Review of Runge's "Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament" Pt 8

For some odd reason, a few months back the thought crossed my mind:  Humans don’t eat humans (for the most part), so, isn’t it weird that animals eat animals?  In the end, I guess it’s not all that odd but the initial though kind of made me pause and ponder the concept for a few minutes.  Now, this may be a very crude analogy, but it is something that helps me understand the concept of “Metacomments” (denoted by the symbol V) which Runge talks about in Pt 2/Ch 5.  Runge defines a metacomment as the occasion “When speakers stop saying what they are saying in order to comment on what is going to be said, speaking abstractly about it” (101).  In other words, it is the act of commenting on a forthcoming comment.  So, how does my analogy above relate?  Well, like metalanguage, which is using language to describe language (an act of turning language in on itself) and metacomments, which is using comments to describe comments (an act of turning comments in on themselves), it is helpful for me to picture this in my mind like the act of humans or animals turning in on themselves.  Of course, it is much more abstract; it is language or comments turning in on themselves.  So, if I were to replace my thoughts a few months back with “comments” instead of animals, I might have wondered:  “Isn’t it odd that comments can turn in on themselves?”

Now, maybe that is not at all helpful to you; I warned you, it is a crude analogy.  Yet, it works for me.  A comment turned in on itself is nothing more than a comment about a comment.  Think of it as a two-part comment, let’s say, Part A and Part B.  In a metacomment, both parts are comments.  However, A is commenting on B.  For example, if Part B was the comment “going to church is important” then Part A, the metacomment, could be “I want you to know that…”  This forms the whole sentence:  “VI want you to know thatgoing to church is important.”  The comment “going to church is important” could stand on its own, but I have interrupted and slowed down the sentence thereby drawing attention to it, by using the metacomment “I want you to know that…”

Jesus uses metacomments when he says things like “Truly I say to you” or “ It has been said” or “I tell you the truth”.  Runge contends that metacomments like these “are used to introduce significant propositions, ones to which the writer or speaker wants to attract extra attention” (102).  The key marker for distinguishing whether a comment is indeed a metacomment or not, is to determine if the “speaker is interrupting what is being talked about in order to comment on what is going to be talked about” (102).  Since this is the case, the metacomment could essentially be removed from the text “without substantially altering the propositional content” (102).  This challenges the old Form Critical readings of the NT which asserted that many such coments were disclosure, request, petition or introduction formulas (103). 

In addition to this claim, Runge’s following suggestions are well-received.  Metacomments 1) Function as indicators regarding the author’s intent, and 2) Help readers understand both the text and the author’s stance towards the text (or what is being said) (105).  Thus, when Paul says “I want you to know” or “I do not wish you to be ignorant”, this helps readers both understand Paul’s intent as well as the position he takes on what is being said (106). 

According to Runge, “Metacomments are often used to create a mitigated form of a command, one that makes the point less directly than does an imperative verb form” (107).  It is akin to saying to someone, “Now, I want you to listen and listen real good” or “Now, I want you to think about this before you answer”.  These are mitigated forms of commands; they do not demand that the hearers do these things but they do contain a sort of implicit expectation that indeed, they will, without question, do them.  So, metacomments can strengthen exhortations, highlight new boundaries in a discourse, slow down or create a pause in a discourse and emphasize subsequent propositions.  Think of it as a type of “dramatic pause” (112) in the discourse. 

Additionally, there are a number of fpds (forward-pointing devices) such as redundant vocatives and purposeful attention-getters (117-22).  A great example of redundant vocatives is found in Eph 6.1, 4-5, where Paul addresses the Ephesians with the following vocatives: ta. te,kna (children!), oi` pate,rej (fathers!) and oi` dou/loi (slaves!).  As for the attention-getting fpds, Runge lists a handful: ivdou, (behold!), avmh,n (truly!), avlhqw/j (certainly!), ouvai, u`mi/n (woe to you!), o]j e;cei w=ta avkou,ein (let whoever has ears…!).

There is much value in what Runge is presenting here!  I do wonder if metacomments, in addition to looking forward, can also look backward.  For example, in class someone drew attention to 1 Cor 12.19ff the other day, where Paul says, “we have been speaking…”  Certainly, this points forward but in some real sense, it also points backward.  Can a metacomment function this way?  It does seem to meet the criteria of interrupting the discourse so as to comment on a comment (or comments), but it is not merely forward-pointing.  Also, I wonder, along with one of my professors, Fred Long, if Runge has considered in any depth the occasion when a metacomment might point forward to something else that points backward (e.g. 1 Cor 14.39, 15.58).  These are just a few questions I have at this point.  As I continue to read through this grammar, I am all the more excited about recommending it to you.  So, if you haven’t yet, surf your way over toLogs and get your copy.

Oh, and by the way, here are the preceding seven parts of this series:

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