Understand the Biblical Writers on Their Own Terms

discourse analysis

The Greek text has much to offer those teaching and preaching, but gleaning these insights can be a frustrating experience. Too often, people expect that word studies or assigning a syntactic label to a construction is as good as it gets. But the new Discourse Analysis Bundle from Mobile Ed opens the door for those with an introductory knowledge of Greek to go deeper than they ever thought possible. In these courses, you’ll be introduced to significant discourse devices that the biblical writers used to prioritize and structure their message. You’ll learn how things like forward-pointing devices were used to help the original audience know that something important was about to be said.

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Accessing the Original Languages Using Logos Discourse Resources

The Problem

Few would deny the importance of learning Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic for teaching and preaching. Despite this high view of the original languages, I’ve heard numerous pastors lament the limited practical payoff of investing seminary time and effort in learning languages. As language skills get rusty, it takes more and more effort to do the kind of passage analysis that the professor recommended. Language study can end up becoming more word study than passage study. This is not a new problem, and it is not going to go away anytime soon. However, I have made it my mission in life to see the receding tide of interest in original language study turned around. The big question is how to do it.

An Idea

While researching the problem, I found that Bible translators had applied modern linguistics to the study of biblical languages in incredibly useful ways. There was a problem, though. Their work was not applied to exegesis, and it was horribly technical. The result: few scholars in biblical studies saw any value in it. I tested out the ideas on students and was surprised with what I found. Yes, linguistics can be complex, and yes, it takes extensive training to be able to completely analyze a discourse. But—and this is a very important but—once students had a basic knowledge of the devices and saw where they occurred in a passage, they were in a much better position to understand the overall flow of the text. So besides just learning the concepts, people needed access to this very specialized data (more on the access issue here). My mission had gained a bit more focus.

A Solution

I spent the next five years writing my doctoral dissertation and brainstorming a new kind of database. Meanwhile, Logos moved their company headquarters from Oak Harbor, WA, to Bellingham, where I had been living since 1985. I showed them my ideas and waved my arms to describe what my idea would look like. They took a risk, and here’s what’s come about.

  • Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament: original language databases identifying the most exegetically significant discourse devices and providing a basic propositional breakdown to help you digest the syntax. If you have a basic knowledge of the language—even if it’s very rusty—then these resources will enhance your study.

There was a fairly common response to these resources: “Where has this stuff been? Why didn’t I learn this in school?”

The High Definition OT and NT provide most of the same Hebrew and Greek analysis, but they display it on the ESV text. These resources also come bundled with their original language counterparts.

  • Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: After the NT databases shipped, I was often asked how someone could better understand the devices and their relationship to traditional grammar and exegesis. We needed a grammar book designed for folks with a traditional background in Greek. The Discourse Grammar has been endorsed by leading scholars like Dr. Peter Gentry and Dr. Daniel Wallace, and it’s being used at leading seminaries like Southern Seminary, Dallas Seminary, and Knox Theological Seminary.

I made some rather unscholarly (goofy?) videos to demonstrate that discourse grammar is not brain surgery—it’s stuff we do every day.

  • Introducing Greek Discourse Grammar: Video Series: After receiving invitations from schools to come and teach a discourse grammar course, we decided to make a video series that provides an overview of the Discourse Grammar concepts using things like funny road signs and jokes to help you better understand how we use language and to show how this understanding can enhance your exegesis. Here are some samples from the series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  • Greek New Testament Discourse Bundle: This bundle includes the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament, Lexham High Definition New Testament: ESV Edition, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, and the High Definition Commentary: Philippians, along with a collection of essays from leading scholars in discourse studies dedicated to my mentor, Wycliffe translator Stephen Levinsohn. This bundled set saves you nearly $75 compared to buying the resources individually.

Turning the Tide

There is a belief that if you read long enough and widely enough in the original languages after leaving school, you will gain a deeper insight into Greek and Hebrew. While this may be true, the reality is that very few ever reach this level of competency. This is not a practical solution.

