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Aug 10 / Steve Runge

Segmentation in Mark 4:13, Matthew 13:18, and Luke 8:11

This post is a follow-up to the one discussing the segmentation of speeches into smaller chunks using quotative frames (i.e. verbs of speaking)  where there has been no switch of speakers. I noted that the redundant quotative frames fell at natural breaks in the speech, as seen by the UBS placement of topic headings. But there was an anomaly in the verb usage: all but one of the verbs was an imperfect, only one was an historical present. My assertion was that the “instantaneous imperfect” was the logical choice for these redundant verbs, based on both aspect and tense (or “remoteness/proximity” for you aspectual purists out there). The natural question is “What’s up with the HP?” Why would Mark break from the pattern of usage?

To answer this question, I will take a look at the synoptic parallels to see how Matthew and Luke chose to present the same propositional content. It reveals some pretty cool stuff, at least cool to me. Decide for yourself.

Mark 4:13 and the Historical Present:

10 Καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο κατὰ μόνας, ἠρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν σὺν τοῖς δώδεκα τὰς παραβολάς. 11 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ· ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὰ πάντα γίνεται, 12 ἵναβλέποντες βλέπωσιν κα μ δωσιν, κα κούοντες κούωσιν κα μ συνισιν, μήποτε πιστρέψωσιν κα φεθ ατος. (UBS4) 10 And as soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. 11 And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; and while hearing, they may hear and not understand lest they return and be forgiven.” (NASB)

This section of the text is essentially an aside, where Jesus addresses his disciples regarding the purpose behind speaking in parables. This aside has the corollary effect of interrupting the Parable of the Sower, separating the parable itself from the explanation. Explaining the purpose of the parables may have been a pressing thing on Jesus’ mind, but it may just as probably had the effect of building up some measure of suspense as the explanation of the parable is postponed.

It is somewhat comical that those who have “been given the mystery of the kingdom” are the same ones that Jesus asks, “Don’t you get this parable?” in v. 13. Here is the analyzed version from the LDGNT:

Mk 4 13

The narrative portion of v. 13 Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς includes both an HP and a redundant quotative frame. Both of these devices attract extra attention to a discontinuity in the discourse, typically adding prominence to the speech or event that follows. Mark could just as easily left out the quotative frame, making a seamless transition from v. 12 to v. 13, alleviating the use of the HP at the same time. However, the presence of these devices indicates that the writer wanted to draw the readers attention to what follows this transition. Minimally, this could be to ensure that they catch the change in subject from parables in general to this parable. More probably it is because understanding the parable is more important than just knowing it. Let’s take a look at how Matthew handles this transition.

Matthew 13:18

Matthew’s version contains the same quote from Isaiah in vv. 14b-15, adding v. 10 compared to Mark. The quote followed by this comment by Jesus.

16 ὑμῶν δὲ μακάριοι οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ὅτι βλέπουσιν καὶ τὰ ὦτα ὑμῶν ὅτι ἀκούουσιν. 17 ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πολλοὶ προφῆται καὶ δίκαιοι ἐπεθύμησαν ἰδεῖν ἃ βλέπετε καὶ οὐκ εἶδαν, καὶ ἀκοῦσαι ἃ ἀκούετε καὶ οὐκ ἤκουσαν. 16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 “For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Instead of chastising the followers for not understanding, several devices are used to make the transition stand out, none of which overlap with Mark.

Mt 13 18

Jesus marks the resumption of the mainline of the discourse from the aside—introduced by γάρ in v. 17—using οὖν. There is also a fronted subject second-person pronoun that begins the verse. The use of the imperative verb alleviates any need for any explicit subject, so the pronoun itself is redundant. Creating a topical frame of reference requires a placeholder to signal that the subject has been fronted, so the choice to use a topical frame requires the use of the pronoun in this context. The pronoun is not the most important information in the clause, but provides a new frame of reference from the clause that follows.

Notice also the use of the left dislocation to introduce a very complex entity in preparation for a comment about “all who…” This dislocation is composed of two circumstantial participles that set the stage for the main clauses of the LD, which in turn are subordinated to the overall main clause. Some pretty serious syntax for Monday morning, I know, but it is more healthy than coffee!

The redundant pronoun of v. 18 also has the same kind of effect at the redundant quotative frames observed in Mark 4, attracting attention to a natural discontinuity that was already present: the switch from “those longing to hear” to those who are actually hearing. Simple repetition is also used to mark the resumption of the specific parable, repeating the words from the preceding context that Jesus wants to hearer to “hyperlink” back to, so to speak.

Thus Matthew accomplishes the same kind of highlighting of the transition within the speech, but more subtly than using a narrative insertion. So far then, we find consistency between the gospels while at the same time seeing each writer’s style guiding them to accomplish the same discourse task using different means. The differences have more to do with how each writer chose to get the job done than with significant changes to the actual content. Now on to Luke.

Luke 8:11

Here again we find quotation of a portion of what is found in Mark, but as in Matthew with no intervening narrative to break up the speech following the disciples’ question.

9 Ἐπηρώτων δὲ αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ τίς αὕτη εἴη ἡ παραβολή. 10 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ὑμῖν δέδοται γνῶναι τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ, τοῖς δὲ λοιποῖς ἐν παραβολαῖς, ἵνα

βλέποντες μὴ βλέπωσιν

καὶ ἀκούοντες μὴ συνιῶσιν.

9 And His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable might be. 10 And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

Luke’s version has the speech continue directly from Jesus’ answer to the question into the explanation of the parable beginning in v. 11.

Lk 8 11

Luke uses the particle δέ to mark the next development in the speech, segmenting the text at a local discontinuity within the larger context of relative continuity within the speech. He also uses a “proleptic demonstrative” or what I would rather call a forward-pointing reference in αὕτη. This redundant pronoun refers ahead to something that has yet to be introduced.  He could have more easily moved right into the explanation without the reiteration abou the parable. Repetition of the content would have been sufficient. The forward-poining reference  attracts extra attention to the target that follows.

The repetition of ἡ παραβολή including the article indicates that a specific parable is in mind, not the general concept discussed in v. 10. Note also that in Luke’s version the question is about this specific parable, not the general usage of them, although Jesus addresses the latter issue. The combination of the forward-pointing reference and the lexical repetition make clear that he is returning to the sower. Any doubt about this is dispelled in v. 11b ff. as more of the parable is repeated. The topical frames of reference in 11b and 12 help the reader navigate the quick changes of subjects, making the transitions stand out more.

There are indeed differences in these accounts, but the general propositional content is consistent. Some of the differences can be easily accounted for as legitimate stylistic differences regarding how certain discourse functions are accomplished. I hope to blog my way through a good many of the Markan HP in this way, so stay tuned.