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Jan 20 / Steve Runge

Meaningful distinction between ἀλλά and εἰ μή, pt. 2

Making a clear distinction in meaning between function words like ἀλλά and εἰ μή can be difficult. They are function words providing instructions about how to relate two textual elements. Our tendency is to link them to the closest counterpart in English, but this means we are understanding them through a perhaps inaccurate filter. This is why I have found the idea of cognitive constraints to be so useful; it removes the need for assigning a gloss and focuses on what the word signals. In the last post, I summarized:

Both exceptive and restrictive constructions have something in common. Both constructions signal that what follows the ἀλλά and εἰ μή (or English rather and except) is to correct or replace some comparable element in the preceding context. It qualifies the preceding statements by adding some other piece of information. This piece of information either corrects some overstatement or replaces one option for another, in the case of ἀλλά.

The last post focused on the function of ἀλλά to correct or replace. So what exactly is the difference between these two connectives if they both do this replacing thing? The key distinction between them is whether the correction/replacement was part of the preceding set or not. Here’s what I mean.

In the case of ἀλλά, the following statement introduces information that was not present in the original statement. The original statement had one or more elements that were incorrect or incomplete, and ἀλλά introduces a new element that was not under consideration. This new element can be added to the preceding set to make it complete or correct (i.e. correcting) or it may stand in the place of some incorrect element(s) (i.e. replacing). Here is what it looks like graphically.

Corrected diagram

 Let’s take another look at an example from the last post

1 Peter 3:13–16 (SBLGNT)

13 Καὶ τίς ὁ κακώσων ὑμᾶς ἐὰν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ζηλωταὶ γένησθε; 14 ἀλλʼ εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε διὰ δικαιοσύνην, μακάριοι. τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν μὴ φοβηθῆτε μηδὲ ταραχθῆτε,

15 κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος, 16 ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου, συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγαθήν, ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καταλαλεῖσθε καταισχυνθῶσιν οἱ ἐπηρεάζοντες ὑμῶν τὴν ἀγαθὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστροφήν.

Verse 13 asks who there is who’d harm you for being zealous, with the implied answer being “no one.” Verse 14 now introduces a new element, the idea that such a person really does exist. The ascensive καί casts this hypothetical person as though it were a “least likely possibility” comparable to our use of “even” in English. So in terms of the diagram above, the Xs stand for the people who’d harm you for being zealous. Are there any? No, well, maybe. The Y is adding a caveat that even if they do exist and this does happen, you shouldn’t let them affect your behavior.

The second one is a bit more tricky, since the ground rules for how you make your defense are not explicitly mentioned in v. 15. Nevertheless, v. 16 introduces a new element that (most likely) was not under consideration by the hearer. If Peter was merely adding another thing to do (“Oh, and be sure to do it with gentleness and reverence”), whatever negative thing that he was trying to prevent would still have been admitted. The use of ἀλλά constrains what follows to replace whatever negative behavior the preceding may have conjured up, defined as the opposite of gentle and reverent.

So although ἀλλά and εἰ μή both do the same sort of thing, and both can quite often be translated using a generic “but,” they nevertheless have a meaningful distinction which differentiates them from one another. The distinction is present in Greek regardless of how it might be translated. I feel like this point is dismissed by some using a sense-based explanation: “It’s the A sense of the word in this context, not the B sense.” Regardless of the translation used, the same distinction between them will be present.

This means that Paul’s use of εἰ μή in Gal 2:16 rather than ἀλλά  was meaningful and intended. The lack of textual variants for this reading also points toward Paul intending to communicate something with εἰ μή that would not have been conveyed with ἀλλά. I’ll move on to εἰ μή in the next post.

Understanding grammar is a double-edged sword. It can improve the precision of our exegesis and understanding of the text. But it also makes it much harder to hide from what appear to be unpleasant things. If Paul had intended for “works of the law” to have been replaced by “through faith in Jesus Christ,” he surely could have done so using ἀλλά. To be blunt, I think a lot of reformed folks would have preferred Paul has used ἀλλά, but he didn’t. An unpleasant thing this, but not the end of the world that some have made it out to be.

Instead Paul used εἰ μή in order to bring about some constraint that ἀλλά would not have achieved. Translating with the generic “but” in English–which can convey either constraint–only masks what is going on. I am not arguing here for the proper gloss, but for a recognition of what is going on in Greek.

Next post will spell out the constraint of εἰ μή and pave the way for heading back to Gal 2:15-16.

Jan 6 / Steve Runge

Meaningful distinction between ἀλλά and εἰ μή, pt. 1

I’ve talked a lot about choice and meaning in language, but it is important to cover this ground again. In clauses that create an exception or restriction of some kind (e.g. “John didn’t do anything except sit there”), we need to recognize that the same assertion could have been phrased differently so as to avoid using such a construction. The choice to use an exception or restriction inevitably involves creating a more complex assertion than a simple “John just sat there” statement. So as we talk about the meaningful distinction between ἀλλά and εἰ μή, keep in mind that both of these constructions represent the writer’s choice to use a rhetorically more complex construction compared to using a simple assertion. I am not sure I made this point as clearly as I could have in §4.2-§4.3 of the Discourse Grammar.

