Thesis on coherence in James finished!

I took a break from posting here to finish my thesis before we head back to our translation work overseas.

I successfully defended the thesis on Tuesday at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, and now we’ve got less than a week before we start heading back to continue our work in language development in Papua New Guinea.

Anyway, I’ve added the following thesis title to the Recent James Scholarship page and to the James Bibliography page…

“Mitigation and Intensification of Persuasive Discourse in a Koine Greek Letter: Coherent Macrostructure in the Letter of James.”

Here’s the abstract…

Supervising Professor: Shin Ja J. Hwang

A longstanding debate continues regarding coherent structure in the Koine Greek New Testament Letter of James. I argue that multiple linguistic perspectives confirm the central theme of trust in divine grace and mercy as foundational to Christian behavior. Applying Lakoff and Johnson’s cognitive semantics theory to James, a faith-journey conceptual metaphor structures the life of faith according to the source-path-goal image schema with a born-of-grace conceptual metaphor reflecting the source. Using Longacre and Hwang’s discourse theory, I describe James in terms of discourse type, notional schemata, macrosegmentation, skewing, paragraph relations, verb/clause salience, and embedding. A prototype approach reveals James as a persuasive text with embedded hortatory and expository units. Movements of mitigation and intensification most clearly reveal the coherent structure within the text’s profile and peaks. The controlling theme is ultimately derived from the above investigations in terms of van Dijk’s theory of macrostructure.

This isn’t part of the abstract, but the macrostructure (author’s global semantic plan) that I suggest for James is this:

Trust God, for he desires both to give grace to live righteously and to judge sin with mercy for all who have true faith, which is shown in humble acts of love for God and others.

I also argue for the following discourse peaks in James…

4:1-6 – First expository peak

4:7-10 – First persuasive peak

5:1-6 – Second expository peak (persuasive through skewing)

5:7-12 – Second persuasive peak

The Greek ‘the’ and the English ‘the’

Wayne Leman over at the Better Bibles Blog has posted on the translation of Greek articles here, focusing specifically on occurrences of “the house” in Matthew where a house has not previously been introduced in the text. One discourse pattern we often find is that definite nouns are used only after that noun has been introduced in the text in an indefinite manner. However, definiteness is not always dependent on the article in Greek. I have posted my response to Wayne in the comments of his post. I’ll only repeat part of that here…

When I read “the house” in the gospels about a house that I have not been introduced to yet, this communicates to me that there was a definite house that Jesus was going to. If the translation were to say “a house,” that would sound to me like Jesus was aimlessly meandering and randomly came across any house when he felt like it was time to stop. So in some of these cases, the ‘the’ doesn’t have to have the same discourse function that we often think of when it is used to refer back to a previously introduced noun. Rather, the article conceptualizes the noun in a certain way (perhaps even making it definite, although it is true that definiteness is not ultimately dependent upon the Greek article) for other reasons besides its previous occurence in the text.In Mt. 9:28, I like what the NLT has done here with “the house where he was staying.” That has the effect of communicating a certain definiteness, and it seems to be a very likely referent that is not too overly specific without other clues. Often times “going into the house” in Greek is the equivalent of our English “going home.” On the other hand, isn’t it possible that “the house” refers to Matthew’s house, the last house we hear of before Jesus was summoned to go to the synagogue leader’s house? Maybe not, since that interpretation would assume that Jesus stayed there for more than just dinner and was there for several days during which the disciples of John the Baptist came to him before the synagogue ruler came to him. Probably quite unlikely. Therefore, it seems that the best option is that Jesus is still in his own town (cf. 9:1), so “the house” is probably whatever house he’s staying in, perhaps even a family house, or ‘home’ as “the house” often means in Greek.

As for 13:36, it’s very possible that Jesus is back in his home town again, since 12:15 says that he left the area he had gone to after he left his home town. Also, his mother and brothers are back in the picture in 12:46. Mt. 13:1 refers to Jesus leaving “the house” and so 13:36 refers to him going into “the house.” It’s the same one he left, very definite even if we don’t want to go so far as to say it was his family home.

As for 17:25, this is Peter’s home town, (cf. Mt. 4:18) and we know that Peter’s mother-in-law had a house there (Mt. 8:14), so this is probably one of those places where “the house” is best understood as the definite idea of ‘home’.

Mt. 24:43 has “the house of him” because it has already referred to the ‘homeowner’.

Daniel Wallace discusses the uses and non-uses of the Greek article in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pp. 206-290. I have summarized his discussion in 4 pages if anyone is interested.

As for the differences between the Greek and English uses of the article, it is best to try to identify why a Greek noun has the article in particular instances before deciding if the same meaning is communicated in English with or without the definite article.

