Asyndeton as unmarked connective

In his Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, I’m thrilled that Steven Runge begins chapter 2 on “Connecting Propositions” with a discussion of asyndeton as the unmarked (default) connective. Asyndeton basically means that no connective is used to link consecutive propositions in a discourse. I believe that exegetes may often find huge benefits in recognizing asyndeton as the unmarked connective, especially if they ask why no other connective was used. This is a great example of the payload of the concept that Runge introduces in chapter one that “choice implies meaning” (pp. 5ff). Since the author had the choice to use various connectives, what is the specific meaning of this connective? And this is no less true with asyndeton when no connective appears.

However, I think Runge is still riding the fence a bit and perpetuating a misconception about asyndeton that contradicts the linguistic theory of markedness that he has already summarized. He’s right on when he says this:

The use of asyndeton indicates that the writer chose not to make a relation explicit. The relation must be gleaned from the context (p. 22).

And he’s also right to suggest that “asyndeton can be used at points of discontinuity” or “in contexts of close connection, such as moving from generic to specific” (pp. 22-23). But that is the extent of what Runge says about asyndeton used to express continuity. Nothing else. On the other hand, the weight of his discussion promotes the idea that asyndeton does NOT mean what other connectives mean:

Levinsohn summarizes the use of asyndeton in non-narrative by stating that since explicit connectives are used to indicate clause relationships such as strengthening, developmental, associative, or inferential, “the use of asyndeton tends to imply ‘not strengthening, not developmental, not associative, not inferential, etc.‘ ” (p. 23, citing Levinsohn, Discourse Features of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed., p. 119).

But that is only one side of a much more carefully nuanced description by Levinsohn:

Strictly speaking, the absence of any conjunction between sentences of a Greek text should imply only that the author offered no processing constraint on how the following material was to be related to its context… In practice, however, New Testament authors tend to use a conjunction whenever the relationship with the context concerned is strengthening (γὰρ), developmental (δὲ), associative or additive (καὶ), or inferential-cum-resumptive (ὅτι), etc. Consequently, asyndeton tends to imply “not strengthening, not developmental, not associative, not inferential, etc.” This is why asyndeton is often the norm when the relation of the following material to the context is not logical or chronological. [At this point, Levinsohn includes a footnote in which he suggests asyndeton as the norm for orientation, restatement, and associative (comment and parenthetical) relationships.]

Asyndeton is found in two very different contexts in non-narrative text:

  • when there is a close connection between the information concerned (i.e., the information belongs together in the same unit)
  • when there is no direct connection between the information concerned (i.e., the information belongs to different units).  (Levinsohn, p. 118)

At this point, Levinsohn includes a footnote in which he suggests that one may recognize when no direct connection between juxtaposed information is intended by the presence of vocatives and orienters (complement-taking predicates). I don’t agree with Levinsohn on this point. These devices may be included precisely to draw attention to the next development in the argument whether or not it relates to the previous passage. On this point, Iver Larsen argues that a vocative is

a rhetorical device, not a structural device, and it functions to establish a closer relationship with the hearers.” (“Boundary features in the Greek New Testament,” Notes on Translation, vol. 5, 1991:51)

The default assumption in any communication is that consecutive units do relate. I don’t believe that just because an author may typically use particular connectives to explicitly convey specific relationships that the use of asyndeton in other places means that those relationships are not implied. It may simply be the difference of whether those relationships are explicitly indicated with a conjunction or implicitly included with asyndeton. Sometimes making the relationship explicit says too much, or skews the argument, or betrays the persuasive power of the author too soon and ruins the chances for successful and convincing communication.

Thus, asyndeton is best understood as the unmarked form that may implicitly include a broad range of semantic relationships. But the way that Runge presents asyndeton, with the weight of its supposed significance falling on discontinuity, contradicts what he has already summarized about markedness:

The default option is considered ‘unmarked’ for the qualities found in the other members of the set. The quality may or may not be present.  The choice to use a marked form represents the choice to explicitly signal the presence of a quality that would only have been implicit if the default were used (pp. 11-12).

Whether the relation is explicit or implicit is very different from saying that the unmarked use of asyndeton implies that those logical relations are not present at all. ‘Unmarked’ means that a feature is not explicitly included. It does not follow, however, that a feature is explicitly excluded.

In my recent thesis addressing discourse concerns in the Letter of James, I have discussed the extensive use of asyndeton in that letter. Scholarship in James has too often erred in assuming that asyndeton implies discontinuity. That idea follows the outdated approach to James made popular by Dibelius in the early 20th century that the letter is composed of a string of unrelated sayings and shorter discourses. Yet, it is very enlightening to interpret the possible functions of asyndeton in the same letter if we follow the default assumption of coherence (as humanity universally does with almost any communication).

