Frederic Clarke Putnam’s Review of DISCOURSE ANALYSIS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS, edited by Todd A. Scacewater

Published on June 30, 2021 by Eugene Ho

Fontes Press, 2020 | 772 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

By Frederic Clarke Putnam


For this magisterial volume (hereafter DANTW), editor Todd A. Scacewater (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary), Assistant Professor of International Studies at Dallas International University, has assembled a sterling cast of contributing scholars, including Robert Longacre (ch. 2, “Mark”), Stephen Levinsohn (ch. 9, “Galatians”), David L. Allen (ch. 15, “Pastoral Epistles”), William Varner (ch. 18, “James”), and Ernst Wendland (ch. 21, “Johannine Epistles”), a number of whom are either present or past Bible translators or translation consultants. He himself contributed the introduction and three chapters: “Ephesians” (ch. 10), and “Colossians” (ch. 12), and “Matthew” (ch. 1; with David J. Clark).

Scacewater’s introduction (1-30) is followed by twenty-three chapters, one for nearly every book of the New Testament; even Philemon and Jude get their own chapters. 1-2 Timothy and Titus and 1-3 John are discussed in chapters 15 (“Pastoral Epistles”) and 21 (“Johannine Epistles”).

Some chapters are copiously illustrated with charts, diagrams, and tables (twenty-four, in the case of Luke), others have none (2 Corinthians, 2 Thessalonians) or one (John). The amount of Greek text varies widely, from little or none (e.g., “Matthew”, “Mark”, “Romans”) to the entire text of the book (“2 Thessalonians”, “Johannine Epistles”, “Jude”).

The book, which is unindexed, concludes with a brief, three-page bibliography (745-747).

In his introduction, Scacewater explains that discourse analysis (DA) has many different definitions, which is why the methods used in this book vary so widely and why their results are presented in different ways (paragraphs, charts, tables, &c.). As he points out, DA is not a method per se, but a discipline, an overarching way of thinking about how a text functions that asks what an author has done linguistically to make it function in that way (3).

After a brief history of the discipline of DA, Scacewater sketches how it has been applied to the New Testament (NT), and then addresses specific topics and common terms. His intimidating list of “relations posited by SSA and RST” (21-22) would be more helpful if it were fleshed out with definitions and examples.

Rather than describe each chapter, I note some general patterns in the book.

First, a number of chapters are either redacted from or based on larger monographs, commentaries, theses (&c.), which means that their authors are writing as experts on that book, not as someone who was “merely” asked to contribute a chapter. This gives the entire volume an authoritative tone (that is somewhat offset by constant statements about how much work remains to be done—the authors’ humility shines through).

Secondly, nearly every chapter volume owes a debt to Robert Longacre’s work in DA; for many reasons his chapter on Mark (reprinted from 1999) would be a good place to start for most readers—it exemplifies his method and affords a touchstone for the other chapters, even for those who do not closely follow him.

Thirdly, most authors describe their methodology in greater or lesser detail; these introductory sections must be read. Cynthia Long Westfall’s approach to Hebrews 1.1-4.16 (only) is based on Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics; David L. Allen approaches Philemon tagmemically; Stephen Pattemore applies Sperber and Wilson’s Relevance Theory as exemplified by the work of Regina Blass to the Revelation; David A. Clark and Todd A. Scacewater write about Matthew from a literary and linguistic approach; Robert Longacre’s work on Mark exemplifies his “top-down” approach; Ernst Wendland’s bottom-up approach to 1-3 John; Jenny Read-Heimerdinger’s application of DA to the textual criticism of the Codex Beza (D05) text of Acts (and so forth). Taken as a whole, these chapters demonstrate Scacewater’s assertion that DA is not a method, but a discipline that allows a number of ways of approaching a text.

Each chapter’s introduction tends to be heavily footnoted, which will help readers who want to know more about a particular approach/method, but they also tend to assume that readers know more than the basics of linguistics, discourse analysis in general, and the author’s particular approach (Pattemore, e.g., says “I will not describe either Discourse Analysis or Relevance Theory … in any detail” (713).), which means that this book will be most valuable for those with some knowledge of translation, linguistics, and/or discourse analysis. Those lacking such a background will find much of it rather heavy going.

Fourth—beyond illustrating the variety of approaches to DA—the book also demonstrates the value of DA by laying out the fruits of the authors’ studies. These conclusions will certainly help anyone preaching from these books. They will, however, most help Bible translators and discourse analysts by suggesting how the text may be questioned and by offering tools with which to answer those questions. The teacher of linguistics or Bible translation will also find much here to illustrate both specific points and general principles of discourse.

Fifth, two things would make DANTW even more useful: (1) indices of names, Scripture references, and topics; and (2) a glossary of terms, preferably one that included clear examples of each term. On the other hand, either or both of these would expand an already large work (747 pp.) beyond the point of portability. It would also be helpful to have from each author a brief list of a half-dozen “recommended readings” for readers wanting to pursue a particular approach.

A beginner wanting to use DANTW would find it helpful to begin by working through, e.g., Holistic Discourse Analysis, by Robert E. Longacre and Shin Ja J. Hwang (SIL, 2012), especially since Longacre’s work is seminal to most of this volume. And someone with no background in linguistics would be helped by reading something along the lines of, e.g., George Yule’s user-friendly The Study of Language 7th ed. (Cambridge, 2020), Language & Linguistics, by John Lyons (Cambridge, 2011), or Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation, by Peter Cotterell & Max Turner (IVP, 1989).

This is, as I began, a magisterial volume that deserves and will repay careful study. May its readers and students multiply!


Frederic Clarke Putnam (PhD), Professor, Bible & Liberal Studies, The Templeton Honors College at Eastern University (St. Davids, PA).

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Fontes Press, 2020 | 772 pages

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