Today’s guest post is from Dr. Steve Runge, a scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software, whose work focuses on the discourse grammar of Hebrew and Greek.
Logos has just posted a Pre-Pub for a whole new kind of Bible study tool—the Lexham High Definition New Testament and the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament. Over the last few weeks I have described a few of the concepts that are included in these resources:
This post is a follow up to tell you about another strategy that the New Testament writers used to create point-counterpoint sets. This device allows the writer to highlight important connections that they did not want us to miss. In the first post, I talked about how words like ‘while’ can be used to create anticipation that ‘another shoe’ is going to drop. Here is the example again, just to refresh your memory. Notice the difference that adding the italicized word makes regarding your expectations about what might follow:
- “I have really appreciated your work over the last few months . . .”
versus . . .
- “While I have really appreciated your work over the last few months . . .”
or . . .
- “I have appreciated most of your work over the last few months . . .”
In this post, I am going to tell you how negative statements can be used to create the same kind of effect that something more is coming, ‘another shoe’ so to speak. When I was growing up, I remember being told not just what I was supposed to do, but also what I was not supposed to do. Think about the following sentences.
- Get up and help.
- Don’t sit there. Get up and help.
- Don’t just sit there; instead, get up and help.
When I read these words, I hear my mom’s voice in my head. I could tell how frustrated she was by which option she used. Option 1 communicates what she wanted me to do, but without much force. Option 2 has a bit more oomph (read ‘frustration’), a bit more zing. Telling me what not to do does two things. First, it makes me wonder what I am supposed to do, if I am not supposed to ‘sit there’. Second, the negative statement provides a backdrop against which to contrast the positive statement. Option 2 sounds sharper because the contrast between the negative and the positive is sharper. Finally there is option 3, which adds some extra words (‘just’ and ‘instead’) that really forces me to link these two statements together in ways that option 2 just implied.
We make decisions like this all the time when we are speaking, but not by stopping and thinking “Hmm, should I create a counterpoint?” We just do what ‘fits best’ in the context, based on whatever it is that we want to communicate. My mom made decisions about whether to use option 1, 2, or 3, depending upon how much force she wanted to use (Believe me, I made option 3 look pretty attractive far too often).
The negative statement is called a ‘counterpoint’ ‹✗›, and serves as a contrast and a set-up for the ‘point’ ‹✓› that follows. In most cases, the ‘point is the more important of the two. In the Lexham High Definition New Testament and the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament, every point-counterpoint set that is explicitly signaled in the New Testament is marked right in the text, making sure you don’t miss any important connections in your Bible study or sermon preparation. It will look something like this:
‹✗ ‘Don’t just stand there ✗›,‹✓ DO something’. ✓›
The pairing of negative and positive statements is used all over the New Testament to create special connections called ‘counter points and points’. Let’s take a look at some NT examples.
In Matthew 4, Jesus is being tempted by Satan after having fasted for 40 days. Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread to relieve his hunger. Jesus responds in v. 4:
|ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν Γέγραπται ‹✗ Οὐκ ἐπ ̓ ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος ✗› ἀλλ ̓ ‹✓ ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι ἐκπορευομένῳ διὰ στόματος θεοῦ ✓›||But he answered, • “It is written, ‹✗ “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, ✗› but ‹✓ by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” ✓›|
This is a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3. Notice that is says what you shall not live on before telling you what you shall live on. Stating ‘what not to do’ is a powerful way of both creating an expectation that more is coming, as well as setting up a contrast with what follows. Not every negative statement creates a counterpoint, but the Lexham High Definition New Testament and the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament shows you where they do. Going back to Matt 4:4, Jesus not only rejects what Satan had tempted him to live upon, but he also sets the stage for what he (and we) should live upon—the Word of God.
In Romans 1:32, Paul creates a powerful point-counterpoint set using a ‘not only . . . but also’ framework.
|οἵτινες τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπιγνόντες ὅτι οἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράσσοντες ἄξιοι θανάτου εἰσίν, ‹✗ οὐ μόνον αὐτὰ ποιοῦσιν ✗› ἀλλὰ ‹✓ καὶ συνευδοκοῦσιν τοῖς πράσσουσιν. ✓›||Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, ‹✗ they not only do them ✗› but ‹✓• give approval to those who practice them. ✓›|
It is bad enough that those who know God’s decrees are not obeying them, but it is actually far worse. Not only do they do them, but they also/even give approval to others who do them. The bullet (•) at the beginning of the ‘point’ in English is the ‘also/even’ that I added in my translation. This Greek word makes the contrast even sharper than just the negative/positive order. It would have been much easier for Paul to just state that ‘they give approval to those who . . . .’ Providing the negative first followed by the positive really adds some zing to the force of the statement, which is strengthened even more by the ‘not only . . . but also’ structure. The ESV did not maintain the ‘also’ connection that is there in Greek. The use of ‘also/even’ to strengthen connections of one of the special devices that is annotated in the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament (called ‘thematic addition’), but is not included in the HDNT.
There is a whole series of point-counterpoint sets in Ephesians 5:15-18 that create the same kind of contrasting connections as in the other examples we have looked at.
|Βλέπετε οὖν ἀκριβῶς πῶς περιπατεῖτε ‹✗ μὴ ὡς ἄσοφοι ✗› ἀλλʼ ‹✓ ὡς σοφοί, ✓› 16 ἐξαγοραζόμενοι τὸν καιρόν, ὅτι αἱ ἡμέραι πονηραί εἰσιν. 17 διὰ τοῦτο ‹✗ μὴ γίνεσθε ἄφρονες, ✗› ἀλλὰ ‹✓ συνίετε τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ κυρίου. ✓› 18 καὶ ‹✗ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ✗› ἀλλὰ ‹✓ πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι, ✓›||Look carefully then how you walk, ‹✗ not as unwise ✗› but ‹✓ as wise, ✓› 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore ‹✗ do not be foolish, ✗› but ‹✓ understand what the will of the Lord is. ✓› 18 And ‹✗ do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, ✗› but ‹✓ be filled with the Spirit, ✓›|
Paul gives us a series of commands, and uses the counterpoints to sharpen the contrast between what we are not supposed to do and what we are supposed to do. Sharpening the contrast also helps to tighten the connection between these commands. Remember, he could have just as easily said, “walk wisely . . . understand the will of the Lord . . . be filled with the Spirit.” Leaving out the counterpoints would have been easier, but would also have removed much of the zing and punch that these commands have in their current form.
Point-counterpoint sets are just one of more than 15 different devices included in the HDNT, and of more than 35 that are found in the LDGNT. Every place a point-counterpoint set is clearly marked in Greek, it is annotated in the resources using the ‹✗ counterpoint ✗› ‹✓point ✓› symbols. If you are interested in learning about other devices that are included in these resources, check out my previous blog posts.
- Waiting for the Next Shoe to Drop, Part 1
- Stylistic Variation or Intentional Shaping? A Look at Characterization in John 11
- Making of the Lexham High Definition New Testament
- Who Cares About Participles? I Do!
If you haven’t yet placed your order, don’t miss out while it’s still available at the discounted Pre-Pub pricing.