Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content

Skill Builders

Home > Skill Builders


The Three Appeals and The Three Orthos

How to engage in ethos, pathos, and logos, and point our audience to true choices.
The Three Appeals and The Three Orthos
Image: thelefty / Getty Images

Preachers need to learn how to speak. We learn to speak naturally and then intentionally. Some suggest fetuses respond to tonal stimuli as early as 16 weeks. We literally begin learning how to speak before we are born. Natural language acquisition is a wonder to behold. It seems clear God is on the preacher’s side.

Speaking well takes a bit of intention and practice. Clear and persuasive speech is a skill that we can develop. I began learning how to speak well (or at least a bit better) on a hot Mississippi night in 1996.

I had just graduated from high school and decided to kick start college with some summer classes at Meridian Community College. My favorite class was the introductory speech class taught by Laura Garren Berry. She was amazing. The class itself was an odd blend of serious students trying to enter the job market, some assorted eccentrics, and a kid or two just out of high school. This mix made the class educational and entertaining.

Two examples of the latter: A guy named Foley did an informative speech on Mardi Gras. To prepare for his speech he stole a shopping cart (buggy in Mississippi) from the dollar store across the street and transformed it into a float. He began his speech in motion. He had a friend roll him toward the front of the class while he threw plastic beads and doubloons at the shouting class. We were informed.

Another fellow in the class learned from the lectures the importance of a solid introduction. He was the first student to give a speech that summer because his name began with the letter B. He nervously made his way to the podium and proceeded to pick it up. He banged his head with the wooden podium and shouted, “Shut up and listen to me!” We did! It was a great class.

Laura Garren Berry would turn out to be one of my finest instructors. She taught our class, of sincere leaners and general knuckleheads, the value of communicating well. She gave us a foundation for rhetoric based on Aristotle that has helped me as I have attempted to preach this last quarter century.

I’m convinced a basic grasp of Aristotle’s rhetoric is an essential tool for Christian preachers. Longtime pastor and homiletics professor Joel Gregory concurs:

Aristotle observed persuasive political speakers in Greek city states. His acute observations led him to the trilogy of logos, pathos, and ethos. Persuasive speech of any variety needs to have rational content, emotive impact, and the speaker needs to be perceived as a good person. Every good and helpful preaching text has found a way to repackage that trilogy in each era of preaching. Sermons that persuade must have biblical content, emotional impact, and folks must perceive the preacher is a good person. The homiletics publishing industry to this day finds different ways to say the same thing about persuasive sermons. The old Greek philosopher spoke for all times.

I think most preachers could use a periodic remedial course on Aristotle and his rhetorical scheme. To this end I reached out to my old professor, now retired, and asked if she’d teach us just one more time. She graciously offered us these thoughts.

Laura Garren Barry – The Three Appeals

Having taught public speaking for 28 years, I was excited to introduce my students to the chapter on persuasion each semester. I knew this subject matter would benefit them long after the class ended. Looking back fondly, I had a mentor who poured into me a love of Speech Communication and taught me the subtle yet glaring differences between propaganda and persuasion.

The first, propaganda, was foremost unethical, and persuasion was not something that "happened" to you; instead, persuasion involved ethical decision-making within the individual. So, delving into persuasion took time.

An introduction to Aristotle's Three Great Appeals, "the good man speaking well," is the true thinking part of public speaking that effective communicators must grasp before delivering a message to their audience.

The first nuance in understanding the Three Great Appeals points to the difference between making a decision based on a choice or a preference. Only a few decisions have been made on true choices at this particular point in the young college student's life. We all prefer to get good grades, but how many choose to study in advance and truly master the material before an exam? Pointing out how we lean into our preferences becomes enlightening. When a decision is based on a choice—the act of decision-making becomes hard.

You have probably heard the phrase "hard choices." This does not necessarily mean something is wrong; rather, it reveals preferences were left on the table. We only sometimes get what we prefer; we usually must choose. Aristotle said, "The good man speaking well will always engage in the Three Great Appeals: Ethos, Pathos and Logos."


