[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.]
This is a follow-up to a blog entry that I posted last Thursday entitled “Who Cares About Participles? I Do!” It described how the New Testament writers used Greek participles to push less-important action into the background in order to keep attention focused on the main action of a verse. At the end, I gave the warning that this principle about ‘backgrounding’ action did not apply to every participle. This prompted a great comment from a user. He said:
I wasn’t the best student at English grammar either so to figure out that what you have shown us in this blog would have been impossible for me as I don’t understand all the different parts of English speech and writing. So, my question is this: with my ineptitude with both Greek and English, how can I use this tool well and know even what to look for? Perhaps that is an impossible question to ask.
This is a great question. The reality is there is no possible way for him to have known or done what I did without knowing the grammatical principles I used. Even knowing the principle, he would still need enough grammatical background to do the analysis. In other words, he wants access to this information, but his grammatical skills are too rusty for him to do the analysis himself. On top of this, he was probably never taught this principle in his studies. If you read the participles blog post and are a few years out of school, you will probably empathize with his frustration. Maybe you never even had the chance to attend Bible school. Here are some questions.
- Were you able to understand the idea of ‘backgrounding’ the action in a sentence using participles?
- Did you understand the meaning that could be gleaned from the choice to use a participle, and not a finite verb?
If so, then the problem is not with your understanding of grammar, the problem is with your access to the analyzed data. Right now, there is no access without years of study, and in this user’s case, keeping his Greek skills fresh, right? My personal mission in life is to address the ACCESS issue.
I have spent the last 12 years studying the problem, proposing and testing solutions, and coming up with a plan. What if ALL of the backgrounded actions in the NT were identified? What if there were a visual-filter type label on them so that as you were reading the text you could distinguish main actions from backgrounded ones? Would that be helpful? What if I did the same with 15 other of the most useful devices I found in my research? What if you could see all of these devices identified right in the text? This way you would not be distracted from the biblical text by reading a separate commentary. What if the text was organized into a block outline, breaking down the complexity of the text to help you better understand how it flows and how it is organized hierarchically?
If these questions pique your interest, then you will be interested in a resource that is set to go on Pre-Publication in the next few weeks. It is called the Lexham High Definition New Testament, part of a new series of original language resources that we are working on. It catalogs and graphically identifies all occurrences of a specific set of devices, like backgrounding, that the biblical writers used, but which are largely invisible without knowledge of Greek.
Many of these devices are based on the work of Bible translators, and are not even taught in seminary classes. The only way to learn them at this point is to slog through the linguistics literature like I have done for the last decade. This required developing an extensive knowledge of cognitive linguistics, pragmatics and syntax. Having done that, and having annotated where all of the devices occur in the text, the problem of access to the data is only partly solved.
The next step is to explain the concepts based on our idiomatic usage in English. Every language has to accomplish the same basic set of tasks. Since the annotated devices accomplish a specific task, I can explain the Greek device by analogy to how the same task is accomplished in English, regardless of how it might be translated. In other words, it would not matter if a Greek participle is translated as a main verb in English as long as you understood that it is backgrounded, right? This is a new way of thinking about these issues, a great complement to working with your preferred translation.
There is another problem. My analysis of these devices is based on the Greek text, not an English version. This means that somehow the data needs to be exported and mapped to an English version so that non-Greek or ‘rusty-Greek’ folks can access it. Until two years ago, this would have been impossible. Logos has invested the time and money into creating reverse interlinears, where the original language words are aligned to the corresponding words of the English translations. This allows the data that I have annotated to the Greek to be exported and displayed in English translations. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Greek is not English! Not every Greek device maps well into English, so we combined and culled down from about 40 concepts in Greek to 17 in English.
What is displayed in English is actually Greek data. If you find concepts like backgrounding valuable, and the want to get access to things that you would likely not even have learned if you had done advanced Greek study, it will soon be accessible to you mapped onto an English translation.
Not every concept is easy enough to understand with a thumbnail sketch for an introduction. However, a good many of them ARE that simple, but access to the data has been the ongoing problem. We have taken the very best of these devices and mapped them into English in the Lexham High Definition New Testament. There will be another, more detailed and more technical version of the data that is mapped onto the Greek text that will also be released, called the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament.
I appreciate the frustration people have felt about helpful information being restricted to the few that had the aptitude and discipline to reach the advanced levels of original language study. There is a tremendous amount of information that will remain restricted to this domain, based on the nature of it. However, there is a lot of practical stuff that can be exported and applied by folks if only they had the access to it. This frustration has been my motivation for getting up at 4:30am several days a week since 1993 to do research. I worked construction for the last 15 years to provide for my family and fund my study. Logos hired me in October 2006 because they believed that the insight into Scripture that users would gain from this project was worth the investment to produce it.
There is not another resource like the Lexham High Definition New Testament, where a collection of the most useful discourse devices are pulled together and practically applied. I will be blogging about a different device from the Discourse NT series each week for the next few months. I do not want information that would be beneficial to people like you, people who are smart and motivated to study God’s Word, to remain restricted to the few. I have had several scholars rebuke me for taking on such a project, saying people might misuse it. People are already misusing English versions, so why not give them something that might curb some of the abuse and misunderstanding?
Update: Both products are now available for pre-order: