On the New ESV Translation of Genesis 3:16

There has been quite the rumbling of late about the announcement of a new translation of the ESV in Genesis 3:16. Here is the old translation:

Genesis 3:16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

And here is the new translation:

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to[a] your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”


aGenesis 3:16 Or shall be toward (see 4:7)

I have put the relevant change in underlined bold.

There have been many reactions to this. The Aquila Report published an article by Sam Powell [full text found here] against the translation, and Scot McKnight has written and article against it [with support from Carl Trueman], but Denny Burk has chimed in as being in favor of the translation. There is no shortage of opinions on whether the ESV did the right thing in changing this translation.

The issue involves things that linguists deal with all of the time such as intertextuality, disambiguation, translation theory, etc. Yet, in my view, there is considerable sloppiness in terms of how the text is being handled by both sides of this discussion. For example, to quote Powell:

It seems to me that using Genesis 4:7 to interpret Genesis 3:16 is rather sketchy exegesis. It would be similar to saying that God spoke against Baasha (1 Kings 16:12 – the preposition is ‘el) and God spoke unto Moses (Ex. 3:14 – the preposition is the same) therefore, God was against Moses just as he was against Baasha. It’s really bad exegesis. It seems to me that the meaning of the phrases must be determined in the context.

The fact is “sin” and women are not the same thing, and their desires are not the same thing. I wonder why we make the assumption that women’s desires are always for domination and manipulation even when the text doesn’t say so. Simply saying “Sin desires to manipulate and dominate and since the same preposition is used this applies to the woman as well” simply will not cut it. That’s not how language works.

I would say this is a misrepresentation of the facts. It is not just that the preposition is the same, but that the entire vocabulary and syntax is the same:

וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֵ֔ךְ וְה֖וּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ׃

וְאֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָת֔וֹ וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשָׁל־בּֽוֹ׃

Note the bold and underlined elements of the Hebrew text indicating how many words these two passages share. In other words, it is not just the preposition אל, but it is a whole range of vocabulary. Not only that, but the surface structure of the syntax of each verse is almost completely identical to the point where the exact same phrase structure tree can be drawn for each verse [with the exception of the one determiner in 3:16 that is not in 4:7]:


So, you have almost identical vocabulary, and almost identical syntax. Hence, the similarity is hardly limited to one preposition! Seeing as many examples of intertextuality as I have in my Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible and other texts, I think it is utterly futile to argue that this is not an example of intertextuality. When the vocabulary and syntax line up like this, it is almost certain.

However, it is the *interpretation* of the intertextuality that bothers me. Now, Denny Burk has chimed in on the issue of interpretation. He writes:

All translation is interpretation. No matter what translation philosophy one pursues (essentially literal/formal equivalence or dynamic equivalence), one is dealing with an interpretation philosophy. What distinguishes these approaches is not that one translates and the other interprets. The difference (in part) is that one exhibits a tendency toward more narrow interpretation (dynamic equivalence) while the other tends to leave more interpretive options open (essentially literal/formal equivalence).

As James Barr has pointed out, it really depends upon what is meant by “all translation is interpretation.” If we mean that we must interpret the words in the source language in order to represent them in the target language, then, indeed that is the case. However, translation is not writing a commentary, and I think such statements miss the point. Again, James Barr puts it quite eloquently in his article on the topic of translation, the task of translation is to accurately represent the semantics and pragmatics of the source language in the target language. That means that the issue of formal vs dynamic equivalence is really unimportant. The goal of the translator should be to use *both* as tools to most accurately represent the semantics and pragmatics of the source language in the target language.

However, the question is how to interpret this intertextuality. I think what is clouding the discussion is what my former professor, Dr. Willem VanGemeren used to say is the evangelical tendency toward an A=B approach to interpretation. When I taught a chapter on semantics in a hermeneutics class at my church, I brought a chair up to the front of the class, and said, “What is this?” The reply was, “A chair.” You can see the formula A=B in that response as “this is this.” Then I said, “What is a chair.” And like a knee jerk reaction, the class said, “Something you sit in.” Again, you can see the A=B approach. I then said, “Well, then, what is a bench?” The problem is that A=B doesn’t work in terms of meaning, because meaning often involves multiple semantic elements. Eventually, it will break down as it did there.

However, in intertextuality, it is even more complicated than that. For example, the overlaying of structures can be indicated by intertextuality. Similarity in topic can be indicated by things like texts having the same register or the same genre. So complicated is intertextuality that entire books have been written on the topic.

One of the main functions of intertextuality is to cast a statement in a new or ironic light. I don’t think that has been considered in regard to this text. Thus, I think there is a grain of truth in what Powell has said above about there being differences between these two texts, even though I also think there are similarities. For example, I think the concept of hostility is to be found in both texts. I think the mechanical translation of “rule” for משל does not bring this out. As much as I have disagreed with Denny Burk in the last two posts to this point, I find considerable agreement with him when he writes:

Likewise, the man’s domination of the woman is a curse but it is not commanded of him. The interpretive issues at stake here are complex, so let me cut to the chase. I agree with Ray Ortlund’s interpretation which views the man’s “rule” not as the benevolent, self-sacrificial headship of Genesis 2 but as “ungodly domination” on the part of the man (RBMW, p. 109 ). In short, the man’s rule is sinfully motivated. God doesn’t prescribe or command anyone to sin. So the husband’s rule in this sense is anything but prescriptive. It describes the sad state of affairs that afflicts the relationship of husband and wife because of the man’s sin. This isn’t the nullification of the headship principle; it’s the sinful distortion of it. McKnight suggests that the complementarian view turns men and women into “contrarians by divine design.” Nothing could be further from the truth. That is not what this text is teaching, and it is not the complementarian view.

I don’t know that I would agree with Burk that this is a sinful distortion of the headship principle. I would say it is completely and totally unrelated to the headship principle. Too often concepts such as “headship” are read into terms like “rule” due to current controversies within the church when the context doesn’t support it. However, I agree with everything else Burk has said here. There is a clear context of domination provided by the intertextual connections to Genesis 4:7, and that should frame how we look at the ruling in Genesis 3:16.

But, if that is all we see, then we miss the point, and don’t take Powell’s observation that there are differences between these texts seriously. Just as there is a relationship battle in Genesis 3:16, there is a relationship battle in Genesis 4:7 between Cain and Abel. However, one of the questions you must ask yourself in doing Discourse Analysis is “Who are the participants involved?” In Genesis 3:16, it is framed in terms of a conflict between the woman and her husband. In Genesis 4:7, instead of Abel being put in opposition to Cain, *sin* is put in opposition to Cain. It is an ironic twist that takes this principle out of the context of interpersonal relationships, and into the realm of a battle with sin. Ultimately, the battle against the domination of fellow human beings is the a battle against sin, not against the other human being. I think what the text is saying is that the domineering battle to the death must be against sin, not against the other person.

Also, this re-framing of the discussion also moves the text beyond a discussion of marriage, and to human relationships more generally. Thus, although marriage is certainly affected by the fall [and thus, you will have sinful attempts to dominate the other person in marriage in a fallen world], nevertheless, such sinful attempts to dominate others are not limited to marriage, but can involve all other human relationships. Sin, therefore, threatens one of the very foundational elements of civilization – the ability of man to relate to his fellow man. Indeed, the rest of the story of Genesis bears this out, from the violence mentioned before the flood [Genesis 6:11] to the whole of humanity seeking to undermine God himself at the tower of Babel. The problem is that man has to learn to have that tyrannical attitude toward his sin, and learn to destroy it – not to be a tyrant to his fellow man so as to destroy him.

Having been through all of this, I want to go back now, and assess the ESV’s revised translation:

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.

My first concern with the ESV’s translation is that it uses the term “contrary to” to translate the preposition אל. While it is true that אל has an adversative meaning, this translation makes it look like what is going on here is that the man wants pizza for lunch, and the woman wants a bean burrito, and this is somehow sinful. In other words, her desire is “contrary to” his because he wants one thing for lunch, and she wants something else. The meaning of the passage is much more sinister than that. Not only that, but using the bear term “rule” here does make it sound like headship is involved, when I don’t think it is. The use of the term “but” does the same thing, making it seem like there is a contrast between a mere disagreement and male headship. Thus, in order to remove these difficulties, I would translate it this way:

Your desire will be against your husband
and he will be a tyrant to you.

In the same way, one might also translate משל in Genesis 4:7 as “tyrannically rule.” so that we would have:

Sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is against you, but you must tyrannically rule over it.

This would highlight the intertextual connections between these two texts, but also show their differences as well. As Barbara Johnstone has rightly argued in concluding her textbook on Discourse Analysis, people make use of old forms and structures in language, but the put their own twists and nuances on them. I think that is clearly what is going on here in Genesis 3:16 and 4:7. The goal of the discourse analyst is to see both the similarities as well as the differences.

In this case, ironically, those supporting the complementarian side are prone to see the similarities while those on the egalitarian side are prone to see the differences. What this says to me is that both sides are grossly imbalanced. The complementarians, in an effort to fight feminism, have forgotten or at least underemphasized the fact that women are alike men in many ways. The egalitarians, in an effort to fight abuse, have so emphasized women’s equality with men that they have ignored or underemphasized the differences between them. Saying men and women have many things in common is not egalitarianism. Saying men and women are different is not complimentarianism. In my view, more balance is needed from both sides, as it has affected what they are able to see in the text of scripture. That is exceedingly dangerous.

Addendum: Sam Powell has kindly taken the time to comment down in the comments below, and has added a clarification to what he said in his post. He is right to say that we both have the same concerns, and don’t seem to be that far off.


Relevance Theory in the EFS Controversy

I have said many times that NT scholars anymore give me hives. As someone who studies pragmatics as heavily as I do, it bothers me to see that field engaging in linguistic thinking that is sloppy at best, and sloppy in regard to linguistic pragmatics. We have already seen how Mike Licona virtually ignored the Gricean principle of quality. However, in a current controversy, again I am puzzled as to why pragmatics is being so heavily ignored. I have been following the recent controversy between eternal functional subordination [EFS] proponents [like Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem] and classical Trinitarians [like Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt]. There was recently some controversy over an article by Denny Burk in the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It, again, left me shaking my head, and wondering if anyone in the field of NT studies has ever even heard of Paul Grice, much less people like Laurence Horn, Dan Sperber, Deirdre Wilson, or Stephen Levinson who have expanded upon his work.

The issue has to do with the classic text in Philippians 2:6. It reads:

Philippians 2:6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped

The issue has to do with fact that the phrase τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῶ [to be equal with God] is articular, containing the article τὸ. The classic Greek grammar of Blass Debrunner and Funk and others have taken this to be an anaphoric use of the article. Now, as someone doing my masters thesis on discourse anaphora in Biblical Hebrew, that made my ears pop up. What NT scholars are referring to here is actually a very common form of discourse in language. A noun is introduced in an indefinite manner, and then references back to that noun are made through the use of the definite article:

John adopted a dog. The dog was brown, and had blue eyes, but John loved the dog because he was such a good friend.

Burk argues that the article here in Philippians 2:6 is not anaphoric, but is simply used to mark the syntactic position of the phrase τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῶ [to be equal with God] Thus, according to him, the article means that the sentence should read “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” instead of “did not regard a thing to be grasped as equality with God.” He writes:

Sometimes there is the potential for confusion in distinguishing the accusative object from the accusative complement. For this reason, Wallace has set forth a set of rules that help to distinguish the accusative object from the accusative complement. The object will either be a pronoun or a proper name, or it will have the definite article. In Phil 2:6, the only way we can distinguish the accusative object from the accusative complement is by the definite article at the beginning of the infinitive. If the article were absent, the syntactical relation of the infinitive phrase to the rest of the sentence would be unclear. So the article does not show up here in order to link “equality with God” to the “form of God.” The definite article appears here to distinguish the object (τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῶ) from the complement (ἁρπαγμὸν).

So, the only way in which you can distinguish between an object and a compliment in trivalent verbs like this is by one being a pronoun, a proper name, or having the article. First of all, there are some languages that, unlike Greek, are not inflected for case. If they are not inflected for case, how do you know what is the subject? There can be strong patterns in word order, but even those do not always hold. Just look at Hebrew poetry. According to Burk, it would seem like we are forever shot into a black hole of ambiguity in such situations. And yet, they arise often enough in natural language that using the ambiguity analysis throws language to Grice’s modified Occam’s razor. Again, it is as if concepts such as context, background assumptions, [even semantics!] and other factors do not play a role in disambiguating which phrase goes with which thematic role. However, in natural language, all of these factors can be used to distinguish which thematic role each phrase goes with.

I will not spend much time on how the semantics of the verb in question can be used in that endeavor, as it is not really relevant to this passage. Suffice it to say that certain verbs require certain arguments at certain places that other verbs with similar meanings will not. Consider the following sentence:

John poured gasoline into the tank.

Now look at what happens when we try to use the similar verb “fill” to describe this event, but use the same thematic roles:

*John filled the gasoline into the tank.

Now we have a sentence that is ungrammatical, because the theta sequence agent – theme – goal, although it fits with the semantics of the verb “to pour,” it does not fit with the semantics of the verb “to fill” which requires a sequence of agent – patient – instrument.

However, the main issue I would like to deal with is the use of pragmatics to disambiguate which nouns go with which thematic roles. There are times in which our background assumptions can disambiguate which nouns go with which thematic role. For example:


How do we disambiguate which noun is the subject of the verb “to pet” and which is the object? We simply recognize that, given the state of affairs of our culture, men pet dogs, and dogs do not pet men. While Greek would distinguish between the two by using different cases for each one[1], even in a language like Hebrew which does not have a case system, we can know which is the subject and which is the object.

Now, if we are in the context of a narrative, and the dog and the human have switched bodies, then it might be different. That also brings us to another way in which the assignment of thematic roles can be disambiguated, and that is through the use of context. Consider the following:

John was carrying a box of rocks when he tripped, and the rocks went flying. ROCKS LARRY HIT, and bruised him badly.

In this case, the context tells us what is flying in the air, and there is a relationship between someone getting hit with something and getting bruised.

In relating things to context, I have found that Relevance Theory has often been helpful in dealing with how such ambiguities are resolved according to context. One aspect of relevance theory that is helpful in Philippians 2:6 is the concept of “processing effort.” Compare these adjacency pairs:

1. Does the hardware store have a 1/4 inch nail?
Either martians dance on Swiss Cheese, or the hardware store has a 1/4 inch nail.

2. Does the hardware store have a 1/4 inch nail?

Notice how much more effort is required to understand the response in #1 as opposed to the response in #2. Thus, the answer in #2 is said to be more “relevant” than the answer in #1, because it has less processing effort. In this case, processing effort usually involves the time taken for the brain to process the meaning of an utterance. In #1, the brain must first compute the disjunctive syllogism before it can arrive at the answer to the question. However, no such disjunctive syllogism is needed in #2.