Both exceptive and restrictive constructions have something in common. Both constructions signal that what follows the ἀλλά and εἰ μή (or English rather and except) is to correct or replace some comparable element in the preceding context. It qualifies the preceding statements by adding some other piece of information. This piece of information either corrects some overstatement or replaces one option for another, in the case of ἀλλά. Focus on what each one does instead of worrying about how to translate it.

The problem with a translation-based understanding of the words comes to the fore when we note but is used to translate both ἀλλά and εἰ μή. But has a much broader range of meaning than rather or except. But merely joins two things of equal status (e.g. phrases, sentences) and indicates the presence of semantic discontinuity between between the two. Except and rather add further constraints, and are thus more precise. To paraphrase the Hallmark slogan, but is the conjunction you use when you don’t care enough to send the very best. When precision is not needed and you just need to indicate discontinuity, but is the conjunction you reach for. But do not be fooled: the less-restricted meaning of but is no basis for claiming that ἀλλά and εἰ μή mean the same thing. Each conjunction brings its own unique constraint to bear on what follows.

Function of ἀλλά

Now ἀλλά is used to correct or replace some aspect of what precedes. The need for correction or replacement presupposes that something is wrong with what precedes. This makes good sense in a dialogue, where one person got it wrong and the other person is fixing it. The latter is most likely a first-born child. 🙂 However, if we look at the distribution of ἀλλά, most of the uses are in a monologue situation, where the speaker is correcting themselves. In most cases, this means an intentional misstatement (e.g. telling you what didn’t happen) in order to manufacture (yes, manufacture!) an opportunity to correct it.

So why would someone purposefully get it wrong? Isn’t that risky? Couldn’t that lead to miscommunication? Absolutely! However, the rhetorical payoff is worth the risk. Why? Because using the misstatement/correction method draws extra attention to the corrected element that it would not have received just using a simple, positive assertion.

Let’s begin with a look at some uses of ἀλλά found in Rom 3:27-31, a classic use of rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions can either expect positive or negative answers; we see both below. The element replaced and its replacement are both underlined.

Romans 3:27–31 (SBLGNT)

27 Ποῦ οὖν ἡ καύχησις; ἐξεκλείσθη. διὰ ποίου νόμου; τῶν ἔργων; οὐχί, ἀλλὰ διὰ νόμου πίστεως. 28 λογιζόμεθα γὰρ δικαιοῦσθαι πίστει ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου. 29 ἢ Ἰουδαίων ὁ θεὸς μόνον; οὐχὶ καὶ ἐθνῶν; ναὶ καὶ ἐθνῶν, 30 εἴπερ εἷς ὁ θεός, ὃς δικαιώσει περιτομὴν ἐκ πίστεως καὶ ἀκροβυστίαν διὰ τῆς πίστεως. 31 νόμον οὖν καταργοῦμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως; μὴ γένοιτο, ἀλλὰ νόμον ἱστάνομεν.

It would have been much easier for Paul to make simple positive assertions instead of using interrogatives, but doing so would have significantly reduced the rhetorical impact. Here are my comments about the use of interrogative pronouns as “forward-pointing references” to draw extra attention to a target: the answer to the question.

“Paul could have made the same point more plainly by stating, ἡ καύχησις οὖν ἐξεκλείσθη διὰ νόμου πίστεως (“Therefore boasting is excluded by the law of faith”), but this would significantly reduce the rhetorical impact compared to using the forward-pointing references. Unpacking this principle in two parts allows each one to sink in. Allowing the reader to think about the questions adds significantly to the power of these statements. It also allows Paul to draw extra attention to exactly what kind of law it is that excludes boasting.1

Note that the rhetorical answers introduced in vv. 27 and 31 use ἀλλά. It constrains the reader to correct or replace some aspect of what precedes. The English conjunctions rather and instead convey the same kind of constraint. I might be able to use but as a gloss here, but its less-constrained meaning leaves it open to a wider range of interpretation than is present in Greek. The Greek ἀλλά constrains us to take “law of faith” and the correct answer instead of “law of works.” The same holds in v. 31; the law is not nullified, rather it is upheld.

Here is another example, where James uses ἀλλά to recharacterize an unbridled tongue.

James 1:26 (SBLGNT) Εἴ τις δοκεῖ θρησκὸς εἶναι μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν γλῶσσαν αὐτοῦ ἀλλὰ ἀπατῶν καρδίαν αὐτοῦ, τούτου μάταιος ἡ θρησκεία.

The more expected counterpart would have been a bridled tongue, right? But James wants the bridling/not bridling to be understood as something else: as a pure versus a deceived heart. It creates a rather unnatural pairing, one we’re unlikely to have inferred had it not been explicitly stated. But consider the alternative. Stating the person who deceives their heart (or alternatively doesn’t bridle their tongue) and claims to be religious has a worthless religion. Choosing either option omits the connection to the other, since bridling the tongue and purity of heart are not a commonly paired opposition. The writer would have needed to make this connection is some other way–likely a separate clause–which would have been clunky and lacked the same rhetorical punch.

So ἀλλά is used to signal that something in the preceding context is to be corrected or replaced by the element that follows it. In the negative examples above, the element introduced by ἀλλά replaced rather than corrected. The following example is a positive statement, where ἀλλά introduces a caveat that corrects what precedes. The implication is that it is somehow incomplete. Some great examples are found in 1 Peter 3:

1 Peter 3:13–16 (SBLGNT)

13 Καὶ τίς ὁ κακώσων ὑμᾶς ἐὰν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ζηλωταὶ γένησθε; 14 ἀλλʼ εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε διὰ δικαιοσύνην, μακάριοι. τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν μὴ φοβηθῆτε μηδὲ ταραχθῆτε,

15 κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος, 16 ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου, συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγαθήν, ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καταλαλεῖσθε καταισχυνθῶσιν οἱ ἐπηρεάζοντες ὑμῶν τὴν ἀγαθὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστροφήν.

It is reasonable to expect not to be hassled for doing good, that’s the way things out to work. The expected answer to the rhetorical question of v. 13 is “no one.” But v. 14 deals with a different reality: the unlikely scenario where you do suffer. In either you are still blessed. Verse 13 technically involves negation, but v. 14 adds another element rather than replaces what precedes.

Verses 15-16 highlight the wonder of language. The exhortation to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, followed by a verbless clause elaborating on what this practically looks like. There are no guidelines provided about the manner in which this defense is to be made; the sky’s the limit … until we reach v. 16. Introducing gentleness and reverence using ἀλλά constrains us to read these qualities as somehow correcting what precedes, setting a boundary that was only implicit before. We are not to make the defense at all costs, or “in such a way as to win,” but gently and reverently. Notice that I could not underline discrete words preceding ἀλλά in these examples since what is corrected concerns unstated assumptions. The writer would not have added the caveats in vv. 14 and 16 had there not been a need for them. The only way we can process these caveats is by addressing the implicatures inherently present in the initial statements.

This explanation if ἀλλά is meant as a thumbnail, something that covers the prototypical usage. There are indeed quirky instances, and we’ll survey this in the coming weeks. Do a concordance search for ἀλλά in your favorite corpus and think through how what follows corrects or replaces what precedes. See if the explanation works; see what insight it adds. Forget about translating it and focus on what it does.

  1. Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 66.
Jan 1 / Steve Runge

Winer’s warning about mistreating conjunctions

This is part 2 of a series begun here.

Diane Blakemore, working in the area of cognitive linguistics, has claimed that particles like conjunctions  each have their own unique cognitive constraint, i.e. a set of instructions regarding how to relate what precedes with what follows.1  So from a functional standpoint, choosing to use one conjunction over another represents the choice to bring this cognitive constraint to bear over that one.

Although the work of Blakemore and others represents an advance in terms of its application of cognitive linguistics, the underlying assumption of a unique function or meaning is not new. Well over a hundred years ago Georg Winer made much the same point regarding conjunctions each having a distinct contribution to the context. He made this claim in the course of critiquing commentators who were quite comfortable with obscuring the uniqueness by claiming that conjunctions were regularly substituted for one another. This appeal to semantic overlap via substitution allowed them to avoid engaging unpleasant exegetical implications associated with the core constraint of the conjunction.

It is strange indeed to see how the commentators (up to a recent period) take the apostles to task again and again, and almost always supply them with a different conjunction from that which actually stands in the text. If a calculation were made, we should certainly find that in Paul’s Epistles, for instance, there are not more than six or eight passages in which the apostle has hit upon the right particle, and does not need the commentator to help him out. This has introduced great arbitrariness into N. T. exegesis. Are we to suppose that Paul and Luke knew Greek no better than many of their censors? The Hebrew usage cannot be appealed to here by any who do not take a wholly irrational view of the Hebrew language: indeed such an arbitrary use of quid pro quo is not possible in any human speech. The arbitrariness of the N. T. interpreters was rendered the more obvious by the fact that different commentators often assigned entirely different meanings to a conjunction in the same passage. … The translators of the N. T. books (not excepting even the excellent Schulz in the Epistle to the Hebrews) are also deserving of censure, since they render the conjunctions in the most arbitrary manner.2

Ouch! If we changed to a more vernacular wording, I can picture Mr. T saying making the same point: “I pity the commentator…” (Georg ‘Clubber’ Winer).

