The importance persuasion plays in various aspects of life was recognized by the ancient Greeks as far back as the time of Homer, and was a recurring subject through the following centuries.1 Numerous Greek writers refer to persuasion, both in formal and informal manners. Indeed, one of the Greek goddesses was Peitho, Persuasion.

In our postmodern world, does persuasion still have a place in preaching and witnessing for Christ? That question is answered in general terms by writers such as McCallum (1996) and Veith (1994), but it also needs an answer from the rhetorical perspective of preaching as delineated in the Scripture. This is relevant for many of today’s churches which have ceased being aggressively persuasive in evangelistic outreach or in calling Christians to a full commitment to Christ.

The discussion of “rhetoric” in ancient writers had consistent emphasis on persuasion, and those writers were acutely aware of the ethical questions that persuasiveness encompasses. Ancient writers observed the power of persuasion not only to convince with legitimate argumentation, but also to seduce (Homer, Odyssey 7.258; 23.337 and Iliad 6.360; Lysias, Fragments 7.21) and to deceive (Sophocles, Philoctetus 102). Indeed, Buttrick’s opening paragraph on peitho includes these very elements (s.v. peitho, TDNT, VI, p. 1). As a result, such writers as Plato, Aristotle and Quintilian stressed the need for an ethical character to rhetorical persuasion. “For Plato, its purpose was to make known the will of God. Aristotle said that a major purpose of rhetoric was to make truth and justice prevail. Quintilian’s definition of a successful orator as a good man, skilled in speaking, sums up the point” (R. Ross, 1974, p. 110).

The problems the ancient rhetoricians faced are still relevant in today’s communication arenas. “People today are wary of persuasion, and well they might be, for we are drowned in it. It is estimated that two thousand persuasion messages come to each of us daily” (Larsen, 1989, p. 133), a large number in advertisements through the media, but others through public speakers and politicians. Many of these persuasion messages clearly intend to “seduce” the listener into buying a product, voting for a candidate, etc., and some cases probably present a degree of deception, which may be why the disclaimers are spoken so rapidly at the end or are placed in such fine print that they are virtually unreadable.2

Responding to Persuasion Questions

How is the biblical preacher to respond to questions concerning persuasion? One approach is presented by Litfin who briefly summarizes secular theories of persuasion as having “always been designed to enable men to influence their fellow men more effectively; that is, they are avowedly instrumental, utilitarian, or goal-oriented” (Litfin, 1977, p. 15). He then charges that many homileticians incorrectly “tend to hold that the goal of the preacher is similar to that of the secular persuader, to elicit a desired response from the listener, and that it is quite proper to use a broad range of rhetorical techniques to achieve this goal” (Ibid).

Litfin bases his objections to this view of preaching as persuasion on Zechariah 4:6, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (all Scripture quotations are from the NASB); Psalm 127:1, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it;” and 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, “And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”3

Using psychologist William McGuire (Handbook of Social Psychology, III, p. 173) as a focal point, Litfin observes that “human attitude change may be broken down into at least five steps or levels: ‘attention, comprehension, yielding, retention, and action'” (italics his; Litfin, 1977, p. 16). Litfin asserts that traditionally homileticians have advocated the third step, yielding, as the preacher’s goal, “that is, the preacher’s goal is to induce the listener to yield to (and ultimately to act upon) a particular value, attitude, or belief” (Ibid). Instead of that, Litfin advocates “that the preacher’s goal should not be viewed as the yielding step at all but simply the previous step, comprehension” (Ibid). We should note that his parenthetical comment, “ultimately to act upon,” actually involves McGuire’s fifth step, action, not merely the third.

Following some clarification, Litfin then categorically asserts that the preacher “is not called upon to persuade the hearers to respond” (Ibid, p. 17). Litfin argues this same point in detail in his later book, St. Paul’s Theology of Proclamation: 1 Corinthians 1-4 and Greco-Roman rhetoric [sic], in which he also quotes McGuire, concluding, “. . . the strategies of Greco-Roman rhetoric placed a heavy emphasis upon step three, yielding; that is, upon strategies designed ultimately to convince the audience. But the approach Paul advocated – straightforward proclamation as a herald – seemed to be aimed at step two, comprehension, leaving the third step to the Spirit” (Litfin, 1994, p. 261).

