Insightful words from Porter on Discourse Analysis

The following are not my words, they're Porter's (despite the lack of a quote-box, and hence the indentation). It's a chunk of text taken from Discourse Analysis and Other Topics in Biblical Greek (1995:22-24), a volume he and D.A. Carson co-edited. I've almost finished reading both pieces by Porter in part 1 of the book (ch 1 and ch 6). I'll probably have a couple comments on his remarks in ch 6 in the near future, but for the moment, I must share some of his insightful comments on the intersection of discourse analysis and biblical studies. They're quite good. I wish I could quote more, but at that point, it'd probably be better if you just read the chapter for yourself. In any case, here goes... and remember: this was published in 1995, before studs like Renkema came on the scene and gave us their own easter eggs. (Italics are my own)

[Previously, Porter has just finished discussing the relatively recent origins of discourse analysis...]

"The use of discourse analysis in biblical studies is more recent still, and thus is even less well established in terms of theoretical foundations and application to the reading of texts. Part of the resistance to some of the newer methods of linguistic analysis may stem from disappointment at the perceived lack of productive new readings put forward by other experimental methods, such as the structuralism of the 1970s. It is unfortunate that a method of interpretation is judged for the most part on the novelty or lack of novelty (it depends upon one’s perspective) of its interpretations, since the theoretical questions raised may well be every bit as—if not more—valuable than the answers, or at the least the answers will never be found if the questions are not first raised. However, it is also the case that theory without some form of application is probably doomed to fade sooner or later, since—at least in New Testament studies—confrontation with the text must be the ultimate test of any approach. Nevertheless, in 1989 Beardslee recognized the possible potential for application of discourse analysis to study of the New Testament:

It may well turn out to be the case that another type of linguistic interpretation [discourse analysis], making much less extensive hermeneutical claims, will come to be even more fruitful for actual exegesis than structuralism or Güttgemanns’s generative poetics.

"Perhaps these words were written too recently to have had much impact, but for whatever reason, one could hardly claim that discourse analysis is a recognized interpretative method among anything approaching a sizeable number of biblical scholars today. This is especially true of those who study the New Testament.

"Although many scholars may have heard the term discourse analysis, few know its methods or employ them in their research. In some ways it is surprising that this area of research has been so slow in arriving in New Testament studies, because there have been a few noteworthy scholars who have employed its methods. Perhaps the best known of these is Louw, who already wrote an insightful article introducing the topic in 1973. He has been instrumental both in the development of a form of discourse analysis and in applying it to numerous texts. But his article, and many subsequent publications, appeared in work related to Bible translation, an arena where many who employ discourse analysis work, and they are, to a large extent because of their own choice, not part of mainstream biblical scholarship. How to account for this widespread disregard, when the discipline of New Testament studies is (or at least is supposed to be) so text-oriented and so given to drawing upon various models from literary and social-scientific disciplines, is difficult to ascertain.

"Perhaps, as suggested above in the discussion of the development of discourse analysis, the failure to adopt it as an interpretative tool is to some degree the fault not of New Testament scholars but of the discipline of discourse analysis itself. It is perceived to be a discipline in the state of development, so much so that it is difficult for an outsider to grasp what is essential and what is superfluous to the method. This gives biblical scholars, who as noted above have a tendency to conservatism, an unwarranted excuse for holding the method at arm’s length. In their 1989 work on linguistics and biblical interpretation Cotterell and Turner offer characteristic criticism:

We must at least comment on the tentative nature of this particular aspect of linguistics [discourse analysis]. The fact is that at the present there are no firm conclusions, no generally accepted formulae, no fixed methodology, not even an agreed terminology.

"If such criticism were taken as definitive, no discipline would ever develop. [...] The kind of diversity that Cotterell and Turner speak of is not unknown to many disciplines, including the literary and sociologically-based ones so prevalent in biblical studies at this time. It is in the nature of humanistic and social-scientific investigation to be in the constant process of model-building and modification, while at the same time engaging in analysis of the data, allowing the data to influence the theory. [...]

"It seems far more likely that the difficulty with discourse analysis being adopted by New Testament scholars may rest with the scholars themselves. Even though they may be willing to accept or at the least to try a variety of what might be called secondary models, that is, models that help them to categorize the data once they have been accumulated [KL: think theological systems], there is much less apparent willingness to accept primary models, that is, models that directly affect the determination of primary data. One’s model of the nature and structure of Greek affects one’s primary model, that is, one’s view of the workings of the very language in which the text is written. Whereas many New Testament scholars continue to study or at least read New Testament Greek through older philological and grammatical models (such as those found in Robertson, BDF and Turner), discourse analysis of the New Testament should be hand in glove with many of the contemporary theoretical developments of modern linguistics, in particular what it is saying regarding the Greek of the New Testament. If it is to have the kind of impact upon New Testament studies as it is having within the field of modern linguistics, New Testament scholars will have to come to terms with the recent developments in Greek language theory and modify their view of Greek grammar and language in general."