Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice
A Denver Journal Review by Denver Seminary Professor Elodie Ballantine Emig
Porter, Stanley E. Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice. Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2015. $40.00. Paperback, xvi + 432 pp. ISBN 9780801049989.
The collection of essays in Porter’s 2015, capable and thought-provoking offering covers a wide array of topics from copyright issues to the consideration of the trinity under the rubric of hyponymy. The 21 chapters are separated into 3 sections: Part 1, Texts and Tools for Analysis; Part 2, Approaching Analysis; and Part 3, Doing Analysis. As the section titles suggest, Porter moves from the text to analysis, and the lexical aids with which to do so, through various methods of analysis to some analyses proper. With a body of nearly 400 pages and a bibliography of nearly 40, people interested in the serious study of the Greek NT should find something(s) to spark their interpretive imaginations. And I do mean serious study; this book is not for the newcomer to NT studies, as much of it assumes of its reader at least acquaintance with the categories and concerns of linguistics. I applaud his desire to bring more precision and consistency to NT studies and am guardedly hopeful that the often intuitive language choices of the NT authors may be profitably submitted to the types of scrutiny which Porter outlines.
The first essay, “Who Owns the Greek Text of the New Testament?” sets the stage by laying out the purpose of copyrights, the inconsistencies among international copyright laws and concludes that by anyone’s legal standards the Greek NT is not copyrightable. Editions of the Greek NT belong entirely in the public domain. From the text itself, Porter turns to computer-based resources, concerning which he observes that however good the proprietary software (e.g., Accordance, BibleWorks, Logos) is, it is neither easy nor quick to correct. He also brings up the problem that the available software performs analyses at the word rather than the clause (or beyond) level. Due to the inherent limitations of the existing software, he prefers the wiki-like interactivity and data access of the open-source movement. The final two chapters of the first section deal with lexica, Louw and Nida’s and Bauer’s respectively, and note that both works were landmark efforts. He recommends, however, that the Louw-Nida semantic domain approach be revised to consider words as mono- rather than polysemous. Regarding Bauer, and BDAG is still basically Bauer, Porter opines that it is “the latest English version of a monument to nineteenth-century German scholarship” (63) and thus has a prelinguistic theoretical basis. He sees a way forward for lexicography in treating words in terms of their semantic relationships as defined by componential analysis.
His second section begins with an assessment of what modern linguistics can and does contribute to NT scholarship. Though brief, the chapter clearly outlines Porter’s reasons for believing that modern linguistics, which has left far behind the application of Latin-based grammatical categories to biblical Greek, “can provide a proper interpretive foundation for a text-based discipline” (92). In “A Multidisciplinary Approach to Exegesis,” he offers an exegesis of Philippians 2:6-11 that incorporates insights from discourse analysis, analysis of “context of situation” and “context of culture.” Next comes an essay on the integration of Sociolinguistics into NT studies. Not surprisingly he highlights some contributions of Systemic Functional Linguistics in his treatment of register analysis. Porter would like to see more methods from the social sciences added to the NT exegetical toolbox. Chapter 8 is devoted to the basics of discourse analysis and Chapter 9, to ideational metafunction and register. Following are three rather polemical essays on verbal aspect. In the first, Porter responds to McKay’s own response to Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood. In the second he takes on Buist Fanning (and Dan Wallace) and the latter’s conviction that the Greek verbal system is partially temporal: 1, augment signals past time reference; 2, that the present and imperfect share the same aspect is best explained by a temporal distinction between the two; and 3, the performative present combines time and aspect. The third defends Porter’s view of the perfect tense-form’s stative aspect against that of Fanning, who takes the perfect to be perfective, and that of Campbell, who considers it imperfective.
Porter begins the third section of the collection with a register study of Mark 13:5-37, a study which expands an earlier essay on the longest discourse in the gospel. After treating cohesion, information flow and lexical analysis, tenor and field of study, Porter concludes that register analysis confirms that the discourse is pre-Marcan and distinct in a number of ways from the rest of the gospel. Porter’s conclusion is not new, but it is reached in some new and compelling ways. There follows an essay on the Great Commission that refutes Dan Wallace again and the tendency among English translations to give the participle πορευθÎντες imperatival force. Porter points out that participles cannot have imperatival force, moreover that the aorist form, preceding as it does the main verb, sets the stage for it: “it logically indicates background information to the command” (245). Equally significant is his appraisal that the two present participles which follow μαθητεá½»σατε, are prominent, unlike πορευθÎντες, and unpack what is entailed by making disciples. How ironic that the truly prominent participles have never been translated as imperatives, while the backgrounded one often is!
Chapter 15 suggests that comparison of the verbal aspects used in parallel accounts in the synoptic gospels might shed new light on their interdependence. Porter makes a good case that we should increase our pool of sets of chronologically ordered texts related by literary dependence to make tense-form change studies more statistically valid. His notion that analysis of the “semantic implications” of such changes needs more attention is certainly worth pursuing. In an overview of the current state of literary criticism of the 4th gospel and after looking at where it has been, Porter offers three new directions: literary stylistics, discourse analysis and register analysis. Narrative criticism retraces predictable ground, so some fresh approaches to John are clearly in order. From John, Porter turns to Paul, more specifically to his opponents. He raises the often neglected questions of how one defines opponents and the attendant consideration of how opponents are portrayed. He champions Karl Bühler’s organon method, which takes account of situation, sender, recipient, and discourse, as a helpful means of defining opponents. Along with the usual suspects, Porter considers Philemon as a potential opponent as well as the members of the church in Rome who may be questioning the nature of Paul’s apostolic mission.
Turning back to a matter of Greek grammar, Porter examines the adjective á½σá½·ους in 1 Timothy 2:8. It is usually assumed to be feminine (of a two termination adjective) in agreement with and modifying χεá¿–ρας: “men … lifting holy hands.” Based on extra biblical usage (where the adjective has all three terminations), Porter argues for the possibility that the adjective is masculine and modifies the participle á¼παÎ¯ροντας. It makes very good sense to take the adjective as masculine; from there, one needs to determine how it is best translated. In the following essay Porter observes that Greek word order remains “an unexplored area” (347). Despite the fact that discourse analysis may deal with word order (e.g., left dislocation), it has not been studied as systematically as he would like. Indeed, it has not been firmly established that NT Greek has distinct word order patterns. Porter does well to propose the use of consistent terminology among those who wish to discuss word order in demonstrably helpful ways. From word order, he turns to proper nouns, a part of speech most of us take for granted, but whose definition is elusive. The “standard” criteria for determining whether a noun is proper (the absence of the article and the inability to be pluralized) do not really work for Hellenistic Greek. Proper nouns require more functional attention. The final essay is a linguistic foray into Trinitarian theology. Porter argues that the category of hyponymy might shed light on how both Jesus and Paul understood Trinity long before its classic formulations. Whether or not the model catches on, Porter seems safe from the condemnation of cartoon figures, “That’s modalism, Stanley.”
Elodie Ballantine Emig, MA
Instructor of NT Greek