Attention-Getters

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.

I want to introduce one of the remaining concepts that is annotated in the new Lexham High Definition New Testament and the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament. You have probably heard at some point that sometimes the biblical writers will repeat key words because of their importance. This is not the only kind of repetition found in the New Testament. Bible translators studying both Scripture and other languages from around the world have found that sometimes the repetition of ideas or sentences has a different effect than highlighting the repeated word. Instead, the restatement of already known information is used to intentionally slow the pace of the story just before something surprising or important happens.

One of the ways the New Testament writers will slow things down before a significant speech is by saying ‘and answering he said to . . .’ even though no question was asked. Before significant event, they sometimes restate the action from the preceding sentence as backgrounded information in the sentence that follows (e.g. “They went to town. As they were going to town . . .). This repetition is often left untranslated, or is obscured in translation.

Repetition and other tools are used by writers to point ahead to significant conversations or events that follow, creating something like a speed bump with the unnecessary repetition. Here are some examples of what is called ‘tail-head’ repetition, where the end of one sentence (the ‘tail’) is repeated at the beginning of the sentence that follows (the ‘head’). We use this device in English to build suspense.

I heard a noise upstairs, so I decided to go up and check it out. As I was walking up the stairs, all of a sudden . . .

You can fill in the blank of what you think happens next, but it would likely be something surprising or unexpected, right? The same kind of repetition is found in the NT.

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20).

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matt 2:13)

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36)

In each of these verses, the bolded content was already mentioned in the previous verse. Note that just after the bolded content, big things happen. The italicized word ‘behold’ is an attention-getter, another forward-pointing device.

Another kind of repetition that frequently is used in the NT involves using extra speaking verbs to introduce speeches. This device is found in contexts where one speaker takes the conversation in a brand new direction, or where the speaker and hearer are both trying to take it different directions. In conversational English, we might report such a speech by saying, “So she says to him . . . then he says to her . . . .” Notice that even though the conversation that is being reported is a past event, it is acceptable to report it using present tense verbs (‘says’ instead of ‘said’). In English, the ‘historical’ present and the emphasis on the bolded words would attach significance to each turn in the conversation. The same kind of effect is achieved in the NT using repetition. Take a look at how Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is reported. The bolding identifies the repeated elements. The repeated words omitted in the ESV translation are in brackets.

Jesus answered [and said] him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Nicodemus [answered and] said to him, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9)

Jesus answered [and said to] him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? (John 3:10)

In v. 2, Nicodemus describes Jesus as a teacher sent from God. Jesus ‘answers’ even though Nicodemus has not asked a question. Jesus’ declaration that one must be born again takes the conversation in a whole new direction. Both Nicodemus’ reply and Jesus redirection are encoded using repetition. In v. 9, the Greek verb ‘answered’ is left untranslated, represented by a bullet in the ESV text.

As I have stated in earlier posts, the same basic content could have been just as easily communicated without the repetition (like what you often find in English translations), but would not have carried nearly the same zing as using the repetition. The use of these discourse devices represents the writer’s choice to attract extra attention to something, ostensibly because of its importance to the context.

If you are interested in devices like these, check out the description on the Pre-Pub pages of the Lexham High Definition New Testament and the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament. Links to previous blog posts describing other discourse devices can be found there.

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5 Responses to “Attention-Getters”

  1. Joan Korte May 28, 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    Phil, my main quandary when considering the LDGNT has to do with objectivity vs. subjectivity in conducting discourse analysis. I am inexperienced and basically ignorant of the concept of discourse analysis. I read some of Bill Mounce on the topic. What I would like to know is given that a particular scholar, in this case Dr. Runge conducts the analysis of the entire GNT, would another scholar arrive at the same kinds of results or would there be numerous differences with results? More or less, I am asking about “bias”. Would I become a Rungeianite? And I say that in all well intended humor :)

  2. Steve Runge May 28, 2008 at 2:16 pm #

    Joan,
    You ask a great question. Most of what I have analyzed is fairly objective in nature, and could be replicated by others using a comparable interpretive framework (i.e. a functional, cognitive, approach to discourse typology). What I am doing is better characterized as *discourse grammar* as opposed to *discourse analysis*, with the latter focused on trying to find the overall structure and message of a book. My analysis would give you the building blocks for doing such an analysis, but is more focused on documenting grammatical features and describing their discourse function. Each blog post has focused on one grammatical phenomenon and then described the task that it accomplishes in the discourse. I have striven to annotate only well documented, well attested discourse features. Most of what I have annotated relies upon the research of translators and other linguists. Other parts are original research which has either been peer-reviewed or presented at conferences for feedback.
    There are indeed aspects that involve subjectivity, as is the case with some of the decisions regarding the block outline. Lets say there is a main clause with a subordinate clause, followed by a coordinate clause (linked by ??? ‘and’). Which clause does coordinate clause link to: the main clause or the subordinate clause? Grammar alone cannot answer this question. In most cases the decision is fairly objective, but there are times when a good case could be made either way. This project is intended to function as a commentary, something that you interact with in order to ensure you engage all of the relevant issues related to the passage. In the same way that you might disagree with a commentator, I expect that some will disagree with judgments I have made.
    I have posted conference papers presented at SBL and ETS at http://www.logos.com/academic/bio/runge. I also chair a new section at ETS called ‘Discourse Grammar and Biblical Exegesis’, focused on making discourse-related research more accessible to biblical scholars. These papers document the research underlying the HDNT analysis, and include footnotes and bibliographies for readers.

  3. Joan Korte May 29, 2008 at 3:35 am #

    Dr. Runge, thank you for the explanation. It helps to know it is more grammatically based. I appreciate such a thorough answer.

  4. Michael Huffman May 29, 2008 at 7:18 am #

    Dr. Runge,
    I have purchased the HDNT on pre-pub and would like to know if you have an idea of when this will be shipped. Thanks and I really appreciate your work in the original language. I have a minor in Greek, but many of the things that you discussed were not discussed in the classroom. Thank you for all your work to make my study of God’s Word better.

  5. Peggy McAulay June 17, 2008 at 7:22 pm #

    As a non Greek student of the Word and A Precept Upon Precept Bible Teacher I would like to know what the benefits would be to purchase the LDGNT rather than the HDNT? Is it basically that one has the Greek text and the other doesn’t? Or are there more tools with the LDGNT that would benefit an English only student?
    Having worked with structuring in the inductive method your outlines are very enlightening. Thank you