The growing suite of Logos discourse resources has been intentionally designed to give you the kind of insights that professors promised. And there are some new discourse projects in the works.

They say “all boats are lifted by a rising tide,” and this holds true for reinvigorating Greek and Hebrew study. Strengthening our exegetical skills will sharpen our understanding of Scripture and our ability to compellingly communicate its message. More effective preaching and teaching will ultimately strengthen the church. The Logos discourse resources represent a significant step forward. If you’ve already purchased some of the discourse resources and have recommendations for new users, be sure to post a comment about your experience.

Breaking Down Complexity with HDOT & HDNT

Although the Scriptures’ overall message is simple enough for even children to understand, there are spots in both testaments where the original-language grammar gets pretty complex. Complex enough that English translations often simplify it for readability. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it does make it harder to get back to the detail of the original. This is where the Lexham Discourse Bible and High Definition projects can fill a void, especially if you’ve never studied Greek or Hebrew.

Here’s what I’m talking about. In Deuteronomy 12:29–30, there are two commands, with a whole bunch of context given before them. Because of the complexity, most versions break up the one complex statement into a series of shorter ones. This is an appropriate translation strategy, but it can have the unintended consequence of obscuring the main points. The main points are the commands not to become ensnared with and not to inquire about the foreign gods in the land God is giving to Israel. But there’s some preamble to set the stage for these commands. Here’s what it looks like in the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible.

The blue “complex” statement on the left of verse 29 indicates that the main clause will, because of all the extra detail that precedes it, be indented one level. Verse 29 establishes the context in which the “big idea” commands apply (i.e., when they enter the land and dispossess the nations), but this is not the big idea. Verse 30 is indented one level, indicating this is where the main clause is found.

But wait, there’s more! The command “take care” in v. 30 is also not the big idea, creating another “complex” situation. This command is what’s called a metacomment, an attention-getting device that draws attention to something surprising or important that follows. In this case, the main points are actually in the commands beginning with “that”: not being ensnared to follow foreign gods and not inquiring about them. All that precedes is setting the stage for these important comments. Here is what the same passage looks like in the Lexham High Definition Old Testament.

This kind of detail is very hard to find in translation, but it can be easily found using the Lexham Discourse resources propositional outline.

We find the same kind of thing in the New Testament in Ephesians 2:1–5. Just as in Deut. 12:29–30, we find a complex construction that leads into yet another complex construction. You wouldn’t be able to find this kind of detail in most translations, due to their simplifying the complex sentence into several simpler ones. So what’s the big idea? That we have been made alive together with Christ. All the rest is (very important) scene-setting detail.

There are two parts to the scene-setting: the believer’s situation and God’s situation. Paul reminds us of the specific context in which God acted on our behalf, making us alive in Christ.

The Lexham Discourse resources offer you unparalleled access to detail like this, which you won’t find in most commentaries. They annotate all instances of 20-plus important exegetical devices, all displayed on a propositional outline. The Lexham High Definition New Testament: ESV Edition and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament: ESV Edition come with glossaries and introductions to help you learn how to get the most out of the resources. If you are interested in more of the original language detail, the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament are what you’d want; they come bundled with the HDOT and HDNT, respectively.

The New Testament resources are available for download, along with other supporting resources. The Old Testament resources will be shipping soon, and they’re available at a substantial discount.

For more information about the Lexham Hebrew Discourse Bible and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament, check out these posts:

How to Make Sense of Hebrew Word Order

Whether you’ve studied Greek and Hebrew or just read the interlinear line, you’ve probably noticed that the ordering of Greek and Hebrew words sounds remarkably like you’d expect Yoda from the Star Wars saga to speak. Most introductory grammars don’t even tackle the issue of word order. So is there any exegetical significance to the Greek and Hebrew word order? Absolutely!

