A Discourse Analysis of First CorinthiansRalph Bruce Terry
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The Influence of the Rhetorical Situation

As discussed in the second chapter of this study, most scholars hold that I Corinthians was written as a single letter. Some, however, on the basis of supposed differences in style, have wanted to divide the letter in several parts. Even Hurd (1983, 82), who argues for the unity of the letter, suggests that there are differences in style between some of the sections in response to oral reports and some of the sections in response to the Corinthians' letter.

Two questions are raised by this for the discourse analyst studying I Corinthians. First, does this difference in style between different parts of the letter based upon different types of material to which Paul was responding actually exist, or is it merely a subjective assessment? To clarify the question, Hurd characterizes some sections written in response to the Corinthians' letter as having a "calm" tone (1983, 74), while others written in response to oral reports as having a tone that is "aroused, even angry" (1983, 82). Such subjective assessments as tone are hardly quantifiable. As Habel so aptly put it, "Differences in literary style are sometimes easier to feel than to define" (1971, 18). But is there a way to define stylistic differences in terms of discourse grammar so that a quantitative result can be achieved? This would seem not only to be possible but desirable. Admittedly, the word style as commonly used means so many things that it comes to mean nothing in particular and has little scientific validity. But when Biblical scholars refer to style, they are often speaking of a combination of frequently occurring grammatical features that are also the subject of inquiry in discourse analysis. The answer to the question of which features are important in defining stylistic differences in I Corinthians can be found by searching the clause database for such grammatical features to see if a statistically significant difference exists between these two types of materials based on differences in type of response.

Second, if such a stylistic difference actually exists, does discourse theory provide a explanation for this difference other than a difference of time of writing? More to the point, does a stylistic difference necessarily imply a difference in origin? Traditionally, literary criticism in Biblical studies has given an affirmative answer to this latter question (cf. Habel 1971). But can a single writer use more than one style in the same letter for different purposes? This section will attempt to answer this question also.

In the first section of this chapter, an area of peak was discovered in I Corinthians that showed stylistic differences from the rest of the letter. Is it also possible that the same kind of stylistic differences exist between those discourses which were written in response to oral reports which Paul received and those written in response to the Corinthians' letter? When this question is applied to the clause structure database, the following variables from Table 18 show a highly significant difference between the two types of materials: clause relationship, verb mode, verb voice, semantic type, subject semantics, texttype, words per clause, statement or question, and same subject as previous. In addition, the following variables show a significant difference between the two types of materials: sentence location (i.e., preceding dependent, independent, or following dependent), clause type, verb tense, subject type, prepositional phrases, and clause order type. This is based on the response to oral reports being contained in 1:10-6:20; 11:2-34; and 15:1-58, while the response to the Corinthians' letter is contained in 7:1-11:1; 12:1-14:40; and 16:1-12.

Some of these are interrelated. For example, verb voice and subject semantics are closely correlated. Also, the significant feature in sentence location is that the parts of the letter in response to the Corinthians' letter contain a greater percentage of preceding dependent clauses than those parts in response to the oral reports do. This seems to be due to the fact that these parts also contain more conditional sentences, which regularly place the condition in the preceding dependent clause slot.

Table 36 lists those features that best illustrate the stylistic differences between the two types of response material. It shows that those parts of I Corinthians which are in response to the Corinthians' questions in their letter are generally more hortatory in nature, as evidenced by more command clauses and more imperative and subjunctive verbs. The discourses in these parts are also more direct and argumentative, as evidenced by a larger percentage of conditional clauses and more active voice and present tense verbs.

TABLE 36

SIGNIFICANT STYLE DIFFERENCES

BETWEEN SECTIONS OF I CORINTHIANS WRITTEN IN RESPONSE

TO ORAL REPORTS AND THE CORINTHIANS' LETTER

                                                                                     
| Category              |   Oral Report    | Corinthians' Letter  |
|                       |                  |                      |
| Narrative Texttype    | 5.6%  (n=35)     |    3.1%  (n=22)      |  
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Persuasive Texttype   | 37.1% (n=232)    |    32.4% (n=231)     | 
|                       |                  |                      |   
| Hortatory Texttype    | 43.7% (n=273)    |    53.6% (n=383)     |
|                       |                  |                      |
| Conditional Clauses   | 6.4%  (n=40)     |    11.5% (n=82)      |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Clauses in Commands   | 11.4% (n=71)     |    23.5% (n=168)     |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Clauses in Statements | 73.4% (n=459)    |    61.8% (n=441)     |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Clauses in Quotations | 6.2%  (n=39)     |    2.9%  (n=21)      |
|                       |                  |                      |
| Longer Clauses        | 9.0%  (n=56)     |    4.8%  (n=34)      |
| (10 or more words)    |                  |                      |   
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Verbless Clauses      | 14.6% (n=91)     |    9.1%  (n=65)      |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Noun Subjects         | 29.8% (n=186)    |    22.1% (n=158)     |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Different Subjects    | 49.9% (n=312)    |    44.7% (n=319)     |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Aorist Tense Verbs    | 28.5% (n=152)    |    21.7% (n=141)     |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Present Tense Verbs   | 54.3% (n=290)    |    64.3% (n=417)     |
|                       |                  |                      |
| Indicative Verbs      | 66.7% (n=356)    |    56.2% (n=365)     |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Subjunctive Verbs     | 9.6%  (n=51)     |    15.1% (n=98)      |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Imperative Verbs      | 5.1%  (n=27)     |    9.7%  (n=63)      |
|                       |                  |                      |    
| Active Voice Verbs    | 68.3% (n=365)    |    81.2% (n=527)     |
|                       |                  |                      |
| Passive Voice Verbs   | 21.0% (n=112)    |    11.2%  (n=73)     |
Percentages are based on 625 clauses and 534 verbs in the discourses
responding to oral reports and 714 clauses and 649 verbs in the
discourses responding to the Corinthians' letter.