Sperber and Wilson argue that, unless there is some reason for it, the speaker will make maximize relevance in their contribution. For example, unless the speaker wants to compare the absurdity of the idea that the hardware story doesn’t have a 1/4 nail to the idea that martians dance on Swiss cheese [thus highlighting the absurdity of the idea that the hardware store doesn’t have it], he will reply as in #2. This is critical to Philippians 2:6. Note the preceding context:

Philippians 2:3-6 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

I have emboldened the above section to establish that the context here is humility. Hence, the environment to which we must disambiguate this text in verse 6 is humility. Indeed, there seems to be a connection between the φρονεῖτε “think” of verse 5 and ἡγήσατο, the key verb of verse 6. ἡγεομαι is what is called a “psych verb,” that is, a verb that deals with thoughts, feelings, etc. Hence, both of these verbs belong to the same semantic category. Hence, if we are disambiguating correctly, the disambiguation must have something to do with humility.

Now, if there were no article before εἶναι in verse 6, you would have two possible disambiguations:

1. did not regard a thing to be grasped as equality with God,
2. did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.

The question is to how #1 would be seen as relevant to the concept of humility. #1 is speaking about idolatry, not humility. I suppose one could try to save #1 by arguing that having idolatry of something to be grasped is something that requires a whole lot of arrogance, and hence, goes against the principle of humility. However, remember that the speaker [or, in this case, writer] is going to be seeking to maximize relevance. Consider the following things the brain has to compute for each:

1. humility -> ~Idolatry -> ~arrogance = humility
2. humility -> not holding onto one’s position

Clearly, #1 requires *far* more processing effort than #2. Thus, if we are assuming that Paul is following the principle of relevance [and, in the absence of any reason for him to *not* be following the principle of relevance here] we assume he means #2 and not #1. However, if that is the case, then Burk is simply wrong to argue that there is no way we could know which phrases go with which thematic roles unless the article is there.

However, it only gets worse for Burk. Burk writes:

According to Rosén, when the article appears in contexts where it is grammatically obligatory, one cannot press the usual semantic value that the article has as a determiner. This procedure is consistent with Robert Funk’s observation concerning the significance of the article in Hellenistic Greek, “Where the article functions more or less exclusively as a grammatical device, i.e., where it is lexically entirely empty.” He elaborates that in such situations, “The article in Greek is often a purely grammatical device and should be assigned only grammatical “meaning.”’ The rest of this essay builds upon the same presupposition. Therefore, in the following analysis of articular infinitives in the New Testament, whenever it can be demonstrated that the article is required as a function marker or case-identifier, we cannot conclude that the article definitizes the infinitive (thereby making it anaphoric).

Of course, I would say that this is nonsense. Can not a noun not hold a particular position in the syntax *precisely because* it is definite? Let us take linking verbs for example. Is it not the case that, when one noun is definite and the other is not definite in a linking verb construction, the subject is the definite noun? Consider John 1:1:

καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
and the word was God

Here, because λόγος is definite, it is the subject[2]. However, if one wants to argue that the article does not definitize the noun, would it be appropriate to translate this as “a word was God?” And if not why not? In fact, one could argue quite strongly that this article is *likewise* anaphoric, pointing back to “the word” spoken of earlier in the verse. How can all of this be?

What Rosén and Funk are stating here is entirely reductionistic. Again, the reason is that pragmatics have not been considered. Definiteness vs indefiniteness and grammar are categories of syntax and semantics, not pragmatics. However, anaphora borders on the interface between syntax and *pragmatics.* If you do not allow relationships between these various disciplines of linguistics [and, if you completely ignore one of them], one can see how you would come up with this syntactic reductionism[3].

As you can tell, my argument [and the argument of people like Stephen Levinson and Yan Huang who have heavily influenced me] is that anaphora is a pragmatic concept following Gricean and Neo-Gricean principles. This is because of something in relevance theory called “bridging cross reference.” An example would be this:

The Jones family took at trip to a beautiful spot on the ocean. The sunsets were beautiful.
+>There were sunsets at the spot on the ocean the Jones family went to.

In bridging cross reference, you have a noun that is usually indefinite followed by a noun that is usually definite. These two nouns will have certain relationships that are relevant to one another based upon to our background assumptions of reality. In the above example, because we know that sunsets can be seen over the ocean, we process the relevance as meaning that sunsets were over the ocean at the place the Jones family went to.

The key is that the relationship between the two nouns can be of any kind including equality, and usually the first noun is definite and the second noun is indefinite[4]. In our text in Philippians 2:6, the issue is the relevance between “form of God” and “being equal to God.” The classic interpretation found in the Blass Debrunner Funk Grammar and held by N.T. Wright is that these two are identical, namely, that “the form of God” and “being equal to God” are the same thing. However, Burk wants to separate these two and say that “the form of God” is different from “equality with God.” Equality with God, in his view, refers to having the same functional role. Thus, on his reading, it means that, although Christ existed in the form of God, he did not take an equal role functionally. That is very difficult to hold in the context, as the following verses state:

Philippians 2:6-8 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Clearly, the following verses are referring to Christ’s incarnation. So, how is that relevant to EFS? Burk makes the claim that the connection between the two is the pactum. In other words, EFS is to be found in the fact that Christ voluntarily took a subordinate role from eternity past when it submitted to the will of the Father for him to take on human flesh in the incarnation.

Aside from theological problems with this view[5], there is also the problem of relevance. Again, note the processing effort needed to get Burk’s interpretation compared to the traditional interpretation:

Deity of Christ -> EFS -> pactum ->incarnation
Deity of Christ -> Giving up that equality-> in the incarnation

It requires far more processing effort to go through EFS and the pactum than to simply see a link between the form of God, equality of God, and the incarnation. Plus, there would be no reason to go through the pactum and EFS as lessening himself in the incarnation would prove humility just as surely as would going through EFS and the Pactum. Thus, ironically, by the principle of relevance, Burk’s interpretation is pragmatically untenable.

This whole exercise continues to highlight the needs for the field of NT studies to seriously consider linguistic pragmatics as an important part of the training of their scholars. Proliferation of meanings and analyses of ambiguity abound in NT exegetical literature. It is not that ambiguity and polysemy do not exist in language. It is simply that such an overload on these things like you find in literature on the exegesis of the NT destroys the economy of one’s view of language, making it much harder to learn how to do exegesis, and making one less accurate in doing exegesis in the long run. This a major problem I would like to see linguists of the Greek New Testament address.

Now, as far as EFS goes, it is extremely weak exegetically. Yet, amazingly, is not only defended, but garners very violent reactions when opposed. I suppose EFS will always have support among intellectuals and young believers within the church. However, it is grossly unnecessary, and, what is worse is that it cheapens the Deity of Christ and the incarnation. Even worse than that, it has been used by cultic movements such as the Christian Patriarchy Movement to maintain control over their members. Sadly, often these idealistic intellectuals in the Christian church don’t really care about the practical implications of their teaching so long as their teaching is “Biblical.” Whether the linguistic methodology and hermeneutics used to arrive at those teachings is correct or matches linguistic reality is never really asked, and fierce anger [or total ignoring of the one asking] often accompanies such asking. However, idealism is every bit as dangerous as liberalism. When the church comes up with anti-liberal ideals, and will not listen to the voice of her Lord through proper exegesis and hermeneutics, she becomes a sitting duck for all kinds of evil to infiltrate her ranks in the name of that idea and vision. The fact that this view will probably always be popular among intellectuals within the reformed churches is thus sad testimony of the state of the reformed movement in the United States today.

[1] However, in situations involving linking verbs, Greek uses the same case in both the subject and the predicate nominative. In such situations you often have the same problem.

[2] θεὸς here is probably not definite, but qualitative.

[3] I also think what might lay behind this is the nonsense of interpreting the article as having some significance that is entirely far-fetched, but, clearly, the idea that “being equal to God” refers back to “being in the form of God” is not far fetched.

[4] Of course, one could imagine examples such as:

We went into a parking lot near the fair grounds. A car had a ticket on it for parking in an unauthorized place.
+>there was a car in the parking lot we entered with a ticket on it.

Thus, even if Burk is right about a “purely grammatical” function to the article, it still does not rule out bridging cross reference. However, usually, the second noun is definite. This is why I, I would say, the anaphoric use of the article has been identified by grammarians of many different languages including Hebrew and Greek. However, the phenomenon is primarily *pragmatic* in character.

[5] There are many criticisms of EFS theologically, but the most relevant has to do with the criticism that EFS logically reduces to monothelitism, the idea that there is one will in Christ rather than the orthodox being that there are two wills in Christ. If Christ takes on a human nature and thus a human will at the incarnation, then the pactum would be that Christ will submit according to his human will when he takes on that human will. Hence, there is no submission in terms of the Son’s Deity in eternity past.

The Importance of Grice’s Principle of Quality in Pragmatic Disambiguation

When I learned pragmatics, I was most impressed with the neo-Gricean account of anaphora offered by Steven Levinson and Yan Huang. However, the interface of semantics and pragmatics was even more interesting, especially the notion of pragmatic intrusion. There is a classic problem in discussing this interface known as Grice’s circle, which states that semantics affects pragmatics and pragmatics affects semantics. For example, Huang lays out Levinson’s view as follows:

In other words, on Levinson’s view, conversational implicatures are not only needed to account for additional propositions ‘post’-semantically, but they are also required pre-semantically to account for reference determination, deictic resolution, disambiguation, ellipsis unpacking, and generality-narrowing, as well as to affect truth conditions in complex constructions such as comparatives, conditionals, and because clauses. Thus, within the Levinsonian neo-Gricean framework, only semantic representations are categorized as the proper domain of semantics. All the rest is dealt with in pragmatics[1].

This fact was hammered home to me in the recent controversy over Mike Licona, and his statement that Mark was confused about the location of the feeding of the 5000. James White, and apologist and scholar of the New Testament, recently did a Dividing Line program in which he discussed the issues involving the Greek text of Mark’s gospel. To sum up, the issue is with the Greek word προς, and whether it means “to” or “by.” The use of the word “by” would resolve the conflict, as the other side of the lake would, indeed, by by Bethsaida.

Recently, Mike Licona has decided to respond to these arguments, and his response reveals a heavy problem of an overemphasis on semantics in Biblical studies to the virtual ignoring of pragmatics. For example:

While pros can mean “by” or “toward,” if that were the meaning here, including the phrase would be unnecessary. Imagine being one of Jesus’ disciples when he instructs you to get in a boat and cross the lake toward Bethsaida. Wouldn’t some of you have wanted to say, “Okay, Lord. And then what? It’s a big lake. Where do you want for us to go?” I live in the Atlanta area. So, it would be similar to me saying to my wife Debbie, “Please get in the car and drive toward/by Buckhead.” She would say, “Okay. You’ve given me a direction in which to proceed. But where do you want me to go?” Now one might reply, “Jesus may have told them to go toward/by Bethsaida on their way to Gennesaret” (literally “Cross over to the other side by/toward/passing by Bethsaida and arrive in Gennesaret”) and Mark omitted the portion about Gennesaret. However, in this case the phrase “toward/by Bethsaida” would be utterly unnecessary to add if you’re going from 1:00-2:00 to 10:00-11:00, because it’s directly across the lake. Surely some of the disciples would have thought to themselves, “Does he think we’re stupid? Of course, we’ll be passing by Bethsaida! Does he think we were going to go all the way down to 6:00 then up to 10:00?”

Actually, when one examines the context, one can see what is going on here:

Mark 6:45-47 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. 46 After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. 47 When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land.

Notice the use of two key terms in verse 45: “immediately” and “made.” These terms give the sense of hastening someone to do something. The end result is that, in verses 46-47, he leaves for the mountains alone to pray. Licona has not considered the possibility that the reason for Jesus’ prolixity would be to get them out of there so he could be alone to pray. The additional “by Bethsaida” would basically conversationally implicate “by Bethsaida, and not here, so that I can go and pray.” Mentioning where they are passing by would simply emphasize the fact that they would not be there, and that he would be alone.

Another problem is whether Jesus ever actually uttered the words “by Bathsaida.” Verse 45 is written by Mark, not spoken by Jesus. It is a record of what Jesus made the disciples do. The addition of “by Bethsaida” would then be a reference point for the reader of the gospel of Mark, not for the disciples. This also makes sense, as it appears that Mark was written for a gentile audience who may not have detailed knowledge of the geography of the region. The intent would then be to inform the reader more fully of what Jesus was asking the disciples to do, not to inform them of the exact words Jesus uttered. While this is possible, I personally favor the interpretation in the previous paragraph.

The next point is extremely important, as it relates to the Gricean principle of quality. An odd principle you would think showing up in these kinds of discussions, but it is radically important here:

Indeed, there is an even stronger reason for preferring “to” over “toward” or “by.” There are 65 occurrences of pros in Mark, 42 in Matthew, 166 in Luke, and 102 in John. It almost always appears in the accusative case in the Gospels, exceptions being where it appears as an infinitive (Mark 13:22 Luke 18:1; Matt. 5:28; 6:1; 13:30; 23:5; 26:12) and in the dative case (Luke 19:37; John 20:11, 12 [2x]).[10] Pros can have nuanced meanings when it is connected to nouns appearing in different cases (e.g., pros + genitive; pros + dative; pros + accusative).[11] When accompanied with the accusative that refers to a place as we observe in Mark 6:45, it usually signifies going to that place. Exceptions can be cited. But that is the most common meaning by far.

We must remember what Huang said. Pragmatics is both pre and post semantics. In this case, it is damning to Licona, because “the most common meaning” is not what you go by. Words have to be disambiguated, and that is done by pragmatics not semantics, and not by statistical averages of semantics. Statistical averages are meaningless. In this case, the background information is important. When someone uses language, we assume that they are being truthful in what is said. This is Grice’s principle of quality. You are not to say things which you know to be false, or which you don’t have enough evidence for. Thus, when we disambiguate language, we will choose the disambiguation that best matches reality, assuming that the person is being truthful in their representation of reality, and that they are not saying things they know nothing about, or are “confused” about. Hence, in this case, if προς can mean “to” or “by,” and if Bethsaida is near to the opposite side of the lake, you assume that it means “by,” because we assume that the author is giving us an accurate picture of reality. While it is true that these maxims can be flouted, usually there is a reason for the flouting of the maxims. In this case, there would seem to be no reason for Mark to flout the maxim of quality, and thus, we must assume that he is following that maxim.

The other problem is the context of Mark indicates he knew what he was saying. Consider this only a few verses later:

Mark 6:53 When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore.