Here is the description of asyndeton that I have proposed in discussing the Letter of James. It follows the theory of markedness more closely…

Although the interpretation of explicit conjunctions is often a matter of inferring implied semantic information, the prevalence of asyndeton (the lack of conjunctions), means that coherence and text organization must be determined even more frequently on the basis of implied logical relationships. With 80 instances of asyndeton after 1.1, other bases must be recognized for grouping many units together, including implied semantic relationships. This is also true for larger spans. Investigating the possible logical relationships where asyndeton shows up at higher discourse levels is often neglected. It is difficult since the possibilities for coherence are multiplied with larger spans of text. The major difficulty with analyzing asyndeton is that it may represent either of opposite ends on a scale of cohesion. The two units may be so closely related that no conjunction divides the thought. Or, the units may be so distinct that no conjunction is necessary. If asyndeton is considered to reflect continuity, the extent of each unit being related and the implied logical relation are also unspecified. These determinations must be made from other contextual clues. If anything, asyndeton may indicate the author’s desire to not emphasize any specific relationship. Asyndeton is often found between spans that have some kind of continuity and discontinuity, and for that reason, an explicit conjunction may have communicated too much. (Pehrson, “Mitigation and Intensification of Persuasive Discourse in a Koine Greek Letter: Coherent Macrostructure in the Letter of James,” pp. 58-59)

I see now that what I have described above is somewhat close to what Levinsohn describes for asyndeton. We both recognize the possibility of asyndeton being able to reflect either continuity or discontinuity. However, I am much more ready to find continuity (even if it is a more loose or broadly defined continuity) where Levinsohn may see a change in major or minor topics (cf. Levinsohn, p. 119).

Levinsohn also suggests that asyndeton and other connectives are used differently by different New Testament authors:

The ways in which καὶ and δὲ are used in John’s Gospel do not correspond exactly with how they are employed in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. This is because two other forms of linkage are employed in John’s Gospel in contexts in which καὶ and δὲ would have occurred had the material been written in the style of the Synoptics. One of them is asyndeton (the absence of a conjunction), which is John’s default means of conjoining sentences (Poythress 1984:331), instead of καὶ. John’s other common marker of linkage is ὅτι; he uses it as a low-level development marker in certain contexts in which the Synoptics and Acts use δὲ. (Levinsohn, pp. 81-82)

Such variance of usage between different authors is a good argument that supports the idea that “choice implies meaning.” Yet with asyndeton, we must not take this too far and conclude that asyndeton cannot mean what other connectors mean. Rather than being a question of either-or, it is probably more of a scalar notion. Asyndeton may imply the same relationship as other connectives, but it does not express it explicitly. There may be a difference of degree for the particular relation, or asyndeton may be an intentional move in the rhetoric to even momentarily hide the relationship. Good argumentation is not always immediately clear. Asyndeton may allow the movement of the argument to be realized only after more of the story is heard, and then with the benefit of gaining a better hearing.

So, I disagree with Runge somewhat in the details. As he says in the preface,

The reader still bears the responsibility of synthesizing and interpreting the analysis and can choose to reject a claim just as one might with most any other scholarly resource. (p. xix)

But I’m still loving this book. Runge is a good conversation partner. And it’s good to go back to Levinsohn and other discourse studies while reading him.

Runge fills a gap

Of the eleven new books on my shelf, Steven Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament is the one I’m most excited about. First of all, it continues the line of valuable Greek reference tools that have a green cover. So it’s obviously in good company with Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich, Daniel Wallace, Stephen Levinsohn, and the Loeb Classical Library.

If you know anything about what my latest research has been in applying discourse linguistics to the interpretation of the New Testament, you’ll know why I’m so excited. Too often, exegesis is limited by a narrow view of the meaning of words and sentences without considering how those words are used in the wider contexts of whole discourses with patterns of use within a language community (and even patterns shared cross-linguistically). Many have touted the benefits of discourse linguistics for exegesis, but it looks like this might finally be the work to bridge the much-needed gap in introducing the theory to a wider audience in the academic world of New Testament studies.

After reading the foreward by Daniel Wallace, I immediately thought back to Wallace’s own introduction to his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (1996) and why he excluded discourse analysis from his treatment of Greek grammar. In Runge’s preface, he himself cites Wallace’s reasons for leaving discourse considerations out. But I think Runge got Wallace’s sentiments a bit wrong! In only one sense can Wallace be said to be in the camp with those who “believe that linguistics and discourse studies have overpromised and underdelivered.” Wallace was still waiting for the promise to be fulfilled, still waiting for the delivery, but not because he doubted the value of discourse linguistics. In fact, Runge only cites the first three of Wallace’s four reasons for excluding discourse. The fourth one was the most promising, and the one that kept me waiting for a book like Runge’s: “(4) Finally, DA is too significant a topic to receive merely a token treatment, appended as it were to the end of a book on grammar. It deserves its own full-blown discussion.”

