Rhetoric & Homiletics: The Three Elements Of A Crime . . . .

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While the concept of “topoi” is invaluable, it can be elusive to the average person.  I have spent a lot of time attempting to communicate what it is by both description and example.

Here is another example that should connect with most “detective-crime show watchers.”  As the “TV detective” is seeking to find out who committed the crime  (i.e. “Columbo“)  — he is operating on three “topoi” in his quest for the answer.

Whether it be fictitious and actual real-life detectives, these three topoi are part of the mental processes used to expose the criminal.  Even without consciously thinking of them, a detective is operating on these three aspects of a crime — Means / Motive / Opportunity.*

are the “Three Topoi Of Criminal Investigation.”  

Those three topoi cause the investigator to go down yet other avenues of thinking — to generate other ways of thinking about the crime and who could be responsible — and which then leads to further thinking and investigative avenues.

Likewise, there “Rhetorical Topoi” generate other avenues of thinking.  They . . . .

#1) cause the Bible investigator to think about this-or-that passage of Scripture

when was this said (i.e., while Paul is in jail / after Joseph looks back / as a teenager Daniel says )
where did this happen / not happen
why does it say / was it worded this way
who said / shows up / steps in
how did this happen / come to pass / end up this way

#2) generate new and/or varied ideas on how to . . . .

drive a point
arrive at a BigIdea


In fact, even the three elements of a crime are useful topoi for preaching . . . .

Means: Generating Thought “If you had the means — the resources needed to — would you (Good or Bad). . . . “

i.e. — “Some sins are not mine, only because the Lord has, by His grace, not given me the means to go down some roads.  That is His grace to us.  He hasn’t given you the money — the position – the power – the skills.

i.e. — “David had the means to take out Nabal — not to mention the motive and opportunity.  And he fully intended to do that.  We may be possessed by the same anger and spirit which moved David, but just lake the “army” — the means to carry it out . . . . “

i.e. — “Barnabas has the means of effecting good during these early days of need within the Christian community.  It is when we have the means to make a difference that we should step up — whether it is money, time, situation in life,  skills and abilities . . . . “


Motive:  Generating Thought “There are other motives which drive people to this-or-that action (Good or Bad). . . .”

i.e. — In this passage, the motive is personal dislike and hatred (Joseph and his brothers).  Nevertheless, there are a good number of other motives which drive people sinful directions — jealousy – Saul towards David / money – like Judas / coveting – like Gehazi / power – Rehoboam in setting up a false place of worship for the northern kingdom /


Opportunity: Generating Thought “What opportunity (Good or Bad) would pull you this or that way — if it presented itself . . . . “

i.e. — “Some sins are not ours only because of opportunity.  We were delivered by the Lord because He kept us – delivered us from the situation.  Judas was in the position to be tempted by money.  His love of money and the opportunity collided!”

i.e., “Joseph was faced with the opportunity — he found himself in with Mrs. Potiphar — but said no!  Opportunity is part of the equation when it comes to sinful choices, and integrity can withstand and override opportunity.

i.e. — “David found himself with the opportunity to sin that evening — as King —  idle — situated to view Bathsheba.  The opportunity presents itself in life, and it is then that we have a decision to make in life.  Do we . . . . or do we . . . . .”


A BigIdea: Temptation Is Fueled By Opportunity & Funding.

The perfect storm of temptation when our sinful desires (motive) collides with opportunity —  or collides with the means, the wherewithal, the funding to carry that sinful desire out — or worse yet when all three collide!



* Topoi are also held assumptions of society or culture. The reason you can argue anyone of these elements with a jury is that they believe that a person has to have a motive (opportunity ‘ means) for wrongdoing.

“What reason would my client have for doing such an act?”

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