Discourse Features of NT Greek

I’m reading Stephen Levinsohn’s Discourse Features of New Testament Greek (2d ed; Dallas: SIL, 2000) and learning some things I didn’t know about how Greek writers patterned their writings.  One thing I kinda-sorta knew but now it’s clearer:  Koine Greek is a VSO language, i.e., a typical sentence has the verb first, followed by the subject and the object.  When a writer moves a word or phrase ahead of the verb, he/she does so to highlight the word or phrase.

  • Hit John the ball.  (Normal order; no emphasis.)
  • The ball hit John.  (Object first; it was the ball that John hit.)
  • John hit the ball.  (Subject first; it was John who hit the ball.)

And that’s only the simplest example.  The book also analyzes the historical present tense of the verb, a complicated issue that I’m still processing, and much else.Ω

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5 Responses to “Discourse Features of NT Greek”

  1. Darris Says:

    A related item to emphasis is that adjectives of quantity precede the thing they modify while adjectives of quality follow. A simple example is
    “The good man” (lit. the man good)

    versus “The GOOD man” (lit. the good man).

    Picked that up from Smyth a while back. BDF gives the VSO order as the standard for a simple sentence. I’ve not pursued it much beyond that.

    I did notice that in a lot of the Mounce workbook the pattern frequently seemed to be OVS but I’ve not fully examined the examples just noticed it during use.

    Sounds like you’ve got a good book.

  2. Jack Says:

    Does Levinsohn address the (possible) influence of Semitic grammar on Koine, Since Hebrew (I know nothing of Aramaic) is also a VSO language (and NT/LXX Greek surely was influenced by Semitic culture)?

    I know nothing of Classical Greek, so I don’t know if the VSO pattern is an innovation or artifact for Koine. This intrigues me.

    Also, isn’t ὁ ἄνθρωπος κάλος a predicative arrangement? I may be confused though, Hebrew on the brain, ya know…

    JACK

  3. cbridges6159 Says:

    Yes, Jack, ὁ ἄνθρωπος κάλος is a predicate construction. Maybe Darris meant ὁ ἄνθρωπος ὁ κάλος, though I haven’t seen any useful distinction between the so-called first and second attributive constructions.

    The closest Levinsohn gets to Hebrew or Aramaic is to note differences in discourse structure between different NT writers. This suggests to me that he operates in the area where discourse structure (part of the language) shades away into style (a writer’s use of the language). Seems to me quite different to say “the language” does such-and-such versus saying the writer does such-and-such.

    Sorry to hear about Hebrew on the brain. I hear TV can remove it for you.

    UPDATE: That’s ὁ ἄνθρωπος καλός with the accent corrected.

  4. Darris Says:

    Sorry, I wasn’t trying to give the exact Greek phrasing, only the position for the uninitiated who might peer into the abyss from time to time. Shouldn’t have used (lit.). The three clearly attributive options are
    “the good man”
    “the man the good”
    “man the good”. A fourth option is substantival,
    “the good (man)”.

    Much like saying casa blanca (normal position) instead of blanca casa where the emphasis is on the color of the house. It is also possible that the addition of the article to both the noun and the adjective as in the second example is somewhat emphatic, e.g. “the man, the good (one)” [as memory serves me]. I believe the adjective is always in the attributive position in that construction.

    The converse of the adjective of quality is the position of the adjective of quantity, such as “big house”, which would not be emphatic. This often gets overlooked because of the focus on adjectives typically following nouns. So a student might mistake it for “BIG house” instead. BDF also agrees with Smyth on this matter, SS474 (1) p. 250 in my edition. Kalos is used in two of the examples in first position.

    BDF’s section on Normal Word Order starts in SS472, p. 248. The very basic construction is (1) conjunction (2) verb (3) subject (4) object (5) supplementary participle, etc. This, of course, assumes the conjunction is not postpositive, in which case the verb would begin the sentence. You can read the exceptions and nitty-gritty details to help you sleep tonight.

  5. Darris Says:

    EDIT: Should have said “I believe the adjective always follows the noun in that construction” not “attributive position”.

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