Simon Crisp reviews “The Language and Literature of the New Testament: Essays in Honor of Stanley E. Porter’s 60th Birthday”

Reviews of the Enoch Seminar 2017.07.06

K. Fuller Dow, Craig A. Evans, and Andrew W. Pitts, eds., The Language and Literature of the New Testament: Essays in Honor of Stanley E. Porter’s 60th Birthday. Biblical Interpretation Series 150. Leiden: Brill, 2017. ISBN: 978-90-04-33489-2. Pp. xxv + 821. $271.00. Hardback.

Simon Crisp
Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing
University of Birmingham, U.K.


The Language and Literature of the New TestamentStanley Porter is one of the most prolific of all New Testament scholars, with contributions in an impressively wide range of areas. This large volume published in honor of Porter’s sixtieth birthday, fittingly, contains a broad range of contributions on a variety of topics, many by leading specialists in their own fields.

The volume opens with a sixty-page survey of Porter’s work by his close colleague and collaborator Andrew Pitts. This survey is divided into 14 sections: general editorial responsibilities; Papyrology, text and canon (somewhat surprisingly grouped together); NT Greek grammar and linguistics; Translation theory and application; Pauline studies; Historical Jesus research; Synoptic Gospels; Luke-Acts; Johannine studies; Hermeneutics, history of interpretation, and interpretive methodologies; Rhetorical criticism; Social world of the NT; Use of the OT in the NT; Pedagogy and philosophy of education/scholarship. Each of these sections (apart from the first) has a similar structure: following a short introduction by Pitts, Porter’s publications in the given field are listed. In most cases there is also a note of which contributions to the present volume relate to each particular area. Although as Pitts notes there is some duplication in the bibliography (some publications are listed in more than one section) and although “popular publications and presentations” have been largely excluded (page 1, with some other exclusions noted at the bottom of page 2), still the resulting impression is of a scarcely credible level of energy and productivity.

The remainder of the volume is divided into two sections: The Texts and Language of the New Testament with thirteen chapters, and The Literature and Theology of the New Testament with nineteen. The review that follows will address the chapters in the order they appear in the volume and will provide details where possible, devoting most attention to areas where the reviewer has a particular interest or competence. The review concludes with some brief general comments on the book as a whole.

Part I opens with a brief description by Richard Hess of Brill’s Septuagint Commentary series, of which both the author and Porter are General Editors. There follow two substantial papers on the initiative, where Porter has been one of the prime movers: a survey by Christopher Land and Francis Pang, which aims to narrate the history of the project and future plans for its development; and a more technical contribution by Catherine Smith and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, dealing with the use of for the analysis of individual Greek NT manuscripts (with a detailed set of examples from Codex Sinaiticus). Taken together, these two solid papers give a good picture of the way in which innovative computer technology can contribute to linguistic analysis of the language of the New Testament.

The English-language monopoly in the volume is broken by the only paper in German (indeed in any language other than English), Hans Förster’s piece on the text of Acts 17:27 (μαλιστα ζητειν τον θειον εστιν) in Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis. Förster argues that the difficulties with this text and the widespread view that it has been corrupted (for instance by the incorporation of a marginal gloss into the text itself) can in fact be explained by positing a different segmentation of the text (following his similar proposal regarding the segmentation of John 8:25) which gives an intelligible reading, and that the Latin text of Codex Bezae actually represents a more free translation of the Greek. Förster’s proposal will thus be of interest both to textual critics and to Bible translators. There follows a fascinating discussion by John Lee of the variant spellings υαλος/υελος for “glass” in Revelation, focusing particularly on the readings of P47 against the background of evidence from a range of inscriptions and documentary texts, and the views of the Atticist grammarians. Lee’s conclusion is that the variant υελος is not as trivial as first appears, and should be included in the critical apparatus to the Greek New Testament as it is part of the linguistic history of the text.

The question of sense divisions in manuscripts is taken up in a clear and systematic way by Sean Adams. Taking his lead from a remark by Galen about copying such markers as well as the text itself, and on the basis of clear evidence of such careful copying in two manuscripts of Clement’s Paedagogus (one of which is clearly a copy of the other), Adams looks at a number of manuscripts of Romans to test whether the copying of sense divisions can be linked to manuscript families by means a comparison of the so-called Western Pauline codices (D, F, G and 0319) with Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus. His conclusion, that the results of his investigation are mixed and that much depends on individual scribal practices, is not revolutionary; the article is valuable for the perspectives it opens, for its clarity of presentation, and for presenting all the raw data in a series of appendices so that the reader can check the analysis.