I’ve only read through the first chapter of Runge so far, but already, I’m very pleased with the kinds of things that he is challenging NT scholarship with…

Choice implies meaning

If a writer chose to use a participle to describe an action, he has at the same time chosen not to use an indicative or other finite verb form. This implies that there is some meaning associated with this decision. Representing the action using a participle communicates something that using a different mood would not have communicated. Defining the meaning associated with the choice is different from assigning a syntactic force or from determining an appropriate translation. It requires understanding what discourse task is performed by the participle that would not have been accomplished by another verb form. (p. 6)

Semantic or inherent meaning should be differentiated from pragmatic effect

Most languages do not have specialized devices that are singularly devoted to prominence marking. It is far more common to find a nonstandard usage achieving specific pragmatic effects. Greek is no exception. The use of the historical present for forward-pointing highlighting exemplifies this. Using a grammatical construction in an ostensibly wrong or unexpected way has the effect of making something stand out. The pragmatic effect achieved is dependent upon the discourse context in which it occurs. The devices described in the chapters that follow exploit some departure from an expected norm to achieve a specific pragmatic effect. Distinguishing semantic meaning from pragmatic effect is critical to providing a coherent and accurate description of the device and its function within the discourse. Neglecting this distinction leaves you with “messy discourse”! (p. 9)

Default patterns of usage should be distinguished from marked ones

To summarize, markedness theory presupposes that one member of a set is the most basic or simple member, called the “default” member. All of the other members signal or “mark” the presence of some unique quality, one that would not have been marked if the default option were used. The marked options are described based on how they uniquely differ both from the default and from one another…. Some English conjunctions distinguish semantic continuity versus semantic discontinuity (and versus but). The conjunctions καί and δέ do not encode this semantic constraint, leading them to be listed under both connective and contrastive relations [in Wallace]. The messiness of this overlap is caused by the mismatch of the feature to the framework used, not by the overlapping features that are marked.  καί and δέ are unmarked for the feature of semantic continuity or discontinuity. (p. 11, 13)


The primary objective of using the various discourse devices is to attract extra attention to certain parts or aspects of the discourse–that is, to mark them as prominent…. Regardless of whether we are looking at a scenic view, a piece of visual art, or even listening to music, we are constantly making judgments about what is “normal” and what is “prominent” based on the devices used to signal prominence. (p. 13-14)


Since prominence is fundamentally about making something stand out in its context, marking prominence typically involves creating contrast with other things in the context. Contrast, in turn, presupposes that a person recognizes the underlying pattern. Even if we cannot verbalize the pattern, we can still perceive contrast. (p.16)

Two Theses on James from St Andrews

When I visited the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2006, I had helpful conversations with then PhD students Mariam Kamell and Chris Chandler. They both completed their programs this year. Congratulations! Both of their PhD theses are related to James. They are available here. Thanks to Jim Darlack over at Old in the New for alerting me to this repository. I have added these references to my Recent James Scholarship and James Bibliography pages. Here are the abstracts…

Kamell, Mariam J. 2010. “The Soteriology of James in Light of Earlier Jewish Wisdom Literature and the Gospel of Matthew.” Ph.D. thesis. St Andrews, Scotland: University of St Andrews.

ABSTRACT:  The epistle of James has been neglected in NT studies, caught between its relationship with Paul and the claim that it has no theology. Even as it experiences a resurgence of study, surprisingly no full-length survey exists on James as the epistle of “faith and works.” Approaches to James have neglected its soteriology and, in consequence, its theological themes have been separated or studied only in connection with Paul. As “moral character,” however, “faith” and “works” fit within a coherent theology of God’s mercy and judgment. This study provides a sustained reading of James as a Jewish-Christian document. Because James presents the “faith” and “works” discussion in context of “can such faith save?” (2:14), the issue becomes one of soteriology and final judgment. Both the “law of freedom” and the “word of truth” demand faithful obedience—the “works.” Moreover, God’s character and deeds in election form the basis for human “works” of mercy and humble obedience, while future judgment is in accordance with virtuous character. It has been established that James shares methodology and concerns with prior wisdom literature. This thesis therefore examines key ideas developing across the Jewish literature and Jesus’ teaching as presented by Matthew, and highlights developing views God saving and judging his people. Within the first two chapters, James gives a high view of God’s work in calling and redeeming, providing wisdom to his people, and instilling long-anticipated new covenant that they might live in obedience, humility and purity in accordance with his character and will. Because of God’s saving work, he justly judges those who fail to live mercifully, while his mercy triumphs for those who obey. God begins the work and sustains those who ask; but only those who submit to the “perfect law of freedom,” whose faith works, receive mercy when God enacts his final justice.

Chandler, Christopher N. 2010. “Blind Injustice : Jesus’ Prophetic Warning Against Unjust Judging (Matthew 7:1-5).” Ph.D thesis. St Andrews, Scotland: University of St Andrews.

