Recently, I heard Craig A. Evans talk about chreia in the ancient world and how this may impact our understanding of the Gospels. I was pleased to see a chapter dedicated to this subject by David B. Gowler titled “The Chreia” in The Historical Jesus in Context edited by Levine, Allison, and Crossan. In this chapter Gowler cites Aelius Theon of Alexandria (middle to late first century) and Hermogenes of Tarsus (second century) who discusses chreia. These are the quotations he shares and then I’ll give you his commentary:

“A chreia is a brief statement or action that is aptly attributed to some person or something analogous to a person.” (Theon 3-4)”

“A chreia is a remembrance of some saying or action or a manifestation of both that has a concise resolution for the purpose of something useful.” (Hermogenes 3-4)

“A chreia is a concise remembrance aptly attributed to some person. Since it is useful, it is called a chreia.”

Gowler makes four observations about chreia:

(1) “First, the remembrance (or “reminiscence”) formally denotes a saying, an action, or a combination of both…”

(2) “Second, a chreia is brief or concise.”

(3) “Third, a chreia must be ‘aptly attributed’. On one hand, the chreia needed to suit the character of the person who spoke or acted it….On the other hand, the chreia needed to be ‘well aimed’ in the sense that it was appropriate to the situation that it addressed.”

(4) “Fourth, the chreia was not used merely as an anecdote…The chreia  thus was used not only to capture the character and the quick wit of a person who spoke or acted; it also was used (but not always) as an example to hearers/readers for how they should– or should not–act or behave.” (pp. 132-133)

This sounds like the pericopes we find in the Gospels, yes? There is an effort to remain true to the source, the person, their character and qualities, while contextualizing the teaching (i.e. making it useful) for a new audience. Should we not see the Evangelist as doing this basic thing?