Most traditional grammarians like Gesenius or A. T. Robertson recognized two general motives for placing information in front of the verb: contrast and emphasis. Newer grammars like Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar and Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, applying principles from modern linguistics, have sharpened our understanding of word order. But unless you are a biblical language expert specializing in information structure, you’d be hard-pressed to accurately analyze word order until just recently.

The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament provide you with sentence-by-sentence word order analyses. Accompanying introductions help you understand the important difference between emphasis and frame of reference (traditionally called contrast). The Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament is currently available in a special bundle with six other resources including the Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament and the High Definition Commentary: Philippians.

The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible will be shipping soon, helping you identify and understand the same useful concepts that pastors and teachers have come to value in the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament. The initial release will provide an analysis of Genesis–2 Samuel. The entire database is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013.

For those of you who’ve never studied Hebrew or Greek, the Lexham High Definition: ESV Edition resources mark every place where the biblical writers have used word order or some other device to emphasize important ideas. If you buy the Greek or Hebrew database, the ESV Edition comes bundled with it. All these resources include a glossary and introduction to help you get the most out of the text.

Remember how I said you’d need an expert in biblical languages to properly analyze word order? Well, about a year ago Logos hired Josh Westbury as a Hebrew language specialist to partner with me in completing the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible/HDOT project. He is currently in a doctoral program with my former adviser and friend Christo Van der Merwe. Look for Hebrew versions of popular resources like Discourse Grammar of the GNT and Lexham High Definition Commentaries written in conjunction with my new colleague, Josh!

Who’s in the Spotlight?

One of the big challenges in studying Old Testament stories is identifying the central character, the one to whom the writer wants you paying close attention. This is especially true in complex stories like that of Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing, in which Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau each play an important role. So how do you find the central character, the one in the spotlight?

The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament help you find information like this by marking all the places where the most important linguistic devices occur. The device we’ll look at today is overspecification.


Think about the last time you introduced someone to someone else. Chances are you gave a name (“This is Jayson…”) plus some specific connection to you (“. . . my neighbor” or “. . . a friend from work”). You picked the most relevant connection for the context, which required you to choose which connection to use. Here’s what I mean. If I were speaking at a conference, they’d never introduce me as “Ruth’s dad” or “Jayson’s friend.”  They’d pick the connection most relevant to the context, like “scholar-in-residence” or “doctor of biblical languages.” After the introduction, they’d only use my name, usually there’s no more mention of the connection. Usually, that is.

Genesis 27

Genesis 27 recounts the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing. The main characters are already well established from the preceding context, as is their connection to one another. So why is it that the writer keeps repeating their connection to one another, e.g., “Esau his older son” (Gen 27:1), “Jacob her son”, and “Esau your brother” (Gen 27:6)? What is accomplished by these overly specific connections? They exist for two reasons; we’ll cover the first one in this post.

Since connections are only needed when someone is first introduced, repeating them where they’re not required helps us see where the writer has placed the spotlight. How? Even though the connection is unneeded, it still instructs us how to connect the person to the story. Here’s how it works. The story opens with Esau connected to Isaac as “his son” in v. 1, instructing him to fix him a savory meal. After Rebekah hears of Isaac’s plans, she calls for Jacob, “her son.” Note the shift here. He could have simply been called “Jacob” or alternatively connected to Isaac as “his son.” By connecting Jacob to Rebekah, the writer shifts the spotlight from Isaac to Rebekah just as Rebekah begins hatching a plan to divert Isaac’s blessing from Esau to Jacob.

In Gen. 27:11, overspecification signals another shift in the spotlight, just before Jacob protests against Rebekah’s request. He’s no longer called “her son”; instead, Rebekah is called “his mother.” This new connection forces us to the new initiator.