Next comes an evaluation by Craig Evans of the claim that the early dates assigned to some early NT papyri cannot be sustained in view of the tiny Christian population of Egypt (from where these papyri originate) in the second century. Evans concludes that such early dating is not as problematic as has been claimed, for two reasons: firstly (and very briefly) that palaeographical considerations should be given priority over demographical ones, and secondly (in much more detail) that the figures for the Christian population are in any case not so easy to calculate. In view of the evidence from Roman sources about the considerable impact of Christianity in other parts of the Empire already in the early second century, it may be that the number of Christians in Egypt at this time was also large enough the make the survival of the dozen or so papyri for which a second-century date has been claimed to be reasonably plausible.

Hughson Ong addresses the methodological premises underpinning the “increasing awareness among biblical scholars that Greek would have been the primary prestige language and lingua franca” in first-century Palestine (218). His highly critical engagement with work by Scott Charlesworth, on the basis of a number of sociolinguistic approaches, provides a useful introduction to work in the field. From Jesus’ (possible) use of Greek we move to the specific features of Paul’s Greek usage in R. Dean Anderson’s contribution on “Grappling with Paul’s Language,” which offers a detailed and illuminating overview of the idiosyncrasies of Pauline usage, focusing in particular on the different kinds of Semitic influence in Paul’s Greek (Hebrew via LXX, influence from Aramaic as Paul’s first language). Pauline style, and more particularly the style of Josephus, is the subject of a comprehensively documented technical analysis by Andrew Pitts and Joshua Tyra, who use statistical linguistic methods (style-shift analysis and register design applied to words with the root φιλ- and Latin borrowings) to shed light on questions of authorship. This kind of research, while technically demanding, is of course important for the debate about the authorship of the disputed Pauline works.

Cynthia Long Westfall offers a survey of all 489 occurrences of ουν in the Greek New Testament (but without any comparative material from other Greek texts of the period). She uses the categories of discourse analysis to demonstrate that ουν is a marker of (various kinds of) prominence at sentence level (292) and above (300). Thomas Hatina moves from linguistic treatment of the conjunctions ινα and μηποτε to an application of Northrop Frye’s “archetypal theory of the mythopoeic” (322) in an exemplary account of how to interpret the difficult saying about the failure of Jesus’ hearers to respond in Mark’s Gospel (4:11–12) with its antecedent in Isaiah 6. Finally in this first section, Buist Fanning—a long-time interlocutor of Stanley Porter concerning the aspectual system of NT Greek—turns his attention to the tense-aspect forms of John’s Apocalypse from the perspective of their discourse functions. As in his other publications, Fanning takes issue with some of the views held by Porter, but his careful treatment shows how influential these views have been.

We may turn now to the nineteen chapters on Literature and Theology that make up Part II of the volume under review. Mark Boda opens this section with a study of the role of the Haggai-Malachi corpus (and specifically Mal. 3:23–24 MT) in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke. The theme of intertextual relations is continued by Ronald Peters, who argues that the particular Johannine usage of σημεια is best understood against the background of the use of the same term in the Septuagint, using the concept of hyperlink from the work of Gérard Genette. The Moses narrative in LXX is thus a hypotext, which provides a hermeneutical guide to John’s Gospel as hypertext.

Charles Hill presents a detailed analysis of John 21:24 in light of the debate about the composition of the Gospel. On the basis of numerous parallels from elsewhere in the Gospel he contends that the third-person reference to “the disciple who bore witness to these things” at the beginning of the verse is a self-disclosure of the Beloved Disciple as the author of the Gospel, and that the first person plural reference “we know” is an authorial plural for singular, the author confirming his confidence in his own testimony. This robust defence of traditional authorship is set against claims of composite authorship of the Gospel by a Johannine school, which Hill says will need to be reconsidered.

Jonathan Watt offers an engaging survey of politeness theory and attempts to apply this to several passages from the Gospel of Matthew (listed on 447–48). The survey itself is a model of clarity, and the emphasis on the cross-cultural dimension of politeness strategies is potentially significant for exegesis and Bible translation. Thomas Olbricht brings a rhetorical perspective to bear on Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, paying particular attention to the OT genre of credo or enumeration of God’s mighty acts. Nehemiah 9 is a comprehensive example of the genre (458–59), but Olbricht also finds echoes (conscious or unconscious) of Psalms 105 and 106 in Stephen’s speech. Next, Darrell Bock uses the accounts of Paul’s conversion to argue (contra Bart Ehrman in particular) that an understanding of Jesus’ unique divine nature (a high Christology) goes back to the very earliest stage of Christianity.