ABSTRACT: This dissertation seeks to provide a plausible alternative to the consensus interpretation of Jesus’ “do not judge” teaching in Matt 7:1-5. While the overwhelming majority of recent interpreters understand “do not judge” (7:1) and its concurrent sayings such as “take the log out of your own eye” (7:5) to promote a non-judgmental attitude, this monograph seeks to situate this block of teaching within a Jewish second-Temple judicial setting. To this end, an overview of the judicial system during the second Temple era is provided, after which it is argued that Matt 7:1-5 is the Matthean Jesus’ halakhic, midrashic comment upon the laws for just legal judging in Lev 19:15-18, 35-36 by which he prophetically criticizes unjust legal judging. Jesus’ brother James takes up this teaching in Jas 2:1-13, using it to exhort Jewish Christian leaders who judge cases within Diaspora synagogues/churches. Such an alternative interpretation of Jesus’ “do not judge” teaching in Matt 7:1-5 matches well other passages in Matthew which likewise speak of judicial, brotherly conflict such as 5:21-26 and 18:15-35. Some early Christian writers who quote or allude to Matt 7:1-5 reflect a judicial understanding of these verses as well, often relating Matt 7:1-5 to Lev 19:15-18, 35-36 and/or drawing parallels between Matt 7:1-5 and one or more of the NT judicial texts which, this thesis argues, is related to it (Matt 5:21-26, 18:15-35; Jas 2:1-13).

Naturalness and Frequency of Word Use

Last week, I met with five Onnele translators who are working together to produce three different translations of the Bible for four different Onnele dialects. These language varieties are quite closely related, and there is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between them. The communities that speak the Romei and Barera dialects have determined that their dialects are close enough that they can produce one translation together. Even though the Goiniri and Wolwale dialects are also closely related, the decision to produce separate but related translations is frequently confirmed for us as we recognize various dialectical differences. In the case of the word aiyem ‘rejoice’, it is simply a difference in frequency of use.

The verb aiyem/ainem is an interesting one. Normally, verbs in Onnele have a different prefix depending on the person and number of the subject that performs the action of the verb. This verb, however, is a complex form such that the normal prefixes appear in the middle of the word. Thus, the difference between aiyem ‘you rejoice’ and ainem ‘they rejoice’.

But we made another discovery about this verb last week. Different Onnele dialects use this verb more or less frequently. While they each can use it and understand it, it is not as commonly used in the Goiniri and Wolwale dialects as it is in the Romei and Barera dialects. This observation was made when Joel (pictured above 2nd from the right), one of the translators from the Wolwale dialect, refused to follow the Goiniri and Romei-Barera translations in their use of the word. When he thought about it, he said, “Yes, we can say that. We know what it means when someone says that. But I hardly ever hear people using this word in Wolwale. When I go over to Romei-Barera, however, they use it all the time.” The other Wolwale translator, Felix (far right), readily agreed with him. Dominic (far left) agreed that the people in Romei and Barera use the word a lot, but he was confident that is was also okay to use in the Goiniri translation.

I decided to add up all the times in the Gospel of Luke that these three different translations use variations of this verb and see if it corresponded to their observations about how frequently it is used in their communities. Sure enough, it appears 24 times in the Goiniri translation, only 7 times in Wolwale’s, and 49 times in Romei-Barera’s.

In place of ainem ‘they rejoice’, Joel and Felix are using two different verbal expressions – woluporo ‘liver-good’ and wolpuna ‘liver-stomach’ – to express the same meaning of ‘rejoice’. The liver and/or stomach is the seat of the emotions for most Papua New Guinean cultures, so expressions related to joy often involve a liver or stomach idiom. The Romei and Barera dialects also have these idioms, but their word of choice of expressing joy and happiness is aiyem. This is a case where the different Onnele communities will be able to read and understand the various Onnele translations, but when they read their own, it will really sound like the language of their heart using the words that are most natural to their dialect.

See the post over at the Living Letters blog for more of this story.

A Dozen SBL Papers on James

As in 2009, the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature includes twelve papers related to James and his letter. This year the meeting takes place in Atlanta, Georgia from November 20 – 23. These twelve papers will be delivered during eight different sessions representing seven different program units…

Letters of James, Peter, and Jude
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM

Theme: James and Q/Early Jesus Tradition
These papers will only be summarized so as to allow maximum discussion. The papers will be distributed in advance to all those who have added their name to the Letters of James, Peter, and Jude Section list in past years. If you have not yet added your name to this list, you may do so by contacting Robert Webb.

Robert Webb, McMaster University, Presiding

Dale C. Allison, Jr., Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
The Jesus Tradition in James 4.1-12
James 4.1-12 is intertextually rich. It consistently interaacts with the Jewish Bible–borrowing several scriptural idioms, quoting an unknown “graphe,” citing Prov 3:34, and interpreting Lev 19.15-18–and further makes good use of the Jesus tradition. V. 3 ironically takes up the Q text in Mt 7.7-8 = Lk 11.9-10. Vv. 11-12 interpret Lev 19:15-18 through the lens of another Q text, Mt 7.1-5 = Lk 6.37, 41-42. And 4.20 might be partly inspired by Lk 6.25 (Q?).

