In a recent Bible teaching opportunity, I prefaced the exegesis¹ with a general spotlight on communication. In particular, I was attempting to show how concepts might be emphasized in scripture.
Now, way back when, I was actually considering getting a graduate degree in communication and sat in on a communication theory class at the University of Delaware. I don’t think I would have lasted in that program, although much of the theory and praxis is still very intriguing. I’m glad I chose music for graduate studies, not only because it is the so-called universal language, but because I’m better at it. J Regardless of educational and career paths, I’ve for decades been interested in the nature and flow of communication.
Music communicates; spoken and written language communicate; gesture and other nonverbal signals also communicate, and scripture is worth little if it does not communicate.²
The question here is this: what are some of the methods that scripture authors might employ in order to communicate emphasis?
I just chose a method in the last line: italics. We can do that in written language these days, thanks to technology. (Hint to Facebook: add some rich-text capability, and I might write more there to friends. We can’t be as communicative when we can’t bold and italicize things.)
Here are some ways that I think can be used in communicating emphasis. Many of these—some more than others—are used by scripture authors. Only a few of these are specifically known as “emphatic” devices in biblical Greek, but this category used by linguistic and syntactic experts doesn’t rule out other aspects and manners of communicating important things.
- Word choices (strong? unusual/new?)
- Syntax, e.g., intentional word order (promoting, delaying)
- Helping words that precede or follow (may be language-specific)
- “Apostolic authority” phrasing (epistles)
- Linear progression
- Inclusios, chiasmus, and other rhetorico-structural “sandwiching”
Specific to Oral Communication
- Rhyme, consonance, alliteration
- Voice tone
- Voice pitch
- Physical gesture
Specific to Written Communication
- Bold, italics, underlining (writing)
For a 20-minute video lesson on some of the communicative features of a tightly constructed portion of Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians, please go here. It’s by no means a professional presentation, but it’s got some good stuff in it, and I tried to re-communicate some things Paul was trying to communicate.
¹ Some level of exegesis should always come before application. Pure reading will likely come before exegesis, but, in any event, we ought to try to understand the original text before attempting to apply it to ourselves or to some aspect of the current era.
² A brief post in two days will follow up on this sentence.