Eckhard Schnabel provides the text and translation of several Greek documents giving the background to the accusation against the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:18 of introducing foreign gods through his preaching.  James Dunn offers an essay “drawn from” the third volume of his Christianity in the Making (521 n1), in which he looks in turn at the way the Gnostic sources, Marcion and Irenaeus provide a backdrop for our understanding of the particular contribution of Paul, who “remains a contrary and troublesome figure within the history of Christianity” (533). The Pauline theme continues with Nicholas Perrin, who presents a reading of Romans 13:1–7 which suggests that “this passage be read against the backdrop of Habakkuk and the wider biblical story of exile” (550).

Stephen Westerholm introduces the work of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a famous evangelical expositor who preached a series of 372(!) sermons on the book of Romans, subsequently published in fourteen volumes. He gives a good sense of an approach to Paul very different from the one found in other contributions to the volume under review. We return to more familiar academic territory with Craig Keener’s account of Paul’s list of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 in the light of other lists of virtues from antiquity, especially in the works of the Stoics.

James Dvorak introduces Halliday’s theory of language as social semiotic, as a way of explaining the ways in which NT authors engage in the negotiation of values, and especially “to position others such that they are inclined to take up the same values with the hope that community solidarity will be generated around the ideology or ideologies that these value positions reify” (601). Looking in particular at the model of Appraisal (“the language user’s choice to make evaluative meaning”), Dvorak first presents a detailed schema breaking this model down into categories and subcategories of behavior (608), which he then illustrates with a number of NT passages, ending with an extended application to 3 John. The argument is quite complex and sophisticated, but the approach clearly has much to offer to exegetes.

With Jae Hyun Lee’s contribution on the methods used by Paul to present his ethical teaching in Philippians we return to a more traditional approach to exegesis, using the technique of “close reading.” (It has to be said, unfortunately, that the results are not all that enlightening.) Next, Christopher Stanley applies insights from postcolonial theory (notably hybridity, ethnic conflict, manipulation, the role of indigenous minorities, and the use of social and rhetorical programs to promote interethnic peace and reconciliation) to the terms Ιουδαιοι and Ελληνες and the relations between them, revisiting a topic that he himself wrote about some twenty years ago. David Mathewson interacts in detail with Porter’s work on the opponents of Paul to explore the suggestion that the opponents referred to in Colossians represent not the Essene community per se, but a “Qumran-type of Judaism” (667). He finds a number of detailed parallels in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the key passage in Col 2:16–13.

Michael Kruger offers an exemplary study of the double quotation in 1 Tim 5:18, dealing especially with the question of whether the second part of the quotation (ἄξιος ὁ ἐργάτης τοῦ μισθοῦ αὐτοῦ) could be taken as evidence that some NT writings (in this case Luke 10:7) could already have been considered as canonical Scripture by the time 1 Timothy was written. A careful review of the evidence leads him to the conclusion that the quotation most likely comes either from a sayings source or from the Gospel of Luke, with a slight preference for the latter. (As he points out, however, much depends on one’s view of the authorship, and therefore the date of 1 Tim.)

Bryan Dyer looks at the possible relation between the Epistle of James (more specifically Jas 5:10–11a) and the Maccabean martyr literature, interacting in detail with a similar passage in Hebrews 11 and with Stanley Porter’s recent work on scriptural allusion. Craig Blomberg turns his attention to the value of external sources (Jewish writings, inscriptions, archaeological evidence) for debunking “urban legends” in NT exegesis like the reference to the lukewarm nature of the Laodiceans (now shown to be entirely metaphorical rather than a reflection of the city’s water supply system), and the nature of “Christ’s descent into hell” (1 Pet 3) which is to be elucidated from the many references to imprisoned fallen angels in 1 Enoch. Blomberg proves to be an eloquent and appealing guide to many such well-known “exegetical fallacies.” And finally, Beth Stovell gives a survey of Exodus motifs in Paul and John by means of detailed interaction with Porter’s work on the use of the OT in the NT, particularly the proposal of a scale of such references proceeding from direct quotation to echo. Her essay is a model of response to and development of Porter’s scholarship in this area, and draws together some threads from other contributors who deal in one way or another with the topic of intertextuality.

The book ends with an extensive (40 pages) Index of Ancient Sources, and an Index of Modern Authors. Given the very wide range of topics covered in the volume, a subject index would also have been useful. As one would expect from Brill, the book is produced to a high standard, typos are rare (the unfortunate misspelling of Porter’s first name in page 625 n.1 is an exception) and errors of fact infrequent (page 3 the journal The Bible Translator is published by United Bible Societies, not American Bible Society).  In all, this volume provides a stimulating variety of contributions in many areas of NT study, and as such constitutes a fitting tribute to a scholar whose own influential contribution to the field has truly ranged far and wide. 

Simon Crisp

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