Rhetoric & Homiletics: Topoi – “Place”

key element 2  The Topos of Place

Ravi Zacharias provides a good example of the classical concept of “topoi.” His apologetic “argument” will help to understand what “topoi” are and how they can be used.
Topos of “Place”: This example is not the only way the topos of “place” can be usedargumentatively.
In this example, the topos of “place” is used to make his argument.
It should be noted that topoi can also be used to generate ideas which provide clarity, insight, explanation, delineation, differentiation, contrast, illustration, etc.*


“Responding to the Times – Part 1,” by Ravi Zacharias  (audio):

Dawkins came to Wahington to get together a lot of atheist in a kind of rah rah campaign.

And somebody from the audience asked him — What do we do then with those who believe in God

And Dawkin said “Mock them”

His answer from the platform  Mock them – Ridicule them

Somebody wrote to me and asked me   What do I think of that suggestion.

I said I think its a great idea and I think that Dawkins should start that in Saudi Arabia

There’s bad new that’ll follow

But the good news is that he’ll only need a one-way ticket

Why, because he will at least find out that all religions are not created equal.

There is a world of a difference in the fine points, in the footnotes, and the distinctive of a world view — especially the world view to which you and I are committed in the pursuit and  love of Jesus Christ


Do you see how “place” plays into the argument which Zacharias was making?

Move the location, the place, and the argument is made:  Dawkins is right. He should mock those who believe in God. If he does that in Saudi Arabia [that “place” — in contradistinction to what the audience was probably thinking — in America]. It will not end well.

First of all, Ravi’s answer, first of all, produced an unexpected response to the question. Ravi stated, as a believer, that he thought it was a good idea to mock and ridicule those who believe in God.  That created some interest and attention because the audience was then waiting for the “why.”

Second, the answer to the “why” also produced a little “comic relief.” Humor can be the result of an unexpected answer.  Such was the case with Ravi’s answer.  The audience was not expecting to hear “start in Saudi Arabia.”

Third, the argument is built on the topos of place: If you “change the place” the results will be far different than one thinks — so different that only a one-way ticket will be needed.  In “that place” things will not go so well if you mock those who believe in God.

The “topos” of “place” suggests that the speaker should imagine how the argument being made would change if there was the introduction of a change of place.   If you take what has been said and change the place, the setting, the location, what happens to the argument or point being made?

Aristotle would say to his students:  When you get up to speak, mentally review and consider how “the place” or “the change of place” affects the point or argument you are making. What happens if we change “the place.”*

The topos of “place”
can put the point
which you are making
in bold relief.

Interestingly, Ravi’s first argument rolls into a second argument derived from the same topos of “place” —– AND if you move the location, the place (in this case to Saudi Arabia) you will also learn something else about the Christian faith — “he will at least find out that all religions are not created equal.”

Changing the place or location will also establish that the Christian faith is not like every other faith.  There are stark differences between Christianity and Islam and that will be in bold relief if you try mocking those who believe in God in Saudi Arabia.



Now, here is an example of using the topos of “place” to give clarity or force to a biblical point.

David arrives at the Valley of Elah as Goliath appears.  After asking around about what is taking place, he is told that the man who is willing to face down Goliath will marry into King Saul’s family and that person’s family will live tax-free.

And the men of Israel said, Have ye seen this man that is come up? surely to defy Israel is he come up: and it shall be, that the man who killeth him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel.
Then David asks again and sends the message that he doesn’t know why there is any hesitation in someone stepping forward.  Eliab derides his brother.
And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?
And the people answered him after this manner, saying, So shall it be done to the man that killeth him.
And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.
And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause?
— I Samuel 17:26ff


Now, remember that when the Lord was looking for a king, Eliab was the oldest, the first born, and the most likely in stature and appearance.

“And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD’S anointed is before him.” — I Sam. 16:6

Now Eliab is ridiculing David’s zeal.

Apparently, The Lord was more right than one may have realized when the decision was made to anoint David.

If you want to see who Eliab is  . . . . If you want to understand why Eliab was not chosen by God . . . . it can be seen here in bold relief.

One only need to place another individual here to see Eliab, to grasp how different in character Eliab is from David, to see the contrast.

Let’s put Jonathan here — alongside of David — here at the front lines.  What would Jonathan be saying?  Just go back to 14:6 and you will see what Jonathan would have said, and as we will see, Jonathan will admire David’s courage.  David was cut out of the same piece of cloth as Jonathan!

Or let’s put Eliab with dad and the sheep, sent by dad on what was David’s errand.  Does Eliab even get near where David ends up — moseying to the front lines watching Goliath — asking questions – suggesting that it is doable?

Had David been where Eliab was — spiritually — would he have asked any questions about the situation – the reward – or would he have made any comments of courage and daring!  If the situation was reversed, David would have dropped off the care package and returned home.


What you are doing is changing the location, the place or the placement of a person to make a point, to clarify, to make an argument, to see the contrast, or in this case, to drive home God’s selection of David versus Eliab.

The topos of “place” like all topoi, are designed to get you thinking some other directions that you might not have thought.  Some directions will help you make an argument, other directions will help you clarify, explain, illustrate, introduce, conclude, make the point, etc.

Example: “Where do you think John-Marc (Acts 13:13) would have been in his mind and heart as he watched Paul get stoned (14:19)?  If you can’t run with the footmen, how will you ever make it with the horses (Jeremiah 12)?



* The topos of “place” can also be used to heighten an argument — look at — notice where it took place!  As Aristotle would argue — “The crime took place in the very halls of justice, in the offices of those who were committed to upholding the laws!”  Sound familiar?

Someone made the argument against a particular church project — “It takes too much time in preparation.  We will spend one week getting it all set up, then another week to tear it down, for a two-day event.  If it takes more time to set something up, than it does to execute it, we are wasting our time!”

My response:  “Then let’s cancel Sunday and most all family dinners — and surely Thanksgiving!  Surely, shopping, preparation, cooking, and presentation takes far more time than the 20 or 30 minutes it takes in eating it.”

Just change the place and see what it looks like is how Aristotle’s topos of “place” works.

• “Imagine doing that today!
• “Try that when you are in “this-or-that” situation.”
• You put men like Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego in today’s world they will perform like they did in Babylon.
• “See how that works if you bring that into the family.”
• “If the government did that . . . . . ”
• “Do that in a local church and see what happens.”
• “Try that raising children.”
• “You can’t build a marriage like you build a . . . . . “

Example:  If today’s family ran their finances like the government, they would be bankrupt by now (changing the “place:” family and government).

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