Winer’s warning about appealing to Hebrew (or Aramaic) will prove relevant when we finally get back to Gal 2:16. Why? Most commentators who appeal for an exceptional sense of ει μη in Gal 2:16 do so by appealing to grammarians, most of whom appeal to a comment by Wellhausen that ει μη and αλλα are used interchangeably for אִלָּא, an Aramaic conjunction.3

So does this mean that the two Greek connectives share significant semantic overlap? No! Nor is this a case of an “Aramaism” that has crept into Paul’s writing.4 This turns out not to be a case of an Aramaism, but one of the many instances of mismatches between languages.

Linguistic Mismatches

What do I mean by a mismatch between the languages? The mismatch involves Greek having two options available whereas Aramaic has only one. This means that the LXX translator is constrained to make a choice because of the two options available in Greek that are not present in Aramaic. In other words it’s a Greek problem rather an an Aramaic one. We find the same thing in Greek with translating και : a single word plays triple duty compared to English (and, also, even) and double duty compared to Hebrew (ו and גַמ). Put differently, there is a dilemma in English to choose between and or but for Greek’s conjunctive και. Why? Because English makes a semantic distinction between +semantic continuity (and) and -semantic continuity (but).5 This is an English problem, not a Greek problem.

“Boy, those French! They have a different word for everything. … They don’t have the decency to speak English.”
― Steve Martin

Why? Because the Greeks didn’t have the common decency to only have one meaning for each of their conjunctions like we do in English! Because our language forces us to make a choice which is not present in Greek by virtue of having English having a finer distinction available than Greek does in this particular context. The opposite would hold true as well.

Nevertheless, we find something of a language-centric snobbery at times, a grumbling that Greek conjunctions don’t have the “common courtesy” of having only one meaning like English conjunctions do. I am not making this up. Dana and Mantey seem to regard English as something of an anomaly in that its conjunctions only have one meaning when compared to other languages. They state, “In Greek, as in Hebrew and Latin, but unlike the English use, a conjunction may have several meanings, each requiring separate and careful study.”6, 240).] This, however, is not really the case. Each conjunction in each language has a unique function. If it did not it would eventually drop out of the language. Instead what we find is that the mismatch between the languages is treated from an English- or German-centric standpoint. The assumption is made that English words have a single meaning, whereas the Greek, Hebrew or Latin words have more than one meaning, based on how many different options there are for translating the latter into English. This assumption is just plain wrong. Despite the wrongness, we find the same presupposition undergirding claims of commentators and exegetes.

The different senses of conjunctions are not evidence of their having really broad or multiple meanings. Rather, these different senses highlight the mismatches between Greek and English. English conjunctions have a unique cognitive constraint that they bring to bear just as Greek or Hebrew ones have.

Function words

Claiming semantic overlap or substitution of the Greek conjunctions highlights one of the problems with a sense-based or translation-value understanding of a conjunction. Rick Brannan, in his killer treatment of αλλα, cited Funk’s treatment of conjunctions as function words which are semantically empty.7 Here is the quote:

Negatives, conjunctions, sentence connectors, and subordinators may be termed function words or structure signaling words. The point of these labels is that such words are nearly lexically empty, i.e. they have little or no dictionary meaning of their own. However, they are grammatically significant in indicating the structure of sentences and parts of sentences. Some of them are so common as to require acquaintance at the grossest level of the language. This simply means that one must learn how they function early in the process. One may guess at the meaning of lexically full words, or leave them blank when reading, but one must know the grammatical “meaning” of function words to be able to proceed at all.8


To be sure, cognitive linguistics has greatly advanced our understanding of conjunctions. The notion of each one providing a unique cognitive constraint  proves far more useful in bridging the mismatches between languages than a sense-based approach based on the different glosses. But the call for a more unified, functional understanding of these words is not new. Even though the older grammarians may have had a clunky way of describing things, Winer, Funk and others seem to be in fundamental agreement with the functional direction advocated by Blakemore using cognitive linguistics.

Now in claiming that each conjunction has a unique constraint, I am not saying that there aren’t any diachronic or extra-linguistic issues that need to be taken into account. There are. But there is little hope of being able to adequately handle these extra complexities if we can’t even clearly describe the core meaning/function from a synchronic, monolingual environment. The latter is where I am headed in my discussion of exceptive clauses; the former I’ll leave to more qualified folks like Randall Buth.

Happy new year, I hope you stick around for this ongoing series. Depending on the level of interest, it may turn into an SBL paper proposal.

Isn’t grammar wonderful?

