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.

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.