Non-imperatives in Romans 12:9-13.

Why can’t we translate the non-imperative clauses in Romans 12:9-13 as something other than imperatives? I don’t see any reason why not. In fact, I believe that translating these non-imperative forms as commands puts too much emphasis on our human effort that just isn’t in the text at this point. The introduction of 14 commands in this passage also has the effect of hiding the more relevant theme that must be continuing in this passage of the Spirit’s control of our minds (cf. Rom. 8:4ff; 12:2,6). The tension within the ethics of the New Testament is that we are frequently commanded to do what we are only able to do through the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The pages of the New Testament do also give plain descriptions of what Spirit-regenerated life looks like, and these should not all be reduced to the rhetoric of direct instructions.

Understood descriptively, vv. 9-13 offer a detailed picture of what love looks like after the preceding discussion of gifts (analagous to 1 Cor. 12-13). It is not a series of orders, but it would have been heard as an attractive description of what love does. Certainly this should motivate us to those actions, but the real power behind any of these loving behaviors is the control of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. These aren’t just mitigated commands. The expository nature of the text leaves more room for figuring in the role of the Spirit.

The real difficulty is how to translate this passage into English when there are some surprising subject-verb agreement features of the Greek text that can’t be automatically carried over into English. The first phrase says “Love (singular) [is] unhypocritical (singular),” but the following supporting phrases are all plural verbal participles (e.g. “abhorring (plural) evil, clinging (plural) to the good…”).

I think the main reason all our English translations go the way of expressing all 14 of these clauses as commands where there isn’t a single imperative verb is this: in trying to do justice to the apparent discrepancy of the lack of number agreement between the first singular clause and the following plural participles, making them all commands apparently solves this problem in English.  By supplying an implied command (“let be”) for the first clause (“let love be unhypocritical”), there is no longer any lack of agreement between the subject of the first clause and the assumed plural “you” subject of all the following participles. The subject now is always ‘you’.

The big problem, however, is that the grammatical subject of this whole paragraph is ‘love’. The traditional English solution loses that and shifts the entire focus to ‘you’. A second person plural subject is not expressed in any form in any of these 14 clauses in vv. 9-13 (nor in the previous 5 verses).

A better understanding of the apparent mismatch in the Greek subject-verb agreement of vs. 9 is that Greek normally allows the semantics of the situation to dictate the forms of the subject and verb. This is regularly seen in various disagreements for person and number when there are compound subjects, and for a variety of semantic reasons (see my summary of the issues here). In Rom. 12:9 the disagreement comes about because the true initial subject of the paragraph is the singular notion of love, but Paul is talking about love that is expressed by the multiple members of the body of Christ. The mismatch in number agreement happens when the singular abstract concept of ‘love’ is introduced and then described by participles that are plural due to the multiple agents in view.

Here’s my first attempt at a translation. Notice that the first command does not occur until vs. 14…

9 Love is unhypocritical: it is people abhorring evil, clinging to the good, 10 affectionate to one another with brotherly love, leading the way in showing honor to one another, 11 not shrunk back in eagerness, boiling over in the Spirit, serving the Lord, 12 rejoicing in hope, enduring suffering, persevering in prayer, 13 sharing their possessions for the needs of the saints, pursuing love between strangers. 14 Bless the ones pursuing you; bless and do not curse.

After translating this passage to more carefully reflect what is happening in the original text, a few things stand out that are not so apparent when all the dependent clauses are translated as separate commands…

The single sentence that includes vv. 9-13 starts off with the broad thematic content of the paragraph, namely, that love is unhypocritical. This theme is illustrated by a broad movement in the following participles from showing love to the brothers in the community who are called saints to a love that endures suffering and is sought after even between strangers.

The transition from the string of participial and adjective phrases in vv. 9-13 to the commands in vs. 14 is marked by the double use of DIWKW ‘pursue’ in vs. 13 in the sense of ‘hospitality’ (or more literally “pursuing love between strangers”) and in vs. 14 in the sense of “bless the ones pursuing (i.e. persecuting) you.”

Understood as a description rather than a series of commands, it also becomes more reasonable to understand the TW PNEUMATI as “the Spirit” rather than as the human spirit that one can manipulate. And that, I believe, is the whole point of Paul using participles in this paragraph rather than imperative verbs. It’s the Spirit’s work, first of all, before it is our own.