The coolest example of overspecification comes as Jacob presents the meal he’s prepared to Isaac. Gen 27:17 states that Rebekah gives the food to “Jacob her son,” who, in turn, takes it to “his father.” Here the connections and spotlight shift from Rebekah to Jacob. In v. 20, as Isaac questions the identity of the meal-bearer, he speaks to “his son!” Which one? He’s not sure, and the writer of Scripture captures this ambiguity by changing from “Jacob” vaguer “his son!” In v. 21, as Isaac prepares to touch and smell the one addressing him, there are no connections provided! Why not? It avoids making any judgment about who’s initiating, whether Jacob will triumph or whether Isaac will reject his claim.

Finally in v. 22, as Isaac gives in to Jacob’s request, the expression “Isaac his father” is used, connecting him to Jacob right at the point that Isaac decides to go along with Jacob’s request, despite his misgivings.

The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and the High Definition Old Testament use a silhouette symbol () to mark all the overly specific references.

In Gen 27 this devices is used to signal shifts by providing new connections between participants. The changes coincide with shifts in initiators, heightening the drama of an already exciting story. The resource annotates all occurrences of 30 of the most exegetically significant discourse devices, and it includes both an introduction and a glossary that help you understand what each accomplishes. The analysis also provides a block-indent outline to help you break down the complexities of Hebrew syntax.

There’s also a version specially designed for those who haven’t studied Hebrew: The Lexham High Definition Old Testament  (HDOT). Even though the analysis is based on the Hebrew text, nearly all the same discourse devices are available, displayed on the ESV text.

Both resources come with an introduction and glossary to explain the concepts. Plus the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible comes bundled with the HDOT in a six-volume bundle: the Hebrew and the English together at a special price.

There’s a parallel set of New Testament resources currently available that use the same symbols and same linguistic framework:

These resources are part of a growing suite of exegetical resources that apply cutting-edge linguistic research to day-to-day study, helping you find important details often lost in translation.

Pre-order your copy of the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament while they’re available on Pre-Pub. Then check out the rest of our Lexham resources.

Following the Unexpected Christ

Logos Talk is bringing you special Holy Week devotionals from a number of authors. If you’d like more resources to prepare your heart for Easter, Logos has discounted a number of Holy Week titles.


Expectations play a huge role in how we process life. Whenever I’m frustrated that God’s plan doesn’t match my expectations, the Apostle Peter’s experience gives me renewed hope.

During Jesus’ last Passover celebration with his disciples, he states that he is pursuing a path they couldn’t follow. Peter makes it clear that this doesn’t meet his expectations (Jn 13:37), even exclaiming that he’s willing to lay down his life for Jesus! Imagine hearing Jesus’ response: “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly I say to you, the rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times!” (Jn 13:38 LEB).


This disheartening response builds upon Peter’s expectations, but in a way he doesn’t expect. At Peter’s first meeting with Jesus, Jesus changes his name to the Rock (Jn 1:40-42). After many of the disciples start leaving Jesus, the Lord asks the 12 if they’re leaving too. Peter is the first to respond, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:66-68 LEB). At this point, it seems that Peter has it all figured out: He is willing to die for Jesus and publicly proclaim Jesus’ reign.

But then there are times where Jesus’ actions run counter to Peter’s expectations of what the Christ should do—in these moments, we see everything change for Peter. When Jesus wants to wash Peter’s feet, Peter says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? . . . You will never wash my feet!” (Jn 13:6-8 LEB). We see the same kind of response in Gethsemane as Jesus is being arrested; Peter attempts to prevent it by striking someone with his sword (Jn 18:10-11). Acquiescence  isn’t what he expects of the Christ! It seems that he expects a zealous savior to overthrow Rome, and responds as such. He expects to die fighting, and so he chooses to do so.

Yet the most disturbing portrait of Peter is his denial of Jesus—exactly as Jesus foretold (Jn 18:15-18, 25-27). Whatever indignation Peter might have felt at Jesus’ prediction must have changed to incalculable regret, and shame. What had begun so promisingly, what Peter had declared that he would give his life for, seems to turn to ashes right before him.