Alicia Batten, University of Sudbury
The Impact of an Urban Setting on Jesus Traditions in James
Although little consensus exists as to the provenance of the Letter of James, scholars have noticed details in the missive, such as the references to fine clothes, rings and crowns, and thematic elements, including allusions to philosophical concepts, that support an urban setting. The rhetoric and overall elegance of the document also suggests that it was written for an audience that would have appreciated such literary sophistication. This paper begins by reviewing some of the thematic and literary aspects of James that point to a city or town as its site of origin. It then turns to some of the parallels between James and teachings associated with Jesus (the paper concurs with many scholars that there are connections between a form of Jesus sayings and James) in order to analyse how James’ urban environment has influenced the manner in which the author adapts some of these antecedent traditions.

Patrick J. Hartin, Gonzaga University
Wholeness in James and the Q Source
The sayings traditions of Jesus of Nazareth lie at the foundation of the moral exhortations in both the Letter of James are the Q Source. An examination of both James and Q reveals that they hold some moral exhortations in common. The purpose of this paper will be to examine these common links with the Jesus tradition by focusing on their vision of God and its consequence for action. This study demonstrates that faith in action captures the vision of James and the Q source. James’s vision embraced an understanding of works that occurred in the context of one’s whole life of faith (Jas 1:14) as does the Q Source (Q 6:46-49). A social-scientific examination of the Israelite value of ‘wholeness’ demonstrates that this value is reflected equally in James and Q. Patterns of all-or-nothing (characteristic of the Israelite value of wholeness) are common to James and Q. Some examples that are examined: God demands total allegiance; people cannot serve both God and mammon (Q 16:13). Friendship with the world is enmity with God (Jas 4:4); the need to keep the whole Law (Q 16:17 and Jas 2:10), etc. Through this analysis of the moral exhortations in James and Q, this paper illustrates that the Q tradition as it developed further in the Sermon on the Mount is also reflected in the Jesus tradition at the heart of James’s ethical teaching. The common links in the traditions between James and Q are explained from the fact that James is aware of the Jesus tradition as it is being handed on within the Q community and its developing tradition as seen in the Q Sermon on the Mount.

David A. Kaden, University of Toronto
Stoicism, Social Stratification, and the Q Tradition in James: A Suggestion about James’ Audience
James is addressed to “the twelve tribes in the Diaspora”. “Twelve tribes” has been interpreted as a metaphor for “Christians”. But if the greeting is taken at face value, then James’ audience would be Diaspora Judaeans, and the letter itself would be situated in the larger milieu of Hellenistic Judaism. There were several Diasporic centers in antiquity. This paper will argue that James’ audience was in Rome in the early second century CE. This assumes of course that “James” is a pseudonym. Other scholars have argued for a Roman provenance based, for example, on connections between James and the Shepherd of Hermas. This paper is intended to substantially strengthen this hypothesis. First, by detailing linguistic similarities between James and the Stoic Epictetus, who began his teaching career in Rome. Second, by examining how James adapts the Jesus tradition from Q for an audience higher up the social register than the Q people. Finally, by analyzing James’ rhetorical usage of the categories “rich” and “poor” to situate the audience somewhere in between. When these data are linked with the social situation in Rome in the early second century CE after the Dacian Wars led by Trajan, a remarkable picture emerges. Trajan’s wars precipitated an economic revival in the capital city, and the letter of James seems to reflect this. The writer’s affinity for Stoicism, the ideology of the Roman “bourgeois”, locks together nicely with the adaptation of the Q tradition for an audience higher up the social register. It also explains why the writer rhetorically locates the audience between the rich and poor, on the one hand urging them to care for the latter, and on the other warning them not to become greedy like the former.

John Kloppenborg, University of Toronto, Respondent

Violence and Representations of Violence among Jews and Christians
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM

Theme: First Martyrs

Shelly Matthews, Furman University
The Second-Century Construction of the First Christian Martyr: Acts’ Stephen and Hegessipus’ James
This paper argues that Acts’ narrative of the Stoning of Stephen and Hegessipus’ narrative of the martyrdom of James are variations on the same trope. While Hegessipus is typically characterized as a “Jewish-Christian,” and the author of Acts clearly privileges a more Hellenistic, “Pauline” Christianity, both authors employ nearly identical means to construct the first Christian martyr.

Speech and Talk: Discourses and Social Practices in the Ancient Mediterranean World
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM

Jeremy Hultin, Yale University
James and the Abusive Tongue
In terms of the content of its advice about speech, the Epistle of James is largely conventional. What is not so common is the way James sets the tongue at the heart of a cosmic and primeval struggle. True religion, says James, consists in keeping oneself “unstained by the world” (1:27), but the tongue — which is itself “the unrighteous world” — stains the body (3:6). The defiling world is present in the human body. The tongue sets “the wheel of creation aflame” and is itself “set on fire by hell.” The tongue is not only a portal between Hell and Creation, but it, unlike the animals (!), has not been brought under human control (3:7-8). James has, in effect, configured “the world,” “religion,” and “the tongue” in such a way so that to use the tongue improperly is actually to grant “the world” access to one’s mouth. Thus the male and female addressees are alike “adulteresses” (4:4). Whereas most Greeks and Romans viewed abusive language as the mark of a manly brio (cf. Catullus 16 or Priapic poetry), in James’s apocalyptic discourse, verbal assaults constitute a sexual humiliation.

