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?