Topoi: Intentional or Accidental* . . . .

accidental intentional

You can develop the content of your message or speech by using the concepts of . . . .




Intentional & Accidental are rhetorical “topoi”* (see previous articles and link)


Obviously, there are human actions that are clearly intentional.  He or she intended to do this-or-that with purpose.  It was . . . .

  • deliberate
  • purposeful
  • willful
  • volitional voluntary
  • designed
  • planned
  • premeditated**

or “intentionality” can be said this way

  • there is a blueprint, a master-plan
  • it is charted, mapped out
  • he/she has devised a scheme
  • there are tactics and strategy
  • sent out a prospectus
  • he/she has a game plan


or intentionality can be metaphorically stated

  • he “sent out invitations” for this to happen
  • that’s what happens when you “packed the car”
  • there was no way this wasn’t going to happen
  • he “wrote this on his calendar”
  • some people “put money aside for it” and one day the bill comes due***


A Variation –  Intentional Steps Which Are Driving An Unintentional Outcome:

Now we could also peel off another layer and add — You did not intend, but there was no way it wasn’t going to happen, or the probability of it happening was clearly leaning that way.  The outcome or results were not intentional, but the acts or decisions leading to it were.  You just did not realize, know, or believe that it would lead to this obvious, highly probable, or sure outcome.

That is . . . .

You did not intend to be where you are with your car being repossessed and facing a deep financial crisis.

You did not say to yourself, I want to have them pick up my car in the middle of the day and be left stranded at the bagel shop.

You did not say to yourself, “Someday I want to face a financial crisis with my family.”

However, your decisions, which lead up to that day were intentional.





At other times, people just make mistakes.  They fell into the situation accidentally.  Accidents happen!  You can’t prevent some things from happening.  We as people, not necessarily because we are sinners, but because we are finite, will make mistakes and accidents will happen.

If Adam & Eve had not fallen, as they worked in the Garden, would they have made mistakes?  Would there have been accidents?  If they were sinless yet finite, I suggest that accidents would have happened.  They would have broken the handle of a shovel because they put too much pressure on it – by mistake.  It was an accident.

  • a mistake
  • an error in judgment
  • failed to see it coming
  • happenstance
  • unintentional
  • inadvertently
  • incidentally**


A Variation – Accidental But Preventable:

Again, we can peel off another layer by categorizing some accidents as those which could have been prevented, or the probability of its happening could have been lessened.


That leaves us with four ways to categorize the intentional or accidental actions of men.

  1. Intending To
  2. Unintentional Outcome But Caused By Intentional Steps
  3. Accidental
  4. Accidental But Avoidable


At this point, let me clarify what we are and what we are not saying.   There are biblical passages which specifically speak about the intentional and the accidental action of men and women.

Passages Which Actually Speak About The Intentional:

“For they intended evil against thee: they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.” – Psalm 21:11

“ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” – Acts 2:23

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” – Genesis 50:20

“And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.” – II Sam 11:15

“And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.” – Ruth 2:16

Passages Which Actually Speak About The Accidental: 

“And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness: wherefore he said unto the driver of his chariot, Turn thine hand, and carry me out of the host; for I am wounded.” – I Kings 22:34

“And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech.” – Ruth 2:3

“And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him.” – II Sam 1:6

“But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;” – Philippians 1:12 (I know – it was intended by the Lord)

“And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us: it was a chance that happened to us.” – I Samuel 6:9

“And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” – Luke 10:31

While there are actual examples in the Bible of intentional and accidental actions, that is NOT what understanding those categories of action are about when it comes to rhetorical techniques.  The fact that such actions are stated and/or understood as intentional or accidental only establishes that point within that particular passage.  The actual nature of the action found within these and other passages are part of the actual truth or principle which comes out of that specific passage.  One can preach about the intent or lack of intent from the actual passage.

The topoi of intentional and accidental are not about biblical passages which actually identity or state one of these two categories of action.  While there are Bible passages which speak about actions which are intentional and accidental, that is not directly related to these two topoi.  It is worthy of noting that the Bible recognizes these causes of action, as do most all kinds of literature.  Although the Bible supports the truth that events and actions come from these different causes, that is not our purpose in identifying these “topoi” found in secular rhetorical theory.

These topoi, “places,” or categories of thought . . . .

