Why hasn’t discourse analysis caught on in New Testament studies?

This is the title of Stanley Porter’s blog post on April 24:

Why hasn’t discourse analysis caught on in New Testament studies?.

Porter has been very influential in New Testament studies for both of my M.A. thesis topics (related to inter-biblical allusions and discourse analysis, respectively). Both of these topics push the boundaries of exegetical interpretation because these research topics relate to the most complex modes of human communication. For that reason, these analyses are notorious for being used to support more or less subjective analyses of the text. They get at the heart of what is a possible interpretation and what is more probable interpretation.

Porter has started to answer his question in at least 5 different ways, which I quickly summarize here…

  1. D.A. compared to Old Testament studies.
  2. D.A. compared to other linguistically-informed exploration of the New Testament.
  3. D.A. is particularly difficult to get a handle on.
  4. D.A. does not have the same supportive structure (like commentary and monograph series and journals dedicated to the field).
  5. D.A. may have false expectations associated with its use (especially in relation to “objective” or “non-objective” readings.

Porter’s last paragraphs…

For whatever reason, discourse analysis has not garnered the recognition that other approaches have. However, that is not to say that it does not have much to offer. I believe that a robust and linguistically well-grounded discourse method—especially one that is grounded in functional language analysis—can potentially offer much for interpreters of the Bible—perhaps more than other, more traditional approaches. It can help the interpreter to focus upon the text as a text, and be able to speak more precisely about the features that make up such a text. It can provide a language to differentiate the various functions that parts of the language play in communication of meaning. It may be able to help to differentiate the ideas of a text from the means by which these ideas are communicated. The focus on units larger than the clause, while also realizing that clauses are made up of smaller units, brings an inherent balance to a discipline such as New Testament studies that runs the risk of being either too focused upon big ideas (often called theology) or too fixated on small units (such as an individual word).

Readers may be interested in knowing about the founding of BAGL—Biblical and Ancient Greek Linguistics—a peer-reviewed international journal dedicated to the linguistic study of ancient Greek. See www.macdiv.ca for details. The journal welcomes discourse analytical submissions as well.

This is all very good. I need to respond.

Online collocational dictionary

I just came across this today, and this is exactly the resource I often need. Sometimes I get an idea in my head and I know there are words to express the idea, but I just can’t make my brain tell my tongue how to move.

Today, I was wanting to say “compromise the integrity of” but I couldn’t arrive at those words. I used the computer thesaurus that is linked to Word on my computer to find a synonym for ‘weaken’ but that didn’t help. Then I tried ‘stability’ and that didn’t help either. Then I caught the notion that the phrase I was looking for was related to ‘truth’, so I looked that up. The first word in the generated list that seemed to help just a little bit was ‘uprightness’, but then I saw ‘integrity’ and I realized why I thought that ‘truth’ had something to do with the phrase I was looking for.

I knew at that point that I had half the phrase, but to my great disappointment, my brain was still not helping me come up with the first part of the phrase. So I decided to search Google for an online collocational dictionary, and it gave me this online version of the Oxford Collocational Dictionary for Students of English as the first hit…


I tried it and typed in ‘integrity’ in the search function. Wow!

It yielded collocations with ‘integrity’ organized by word class: adjectives, verbs, prepositions, and phrases. What I needed was a verb. I was quickly reminded that we can…

  • have integrity
  • lack integrity
  • lose integrity
  • restore integrity
  • ensure integrity
  • maintain integrity
  • retain integrity
  • defend integrity
  • preserve integrity
  • safeguard integrity
  • threaten integrity (I thought, “Is this what I was looking for? No, it doesn’t quite click yet, but I know I’m getting warmer!”)
  • compromise integrity (There it is!)
  • impair integrity
  • undermine integrity (That would have worked too!)
  • destroy integrity
  • question integrity

Wow, what a great resource! Now, can I get that on my local machine so I don’t have to access the Internet to get it?

6 reasons for a mobile phone correspondence course in Papua New Guinea

photo by Kahunapule Johnson

The context here is the mountains, swamps, and jungles of Papua New Guinea. And the course of study is Biblical Greek Grammar. But the reasons we need to develop a mobile phone correspondence course for follow-up after an initial course may fit your context as well.