  1. See Diane Blakemore, Relevance and Linguistic Meaning: The Semantics and Pragmatics of Discourse Markers (CSL 99; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 90. See also Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 17-19.
  2. Winer, Georg B. A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek Regarded as a Sure Basis for New Testament Exegesis. Translated by William F. Moulton (3d ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1882), 564, n. 2.
  3. See BDF §448(8); cf. James Hope Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek: Prolegomena. Vol. 1. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1906), 241-242.
  4. For a great treatment of how such influences really manifest themselves, see Randall Buth, “Evaluating Luke’s Unnatural Greek: A Look at His Connectives.” In Discourse Studies and Biblical Interpretation: A Festschrift in Honor of Stephen H. Levinsohn, edited by Steven E. Runge, 335–370. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2011. Available in print from Amazon.
  5. See Runge, Discourse Grammar, 23.
  6. H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [New York: Macmillan, 1968
  7. Brannan, Rick. “The Discourse Function of Ἀλλά in Non-Negative Contexts.” In Discourse Studies and Biblical Interpretation: A Festschrift in Honor of Stephen H. Levinsohn, edited by Steven E. Runge (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2011), 263.
  8. Robert W. Funk, Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek (Missoula, Mont.: Scholar’s Press, 1973), 475.
Dec 29 / Steve Runge

Exceptional exceptive clauses and Gal 2:16

I have been slowly reading my way into the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) literature for the last few months as part of my current work in Romans. James Dunn’s keen observations about commonly overlooked–but important–words has been a bright spot in wading through the rat’s nest of detail. The next time I hear someone whine about how complex and detailed discourse grammar is, they’ll get a dope slap. Lots of fields and discussions within them are complex; I am 9re)learning that with the NPP literature. It is just a matter of gaining the needed background to understand all of the information that is assumed by those participating in the discussion.

A great example of that is ποτε in Gal 2:6; I had never noticed it there before, and few translations make note of it. The other big surprise was the presence of ἐὰν μὴ in Gal 2:16. I have not read closely through Galatians since writing the discourse grammar, and so had not been as keenly aware of the importance of conjunctions as I am now.

In doing some checking of how the major translations handle Gal 2:15-16, I was unpleasantly surprised at how consistently some clearly marked grammatical feature was translated as though it were something else. Here is the text from the SBLGNT:

15 Ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί,

16 εἰδότες ⸀δὲ ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως ⸂Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ⸃, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν,

ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου,

⸂ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται⸃ πᾶσα σάρξ.

The only content-bearing textual variant is the presence or absence of δὲ at the beginning of v. 16;  it is bracketed in both NA 27 and 28, but unbracketed in the SBLGNT. The rest concern the ordering within noun phrases or clauses, i.e. the content of these verses is not disputed. Most translations take v. 15 as a separate clause as opposed to a topical frame of reference for v. 16, which I would agree with. This means that the choice is between δέ versus asyndeton, not reading v. 15 as a complex subject for v. 16.

The more surprising issues I found had nothing to do with variant readings. Most translations render εἰδότες as a finite verb, either as though it were an indicative or an imperative. This decision then impacts the understanding of καί later in the same line. If the participle is rendered as a finite verb, then καί wants to be conjunctive instead of ascensive.

But the most surprising (and disturbing) thing was to see how many scholars I deeply respect argued that the exceptive construction ἐὰν μὴ is somehow exceptional and thus NOT exceptive. I had no idea how much ink had been spilled on this issue. Many trees gave their lives so we could have another contentious issue in the field!

Please save your vitriol and piling up of scholars in favor of your view on the matter. At least for now, this is not the time or place for that.

What I intend to do in preparation for a more thorough treatment of this verse is to start looking at exceptive clause in the GNT. I’ll begin with the prototypical ones and offer an expansion of the description I offer in the discourse grammar. 1 Then I’ll tackle the claims in the dead grammarians regarding the apparent substitution of ἀλλά for ἐὰν/ἐι μὴ. This is the basis for treating Gal 2:16 as an exceptional exceptive; well, that and the apparent horror over the theological implications of treating it as a true exceptive.

I’ll insert a preview here: if we are all happy to allow Paul to state a for-sake-of-argument position with which he likely disagrees in v. 15, then why can’t that same explanation extend into 16a? Especially since he resoundingly dispels this supposed “common ground” in 16c and 16d?? Just a thought, but I’ll leave that (and addressing any comments) for later. This would mean that I disagree with Dunn’s claim that 2:16 somehow represents a development in Paul’s own understanding of justification. I would also disagree with most disagreeing with Dunn by claiming this is not an exceptive clause. Be patient, we’ll get there, but not today.

The crux of the matter is understanding what exception clauses do, regardless of how they might be translated into English. If we can understand this, then we’ll be in a much better position to understand why cases like this one in Gal 2:16 have proven troublesome. There are several other similar cases, none of which carry the same theological freight.

Part 2 continues here.

