Rhetoric in Heaven

 | 2541 words

In this present world, communication is often difficult. In Heaven, however, we know that God’s light and truth will be fully revealed. There has been some debate about whether rhetoric, as a concept, will be in the perfection of Heaven. This disagreement primarily proceeds from differences in definition. As definitions are important to clarity of communication, it is proper to discuss the definition of so difficult a term. All agree that Heaven will be perfect, and that truth will be readily apparent, as God will be visibly present. Further, lies will not exist, either.1 However, disagreement remains whether rhetoric is the technique and study of persuasion, as Aristotle and modern lexicographers assert2, or something else. One could follow Plato’s definition of “a kind of leading of the soul”3. This itself has connotations that are difficult to understand and must be explained. Presumably, it is a “leading” to truth or a vision of truth, which is the same as persuasion. Perhaps a synthesis of Plato and Aristotle’s definitions will lead to a conclusion. Rhetoric, as it is both the science of persuasion and the art of conveying truth, will be irrelevant and thus non-existent in Heaven.

First, rhetoric is the science of persuasion. Aristotle defined rhetoric: “It is clear, then, that rhetorical study, in its strict sense, is concerned with the modes of persuasion.”4 He says this after discussing the different types of audiences5, showing that techniques vary between audiences. This is also the meaning in common usage, as the Oxford English dictionary (which examines current uses of words) notes.6

Second, rhetoric is also the art of conveying truth, or what one views as truth. Plato defined rhetoric:

“Well then, will not the science of rhetoric as a whole be a kind of leading of the soul by means of speech, not only in law-courts and other kinds of public gatherings but in private ones too—the same science, whether it is concerned with small matters or large ones, and something which possesses no more value, if properly understood, when it comes into play in relation to things of importance than when it does with things of no importance?”7

He (or rather his interlocutor Socrates) defines further: “Since the power of speech is in fact a leading of the soul, the man who means to be an expert in rhetoric must know how many forms a soul has…,” continuing to discuss many more considerations for persuasion; both interlocutors agree on this definition.8

Aristotle and Plato’s definitions are complementary in some ways. Since Plato’s definition is rather vague when considering either concrete or abstract application, it must be considered in accompaniment with his student9 Aristotle’s definition. Thus, this “leading of the soul” must be considered as the art of both communication of truth and persuasion toward it.

All truth is found in God, and rhetoric, when used properly, can lead to this truth. God Himself is described as “the true Light.”10 While those living on earth do have an innate understanding of this light of truth, their sin blinds them to it.11 Thus, rhetoric is an earthly tool to attempt to overcome this handicap of the difficulty of understanding and learning the truth. This metaphor of blindness to the truth is used throughout the Bible; for example, the Apostle Paul notes that the unregenerate "[have] the understanding darkened"12and urges believers to “put off…the old man”13 (also translated as “old self”14). The Book of Acts recalls that Paul used rhetoric to “open their eyes” when preaching to those who did not know Jesus15.

Rhetoric will be irrelevant and thus non-existent in Heaven. As previously noted, God’s presence (often described as light) will be visibly present. The Apostle Paul expresses frustration at his inability to “put off…the old man”16, writing “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”17. However, in Heaven, where sins will have been purified, this difficulty will not exist. Paul also expresses the hope that this difficulty of understanding will be resolved in eternity; in the midst of an extensive discussion about the importance of communication, he says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”18 This shows that knowledge, the awareness of truth, will be immediately available in eternity. Thus, the need to lead to truth will no longer exist, because truth itself will be clear. On Earth, we discover truth by philosophy. In Heaven, it will be readily discoverable.

Rhetoric is only needed to communicate truth; and not to discover it. The ancient philosophers, viewing the discovery of philosophy as more important and noble than the communication, often seem to be unable to decide what to think of rhetoric. Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, both used rhetoric and disliked it, making his interlocutor in Gorgias, Socrates, say, “I call it foul, as I do all ugly things.”19 Nevertheless, Plato recognized the utility of it, using it to persuade others of his ideals. Socrates and Plato preferred philosophy over rhetoric as a discipline because they looked to a more perfect ideal in their thinking, just as the Apostle Paul did in his writing.

Some may question whether rhetoric could not be a means to praise God using language, in the manner seen in biblical descriptions of heaven.20 This, however, assumes a mis-definition of the term; there would be no need to persuade toward truth except for the purpose of praise, as the of people praising are the “multitude”21. The multitude is saying these things; thus, they already know them. This praise does not fit into either definition of rhetoric, as it is not persuasion.