√  come out of secular rhetorical theory and can be used in any public speaking forum, not just for preaching

√  can be used for generating content regardless of the biblical passage, whether or not the passage speak to intent or accident.

√  can serve various uses.  The topoi can be useful in creating or developing content in a number of different ways.


Let me illustrate different ways to use these topoi.  They can . . . .

  • “generate” content –

“Before we look at the danger of the tongue, let’s acknowledge that there are times when we never intended to “‘start a fire’ or ‘steer that direction’ when we made this-or that comment.  There are times we never meant to hurt anyone, but have accidentally said something that we should have just not brought up.”


  • improve clarity

“This can help us clear up in our minds why some claim it was an accident — and it was — but let’s remember that there are preventable accidents and accidents which are just real accidents.”


  • promote understanding

“There are reasons this happens.  One of the reasons is that your fell into the trial (“when you fall into various trials”).  There are trials which are obviously unintentional.  — James is talking about that kind of situation.  However, there are trials which are of your own making.  If you intentionally jumped into the trial – you went out and bought four Lamborginies and are now facing financial difficulties – or even bought just one  — then this passage is not describing your situation.”


  • offer explanations as to why –

“This happens because even though you did not intentionally say, I want to find my marriage in shambles, but because you did intentionally ignore what was happening in your marriage – in the area of personal discipline – or in the area of . . . .”


  • help identify with your audience —

“There will be some here today who fell into this situation.  You were not looking to get yourself into this ____.  While there are others who knew where this road was leading, you had no intent to get on such a road.  Nevertheless, in either case, you now find yourself _______.”


The “topoi” can be used to  . . . .

  • create an introduction
  • construct a conclusion
  • develop a main point
  • clarify the point being made in a passage
  • contrast what the passage is addressing
  • framing a Big Idea

Using the topoi of intentional-accidental, and its variations can help you develop or clarify what is being said in the passage.  These categories of thought can help you think about what the passage is saying and generate content which is adjacent to but yet still relevant to what the passage is addressing.


Here is an example where Andy Stanley uses the “topoi” of “intentional-accidental.”  He uses these categories of thought to build or create an introduction to his message which is on James 3 – The Danger of the Tongue.

Now realize as you read and/or hear his introduction that the passage and message are about the power or danger of the tongue. His message (and/or the passage) is NOT about one’s intention to hurt or injure others.  Nevertheless, Andy Stanley uses the category of “unintended” to build his introduction.  He crafts his introduction to this message and passage around the adjacent or tangential thought or concept of intentional or accidental.


(clip — beginning @4:57 of his full message)

Without meaning to — a wife can just destroy the way a man views himself — and destroy the marriage – and it’s never the intent . . . . All of us can probably think of things that our parents said to us that they didn’t – they didn’t want us to remember – the point of the conversation wasn’t always “remember.“  In fact, they don’t even remember saying it.  And yet there are times maybe your father or mother leaned in hard across the table and said, “Honey, don’t ever forget “ and you don’t remember anything that came next.  You just remember those moments your parents had the big defining teachable moment but you don’t remember the word – but you remember the words they wish you wouldn’t remember – cause without meaning towithout intending to – your parents maybe said some things – as children, you still remember . . . .


Now as we skip ahead to a personal story of the “unintended,”  we are still in the introduction of Stanley’s message.

(continuing clip – beginning @7:38 of his full message)

My first semester of college I didn’t do very well — and I got a neat letter from the school that said you’re now an academic warning and so then the second semester was about like the first one so then I got another letter and said: “Now you’re on academic probation.” –  which means if you do this again you can’t come back here – and so that wouldn’t good – being a freshman college and so I shared that with my parents and course they were thrilled

and so my mom sat me down to have the – you know college talk – you know – and so – what do you expect – and I’m expecting — “You know Andy, you could do anything you set your mind to – you know – if you have discipline yourself and – you know” – and here’s what she said — and I bet she doesn’t remember saying this — but here I am in my forty’s and it’s just like yesterday of sitting in Tucker Georgia in our den and – she said – we’re sitting at the kitchen table and she says to me — “You know Andy college isn’t for everyone.”. . . .



(skip ahead again in the introduction as he again brings up “unintentionallity” )

We come up with some more words – words like this – “Well that’s not what I meant.”-  oh then I’m fine – now that you said that’s not what you meant.  I feel totally better — all the pain — you know — it’s just ridiculous.

or “What I meant to say was” or “That didn’t come out the way I intended.”