  1. If you are not familiar with that, there is an excerpt available here as a PDF. If you have the book the relevant discussion is found in chapter 4, especially pp. 83-100.
Nov 6 / Steve Runge

Lexham Discourse Handbook: Romans

Why a Discourse Handbook? (from the Introduction)

This project is intended to fill a very noticeable gap in exegetical resources, whether for preaching/teaching or academic projects. The missing piece is a sustained discussion about the structuring and flow of the biblical text. There are numerous studies on cultural backgrounds, historical backgrounds, theological or ethical implications, and even lexicographical or morphological issues relating to the Greek text and its translation. But what about the text itself? What difference does it make that he said it this way as opposed to that way? Regardless of how I might translate this conjunction or what sense I might assign it, how did the writer intend to relate what precedes with what follows? What does this portion contribute to the overall flow and structure of the discourse?

Occasionally one finds a discussion of such matters, but it tends to be serendipitous rather than systematic. The goal for this series is to offer a sustained discussion of the overall flow of the discourse based on the writer’s choice of discourse devices and structuring decisions. It will also describe the exegetical consequences of these decisions.

This undertaking is the culmination of many years of research. Foundational materials needed to be developed. How can one talk about discourse devices unless the devices are transparently accessible to the reader? The better part of two years of research was devoted to developing the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament, an electronic database which identifies the most exegetically significant discourse devices in a way that specialists and non-specialists alike can benefit. It helps identify exegetical issues that need to be addressed in an analysis of the text. It was a necessary first step, but there was a problem; it was up to the reader to connect the dots and synthesize the data into a unified reading of the discourse. More explanation was needed.

The next step was the Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, a resource to help readers with a traditional background in Greek grammar acquire a foundational understanding of discourse studies. Each chapter begins with how some matter was traditionally treated, and then provides linguistic principles that give insight into how and why discourse devices achieve the effects they do. The discourse grammar was an important second step, as it has opened the door for students and professors to reshape their understanding of Greek exegesis into something other than a translation exercise. But there was still a lingering problem. The book intentionally investigated only one device at a time. It was beyond the scope of an introductory volume to attempt to describe all of the interrelated machinations. Discourse can be messy at times, but understanding the unique contribution of each device will better enable us to unpack the whole. Something more was needed.

The Lexham Discourse Handbook series provides this final piece: a sustained, unifying analysis of how the various discourse devices function collectively; it describes the contribution of each piece to the whole. The Handbook selectively engages significant exegetical issues raised by commentators, but is not intended to provide a full conversation with Pauline scholarship. What do I mean by selective? Issues directly impacted by discourse grammar, especially discussions about the structuring and organization of Romans. As will be shown in the discussion of Rom 1:1-15, most of the debates regarding the purpose and structure of Romans revolve on factors like what is signaled by a particular conjunction, or the function of expressions like οὐ θέλω δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί in Rom 1:13. This is where the foundational investment in understanding discourse grammar can pay huge dividends.

Connectives—those small particles used to signal relationships between phrases and clauses—provide some of the most significant information about how the writer intended his work to be read. C.E.B. Cranfield states:

‎It will perhaps not be out of place to mention here something which, while it is very obvious, is sometimes overlooked by students of the epistle—the importance of watching carefully the connectives linking the sentences. Whereas in English it is not at all unusual for sentences to be set down one after the other without connexion, in ancient Greek it was normal to link each sentence with the preceding one by means of a connective of one sort or another. The Greek custom has two great advantages: it helps the writer to think clearly and logically and it enables the reader to know what was the connexion of thought in the writer’s mind between his sentences. … But, where there is continuous argument, they are a most important clue to the author’s meaning, of which full use should be made. In the exegesis of Romans one is well advised to watch the connectives with the utmost attentiveness, wherever they are present—and in the first eight chapters they nearly always are. Paul uses them competently enough.1

Chapter 2 of DGGNT provides a functional description of the nine most frequently occurring connectives. Regardless of how each might be translated into English in any given context, each brings to bear a unique cognitive constraint on the relationship of what follows the connective with what precedes. As Cranfield states, “it enables the reader to know what was the connexion of thought in the writer’s mind between his sentences.” Carefully and consistently attending to these constraints enables us to much more confidently navigate the maze of competing proposals regarding purpose and structure.

My analysis is based upon the Greek text of the SBLGNT.2 Consideration will be given only to textual variants which significantly impact the flow of the discourse. I recognize that this is an eclectic text, not an original autograph. However, I will treat the text as intentionally worded and intentionally structured to best accomplish Paul’s purpose for writing the epistle. This means you will not find me claiming anacoluthon or some irregular emphatic usage of some kind. Instead, the Handbook will describe the implications of this wording of this text as it stands since this is what we have to work with. The principles I utilize could just as easily be applied to alternative readings, but my scope is intentionally limited to the eclectic text.

An overarching principle governing my work is that “choice implies meaning.” This is not a claim that Paul sat and consciously thought about every single word before it was written. Think about the last heated discussion you had with someone. Chances are there were points where you slowed down to carefully choose your wording. You knew in your brain what you wanted to convey, and the desired impact it would have on the other person. Somewhere between your brain and the words coming out of your mouth, you did something. This something is captured by metaphors like, “what fit best” or “treading carefully.” These images describe the kind of choice I am talking about. Paul wrote the letter to accomplish certain things. The choice to word things one way versus another were calculated based on what he felt would best accomplish his goals and objectives. Since we do not have an original letter, the eclectic SBLGNT will be analyzed on this same basis, as though Paul really intended to say what he did in this particular way.

