belief, if we as a church want to share the gospel effectively, then we should limit our speaking to the lowest level of style: pure, logical teaching.
However, sometimes communication of a low stylistic level is a deterrent to the listener/reader. This was certainly the case with Saint Augustine, who lived in the 4th century. As a rhetorician, he was originally very turned off to Christianity because he felt that the speakers (and even the Bible) lacked eloquence. Perhaps he subconsciously believed that a lack of eloquence equaled a lack of credibility. It wasn’t until he heard the articulate Christian speaker, Ambrose that he decided to explore Christianity a little more. After his studies he was converted, and then applied his knowledge of rhetoric to his newfound faith and came up with the three different levels of style referenced throughout this essay. Powerful rhetoric can grab attention and spark interest in the audience, and then doctrine (and the spirit) can do the converting.
In order to share the gospel, should we be grandiose and use our words to please and to move? Should we make sure that our talks are delightful to listen to? Or should we stick with getting the message across plain and simple, without any flowery phrases? Even today there is tension regarding the use of rhetorical tools in religious settings. It’s something that we need to be careful with—you don’t want the listener to walk away merely reveling in the syntax and alliteration of your words and completely missing your message, but you also don’t want to bore the audience to sleep. In the LDS church today, several of the apostles and prophets have found a happy medium. Speakers such as Holland and Uchtdorf frequently leave the audience feeling inspired with the power of their words; and this same audience will later be found pondering the messages that stuck with them in the form of memorable phrases. Perhaps by following and building upon the example of men such as these, we can eventually resolve the tension between religion and rhetoric.
Short Rhetorical Analysis
Jacob 2 opens with Jacob giving his first sermon as the new prophet (Nephi, his elder brother and the previous prophet, dies in Jacob chapter 1). Not only does Jacob need to win the hearts of the people whom he now has stewardship over, the people who must have had a deep love for his older brother; the topic he’s been assigned by the Lord to speak on isn’t the easiest. It must be awkward to have your first talk as prophet be a chastity lesson. Jacob uses a multitude of rhetorical tools in order to make this sermon powerful, effective, and change-inspiring.
Jacob starts off by making an appeal to the supernatural; that is, God. This topic of invention automatically boosts Jacob’s ethos, because people tend to put more stock in what God says than in what mankind has to say. Jacob makes it very clear that it is God’s words, not his own, that he is delivering (Jacob 2:9-11). As Jacob begins to tell the audience of their crimes (namely; pride, unchastisty, and lust for riches), he immediately goes into a pathetic appeal. First, he uses words with a dramatic and intense connotation to explain that their souls are at risk. Such an approach would bring a certain level of fear to their hearts. Jacob also throws in the topic of invention of cause and effect when he explains that if the people seek for the kingdom of God and obtain a hope in Christ, then they will be able to gather riches. Jacob next moves into a very logical appeal (logos). In Jacob 2:27, he states a very basic commandment: to only have one wife. By quoting Christ, Jacob applies the topic of invention of authorities.
Jacob 3 convincingly adds to the persuasive appeal that Jacob is clearly making. An overarching rhetorical tool that Jacob uses in this chapter is that of ploce, which refers to using repetition of a single word for emphasis. Jacob starts three different sentences with a simple “O” (Jacob 3:2, 8, and 11). Each of these “O’s” is followed by a command to some sort of action. In Jacob 3:3, Jacob also makes use of the sort of repetition called epizeuxis, seen when Jacob says “wo, wo, wo…”. Clearly, what he is about to say next is something that he is firmly warning about.
Perhaps his most reaction-inspiring rhetorical tool is his comparison of the Lamanites to the Nephites, specifically when he states that the Nephites are approaching a degree of wickedness that far surpasses that of the Lamanites(Jacob 3:5-8). Because the Nephites strived to be perpetually more righteous than the Lamanites, such a statement would surely cause them to reevaluate their choices.
Through the extensive use of various persuasive tools, Jacob gives a powerful argument that is still valued today.