Ethos is Greek for ethics or, in public speaking, source credibility. The effective speaker understands this begins with their own credibility and extends throughout the sources gathered and shared. In Lucas's The Art of Public Speaking, speaker credibility is separated into three types: initial, derived, and terminal.

Initial credibility is Charles Stanley. I fondly remember listening to and watching Brother Stanley with my beloved Grandmother. Because we had listened to his sermons faithfully, whatever message he delivered, we trusted and believed his purpose in sharing God's love for us all.

Derived credibility is what every speaker hopes happens as listeners evaluate the message in real time. Practicing delivery, planning the perfect pause, eliminating filled pausing, and removing hedges and fillers in speaking are deliberate choices and skills. We tend to talk "like" we hear. Listeners constantly evaluate the speaker—"We see you before we hear you" is a favorite adage for all speakers to remember.

Terminal credibility is the credibility that exists long after the message has been delivered. Parents, teachers, and preachers hope for this type of credibility. What "nuggets" people remember are often tied to how they view the speaker's credibility. The effective speaker knows competence and character can deliver, or the lack of can destroy the message.

Source credibility also involves the information gathered to build your message. Building common ground with new information is essential in building trust with the listener. Source credibility, ethos, is the first appeal because the message will only reach the listener with a sincere knowledge of yourself (the speaker) and your subject matter.


Pathos is Greek for passion; in public speaking, this is often called emotional appeals. Emotional appeals are essential but only effective if connected to factual sources. People like to leapfrog over the facts because emotions are easier.

This is ever so present in our society today. Refrain from thinking; just feel your way through a decision. The COVID pandemic highlighted our innate ability to rely on emotions. Fear of the unknown directed our choices. To the point that some individuals relinquished their ability to choose. "I'm just doing what they told me to do." There is a whole debate regarding where propaganda, "Would they really lie to us for our own good," was part of the worldwide conversation. For persuasion and ethical decision-making to occur, emotional appeals clearly have a place, but emotions cannot drive the car.


To fully engage in the Three Great Appeals, Logos, Greek for logic or reasoning, must drive the car. Classically, there are two types of reasoning: deductive and inductive.

Deductive reasoning moves from a major premise to a general conclusion. A traditional syllogism (major, minor, conclusion) begins: All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

I often fall into the "absolute" thinking camp when thinking about deductive reasoning. You can only move forward when your Major Premise is true. Acceptance of the major and minor premises seals the acceptance of the conclusion. If you accept the major premise, "All life is sacred," secular topics become very precarious to argue without a firm foundation of those hard choices. We prefer that people get along, tell the truth, and not split hairs over what is life, or, for that matter, what is sacred.

The second type of classical reasoning, inductive, is almost the flip of deductive. Instead of beginning with one big truth, you start with several factual situations and link those situations with a truth to reveal a "common" conclusion. Inductive reasoning is effective when your sample size represents what you are measuring.

On an elementary level, this is how our medicines are approved. Sample size, adequate control groups with different variables, and then once all the testing is completed, the medicine is approved for the masses.

Inductive reasoning can reveal fallacies (errors in reasoning): generalizing, stereotyping, and attacking the person, post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore, because of this). Revealing these fallacies in class is an eye-opening experience for most students.

Aristotle's classical examples are found throughout other disciplines. It is encouraging when English, math, and science majors make the "aha" moment. The goal of the persuasive chapter is for the students to think as they develop a message within the ethical constructs.

Making a decision based on a choice and not a preference is challenging. Yet, moving through these challenges provides a solid foundation for answering the question, how do you know what you know?

Although part of a traditional classical education that finds little popularity today, Aristotle's Three Great Appeals are evident daily. So, the "good man speaking well," will always engage in ethos, pathos, and logos and point their audience to true choices so that persuasion occurs within the individual based on ethical decision-making.