Here is the link to download the rest of the preview; prepublication orders may be placed here.

  1. C.E.B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 27.
  2. Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010).
Oct 5 / Steve Runge

Sale on the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament

I am very much looking forward to returning to writing next week, too much of my attention has been spent finalizing details for the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible project, which is set to be released next week.

There is a special discount being offered for the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament until Oct. 11.  If you use coupon code WEEKLYNTDISCOURSE when you check out, you can get the Greek bundle on sale for $109.95—that’s $40 off the regular price.

If you are interested, there is also a bundle that includes Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Discourse Studies and Biblical Interpretation, and High Definition Commentary: Philippians.

If you prefer print to electronic books, the Discourse Grammar and Discourse Studies volumes are available through Amazon.

I hope to get back to blogging in the next week or two in preparation for my ETS paper.

Oct 5 / Steve Runge

Update on the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible

I have been swamped these last months working on several projects, including the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible. At present, we have completed the analysis of Genesis-2 Kings. We also recently provided preview copies of the resource to some leading OT scholars to see what they thought. In light of their feedback, we have decided to make the partially completed resource available for download on Oct. 9. That means that you’d need to pre-order it before then to get the best discount.

For those who pre-order the resource (or the HDOT), you’ll have two options:

  1. You can follow the instructions we’ll send out on Oct. 9 to download the present version of the LDHB at the discounted price.
  2. You can wait until the entire analysis is completed (approx. Jan 2014) to be charged for the resource, just like any other Logos Prepub.

Professors have been asking to use this resource in their Hebrew classes beginning in January, so we will be closing out pre-orders on Oct. 9  and making it a live resource for download.

NOTE: You do not need a Logos library or base package to use any of the discourse resources I’ve authored, they may be purchased and used as stand-alone modules. They work better as part of a library, but it is not required.

Be sure to place your order before the price goes up. I am hoping to get back to blogging in the next week or two, BTW.

May 4 / Steve Runge

A little late but…

I received word from Wally Cirafesi of McMaster Divinity College that the former JIABGL is being relaunched as Biblical and Ancient Greek Linguistics. Wally serves as assistant editor of this fully peer-reviewed journal focused on the linguistic study of Greek. You can read more about the journal here, including the first articles. Articles accepted will first be published online, and then be released at the end of the year in a print volume. I’d encourage you to add them to your RSS feed to keep up with the new articles, since the online form may disappear after the print version is released if things operate the same as with the last journal.

May 4 / Steve Runge

More on tripartite models of grounding

There was a recent question about my post on the need for a tripartite system of grounding, as advocated by Porter’s model of verbal aspect. Here is the relevant excerpt of the comment:

I noticed you cited an earlier source from Jones but wasn’t sure if you were aware of this one. They say that this “is a revision of schemes by Longacre(1976b), Longacre and Levinsohn (1978), and Hopper (1977), and others, who proposed simple bipartite structures of information” (p. 3) and presents “the theoretical framework underlying a number of papers in this volume.” Basically, they survey several Mesoamerican languages and conclude that all mark at least three levels of discourse: background, foreground, and peak. Jones and Jones show six levels. From more to less prominent they list peak, pivotal events, backbone events, ordinary events, significant background, and ordinary background (p. 7). However, none of the languages employ all three event levels (pivotal, backbone, and ordinary) which suggests that emically, there are only 5 levels and several of the languages surveyed use all 5.

To use frontground, foreground, background terminology, the basic levels would be frontground (peak), ordinary/important foreground, ordinary/important background.

Now, they mainly discuss narrative and only provide a short discussion at the end on non-narrative genre. Another thing to keep in mind, especially when considering Porter’s position, is that the marking devices used to distinguish these levels includes more than tense. There is also affixation, particles, mood, independent/dependent constructions, repetition/doublets.


You can find a pdf of the article here:

Jones and Jones are discussed by Stephen Wallace,1  so I’d encourage you to read his take on things. My claim here is not that grounding is a simple binary opposition, but to take to task the specific claim regarding Greek tense-forms always portraying a single level of grounding. Porter is not claiming that he is following what Jones and Jones have claimed, but that Greek represents a unique language situation since it has three aspects.

Regarding Jones and Jones’ claims, in the full paper I interact with a Finnish linguist’s work that claims what could be viewed as a tripartite model. In reality, it is two binary systems that are entailed one within the other. You have a basic background/foreground opposition, then within each of these there is the option for prominence marking to highlight something with respect to the other background/foreground actions. What Jones and Jones are claiming is quite similar, in that they are noting that peak and pivotal events stand out more than ordinary events, all of which are ostensibly in the foreground. Similarly, there is significant vs. ordinary background, all of which is background.

