A Discourse Analysis of Philippians: Methid and Rhetoric in the Debate over Literary Integrity

By Peterman, G. W. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 1999 | Go to article overview

A Discourse Analysis of Philippians: Methid and Rhetoric in the Debate over Literary Integrity


Peterman, G. W., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


A Discourse Analysis of Philippians: Method and Rhetoric in the Debate over Literary Integrity. By Jeffrey T. Reed. JSNTSup 136. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997, 525 pp., $80.00.

Reed says concerning his work: "To my knowledge, it is the first monograph-- sized attempt at a New Testament discourse analysis based on systemic linguistics" (p. 24). Reed builds on the systemic-functional theories of M. A. K. Halliday, hoping to present "the framework of Halliday's theory in a readable and usable manner for the New Testament scholar" (p. 7). He applies this theory to the literary integrity of Philippians.

The book has two parts. The first part, "Discourse Analysis as New Testament Hermeneutic," divides into two chapters. Chapter one provides an introduction to discourse analysis, including a sketch of its history. Chapter two presents "A Model of New Testament Discourse Analysis." For those unfamiliar with discourse analysis or systemic linguistics, part one is worth reading, but the reading is very difficult. Though Reed seeks to present systemic linguistics in a readable and usable manner for the NT scholar, scholar and layperson both are likely to find this section laborious reading as they try to make sense of new (or differently used) terms such as cotext, rheme, thematisation, texture, slots, fillers, meronymy, temporal deixis, ideational, register, virtual system and transitivity. One cannot read through these first two chapters; one must study or gain almost nothing.

I must admit I found parts of Reed's first section to be quite tedious, as he delved into the obvious, such as that NT writers "are not readily available to be questioned regarding their assumptions and intentions" ( pp. 39-40) and that context limits word choice so that we cannot complete the statement I gulped down with the phrase a dog running through the park. At times hermeneutical guidelines are wrapped with different words and presented as fresh insights, even though a careful reader can find some of the same hermeneutical instruction being given in Plutarch's How a Young man Should Study Poetry (ca. AD 50-120). I do not imply that discourse analysis is without value, only that its insights are sometimes presented as new when in fact they are actually sharpening of old insights.

Part two is a "Discourse Analysis of Philippians" and has four chapters, titled "The Debate over the Literary Integrity of Philippians," "The Structure of Philippians," "The Texture of Philippians" and "Conclusion." Part two is the strength of Reed's work. In these chapters he is careful, detailed and insightful, virtually providing the reader with an introduction to ancient letter writing and epistolary theory. …

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