It’s odd how Mark actually says they went to the other side *by Bethsaida,* just as the harmonization suggests. Dr. White even rightly questioned how Licona can say that Mark was confused in one place, and only a few verses later, he was not confused. Context is likewise of prime importance to pragmatics, and when the text tells you plainly what your pragmatic disambiguation on the basis of background knowledge says, it merely strengthens and confirms your interpretation of the conversational implicature.

However, pragmatically we must again note major problems with Licona’s interpretations:

Indeed, there is an even stronger reason for preferring “to” over “toward” or “by.” There are 65 occurrences of pros in Mark, 42 in Matthew, 166 in Luke, and 102 in John. It almost always appears in the accusative case in the Gospels, exceptions being where it appears as an infinitive (Mark 13:22 Luke 18:1; Matt. 5:28; 6:1; 13:30; 23:5; 26:12) and in the dative case (Luke 19:37; John 20:11, 12 [2x]).[10] Pros can have nuanced meanings when it is connected to nouns appearing in different cases (e.g., pros + genitive; pros + dative; pros + accusative).[11] When accompanied with the accusative that refers to a place as we observe in Mark 6:45, it usually signifies going to that place. Exceptions can be cited. But that is the most common meaning by far.[12] And we can focus even further for a more precise meaning when we consider the specific grammatical construction in Mark 6:45:

And immediately, he compelled his disciples to get in the boat and go ahead to the other side (eis + accusative) to Bethsaida (pros + accusative). –Mark 6:45

Here we observe a verb of going, “to go ahead” (proagein) combined with a location described by two prepositions followed by accusatives: to the other side (eis + accusative), to Bethsaida (pros + accusative). [Verb of going + location described by eis + accusative and pros + accusative.] This grammatical construction appears 10 times in the New Testament, seven of which are in the Gospels, one in Acts, and two in Paul’s letters. Lets look at a few:

And when they drew near to Jerusalem (eis + accusative), to Bethphage and Bethany (eis + accusative), to the Mount of Olives (pros + accusative), he sent two of his disciples. –Mark 11:1

This same construction appears in the parallel text in Luke:

And having said these things, he continued ahead going up to Jerusalem (eis + accusative). And it came about as he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany (eis + accusative), to the mount called ‘Olives’ (pros + accusative), he sent two of his disciples. –Luke 19:28-29[13]

Bethphage and Bethany are located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.[14] Thus, pros + accusative is here used to provide an additional description of the location mentioned in relation to eis + accusative.

Lets look at another example. After Jesus healed a demoniac, he said to the man,

Go to your home (eis + accusative), to your people (pros + accusative) and announce to them the great things the Lord has done for you and had mercy on you. –Mark 5:19

The pros + accusative further describes the man’s home (eis + accusative).

Here’s another example:

And Jesus went up to them (pros + accusative) into the boat (eis + accusative). –Mark 6:51

As with the previous examples, the pros + accusative and eis + accusative are descriptions of the same location. Remaining examples in the Gospels/Acts include Matt. 26:18, Luke 4:26, Acts 20:6, Gal. 1:17; Titus 3:12.

In every instance, when a verb of going is followed by two accusatives of location (eis + accusative and pros + accusative), the two prepositional phrases are providing descriptions of the same location. These texts weigh heavily in favor of understanding Mark 6:45 to be reporting that Jesus instructed his disciples to go “to Bethsaida” and is another reason why that rendering is to be preferred over “toward Bethsaida.” Most translators agree. Of 28 English translations, only three render pros Bethsaidan as “near Bethsaida” or “toward Bethsaida” (New Jerusalem Bible, New American Bible, Common English Bible).

Here are Licona’s examples:

1. And when they drew near to Jerusalem (eis + accusative), to Bethphage and Bethany (eis + accusative), to the Mount of Olives (pros + accusative), he sent two of his disciples. –Mark 11:1

The problem is that Jerusalem, Bethphage, Bethany, and the Mount of Olives are *not* “descriptions of the same location.” He even says that Bethphage and Bethany are *on* the Mount of Olives, but the Mount of Olives is much larger than just Bethphage and Bethany. Here, it appears that the “Mount of Olives” is the broader geographical area in which you find “Bethphage” and “Bethany.” Thus, the more specific areas are mentioned first, with the broader geographical designation mentioned second. While that is minor, the problem is that, if Licona is correct, we *know* the relationship between these geographical cites is meronymic, and we use that knowledge to disambiguate these prepositions. However, that is *not* the case with our background knowledge of the geographical situation in Mark 6:51.

Luke 19:28-29 is almost exactly identical, so I will skip that, and move on to the next text:

Go to your home (eis + accusative), to your people (pros + accusative) and announce to them the great things the Lord has done for you and had mercy on you. –Mark 5:19

The problem with the use of this verse is that “your people” is not a geographical term. But, even if we wanted to mix contexts with terms of geography, again, our background assumptions will tell us that his people will live in his house. Hence, we interpret both εις and προς appropriately according to our background knowledge of reality, as opposed to our knowledge of where Jerusalem, Bethany, Bethsaida, etc. are.

His next example can be handled much the same way:

And Jesus went up to them (pros + accusative) into the boat (eis + accusative). –Mark 6:51

Again, we have a mixture of context, as we are not talking about geographical terms like lakes, regions and cities, but, even still, didn’t the text already tell us that they were in the boat, and Jesus was not? Shouldn’t that background information inform how we interpret these locations?

While these pragmatic observations should be enough to handle what Licona says, I want to go further and generalize them. Consider these last two examples, and then look at these examples Licona cites:

Matthew 26:18 And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”‘”

Luke 4:26 and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

Acts 20:6 We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.

Galatians 1:17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus[2].

Notice how each of these texts involves a person and a place. In the first example, it is a woman, in the second example, it is the “them,” and in the third example, it is “those who were apostles before me.” The problem is that people live in certain places. The relationship of people to places is usually that people live *in* various places, or are *at* various places and thus, when people and places are paired like that, the conversational implicature “in” or “at” will be elicited unless defeated by background assumptions, context, etc. However, one geographic place can have many different relationships to one another, such as meronymy, adjacency, etc. and background knowledge must be taken into account in disambiguating the prepositions in such cases, which he did not do in Mark 6:51. Hence, while these examples are *grammatically* parallel, they are not *pragmatically* parallel, as the normal, real world relationships are not parallel.

That one principle, the principle of quality which allows us to bring in background about reality, is critical here[3]. What is interesting is, if we disambiguate prepositions assuming Mark is “confused,” then we have no way of knowing anything another person is saying. The example I used before is of Mike Napoli hitting a ball “out of the park.” Now, let us say he was playing in a park that would require a hit to go over 700ft to hit it out of the building. If that is the case, we assume that when someone says that Mike Napoli hit is “out of the park” we mean to say that he hit a homerun.

However, let’s say he was playing in a different park that is much smaller, and someone says that Napoli hit it out of the park, and it broke someone’s car window. Now, the addition of “and broke someone’s car window” will defeat the conversational implicature that he merely hit a homerun, as we know from our background experience that cars are usually not put in baseball stadium stands. If we cannot disambiguiate someone’s words on the basis of background assumptions and context because we assume they are following the principle of quality, we destroy human communication, even in talking about something as simple as baseball, because phrases such as “hit the ball out of the park” could be assumed to have either of those meanings, and the truthfulness of the author cannot be assumed.

Now, as a parody, let us say someone is writing a book on baseball, and because of the rare use of “hit the ball out of the park” to refer to hitting the ball out of the building, they may only use “hit the ball out of the park” to refer to hitting the ball out of the building once, and every other instance they use the term, it would refer to a homerun. Does the fact that they only use the construction in all other instances to refer to a mere homerun mean we must assume he is doing so even if the author specifically says that Mike Napoli broke someone’s car window? This is one of my pet peeves with New Testament scholars. There is this knee jerk reaction to run off to other examples of the same construction when they encounter ambiguity. However, as we established in the beginning, pragmatics is both pre and post semantics. That is, as Huang said of Levinson’s views, pragmatic considerations such as the principle of quality must be considered in disambiguation *before* semantic considerations. If you run off in a knee jerk manner to different texts with different pragmatic relationships, and justify it by saying it is the same grammatical construction, you end up distorting the text.

Indeed, my concern is that I have seen Jehovah’s Witnesses and cultic groups take just such an approach. Indeed, I have seen such groups have trivialize language by violating Grice’s modified version of Occam’s razor by being willing to proliferate meanings without end as a result. This is a symptom of a greater problem in Biblical studies of the predominance of semantics to the virtual ignoring or trivializing of pragmatics. It is extremely dangerous as it, not only distorts our scriptures, but leaves us vulnerable to attacks from unbelievers and cultic groups who can manipulate the background and view of reality to what *they* want the background to be to suit their own means. That is why I believe there needs to be a pragmatic revolution in Biblical studies – one that accounts for the interaction of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Until we have a more robust understanding of language, oversimplifications such as this will continue to come out of Biblical scholarship.

ADDENDUM: I have been absolutely overwhelmed at the readership of this article. My initial audience of the article was Greek linguists and grammarians, but it has absolutely taken on a life of its own, being read in countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, and India. Hence, I am doing an update to try to bridge the gap, and give some basic knowledge to the person who may simply be coming across this article, but has no background in pragmatics. First, as a good introduction to the Gricean maxims, I recommend Moti Lieberman’s episodes on The Ling Space. Here is his introduction to the Gricean maxims:

As far as understanding background assumptions, and how the reality of the geography of the Sea of Galilee relates to the meanings of the prepositions used in Mark’s gospel, Lieberman has an excellent discussion of common knowledge in pragmatics here:

The issue of the semantics pragmatics interface is a little harder to understand. It has to do with the way in which topics such as the meaning of words and sentences relate to things like implicatures [see the first video above]. The concept of Grice’s circle argues that the two are interdependent on one another. For example, in the sentence, “It’s a hit!,” you have to know whether the “hit” is a hit song or a hit in baseball which involves the sentences relationship to our background knowledge [see the second video above]. However, the reverse is also true. Take an example Lieberman uses in the first video above: “I like some cookies.” Before you can get the idea that the speaker loves only some cookies by the principle of quantity, you must know the semantics of the word “most,” as the principle of quantity here is the dependent on the meaning of the word “most” referring to the fact that the speaker likes more cookies than they do not. Thus, semantics depends on pragmatics, and pragmatics depends upon semantics. Or, semantics is pre-pragmatics, and pragmatics is pre-semantics, creating a circle between the two disciplines. This is why people who study semantics usually also study pragmatics, and people who study pragmatics usually also study semantics.

I hope those additions are helpful. They should help those who do not have a background in semantics or pragmatics understand the article. As I said, I have been overwhelmed at the readership of the article by a wide variety of people from many different countries. Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Huang, Yan. Pragmatics. Oxford Textbooks in Linguistics. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2007 pgs. 239-240

[2] Why he includes Titus 3:12 here, I have no idea, as it doesn’t even seem to be grammatically parallel.

[3] As is the principle of relevance. How things relate to one another is also critical in coming up with meaning. My concern here is that we don’t automatically assume Mark is an idiot, because assuming the breaking of the principle of quality destroys communication

Framing and the Discourse Analysis of Biblical Literature

One of the things that heavily interests me in the topic of Discourse Analysis/Sociolinguistics is framing. Framing has much to do with many hot topics in DA such as worldview, discourse and the world, and even the arrangement of social structures. Often times how a person says what they have said will tell us a whole lot about their worldview and ideology.

I was reminded of that again when I saw an article by Tim Challies on the David and Bathsheba story. In my mind, this article distorts both the meaning of the text as well as the commentators on this story. However, the errors are illustrative of what happens when you misunderstand how a text is framed.

I think it would be best to understand how Challies has framed this text:

By contrast, most modern commentators (rightly, I believe) attach the full measure of blame to David. The ESV Study Bible seems to stick closely to the text of 2 Samuel 11 and to offer the best insight into human nature when it says “Given the elaborate attempt David makes (vv. 6–13) to cover up the initial act of his adultery, it is hardly likely that he makes his intention clear when he summons Bathsheba. Probably David makes inquiry about the welfare of the family of his trusted general during Uriah’s absence and gives Uriah’s wife the honor of a private interview, even sending messengers (plural) to invite Bathsheba.” There is no hint in the text that Bathsheba is anything other than the unwilling victim of the king’s sexual exploitation.

Notice the use of phrases like “makes his intention clear” and “unwilling victim of the king’s sexual exploitation.” This sets Bathsheba up as the victim and someone who is being manipulated by the evil king. Worse than that, by framing it in the context of David making requests as to the welfare of her family, it paints David as a sleazy, underhanded man who fains care only to get what he wants, and Bathsheba as the innocent woman who falls prey the sexual exploits of this manipulative, duplicitous king. Not only that, so sure is Challies of this kind of framing that “there is no hint in the text” of anything else.” Thus, there can be really no question that this is what the text is teaching.

David has a sudden surge of sexual desire and acts on it recklessly and impulsively. Whether by strength or seduction he takes what is not his. Then the deed is over and right at this moment we can make an observation about a small detail in the text. After the text’s description of David’s deed it says, “the woman conceived.” Brueggemann points out that “David does not call her by name, does not even speak to her. At the end of the encounter she is only ‘the woman’ (v. 5).” Only “the woman”? Why? We had already been introduced to her as Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, but now after the consummation of the act she is only “the woman.” She has become only “she who shall not be named.”

Why? Because David had not treated her as a person. He stripped her humanity when he stripped her clothing. He stole her dignity through his brutality. And this is where we can draw a lesson for the twenty-first century, especially as it pertains to the plague of pornography. The people who act out pornography have fake names or no names at all. They have no family, no history, no dreams, no future. They have no reality, no humanity. They lack all of this because in the minds of those who lust after them they are not fully human. They are nameless faces, personless bodies. Those who exploit them strip them of their names to strip them of their humanity. To do what they do to them, to take what they take from them, they must first remove their humanity. This is the cost of obsession, compulsion, and exploitation. These women, too, are only “she who shall not be named.”

The reason why she is called “the woman” is, according to Challies, because she has been “stripped of her humanity.” Now, David is not only sleazy and underhanded, but he treats her as if she is not even human by only calling her “the woman.” He compares this much to pornography where women are “dehumanized” and “exploited,” painting, again, the men as the mean, evil aggressors and these poor women as the victim of male exploitation. Thus, in a sense, women are in the position of power when something like this happens. It is all the man’s fault, because they are the oppressor and manipulator of the woman.

The question, however, is whether *the text itself* frames the situation in this way. I want to ask common questions asked by discourse analysts who study topics such as framing to ask whether this is, indeed, how the text is to be framed, and, hopefully, to allow the text itself to interpret this scenario in a way that is consistent with what the divine author intended, in his own world, with his own background, and his own context.

