An Introduction to Paraenesis

Paraenesis (derives from Greek parainēsis, literally “exhortation,” or “counsel”) is a generic term for the kind of moral advice, an exhortationOpens in new window or recommendation that is generally acceptable and not subjective to counter-statementOpens in new window. This rhetorical device is a form of biblical composition, which consists in preaching and exhorting, of which the epistle of St. James is a notable example.

Paraenesis is reflective of socially acceptable and conventional wisdom. Typically, paraenesis or paraenetic style of speech does not admit a counter-statement.

  • Thus, if a person says to another: “We must honour the divine,” no other person can contradict this statement (paraenesis), unless such person is indeed insane.

Paraenetic expression takes two forms:

1) The act of persuasion — which involves exhorting him/her to pursue something that brings fulfilment (examples are prevalent in Rom. 12:1-15, & v.13; Gal. 5:1 – 6:10; 1 Thess. 4:1 – 5:22; Col. 3:1 – 4:6); and,

2) The act of dissuasion — which is the opposite (dissuading him/her to avoid something that counteracts peace of mind).

Paraenesis is usually presented by people who are advanced in social status, and morally superior to those they address. Hence, it can be exemplified in exceptional people who are models of virtue.

In sum, Paraenesis has often been understood as the linking together of traditional moral precepts and exhortation. Among such moral precepts are: self-control, deploring flatterers, making friends, having sound mind in a sound body, guarding speech, and coping with instability in life.

Further Readings:
Pastor George D. Cutler | A Scriptural Analysis of Paraenesis: ParaenesisOpens in new window
David Edward Aune | The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature & Rhetoric: ParaenesisOpens in new window
Isocrates, (Ad Nicoclem 40 – 41);
Libanius, (Epistolary Styles 5);
Seneca, (Letters 6:5 – 6); Quinn (1990a, p. 192).