Pronouncement Story   

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A brief narrative focused on a memorable saying associated with a prominent figure. The term was coined by the British scholar, Vincent Taylor, & widely used in the English-speaking world for the type of story that early German form critics called a "paradigm" or "apophthegma" (a Greek term meaning "what is uttered aloud"). Recent scholars often prefer to call such stories by the classical rhetorical term: "chreia."

A pronouncement story briefly sketches a setting for a dramatic saying. The basic story is a self-contained unit designed for easy memory & oral repetition. Details are generally limited to sketchy description of elements that set the stage for a remark that might otherwise be perplexing. In many cases a pronouncement by or about Jesus represents the original climax of the story. In stringing such stories together to form connected written narratives the authors of the gospels have provided their own transitions.

As originally a form of oral folklore, pronouncement stories are quite flexible. Each gospel writer preserved the logical structure of a basic story but felt free to reword any details needed to clarify the point. The setting of the pronouncement could be expanded or condensed; the pronouncement itself could be paraphrased; the same story could be told in a different context in the narrative. The story in which Jesus identifies his true kin (Mark 3:31-35 & parallels) is a good example of varied performances of a typical pronouncement story.

Form critics analyze pronouncement stories involving Jesus not just to determine what he said, but to learn more about the situation of followers who told these stories about him. Redaction critics analyze the different versions of pronouncement stories to clarify the distinctive traits of each writer's perspective on Jesus.

 

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last revised 12 April 2008

 

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