First, one of the insights I got from Dr. VanGemeren is that intertextuality can be used to frame discourse. For example, why do you suppose that the homosexualists use words and phrases such as “bigot,” “discrimination,” “homophobe,” and “hate?” It is because these words all have roots in discussions of racism and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Thus, this will frame the discussion of homosexuality as parallel to racism-and do so in such a way that, often, the person using those words is never even forced to argue for it. When we turn to the books of Joshua-2 Kings, we find that the book of Deuteronomy plays a major role in the understanding of these books. So much so that these books are often referred to as the “Deuteronomistic History” [DH], and some scholars have even argued for a single author for Deuteronomy-2 Kings. I don’t quite agree that such similarity is necessarily evidence of a single author. I would explain it more along the lines that Deuteronomy is legal literature, and legal literature is something that is a classic candidate for use in intertextuality. Consider how a court document will match the requirements of a legal document-sometimes addressing the exact same requirements in the exact same order. This is an example of what we call “vertical intertextuality” where texts are built on other texts that are related in various ways.

In the case of the DH, the main theme seems to be a downward spiral of Israel and its kings culminating in the exile. The interpretive base for this downward spiral seems to be the book of Deuteronomy, and thus, the book of Deuteronomy should frame our discussion of what is happening here. The question naturally arises as to whether the book of Deuteronomy addresses the issue of adultery and rape, as well as how to distinguish between the two. As a matter of fact, it does:

Deuteronomy 22:22-26 “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. 23 “If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. 25 “But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. 26 “But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case.

When one studies the Torah, one notes an emphasis on equity under the law, and fairness in how the punishment is to be carried out. While I agree with Christopher Wright that most of these penalties are meant to be maximum penalties, it is illustrative that the maximum penalty given for each person is death in the case of adultery. Because of this, there is no way to argue that the woman or the man is more to blame in the case of adultery. The law sees *both* parties at fault in adultery, so much so that the maximum penalty of death could be given to each party in a legal case.

Now, one thing that might be difficult in interpreting this passage is that, when a woman was engaged in this culture, it meant she was already married to the man to whom she was engaged. The central issue that the Torah speaks of here is “crying out in the city.” A woman is to know the commandment of God which says “You shall not commit adultery.” If someone is trying to force themselves on her, she has responsibility to cry out in the city [and, presumably, if she can’t do that, to put up some form of resistance], or, otherwise the assumption will be that she was complicit in the act of adultery.

Now, if we interpret the David and Bathsheba story in this background, it is clear that David and Bathsheba were both equally responsible for their adultery with one another. While there are many silences in the text where the text leaves us hanging, the one glaring silence is Bathsheba not crying out when David comes on to her. Challies quotes Brueggemann as stating how the action of the story picks up at this point. Challies also says that this means David is acting in lust [and most certainly does], but the kind of “crying out” demanded for in the book of Deuteronomy also lies in stark contrast to this rapid series of events. Bathsheba, as a citizen of Israel, knows the commandment of God prohibiting adultery, and knows that the law requires her to put up resistance here, or she will be considered complicit in the crime, and yet, she does not do so to the point where the text goes in rapid form from one action to another. Hence, not only is David acting out of lust, so is Bathsheba!

Another thing that is helpful is “horizontal intertextuality.” This is where someone might tell a story, and then someone else tells a related story, or someone uses a word or phrase that is then picked up later by someone else [sometimes even saying it the same way as the previous speaker!]. Challies relies heavily on this idea of what the woman is called to get the idea that she is being “dehumanized.” He says that “by verse 5, she is merely ‘the woman.'” While I agree that what someone or something is called is critical to one’s worldview, you have to be careful how you interpret the use of a particular phrase. Even Challies is careful to not use verses 2-3 to indicate that David was “dehumanizing” her, because the use of the word in that context could indicate that David simply did not know her. However, what is interesting is that the use of the word in verse 5 could be referring back to its use in verse 3. In fact, while David was told her name in verse 3, it is, apparently, the first time he had ever heard her name. Hence, the use of the term “woman” in verse 5 would simply be stressing he fact that David didn’t know her much better in verse 5 than in verse 3-even though they had committed this act of adultery. This would also connect verses 2-3 with verse 5.

In fact, if you look at the pattern, you have the introduction of the Hebrew term for woman, אשה, is introduced as an indefinite noun followed by a definite use in verse 2. You then have a definite use in verse 3, and a definite use in verse 5. This pattern of the introduction of a noun as indefinite followed by successive anaphoric uses of the article is used to create what Halliday and others have called “cohesion” in a text. Cohesion is what binds sentences together, so that they don’t end up sounding irrelevant. Hence, the idea that this woman is a relative stranger to David is something that is stressed throughout these first five verses, and gives cohesion to them as a unit.

I *do* think that what Bathsheba is called is critical here, but it is not the word “woman” that is critical. Again, using horizontal intertextuality, it is interesting to see how *Nathan* refers to her when he proclaims judgment on David and his house for his sin:

2 Samuel 12:9-14 ‘Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 ‘Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 “Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 ‘Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.'” 13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. 14 “However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.”

Notice how Bathsheba is referred to here. It is constantly in relationship to Uriah the Hittite. Note the phrases “his wife to be your wife” and “you have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” Hence, when God speaks of Bathsheba in relation to this scenario, she is referred to as “the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” There is a note of irony here. While she was some unknown woman to David in verses 1-5, she was, and rightfully was, Uriah’s wife. Although this woman should have remained a random woman, David did not keep it that way, and, instead, entered into a sexual relationship with her when he should not have, and then murdered her husband to, in essence, steal her from him.

The first textbook I ever learned Hebrew from had a section of “exegetical insight” which discussed this narrative. The author of this article, Donna Petter, makes some great observations about the names used for Bathsheba in this narrative. I will quote the article at length here:

The narrator uses five separate designations for Bathsheba in these chapters. On one occasion, her kinship tie as the “daughter of Eliam” is expressed (11:3). At the beginning and the end of the story, the proper name “Bathsheba” is used (11:3; 12:24). The common female designation “woman” occurs in four places (11:2 [2 times], 3, 5). The 3fs pronominal suffix (she/her) is used eight times (11:4 [3 times], 26 [2 times], 27; 12:24 [2 times]} And her rank in society as either Uriah’s or David’s “wife” appears ten times (11:3, 11, 26, 27; 12:9 [2 times], 10 [2 times], 15, 24)

These numbers reveal two important factors. First, the author favors her classification as “wife” above all other designations in the passage. Of the ten instances of אשה, six speak of Uriah’s wife and four refer to David taking as a wife someone rightfully belonged to another. The narrator deliberately keeps the woman’s intimate relationship with Uriah constantly before the reader. Secondly, generic designations feature strongly. This results in a limited use of the proper name “Bathsheba.” In other words, a somewhat depersonalized individual continually appears before the reader. As a result of this, her social standing is emphasized while the person Bathsheba is not the point of emphasis. Bathsheba as a person is truly peripheral to the story. The author’s choice of designations, especially wife of Uriah the Hittite,” magnifies David’s gross misconduct and undeniable guilt. This expressive choice of designation helps direct the narrative and serves to underscore David’s sin and weakness as a man in contrast to his known strength(s) as king of Israel. As a result, David appears rather human to the reader. In this manner, the narrator exposes purpose and viewpoint simply by the choice of a dominating designation and its repetition in the narrative.

Petter, Donna. The Wife of Uriah the Hittite in Pratico, Gary. VanPelt, Miles V. The Basics of Biblical Hebrew.Zondervan Publications. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2001. pgs. 232-233

Petter’s explanation also explains something else Challies alludes to, and that is the preeminence of David in the narrative. Does that mean that David was the abuser, and Bathsheba is the victim? If you remember what I said earlier, the main theme of the Deuteronomistic History is the downward spiral of Israel and its kings from the standard found in the book of Deuteronomy. Remember, David is Israel’s greatest king, and here you have Israel’s greatest king, nevertheless, engaging in an act of immense evil. The message seems to be “see, even the great King David was not immune to this downward spiral.” It is also interesting that the affair with Bathsheba is only mentioned in Samuel-Kings. It is not mentioned in Chronicles, as Chronicles has entirely different purposes, and generally exalts David as a righteous king.

This would also explain something else critical to discourse and the world, and that is silence in discourse. Silence is difficult to pick up, but it can often shape one’s view of the world. Even Challies notes some interesting silences in his article:

It makes a fascinating study to observe the difference between older and newer commentaries when it comes to Bathsheba’s role in what unfolded. If you do this, you will see that many of the older commentators lay a measure of blame on her. What was she doing bathing then and there? Didn’t she come willingly when the king summoned her to his palace? Didn’t she later prove herself a formidable woman who was angling for her son to be David’s successor (see 1 Kings 1)? Maybe she was the victimizer and he the victim!

Yet, he never goes on to develop them. I will add some others. The Hebrew of 11:1 provides some interesting silences:

‏וַיְהִי֩ לִתְשׁוּבַ֨ת הַשָּׁנָ֜ה לְעֵ֣ת׀ צֵ֣את הַמַּלְאֿכִ֗ים1 וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח דָּוִ֡ד אֶת־יוֹאָב֩ וְאֶת־עֲבָדָ֨יו עִמּ֜וֹ וְאֶת־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וַיַּשְׁחִ֙תוּ֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמּ֔וֹן וַיָּצֻ֖רוּ עַל־רַבָּ֑ה וְדָוִ֖ד יוֹשֵׁ֥ב בִּירוּשָׁלִָֽם׃ ס

First thing to notice is that, while Israel was out fighting, David was staying [יוֹשֵׁ֥ב] in Jerusalem. This verb is a participle in Hebrew, and the participle has a durative aspect. In other words, he was staying at this place for a period of time probably concurrent with the action of war. However, *why* was David staying home? It certainly is against David’s character. He is presented as a great warrior throughout the rest of the books of Samuel-Kings. That, combined with the obvious closeness of the two houses, and the fact that this woman was bathing on the roof leads one to wonder what the *reason* was that David stayed home. Was this the first time David ever saw this woman bathing? You might say that the text’s statement that she was very beautiful would shoot this down, but is the fact that she was very beautiful something David realized just then and there, or is it a note to give the reader some background to the story? Did David therefore even stay home from war because of this pornographic show that he got from her every now and then? Did he only learn her name and meet with her for an adulterous affair when he knew most of the men in the city would be out to war, and did she only come because her husband was away? The text is silent on these details. However, frustratingly, the book of Deuteronomy stands as the background, and condemns her actions. Hence, although we can’t be sure of all the details, the silence itself along with the book of Deuteronomy seems to assure as that she was every bit as guilty as David; it is just that David’s guilt as the king of Israel figures much more prominently in the leadership of Israel, and hence, is what is focused on in the narrative.

So, now that we have done a selective discourse analysis on both what Challies’ post as well as what the text says, what can we conclude? First, Challies is totally wrong to assert that the text only views Bathsheba as a victim. He has totally misframed the text. Read against the background of the book of Deuteronomy and the silences in the text, she is very clearly every bit as much to blame as David is for the adultery. Even the hastiness of the action in this part of the narrative combined with Deuteronomy’s requirement that the woman put up resistance screams that she was not a victim here. The real victims are God, because David has given his enemies cause to spurn him [12:14], and Uriah the Hittite. Rather than not fight for his king, his God, and his country possibly because of a pornographic show, Uriah, David’s loyal servant, won’t even go home while the other men are out on the battle field. Yet, his king and his wife betray him, and that betrayal leads to his king’s murder of him. Uriah is presented as loyal to both his wife and his king-and yet, these are the very people who betray him. If anyone should be seen as a victim, especially with constant repetition of “the wife of Uriah the Hittite,” it is Uriah. One cannot help but feel sorry for him, and even feel a sense that he is avenged in David’s punishment.

Worse, I have been concerned about this “blame men” approach to sexual sin. The Bible simply does limit the blame for sexual sin to men alone, nor does it give men even the primary blame. There is probably plenty of blame to go around. The pornography industry would collapse tomorrow if there were no women to appear in their videos just as assuredly as it would collapse if there were no men to buy those same videos. More than that, such thinking actually aids and abets women in such sin, because they believe that it is the men who have primary responsibility for their behavior-not them.

Furthermore, such thinking can lead to oversimplifications in why people use pornography. While there may be some people who “dehumanize” women with pornography, it seems to me that you could just as easily seek to *humanize* people who are *presented* as dehumanized (having no name, false name, etc. I had a counselor tell me that pornography addiction has been linked to people who have been social abused, and even to autism. Hence, social problems seem to correlate high with pornography addiction, and the fact that pornography is “false intimacy” certainly explains that. It could be fear that drives pornography-fear that no one will ever really love you. It could be hurt and rejection. There are many more factors, and it could be any combination of these factors. I have often been amazed at the simplicity of statements like, “People look at pornography because they are sinners.” Everyone is a sinner. If sin were the only factor, *everyone* would look at pornography. Yet, not everyone struggles with pornography.

It seems to me that the much better approach is to look at the person individually in their history, personality, and biology. While there might be some value to books on the topic of pornography addiction in the church, the reality is that, in order to best address the underlying sins that are driving pornography addiction, it is probably best that they are dealt with at the level of the local church, and that publishing companies publish books dealing with many different aspects of the possible struggles with other sins that lie behind the addiction itself. Women and men are probably also very different as well, and probably look at pornography or get involved in the pornography industry for different reasons. Dealing with each of these things, in their context as part of a local church, will help to better steer the discussion toward where they need to deal with other sins, and how to more effectively deal with temptation.

However, as with any issue of sin and temptation, it must begin with good exegesis. Too often we read the Bible as if it was written to us to address the issues of our day, when was not. While I was at Trinity, I had a friend who really liked a New Testament professor she had, and, while I was talking with her about the topic of the Bible and application, she relayed an epigram he always used about evangelicals. He said, “Evangelicals tend to confuse the idea that the Bible was written *for* us with the idea that the Bible was written *to* us.” Anytime one opens the Bible to address the issues of the day, the first step is to actually, as much as possible, *isolate* the text *from* the issues of today, and put it in the context of the issues the author was facing in the day it was written. Then, after that step is done, you can then look for parallels in the meaning of the text that you have come up with as a result of your study and today’s current problems. Evangelicals should beware of this fine distinction, because, in an effort to help people, we may end up actually doing more harm than good.

The Problem of Intertextuality in Plagiarism Accusations

Recently, I came across a Facebook post in my feed which accused Douglas Wilson of plagiarism linking to an article by Rachel Miller. I didn’t think much of it, as accusations like that very rarely have much weight with me unless you can take it to court and actually prove it. However, I later saw that Wilson had removed the book from circulation precisely because of the argumentation provided by Rachel Miller. So, I followed the link, and read the examples she provided. I must say, I have concerns on both sides of this.