Here are 6 reasons we need to develop this course…

  1. “I know enough Greek to be dangerous.” We are currently compounding this unfortunate situation. Every two years, we run an Intro to New Testament Greek course for PNG Bible translators followed by an Intro to NT Greek Exegesis course. However, for the past four years, the exegesis course has not run for one reason or another. We often don’t have enough students registered to run the course, and those who are interested are not prepared enough after the first course to enter the second. But if we don’t run the exegesis course, we might as well not start them off. It’s too dangerous to know just a little Greek! Many a false claim have have been made by those who know just enough Greek to think they know what they’re talking about.
  2. 6 weeks is not enough to cover a one-year introductory course. The follow-up exegesis course is intended to have the first year grammar course as a prerequisite, but the 6-week intensive course has been progressing at a slower and slower pace over the years in order to help the participants be more successful. We think this is good. It’s better that they learn well what we cover rather than to try to keep up with an insane pace and get through the whole textbook with little understanding. A follow-up correspondence course could help the students finish the first year grammar.
  3. “Train and dump” is culturally inappropriate. Papua New Guinean leaders in the Bible translation movement are explicitly asking for something that goes beyond our traditional training system. Learning within the Melanesian context means that it best happens when connected to real life practical experience and application. Classroom learning when divorced from application of that new knowledge and skills in practical experience will not be truly understood or utilized. A correspondence course could help bridge the gap between classroom instruction and application in the real world of village life and the work of translation.
  4. Relationships are key. Papua New Guinean learners don’t simply want their heads filled with knowledge. They desire for mentor relationships with those who care about them as real people. Being real people means that they are connected to many other people with a history and a story to tell. This goes beyond the particular academic subject that may have brought student and mentor together in the classroom. Thus, regular communication in a follow-up correspondence course would not be limited to passing the questions and answers back and forth. It would also be an opportunity for relationship, storying, and encouragement.
  5. We need to evaluate our training effectiveness, but we often do not have contact with course participants after the final day of class. If we run a follow-up correspondence course, we not only increase our chances of maintaining contact with the participants in order to determine the long-term effectiveness of the training, the continuing involvement in the subject matter will substantially boost the likelihood that our training will be proven effective.
  6. Mobile phones are used in remote PNG villages. Communication is generally quite poor in the country, but mobile phone service is quite good and on the rise even in many remote areas of the country. Correspondence by post, email or internet are not viable options for many people in Papua New Guinea. Many candidates for this course may live most of the year many hours or even days from a post office, much less an internet connection. However, in the past four or five years, mobile phone service has been heavily marketed to the needs and situation of the 80% rural population in the country.  The digital network service is constantly expanding, and it is not unusual to find charging and balance top-up stations located off the beaten path even in remote villages.

Not everyone has access to mobile phone reception in PNG, and in such cases, HF radio scheds or communication via an intermediary at a regional center may be more appropriate. Others, on the other hand, may have access to email and internet.

Therefore, I am hypothesizing that a follow-up correspondence course could be designed with the limitations of mobile phone text messages and radio scheds in mind. This would not preclude others, however, from opting for the convenience and added benefits of email, the Internet, and social media if they have the capability.

Has anyone done anything like this? Any thoughts?

James on participating in the divine nature

I’m going to start leading our small group Bible study through a series on the Letter of James tonight. The thing I am most excited about is that this small group has become increasingly open to dig deeply into the Scriptures and into the dark places of our souls. We seem more willing to share with one another about the things we are struggling with and to keep one another accountable in our walk of faith. That’s what James is all about.

Since we didn’t decide until yesterday that we would be doing this study, I gave them a quick reading assignment to prepare: James 1:1-2 and 5:19-20. James is written to the twelve tribes living in the Diaspora. The people of God who have been scattered. By the end of the letter it is clear that this is no mere geographical designation. It is written to brothers and sisters who have wandered off the path of truth. And it is written to brothers and sisters who are in such a relationship with God that they can be His instruments to steer their wayward family members back onto the path of life.

