If you have ever paid close attention to the many discussions Jesus had with the scribes and Pharisees, you will recognize that one of the most recurring rhetorical devices he used was the enthymeme [en-thuh-meem]. Whoa! Big word. Enthymemes are a manner of presenting a deductive argument in which one of the elements is left unstated. Think: a syllogism minus one of its premises.
There are three particular forms that an enthymeme can take:
1. Major Premise plus minor premise: All men are mortal and Socrates is a man.
2. Conclusion plus major premise: Socrates is mortal because all men are mortal.
3. Conclusion plus minor premise: Socrates is mortal because he is a man.
Jesus used enthymemes because they are an especially effective form of getting folks to see the argument clearly and believe it on their own terms. In most cases, it identifies the conclusion that is to be accepted and then goes on to identify what is to be argued for (the minor premise). This tactic enlists the mind of the hearer [or eager facebook friends/blog commentors] from the inside, in a way that a full and explicit statement of argument cannot do.
Jesus never wanted to [just] beat his opponents. And neither did the apostles. Rather than force a particular conclusion upon someone by the sheer weight of logic, Jesus would often allow his audience to “connect-the-dots” and discover the insight on their own. This is another example of Jesus’ profound understanding of human nature. People are often resistant to accepting “foreign” ideas but are less hesitant when the conclusion is deduced from their own thought processes.
Jesus’ purpose was not to score points in a debate or to earn a hollow victory for his position. His aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles but to achieve understanding or insight in his hearers. He wanted folks to believe. By having a thorough understanding of logical relations and implementing them in an effective rhetorical form, Jesus words transformed the world. If our words are to do the same, we would do well to imitate the methods used by Christ.
Also, don’t be a jerk.