Rhetorical Analysis Essay: Luke 15:11-32

What is Rhetorical Analysis, anyway?

Rhetorical analysis (or rhetorical criticism) is a hermeneutical lens that focuses on the persuasive strategies of the author.

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A “hermeneutical lens” is a method of interpretation that focuses your attention on specific features of the text. Just like a camera lens helps you frame a photo and focus in on specific details in the landscape, a hermeneutical lens helps you look at a text from a specific perspective and makes certain details of the text stand out.

Therefore, when we use a rhetorical analytical lens to explore a text, we will focus on interpreting the signals that the author uses to tell us what his text means, AND on how those particular signals work (or don’t) to persuade the author’s audience to agree with the message.

The signals in your passage may include any of the devices (eg. character, dialogue, rhetorical questions, etc.), styles (eg. narrative, everyday realism, etc.), usages (a response to a question, a form of argument, etc.), forms (narrative, simile, collections, etc.), and so on that you discover in your parable. Review Ryken, chapter 8 for further detail.

Many of the author’s signals will be conventional features of the parable genre. You should pay special attention to these signals, and show how the author uses these general conventions in a unique way in the particular text.

A rhetorical analysis is an analysis of how an author (story-teller) persuades an audience to do something (believe a new idea, be entertained, take a specific action, etc.).

Therefore, a rhetorical analysis essay must include two primary and interlocking claims: what the story-teller’s text is about and how the text functions to get the audience to respond the way the author wants them to.

In the case of a parable, what the text is about is a matter of interpretation – what does the parable mean? How the text functions is a matter of persuasion – how does the parable make the audience see a truth and then act (or deliberately refuse to act) on that truth?

What = Interpretation

A successful rhetorical analysis essay will demonstrate close reading, or a thorough analysis of the literary elements of your text. Your close reading should be based on the detailed examination of your parable that you completed through your “Exegetical Research and Interpretation Notes.”

The detailed analysis you completed in your notes will help you determine what the text means based on a careful reading of specific details you have found in the text.

WARNING: It is often tempting to assume we already know what a parable is about, and so sometimes we skip over important details as we rush to state what we think the story is telling us.

HOWEVER, every interpretative claim must be directly related to a specific detail in the text. In other words, every claim you want to make about what your parable means must be linked explicitly to specific details in the story. Furthermore, you a must provide reasons and evidence for why you think your interpretation of those details is correct.

How = Rhetorical Analysis

Your essay must also pay close attention to the audience in the text. Your goal in a rhetorical analysis is to demonstrate how the story-teller achieves (or tries to achieve) his purpose through telling a specific parable to a specific audience.

One way to think about this question is to ask, why did the story-teller choose to tell a parable, rather than using another way of communicating his ideas? What is it about the parable genre that made it a good way to achieve the story-teller’s goals for his audience? And, how does the specific parable he chose function in order to help him achieve his goal(s)?

The frame narrative, or the scene in the story in which a parable is told, will provide essential context for understanding who the audience is, who the story-teller is, and why the story-teller has chosen to tell the parable. In your analysis, pay careful attention to the scene described in the frame narrative, and try to discern who the characters are, why they are interacting with one another, and how the parable affects those interactions.

What + How = A Coherent Rhetorical Analysis Thesis and Essay

A coherent rhetorical analysis essay will integrate an interpretation of the parable with the analysis of how the parable works to persuade an audience.

To balance these two emphases in your paper, you should take care to provide sufficient interpretation of the parable’s meaning to sustain your rhetorical analysis of the parable, and conversely, make sure that you move beyond interpretation and dedicate enough space to explaining the persuasive (rhetorical) features of the text.

Most importantly, your thesis statement should make a claim about what the parable means AND how it persuades (or doesn’t). Creating a balanced thesis statement will help orient you as you work to write a coherent and balanced essay.


What is a rhetorical analysis essay?
A rhetorical analysis articulates how a text has been composed by analyzing the strategies the author used to achieve his purpose in creating the text. To write a successful rhetorical analysis, you will need to articulate what the author has to say (exegesis/interpretation), why he says it (purpose), who he says it to (audience), and how he achieves certain effects on his audience (strategies and their results).

Who is the author of my parable?
When you analyze a biblical parable, you have two authors to consider: the author of the book (for example, Matthew as the author of the Gospel of Matthew) and the speaker of the parable (for example, Jesus). For the purposes of this paper, you should focus on the speaker of the parable as the author of the parable.

Who is the audience of my parable?
When you consider an author’s purpose, you must also consider, among other things, the author’s intended audience. For the purposes of this paper, you may choose to consider only the audience in the text (for example, the Pharisees) OR you may compare the audience in the text to a contemporary audience.

How should this thesis essay write?

a definition of the parable genre

the specific parabolic conventions in your parable (for example, archetypal

characters, narrative, etc.).

A debatable thesis

Supporting arguments that explain why specific details in the text justify your

interpretation of what the author has to say

Supporting arguments that explain how the author uses those details and parabolic

conventions to achieve his purpose.

The draft must include headings that clearly identify the following: the

introduction, your thesis statement, your main supporting premises (marked as P1, P2, etc.), and the conclusion. You do not have to keep these headings in your revised paper.

Form: The essay uses orbital and linear structures to organize content, link ideas together, and develop a coherent defense of the thesis statement.Compose written work using the appropriate genre and style for the given context, purpose, and audience.

Style: The essay’s persona uses an objective perspective, logic, literary and historical evidence, propositional language, and a formal tone to present the author’s ideas with clarity, consistency, and basic detail.

Focus: The essay develops one main idea (thesis statement) that is explicitly demonstrated through supporting claims and evidence. There is no extraneous material in the paper.

Purpose: The essay teaches the audience about the parable genre and persuades the audience to accept the author’s interpretation and rhetorical analysis of the parable.

Content: The essay explains what the speaker meant (exegesis), why the speaker said it (purpose), who the speaker said it to (audience), and how the speaker achieved specific effects (strategies and results) with reference to specific details from the text.

Genre: The essay defines the parable genre and identifies which specific parabolic conventions are present in the particular parable being examined. Identify and Interpret the elements of genre in a biblical parable.

Interpretation: The essay explains what the speaker meant by identifying specific literary and sociocultural details in the parable and presenting a precise, coherent, and well-argued interpretation of those details.

Thesis: The thesis statement includes an interpretive claim about the meaning of the parable that is strongly supported by the interpretation of specific textual details.

Genre: The essay identifies and explains the specific rhetorical devices that are present in the parable.

Analysis: The essay analyzes the speaker’s purpose (why), audience (who), strategies (how), and results (effect) with reference to specific textual details, including the details discussed in the interpretation of the parable and the rhetorical situation described in the text; the rhetorical analysis is focused through the lens of the three types of rhetorical proof (ethos, pathos, and logos).

Thesis: The thesis statement includes an analytical claim about the rhetorical effect of the parable that is strongly supported by the analysis of specific textual details.

Coherence: The rhetorical analysis is explicitly based on and linked to the interpretation of the parable.

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