Review of Runge's "Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament" Pt 7

Building on the previous discussion concerning how connectives function in relation to one another, Pt 2/Ch 4 is concerned with what Runge calls Point/Counterpoint sets and how they are related to propositions.  A “counterpoint” is indicated by the symbol B, while a point is marked with A.  While Runge refers to B as the proverbial first “shoe to drop” (73) and A as the shoe drop to follow, personally, I like to think of it as a 1-2 punch routine.  That is, Bmarks the initial, setup punch, which also prepares the way for a second punch (A) to follow.  In short, the writer hits the reader with a combination pattern; the first punch not only catches the reader’s/hearer’s attention, it also telegraphs an impending second hit/point to follow!  You may find it helpful to develop your own analogy!  I have found that even in just attempting to rethink such matters, whether I end up coming up with a different analogy in the end or not, is often helpful in leading me to a more clear understanding of such matters.

One example word that Runge uses in describing a point-counterpoint set is “although”.  Take for example, the following sentence:  Although I liked the introduction, the conclusion was very poor.”  Here, the term “although” functions as the initial punch in a 1-2 routine.  Even more, it is telegraphing that a second punch is on the horizon.  “Although” modifies the initial statement “I liked the introduction…”  Yet, this is followed with the counterpoint punch:  “…the conclusion was very poor.”  Citing Runge:  “The term point/counterpoint set describes clauses or clause elements that have been related to one another through one or more grammatical means” (73).  Runge helps substantiate this idea by examining four terms within this chapter:  me,n, eiv mh,, plh,n, and avlla,.  Each of these constraints force the reader/hearer to “relate the elements to one another in a particular way” (74).

For me, one of the most eye-opening aspects of this grammar has come in the way rethinking the use of me,n.  Where this has traditionally been viewed as related to de, or avlla,, thereby functioning correlatively, Runge offers a different and welcome suggestion, namely, that “me,n signals the presence of one common constraint: anticipation of a related sentence that follows” (75).  Thus, even where de, does not follow, me,nis always prospective—pointing ahead!  The most common occurrences of this point/counterpoint set are found in narratives and letters.  A great example (among many!) that Runge gives is Mt 3.11 where the me,n/de, set, while not needed because the contrasts are already explicit, serves the function of further accentuating or highlighting the contrast to an even greater degree!  While it has been ingrained in me to approach me,n/de, with the gloss of “one the one hand/on the other hand,” Runge’s suggestion that this me,n/de, point/counterpoint set functions, in the main, to further strengthen the connection between already present elements, is incredibly valuable.  Certainly, this opens us new options for how to approach this set when it comes to translation and interpretation! Here, me,n functions as the setup punch, while de, serves the purpose of delivering the second hit of the combination!

The next 1-2 punch or “point/counterpoint” example has to do with the use of “exception” or worded differently, “restriction” (83).  Basically, the punch format is as follows:  1) negation, 2) excepted/restricted element.  The conditional clause can alert us to such a phenomenon.  Runge’s illustration of the negation and exception/restriction combo is super helpful!  He explains it in terms of table that has a lot of items on it.  When the author delivers the first punch, he essentially knocks or sweeps everything off of the table.  That is the “negation” aspect; NOTHING remains on the table!  The second punch, however, would be akin to looking at all of the items now laying on the floor and proceeding to pick one of those items off of the floor and placing it once again on the table.  It is like saying, “This is not true at all (knocking everything of the table), except for this one thing (placing one thing back on the table; landing the second punch!).  Instead of simply pointing to one item among many on the table, the event of knocking everything off the table has a dramatic effect which is further accented by placing one item back on the table (that one item now receives all the attention)—an act that functions somewhat like the “punch line” of a joke in my opinion!

One example of this phenomenon can be found in Mk 6.4-5, where ouvk (the negation) is followed by eiv mh. (the exception). The statement “A prophet is not (ouvk) without honor” seems like a full-blown, totalizing statement.  If we stopped there, it seems like nothing else needs to be said; this is the final word!  Jesus has knocked every possibility off of the table of a rejoinder to this comment.  However, he adds a conditional statement, that is, an exception soon after.  In short, he seeks to qualify his own totalizing remark!  He says, “A prophet is not without honor (knocking stuff off the table), except (picking one item back up) in his hometown and among his relatives, and in his own household (sitting the item on the table and thereby bringing it squarely into view).”  We do this same thing very much today when we stereotype people groups but then go on to make exceptions for persons within those groups!  The negation/exception combo may be remembered by the saying “exception to the rule”; for example, when a law or command is given and then a sort of loophole is offered or found, the “exception to the rule” principle is at work.

Reviewing the third portion of this chapter, namely, the use of avlla, and/or plh,n to correct or replace, we already have a good analogy that we can stick with but do need to nuance.  Here, we use the same idea of knocking everything off of the table.  However, instead of picking an item from that initial group up off of the floor, this time we leave everything on the floor and bring in an item that previously was not part of the group, say, an item in our pocket or an item we took from another table or some shelf.  In my view, after reading this section, it seems that we can really no longer can simply use avlla,, as we traditionally have, as a mere adversative coordinating conjunction; now it seen to function within a point/counterpoint set where it functions as an attention-getting corrective to what it stands in contrast to (93).  For Runge, “elements introduced by avlla, and plh,n are highlighted for rhetorical purposes and could have been conveyed using more simplified structures” (92).

Let me give one example here and then follow-up with some concluding remarks.  In Php 2.4, Paul writes, “each one of you not looking out for his own interests” (B - counterpoint), “but (avlla,) also each of you looking out for the interests of others (A - point).”  Here, everything that’s on the table is within the phrase “each one of you not looking out for his own interests” and then, it is all knocked off the table.  A new element is brought in:  “but also each of you looking out for the interests of others.”  Here, the new element takes the place of the old element!  Going back to my boxing analogy of a 1-2 combo, we might say that the default combo is a jab (negation) followed by a left hook (exception).  Here, we keep the jab (negation) but replace the left hook (exception) with a right hook (avlla,).  We still have a 1-2 combo but have simply replaced one of the punch types.  The author is still setting up for a second punch but now he’s going to replace what might have normally been done, with a new type of strike.

So far, I have found this to be one of the richest sections of Runge’s book.  While I wonder if interrogatives can function as point/counterpoint sets (Runge does mention rhetorical questions in this section), I honestly cannot think of much more to question; the point of the material seems clear and evident.  So, having said that, once again, I would highly encourage you to get yourself a copy of Runge’s work and start to get your feet wet in the discourse approach.  You won’t regret it!

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