The key thing to look into is how the discussion they tried to begin has developed since then. Longacre’s notion of peak is simply that: a notion. In the broader linguistic discussion, the main people who treat it as a monolithic entity are primarily found in NT studies. Most understand peak to be more of a clustering of discourse features, a harmonic convergence so to speak. Quite often offline material is inserted just before or at the peak to slow down the discourse flow.

You’d also need to go back and look at how Jones and Jones define their terminology versus how S. Wallace or Levinsohn or I do. I use foreground/mainline to refer to those actions or events which advance the plot. By definition, background/offline material does not advance the theme or plot. This is the binary division I advocate, recognizing that there is highlighting and prominence marking occurring at times on both planes.

My sense of what Jones and Jones are responding against is the early tendency to take Longacre’s model as a simple, flat, binary opposition. Things have come a long way since the 70s. My claims in Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament refer to highlighting devices, but do not relate the highlighting back to grounding. I would agree with J&J’s assertion that there can be prominence marking on both planes, but would say that the binary division of “that which advances the theme/plot” and “that which does not” still stands. It is not clear to me that Porter’s frontground is simply prominence marking in the foreground. He seems to view it as something distinctly different from foreground.

  1. Wallace, Stephen. “Figure and Ground: The Interrelationships of Linguistic Categories.” In Tense-Aspect: Between Semantics and Pragmatics, edited by Paul J. Hopper, 201–223. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1982.
Feb 21 / Steve Runge

The Proverbs 31 Woman’s Reward

A friend whom I respect posed a question that got me thinking: Why does the woman described in Proverbs 31:10-31 receive praise instead of love, especially if these verses represent her husband’s viewpoint? It’s a good question deserving reflection. Here is the text from the NIV:

10A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.

11Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.

12She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

13She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.

14She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.

15She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.

16She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.

18She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.

19In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

21When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

22She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

26She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

27She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

29“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

30Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

31Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.)

First, I think that this section is not an insider’s view of the marriage, i.e. the husband writing about his amazing wife. Instead it is an external view, the view from the community of a woman possessing amazing qualities. The life she lives doesn’t impact her alone; those who work for her also reap the benefits. The fact that there is a “woman behind the man” translates into her husband being well-respected, ostensibly because of how her encouragement and challenge has shaped him into a better man than he’d have been otherwise. In other words, his esteemed status is attributed, at least in part, to her influence in his life. The goods she produces are well-known, her business transactions are prudent and above-board. All of this sounds like an outsider’s perspective on what she is doing, not her husband recounting her amazingness.

Second, because this is an outsider’s view rather than the inside view of a spouse, the response to her is the kind one would expect from someone not intimately involved with her. You also need to look at the elements compared in v. 30: charm and beauty vs. fear of the Lord.

What are the typical responses to amazing charm and/or beauty in a woman, especially from men? Attention? Compliments (“You look amazing!”)? Fawning over her? Chasing after her hand in marriage?

But the writer correctly points out that such things are poor measures of a person. Remember what the rednecks say, “Beauty is skin deep, but ugly is clear to the bone.” The surface traits of charm and beauty are the foil against which fearing the Lord will be compared. Because of this, we need to think about what these surface things normally elicit. I’d say they generally bring about praise and attention.

If these fleeting things are the basis of your identity and self-affirmation, then you face a bleak future. Why? Outward beauty doesn’t last forever. As it slips away, so will your self-esteem. That is, unless you choose the route of fearing the Lord. Note that this is the first mention of her relationship with the Lord in the whole section; it’s been implicit up to this point.

Affirmation (or the lack of it) from our community can play a huge role in shaping our self-identity and esteem. Too many girls are tempted to win this affirmation through vain things like looks and charm. This passage is an apologetic against taking the surface route, against avoiding the deeper issues. How many women hide problems with self-esteem with a plastic, glam-based exterior?

The writer is appealing for women to invest in the long-term payoff of inner beauty, arguing that the cheap shortcuts will only end in disappointment and heartache. They might appear to be effective, but only for the short term. They will not lead to that highly-prized and treasured status that we all want to have at the end of our life: being a person who is valued, loved, respected, who’s really made a difference in people’s lives.

This passage is about the community’s response to a woman who’s invested in her character, an investment the long haul. It is assumed her husband loves her. But how many wives long to hear it, long to be praised and thanked for what they do instead of being taken for granted? How would that kind of affirmation affect self-confidence and esteem? These are haunting questions, especially as my daughters are now teens and as my wife and I head through year 21 of marriage. How am I building into them? what am I affirming or teaching them to value?

Here’s another way of looking at the praise vs. love issue. The woman of noble character receives the same thing that the Lord Himself is to receive from the believing community: praise. It’s not that love isn’t a part of it. The praise is an intentional, explicit expression of what too often remains implicit.