The KJV at 400: Assessing its Genius as Bible Translation and its Literary Influence
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM

Scot McKnight, North Park University
KJV Theology/Exegesis through the Lens of James
No abstract available.

Letters of James, Peter, and Jude
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Theme: Open Papers

David A. deSilva, Ashland Theological Seminary
James and the Testament of Job: The Evidence for Intertextuality
The prominence of the language of “patient endurance” (makrothymia, hypomone) in James 5:7-11, thematic also throughout T. Job 1-27, together with the explicit mention of Job as exemplary in this regard, typically invite some comparison between the two texts. The connections between the passages, however, are more intricate than scholars usually discern. The passage from James is a well-constructed argument promoting the virtue of endurance, specifically with an eye to God’s future intervention, as in the Testament. Job’s example serves directly to support the call to “patiently endure” (Jas 5:7), as it does in Job’s commendation of this virtue to his children (T. Job 27:7). James adds a rationale to explain the cause of the happy outcome of Job’s endurance: “because the Lord is very sympathetic and compassionate” (Jas 5:11), qualities of God that also promote endurance in T. Job. 26.4-6. Both – and, as far as I can tell, only – James and the Testament invoke these qualities of God specifically as a rationale for endurance and an assurance of the better consequences that attend endurance in connection with Job’s story. James and Testament of Job, unlike canonical Job, do not raise the problem of suffering without knowing why. Both texts prepare readers to interpret sufferings and challenges as “trials” by means of which virtue can be tested, proven, and eventually rewarded, even crowned with victory (Jas 1:12; T. Job 4:10). This fundamental orientation runs throughout both texts. While the difficulties arriving at consensus regarding the date of Testament of Job give one pause in arguing for direct literary dependency, the linguistic, rhetorical, and thematic connections between James and the Testament suggest some kind of close relationship between the two documents, with the former presupposing the traditions expressed – and the formulations in which they are expressed – of the latter.

Historical Jesus
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM

Theme: The Historical Jesus in Recent Research

John Paul Dickson, Macquarie University
The Epistle of James as a “Source” for the Historical Jesus
Pursuing a recent suggestion of Prof James H. Charlesworth that the letter of James perhaps “should be recognized as a source for Jesus” this paper examines the methodological issues involved in such a line of inquiry. Scholars have long noted the unusual number of allusions to Jesus traditions in this epistle. While most think it unlikely that this material is directly dependent on one or more of the canonical Gospels, most agree that the affinities between James and Q are impressive. This paper argues that the author of the epistle self-consciously portrays himself throughout as a custodian of the words of Jesus and that this fact heightens the need to unravel the puzzle of whether James is simply a third witness to Q or an independent witness to Jesus.

Jewish Christianity / Christian Judaism
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Petri Luomanen, University of Helsinki
Jesus’ appearance to James the Just
In Illustrious Men, Jerome describes how Jesus appeared to his brother, James the Just: “But the Lord after he had given linen cloth to the servant of the priest, went to James and appeared to him (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from the hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he had seen him rising again from those who sleep), and again, a little later, it says: Bring the table and bread, said the Lord. And immediately it is added: He brought bread and blessed and brake it and gave it to James the Just and said to him: My brother, eat thy bread for the Son of Man is risen from those who sleep.” (Jerome, Vir. Ill. 2; Trans. Klijn, Jewish-Christian Gospel Tradition, 1992).” The Eucharistic allusions of the passage have often been noted but they have not been paid much attention in the discussion about the passage, except that a meal is recognized as one of the usual settings for Jesus’ appearance. Usually it is also assumed that one of the basic motives behind the passage is to provide a story of James as a witness of resurrection, mentioned in Cor 15:7 but not described in the canonical gospels. But why does the story include James’ vow? The paper explores the possibility that the vow is related to the so-called “Easter controversy” that arose towards the end of second century between Asian and other dioceses (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. V 23-25). The controversy concerned the timing of Easter and, consequently, the length of “Christian” Easter fast: should it always end on “the day of Savior’s resurrection” or on the fourteenth of Nisan.

Søren Kierkegaard Society
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM

Theme: Kierkegaard, Hermeneutics, and the Epistle of James
This session will give special attention to Kierkegaard’s interpretive practice in regard to the Epistle of James and the Johannine writings. The ways in which his theological convictions shaped his reading of Scripture and his reading of Scripture shaped his theological convictions will be explored.

