Michael A. Rudolph, «Beyond Guthrie?: Text-linguistics and New Testament Studies.», Vol. 26 (2013) 27-48
The promise of linguistics for biblical studies has not yet been realized. While the bulk of the biblical, scholarly community has remained aloof and unimpressed, others have pursued this field of study, struggling with unfamiliar and often ill-defined terminology, even as they sought to develop an effective and objective methodology. This paper examines the work of one “eclectic” approach, the “Cohesive Shift Analysis” of George H. Guthrie, acknowledging its contribution, yet also suggesting corrective refinements.
Beyond Guthrie?: Text-linguistics and New Testament Studies 29
one reason for this struggle. For the interpretation of modern literature
where the receiver is bombarded with obvious structural signals
(e.g., indentation, headings, chapter titles, a table of contents, bold or
italicized fonts, marginal summary statements, etc.), this task is often
so straightforward that one need not hone an interpretive sensitivity to
these issues. For the interpretation of the ancient, biblical text, where
space was precious and could not be wasted upon such convenient, visual
signals and where these visual signals would have been essentially wasted
in communication to an orally/aurally-based society, this interpretive
task is no longer so straightforward for the modern interpreter.
Several recent studies have sought to utilize the insights of linguistics,
as developed within secular disciplines, to bridge this gap in biblical
studies. The results, to date, have failed to impress. Carson states, “[O]ne
. . . area in which considerable work has been done, but which has, so
far, had relatively little impact on Biblical Studies . . . is the study of
Greek, especially as nourished by the burgeoning field of linguistics”5.
The confusion regarding terminology and methodology, within both the
fields of biblical studies and the larger field of linguistics, has no doubt
contributed to this failure6. Recent applications of text-linguistics to the
study of Hebrews are illustrative of this failure7. One must ask, “Is the
application of linguistics to biblical studies an interpretive dead-end?
Can its perceived promise of objectivity justify the intellectual expense,
or even produce consistent results?
While a thorough analysis of linguistic issues foundational to these
questions and a survey of past applications of linguistics to biblical
studies fall beyond the scope of this limited study, an evaluation of one
recent example may prove informative and offer suggestions for moving
the discussion forward. For this, the methodology of Cohesion Shift
Analysis, as developed by George Guthrie, has been chosen. His work is
particularly suited for this study because it has been described in detail
in several places, because his work has proven influential in subsequent
D. A. Carson, “Reflections Upon a Johannine Pilgrimage,” in T. Thatcher (ed.), What
We Have Heard from the Beginning: The Past, Present, and Future of Johannine Studies
(Waco, TX 2007) 97.
For a summary of competing schools of thought, see S.E. Porter, “Discourse Analysis
and New Testament Studies,” in Discourse Analysis and Other Topics in Biblical Greek
(JSNTSup 113; Sheffield 1995) 24–34.
For differing structural conclusions from scholars each utilizing discourse analysis, see
Linda Lloyd Neeley, “A Discourse Analysis of Hebrews,” OPTT 3–4 (1987) 41, 66, 86, 114;
Guthrie, Structure, 144; Westfall, Hebrews, 299–301. Cf., Vanhoye, Structure of Hebrews,
32–40, whose approach utilizes a similar methodology.