Rhetoric and Preaching the Gospel

“Christ sent me…to preach the gospel, and not with cleverness in the use of words, lest the cross be emptied of its power”(1 Cor 1:17). 

The proclamation of the gospel must serve the message, not the tastes of the people and the reputation of the orator. Interestingly, this runs contrary to expectations of today. Now, why would Paul feel inclined to say this? 1st-Century Greco-Roman culture was steeped in flashy orators, eloquent persuaders, and rhetorical masterminds, and everyday people were enamored by such skills, regardless of the message. 

In fact, we draw principles for oration today from the rhetorical mastery of this culture. But Paul decided not to play into the cultural expectations of sophists and orators. He understood that using the world’s means of gaining conviction would undermine the transformation that God sought in people’s lives by confronting them not with beautiful speech but with the cross of a crucified Christ (1 Cor. 1.18-25). 

Moreover, Paul explains that he was intent on having his converts’ faith rooted in an experience of God and God’s power, not in the persuasive artistry of a mere human being (1 Cor. 2.1-5). If the Corinthian’s (along with all their problems) were to be won over to the gospel, it must be by the power of God and the convicting power of God’s Holy Spirit. Their trust needs to rest in God’s transforming power rather than in any human skill or fleshly excellence.

Do we have itching ears (2 Tim. 4.3), or will we listen and long for the milk and meat of the Word (1 Pet. 2.2; Heb. 5.12)?