Having said that, however, Litfin also says, “This is not to say that the preacher must refrain from urging, entreating, exhorting, or beseeching his listeners to follow Christ . . . Nothing I have said is meant to deny the validity of straightforward encouragement or exhortation to receive the Gospel, and of an opportunity to respond during the service. After all, invitation itself can hardly be viewed as a persuasive technique designed to induce (i.e., to cause rather than simply be the agent of [italics his] yielding” (Ibid).

Unfortunately, Litfin’s differentiation between “persuasion” and “straightforward encouragement or exhortation” and “urging, entreating, exhorting, or beseeching” is never explicated. Indeed, I question whether a difference does exist, or if it should exist. Concerning this matter, Hines asserts, “Although Litfin does list what some regard as questionable persuasive techniques [such as the pseudo-celebrity evangelist, pulpit-pounding style, or asking people to raise their hands and then following that by asking those who raised their hands to come forward; Litfin, 1977, p. 17], the contrast between ‘secular persuasion theory’ and ‘straightforward encouragement’ seems problematic. Those committing the abuses cited by Litfin would all probably represent their actions as ‘straightforward encouragement'” (Hines, 1989, p. 11).

In contrast to the approach that denigrates persuasion, many homileticians, from varying theological perspectives, stress that preaching has as its goal the effecting of change in the listeners. Peter Adam affirms that the preacher’s purpose must embrace “not only what we call exegesis but also application and exhortation,” and this includes an “emotional appeal to the hearers to respond” (Adam, 1996, p. 131).

Jay Adams maintains that the “purpose of preaching, then is to effect changes [italics his] among the members of God’s church that build them up individually and that build up the body as a whole” (Adams, 1982, p. 13). Baumann asserts “that a sermon has the explicit purpose of eliciting behavioral change,” and that preaching “fails when it allows the listener to be neutral or indifferent” (Baumann, 1981, p. 205). Broadus encouraged his readers toward “persuasion unto vital response,” and stated that persuasion “is not generally best accomplished by mere exhortation but by urging, in the first place, some motive or motives for acting, or determining to act, as we propose” (Broadus, 1944, p. 214). Larsen advocates the legitimacy of persuasion and has a chapter on the question, “When Does Persuasion Become Manipulation? The Issue of Ethicality” (Larsen, 1989, ch. 11). Lewis regarded it of such importance that the word “Persuasive” is in his book’s title (Lewis, 1979).

McLaughlin argues that persuasion can be good or bad, that the issue is one of ethics, and that the Christian preacher certainly should persuade following biblically ethical standards (McLaughlin, 1979). Nash cogently argues that Christians, not just preachers, should “Use Persuasion” (ch. 14) and “Promote Action” (ch. 17) in their overall communication endeavors (Nash, 1995). Vines adds his voice, “By persuasion I mean all ethical methods the preacher may use in his preaching to induce people to make the right decisions and do the right things. The sermons in the New Testament include many techniques of persuasion. The New Testament preachers preached for a verdict” (Vines, 1986, p. 95; see also Vines and Shaddix, 1999, p. 249).

For the biblical expositor, the issue is not what the homileticians assert, but what the Scriptures themselves set forth. Paul’s assertion that his preaching was “not in persuasive words of wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:4) appears to indicate that persuasion was not his goal. In contrast, a rhetorical examination of Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts, whether preaching to Jewish, Gentile or Christian audiences seems clearly to show that Paul consciously made “a continuous attempt to persuade” (Sunukjian, 1982, p. 296).4 This seemingly contradictory evidence can be reconciled through a proper understanding of persuasion in the New Testament.

Persuasion in Greek Literature

Although Paul uses the unique word peithos (a hapax)5 for “persuasive” in 1 Corinthians 2:4, it is related to the common verb for persuasion, peitho, a word used numerous times in both the New Testament6 and extrabiblical literature.7 An examination of the use of peitho provides insight into its significance for the biblical preacher and persuasive messages.

The uses of the verb peitho and its related adjective pithanos (which LSJ say equals the peithos of 1 Cor. 2:4) and noun peitho in ancient Greek literature clearly place the stress on persuasion and its results.8 Whether it is persuasion by argument (e.g. Homer, Odyssey, 7.258; Sophocles, Philoctetus, 901; Thucydides, History, 6.33; Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1395b27), by gifts (e.g. Homer, Iliad, 9.386; Aeschylus, Eumenides, 724), by emotion (e.g. Homer, Iliad, 22.78; Euripides, Orestes, 906) by character of the speaker (Xenophon, Memorobilia, 3.10.3), or by style of speaking (e.g. Homer, Iliad, 1.132; Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1408a19), whether it indicates yielding or being obedient to someone as a resulting action of persuasion (e.g. Homer, Iliad, 1.33; 8.502; Lysias, Fragments, 22.3), or of exercising belief or trust because of being persuaded (Homer, Iliad, 4.325; Odyssey, 16.71; Xenophon, Anabasis, 7.8.3; Plato, Protagoras, 328e), the overwhelming evidence is that persuasion is at the root of the action.

Indeed, the preponderance of occurrences clearly shows that it does not stress “comprehension” at all, but rather places the emphasis on “action,” resulting from “yielding,” following McGuire’s categories. The words stress a change of mind with its resulting action, which come from the persuasive influence of one person upon another.

Persuasion in the New Testament

While the use in ancient Greek literature is important, an even greater issue is how the terms are used in the New Testament. A study of those uses confirms that the stress on “action” continues to dominate the use of the terms. An overview of the non-Pauline related occurrences will be given first, followed by that of the Pauline related applications.

Non-Pauline Related Occurrences

Matthew uses the verb peitho three times, the first time in 27:20, which illuminates the significance of the term’s forcefulness. Jesus is on trial before Pontius Pilate, who presents the choice of Jesus or Barabbas to the people. The people choose Barabbas and cry out for Jesus to be crucified. They did this because “the chief priests and the elders persuaded (epeisan) the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death.” McClain observes, “What arguments were used by these leaders, we are not told. But doubtless their arguments would have had something to do with the main charge laid before the Roman governor, and that was political, namely, that Jesus had forbidden the paying of tribute to Caesar, ‘saying that he himself is Christ a king'” (McClain, 1955, 224).

Whatever their arguments were, to postulate that the religious leaders only desired to have the crowd “comprehend” their message is ludicrous in this context. They were intent on action, and they achieved their goal. In similar fashion, Matthew’s other uses (27:43 and 28:14) go far beyond the mere concept of “comprehension.”

In Acts 14:19, Luke uses the verb peitho in a manner reminiscent of Matthew 27:20. In that text Jews from Antioch and Iconium had followed Paul to Lystra, “and having won over (peisantes) the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” These Jews were not seeking for the crowd to “comprehend” their message; they were after “action,” and they were successful in their endeavors.

In his Gospel, Luke uses the verb peitho four times, with 16:31 providing a good illustration of its intenseness. Abraham speaks to the rich man in Hades concerning the man’s brothers, that they have Moses and the prophets. The rich man, however, wants someone to go to them who has risen from the dead so that “they will repent,” an obvious change of attitude and action in this context, as Godet observes that repentance “would produce, he fully acknowledges, a life wholly different from his own (such as it had been described, ver. 19) (Godet, 1887, II, p. 183). To this request, Abraham answers, “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded (peisthhsontai) if someone rises from the dead.'” As with Matthew, Luke’s emphasis with this word extends much beyond “comprehension” and encompasses “action.”

Luke continues his forceful use of the verb peitho in the book of Acts. In Acts 5:36-37, Gamaliel speaks concerning Theudas and Judas of Galilee, and those who “followed” (epeithonto) them. These followers were so persuaded by these messianic type leaders that they actively followed them until the leaders were killed. This is persuasion of the most intense type, not mere “comprehension.”

The writer of Hebrews (assuming it was not Paul) uses the verb peitho four times. A text that shows its significance is found in the warning passage in chapter six. Whatever the warning of 6:1-8 involves, and regardless of to whom it is addressed, the writer states, “beloved, we are convinced (Pepeismetha) of better things concerning you” (6:9). Westcott asserts that this verb’s “form implies that the writer had felt misgivings and had overcome them” (Westcott, 1892, 154) as a result of being fully persuaded of their spiritual condition. This was more than a “comprehension,” but incorporated a settled conviction.

James and John each use the verb pietho one time. James considers how “we put bits into the horses’ mouths so that they may obey (peithesthai) us” (3:3). No equestrian would ever assert that the purpose of a bit is so that the horse may merely “comprehend” what is desired. John writes that as we love in deed and truth, then we “shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure (peisomen) our heart before Him” (1 John 3:19). Although Bultmann advocates that the exposition of this text is most “uncertain” (s.v. peitho, TDNT, p. 3), Ross is correct when he notices that the word “assure” means “persuade” and asserts that “We shall persuade our hearts, in spite of much sin still remaining in us, that we are God’s children” (A. Ross, 1967, p. 191). Once again, this is far beyond mere “comprehension,” but refers to an intense certainty, being fully persuaded.
Non-Pauline related uses of the verb peitho in the New Testament consistently point to persuasion and the results of that persuasion, being fully persuaded, trusting, having a confident belief. Attention will now turn to the Pauline related uses of the term, beginning with those in the book of Acts in which Paul’s activities are identified by the word, and followed by those of Paul himself in his epistles.

Pauline Related Occurrences

Luke has numerous references in Acts where Paul is connected with the concept of persuasion. These again show the pointed ramifications of the term.

Three of the Acts references in particular are not directly related to Paul’s ministry of preaching God’s Word, yet all three show the forcefulness of the term. In the context of Acts 21:14 the prophet Agabus prophesied that if Paul went to Jerusalem from Caesarea that he would be arrested and delivered to the Gentiles. As a result, the believers were “begging Paul not to go up to Jerusalem” (21:12). Paul, however, clearly rejected their pleas, indicating that he was determined to go to Jerusalem. “And since he would not be persuaded (peithomenou), we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!'” (21:14). In this case, no “action” was obtained (although clearly “comprehension” was attained), and the text explicitly indicates no persuasion occurred.

The second is found in Acts 23:21, in which context Paul had been arrested and his nephew learned of a conspiracy of more than forty Jews which was arranged to kill him. That nephew told the plot to the Roman commander, Claudius Lysias, and said, “So do not listen [be persuaded by] (peisthhs) to them” (23:21). In view of the fact that the commander prepared an escort of 200 soldiers, 200 spearman, and 70 horsemen to escort Paul safely out of Jerusalem and toward Caesarea, it is obvious that he was not “persuaded” by Paul’s enemies in any way. Again, the stress is clearly on “action,” not comprehension.

The third occurrence is found in Acts 27:11 during Paul’s journey to Rome when the ship was in the harbor of Fair Havens on the island of Crete. Paul attempted to convince the others not to undertake any further sailing because of the certainty of shipwreck. In spite of Paul’s best attempts, however, “the centurion was more persuaded (epeitheto) by the pilot and the captain of the ship, than by what was being said by Paul” (27:11). In this case, Paul’s persuasion lost, and that of the pilot and captain succeeded – to the ship’s ultimate destruction. No question exists that this again has a focus on “action,” since the ship did set sail.

Concerning Paul’s ministry of preaching God’s Word, Luke, Paul’s good friend, also connects persuasion directly to it. In one particular case the text is not as explicit as in others as to the result of Paul’s preaching. When Paul was preaching in Antioch in Pisidia, he and Barnabas, “speaking to them, were urging (epeithon) them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). We may assume that this persuasion was successful and that the believers did continue in God’s grace, but the text does not precisely so state.

In contrast to Acts 13:43 stands 17:4 which considers Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica. In this context Paul entered the synagogue and “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (17:2-3). As a result of Paul’s preaching, “some of them were persuaded (epeisthhsan) and joined Paul and Silas” (17:4). The fact that these responded and “joined” Paul once more testifies that “action” is involved, not merely “comprehension.” Paul’s own commentary on how the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9) confirms the result of his persuasive activity. Similar occurrences are recorded by Luke for Paul’s ministry in Acts 19:8; 28:23, 24. Concerning 28:23-24, Moore astutely observes that it “states that some of the Jews in Rome were persuaded (epeithonto) by what Paul had said, indicating that Paul’s attempt to persuade them (peithon, 28:23) was bearing fruit. The imperfect epeithonto should probably be understood as indicating a genuine conversion to Christ on the part of some of the Jews” (Moore, 1997, p. 398, ftn. 30).

Not only did Paul’s friend, Luke, know that Paul actively persuaded people, but Paul’s enemies were also conscious of that fact. After Paul’s lengthy ministry in Ephesus in Acts 19, a disturbance arose spearheaded by the silversmith Demetrius. Having gathered other craftsmen together he stated, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded (peisas) and turned away a considerable number of people” (19:26-26). Demetrius would have no doubt ignored the situation if people were only “comprehending,” but Paul’s persuasion obviously resulted in detrimental “action” to his business, as people “turned away” from purchasing silver idols of the goddess Artemis (Diana).

Paul’s persuasion was not always successful, however, as the instance with Agrippa demonstrates. After Paul’s detailed defense before Agrippa in Acts 26, he confronts the king with a question, “King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do” (26:27). Agrippa’s response, “In a short time you will persuade (peitheis) me to become a Christian,” has been interpreted in a variety of ways (see Bruce, 1974, pp. 494-96; Custer, 2000, pp. 368-69). Regardless of Agrippa’s meaning, however, Paul’s effort at persuasion was clearly to seek a change of “action” in Agrippa’s life.

Paul’s Use of Persuasion Words

The book of Acts shows that Luke knew he persuaded for action. Not only that, but Paul’s enemies knew he persuaded for action. Moreover, Paul himself clearly used the verb peitho to refer to persuasion with the force of action involved. Sometimes the translation focuses on obedience (e.g. Rom. 2:8; Gal. 5:7 and notice that peismonh is also used in 5:8). In these instances, Vine accurately states that the “obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion” (1966, III, p. 124). On other occasions, the translation may stress the element of confidence (e.g. Rom. 2:19; Phil. 1:6; Philemon 21), of being convinced (e.g. Rom. 8:38; 14:14; 15:14), or of trust/faith (e.g. 2 Cor. 1:9; Phil. 1:14; 2:24).

Concerning the relationship of persuasion and trust, Vine again writes, “Of course it is persuasion of the truth that results in faith (we believe because we are persuaded that the thing is true, a thing does not become true because it is believed), but peitho, in N.T. suggests an actual and outward result of the inward persuasion and consequent faith” (Ibid). In all instances, the underlying concept continues to be the resulting action of being persuaded of something.

A significant Pauline statement is, “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade (peithomen) men” (2 Cor. 5:11). Here is a declarative statement by the apostle that he is actively engaged in persuasion. “The present tense is not conative . . . : ‘try to persuade,’ [as held by Robertson, 1931, p. 229] but durative: ‘we are busy persuading men . . . ‘Men we are engaged in persuading’ is broad and general and signifies: bringing them to faith” (Lenski, 1961, p. 1018).

At this juncture, the New Testament seems clear that Paul’s friend knew he engaged in persuasion. Paul’s enemies knew he accomplished persuasion. Paul himself knew he prevailed in persuasion. Since that is the situation, then the problem of Paul’s words, “And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4) must be considered. The interpretation of Paul’s statement here must be in agreement with the testimony of the New Testament, with Paul’s own words elsewhere, and especially with Luke’s own evaluation of Paul’s ministry in Corinth as given in Acts 18. When Paul arrived in Corinth from Athens, “he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade (epeithen) Jews and Greeks” (18:4). His success in persuasion at Corinth is evidenced by the Jews who brought him before Gallio with the accusation, “This man persuades (anapeithei, “to move someone to do something by persuasion,” BDAG, pp. 69-70) men to worship God contrary to the law” (18:13), and once again the emphasis on “action” and not “comprehension” is evident.

A full discussion of the implications of 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 is beyond the scope of this paper, but has been set forth by Litfin (1994), Bullmore (1995), and Winter (1997). Litfin’s position, briefly, is that the rhetorical tradition of Corinth in the time of the apostle Paul was in the very center of the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition that had been practiced for 500 years from the Sophist Corax (fl. 467 B.C.) through the Roman Quintilian (ca. A.D. 35-95). He argues that this rhetorical tradition emphasized the “orator’s efforts toward inducing belief in his hearers,” while Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians is actively opposed to this approach (Litfin, 1994, p. 247). Litfin considers Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 to be “the clearest and most detailed statement – both positive and negative – of the Apostle’s manner of preaching to be found anywhere in his writings” (Litfin, 1994, p. 204; a similar position is taken by Zemek, 1991).

Problems with Litfin’s approach can be observed. To begin, his lack of attention to the New Testament uses of the peitho word group is an omission which definitely skews his work. Furthermore, Winter demonstrates that Litfin “did not make use of all the evidence on Corinth” (Winter, 1997, pp. 8-9), and that the evidence shows that the rhetorical circumstance of Corinth in Paul’s day was greatly influenced by the Second Sophistic movement. “The sophists taught rules on style, and the management of the voice and the body,” and “Parents expected the sophist to make public speakers of their sons, for they judged that this form of education was most useful in producing leaders accomplished in the great art of persuasion whether it be in the legal courts or the council or political assembly of their city” (Winter, 1997, p. 5).

Bullmore argues at length that an Asiatic style of rhetoric was predominant in Greece in the first century A.D., a style that emphasized artistic delivery (Bullmore, 1995, pp. 90-113) above all else. This was in contrast to the Atticist position on rhetoric which was a more direct proclamation. Fee similarly observes that Paul’s “letters, which at times have all the character of speech, are in fact powerful examples of rhetoric and persuasion. Nonetheless Paul can confidently assert before those who have come to care about such things that his preaching was not of this kind. This seems to make certain that it is not rhetoric in general, but rhetoric of a very specific and well-known kind, that he is disavowing” (Fee, 1987, p. 94, ftn. 27).

Sunukjian cogently distinguishes the two kinds of rhetoric as the “plain” style (Atticist) and the “grand” style (Asiatic). The plain style “was characterized by clearness, simplicity, and restraint,” while the grand style used “florid, luxuriant, and bombastic rhetoric” (Sunukjian, 1982, p. 294). This “grand style” would naturally lead speakers to a high degree of self-reliance, with their oratorical skills and abilities, not the content of their speech, being that which would win the day. Sunukjian further observes how that in the common rhetorical approach in Corinth during the time of Paul, “it mattered little whether the speaker had a purpose in speaking. The glory of the speech was an end in itself,” and furthermore rhetoric “made the speaker more important than the speech” (Ibid, p. 295). Sunukjian accurately concludes, “Paul had not come to Corinth with the flowery words and elaborate style of an Asiatic orator. Rather, he had spoken in reliance on the power of the Spirit . . . In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, therefore, Paul is not rejecting persuasion. Instead, he is recalling his continual determination to preach in a clear and cogent style, and to emphasize the message rather than the speaker” (Ibid, p. 296).


Paul’s preaching was persuasive. He desired to see people take “action,” not merely “comprehend,” when he preached the gospel of Christ. He knew this, his friends knew this, and his enemies knew this. Yet, Paul also knew and asserted that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is essential to successful preaching. That is still the case today.

“Paul’s own point needs a fresh hearing. What he is rejecting is not preaching, not even persuasive preaching; rather, it is the real danger in all preaching – self-reliance. The danger always lies in letting the form and content get in the way of what should be the single concern: the gospel proclaimed through human weakness but accompanied by the powerful work of the Spirit so that lives are changed through a divine-human encounter. That is hard to teach in a course in homiletics, but it still stands as the true need in genuinely Christian preaching” (Fee, 1987, pp. 96-97).


R. Larry Overstreet is Professor of Preaching at Northwest Baptist Seminary in Tacoma, WA.



1 Tables 7 – 9 give representative uses of the words for persuasion in Greek literature.
2 The need for persuasion to be governed by ethical standards is recognized by secular communicators as well as Christian. For representative discussions see Hanna and Gibson (1992, 334-60), Ayres and Miller (1994, 252-54), Osborn and Osborn (1994, 359-63), Jabusch and Littlejohn (1995, 107-30), and Gregory (1996, 350-98)
3 For a detailed expansion of Litfin’s presentation see, Duane Litfin, St. Paul’s Theology of Proclamation: 1 Corinthians 1-4 and Greco-Roman rhetoric [sic] (Cambridge: University Press, 1994).
4 Sunukjian, Donald R. “The Preacher As Persuader.” Walvoord: A Tribute. Ed. Donald K. Campbell. Chicago: Moody, 1982. For a detailed analysis of Paul’s sermons in Acts, see Donald Robert Sunukjian, “Patterns for Preaching – A Rhetorical Analysis of the Sermons of Paul in Acts 13, 17, and 20” (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1972).
5 Not only is peitho a NT hapax, but it is not found anywhere else in Greek literature. However, the word is well attested in this text, and it “is formed quite in accordance w. st. Gk. usage . . . and the Gk. Fathers let it pass without comment” (BDAG, p. 791). For further discussion, see the commentaries and Greek textual apparatus.
6 See Tables 1 – 6 for the New Testament uses of this verb and related words.
7 See Table 7 for representative uses of this verb in ancient Greek literature. Also see Table 8 for representative uses of peithos= pithanos and Table 9 for representative uses of peitho.
8 Although it is outside the scope of this paper to expand the study of the words for persuasion into the Christian era, Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, show that the emphasis continues (s.v.
peithos and peitho).


Adam, Peter. Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Expository Preaching. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996.
Aeschylus, “Agamemnon,” The Oresteian Trilogy, trans. Philip Vellacott. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1959.
– – – . Agamemnon, trans. Herbert Weir Smyth. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963.
– – – . Eumenides, trans. Herbert Weir Smyth. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963.
– – – . Prometheus Bound, trans. Herbert Weir Smyth. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963.
– – – . The Suppliant Maidens, trans. Herbert Weir Smyth. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963.
Aristotle. The “Art” of Rhetoric, trans. John Henry Freese. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975.
– – – . The Nichomachean Ethics, trans. H. Rackham. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1962.
Ayres, Joe and Janice Miller. Effective Public Speaking. 4th ed. Dubuque: Brown & Benchmark, 1994.
Baumann, J. Daniel. An Introduction to Contemporary Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981.
Broadus, John A. On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. Rev. Jesse Burton Weatherspoon. Nashville: Broadman, 1944.
Bruce, F. F. Commentary on the Book of Acts. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
Bullmore, Michael A. St. Paul’s Theology of Rhetorical Style: An Examination of I Corinthians 2.1-5 in Light of First Century Greco-Roman
Rhetorical Culture. San Francisco: International Scholars Publications, 1995.
Bultmann, Rudolf. “ú____.” TDNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.
Custer, Stewart. Witness to Christ: A Commentary on Acts. Greenville: BJU Press, 2000.
Euripides, Helen, trans. Arthur S. Way. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959.
– – – . “Hippolytus,” Ten Plays by Euripides, trans. Moses Hadas and John McLean. New York: Bantam Books, 1963.
– – – . Hippolytus, trans. Arthur S. Way. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958.
– – -. Iphigeneia at Aulis, trans. Arthur S. Way. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959.
– – – . Orestes, trans. Arthur S. Way. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958.
Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.
Godet, Frederick Louis. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. 2 vols. in 1. 1887. Grand Rapids: Zondervan reprint, n.d.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Rev. and ed. Frederick William Danker. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.
Gregory, Hamilton. Public Speaking for College and Career. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.
Hanna, Michael S. and James W. Gibson. Public Speaking for Personal Success. 3rd ed. Dubuque: Brown, 1992.Hesiod. Shield of Heracles, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959.
– – – . Theogony, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959.
– – – . Works and Days, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959.
Hines, Stephen C. “Toward an Ethic of Persuasive Preaching: Identifying Critical Concerns.” Midwestern Section of the ETS. Grand Rapids, MI. 17 March 1989.
Homer. The Iliad, trans. A. T. Murray. 2 vols. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960, 1963.
– – – . The Odyssey, trans. A. T. Murray. 2 vols. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960.
Jabusch, David M. and Stephen W. Littlejohn. Elements of Speech Communication. 3rd ed. San Diego: Collegiate, 1995.
Larsen, David L. The Anatomy of Preaching: Identifying the Issues in Preaching Today. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961.
Lewis, Ralph L. Persuasive Preaching Today. Wilmore: Asbury Theological Seminary, 1979.
Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. Rev. Henry Stuart Jones. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977.
Litfin, A. Duane. “The Perils of Persuasive Preaching,” Christianity Today 21 (4 February 1977): 14-17.
– – -. St. Paul’s Theology of Proclamation: 1 Corinthians 1-4 and Greco-Roman rhetoric [sic]. Cambridge: University Press, 1994.
Lysias. Fragments, trans. W. R. M. Lamb. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960.
McCallum, Dennis, ed. The Death of Truth. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1996.
McClain, Alva J. “The Greatness of the Kingdom – Part III: Kingdom Teaching in the Light of Rejection.” Bibliotheca Sacra 112 (July-September 1955): 209-24.
McLaughlin, Raymond W. The Ethics of Persuasive Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979.
Moore, Thomas S. “To the End of the Earth: The Geographical and Ethnic Universalism of Acts 1:8 in Light of Isaianic Influence on Luke.” JETS 40 (September 1997): 389-99.
Moulton, James Hope and George Milligan. The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
Nash, Tom. The Christian Communicator’s Handbook. Wheaton, Victor, 1995.
Osborn, Michael and Suzanne Osborn. Public Speaking. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Pindar. The Odes of Pindar, trans. John Sandys. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
Plato. The Apology, trans. Harold North Fowler. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960.
– – – . Crito, trans. Harold North Fowler. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960.
– – – . Gorgias, trans. W. R. M. Lamb. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
– – – . Laws, trans. R. G. Bury. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
– – – . Phaedo, trans. Harold North Fowler. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960.
– – – . Phaedrus, trans. Harold North Fowler. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960.
– – – . Protagoras, trans. W. R. M. Lamb. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1962.
– – – . The Republic, trans. Paul Shorey. 2 vols. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963.
– – – . Sophist, trans. Harold North Fowler. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
– – – . Theaetetus, trans. Harold North Fowler. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
Robertson, Archibald Thomas. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. 4: The Epistles of Paul. 1931. Grand Rapids: Baker reprint, n.d.Ross, Alexander. Commentary on the Epistles of James and John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967.
Ross, Raymond S. Persuasion: Communication and Interpersonal Relations. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1974.
Sophocles. Ajax, trans. F. Storr. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
– – – . Antigone, trans. F. Storr. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1962.
– – – . Electra, trans. F. Storr. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
– – – . Oedipus at Colonus, trans. F. Storr. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1962.
– – – . Philoctetus, trans. F. Storr. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
– – – . Trachiniae, trans. F. Storr. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
Sunukjian, Donald Robert. “Patterns for Preaching – A Rhetorical Analysis of the Sermons of Paul in Acts 13, 17, and 20.” Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1972.
– – – . “The Preacher As Persuader.” Walvoord: A Tribute. Ed. Donald K. Campbell. Chicago: Moody, 1982.
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 4 vols, trans. Charles Forster Smith. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958-62.
Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. Postmodern Times. Wheaton: Crossway, 1994.
Vine, W. E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. 6 vols. in 1. Westwood: Revell, 1966.
Vines, Jerry. A Guide to Effective Sermon Delivery. Chicago: Moody, 1986.
Vines, Jerry and Jim Shaddix. Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons. Chicago: Moody, 1999.
Westcott, Brooke Foss. The Epistle to the Hebrews. 1892. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans reprint, n.d.
Winter, Bruce W. Philo and Paul Among the Sophists. Cambridge: University Press, 1997.
Xenophon. Anabasis, Books 1-3, trans. Carleton L. Brownson. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.
– – – . Anabasis, Books 4-7, trans. O. J. Todd. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961. – – – . Memorabilia and Oeconomicus, trans. E. C. Marchant. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959.
Zemek, George J. “First Corinthians 2:1-5: Paul’s Personal Paradigm for Preaching.” New Testament Essays in Honor of Homer A. Kent, Jr. pp. 265-88. Winona Lake: BMH, 1991.

Check out more great articles

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.