What Does Word Order Mean in New Testament Greek? A New Proposal

The relationship between word order and clausal structures, on one hand, and meaning, literary style, and authorial considerations in New Testament Greek (NTG), on the other, is an often underdeveloped yet important field for reading, understanding, and interpreting the New Testament (NT) text.
In this paper, I hope to offer a preliminary step forward in constructing a method that can account for and understand the purpose of word order patterns and variance from those patterns within NTG without presuming variations are simply “for emphasis” or that they arise from a priori assumptions of an historical or authorial nature behind the text.
Navigating between a grammatical-historical and historical-critical reading of the NT, this paper analyzes the phenomena of word order and clausal structures afresh through the lens of systemic functional grammar, following the work of Michael Halliday and building upon the work of Stanley Porter, Andrew Pitts, Ray Van Neste, and others. The proposed method works downward along a modified version of Halliday’s rank scale, analyzing the text for patterns on the discrete ranks of section, clause, and word group. Additionally, word order and syntax is analyzed according to both the type and function of sections, clauses, and word groups within the text, allowing for a holistic yet nuanced approach. As an initial test case, this paper then applies the method to the Pastoral Epistles (PE), chosen due to their similarity in content, genre, and register. This paper will conclude with the initial results of applying the method to the PE, including both a preliminary discussion of what those results imply about the rhetorical function of changes in word order and syntax in the PE and the next steps for further refining and testing the method among the PE and with other NT works.
This paper will contribute to the study of the PE and NTG in at least three key ways. First, it will propose a method for analyzing word order and syntax afresh that accounts for the variety of rhetorical contexts found in the NT. Second, it will apply the method to the PE, establishing the patterns of word order and syntax found in those letters, and argue that markedness in word order and syntax serves a variety of functions within the PE. Third, it will propose next steps for further refinement of the method and its potential impact for larger considerations of NTG, the study of register, and the possibility of historical or intertextual comparison.

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