Class dismissed. Thank you, Laura Garren Berry, for taking us back to school. We thank you.

Matt Snowden – The Three Orthos

I believe that the three appeals have lasting impact for preachers because they conform to the way God wired us to receive and communicate truth. The three appeals of logos, ethos, and pathos conform to the great “orthos” of Christian theology—orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy.


Orthodoxy is right belief. This obviously conforms to logos; the faithful gospel preacher isn’t free to say whatever he or she wants. The Christian preacher is bound to truth. Second Corinthians 4:5 reads, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”

Logos and orthodoxy demand we proclaim the faith once delivered to the saints. The temptation to preach “ourselves” is ever present. C.E.B. Cranfield once remarked, “How often is that which is hailed as a successful ministry little more than success in winning a personal following.” The faith has content. We need to study well so that we communicate faithfully.

As preachers we need a system of study. I have committed to a yearly Bible reading plan and recommend all preachers find one. Orthodoxy begins with a high view of Scripture and is sustained through a leisurely relationship with the Word of God.

We also need solid theological companions that force us to grapple with the big ideas that emerge from the text. Loving God with our minds requires time in the text and serious reflection on the text. Week to week we honor God when we start with the text and craft messages from the text, rather than the fleeting pressures of the moment.


Orthopraxy is right action. This aligns with ethos . We simply can’t proclaim the good news and be the bad news at the same time.

Ezra 7:10 is a good verse for us to consider, “For Ezra set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to do it and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Doing the Word precedes teaching the Word. If we do this, then we will be like the faithful Christians in Titus 2:10 that make the teaching about the savior “attractive.”

One of the greatest tools for the preacher is the bathroom mirror. I find that a sermon is not worth preaching if it has not done deep work in me before I offer it to God’s people. The Word must penetrate our hearts before it comes out of our mouths.

I once attended a preaching conference on St. Simons Island, Georgia. John Killinger was one of the presenters. I will never forget the image he gave about the weekly sermon text. Killinger said, “The sermon text is the anvil on which God shapes the preacher’s life.” The sermon must make us embodied good news. This enables the proclaimed good news to find a receptive audience.


Orthopathy is right feeling. This connects with pathos. Paul said in Romans 12:11, “Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic, be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord” (CEB). God gave us our emotions. They can’t always be trusted, but they are good.

Effective preaching will include our hearts on full display. The Holy Spirit stirs our tempers as we draw near to him. Anointed preaching looks different for each preacher, but the consistent element is holy pathos . Life pouring out of a broken heart is at the heart of effective proclamation.

When Scott Gibson was hired to launch the Ph.D. in preaching program at Truett Seminary they invited some pastors to participate in the interview process. I was part of the group. I vividly remember a question and answer exchange between Gibson and theologian Roger Olson. Olson, an uncurable Pentecostal, wanted to know what Gibson believed about “unction” in preaching. Gibson simply responded by saying, “I pray for the Holy Spirit to fill me every day.”

That simple response has served as a key to manifesting Godly tempers in preaching. Preaching is God’s work and the Father still delights in giving the Holy Spirt to the humble preacher that is bold enough to ask.

The marriage of the three appeals and the three orthos is a solid framework for serious thinking about the preaching task. We can thank God for common grace and solid theology. We all benefit from the gifts of Sunday School, and perhaps we can also use a trip back to night school.

Matt Snowden is the pastor of First Baptist Church Waco, Texas.

Related articles

Larry Parsley

What Preachers Can Learn from Speechwriters

3 word crafting techniques we can learn from presidential speechwriters.
Gregory Hollifield

‘La Bella Predica’: The Beautiful Sermon

What is the role of beauty in preaching?
Gregory Hollifield

‘Coltivando e Pronunciando La Bella Predica’: Cultivating and Delivering the Beautiful Sermon

The power and importance of eloquence in the beautiful sermon.