First of all, like Rachel Miller, I am critical of the Patriarchy movement. The way they have framed the who issues of gender roles and family is utterly linguistically and exegetically reprehensible. Also, many women have pointed out the abuse and scandal that has plagued the Patriarchy movement. Nevertheless, I believe we have to be careful how we handle these kinds of accusations. We can’t automatically assume guilty until proven innocent simply because of the fact that they are part of a very dangerous belief system. When we examine the evidence, we must be fair in how we evaluate that evidence, and not make bad arguments just to get an accusation out there.

After saying that, you may think that I am going to be critical of Rachel Miller’s conclusion that Doug Wilson engaged in plagiarism. Actually, I am not. I think that several of the examples she cites are sufficient to prove plagiarism, and, in fact, she only needs one. For example:

Wilson I.png

Here we have entire paragraphs lifted word for word with no citation. There is no reason to do this. This is clear, straightforward plagiarism, and, again, only one instance will suffice to prove it.

However, I have some concern with some of the other things that Miller uses as examples. One of the issues right now in plagiarism law is trying to distinguish between plagiarism and intertextuality. Intertextuality has to do with the fact that one text can relate to a previous text, and build on the meaning of a previous text. So, for example, if I am speaking about the Neuroscience of language, I will use terms like “Event Related Potential,” “N400,” “Alpha waves,” “Wernicke’s Aphasia,” “disassociations” and the like. Other people who write on the topic will use the same terms. That can hardly be considered plagiarism, because it is so specific to speaking about the neuroscience of human language. Such language is called “register” in the sociolinguistic literature, and register is one way in which intertextuality is created. Now, probably, some time in the past, someone coined those terms. However, we don’t reference that person every time we use them.

However, this is not just the case with words either. For example, a Marxist will use the phrase “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat” without ever citing Marx as using that phrase. That is because such epigrams have become part of the language of Marxism, and, thus, no one considers it plagiarism. Even plot themes in narratives create intertextuality, and no one ever thinks of suing for plagiarism. Consider the fact that the Disney movie The Lion King borrows its narrative structure from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Yet, the movie sold well, and there were no lawsuits over it. Indeed, even in casual conversation, when people are telling stories, you may see someone relate their story in specific ways to the previous speaker’s story, and, again, no one accuses them of copying.

Even repetition of a previous text must be handled with care. Aside from issues such as register and epigrams, you also have repetition that can be used for humor or to make a point. If you want a great example of this, look at the way in which the movie Mister Peabody and Sherman uses various aphorisms, but in the context of specific events in the movie, which give the aphorisms new meaning, and, in many cases, are humorous. Now, this certainly would not apply to pulling entire paragraphs out from an academic work as was done above. However, even repetition has its place in intertextuality, and one must not leap to the conclusion of plagiarism simply because one sees repetition.

The point is, intertextuality is a real phenomenon in language, and we don’t consider someone to be dishonest simply because they use it. When the purpose and intention of the use of intertextuality is understood, there is no malice intended at all, and, in all the above examples, the law reflects it. Knowing where the boundary line is at is key, of course, and that is one area where law and linguistics are really working to understand what is academic theft, and what is simply a natural feature of human language. There continues to be much debate about what constitutes intertextuality and what constitutes plagiarism.

However, I think there are some examples where Rachel Miller has used examples which quite clearly fall under the category of intertextuality. The first is this:

Miller I

The problem with using this kind of example as plagiarism is that these things are illusions back to Jesus’ well known criticisms of the Pharisees. In fact, a quick Google search of:

Pharisees “weightier matters” “blind guides” justice mercy faith

yielded about 34,200 results, some of them mentioning these criticisms in the exact same order as Wilson has here. To be fair, some of these were websites like Biblehub, which are simply allowing the user to read the Bible passage, but still, the number of results are staggering. The problem is that Jesus’ criticisms of the Pharisees are so well known in Christian circles that many people are going to quote them, sometimes with and sometimes without citation as the evidence shows. However, given the fact that this similar language is used, not only by Doug Wilson, but also by approximately 34,200 other people should cause one to strongly question whether this is plagiarism, or whether each of these examples are normal intertextuality with the Biblical text.

Another example where intertextuality plays a role is this:

Miller II

The famous statement by Van Til “There is no alternative to Theonomy but autonomy” can be readily seen to be an epigram of the Theonomic movement. However, there are some Theonomists who think that the phrase originally was not talking about Theonomy in the Bahnsen or Rushdoony sense. In other words, it may have taken on a life of its own even outside of Van Til’s intended meaning.

However, what is also fascinating is how one author has called this a “Theonomic motto”. It is easy to see how this relates to our discussion of intertextuality found above. Remember the discussion of how Marxists use phrases like “the dictatorship of the proletariat,” without ever giving citation to Marx? Epigrams like this, especially if they have taken on a life of their own, usually are not cited, because of the number of times cited would be legion, and, every time you cited it, you would have to go dig up the book and page number where Van Til said this. It would be cumbersome to the nth degree, since it is so central to Theonomic thought. Thus, it would be almost impossible to prove plagiarism from this example.

Here is my concern. First, as I have mentioned before, we live in an argument culture within reformed circles. Because of the war of words, my concern is that a person could use examples of intertextuality like these two in order foment a coup against an honest pastor or teacher just because they have an ax to grind. The teacher would be ruined-counted as a careless, or, even worse, a dishonest man, when he didn’t do anything wrong. While I agree with Rachel Miller that Wilson’s book does, indeed, contain plagiarism, leaving it with the three or four strong examples is sufficient. If all you had were these last two examples I discussed, it would be impossible to prove plagiarism in a court of law. Yet, the author would be ruined. Yes, the Patriarchy movement is a horridly linguistically and exegetically fallacious movement. However, standards of fairness should not go out the window. We should always remember the words of Christ who said, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Yes, that even means those with whom we have theological disagreements-as hard as that may be.

Tannen’s “Argument Culture” in Calvinism

I have not blogged in a while, because my laptop went south, and it is only recently that I have gotten another one. Not only that, but I have comprehensive exams in a little over a month, and have not had the time to be writing my musings about neuroscience, linguistics, and Hebrew, as I have been studying things like the documentary hypothesis and Hebrew syntax. However, I am compelled to write a post about what I believe is a major problem right now within my own reformed circles. As many of you know, I have what is currently called in the DSM a form of autism, namely, Asperger’s Syndrome. Because of that, I became interested in the pragmatics of human language, and, particularly, how the brain processes pragmatic information, and why it is that autism causes one to struggle with pragmatics.

I have also studied sociolinguistics, and am very interested in how social elements of language relate to the pragmatics of language. I mentioned in a previous post that I have become very interested in a field which is sometimes called “interactionist sociolinguistics.” More specifically, I ran into the work of Deborah Tannen, who is professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, and whose work has been especially helpful in helping me deal with issues of autistic communication issues. This is especially the case as I finished a textbook on what Tannen considers to be her main field: discourse analysis. Tannen uses DA to try to understand what she calls “conversational styles,” and how different conversational styles will affect the meaning of someone’s utterance. Let us take interruption for example. People often view interruption as rude. Indeed, it can often be frustrating to be in a relationship with someone who constantly interrupts. However, interruption can have very different meanings depending upon the sociological context. Tannen did a study of the conversational styles of people on the east coast and west coast, and found that people originally from the east coast tended to interrupt more than people on the west coast. However, when you examine that interruption, it doesn’t seem to be intended as rudeness. In fact, just the opposite. It seems that the interruption is to tell the person that you support them, and that you are listening to them. In fact, often people from the east coast can’t stand it when only one person is talking. When one person is talking, there are asides from the rest of the people in the group, side comments on what is being said. If the speaker stops talking, it can almost seem rude to the rest of the people in the group. This is simply the style of speech that you find most often on the east coast.

All this is to say that conversational style carries with it a kind of “metameaning” that is critical to understanding what someone means. Often, as in the above example, misunderstandings of these conversational styles can lead to misunderstandings as to the intent of the other person-thinking that they are being rude, when they are just following their conversational style. This is just one of the many different variations in style that Discourse Analysts study, and one of the many aspects of discourse that can make up differences in conversational style. In fact, Tannen is best known for her work in dealing with differences in conversational style between men and women, which, as I showed in a previous post, has relevance to issues such as the delay of marriage.

However, differences in geography and gender are not the only things which are relevant to differences in conversational style. Age, social class, ethnicity, and even one’s profession. I used to be part of a chat channel that I have not gone back to in a while now, because of this very kind of misunderstanding. You see, people with Asperger’s will tend to feel more comfortable in chat rooms, because they are not face to face in a social situation. Also, people with AS will tend to have one topic which they love and are well studied in. This becomes dominant in their conversation style. Psychcentral describes it this way:

3.Some experts view the long-winded and one-sided conversations as one of the most prominent differential features of the disorder. The child or adult may talk incessantly, usually about their favorite subject, often completely disregarding whether the listener is interested, engaged or trying to interject a comment, or change the subject. Despite such long-winded monologues, the individual may never come to a point or conclusion. Usually the other person can’t get a word in and is unable to change the conversation…

The DSM-IV criteria for Asperger’s Disorder and autism are identical, requiring the presence of at least one symptom from this category. The most commonly seen symptom in AS is an all-absorbing preoccupation with an unusual and very narrow topic (e.g., snakes, names of stars, maps, TV guides, railway schedules). A person with AS will usually know the topic inside and out and want to talk about it all the time during social interactions. Although this symptom may not be easily recognized in children, since strong interests in one topic are so common, it may become more salient with age, as interests shift to odd and narrow topics. The topics may change every year or two, but the intensity with which they are studied remains the same. []

Indeed, this problem is exacerbated by a chat room where the typical non-verbal social cues that someone is not interested cannot be seen. This led to an accusation that I was “talking down” to people. In other words, someone had been looking at this discourse for a long time, and thought that I was trying to be arrogant, and even compared me to internet atheists in my approach. In fact, the owner of the chat channel confirmed this by saying that, although I don’t realize it, I can talk down to people. However, such is a [perhaps understandable] misunderstanding of the conversational ritual. For most people with AS, the use of interests in conversation is not to talk down, but to build rapport. If someone asks you to explain, you are able to share the fascinating world of language and linguistics [or whatever their area of interest may be], and the person they are talking to, in turn, might share something that they have learned. It also is meant to show that you care about that person, as you are sharing things with them that are important to you. By way of illustration, let’s say you are a cook, and you have baked this wonderful cake, and you have just met this guy at church, and would like to build a friendship with him. Hence, you take him some of the cake for he and his family to enjoy. However, unbeknownst to you, the man is also a cook, and he thinks you are trying to show that you are better than he is. Just like the giving of a cake can be misunderstood as condescending, so aspie conversational rituals can be misunderstood as condescending.

Related to this, one of the things about Tannen’s research that has really interested me is also this concept of the “Argument Culture.” Tannen describes the “argument culture” in an article about the topic [which I will be quoting throughout this piece] by relaying an experience she had when she was asked to be on a television show to debate a guy on the topic of her [then new] book on gender differences in conversational styles You Just Don’t Understand, Men and Women in Conversation. She had debated Robert Bly, and they got along well, so she figured that this would be another good experience. I will let her describe what happened:

I was waiting to go on a television talk show a few years ago for a discussion about how men and women communicate, when a man walked in wearing a shirt and tie and a floor-length skirt, the top of which was brushed by his waist-length red hair. He politely introduced himself and told me that he’d read and liked my book “You Just Don’t Understand,” which had just been published. Then he added, “When I get out there, I’m going to attack you. But don’t take it personally. That’s why they invite me on, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

We went on the set and the show began. I had hardly managed to finish a sentence or two before the man threw his arms out in gestures of anger, and began shrieking — briefly hurling accusations at me, and then railing at length against women. The strangest thing about his hysterical outburst was how the studio audience reacted: They turned vicious — not attacking me (I hadn’t said anything substantive yet) or him (who wants to tangle with someone who screams at you?) but the other guests: women who had come to talk about problems they had communicating with their spouses.

My antagonist was nothing more than a dependable provocateur, brought on to ensure a lively show. The incident has stayed with me not because it was typical of the talk shows I have appeared on — it wasn’t, I’m happy to say — but because it exemplifies the ritual nature of much of the opposition that pervades our public dialogue.

What is interesting is how this guy said he liked the book, but still went on this show to viciously attack the author mostly for show. The idea of an argument culture is that there is no attempt to come to the truth of the matter, lay out the issues, and engage in fair dialogue. The idea is to use your words to “win,” not to do anything constructive. It is “argument for argument’s sake[1].”

Indeed, Tannen mentions that this can result in an “ethic of aggression,” where aggressive behavior or words are seen as superior to calm, and reasoned understanding of words-no matter what the truth value of the statements or arguments presented. Indeed, this attitude is something she mentions as part of our education system from the very earliest days:

The roots of our love for ritualized opposition lie in the educational system that we all pass through. Here’s a typical scene: The teacher sits at the head of the classroom, pleased with herself and her class. The students are engaged in a heated debate. The very noise level reassures the teacher that the students are participating. Learning is going on. The class is a success.

But look again, cautions Patricia Rosof, a high school history teacher who admits to having experienced just such a wave of satisfaction. On closer inspection, you notice that only a few students are participating in the debate; the majority of the class is sitting silently. And the students who are arguing are not addressing subtleties, nuances or complexities of the points they are making or disputing. They don’t have that luxury because they want to win the argument — so they must go for the most dramatic statements they can muster. They will not concede an opponent’s point — even if they see its validity — because that would weaken their position.

This aggressive intellectual style is cultivated and rewarded in our colleges and universities. The standard way to write an academic paper is to position your work in opposition to someone else’s. This creates a need to prove others wrong, which is quite different from reading something with an open mind and discovering that you disagree with it. Graduate students learn that they must disprove others’ arguments in order to be original, make a contribution and demonstrate intellectual ability. The temptation is great to oversimplify at best, and at worst to distort or even misrepresent other positions, the better to refute them.

I caught a glimpse of this when I put the question to someone who I felt had misrepresented my own work: “Why do you need to make others wrong for you to be right?” Her response: “It’s an argument!” Aha, I thought, that explains it. If you’re having an argument, you use every tactic you can think of — including distorting what your opponent just said — in order to win.

Again, the point is “winning,” not truth or being constructive. In fact, what is interesting to me is how Tannen says that such an attitude can even result in distortions of what the other person says, and when they say something valid, they will not agree with it as it fears it will weaken their position. Hence, a person can misunderstand what someone else is saying, simply because of the desire to “win.” They honestly won’t be able to see what the other side is saying, even though they are demonstrably misunderstanding what the other person is saying.

