The Forest And The Trees: A Method Of Discourse Analysis And Application To The Epistle Of Jude -- By: Todd T. Bolton

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 22:2 (Fall 2018)
Article: The Forest And The Trees: A Method Of Discourse Analysis And Application To The Epistle Of Jude
Author: Todd T. Bolton

The Forest And The Trees: A Method Of Discourse Analysis And Application To The Epistle Of Jude

Todd T. Bolton

My remembrance of Dr. Bill Arp: I will never forget my delightfully frustrating first class with Dr. Arp. It was my first class in the PhD program and it was on the book of Hebrews. I came in ready to unleash my many theological questions related to the believer’s security. However, as Dr. Arp carefully worked through the context, I realized that most of my questions were not what the author was intending to answer. This was initially frustrating, but ultimately freeing, as it made me appreciate the message of Hebrews in a way that my theological questions had previously obscured. Along with his great sense of humor and heart for his students, I will always remember Dr. Arp’s careful attention to tracing the author’s argument through the course of the entire letter and the need to understand each part in light of the whole. His influence continues to be felt in both my personal life and the classes I teach.


Exegetes love microscopes. Commentaries gush over word origins, verb tenses, and prepositions. This is good; the details of the text are important. However, if the exegete fails to relate how the details of words, phrases, and clauses impact the overall message of the text, he has lost the forest for the trees. And if that type of exegesis is transferred into the pulpit, the result is often a sermon of theological tidbits without a unifying theme or application. The people hearing the message leave agreeing with the points, but failing to see how those points come together in one coherent truth that will

powerfully impact their lives. And worse, the voice of Christ becomes muddled (cf. John 10:27) and his shepherding ministry is obstructed.

Discourse analysis (DA) seeks to rectify the common problem of interpreting words and phrases apart from their larger context. Far from jettisoning the details of the text, it relates how the details of the text work together to form one cohesive message. Prominent NT scholar George H. Guthrie defines discourse analysis this way: “a process of investigation by which one examines the form and function of all the parts and levels of a written discourse, with the aim of better understanding both the parts and the whole of that discourse.”2 Both the details of the text and the overall meaning are vital to proper interpretation.

Although the promise of discourse analysis is exciting, there remains a great need for a clear method if DA is to have any lasting results. Stan...

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