Let us be thankful that the story doesn’t end here! John’s gospel offers us an amazing picture of restoration. Peter seems shocked that the tomb is indeed empty (Jn 20:2-9), but we’re left wondering if there is still a place for him. Is there a way back from his shattered expectations and disappointment? We find our answer when Jesus interviews him on the beach, questioning him about his love. Jesus demonstrates that there is indeed a way back (Jn 21:15-19); it begins by exchanging our expectations for a willingness to follow in Jesus’ steps: to love him and others.

What are we expecting this Easter week? If it is anything other than humbly following Jesus, it’s time to reset our expectations.

Honoring Stephen H. Levinsohn: The Backstory

We announced the Steven Runge’s presentation of  Discourse Studies and Biblical Interpretation: A Festschrift in Honor of Stephen H. Levinsohn to Levinsohn on the blog on July 5. Here is the story behind this event.

We all have people who’ve played a pivotal role in shaping and equipping us. It has been a great blessing working with Logos to produce projects like the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament, the Lexham High Definition New Testament, and A Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. But these projects didn’t just come out of a vacuum. They began with a dissatisfaction with how I was taught Greek and Hebrew, and the inspiration of a mentor who showed me a way forward.

When I studied languages in seminary, I left feeling like I hadn’t gained the proficiency needed to really use them effectively in ministry. I soon found many others felt the same way about their language training, like something was missing. The question was, what exactly was that “something?” I felt called to find more effective ways of using biblical languages in ministry, but had little idea of where to start. I began praying that God would raise up a mentor who could equip me to do what I felt called to do.

The person that God raised up was Stephen Levinsohn. Levinsohn has spent his career as a Bible translator with Wycliffe and as an International Linguistics Consultant with SIL International. He was translating in the jungles of Columbia before I was born. By the time I’d finished seminary in 1999, Stephen had worked with literally hundreds of languages, becoming one of SIL’s top discourse specialists.

I stumbled across an article he had written in 2000 that was exactly the kind of work I wanted to be able to do. Levinsohn spent most of his year teaching translators, going to the remote corners of the world where the translators were located rather than having them come to where he lived in England. After several years of correspondence I hit a wall in my learning. I had read about all I could digest, and really needed face-to-face time where I could ask questions and get ideas clarified. I asked if there was any way I could go on one of his trips with him to learn more about what he did.

It just so happened that due to a medical issue Levinsohn was unable to travel for a few months, so he had arranged to teach a discourse analysis class in England. Thankfully, it was offered in the dead of winter, the easiest time for me to shut down my construction business. The skills I learned from that course, along with his continued mentoring, have proven invaluable to fulfilling my calling of helping pastors and students better understand the Bible in its original languages.

So how do you thank someone who’s had such a big influence on you? Well in the academic arena, former students and colleagues of a professor will write articles, collect them in a book called a Festschrift, and present them to the honoree on some special occasion, like their retirement or significant birthday. About two years ago I began laying the groundwork to organize such a book for Stephen Levinsohn. I contacted scholars he’d worked with, arranged for a special session when the book could be presented, and then served as editor for the project. John Barry of the Publications department did an incredible job overseeing the project and helping me through the process. The goal was to surprise Levinsohn and present the book to him at the International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in London this July.

On the morning of July 4, 2011, a group of scholars gathered for the sole purpose of honoring a career missionary’s contributions to biblical scholarship. Everything came off without a hitch, Levinsohn didn’t find out about any of it until the day before! Several of the contributors read papers we had written, and that night we had a lovely dinner overlooking the Thames River. What a memorable day!

Mentors have played an incredibly significant role in shaping me, and I believe its important to recognize their contribution. Seeing Stephen honored has been a bucket-list item for years. His work has largely gone unrecognized since much of it is focused on translation. His mentoring has saved me years of learning things the hard way.

