Logos Bible Software just released Steve Runge’s excellent new commentary on Romans. Runge has introduced many of us into the world of discourse grammar with his first book Discourse Grammer and then a complete analysis of the New Testament. I will soon be writing a full review of the Romans commentary but in the meantime I had the privelege to conduct an interview with the man himself.
How long did you work on this Romans commentary?
The book was in process for three years, but I did not work on it consistently during that time. Other projects and the needs of my folks kept me away more than I wanted, and I also learned some important lessons about how NOT to write a longer book. ‘Nuf said.
How does discourse grammar allow you to both zoom in to understand the particulars of a passage while maintaining the overall picture of the book?
I’ve heard complaints from some that what I do isn’t really “discourse” anything because I don’t go above the sentence level. Hmm. Whatever you call my approach, identifying lower level features is not the end of the game, but just the beginning. The theoretical model I follow, based on the work on cognitive comprehension of reading by Walter Kintsch, views reading as an iterative process rather than bottom-up or top-down. So as I analyze lower-level features, these necessarily inform the next level of analysis as I move up the text. But after I have analyzed smaller units into higher-level structures, my approach demands that I corroborate my findings by reconciling them with the lower-level features. This lead to the the kind of conundrum presented by bibles making a major break at Romans 8:1.
The problem? All the linguistic markers point to the major break being at 7:25b with ἄρα οὖν. This data forced me to rethink the relationship between 7:14 ff. and Romans 8. So although I may not be doing what some think discourse analysis demands, I never claimed that I was doing that. But I am certainly moving in that direction, as the HDC Romans volume will demonstrate. Discourse grammar was a necessary precursor to master lower-level features, setting the stage to move from discourse grammar to discourse analysis. Look for more on the latter in 2015.
One of the more controversial passages in Romans is 7:14–25. The major question is whether Paul is speaking of his pre-Christian self or himself as a Christian. How specifically does discourse grammar shed light on your interpretation?
The conundrum I hit at viewing 7:25b as the beginning of the talk about the Spirit necessarily impacted my reading of 7:14–25. I’m not going to spoil it, but I believe we have been asking the wrong questions about this passage, especially if it is without carefully considering the connection to 8. Paul has dealt with the penalty of sin, but not with the ongoing problem of sin in the flesh that we all face until our bodies are finally redeemed (8:23). Paul is well aware that we will need to contend with sin until either our death or Christ’s return. 7:14–25 describes the universal struggle all of us contend with until the final redemption. The devil is our adversary, but the desires of our flesh are an even more present one, as he makes clear. The solution to these two laws that he sees at work in us (7:25)? No longer living enslaved to the flesh, but with our mind set on the Spirit so as to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom 8). That’s it in a detail-less nutshell, but there are all kinds of thematically-loaded references in these chapters that clarify Paul’s intentions. I don’t think Paul is talking about either his pre-Christian experience or is present struggle, but rather the universal struggle that we all face in this present fallen flesh until we are fully redeemed.
Just a quick note from Brian: These are actual images from the commentary. One of the great aspects of these are they they are easy to save and implement into powerpoints for teaching or preaching. Also, Logos provides blank templates with the corresponding background so you can also add your own slides as well. Personally, I think the images throughout the commentary add both another way of examining the passage but also to be able to understand the concepts better.
How does one enter the world of studying discourse grammar?
I have a blog post on that very topic at my site that covers that very topic, as it is one of the most frequently-asked questions I receive. You’ll also find a lot of introductory materials to work through including a free sample of the Discourse Grammar. I blogged my way through the chapters as I wrote in order to test out my explanations. Most all of my conference papers and articles are posted on the Publications page.
If you want to see what the practical payoff is for applying discourse grammar to exegesis, both the Romans and Philippians High Definition Commentaries are on sale through Oct. 28. Just use the coupon code HighDefCom at checkout for 15% off.
Thanks Dr. Runge for taking part in this interview!
Other information about the Romans commentary:
Organized into preachable portions of Scripture and featuring over 100 custom graphics, Romans is perfect for sermons, Bible studies, and small groups. Using principles of linguistics and Biblical exegesis, Dr. Runge illuminates the key principles and overall message of the book of Romans. This commentary not only helps you identify the big ideas of a passage, it gives you custom slides that you can export right into sermons and Bible studies. Dr. Runge provides applicable and approachable examples throughout, making clear every-day connections between ideas in Romans and practical living. The High Definition Commentary: Romans is a one-of-a-kind Bible teaching tool, and only available from Lexham Press.
Check out Dr. Runge’s excellent blog related to all things discourse grammar at NT Discourse.