"Ask WHATEVER YOU WANT" or "whatever you want, ASK"? (John 15.7)


Well, drats. Typically when I come to a place that's tricky, as far as diagnosing the information structure of a given text, I can consult both Runge's Lexham Discourse GNT (via Logos) and Levinsohn's BART analysis and be guided in the right direction. But alas, today's not my lucky day—for both of them differ on their take of what's going on in Jesus' instruction in John 15.7. Here's two screenshots of their takes:

Levinsohn's BART analysisRunge's LDGNT analysis

The line I'm interested in is the middle one: ὃ ἐὰν θέλητε αἰτήσασθε ("whatever you want, ask"). And from these pics you'll see that Runge takes "ask" to be focal (indicated by the bolded script) while Levinsohn has determined that "whatever you want" is focal (indicated by the red box).

Now normally when I come across such a disparity, I'll just ask one of them and it typically ends up being a superficial discrepancy: one thinks the other's right, or meant to change it earlier, etc. But I haven't brought this up yet because I wanted to take a stab at it myself, first. So if you'd like to join me, please do. I'm quite in the dark on this one, but here's some initial thoughts:

  1. No doubt the word order is marked. The question is which constituent is marked: the verb or the non-verbal constituent?
  2. Normally when a non-topical constituent is placed before the verb it's to mark it as focal (as Levinsohn suggests), though sometimes all the other non-verbal constituents can be moved up front so as to save the verb for last, isolating it at the end and marking it as focal (which is what Runge indicates).
  3. How to determine which is which is basically to gauge which constituent is more given/presupposed than the other: "ask" or "whatever you want".
  4. In 14.13 both concepts are equally activated via left-dislocation.
  5. In 14.14 the balance is disrupted and "anything" (τι) is marked as focal.
  6. In 15.16 they are equally activated as a single topic.
  7. 16.23 same thing as before.
  8. In 16.24 the concept of asking for stuff is discussed in an unmarked fashion (i.e. default).
  9. Over all, it seems that Jesus is internally flustered (in a good way) because his disciples have asked God for nothing! It seems he's trying to egg them on, coaxing them into asking (for anything) so that God might be glorified through the fruit that his reaped in his compliance with their requests.
  10. With that said, I think that "asking" (i.e. prayer) is the most presupposed instruction that Jesus is passing on to his peeps in John 15.7. It's not that there is anything new about the instruction to pray. It's what Jesus has been talking about, is about to do, and more importantly, one of the primary modes of "abiding" or "remaining" in the vine that he reveals. In praying, while abiding, fruit is borne—requests are granted.
  11. So I think the part of the sentence that makes this utterance into an assertion (i.e. what is focal) is the "whatever you want" part. He's already instructed his disciples to do this (almost verbatim) in 14.13, but at that point no part is marked. But then, in the next verse, this "whatever you want" aspect is in fact marked out as focal. So I think here, too, we have the same thing: "whatever you want" is fronted to indicate it as the focal part of the utterance.
  12. And I thus side with Levinsohn. No hard feelings Steve. ;)