Review of Runge's "Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament" Pt 6

In Part 2, Chapter 4 of Runge’s Discourse Grammar, the discussion focuses on “forward-pointing” devices. Such devices are “conventions used to attract attention to something significant in the discourse” that is, devices used to garner attention to elements of the discourse that otherwise would not have been recognized. (59). According to Runge, there are two criteria used to qualify and classify these devices:  1) None of the forward-pointing devices is actually required to understand the content that is being pointed to, and 2) Not only is the forward­­-pointing device unnecessary to understand the content of the forthcoming material, but in fact, the following material would actually be conveyed more simply without it (59).  To put it differently:  forward-pointing devices (fpd) are unneeded and can even be distracting; however, this need not be an inherently negative distraction!

For Runge, forward-pointing is denoted by the symbol D, while what it is pointing to, that is, the “target”, is connoted by the symbol C.  These symbols are quite helpful as they make me think of bow hunting, an event wherein an arrow is shot towards a target.  With the text, the author is the bow shooter, the forward-pointing device is an arrow ready to be shot and the target is somewhere ahead, out in front of the author, waiting to be engaged.  In English, as Runge points out, we use forward-pointing devices quite often.  The following phrases are a small sample of such devices:  Get this!  Listen to this!  Guess what!  You know what?  Here’s the deal!  This is my final offer. (61)  Likely, you can imagine certain situations in which you would use such phrases, for example, when breaking news to a friend, when sharing an important story, when clarifying statements, ideas or circumstances, when making a deal, etc.

So, as Runge asks, “why use a forward-pointing reference?”  Can we not get on with it and simply make the point that we want to get around to?  According to Runge, fpds function to slow down the discourse, which then allows anticipation to be built up causing the reader to expect something important or surprising to be said, in short, “it has the pragmatic effect of attracting extra attention to the target of the fpd” (61).  It seems to me that the most difficult aspect of wrapping one’s mind around this is concept is attempting to distinguish between the use and importance of the devices.  To put it differently, it can be difficult to make sense of the fact that the fpd is not needed and can even be distracting, yet is still there, in the text.  Think about the phrases used above “Listen to this!” and “You know what?”  The word “this” in each of those phrases is unneeded.  Indeed, one could simply say “Listen!” and “You know…” and still get the meaning of the point across as well as point forward.  The terms “this” and “what” are unneeded, yet they serve the function of helping point forward; one might say that they doubly assist readers in not skirting over the forward pointedness of the phrases.  Both “Listen!” and “You know…” point forward by themselves.  However, the terms “this” and “what” qualify the fpds and again, function to doubly assist readers in not missing the anticipation and/or the target.

Based on the principle that choice implies meaning, then, even though these fpds are not needed, they are still significant.  Runge surveys three types of fpds:  Interrogatives, Demonstratives and Adverbs.  I will deal with each of these elements in-turn here.  When it comes to interrogatives, Runge considers the terms ti,(what?) pou/ (where?) and poi,ou (what kind?).  In my view, it makes complete sense that interrogatives would be forward pointing as indeed, they expect some kind of response or answer.  Thus, little time really needs to be spent on this topic.  A couple of comments, however, are in order.  Firstly, it seems to me that when reading the New Testament (NT) one can use the presence of questions as alerts to possible fpds and targets.  Understanding fpds as telegraphs may be helpful in this respective; readers now have something to anticipate.  Secondly, forward pointing interrogatives can also serve to strengthen an author’s point.  As Runge says, when an author asks questions, over and against simply getting straight to the point, it provides listeners with an opportunity to think about the matter and let it “sink in” (66).

Similar to interrogatives, demonstratives can also function as fpds, they can “accomplish the task of attracting extra attention to a target” (66).  When speaking of demonstratives, Runge focuses only on tou,tw|and its related form tau,thn.  Interestingly, Runge asserts that within the NT fpds are “most often associated with the writings of John and Paul” (66).  For example, in Jn 14.21, the fronted prepositional phrase tau,thn th.n evntolh.npoints forward to the target avgapw/n to.n qeo.n avgapa/| kai. to.n avdelfo.n auvtou/.  The author could have just quoted the commandment without using the fpd via a demonstrative, however, the fpd slows the reader down, causes him or her to think about it and both draws more attention to the target/commandment than had he not used it.

Lastly, Runge speaks of adverbs.  His comparison/contrast of adverbs and pronouns is very helpful.  If we understand pronouns as substitute words that are anaphoric, that is, pointing backwards (to a noun), then we can understand some adverbs as cataphoric, that is, words that are pointing forward to a target.  Runge actually calls these types of adverbs “pro-adverbs” by which he means substitute words that stand in for and point forward to the kinds and degrees of verbal actions taking place.  For example, in Matthew 6.9, we find the fronted adverb ou[twj (in this way), which appears in the phrase “This way, then, you pray…” and is pointing forward to the phrase Pa,ter h`mw/n o` evn toi/j ouvranoi/j))) (Our Father who is in heaven…).  Here, the adverb, or to use Runge’s terminology, the pro-adverb, is pointing forward to a target phrase which provides the “kind” of prayer that the disciples should say.  Pro-adverbs can stand in the place of entire kinds and degrees of actions and can serve to highlight other minor or major themes in the discourse.  Runge offers preachers the following axiom:  “The same kind of attention-getting strategy can be utilized in your teaching or preaching” (69).

A very insightful and illuminating chapter, this portion of the book still raises questions for me.  For example, what about other types of questions, can/do they function as fpds?  There are hundreds of questions within the NT, perhaps surveying more of these would help further substantiate Runge’s arguments.  And what about the terms ouv or mh,, which often anticipate answers (even if there are expected rhetorical answers) are these fpds?  Or, what about Paul’s greetings or other such literary forms (e.g. miracle pericopae which point forward to a point or theme)?  These are just a few of the questions that arose for me and which I hope to continue thinking about and exploring as I read this excellent grammar.  Again, let me remind you, if you haven’t picked up your own copy over at Logos, you should go ahead and do so!

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