All of my blog posts so far have focused on analyzing discourse features in the Greek New Testament, which can make it seem like they only occur in Greek. If you’ve taken a class from me or watched a Mobile Ed course I’ve taught, you’ll know I rely heavily upon examples from everyday English to illustrate how we use the same devices today. One of the benefits of the LDGNT and HDNT projects is having all of the literary, rhetorical, grammatical and syntactic devices marked up for you, allowing you to slow down and think about why the writer might have phrased it this way as opposed to that way. I decided to take a hymn often sung during Easter or combination to help you take a closer look at something familiar, a “look under the hood” so to speak. Although Greek and English are very different, discourse grammar allows us to appropriately compare languages devices based on what they accomplish. Below is an analysis of the words, describing the discourse task accomplished in the embedded footnotes. If you are using an RSS reader, you will want to read directly from the site to utilize the pop-up feature of the footnotes. If you want to learn more about the concepts discussed besides the brief definition I provide, see the Glossary on the publications page. It provides an expansion and an example. The Discourse Grammar does this to an even greater extent, with a minimum of 10 examples discussed for each concept. There is an excerpt of the draft available here.
O[1. English does not really mark cases, but the use of “O” in King Jamesish language typically signals that what follows is direct address, like the vocative in Greek. It identifies the intended addressee of a speech, e.g. “Hey Joe, where you going…” Joe is not the grammatical subject, but a separate expression identifying the intended referent of “you.” You will find “O” frequently used in conjunction with commas to mark expressions in the English Bible as vocatives.] sacred Head,[2. The “sacred Head” is actually Jesus, as already discerned. The “changed reference” to a thematically loaded expression introduces the possibility of ambiguity about the intended referent, but it is outweighed by the thematic benefit of being able to (re-)characterize Jesus in a particular way in this particular context for a particular thematic purpose. Other examples include John the Baptist referring to the Pharisees as “You brood of vipers” (Matt 3:7) or Jesus the temple as “my Father’s house” (John 2:16). Changing from the expected “Jesus” means the writer wanted to highlight something, typically for thematic reasons.] now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down
Now[3. The repetition of “now” is not to update the time, but is more likely “resumptive,” indicating that what follows is concurrent with whatever was going on in the last mention. This technique is often found in the OT, e.g. Gen 39:1 repeating the content from the end of Gen 37 about Joseph’s situation following the story of Judah and Tamar. I call it “Meanwhile, back at the ranch…”] scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown[4. All of what precedes is a description of the intended addressee, Jesus. The main clause about this addressee begins with “How art…” The writer has gone to great lengths to characterize Jesus in a particular way in this particular context, based on his intended goals for the hymn.]
How art Thou pale with anguish, With[5. Again we see the repetition used to indicate a parallelism, that “with sore abuse…” connects to “with anguish”. The same task could have been accomplished stating “with anguish, sore abuse and scorn.” Repeating “with” explicitly creates two parallel but distinct pieces rather than a list of three items.] sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish Which once was bright as morn!
Hope this was helpful. Next time you sing a hymn, take the time to think about what you are singing. There is great richness in words, especially if they are used well. Discourse grammar does not breathe life into what is analyzed, the life was there all along. The same holds for the Greek NT. We simply need to take the time and develop the skills needed to read well. Leave a comment if this was helpful, or if there are other things to point out.
If you found this explanation helpful, then check out the High Definition Commentary series. It’s designed to address complex matters of advanced grammar and discourse analysis in plain language like Dr. Runge did with the hymn above. The commentaries also include graphics that can help you both in your own study and your communication of that to others. The Philippians and Romans volumes are available for purchase now, and the James volume is available for pre-ordering at a significant discount. And don’t forget to check back each week for the next installment of HiDef Mondays.