Many times in the last year when I’d be telling someone about the Festschrift project and why I was doing it, I’d choke up or get tears in my eyes. It wasn’t business, it was very personal. It struck me that although God had given me a calling, I could not have done it without mentors like Stephen equipping and preparing me. During one of my last conversations with Stephen on the trip, he reminded me of the importance of 2 Timothy 2:2, asking “Who are you pouring into?” It was a great challenge.

If you have wondered about discourse studies and what it has to offer for interpreting the Bible, I’d strongly recommend ordering Discourse Studies and Biblical Interpretation: A Festschrift in Honor of Stephen H. Levinsohn. The list of contributors is a who’s who of biblical scholars working in this area. And on a personal note, think about those people who’ve played pivotal role in shaping you. Find some way of letting them know the impact they’ve had on you; don’t let it go unspoken. And be sure to pass on what has been entrusted to you!

If you could do a tribute project for a mentor who has been a huge influence and inspiration in your life, who would it be? Leave us a comment and tell us about them.

Particulars of Participles


Just in case you were wondering, Greek is different from English. But it’s not just the words that differ, there are also different preferences about how to get certain jobs done. These differences often result in a mismatch, where English won’t allow you to do something with a participle that would be perfectly natural in Greek. No worries, it just means that we need to find some means of mapping the information across other than a literal translation. This is where the Lexham High Definition New Testament (HDNT) and Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament (LDGNT) come in. These resources utilize a custom markup scheme to help you understand what each part of the verse is doing, regardless of how it is translated. Let’s take a look at one of my favorite things: participles! These are the verbs in English that mostly end in –ing, like hiking, biking and eating. Basically, participles let you talk about an action as though it were a thing. Because of the mismatch is usage between Greek and English, Greek participles often get translated as though they were a main action. It doesn’t sound like a big deal until you understand what their main purposes are. The participles the precede the main action de-emphasize or background the action compared to the main action. This allowed the biblical writers to keep the spotlight on the main action while still mentioning other things that happened. If you lose the participle, then you lose the focus of the writer’s spotlight (see an earlier post on this topic here).

The HDNTand LDGNTuse grayscale to make sure that the backgrounded actions can be clearly seen. This graphic representation let’s you see at a glance what each part of the discourse is doing, regardless of how it is translated. Take a look at Ephesians 2:1-5 to see what I mean about Greek allowing things that just would not be acceptable in English.

Eph 2 5.png

Paul has only one big idea in this whole section: God making us alive with Christ. All of the rest is set-up so that we understand all that was going on when he did this. We were dead in our sins, but God was rich in His mercy even though we were walking in disobedience. This is very important information, or Paul would not have included it. But in the big scheme of things, it is intended to set the stage for his one main thought. To try and keep all of the Greek complexity in a readable English translation is just not possible. But having all of the background information translated as though it was the main action can distract us from clearly seeing where Paul’s spotlight is focused, making us lose focus on the big idea.

The HDNT and the LDGNT help bridge the divide, making sure your focus stays sharp. They do this not just with the graphics, but also with the block outline. This simple outline enables you to clearly see the flow of the text while still reading it in its original order, unlike traditional diagrams. The participles that precede the main action are labeled Circumstance in the left column, whereas the ones the follow the main action are labeled Elaboration. These other participles spell out what the main action looks like in practice. In v. 3, living in the passions of our flesh is elaborated upon as carrying out the desires of the body.

The goal of the HDNT is to help those who aren’t comfortable working in Greek to identify significant discourse devices are used by the writers and to understand their significance. For those who want more detail, the LDGNT provides much more, including analysis of word order to help you better understand the structuring of passages and much more.

Eph 2 5 ldgnt.png

The LDGNT comes with all of the HDNT resources bundled in the same package.

For those interested in learning more about participles, especially how the uses I describe mesh with more traditional approaches to grammar, check out the Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament book or teaching videos. There is a whole chapter devoted to the topic, beginning with how grammarians like Wallace, Robertson, BDF and others have treated the issue.