Now, one caveat is in order. I am not saying that we should never have debates, and I am not saying that we should not have disagreements. I do think that we should know how to think logically, do good research, and engage truthfully and honestly. The problem comes when we are so drunk with “winning” that we end up misunderstanding someone else, and not that there is truth in what the other side has said.

My concern is that, in our reformed and Calvinistic circles, we have developed an argument culture. In an earlier post, I dealt with how Jen Wilkin and Tullian Tchividjian used pragmatics to avoid the idea that the other side has a point in what they are saying. Over and over again, we find distortion within the reformed community, and a refusal to recognize the truth in what someone else is saying. I will never forget interacting with a follower of Albert Mohler’s views on contraception, and dealing with Genesis 1:28, Psalm 127:3ff, and a few other texts. The answers that I gave to Mohler’s interpretation of those passages were scholarly, as I had been studying that issue for a while. I wasn’t saying anything new in regards to those passages, and could cite sometimes multiple critical commentaries that agreed with me. I also showed weaknesses in Mohler’s understanding of those passages, and how you can’t make those arguments consistently from the text. I also said that, although I believe Mohler has put his finger on a problem [the fertility crisis], I think he has come up with the wrong solution [that there is some kind of sin of deliberate childlessness that we have been ignoring]. After laying all this out, all this guy could do is continue to repeat Mohler’s arguments even after I had answered them. What is sad is how I was interested in an honest and scholarly discussion on the topic, and all I got was someone who wanted to argue. That doesn’t, of course, mean that someone else might not have actually interacted with me on the topic. Indeed, I would love to actually interact with Mohler on that topic exegetically from the Hebrew text itself. However, this particular gentleman only wanted a fight with anyone who disagreed with him, and wanted to use Mohler’s arguments as a weapon to slay his opponent.

However, one can think of other things as well. One can think of aftermath of the Strange Fire conference, and, for what good may have come out of that whole fiasco, the reality is that I saw post after post of both cessationists and continuationists not actually addressing arguments, projecting their views onto others [saying that continuationists believe in revelation beyond scripture, for example, when they don’t believe that tongues are prophecy are revelatory], and sometimes comparing men of God to the likes of wackos like Benny Hinn. On a Calvinism forum I am part of, I had to write multiple posts on the topic, not necessarily of the truth or falsity of continuationism or cessationism, but simply reminders that we are to be dealing with this issue as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to be fair with one another! I couldn’t believe I had to say that on a Christian forum!

I have also heard of Calvinists arguing over some of the most petty and ridiculous things. For example, I had one pastor relay to me that, at seminary, he heard his fellow seminarians arguing over whether the pastor wearing a tie violates the regulative principle of worship. I have heard Calvinists argue over whether we should have Sunday School, and have rather insulting and vicious arguments over whether we should baptize infants, whether you should be amill or postmill, the proper way to apply the civil law, whether you should use the KJV/TR or the critical text, and, just recently, whether a woman can run for civil office! Now, I don’t want to in any way shape or form take away from the legitimacy of these debates, or even to suggest that there is no importance in some of these issues at all. The point is simply this. Are these issues really the kind of thing we want to take the “smarter than thou” attitude about? Whose eternal destiny is going to be destroyed if Carly Fiorina runs for President? Is a Baptist or Presbyterian going to hell just because they disagree with you on the mode and subjects of baptism? Keep these things in perspective next time you decide to take a “know it all” attitude with those whom you disagree on these points. As brothers and sisters in Christ, these “intramural” issues should be the last thing we take such an attitude on! Yet, sadly, these are the kinds of issues with which we seemingly can be the most nasty and cruel to one another, distort, misrepresent one another, and refuse to acknowledge when the other side has made a valid point.

Today, I realized I had to write this post when I got home to listen to this episode of one of my favorite programs [perhaps, surprisingly you may think after reading this far] The Dividing Line by Dr. James White. It was about a controversy I didn’t even realize existed. Now, I am no fan of Roman Catholic understandings of scripture. While I think the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church probably does not hold to these views, as he is clearly to the left of center in the RCC, the traditionalist forms of Roman Catholicism grew out of legends and speculation about various issues from the Middle Ages, and is largely a product of such. I agree with Dr. White that traditionalist Roman Catholicism, as expressed in the Council of Trent for example, is a gross and radical departure from the scriptures, and an abandonment of the gospel found in the New Testament. And, of course, the development of the Papacy is at the center of that whole system. Part of that system is the idea, contrary to Calvinistic teaching, that you can approach the sacrifice of Christ many times in the RC mass, commit a mortal sin when you die, and still go to hell. Thus, from our perspective the mass perfects no one, and thus, cannot be a representation of the sacrifice of Christ as the traditionalist Roman Catholics say it is.

The program involves a man named J.D. Hall, who quoted Pope Francis as saying that the cross of Christ was a failure, and then called him an “antichrist” for saying such a thing. It is important that we analyze the Pope’s actual words as they are going to become critical to this discussion:

Yet, if we are honest, we must recognize how easily this spirit of generous self-sacrifice can be dampened. There are a couple of ways that this can happen. And both are examples of the spiritual worldliness which weakens our commitment to serve as dedicated men and women.

And it diminishes the wonder of our first encounter with Christ. We can get caught up in measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success, which govern the business world.

Not that these things are unimportant, of course. But we have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and this is why god’s people rightly expect accountability from us but the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in god’s eyes, to see and evaluate things from god’s perspective, calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it demands great humility.

The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.

The Pope here constructs this passage in a typical PS structure, with the classic TRI pattern used for the problem:

Yet, if we are honest, we must recognize how easily this spirit of generous self-sacrifice can be dampened.

There are a couple of ways that this can happen. And both are examples of the spiritual worldliness which weakens our commitment to serve as dedicated men and women.

And it diminishes the wonder of our first encounter with Christ. We can get caught up in measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success, which govern the business world.

Not that these things are unimportant, of course. But we have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and this is why god’s people rightly expect accountability from us but the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in god’s eyes, to see and evaluate things from god’s perspective, calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it demands great humility.

The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.

Understanding this meaning beyond the sentence level is critical to understanding what the Pope means here. He is speaking of the problem of materialism, and how it creates problems in that it causes us to measure success from the perspective of the business world. Hence, the solution is framed in terms of measuring success in terms of the cross. Thus, the Pope sets up a contrast between success viewed from the perspective of man and the business world, and success viewed from the perspective of God and the cross, and presents viewing things from the perspective of the cross as the solution. That is odd if the Pope sees the cross as a failure. Why would he view something he believes is a failure as a solution to a problem?

Indeed, the Pope frames his understanding of “failure” with the words “humanly speaking.” This, again, relates back to the problem he addressed before of the business model of success. Indeed, while acknowledging that the business model has some value, he begins with the contrastive “but” to change the framing to God’s eyes. Thus, what he means to say here is that the death of Christ was a failure if compared to the business model of success, because it was of “generous self-sacrifice” which is opposed to the business model of success. Hence, I would conclude that what the Pope means to say is that, given the generous self-sacrifice of Christ on the cross, it was a failure from the perspective of the merely human business model.

This also relates to some background information on this Pope. We found out that this Pope is a strong supporter of socialism during this trip. One of the criticisms socialism makes of capitalism [and, when it comes to humanistic capitalism, it is not without merit], is that it is materialistic. And, indeed, one can legitimately criticize our form of capitalism here in the US as materialistic without the Christian base to give it form. This, therefore, strengthens the argument that what we are dealing with here is the human “business model” vs the way of the cross. If you measure what Christ did by the business model where keeping your assets and getting money from others is what makes you successful, then, clearly, Christ did none of that. His work was the ultimate in self-sacrifice, giving his very life as a sacrifice for his people, and, while he gained glory and honor, it was only *because* of that self-sacrifice as Philippians 2 says. In the business world, you don’t gain glory and honor for sacrifice, but for taking and greed which fits nicely with the materialistic culture in which we live.

Thus, with this brief Discourse Analysis of the Pope’s words, I don’t even think that the Pope’s comments are even remotely relevant to the issue of the divide between Calvinists and Catholics in regards to the efficacy of the work of Christ. However, I think we would be remiss if we did not ask the question as to why J.D. Hall did not see this. I want to examine his comments which Dr. White played on his program [I was unable to find a transcript of Hall’s show, so I will be typing it out from Dr. White’s program, trying to do my best to add various issues relevant to DA. I will pick up the discussion after Hall has just got done playing the Pope’s words:

([And that’s]) !why we call you an antichrist.! Right there. That…That does it. Well, the post has 1.1 thousand shares, and any time we get over a thousand shares, or even 500 shares we’ll have some blowback and pushback from all different angles. That’s jus…that’s just going to happen when you have a website that is a well read as the Pulpit and Pen. [You know what], let me get on my soapbox here for just a moment, because, again, this entire show is kind of my soapbox. I want to know how they determine, you know, the top 20 Christian blogs, because I’ve seen that two years in a row. We outrank 80% of them that are listed by Christianity Today, or different organizations. We outrate 80% of them on Alexa, have more-and I look at their analytics-it’s usually a combination of Alexa ranking, Facebook shares-we beat 80% of them, still don’t make it on the list. Maybe they don’t consider us a Christian website. But whenever you have a website as well read as The Pulpit and Pen is, and…you know you have a post with that many shares you ge…you get push back. Jus, it’s going to happen. Here’s what I wrote, “Of course, for Rome, the cross is a failure. The crucifixion must be made again at every mass, only effectual when combined with the works of men. The bishop of Rome ended his homily with Mary’s Magnificat saying ‘Let us commend to our lady the work we have been entrusted to do.’ The Pope ended, in other words, with an appeal to a dead woman…our self righteous works, and for this, beloved…it is Catholicism in a nutshell. But for we Protestants, let us end with this:

Lift high the cross,
the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore
his sacred Name.

Come, brethren, follow where our Captain trod,
our King victorious, Christ the Son of God.

Led on their way by this triumphant sign,
the hosts of God in conquering ranks combine.

That simple, and as we saw the post increase, we had criticism; some criticism came from a man that I very much respect, and that is James White. Uhhhhh…and it came from other corners. Let me stop here for a moment, and this is irrespective of James’ criticism. First of all, :let me say this.: Any charge that Pulpit and Pen misrepresented the Pope is preposterous. We linked the [entire] transcript of his words. We posted his words, then, on video. Then we posted, not just a link, but the words pertinent to this quotation…in transcript form, on the website. Ah, iiif you look at the entire transcript, you’ll see that he, he changed subjects; he was done speaking about the failure of the cross at that point; so their was absolutely no context that as there that we did not give; so let me say a couple of things about that charge; first of all. It is impossible to take someone out of context when you provide the context, and you provide every bit of context that was present. So, if someone was to make the charge [“That’s out of context; that’s no’ that’s out of context”]. :Well, um,:…what context was absent from our presentation; in other words, what could we have added, of the context, to…be free of the charge of taking it out of context. And the answer is “nothing;” we provided all of the context, in his own words, in [three different ways] for you to %judge for yourself%. If someone wants to claim misrepresentation, I would say %how.% And the answer is, not that you misrepresented him, not that you changed his words around on the-you edited the video-no-only that you didn’t come to he same conclusions in terms of what he meant that the cross and Jesus is a failure in human terms or humanly speaking is the way that he phrased that-humanly speaking; as a matter of fact, let me, let me make sure I get that right. Uhhh, hayah, “humanly speaking.” Uh, “we’re followers of Jesus Christ and his life”-“humanly speaking, it ended in failure that-the failure of the cross.”

Some would say, as they ha “Well, listen, that’s a correct statement, because, humanly speaking um, it did end in failure.” Well, listen, there’s 37,000 views of this on Youtube-37,000 views. A lot of people have seen it; if you look at the comments, a lot of people take it the exact same way we did, which is “Humanly speaking” is not a caveat that diminishes the rest of what he said.” Now, when people say [“That’s not what he meant, though. That’s not what he;”] I am not a stinking psychic. Uh, believe it or not, I do not share the incommunicable attribute of God of omniscience. I don’t know what was happening in his brain. I don’t live in the Pope’s brain. Uh, I assume that’s where Satan hangs out, cause he is the antichrist. I don’t hang out in his brain. Uh, I can guess. But here’s what I am %not% going to do. I am %not% going to assign to the Pope of Rome…let me repeat…I’m not going to assign to the Pope of Rome orthodox motives in his theology, which would be a first time ever; when was the last time he was orthodox.

Now, uh, the chief complaint is, “Well, wasn’t Jesus’ death on the cross…wasn’t it a…failure humanly speaking.” I’m going to quote Dr. White here. “The whole point of 1 Corinthians 1:18” excuse me “That’s the whole point of 1 Corinthians 1:18.” Let me back up; let me get the whole paragraph. “His meaning was obvious” James says. “His meaning was obvious. It was not coded. It was not difficult to discern. Even the slightest fairness on the part of any person listening would yield his intention.” Well, okay. Well, you may be smarter than me. Thank you for knowing what’s going on in the Pope’s head, and, again, I’m so glad it’s orthodox this time around. “He said that Jesus’ death, from a human perspective, was a failure. And it was. That’s the whole point of 1 Corinthians 1:18ff, isn’t it? From a human perspective, Jesus’ death at the hands of the Romans was the very definition of a ‘failure.’ I have had to explain this over and over and over again to Muslims who reject the death of Christ for this very reason. There simply was not anything in the statement offered that was objectionable.” Let me repeat that. “There simply was not anything in the statement offered that was objectionable. Nothing. It is a non-issue. Zip. Empty.” And then a, more or less, aaaa a fair minded, well articulated rebuke of not arguing fairly, cetera.

So, let’s look at 1 Corinthians if we should-or if we could. %And we should.% 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 18. Uh, I want to make sure that I don’t take anything out of context; I don’t say anything that is that is not there. Isn’t that fair; and if we do that with the Pope, can we do that with the scripture? “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Now, foolishness essentially means “moronic.” It’s stupid…Uh, when someone who is not a believer hears the message of the cross, their attitude is “pffft!” Doesn’t that say a lot of words? Ya hate when people do that? They roll their eyes, and go “pffft! Stupid. It’s foolish.” “It’s foolish to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God;” now…not to exegete, not to take anything out of context; not to misapply the meaning of Paul to the church in Corinth. At which point does Paul mention here, as James’ proof text would say, or so he would assert, that the cross of Christ-and he put it in quotes-is a failure. I don’t see “is a failure.” I don’t see, quotation marks around the word “failure,” or the word failure, in 1 Corinthians 1:18. The Bible nowhere speaks of Christ’s death and, uh, the cross as a failure. Perhaps as stupidity, foolishness, we don’t get it, it’s kind of dumb, none of this makes sense. Not as a failure. That’s the first thing I would say; if there’s any, uh, taking something out of context, or if there is anything that is misrepresentation, the only thing that has been misrepresented is…this interpretation 1 Corinthians 1:18, because foolishness may start with an “f,” as failure, but those words don’t mean the same things. Now, secondly, the same reason why I insist that this is not a non-issue-“this is nothing, nada. Nothing’s there. Nothing.” Here’s why I say that is not the case. When we see what the Pope meant and the illustration that he was trying to provide, we understand that he wasn’t speaking in the hypothetical. His point was, listen, we as Christians sometimes fail. To quote the Pope again, “The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seed. God sees to the fruits of our labors.” And, by the way, of course you know what he is talking about; he has been talking about environmentalism. He’s been talking about taking care of immigrants, especially the illegal variety. Social justice type, you know, the poor and so forth. “And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ, and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross;” what the Pope is arguing is that it’s alright if our works seem as a failure because Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross. It wasn’t as though the Pope was saying “Some people saw…Christ’s death on the cross as failure” but that, indeed it was, at least humanly speaking,” not “speaking from a worldly perspective;”

[]-spoken in higher pitch
::-lowering in pitch
()-slowing in pace
!!-speeding in pace
%%-slight increase in volume.
;-sentence break, but no break in tone or speech

I think that this distortion of the Pope’s words is coming from the argument culture, and I think it can be relatively easily demonstrated. For example, one can see elements of sarcasm, and even use of voice tone throughout this whole discourse. Notice how, after playing these words, Hall starts out with a very high pitched, and slowed down “and that’s” followed by a lower pitched, and rushed “why we call you an antichrist.” The use of the word “antichrist” here may have some relevance to Reformed men of the past who thought the Papacy was the antichrist, but, as we shall see, Hall takes it well beyond that. Not only that, the pitch and tone suggests that what Hall is saying here must be obvious from the words just mentioned. The addition of “right there that…that does it” also seems to indicate that, as well as indicate a sarcasm towards what the Pope just said. What is interesting, though, is how Hall then begins to use what linguists call “hedging.” This is the use of the stop and go nature of discourse. Things such as “That’s jus…that’s just,” “and…you know,” and “you ge…you get” are considered “hedging.” However, he also uses a lot of fillers as well. These are words like “Well” and “um.” Now, we do have to be careful as fillers and hedging are typical of unplanned oral discourse such as a podcast. However, it is interesting how the hedging and fillers are largely absent from two things: the quotation of his own writing [hardly a surprise there], as well as his statement about the popularity of his blog. Bringing up the popularity of his blog, at this point and linking it to the reason why he is getting pushback allows him to give a locus of reason as to why he is being criticized in the popularity of his blog rather than in the content of what he has said.

In other words, two possibilities exist for why people may be criticizing Hall at this point. The first is that he is wrong, and the second is that his blog is well known, and there are a lot of people out there who could misunderstand and be critical of what he is writing. He takes the latter, and goes off explaining it in such a confident manner that only one example of hedging exists in that entire discussion. The facts about the most popular Christian blogs on Christianity Today are thrown around confidently, and sometimes the facts are thrown around in such a way that there is very little relevance to the sentence before it. Now, we don’t want to fault J.D. for being proud of his blog. However, it is odd that he jumps right on to that as the reason for the criticism. Also, it has the net affect of setting up trust between him and the listener. His blog is so good that, statistically anyway, it should be in the talk for one of the top ten Christian blogs, thus, you can trust what he has to say.

The next interesting utterance is “That simple, and as we saw the post increase, we had criticism; some criticism came from a man that I very much respect, and that is James White. Uhhhhh…and it came from other corners.” The filler “uhhhh” and the pause afterwards shows that this something he added after thinking for a little bit. While the use of “some” does, indeed conversationally implicate that not all the criticism came from Dr. White, it also has the net effect of singling out Dr. White, and I think that is what Hall wants to avoid here. Yes, he will get to Dr. White, but he is not “picking” on Dr. White. And, sure enough, he begins with some general comments before getting to Dr. White’s comments specifically.

Next, Hall begins a criticism irrespective of Dr. White. He states that “Any charge that Pulpit and Pen misrepresented the Pope is preposterous.” What is interesting about this statement is two things. First, notice how he says that the charge that “the Pulpit and Pen” has misrepresented the Pope is preposterous. However, “The Pulpit and Pen” is a website. Now, I went and checked, and, while there are different authors on the Pulpit and Pen website, and, indeed, some actually stated as being by the entire Pulpit and Pen team, the author of this article was J.D. Hall. He could have said, “Any charge that *I* have misrepresented the Pope is preposterous.” This is what is called a metonymy, where he uses “the Pulpit and Pen” for himself. There are usually two reasons for this-distancing and solidarity. In terms of solidarity, he is trying to say that this is, not only his position, but the position of everyone at the Pulpit and Pen. Thus, if you are criticizing him, you are criticizing *everyone* at the website. It allows him to say that he has backing on this.

However, there is also a grabbing of power here in regards to this. In response to him citing a hypothetical critic saying they have taken the Pope out of context, he says:

It is impossible to take someone out of context when you provide the context, and you provide every bit of context that was present. So, if someone was to make the charge [“That’s out of context; that’s no’ that’s out of context”]. :Well, um,:…what context was absent from our presentation; in other words, what could we have added, of the context, to…be free of the charge of taking it out of context. And the answer is “nothing;” we provided all of the context, in his own words, in [three different ways] for you to %judge for yourself%. If someone wants to claim misrepresentation, I would say %how.% And the answer is, not that you misrepresented him, not that you changed his words around on the-you edited the video-no-only that you didn’t come to he same conclusions in terms of what he meant that the cross and Jesus is a failure in human terms or humanly speaking is the way that he phrased that-humanly speaking; as a matter of fact, let me, let me make sure I get that right.

Hall begins by stating that it *is* impossible to misrepresent someone when you provide the entire context. You have to be careful with words like “is.” They can be used for a power grab when you haven’t established your case. One can think of the uses of “is” by Big Brother in George Orwell’s classic novel 1984: “War is peace.” “Freedom is slavery.” “Ignorance is strength.” Yet what is stated here could be easily challenged. Deborah Tannen challenged that in her talks and lectures on The Argument Culture, Dr. White *did* challenge that, and I would challenge that. Because of that, the question based on the utterance is therefore a loaded question. Also, normally adjacency pairs such as question/answer give the second speaker the floor to respond, or, in he case of a monologue, a question can be used for the audience to think about the answer, as questions require answers. However, in this passage, Hall twice answers his own question question-again using that pesky word “is.” The answer is then painted in people’s minds as an absolute fact that the reason why they are accusing him of misrepresenting the Pope is simply because they don’t agree with his conclusions. The idea is, “This *must* be the reason,” when such assumes that the first question is valid [when it is a loaded question], and the second answer is one that could be easily challenged. Yet, that pesky use of “is” constructs the world as both of these things being true for the listener.

Also, notice the insertion of “you edited the video” into the middle of “you changed the words around on.” It is interesting how this was inserted right into the middle of the discourse. It is as if taking someone out of context can only be done maliciously by altering the words of the other person in some way or by editing video rather than by setting up an “us vs. them” attitude which will then cause you to distort everything the other person says. Since he didn’t physically alter the words or the video, he thinks he can escape the charge of misrepresenting the Pope. However, not understanding how the Pope has framed his discussion, and replacing how he is framing his discussion with a framework of “us Protestants vs. the Pope,” you will still misrepresent him, and distort his meaning because of a commitment to the argument culture.

Next, as Dr. White rightly pointed out on his program, the idea that thousands of people have also taken it this way is an argumentum ad populum-a well known logical fallacy. However, I think this also goes back to Hall’s use of the metonymy “The Pulpit and Pen.” He is trying to create solidarity with those around him who agree. The idea is, you disagree with him, you have a million other people to deal with. It is the idea of “strength in numbers,” and hence, also relates to power. Creating solidarity for power against an opposing “them” is something that is very much a part of the argument culture, although, at this point, it has been lying beneath the surface.

The next section is where, I believe, the argument culture becomes more explicit:

Now, when people say [“That’s not what he meant, though. That’s not what he;”] I am not a stinking psychic. Uh, believe it or not, I do not share the incommunicable attribute of God of omniscience. I don’t know what was happening in his brain. I don’t live in the Pope’s brain.

Notice how this discourse is framed. It is framed as understanding what the Pope meant as the same as being psychic, and having the incommunicable attributes of God. Aside from the fact that Dr. White pointed out that this is self-contradictory [he claims to understand that the Pope meant to say that the cross of Christ failed], it makes anyone who disagrees with him a psychic who has attributes of Deity. Thus, if you say that anyone who disagrees with you must do the impossible, you can shut down any disagreement. If anyone challenges you, then they must be claiming to be psychic, and have attributes that only God has. Again, this is a way to gain power over those with whom you disagree. Frame them as having an impossible task, and you will be placing yourself on top.

The problem is, you don’t have to be “psychic” to understand what someone else means. It does relate to the brain, but it relates to neural mechanisms that form what is called a “theory of mind.” While we are not entirely certain how this works, Giacomo Rizzolatti has uncovered what he calls a “mirror neuron” which fires when an animal performs an action and when the animal sees someone performing an action. While not all neuroscientists agree with his findings, it is a step in the right direction. Also, you have the right temporal-parietal junction, which is where intentionality is processed. Research on split-brain patients has shown that they struggle to understand human intention because of the fact that the left brain “interpreter” is severed from the right brain where you find the right temporal-parietal junction.

In other words, brains relate to one another, and do not exist in isolation. This is why neuroscience has developed a fascinating branch called “Social Neuroscience” which examines the way in which the brain relates to other brains. Thus, you do not need to be a “psychic” or be “omniscient” in order to process human intentionality in language or otherwise.

However, what he says next really shows us the “argument culture” nature of his statements:

I don’t live in the Pope’s brain. Uh, I assume that’s where Satan hangs out, cause he is the antichrist. I don’t hang out in his brain. Uh, I can guess. But here’s what I am %not% going to do. I am %not% going to assign to the Pope of Rome…let me repeat…I’m not going to assign to the Pope of Rome orthodox motives in his theology, which would be a first time ever; when was the last time he was orthodox.

I want you to notice, not so much what is said here, but how this will frame Hall’s thinking. If you believed that Satan hung out in someone’s brain, and that no one ever had any orthodox motives, how would that frame your interpretation of their words? You see, that is what sets up the argument culture. The idea that everything is going to be me vs the Pope, or me vs any other unorthodox teacher, because everything must have an unorthodox motive or go back to Satan in some way. If you take the attitude that there must be an unorthodox motivation behind everything another person says, how could you ever hope to take them fairly? It automatically sets up this “us vs them” attitude which destroys any pursuit of truth-whether the other side is wrong or right in this instance.

As an aside, even if you want to hold the old view of the reformers that the Pope was the antichrist, where did they ever say that Satan hangs out in the Pope’s brain? When did they ever say he is devoid of any orthodox motivations? That is why I said earlier, this goes well beyond the Reformer’s view of the Pope as the antichrist.

Next he quotes from Dr. White, and any time you find a quotation, especially commentary added, you have to understand how such intertextuality works. Often intertextuality can be used to represent other discourse in an ironic of different light. The Hebrew Bible has examples galore of this very thing. However, here, given Hall’s commentary on Dr. White’s comments, we are able to see just how he is framing them:

I’m going to quote Dr. White here. “The whole point of 1 Corinthians 1:18” excuse me “That’s the whole point of 1 Corinthians 1:18.” Let me back up; let me get the whole paragraph. “His meaning was obvious” James says. “His meaning was obvious. It was not coded. It was not difficult to discern. Even the slightest fairness on the part of any person listening would yield his intention.” Well, okay. Well, you may be smarter than me. Thank you for knowing what’s going on in the Pope’s head, and, again, I’m so glad it’s orthodox this time around.

Notice how Dr. White’s words are framed in terms of this “us vs. them” mentality. In other words, after a passing acknowledgement of James’ intelligence, he then proceeds to frame what Dr. White said as mind reading-again, again, arguing that any objection to his position on the grounds of misunderstanding his intent requires you to be God. Also, the sarcastic phrase “and I’m glad it’s orthodox this time” would seem to indicate that Hall doesn’t believe the Pope ever says anything orthodox. Both of these things glaring examples of the argument culture. First, discounting anything your opponent has to say, and second, the us vs. them mentality that will not even recognize that someone you may not even believe is orthodox may have something truthful to say. However, the continued reframing of Dr. White’s words continues:

So, let’s look at 1 Corinthians if we should-or if we could. %And we should.% 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 18. Uh, I want to make sure that I don’t take anything out of context; I don’t say anything that is that is not there. Isn’t that fair; and if we do that with the Pope, can we do that with the scripture?

The only way this would be relevant to Dr. White’s comments on this passage is if Hall, at this point, thinks that Dr. White is doing exactly what he is saying we should not do to the scriptures. What is worse is it is almost an indirect accusation of inconsistency on Dr. White’s part, because he is suggesting that Dr. White is demanding an accurate handling of the Pope’s words while not accurately handling the scriptures.

Yet, because Hall has already framed the discussion as demanding that Dr. White be omniscient and that the Pope always say something unorthodox, he now must distort even the very scriptures themselves. Take the statement “I don’t say anything that is that is not there” with the following comments:

now…not to exegete, not to take anything out of context; not to misapply the meaning of Paul to the church in Corinth. At which point does Paul mention here, as James’ proof text would say, or so he would assert, that the cross of Christ-and he put it in quotes-is a failure. I don’t see “is a failure.” I don’t see, quotation marks around the word “failure,” or the word failure, in 1 Corinthians 1:18. The Bible nowhere speaks of Christ’s death and, uh, the cross as a failure. Perhaps as stupidity, foolishness, we don’t get it, it’s kind of dumb, none of this makes sense. Not as a failure. That’s the first thing I would say;

When people use this argument I always ask them, “Where in the statement ‘I broke a leg last week’ is ‘the leg I broke was one of my own?'” Other questions could be asked as well. For example, where in the statement, “I adopted a puppy last week” is the statement “I adopted a dog” or “I adopted an animal?” The point is that the demand that a meaning be empirically in the text is extremely reductionistic. Human language is far more complicated than that. I am sure Hall would acknowledge that all these examples I just gave represent legitimate interpretations, and yet, he demands that the word “failure” be empirically in the text before he will accept it as a legitimate interpretation. He doesn’t see that the cross being a failure is the precondition to the belief that it is foolish. How can you believe the cross is foolish, and yet, believe Christ did what he intended to do on the cross? Clearly, if we do not demand that the word “failure” be empirically found in the text, then there really is not much of an argument.