Paul Martens, Baylor University
Grace in Creation: Kierkegaard on James 1:18 and the Condition for Receiving Gods Gifts
Luke Timothy Johnson, following Richard Bauckham (1999), claims that Kierkegaard “does not so much try to figure out what James meant as to consider what his own life means in light of James” (2004, 243). The purpose of this paper is to challenge the either/or implicit in Johnson’s assessment by attending to Kierkegaard’s interpretation of James 1:18. In the intense scholarly debates surrounding this passage, there are three basic options concerning who is brought forth by the “word of truth”: humanity, Jews, or Christians. In his idiosyncratic “upbuilding discourses” devoted to James 1:17-22, Kierkegaard seems oblivious to the minute details of this debate. Yet, this paper displays how a careful reading of Kierkegaard’s 1843 “Every Good Gift” discourse places him right in the middle of the debate. In short, this paper shows how Kierkegaard’s exegetical reflections on James 1:18 provide a sort of theological anthropology, an account of how God’s grace is the first word: God extends grace to all humanity in that God creates everyone with the absolute need for God, a good and perfect gift that (a) must be awakened and (b) can only be satisfied by the gift of the received Word (James 1:21). The proposed paper begins by briefly summarizing the scholarly debates surrounding this verse. Second, in conversation with Timothy Polk (1997) and Bauckham, it carefully examines Kierkegaard’s cryptic comments in the second of “Four Upbuilding Discourses” published in 1843. Third, it explores related texts in Kierkegaard’s corpus—“To Need God is a Human Being’s Highest Perfection” (1844), Philosophical Fragments (1844), and Works of Love (1847)—to illuminate the depth of Kierkegaard’s interpretive insight. In conclusion, coming full circle, the paper argues that it is precisely through considering his own life in light of James that Kierkegaard passionately sought to interpret what James meant.

Richard B. Purkarthofer, Howard V. and Edna H. Hong Kierkegaard Library
Kierkegaard’s First Love: On the Role of the Epistle of James in Kierkegaard’s Authorship
As early as 1835-36, we find Kierkegaard translating portions of the Epistle of James from Greek into Latin. References and allusions to the Epistle are to be found throughout Kierkegaard’s subsequent writings. In what would become his last edifying discourse, in the last year of his life, Kierkegaard returned once more to a pericope from the Epistle, calling it “my first love.” My proposed paper will survey the Epistle’s significance for Kierkegaard’s authorship as a whole. Following a brief historical account of Kierkegaard’s use of James, I will investigate a number of stylistic features common to the Epistle and to Kierkegaard’s writings (both published and unpublished). These include dialogical elements, the use of fictive interlocutors, rhetorical questions, and other features typical of the Cynic/Stoic diatribe form, along with the use of Stichwortverbindungen. I will then turn to a number of Kierkegaardian concepts that are heavily influenced by the Epistle of James, such as despair, purity/purification, and simple-mindedness. By way of conclusion, I will comment on evidence from Kierkegaard’s own copies of the Bible. This includes underlining, notes, and other marks in the Epistle of James, presumably by Kierkegaard’s own hand. I will cite this evidence to support key details of my proposed account of the stylistic and conceptual influence of the Epistle of James on Kierkegaard.

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

Jesus’ Resurrection is "Unbelievable" in Luke

Since it’s Easter, I’m posting this post again that originally appeared here on October 21, 2007…

As I mentioned in my previous post about Jesus’ resurrection, Luke emerges as the only gospel writer that presents the disciples’ response as one of amazement, that confused mixture of disbelief and joy. But…

…if there is joy, is there really disbelief? Or, is it possible that Luke uses the word ‘disbelieving’ in ch. 24 in a more idiomatic sense? After all, if you were to see Jesus raised from the dead, wouldn’t you have to say, “It’s unbelievable! I can’t believe my eyes!”

In Luke, the first post-resurrection response occurs after the women come back from the empty tomb (24:11). After giving a report of what they had seen and heard at the tomb, the text reads…

καὶ ἐφάνησαν ἐνώπιον αὐτῶν ὡσεὶ λῆρος τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα, καὶ ἠπίστουν αὐταῖς.
And these words appeared before them as nonsense, and they were not believing them.

But what exactly does it mean when it says “these words appeared before them as nonsense” and “they were not believing them”? Could the disciples really not make grammatical sense of the women’s words? That much must not be true; otherwise, the text would not go on to say that they were not believing them. In order to not believe something, you have to first make sense of what you’re not believing. Therefore, it’s more likely that “these words appeared before them as nonsense” communicates just how unusual and unexpected the resurrection was. It was so out of the ordinary that we might describe it today as “unreal”!

So did the apostles really not believe the women? Did they think the women were just making up a fantastic story? Perhaps. However, the imperfect tense here—“they were not believing”—leaves open further possibilities.

