The Exegetical Significance Of Synoptic Differences From The Standpoint Of Discourse Grammar -- By: Steven Runge

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 58:2 (Jun 2015)
Article: The Exegetical Significance Of Synoptic Differences From The Standpoint Of Discourse Grammar
Author: Steven Runge


The Exegetical Significance Of Synoptic Differences From The Standpoint
Of Discourse Grammar

Steven Runge*

* Steven Runge is scholar-in-residence at FaithLife, maker of Logos Bible Software, Bellingham, WA.

There is an inherent tendency towards atomization in many Synoptic approaches. It begins with students learning to color-code individual words to indicate their relationship to another gospel. At the more advanced levels, the atomization manifests itself in compiling lists of dispreferred words or preferred changes made to source material by the redactor. Again, the method tends to be word-focused, identifying and classifying the changes.

Noting changes of individual words is a necessary component of Synoptic studies, but it is not without consequences. The preoccupation with sources and hypothesized redactions can be a distraction from answering the important exegetical question, “So what?” Claiming that the change is based on stylistic preferences sidesteps the question. One can claim that Mark’s use of the historical present (HP) was dispreferred by Matthew and especially Luke, or that Mark used καί where Matthew and Luke used δέ. But rarely will you find a discussion regarding the exegetical consequences of the change. Most are content to attribute it to stylistics without regard for the exegetical consequences.

So why is this problematic? These kinds of changes have been regarded as irrelevant by some since they do not impinge on the propositional content of the text. For example, Streeter classifies the following kinds of changes by Matthew and Luke to Mark as “irrelevant agreements”:1

  • changes from the historical present (HP) to an aorist or imperfect tense-form;
  • substitution of δέ for καί;
  • insertion of full noun phrases where Mark uses an independent pronoun;2

  • introduction of ἱδού, which Mark never uses in narrative.

Although these changes may not impact the propositional content of the gospel, they do affect the exegesis.

Robert Funk observed that conjunctions belonged to a class which he termed “function words,” words that are “nearly lexically empty, that is, 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. … One may guess at the meaning of lexica...

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