Refresher Greek Course

I have completed teaching the first week of a 2-week refresher Greek course. I am team-teaching this intensive review of basic Koine Greek morphology and grammar with one other person. We meet from 8am until noon every day, and the mid-course evaluations were overall very positive. We have 12 participants—all Bible translators, translation trainers, and translation consultants—who have not had formal Greek training for anywhere from 7 years ago to 34 years ago. Although we entered this course with a bit of fear and trepidation, knowing that the participants must have a broad range of experience and ability in Greek, we soon learned that everyone felt rusty and were looking forward to whatever they could get out of the course.
We have mostly been using Bill Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek, and we have been following his “Track 2” for the most part in order to get into verbs sooner. Here is what we covered in the first week…

  • Day 1: Introductions, syllabus, Greek alphabet, 1st & 2nd declension nouns, articles, nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative case
  • Day 2: Prepositions, present indicative forms of εἰμί, adjectives, 1st & 2nd person personal pronouns, introduction to verbs, present active indicative
  • Day 3: Contract verbs, present middle/passive indicative, imperfect indicative
  • Day 4 (only met from 10:30 until noon): 3rd declension nouns
  • Day 5: forms and uses of αὐτός, demonstratives, relative pronouns, first aorist active, introduction to participles, present participles

We had laid out a tentative schedule that would allow us to get through Mounces entire introductory grammar in 2 weeks, but we affirmed that we would slow down if the pace was too quick. At the end of the first week, we are actually 3 chapters ahead of schedule. This may allow us to get into a few more discourse topics and the use of computer tools during this second and last week of the course.

Online: Journal of the Linguistics Institute of Ancient and Biblical Greek (JLIABG)

I learned from Rick Brannon at ricoblog that the Linguistics Institute of Ancient and Biblical Greek has published its first online issue:

Runge, Steven E. 2008. “Relative Saliency and Information Structure in Mark’s Parable of the Sower.” JLIABG 1:1-16.

From the Institute’s website:

“The Journal of the Linguistics Institute of Ancient and Biblical Greek (JLIABG) is a fully refereed on-line journal specializing in widely disseminating the latest advances in linguistic study of ancient and biblical Greek. Under the senior editorship of Stanley E. Porter and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, the journal looks to publish significant work that advances knowledge of ancient Greek through the utilization of modern linguistic methods.”

You can subscribe here to an RSS feed of the journal or sign up to receive email notices of journal updates.

According to the Institute’s page on Areas of Research Under Investigation in the LIABG, their research interests correspond very closely to several areas that I have been investigating in the Greek text of James (i.e. discourse function of conjunctions, paragraphs as discourse units, and the discourse function of vocatives). From their website…
The following list provides an indication of some the open questions for research that are currently being investigated or are of interest to the members of the Institute.
  • developing a discourse grammar of conjunctions
  • the identification and classification of the paragraph as a unit in Greek discourse
  • discontinuous constituents in Greek syntax
  • the quantitative and qualitative analysis of register
  • the morphology, grammar and discourse function of the vocative case
  • a Systemic-Functional analysis of voice in Greek

Greek Course Goes On Without Me

I came down with a bad cold on Tuesday, the day before the Greek course started. I survived the first three days of the course, teaching for most of 6 hours each day. I thought the weekend would give me a chance to rest up and get over it, but it steadily got worse on Saturday, and by Sunday it was clear I had a sinus infection.

So I contacted the three mentors who are helping with the course and asked if they could cover for me on Monday. I saw the doctor and started taking meds. She said I could go back on Tuesday if I was up to it. I’m so thankful for these assistants and all they’re doing to help the course run smoothly.

One of the biggest reasons I don’t want to be out for more than this one day is that 5 new students arrived late to the course over the weekend. They had to travel all night by boat and all day by vehicle to get to the course. It’s going to be tough for them to catch up after missing the first three days of an intensive course, but we’ll help them be successful.

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Singing Greek Prayers for Greek Learning

‘Kumbaya’ is that old campfire song that has been sung so much that it tends to usher forth groans. But many Papua New Guineans also know the song, at least in the pidgin version. And so we sing it in Greek as a prayer at least a couple times a day to let Jesus know that his presence is welcome in our study of Greek. He is Lord of the beginning, middle and end, just as we started singing from Revelation 1:8 on the first day of class. And so we also invite Jesus to come and be present with us in our study of Greek:

ἔρχου ὧδε κύριε, (3x)
ὦ Ἰησοῦ κύριε

Come here Lord, (3x)
Oh, Jesus Lord.

Having the guitar close by to sing these songs is a good tool for when we need to maintain our focus on learning Greek as a spiritual discipline. It can be easily forgotten when we’re learning to recognize and write a new alphabet, forcing our tongues to make new sound sequences, and trying to distinguish between all those little diacritical marks that we see in the text.