The discourses in response to the oral reports that Paul had received are more tentative and less direct, as evidenced by more statements, longer clauses, and more use of the passive voice. These discourses contain more persuasive material, as Paul tries to modify the Corinthians' belief and value systems underlying their behavior rather than just command their obedience. Consequently, they also contain more narrative material in order to illustrate his points. This accounts to a certain extent for the increased use of the aorist tense in these discourses, since the aorist tense is the mainline for narrative texttype. These parts of the text also see a greater frequency of noun usage, as Paul changes his subject more often. This is further evidence of the more tentative approach of these discourses.

Now several of these features that show such differences are also found in Table 20, indicating a difference between peak and non-peak areas of the text. These features include persuasive and hortatory texttypes, verbless and conditional clauses, statements, commands, aorist tense and passive voice verbs, and noun subjects. Is it possible that the same feature can be used with different frequencies in blocks of text that are in response to oral reports or a letter and then be used at still different frequencies when the writer comes to the peak of the text that he wants to emphasize? The answer is yes. Table 37 illustrates this for two of the shared features, conditional clauses and passive voice.

TABLE 37

RELATIONSHIP OF PEAK AND RHETORICAL INFLUENCE IN I CORINTHIANS

                                                                                   
|                     |      Conditionals         |       Passives            | 
|                     |    (Percent of Clauses)   |    (Percent of Verbs)     | 
|                     |  Total | Peak  | Non-Peak |  Total | Peak  | Non-peak |
| Total               |        | 12.5% |   7.2%   |        |  19.8%| 14.2%    |
|                     |        |(n=56) |  (n=67)  |        |(n=72) | (n=121)  |
|                     |        |       |          |        |       |          |           
| Oral Report         |   6.4% |  8.6% |   5.5%   |  21.0% |  35.9%| 16.1%    | 
|                     | (n=40) |(n=15) |  (n=25)  |(n=112) |(n=47) | (n=65)   | 
|                     |        |       |          |        |       |          |       
| Letter              |  11.5% | 15.0% |   9.3%   |  11.2% |  10.7%| 11.5%    | 
|                     | (n=82) |(n=41) |  (n=41)  | (n=73) | (n=25)| (n=48)   | 
|                     |        |       |          |        |       |          |       
| Introduction        |   2.6% |       |   2.6%   |  24.2% |       | 24.2%    | 
| & Conclusion        | (n=1)  |       |  (n=1)   | (n=8)  |       | (n=8)    | 
          
Percentages are based on 451 clauses and 403 verbs in the non-peak response to oral
reports, 174 clauses and 131 verbs in the peak response to oral reports, 441 clauses
and 416 verbs in the non-peak response to the Corinthians' letter, 273 clauses and 233
verbs in the peak response to the Corinthians' letter, and 39 clauses and 33 verbs in
the introduction and conclusion.

 

The parts of the text written in response to the Corinthians' letter contain more conditional clauses in non-peak areas than those parts written in response to oral reports (9.3% conditional clauses as compared with 5.5%). But when Paul reaches the peak, the percentage of use increases in both kinds of response material (15.0% conditional clauses as compared with 8.6%). Both peak and response type are influencing the 15.0% figure.

There is a different situation with the use of the passive voice. More passives (16.1% as compared to 11.5%) are used in the responses to oral reports than to the letter. But in the peak material, passive use increases dramatically in the discourse responding to the oral report (rising to 35.9% use in chapter 15), while it remains about the same in the peak discourse responding to the Corinthians' letter (at 10.7% use in chapters 12 to 14). Actually, the latter figure represents a small drop, but .8% is hardly significant.

The introduction and conclusion have been separated out in this table since the former contains the thanksgiving in expository texttype and the latter contains parting admonitions in primarily hortatory texttype. These are predictable to the epistolary genré and should not be figured in when comparing two types of responses in two parts of a letter.

But to turn to the second major question of this section, is there an explanation other than a different author or at least time of writing that would account for such a marked difference of style between these two types of responses? The answer is yes. The rhetorical situation is different in the two cases: in one case Paul has been asked for advice, even for a ruling; in the other case Paul is talking about matters which they may well just as soon he never knew about. These different circumstances provide motivation for the stylistic differences that Hurd perceived in the text (1983, 82). In answering their letter, Paul could afford to be direct; it would be expected of him. A ruling from an authority calls for the use of commands. But in addressing troublesome situations which they did not feel free to write to him about, more caution was required. The situation called for an indirectness and tentativeness that is reflected in the grammar.

All of this means that in trying to account for questions of stylistic difference, more than one factor must be taken into account. Different authors, of course, will often use different characteristic styles. And a person's characteristic style can change over time. But the same person will often show several different styles of writing depending upon the purpose of his work. This is primarily based upon the texttype that the purpose dictates be used. And that purpose can be molded in many situations by the rhetorical situation. Thus, rhetorical situation can determine style and can account for significant differences between passages.

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