In the very least, the imperfect tense communicates some kind of continuous response instead of a matter-of-fact statement of unbelief. The continuous nature of their “unbelief” suggests an ongoing discussion in which they were interacting with the women’s story. It may depict an interactive response from the disciples in which they continuously questioned the women in an attempt to understand the incredible details of such an amazing account. Also possible, but perhaps less likely, is that this represents a pluperfect use of the imperfect—“they had not been believing them”—thus describing an earlier response that did not necessarily continue. The reason I say that this possibility is less likely is that the pluperfect use of the imperfect is quite rare, and it is usually clear when it is used. Even if this interpretation is too much of a stretch for this particular word, the continuation of the story suggests that this is exactly what happened—their unbelieving response did not continue.

The next verse (24:12) tells how Peter got up and ran to the tomb, hardly a response from someone who did not believe. Peter’s actions at least reveal a determination to check out the women’s story. Of course, some would argue that Luke 24:12 is a “western non-interpolation,” a verse that was later added by all but the western witnesses of the text—an argument against its existence in the original text. One argument in support of this theory is that Peter’s response in vs. 12 of running to the tomb and returning home “amazed” does not fit within the literary context (Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 215, 217). But the supposed incongruency of unbelief and amazement occurs again in Luke 24:41 (Frans Neirynck, “Luke 24,12: An Anti-Docetic Interpolation?” In New Testament Textual Criticism and Exegesis, ed. A. Denaux, 158)…

ἔτι δὲ ἀπιστούντων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ τῆς χαρᾶς καὶ θαυμαζόντων εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἔχετέ τι βρώσιμον ἐνθάδε;
While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Again, Luke’s record of the resurrection seems just too good to be true. Again, we find “unbelief” and “amazement” together. And joy too. So what can it mean? Does it make sense at all to say that the apostles “could not believe because of their joy and amazement”? Or do these passages suggest a more idiomatic meaning for unbelief? Had Jesus really risen from the dead? It was “unbelievable”! In Luke 24:11 they could not believe their ears. In Luke 24:41 they could not believe their eyes. But they really did believe the unbelievable. Their joy proves it.

So does Luke use the words ‘unbelief’, ‘amazement’ and ‘joy’ together to paint a uniform picture of emotion-filled belief in the resurrection for everyone in ch. 24? No way.

When Jesus walks with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, it’s a different story regarding “unbelief” and “amazement.” They tell him how the women “amazed us” with a report of an empty tomb and a vision of angels saying that Jesus was alive (24:22-23), but they were clearly “looking sad” (24:17). This sad look proves their unbelief. And so Jesus says to them in 24:25…

Ὦ ἀνόητοι καὶ βραδεῖς τῇ καρδίᾳ τοῦ πιστεύειν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν οἷς ἐλάλησαν οἱ προφῆται… O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken…

Only after Jesus explains the scriptures, accepts their invitation to come inside, and then breaks bread do they finally recognize him and believe. Their belief is proved by their action: they got up that very hour—the same hour which they had described as “towards evening” and “the day is nearly over” (24:29)—and they returned to Jerusalem to tell the apostles. They surely went back in the dark. But before they can give their report, the apostles report to them in 24:34…

ὄντως ἠγέρθη ὁ κύριος καὶ ὤφθη Σίμωνι.
The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.

Even though it was only Simon Peter who had seen the Lord among the 11 apostles, the others believe and say that he has “really risen.” Their belief is then confirmed by the two who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus (24:35) and then by Jesus himself who appeared before them while they were still talking about it (24:36). And then we find another combination of belief and amazement in 24:37…

πτοηθέντες δὲ καὶ ἔμφοβοι γενόμενοι ἐδόκουν πνεῦμα θεωρεῖν.
But after being startled and frightened they were thinking that they were seeing a spirit.

Interesting. Based on Peter’s testimony, they really believed that Jesus was alive. But when Jesus himself appears, they are so startled and frightened that they think they are seeing a spirit. But again, does this really mean that they do not believe in the resurrection? Jesus does not rebuke them for ‘unbelief’, but he says…

Τί τεταραγμένοι ἐστὲ καὶ διὰ τί διαλογισμοὶ ἀναβαίνουσιν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν;
Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?

The live appearance of Jesus after his death is such an unusual sight for the apostles, so Jesus begins to calm them by simply acting himself. “What’s bothering you?” He shows them his wounded hands and feet to prove that they are not seeing a spirit. Oh, and “What’s there to eat?”

And now he had a captive audience…

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

After a few more instructions, Jesus is lifted up into heaven. But no more fear and amazement on the part of the disciples, only worship and joy…

καὶ αὐτοὶ προσκυνήσαντες αὐτὸν ὑπέστρεψαν εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ μετὰ χαρᾶς μεγάλης καὶ ἦσαν διὰ παντὸς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ εὐλογοῦντες τὸν θεόν.
And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.

Luke’s account of the resurrection is so believeable precisely because he records so well that strange mixture of unbelief and joy, which really isn’t unbelief at all, but overwhelming joy and amazement at something so “unbelieveable.” He really caught the wonder of it.

(The painting is “The Supper at Emmaus,” 1606 by Caravaggio)