Peter talks about participating in the divine nature through the promises of God (2 Peter 1:4), and James has his own message along these lines. In the beginning of the letter, James lays out a contrast between our own evil desires that lead to death (James 1:14-15) and the desire of our heavenly Father to give us new birth through his word of truth (James 1:17-18). This divine word is the only thing that can truly inspire us with godly wisdom, save us from the filth around us, and give abundant life to our mortal souls.

By the end of the letter, James presents a picture of the church accomplishing through prayer what only God can do: healing the sick, forgiveness of sins, stopping the rain and making it rain again (James 5:15-18). When we come alongside a wandering brother or sister in Christ and turn them back to God, we participate in the nature of God by saving others from death and covering over a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20). Surely, the prayer of a righteous person is very powerful since it is God who makes it effective (James 5:16).

May we each not forsake our first love (Revelation 2:4). May the love of God well up within us and overflow to all those around us.

2001 Jackson-McCabe Book Review in 2011?!

I noted yesterday that there was a book review session this week at the Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting in London on Matt Jackson-McCabe’s 2001 publication, Logos and Law in the Letter of James.  What?!

A friend wrote me this morning and said, “It’s 2011. . . Isn’t it a little bit late to be holding a review session on Jackson-McCabe’s “Logos & Law” (pub 2001)? ☺”  Indeed. Why is there now a book review session on this work, ten years after its appearance (13 years if you count the date of its appearance as a doctoral thesis)? It certainly seems a bit odd.

Apparently this panel discussion occurred three days ago, but I haven’t seen any blog postings about it. I’m curious to hear what came of this discussion. For my part, I suggest that the book review submitted by Matthias Konradt in the Journal of Biblical Literature in the Spring of 2003 (vol. 122, no. 1) was quite adequate. I copy here Konradt’s concluding remarks…

Jackson-McCabe has enriched the discussion of the understanding of the “word,” which is important for the general understanding of James, with a new and interesting variant. Especially important in this context is the case he makes for not rashly isolating different strands of traditions. His interpretation of James, however, does not bear critical scrutiny. Contrary to Jackson-McCabe‘s assertion (see, e.g., p.133), the phrase ἔμφυτος λόγος can hardly be proven to be a terminus technicus on the basis of seldom, widely strewn, and—in addition—inexact references. Furthermore, Jackson-McCabe does not discuss other usages of ἔμφυτος at all (Philo, for example, uses this word only in the context of vices). And a passage such as Barn. 9.9 (ὁ τὴν ἔμφυτον δωρεὰν τῆς διδαχῆς αὐτοῦ θέμενος) plays no part in Jackson-McCabe‘s analysis.

However, the fact that Jackson-McCabe does not succeed in invalidating the traditional objections to the Stoic interpretation of 1:21 is more important. That the logos as innate human reason has an external form in the “law of freedom” is hardly a sufficient explanation for the phrase “to receive the logos,” or, respectively, “to hear and do the logos.” To use the terminology of Apos. Con. 8.9.8, the νόμος γραπτός is precisely not what is to be received in James, but rather the ἔμφυτος λόγος itself. Most of all, Jackson-McCabe passes over the traditio-historical roots in the early Christian tradition of 1:18 and 21, which are central to his interpretation. The two-part scheme in 1:21, in which the negative part is formulated with ἀποτίθεσθαι, has a number of early Christian parallels that belong to the context of postconversional instruction (Rom 13:12–14; Eph 4:22–24; Col 3:8–10; 1 Pet 2:1–2), and these are the only occurrences of this scheme. Moreover, Jas 1:18 corresponds closely to 1 Pet 1:23–25 (Jackson-McCabe dismisses it too quickly; see p. 191). This strongly suggests that James has taken over the entire sequence in 1:18, 21 from an early Christian tradition, which interpreted conversion as a (re-)birth through the word of the gospel leading the convert to the truth, and combined this with the admonition to follow this word from now on. In this context, ἔμφυτος is to be read as a reference back to the birth metaphor in 1:18. And the law in Jas 1:25 is not identical with the word or its external form, but rather is one side or aspect of it.