So we take some more words and try to explain away the first words and then – and then we’re so bad about this – then we’re shocked that they’re not immediately better – and then we say really really stupid things like – “But I said I’m sorry.” –  like OK I know I spent a paragraph of information tearing you down but now I said I’m sorry now aren’t we back to where we were?

That’s like you backing over me by accident with your car – jumping out of your car – running around saying, “I didn’t mean to run over you!  and expecting me to be better.  You see if you hit me by accident – or hit me on purpose – I’m still just as injured.


Andy Stanley does cause some confusion by using the words “tearing you down” in the above portion since he clearly calls it unintended seconds later.  I understand what he is saying when he uses the words “tearing you down” in that as you try to correct the problem of having said something which came out wrong, you unintentionally say more things which are more hurtful.

Nevertheless, as you listen to the message, it is clear that Stanley is building his introduction speaking about saying things which were unintended.  He is doing that as a preface (as his long preface – which is typical Stanley) to his message on James 3.


Let’s Try It:

To illustrate the use of these topoi again, let’s also take a passage of Scripture which is not about the intentional or accidental.  It is not like the passages which we identified about, which specifically mention “intent.”  That is, let’s select a passage which does not speak to the intentional or the accidental [unless you want to frame all events in life as intentional when it comes to the Lord since with Him there are no “accidents” – all is intentional].

Note: You can do this with most any passage because the actions of men are operationally definable.  It is just a matter of generating content using these categories of thought to introduce, conclude, clarify, explain, or develop a point or a message.

Let’s try it . . . . Here goes . . . .

I Thessalonians 4:13 – 18 – about the rapture.

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
An Introduction using “intentional or accidental”:
Even though there are events on our personal calendars which we fully intend to participate in, attend, celebrate, commemorate, we all know that we may find ourselves prevented from even being there.  You and I may have already purchased a gift for a particular family member, friend, or event but we may not make it to that day or event.
It is not that we did not have every intention.  It is not that we had wrong or even misguided intentions, but through the possibility of all kinds of twists and turns of life, we may never make it.
Likewise, there are events we never planned on being at or participating in, but through a series of circumstances, what we might even call chance, we find ourselves there.  You did not plan to spend any time with this-or-that old friend this year, but now at a funeral, you again meet up and even catch up after the funeral over a noon meal.  You spend time with your son’s or daughter’s in-laws for a good number of days – though you had not put that on your calendar or even thought about – but now you, along with them, are welcoming that first grandchild into the world in a city you didn’t think you would be flying to a year ago.
There will be, for every believer, a day on their calendar, which they never marked as a scheduled event for that year.  In one sense, it will be a day they had not planned for – an unintended departure – yet not accidental either. . . .
A conclusion Using Psalm 23:
“Sometimes we are going to accidentally or unintentional wander because that is what sheep do — they move from tuff to tuff.  But we as sinful sheep also make some intentional decisions to wander far away from the flock and the shepherd.  Or we find ourselves where we should not be, not because we thought it through – because we got on a road which we knew would lead us away – maybe we should have known or someone warned us – but nevertheless, we now find ourselves places we ought not to be and should have never ended up being — paths of unrighteousness.  When that happens, the Lord is still our Shepherd – His position hasn’t changed, thought His activity will – as He leaves the ninety-nine and looks to bring us back to the fold . . . .”
“At times when we do this-or-that in life, when we raise our children, work through career decisions and changes, navigate through a relationship — at times we may say or think, ‘Wow – that worked out well.  Better than I thought it would turn out or even intended.’
In contrast, we have seen all the actions and activities that both an Old Testament shepherd, and the Lord – as our Shepherd – carries out for His sheep – for His people.  Some of the events of life, which you may consider accidental  — ‘that turned out better than I would have expected or planned’ — are really His intentional actions designed to guide and protect His sheep.
You see, when it comes to the Lord, He fully intends to guide and protect His people.  His activities are intentionally designed to keep us in the fold – in the protection of His care.  Look back at what has taken place in your life and you will see Him purposefully working in your life. . . .”


*See the discussion on “topoi”

** These words are listed out to help generate ideas and also to help in restating — see “Repeat & Restate.”

*** Generated from Roget’s International Dictionary — see One Word Away

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