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Authority and Persuasion: Self-Presentation in Paul's Letters


This study examines Paul's self-presentation in Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Corinthians in order to determine the purpose of each letter and Paul's relationship to each community. A fundamental premise of this study is that Paul did not provide communities with autobiographical information so that they might possess a more robust portrait of Paul. Rather, the information he provided was carefully selected in order to fit the needs of each audience and to increase the chance of success for each letter.

I begin by identifying and examining Paul's four primary categories of self-presentation: deeds, personal suffering, self-effacing language, and agent of God. Then, I examine the Greco-Roman rhetorical handbooks, speeches, and letters, and I note that they all contain similar categories and techniques for self-presentation, including the four categories outlined by this study. From this examination I demonstrate that awareness of the proper methods of self-presentation was not restricted to those who received a formal rhetorical training but that all educated individuals such as Paul of Tarsus would have been aware of the categories and techniques outlined in the handbooks because were "in the air."

Next, I examine Galatians, Philippians and 1 Corinthians by focusing on Paul's self-in order to determine his purpose for writing each letter and his relationship with each audience. Using this approach I am able to confirm the scholarly consensus concerning Paul's relationship with the Galatians and Philippians. Moreover, I confirm the scholarly consensus concerning the purpose of Paul's letter to the Galatians, concluding that the letter serves as a self-defense.

However, this approach also provides new insights regarding Paul's purpose for writing to the Philippians and the interpretation of many difficult passages. For instance, I am able to conclude that a primary purpose for writing to the Philippians is to address their recent gift, and I note that Paul prepares the community throughout the letter to accept his potentially insulting claim that God would reciprocate on his behalf. Moreover, by identifying the importance of Paul's self-presentation throughout the letter for the success of his handling of the Philippians gift, I provide further evidence for the unity of the letter.

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