Furthermore, Jackson-McCabe‘s interpretation of the “lights” in Jas 1:17 is hazardous at best. There is no hint at all in the text that James intended to create an analogy between the “lights” and the human race. Finally, 1:18b does not comment on the exalted position of humans in creation, but the ἀπαρχή is the part of God’s creatures set apart for him. Philo (Spec. 4.180) uses the word with reference to the chosen nation (cf. Rev 14:4; 1 Clem. 29.3), and in following this traditional line Jas 1:18 refers to those who became God’s possession by converting to the Christian faith in a similar manner.

Letter of James this week at International SBL

The International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature takes place this week at King’s College London, walking distance from Westminster Abbey (right). This year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, but my interest (as usual) pertains to the Letter of James. Below are the abstracts of papers related to the Letter of James being presented this week at the SBL International Meeting…

Alien(n)ation: Reading the Epistle of James through the Psychology of Migration
Program Unit: Psychological Hermeneutics of Biblical Themes and Texts
Margaret Aymer, Interdenominational Theological Center

The epistle of James addresses itself to “the exiles in diaspora.” This paper suggests taking this framing seriously. Using the psychology of migration developed by John Berry and nuanced by diaspora theorists like Avtar Brah, this paper demonstrates that James proposes a migrant stance of alienation vis-a-vis the community’s relationship with home and host culture. Further, James creates a “diaspora space” (Brah) of an “alien nation,” one that exists in but is “unstained” by the cosmos. The paper goes on to suggest the implications of the proposed migrant stances of James and of other New Testament authors for communities that use these ancient texts as scripture. It argues that the “scripturalization” of texts with different migrant stances as the central identifying referent of a community impacts the identity, political engagement, and world stance of that community, regardless of whether the community is, itself, made of migrants.

Redundancy, Discontinuity and Delimitation in the Epistle of James
Program Unit: Hellenistic Greek Language and Linguistics
Steven E. Runge, Logos Bible Software

The letter of James contains a number of instances of nominative or vocative forms of address in contexts where the addressees are already well established. These expressions often co-occur with what form criticism has labeled “disclosure formulas,” and are sometimes associated with marking boundaries within the discourse. This paper examines the role that semantic redundancy plays in judgments about the discourse function of these expressions. It also considers the role location plays on these judgments, both with respect to the clause and the paragraph. It will be demonstrated that when these expressions are not semantically required, they serve as an alternative means to conjunctions for marking new developments within the discourse, and thus play an important role in delimiting pericope boundaries within the epistle.

“…the Scripture Speaks against Envy”: Another Look at James 4:5
Program Unit: Pastoral and Catholic Epistles
Clinton Wahlen, Biblical Research Institute

Despite the predominantly negative usage of phthonos in Greek literature, including its NT usage, a long-standing consensus understands God to be the subject of the clause with pros phthonon in James 4:5. This paper, following a brief survey of proposed solutions, will present a viable alternative that makes better sense of the syntax of the verse within its immediate context (vv. 1-10).

Theme: Book Review: Matt A. Jackson-McCabe, Logos and Law in the Letter of James (Society of Biblical Literature, 2001)
Program Unit: Pastoral and Catholic Epistles

Felix H. Cortez, Universidad de Montemorelos, Presiding
Mariam Kamell, Regent College, Panelist (20 min)
Darian Lockett, Biola University, Panelist (20 min)
A. K. M. Adam, University of Glasgow, Panelist (20 min)
Matt Jackson-McCabe, Cleveland State University, Respondent (30 min)
Discussion (40 min)

Translating living letters

In 2 Cor. 3:1-2 Paul talks about not needing letters of recommendation because the Corinthian believers are letters that bear witness to the Spirit of God working in people’s hearts through his ministry.

Over at the LivingLetters blog I have posted several times in the last week about the process of Bible translation in our multi-language project in Papua New Guinea. My wife also has a number of posts that relate to our life in PNG and our desire to translate the good message of hope and trust in God in our everyday lives.

We pray that our lives would be living letters of recommendation for the people who have trained us up in the faith. Also, that our written translations would not just be letters on the page but words of life for those whom we serve. May these friends be living letters that testify to the work of the Spirit in our ministry.