If you want to skip the detail and jump right to the exegetical conclusions, take a look at the High Definition Commentaries. The Philippians volume is in process, to be followed by Romans. This isn’t your standard commentary, as it focuses exclusively on talking you through the flow of the text, providing custom graphics to help you communicate your message in a sermon or Bible study.

Importance of Anchoring Expressions


This is a follow up to an older post where I made reference to something going on in Exodus 18. My topic today is the practice of orienting participants to a situation. For instance, I could be introduced or “anchored” as “the Logos scholar-in-residence,” “Mike’s friend,” or “the owner of the white GMC truck.” All of these relations are accurate, but not all are relevant for a given context. It might be relevant at a crash scene that I own a white truck (but it wasn’t my fault), but not at the beginning of a Logos Lecture series, right? We use the most relevant anchoring expression for the given context. Most of the time, it is so routine that we don’t give it a second thought when we read or hear one. But there are places where this general rule is broken, and paying attention to anchoring expressions can have a huge impact on your Bible study.

While reading Exodus 18, I noticed that Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law is called father-in-law a lot, like almost twice as many times as he is called Jethro in the context. This is the story where Jethro teaches Moses about delegation following the exodus from Egypt. Why is he called father-in-law so often? Why not priest of Midian, since most commentators seem to think this is the more relevant anchoring expression? After all, this is a story of one priest teaching another priest about administration, right? This is true, but there is a bit more going on under the hood.

In all but one instance where Jethro is introduced in Exodus, he is anchored as “priest of Midian” (here is a link to the search in Logos 4). After Moses marries Zipporah, Jethro’s daughter, he is also anchored as Moses’ father-in-law (here is another search on the Hebrew lemma for father-in-law in Exodus). This means we have competing options available. One of the primary principles in my approach to discourse is this: “Choice implies meaning.” If I chose option A instead of option B, then there is some meaning to be gleaned from the choice. What is the meaning here? Let’s take a look at the opening details of the story.

If a biblical writer includes a detail in a story—e.g. that Esau was hairy, or that Sarai was beautiful, or that David was ruddy and handsome while Goliath was tall, dark and ugly—then chances are you need to know the tidbit to get the point of the story. We have a few such details like this in Exodus 18, ones that are often overlooked.

The first important detail is the location. Moses has returned to the same place where the Lord had appeared to him in the burning bush, just as the Lord had announced in Exodus 3:12. This is the same place where Moses had been herding sheep for Jethro (his father-in-law, remember?), probably fairly near Jethro’s encampment. Detail One: after the exodus, Moses has returned to the very place he started, his old stomping grounds where he had herded for Jethro.

The second important detail is found in Exodus 18:2, where we learn that Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law, remember?) is coming to see Moses, and is bringing along Zipporah, Moses’ wife and their two boys After he had sent her away. Say what? When did Moses send Zipporah away? No matter how good the Logos 4 search engine is, you will not find reference to Moses sending Zipporah away in the OT, it ain’t there, this is the only mention of it. So why mention it here? Remember, if its there its important, right? We must need to know it to get the point of the story.

Let’s recap a bit so we can pull all these details together. The Lord has used Moses to deliver Israel from the Egyptians, and they have all returned to where Moses was first called by the Lord. Next, Moses has sent Zipporah and his sons away at some point before the trip. Even though Moses and Israel have been camping on Jethro’s back 40 acres, so to speak, Moses hasn’t taken the time to send for his wife and kids. Why not? What could be preventing him from doing so? Let’s keep reading.

After Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law, remember?) arrives with Moses’ wife and kids (whom he’d sent away, remember?), he takes the time to re-establish rapport with Moses. He listens to all that the Lord has done for Moses and Israel (see Exodus 18:8, even though v. 1 makes it clear that he had already heard these things through the grapevine. Have you ever (re)listened to old news from someone just because you knew it was important to them? This seems to be what Jethro was doing, as a good father-in-law. Then they enjoy fellowship together along with Aaron and the elders, sharing a sacrifice together.Finally, Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law, remember?) goes to work with Moses the next day, and oh what a sight it must have been. Verse 13 tells us that the people stood around from morning to evening waiting to have their disputes resolved. What does Jethro do (Moses’ father-in-law, remember?) He watches patiently. Then at some point he asks the same kind of “What are you doing?” question that my dad used to ask me when he saw me doing something the hard way. “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” (Exo. 18:14, ESV). It is one of those questions that is not so much for Jethro’s benefit as for Moses’. It requires him to look at things from a different perspective. And like a good father-in-law, Jethro highlights key details: Moses is doing it alone, and the people are standing around from morning to evening.

So why is Jethro called Moses’ father-in-law so many times? Why is this anchoring expression more relevant priest of Midian, even though most commentators stress the priest role? It is to counter the very thing that the commentators focus on. Even though Jethro could have used his authority as priest to tell Moses to do things differently, he doesn’t. Instead, the writer anchors him as father-in-law.

Stated differently, Jethro brings his daughter and his two grandsons to his son-in-law. Why bring them? Apparently because even though Moses had been so near for months, he had not taken the time to send for them. Why? Perhaps it had something to do with his day job consuming too much of his time. So what’s needed? To get Moses to change how he does things so that doesn’t wear out himself or the people (18:17-18). How does Jethro bring about the change? By coming as a father-in-law (who may have wanted to box the ears of the guy who didn’t have time for his daughter!) who took the time to reestablish rapport (vv. 6-12), who hung out with Moses enough that the latter knew he understood the problem (vv. 13-16). Then instead of shoving the solution down his throat on the basis of his authority as priest or father-in-law, he offers it up for Moses’ consideration (v. 19-23).

Anchoring expressions can play a big role in exegesis, and are one of the many kinds of things that you’ll find annotated in the Lexham Discourse Hebrew BIble and Lexham High Definition Old Testament. If you found this commentary helpful, then you’ll find more like it in the High Definition Commentary, a new series from Logos that helps you identify exegetical keys in the discourse, and understand the role they play. The Philippians volume is under way, to be followed by Romans.

If you’d like to read an article I wrote on this same topic of redundant anchoring expressions applied to Genesis 32, it is posted at my blog site.

Introducing New Testament Discourse Grammar: Video Series


As much as I like reading, there is just something about video that goes way beyond text alone. Even better is to see and hear an author teaching what they are passionate about. It is a great complement to just reading their book. This is exactly the kind of experience you’ll get from the Introducing New Testament Discourse Grammar: Video Series.

In June of this year, Logos hosted a workshop designed to equip pastors and students to get the most out of the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament and Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The result is more than ten hours of teaching and application in Introducing New Testament Discourse Grammar: Video Series.

Using everything from road signs and jokes to funny English translations, I show how we use discourse grammar every day. Why do we say things like “Here’s the deal” or “Guess what?” For that matter, how would we even go about understanding how they work? This is where discourse grammar comes in.

Introducing New Testament Discourse Grammar: Video Series explains the principles you need to understand not just how these devices work in English, but also how to apply them to your exposition of the Greek text. Discourse grammar is not just about exegesis, it is about communication. Understanding how these things work not only sharpens your exegesis, it also enhances your ability to communicate what you’ve learned. I show you how you can use English equivalents of discourse device to achieve the same kind of effect that Paul or Luke achieved in the Greek.

This video series will help reinvigorate your use of Greek. You will learn what each different device does in a passage and how to synthesize the pieces into a unified whole. Each concept is explained beginning with everyday English usage, then illustrated from NT passages. If you already have the Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, you’ll find fresh new examples and explanations that are only possible on video.

There are several excerpts from the video series for you to see what it has to offer. You will not find a more accessible or practical introduction to discourse grammar than these videos, so order today.

Introducing New Testament Discourse Grammar: Video Series is part of the growing suite of discourse-based materials developed by Logos: