An Ancient Art

Tacitus, a well-respected historian and senator of the Roman Empire, is recorded as saying:

“The breastplate and the sword are not a stronger defense on the battlefield than eloquence is to a man amid the perils of prosecution.”

As a matter of fact – if my memory and search engines serve me right – the man even wrote a book in defense of this characteristic that he so adored and sought to employ in his daily activities. Tacitus, along with many other ancient thinkers and speakers, viewed eloquence in speech and action as the key to unlocking true emotion; indeed, these men saw this form of persuasion as the only form of speaking and living, and, from what I can tell, despised the speech or lifestyle that betrayed their expectations. In the world of old and in the present world, eloquence has made its presence known and attempted to imbue the words of men with a captivating quality.

Eloquence is a quality that appeals to human nature. This much is evident when one takes a cursory glance at the annals of history. Paul recognized the power of improper words that would be brought before listeners in an eloquent manner. Many passages record his warnings about persuasive speakers, but his words to Timothy stand out the most in my mind, for he tells the young man:

“For the time will come when [the brethren] will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (NKJV, II Tim. 4:3-4).

This is a familiar passage to many; it seems that Paul and the Spirit by which he spoke intended for these words to be familiar. The apostle recognized that men and women would, indeed, turn their own ears away from the truth, but he also recognized, as he says, that they would be “turned aside” to falsehood. In the great context of the passage, would it be improper to say that the eloquence of men would be used in a negative manner to convince brethren of the heresy that they were already leaning towards and consistently considering? Not at all, from my perspective.

Question, then! Eloquence is defined, fundamentally, as “fluent or persuasive speaking or writing.” If you open Google and type in “define eloquence”, this is the definition that you get. What role, based on this definition and your own thoughts, does eloquence have within the words, writings, and actions of those professing the Christian faith? When individuals stand before a congregation to encourage and teach them, should they be eloquent? When you and I try to talk to others about the great deeds of our Savior, should we be eloquent? What precedents do we see for eloquent behavior? Essentially, what role should eloquence play in the life of a Christian?


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Aaron Brown Written by:

One Comment

  1. Aaron
    June 27, 2014

    I will go ahead and post a few follow-up thoughts for contemplation. The topic of eloquence is one of considerable importance in today’s society, for men and women appearing to spread degenerated truths do so in an eloquent – fluent, persuasive, etc. – manner and, as a result, discourage those who desire to spread the truths that God has set forth from speaking in some form of eloquence. This is one thing that I have observed and, unfortunately, felt. For fear of appearing as a false teacher -for fear of “speaking eloquently” – the words and actions of the truth-seekers become quite rugged and unconvincing. I, as a matter of fact, have done this, and I don’t believe myself to be a one-man resident in that realm. Connotations and stigmas are powerful forces.
    Paul’s words to the Corinthians are, most likely, the most prominent passages that come up in the discussion of eloquence. In speaking about his time with them, he says: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God” (NKJV, I Corinthians 2:1). He continues, as we read, to discuss how he did, actually, come to them. I tend to get the feeling that he was not in the greatest health when he was with them, similar to how he appeared to the Galatians (Gal. 4:13-15). This doesn’t seem to be his point in the second chapter of I Corinthians, but it could be a factor in his presentation of the good news about Christ and His Church; furthermore, it could be an explanation of the prominent sentiments in Corinth concerning Paul’s appearance (II Corinthians 10:10). Regardless of his health, he lets the brethren know that he had a message that he wanted to convey to them, and he affirms his points in chapter one by declaring, essentially, that he didn’t need to be an “Aristotle” in order to provoke godly reverence and obedience. If you’re defining eloquence by the fairly negative connotations that surround the word, you can rightly say that Paul did not speak eloquently to the brethren at Corinth. He was not, as a dear friend relayed to me in the conversation of eloquence, speaking “all fancy-pants.”

    However, let us not suppose that Paul was not speaking eloquently. If you’ll remember the definition – look above! – you’ll remember that eloquent words are persuasive words. Even still, eloquent words are fluent words. It is nearly impossible, going off of this definition – which is quite good, by my estimation – to suppose that Paul did not speak eloquently. Consider what the Book of Acts records about Paul’s visit to Corinth: “[He] reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Paul’s speeches had an effect in Corinth. If you read through the rest of this chapter, you can see all of the spiritual successes that Paul had in this city. It’s, really, a marvelous list! Was Paul speaking eloquently in Corinth? It would appear that way.

    Eloquence has a place within the words, actions, and general lifestyles of those desiring to be workers in the kingdom of God. The eloquence that Paul displays, more specifically, has a place within us. What was Paul’s eloquence? Paul knew what he wanted to say; Paul knew what he needed to say; Paul wanted to say what he needed to say; Paul said what he needed to say, which, at the same time, was what he wanted to say. That which Paul wanted/needed – you get the idea – to say provoked consideration and reason within the minds of listeners, observers, and, well, just about everyone else. Eloquence. Did he employ the formal education that he appears to have received? From time to time, he did do this, as the Book of Acts testifies. Most importantly, Paul knew his audience, and, as always, he had a pretty good idea – from the Spirit and from his own musings, I would suspect – of what to say and how to say it. As he famously writes later on in the first letter to Corinth, he “[became] all things to all men…” (I Cor. 9:22). Paul’s goal in doing this? “[That] I might win the more…that I might by all means save some” (I Cor. 9:19,22).

    Let us consider how we behave and speak when coming before those whom we would like to show and tell the truths of God. These are some thoughts on this topic; I would really appreciate any feedback or commentary that you have to offer.

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