Skip to content
Sep 20 / Steve Runge

Segmentation on the Sabbath-Mark 2:23, Mt. 12:1, Lk. 6:1

Since it is the Sabbath and all (at least in my tradition), I thought I would blog through Jesus’ pronouncement about being the Lord of the Sabbath. This pericope contains one of the Markan historical presents (HP) that I am analyzing for my SBL paper. I contend that the function of the HP is fundamentally to segment the discourse in ways comparable to other segmentation devices, such as conjunctions,1 attention-getters such as redundant nominatives and vocatives of address,2 and overencoding of participants with a full noun phrase when a null or pronominal subject would have sufficed. So regarding the discourse function of segmenting the text into smaller chunks, all of these means are available and accomplish the same fundamental task. They differ in the specific effects they achieve, and their distribution is affected by the stylistic preferences/register of the writer. The goal here is look at how writer like Luke, who ostensibly avoid the HP, handle the same content in their version.

Below is my analysis of the Synoptic parallels of this pericope. I have identified the various factors that influence judgments about segmentation of the text. Remember, humans constantly are segmenting things into smaller chunks to facilitate processing and storing of the information. Choruses/refrains in songs or repetition of themes helps us know when we are transitioning from one verse/movement to the next one. Paragraphing and bulleting in modern written text help us know where the writer wants us to break the text and guides our organization of it. In Greek, most of the discourse devices I cite would have functioned properly in either an oral or written tradition. The key to the markup scheme is available here.

Mk 2 23 synopsisAll of the versions begin with temporal frames of reference that  establish the state of affairs fro the following context. This is followed in each case by imperfect indicatives (dashed underline) which provide offline information. I construe the use of aorist ind. of αρχω + infinitive3 in Mark 2:23 as a functional equivalent of the imperfect, explicitly placing stress on the beginning of the event which would only have been implicit using the imperfect. Note that though there is disparity in their readings on the basis of lexical content, there is consistency in discourse tasks. The δε and topical frame introducing the Pharisees marks the transition from the intro to the inciting incident of the pericope. Reported speeches are indented one level to differentiate it from narrative proper.

Take a look at how Jesus’ reply in v 25/3/3 is treated. Mark uses an HP, which I believe is intended to signal what Longacre calls a countering move, the effort of one speaker to take the conversation in a different direction that the previous speaker. The change in speakers is a natural discontinuity it itself, so a countering move is a bit more of one, depending on how extreme it is. While Matthew uses a simple development marked δε, Luke–the famous avoider of the HP4 –uses a redundant quotative frame αποκριθεις frequently as a means of overencoding to draw attention to the speech that follows. The same kind of function is often attributed to use of the the HP. I claim that this is a derivative effect of segmentation, not an inherent meaning of it. So we find that both Mark and Luke use a device that d could draw attention to the following speech, where Matthew does nothing to draw extra attention besides simple segmentation.

Now we come to what I think is the coolest part of it all, verses that show off the real genius and potential of segmentation: v. 27/6/5. Jesus is still speaking, there has been no change to the Pharisees or someone else. So what do Mark and Luke do? They make the choice to interrupt what would otherwise be a continuous speech, dividing it into two parts by the insertion of an unneeded quotative frame that effectively “reintroduces” Jesus as speaker. What immediately follows? The key saying of the discourse. It is not just that presence of the segmentation device that is significant, it is the placement of it smack dab in the middle of a speech, and it just happens to be right before the most significant part of it. Pure coincidence right? It is just too cool.

Both of these writers use what some call the “instantaneous” or “continuative” imperfect, and they are most always in contexts like this where the verb is redundant5 I was reading Campbell’s indicative volume last night on the imperfect, and he observes that the imperfect does not mean “background info” in narrative, but simply is the tense-form best suited to communicate it. He notes other places in narrative where the imperfect is used simply because of its aspect. I would say that this is one of those cases. Note that neither writer uses a full NP to indicate the speaker, though the addressee is a plural entity. However, use of the aorist would have had a greater tendency to indicate “switch” of speakers, since that is what it most often does. The imperfect interrupts, as Campbell claims, but without the expectation of a shift.

But wait, there is more! Take a look at Matthew, the rebel in the group in this context. Rather than inserting a redundant narrative quotative frame like Mark and Luke, he uses what I call a meta-comment which is another way of accomplishing a similar effect. Meta-comments are almost exclusively in reported speech and expository discourse. They still represent the choice to segment, since the speaker stops saying what they are saying, and makes a comment on what they are about to say. Form critics refer to such things as “disclosure formulas” and assign a similar function to them. Here we find a supposed epistolary form in the midst of a narrative speech. Must be those crazy redactors, huh. Even though Matthew’s saying is different in content, the redundant element that interrupts the speech still falls at the critical point just before the zinger about the greater temple.

Segmentation is apervasive means in discourse for helping readers organize a text. When it is used on contexts where it is not needed, where it is essentially overkill, it often has the pragmatic effect of adding prominence to the speech or event that follows. It is not an either/or, either segmentation or cataphoric highlighting. On the contrary, the latter is a pragmatic effect of using a device in a context where it is not really needed. All of these markers were used in contexts of natural discontinuity. Even the last one in v. 27/6/5 comes at a transition in the speeach. However, if the marking of the discontinuity is more than is needed to process it, then something else is probably going on.

Isn’t discontinuity wonderful?

  1. See Sections 2.3-2.6 in Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. This section is available for download on my Publications page. []
  2. See Section 5.4 in Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. []
  3. I have a post in the works on this, but have not quite finished it. []
  4. There are some interesting observations about Luke’s use of the HP that I have only found mentioned by Fanning. I have found that he tends to mark the same things that Mark does, only using a different device. []
  5. See my discussion of this use of the imperfect in Section 7.2.2 of Discourse Grammar. []

One Comment

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Around the Blogosphere | for the Sake of Truth

Comments are closed.