Why are Jesus’ words so compelling? What does it mean that Paul and Silas spoke boldly? It’s true that we have much to learn from the content of the Bible’s greatest authors—David and Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Paul and Peter—but what can we learn from the method of their writing? In How to Write: A Handbook Based on the English Bible, Charles Baldwin examines the rhetoric of the greatest speeches and stories of the Bible in order to learn patterns of argumentation, the ability to persuade and convince, and the elegance of biblical prose.
How to Write makes the Bible available for everyone. Although famous literary figures have used the Bible as a source of inspiration—John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, for example—the Bible is not primarily meant for professionals. It’s meant for “plain people.” It’s as accessible to the literati as it is to commoners. This universal familiarity makes the Bible the perfect guide for writing and style. It can be used to instruct anyone in the practice of speaking and writing well, because the doctrine of good writing, says Baldwin, “is equally sanctioned by all faiths.”
Baldwin shows the importance of not only studying the Bible, but also studying the method of its writers. The literary force—and the historical importance—of the Bible consists in its sincerity, in the power of the writers and speakers to convince, argue, and educate. Biblical writers use imaginative language and descriptive terms. They employ concrete words which display emotion, words which kindle the imagination and heighten the senses. In order to write well, says Baldwin, we must familiarize ourselves with the kind of writing that has stood the test of time. How to Write makes this possible.
“Statement of the facts, argument from the facts, these two things lie at the bottom of most speeches.” (Pages 24–25)
“suggestion for taking hold. Begin with something familiar to the audience, especially with something on the spot.” (Pages 11–12)
“Indeed, the order of thoughts may be as important as the thoughts themselves.” (Page 18)
“The difference comes from this, that the object of a speech is usually to have something done; the object of an essay is usually to have something understood.” (Page 63)
“thought multiplied by thought. So the best speeches have an order that increases their force as they go on.” (Page 18)
…most fertile in apt suggestions.
—The Ohio Educational Monthly
It is a commonplace of literature that many of our greatest writers have found their style in the English Bible, but such a direct use of it for teaching composition as is made in this little book is novel and ingenious. As examples of [the chapter] ‘How to Prepare a Speech,’ the speeches of Paul at Mars Hill to the Jews of Antioch, and at the trial before Felix are given an analyzed. For essays, we have selections from the Wisdom of Solomon and from Paul and Isaiah, while [chapters on] ‘How to Tell a Story’ and ‘How to Describe’ are illustrated from the Old Testament. The book will be very useful as a practical guide to rhetoric and is likely to do more to restore the Bible to its rightful place in modern education than any number of magazine articles and chapel addresses on the literary value of the Bible.
Charles Sears Baldwin was born in New York in 1867. He attended Columbia College, where he studied Greek and English. He became a professor of rhetoric at Yale before returning to Columbia in 1911 to teach English. During his teaching and research career, he published numerous books on literature, poetry, composition, and the history of rhetoric.