Review of Runge's "Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament" Pt 2

Runge opens the preface of his grammar, A Discourse Analysis of the Greek New Testament, by noting that among New Testament (NT) scholars, those interested in linguistic analyses of texts, have often created more problems with and in their analyses than existed before they undertook their own work; often scholars merely “reshape the problems using complex jargon” (xvii). Some, like Daniel Wallace, have found this to be the case with those who have attempted to use Discourse Analysis (DA) on the NT. Thus, Runge’s grammar seeks to “fill this lacuna” by minimalizing the use of technical jargon and providing practical grammatical solutions to grammatical problems.

Runge is clear, however, that his work is not an attempt to simply reinvent the grammar wheel or to even “supplant previous work” (xvii) done in this field. Rather, A Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament seeks to help readers find their way through the maze of years and years worth of “contradictory claims” (xvii) from NT grammarians, specifically by describing discourse features apparent within the NT. Yet, Runge’s linguistic philosophy does not begin with nor is it grounded in Koine Greek. Instead, he argues for the viability of an analytic that is “cross-linguistic” (xvii), meaning that he wants to look at features common to all languages “rather than just focusing on Greek” (xvii). Runge describes this approach as “function-based,” which basically means that the discourse elements found in the Greek NT (GNT) are comparable to those found in other languages.

Having stated this, Runge proceeds to admit that certain portions of this grammar, specifically chapters 9-14, “are too complex to adequately equip the reader to do their own analysis after reading only this volume” (xviii). Immediately, the reader is left wondering how this squares with the earlier contention that this book “fills the lacunae” of other works that use overly technical jargon and concepts. The remedy, so-to-speak, is found in a “larger suite of discourse” (xviii) that Runge has created, particularly the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament (LDGNT) and the High Definition New Testament (HDNT). That the reader must spend an additional $100+ to be able to begin implementing Runge’s DA method might well be a turn-off for many readers—especially seminary students who often just cannot afford such resources!

Despite the cost, Runge believes that this approach, which he has invested his academic career in, “can sharpen exegesis and help turn the receding tide of interest in biblical studies” (xix). Even so, as Runge himself notes, this is all of little value if the benefits of DA are not “readily transferable to others” (xix), namely, parishioners, preachers, teachers, etc. (hence the subtitle: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis). While I find Runge’s approach fresh and exciting, I still have questions, which, hopefully will get answered as I continue reading. For example, at the outset, even though I am not in the main a linguist, I am wondering how DA works in a cross-linguistic setting where word order varies dramatically. I am also wondering if Runge will be able to escape the monotonous categorization that one finds in most other grammars or if he will actually end up doing what he accuses others of, that is, reinventing the grammar wheel with new jargon. Perhaps most of all, I am interested in seeing if the subtitle really bears the weight of its claims, that is, if it will assist someone like myself, who is often found in a teaching role within the church, in teaching and doing exegesis—a grammar that can accomplish this may well be worth more than its own weight in gold. Many grammars have promised such but they rarely ever deliver the goods! So, these are just a few of the questions that already, in the preface, I have started to ask. To be sure, there are others. Hopefully, I can raise those in future parts of this review but even more, I hope that those can be answered with some degree of promise and sufficiency. We shall see. For now, I will continue to take up and read!

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