The other week, I told some friends to read 3 John. It’s because they want to know how I read when I read the Bible. A couple days after we agreed to read, I read the text myself. And I sent them this email.
I just sat down to start thinking about this text, and the first thing that I thought was, ” ___.”
You think I’m going to tell you that? And shape your thinking?
But I did start thinking about what was behind that observation and I realized that I often start by trying to understand what might have been going on that called for this piece of discourse. It’s a way of thinking that is rooted in my training as a scholar, going back to a concept called “The rhetorical situation.”
In brief, it says that there are some situations where words don’t matter, where nothing anyone can say will change them. But there are some situations where there is a problem that invites discourse and there is an audience to speak to.
I often work backward from that and say, “There is a communication reason that someone wrote these words for an audience. There is a change that is being invited. There is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
This is different than a pure literature approach that doesn’t care about the author or the audience but considers the structure of the poem. I am always assuming that choices are being made not JUST for literary reasons but PRIMARILY for communication reasons.
This doesn’t mean that what is being communicated is facts or information. It’s possible through communication to foster a sense of security or belonging. The mere fact that someone speaks to us, regardless of what they say, often is offering that sense of belonging.
But I “always” have an underlying assumption that there is an intention of understanding. Someone, John, is speaking to someone, Gaius, (at least) for some reason.
In this case, for me, that means someone, John, is speaking to someone, Gaius, (at least) for some reason.
Which then helps me start thinking of “what is going on? Who is talking? What are they assuming? Why do they say this or ask this? How does that fit with what I know of humans from scripture, from universals, from our culture. What was going on at the time such that this is how things are phrased rather than that way, (assuming that the discourse choices are made for a reason)?
Enough. I’m not trying to write a comprehensive essay. But I wanted to give you a glimpse while it was fresh. And to give you a reminder that this is how you interact, too. You write and speak words in response to situations, to audiences, in contexts. And you make those choices of the words and images for reasons.