Others may question whether this use of the term rhetoric is sophistic. This is mistaken; even Aristotle said, “what makes a man a ‘sophist’ is not his faculty, but his moral purpose. In rhetoric, however, the term ‘rhetorician’ may describe either the speaker’s knowledge of the art, or his moral purpose.”22 This complements Plato’s definition while clearly denoting rhetoric as the study of persuasion. It is clear, then, that sophistry is rhetoric used to lead away from the truth.

In conclusion, the two definitions of rhetoric are complementary. Aristotle’s, that it is the science of persuasion, and Plato’s, that it is a “leading of the soul,” can combine to form an overall definition that it is the art of communicating either truth or what seems truth. Rhetoric will then be unimportant in the perfection of Heaven, where God’s truth is always clear, clearer than can be imagined on earth. I would like to close with the words of Augustine:

“In this diversity of true views, may truth itself engender concord, and may our God have mercy upon us that we may ‘use the law lawfully,’ for the ‘end of the precept, pure love’ (1 Tim 1:8, 5). On this principle if anyone asks me which view was held by Moses your great servant, I would not be using the language of my confessions if I fail to confess to you that I do not know”.23

While some may come to a different conclusion than the thesis of this paper, hopefully this paper has nevertheless appropriately explored important issues surrounding the interaction of virtue and rhetoric. Augustine said, “Fine style does not make something true.”24 Thus rhetoricians need to be careful to always point towards the truth with our words. Rhetoric is not inherently virtuous; rather, it is a tool given to people to use in this fallen world, just as, for example, the ability of lethal self-defense. Any of the tools God has given on Earth should be developed only in ways which will help others. Of these tools, rhetoric is one of the most important, for, since it deals with the very nature of truth, it can be quite dangerous.25


In this handbook of rhetoric, Aristotle discusses both the theoretical and practical matters of persuasion. After defining what it is, he proceeds to analyze how to effectively persuade varying audiences. Aristotle's techniques have proved effective over history, and his thoughts have been central to many discussions of the topic.

In Augustine's Confessions, he discussed his personal testimony of conversion and many theological and philosophical matters. Throughout this work, he always sought to support Christianity using appeals to logos, pathos, and ethos. His ethos is particularly strengthened by his testimony of conversion from paganism. He often emphasizes the importance of truth over appearance. Augustine's works laid a foundation for western theological philosophy.

The Oxford English Dictionary collects words and analyzes how they are used to deduce an accurate definition. The editors trace the etymology and usage of a word throughout history to be able to understand both its denotation and connotations.

In Gorgias, Plato wrote against sophistry. Through the interlocutor Socrates' probing questions, he successfully demonstrates that sophistry, the unvirtuous use of communication, is a dishonorable practice.

In Phaedrus, Plato (through his interlocutor Socrates) discusses many topics. Most importantly, he discusses the importance of truth in communication. Plato forms an integral part of western philosophy, as his questions probing the nature of the world often found truth.


  1. Revelation 21:27, Revelation 22:3-5.

  2. Aristotle, Rhetoric, trans. W. Rhys Roberts, Dover thrift eds (Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2004), 5–6; Oxford English Dictionary, “‘rhetoric, n.1’.,” accessed November 3, 2020, https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/165178?rskey=kN3aNw&result=1&isAdvanced=false.

  3. Plato, Phaedrus, trans. C. J Rowe (London; New York: Penguin Books, 2005), 44.

  4. Aristotle, Rhetoric, 5.

  5. Aristotle, 4–5.

  6. Oxford English Dictionary, “‘rhetoric, n.1’.”

  7. Plato, Phaedrus, 43–44.

  8. Plato, 58.

  9. “Aristotle,” Britannica Academic, accessed November 3, 2020, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Aristotle/108312.

  10. John 1:9.

  11. Romans 1:20-25.

  12. Ephesians 4:18 (King James Version).

  13. Ephesians 4:22 (King James Version).

  14. Ephesians 4:22 (English Standard Version).

  15. Acts 26:18.

  16. Ephesians 4:22 (King James Version).

  17. Romans 7:15 (English Standard Version).

  18. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (King James Version).

  19. Plato, Gorgias, trans. William Clark Helmbold (Upper Saddle: Prentice-Hall, 2007), 24.

  20. Revelation 5:13, 7:10, 19:1-3, etc.

  21. Revelation 7:1, 19:1-6.

  22. Aristotle, Rhetoric, 6.

  23. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 270.

  24. Augustine, 78.

  25. James 5:3-8.