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 31
Although Guthrie notes the necessity of keeping the larger view
in focus as one examines the details of micro-analysis, his analysis in
these initial steps is heavily weighted toward these details and only
gradually moves to the consideration of the text as a whole12. In defense
of this essentially “bottom-up” approach Guthrie argues, “In analyzing
each colon separately, the researcher is able to focus on the author’s
propositions which are central to his argument”13. He further asserts, “To
understand the function of a paragraph unit in the broader discourse one
must first understand the various functions of the clauses that make up
With the third step, which is further sub-divided into four parts,
Guthrie reaches the heart of his methodology: the identification of unit
boundaries. The first part involves an examination of the cohesion of a
text for the purpose of noting seams where the cohesive dynamics are
disrupted. He argues these cohesive shifts are suggestive of structural
boundaries in the author’s text. Referencing Halliday and Hasan
for support, Guthrie defines cohesion as the “semantic property of
a text which gives the text unity, . . . a network of relationships, some
grammatical and others lexical”15. He offers various criteria which may
be evaluated to gain an objective analysis of these cohesive shifts: “genre,
G.H. Guthrie, “Discourse Analysis,” in D.A. Black and D.S. Dockery (eds.),
Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues (Nashville 2001), 260.
Guthrie states, “To perform a thorough discourse analysis, one must, in essence, move
back and forth between the micro- and macrolevels of the discourse, engaging in exegesis
both on and above the sentence and paragraph level”. Guthrie continues by describing
a procedure slightly modified from his monograph on Hebrews, yet the overall flow of
microlevel (grammatical and constituent analysis), to macrolevel (the identification of unit
boundaries), to microlevel (analyzing the internal structure of each unit), and once again
to macrolevel (analyzing the relationship and progression between units) is the same. It
should be noted, however, that Guthrie’s first examination of the “macrolevel” does not
extend beyond identifying paragraph, or unit boundaries. Thus, it is not until the last step
that Guthrie appears to consider the text as a whole. Hence, while he suggests an interplay
between these various levels of analysis, in practice, he is essentially moving from details to
the larger picture, i.e., a “bottom-up” approach. See further discussion below.
Guthrie, Structure, 47, n. 4.
Guthrie, “Shifts and Stitches,” 38.
Guthrie, Structure, 49–50. For Guthrie’s discussion of confusion regarding this term,
see Ibid, 49–50, n. 9. Cf., Halliday and Hasan, Cohesion in English, 4–6; and particularly,
K. Berger, Exegese des Neuen Testaments: Neue Wege vom Text zur Auslegung (Heidelberg
1977), 12–17 who states, “Ein Text ist ein Netz von Beziehungen, eine kohärente Folge
von Sätzen” (13). Translation: “A text is a network of relationships, a coherent sequence
of sentences”. Berger’s work appears to have been at least as influential upon Guthrie’s
thinking as Halliday and Hasan, appearing at critical junctures as support for his view of
cohesion. (See Guthrie, Structure, 36, 47, 50, 51, 52, 54, 95, 112, compared to five references
to Halliday and Hasan.) See also the discussion below.