However, notice how Hall continues to frame Dr. White’s response:

if there’s any, uh, taking something out of context, or if there is anything that is misrepresentation, the only thing that has been misrepresented is…this interpretation 1 Corinthians 1:18, because foolishness may start with an “f,” as failure, but those words don’t mean the same things.

Notice how we have a complete distortion here of what Dr. White is saying. Dr. White never said that those two words have the same meaning. His argument is quite plain, and that is that the cross being foolish *presupposes* that it was a failure. If he was somehow saying that the two words mean the same thing, it would be a rather basic and fundamental mistake. That is very odd for a man who is as well trained in New Testament studies as Dr. White is. Saying something like that will get you destroyed by the likes of John Dominick Crossan, Marcus Borg, and even Christian scholars such as Dan Wallace with whom Dr. White has some disagreements. Yet, again, when you frame the discussion as Hall has, he must be making a mistake, because the Pope said it, and he cannot say any statement with orthodox motivations. Thus, even a good New Testament scholar like Dr. White must be making a basic and fundamental mistake such as this. This is the ugly nature of the argument culture.

When we see what the Pope meant and the illustration that he was trying to provide, we understand that he wasn’t speaking in the hypothetical. His point was, listen, we as Christians sometimes fail. To quote the Pope again, “The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seed. God sees to the fruits of our labors.” And, by the way, of course you know what he is talking about; he has been talking about environmentalism. He’s been talking about taking care of immigrants, especially the illegal variety. Social justice type, you know, the poor and so forth.

First of all, his point is not that we as Christians often fail. His point is that living as a true Christian means that, given the standards of the business model so prevalent in our culture, we can sometimes *think of ourselves* as a failure. The issue, as we saw when we analyzed Francis’ words, is not hypothetical vs reality. It is two different *interpretations of* reality.

Also, notice the inclusion of words and phrases like “environmentalism,” “immigrants…the illegal variety,” and “social justice.” Obviously, since most of Hall’s listeners are going to be conservative Southern Baptists opposed to the leftist liberalism of environmentalism, illegal immigration, and social justice, he is able to frame Francis’ words in a way that will prejudice his readers against what he is saying. And yet, all of these things are a complete distortion of the Pope’s words. While he does mention immigration, it is not until after this discussion, and as Hall has admitted, after this discussion, he has moved on to another topic. More than that, even when he talks about immigration, he says nothing about *illegal* immigration. And, while he speaks of social justice, he doesn’t speak of the typical emphasis of liberal neo-Marxist ways of *salvation* in regards to social justice expressed in liberation theology. And finally, how on earth do you get “environmentalism” out of *anything* he has said? Given the emphasis on the argument culture in the way Hall frames his discourse, I am almost afraid to ask, given how badly the argument culture can cause people to distort our “opponent’s” meaning and intention. While it is entirely possible, given the left-leaning liberalism of the Papacy right now, that he has supported those things, bringing them up here is entirely irrelevant, as it had nothing to do with his point. Furthermore, bringing them up in this context only seeks to bias and prejudice your readers-continuing the argument culture you have already begun by framing the discussion as you vs the Pope.

I want to make it absolutely clear that, with this short Discourse Analysis of the Pope and J.D. Hall, I am not picking on J.D. I don’t know the man, nor do I have any personal animosity towards him. I have seen many fine Christian leaders fall into the argument culture, as it is part of our human weaknesses. Yet, it is something that seems to be endemic to our Calvinistic and Reformed circles. In an effort to counteract evangelicalism which says that you should never criticize anyone, we have set up an argument culture where arguing for the sake of arguing is accepted. That is why I have written this post.

Of course, as I already said, I am not saying we should not argue. I am also not saying that we should never be angry. Anger is a human emotion, and a perfectly normal aspect of our human existence. However, as the apostle Paul says, “Be angry, but do not sin” [Ephesians 4:26], as both anger and arguing can lead to sin if we do not exercise care. What sin am I talking about? Breaking the ninth commandment. When you partake of the argument culture, and frame discussions as a “me vs. them” such that you are unwilling to even acknowledge the validity of anything the other side says, you are susceptible to breaking the ninth commandment.

The world today is full of the argument culture. Look at how anyone opposes homosexuality has words thrown at them that have deep intertextual relationships with racism. The world thinks that anyone who opposes homosexuality might be a demon in disguise, even though the medical and psychological data on the harm that homosexuality causes to an individual is rather indisputable. It has been said of the left in the United States that they do not argue; they stigmatize. Look at how comedy shows like “The Daily Show” which are pseudo-news comedy shows frame the way in which people on the left think of those who disagree with them. One can think of people like Bill Maher, who is a former comedian pretending to have some philosophical competence when it comes to issues of philosophy of religion. Questions of truth are never asked, because the us vs. them framing never allows those questions to be asked. They are entertained by any criticism or making fun of their opponents, because the concern is for the argument culture, and not for any issues of truth. Unfortunately, the same thing happens on the right too. I was listening to the recent Republican presidential debate, and was amazed at how the candidates often had to correct distortions of their words by both the other candidates and by the moderator. Yet, what was fascinating is, when it came down to the bottom line, the candidates agreed on a considerable amount, and the framing of the discourse was more in terms of whether they *sincerely* believed what they say. That is what lead to the many distortions I spoke of earlier.

Now, I do realize that we can accidentally misrepresent someone. Misunderstandings happen, and, as much as I try to be careful when analyzing someone else’s discourse, misunderstandings will happen, because we are not perfect communicators or interpreters. I can only look at how discourse typically functions, and how discourse is being used in a various situation and with what purpose. However, that is entirely different from the argument culture. The framing of the discussion for the Christian should never be “us vs. them” in the sense that people who disagree with us can never say anything right. Since we follow he who is the truth, we should always make the pursuit of truth the center of why we do anything-including argue. That should frame all discussions we have as Christians.

[1]Now, I must give a caveat here. I do not agree with Tannen on everything on this topic. For example, Tannen thinks that there are “one-sided issues,” to which there is only one side to be told. The two issues she gives are whether the Holocaust happened and climate change. However, I think Tannen has confused whether there is another side to the issue with whether that side is true. The arguments for the idea that the Holocaust did not happen may be very weak, and, in fact, be untrue, but that does not mean that it is not another side to the issue. The second issue, I would say, shows that “one-sided issues” can actually exacerbate the argument culture. Once you establish something as a “one-sided issue,” you can basically keep the other side from being taken seriously. Hence, the battle to have your views enshrined as a “one-sided issue” will cause the argument culture to continue, and, in my estimation, worsen, because having your view enshrined as a one-sided issue gives you power over the other side. [It also shows that, in terms of worldview, Tannen is definitely to my left, even though she is a very good sociolinguist and discourse analyst].

Addendum: after I had already finished with this post, I got a link in my Twitter feed that TurretinFan had also addressed this issue. He has uncovered some very interesting facts. First, this is not the first time the Pope has spoken of the cross as a failure humanly speaking. This gives us some intertextual data to work with. The first link is a discussion of the love of Christians more generally, and how it is to mirror the love of Christ. He points out that, when we do what is right, sometimes people will become angry with us. However, we must remember that the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. Again, this is very much parallel to our context-except with a broader application. Again, the issue is failure from the world’s perspective vs failure from God’s perspective. The second link Turretinfan has posted is a very interesting discussion in the context of Satan’s temptation of Jesus to work a miracle in the wilderness. He speaks of how we want to have a “triumphalism” in Christianity without the cross. Again, here the perspective of the world’s view of success vs God’s view of success is clearly seen, simply reframed to deal with the issue of worldly triumphalism in the church.

In other words, Pope Francis simply reuses this theme of a worldly view of success vs a divine view of success to deal with issues such as commercialism, our love for others, and triumphalism-all things that both Catholics and Protestants believe are wrong. Hence, he is merely calling on Catholics to recognize those philosophies that, when taken to their logical conclusion, make Christ’s death a failure. The reuse of this same theme in all these different contexts shows very clearly what his intention was initially.

Another interesting thing Turretinfan has come up with is the fact that the Pope may not have even been the first to use this language as other, both Catholic and non-Catholic writers have used this language. All of these are very similar to Francis’ comments. For example, the quote by Ferris is speaking in the context of the number of followers one has. If one measures success by the standard of followers, he says, then the cross is a total failure. It is interesting how Francis uses this concept in specific contexts such as triumphalism and commercialism, to show that these ways of measuring success likewise make the cross a failure. All we have is a simple reframing and reworking of this same theme. And, obviously, none of these things have anything to do with Calvinist and Catholic differences in regards to the mass being a representation of the sacrifice of Christ.

And, as a side note, Turretinfan also seems to have independently come up with the same interpretation of Francis’ words that I have. The reason I mention this is because Turretinfan has expertise on the issue of Catholicism vs Protestantism.

The Delay of Marriage and Sociolinguistics

Recently, in preparing for comprehensive exams, I have been studying the issue of language and society. I have also felt it necessary to do this because of my interest in social cognition and its relationship to human language. There was a section in one book I was looking at on the relationship between language and gender. Now, even the author mentions that most theories on gender raise a ton of emotion, and lack evidence for the claims they are making. Even worse, some of them are completely absurd (the notion that we need to change “history” to “herstory” for example). There was a lot of “men are the oppressors” agenda-driven theories which made you role your eyes. However, as so often happens in such instances, you find a pearl in the sand, and, in this case, it was the work of Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University. I thought her views made the most sense, and were based on the most objective research. Tannen’s major area of research isthe differences in male and female discourse, and, back in the early 1990’s, she noticed that there was a major problem with men and women simply not understanding one another in conversation. So, based upon her research, she wrote a popular level book You Just Don’t Understand; Men and Women in Conversation. The book was on the New York Times Bestseller list for four *years* (yes, you read that right. Four years not four months)! There was a wide need for such a book, obviously. Now, she did an update on the book in 2007, and it did not receive near the sales. Now, logically, only one of two options is possible. Either we have solved these problems, and her books were no longer needed except as academic interest. Or, the problems have gotten so bad that there is real apathy about ever solving them.

When I was younger, I used to do work in delay of marriage and the Bible. I sought to refute the ideas of people like Albert Mohler, Debbie Maken, Candice Watters, and others who argued that there was some sin of delay of marriage. I was unimpressed with the argumentation from an exegetical perspective, as were my professors both in undergraduate and graduate school. It was  sad to see such a total abandonment of exegetical sanity in favor of reading the Bible through the lens of our cultural problems. For me, the issue remained an exegetical one for a long time.

Then, however, my pastor started preaching through Ephesians at the same time I was considering how the Bible says Christians are to love one another. I was struck by the intertextuality between the way married people are to treat one another, and the way members of the body of Christ were to treat one another more broadly. Consider the following texts, and note that, although the first one is always quoted, the second is usually almost never quoted beside it:

Ephesians 5:25  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her

1 John 3:16  We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

You can find many such connections throughout scripture. Husbands are called to be devoted to their wives, while scripture says we are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love. The Bible tells a husband to nourish and cherish his wife, and also tells us that we are to bear one another’s burdens and to serve one another. The parallels are striking, and cried out for a conclusion.

The conclusion, I believe, is twofold. First, because God’s love for his people is the foundation of both the love between a husband an a wife as well as the love brothers and sisters have for one another, marriage and society must be founded upon a knowledge of that love. This is why John can say, if you don’t love your neighbor, then you don’t love God. However, beyond that, the intimidating and almost idolarous high place that this position gives to marriage had blinded me to an obvious conclusion of this text-a copernicean conclusion that has radically altered the way I think about this issue practically. Marriage is not the foundation of society. A good, Godly society is the foundation of marriage. That should not have been surprising, as Francis Schaeffer had pointed to the affects of a humanistic society on the family long ago. However, the idea seems to be, if people do not know how to treat their brothers and sisters in Christ, they will not know how to treat their spouses. Hence, learning how to love your brothers and sisters in Christ is critical to loving your spouse. Furthermore, it seems that, if you can destroy relationships between men and women in the church, you can destroy marriage, because those relationships will never get to the level of romance and marriage. Hence, learning to love one another is a critical precondition for marriage to take place.

I didn’t know what to do with this information at the time, other than to make people aware of it. I wanted to see singles stop being so cliquey based on age and interests, and really learn to love one another. However, it wasn’t until I started taking a serious look at Tannen’s research that I was able to see how this applies to the delay of marriage. You see, if communication differences exist between men and women, and men and women either don’t know this, don’t want to bridge the gap, or, even worse, attribute malace to the other side because of the misunderstanding, it will polarize men and women further. Also, if this is indeed the problem, then misusing scripture to blame one group (say single men) for “refusing to grow up” and “extending adolescence” will only exacerbate the problem. What is needed, instead, is for men and women to understand one another better. Hence, Tannen’s research becomes extremely critical in this task.

So, what was her research, and what were her findings? Tannen studied the socialization of male and female discourse beginning at a very early age. What she found is that men tend to use discourse for purposes stratification, where as women tend to use discourse for the purpose of establishing relational bonds. It is not that men do not have relational bonds or that women do not have position in their social interactions. It is a matter of the goals and purposes they bring to the discourse. Here is a video where Tannen gives her evidence for this, and expands on these concepts much more fully:

Understanding simply these basic language ritual differences explains a lot. For example, it explains why men value respect so highly, and why women value intimacy. It also explains why men can be socially satisfied simply by being with one another, but women require talking about things in order to have a socially fulfilling encounter. In another (longer) video I will post at the end of this blog post, Tannen tells the story of this man who experienced a tragedy, and his friend took him to a baseball game to take his mind off his troubles. After taking his friend out, the man comes home to his wife, and she asks him how he is dealing with it. He says that he is doing okay. She then asks him what he told his friend, and he replies, “nothing.” His wife was somewhat angry at him because, in her mind, he was not being a good friend. Yet, in his mind he was precisely because he was simply being there for him. This is why you see those funny I Love Lucy episodes where Ricky is reading the paper, and Lucy is yapping away, but then breaks into tears because she doesn’t think Ricky cares enough to listen to her.

When I heard these things, I did not immediately make the connection to the delay of marriage issue. It wasn’t until I remembered a conversation Lisa Anderson, the host of The Boundless Show was involved in with a guy she thought liked her. He asked her if she wanted to go to a resturant, and she accepted. Well, at the end, it was time to pay, and she thought he was going to pay for her meal, and he thought she was going to pay for her meal. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but she said it was something like this. The guy says, “Why should I pay. It Iis not like we are on a date!” Then Lisa responds, “What do you think this is?” Tannen’s research explains this whole thing. Lisa, as a woman, is thinking relationally, and her ritual of conversation is thinking, if he asks me out to a restaurant,  it must be to deepen our relationship into a romance. However, the man is thinking in terms of friendship, and the comeradery of two friends merely being side by side. Lisa takes what to the man is a mere conversational ritual of friendship and mutual respect, with the focus on stratification, and turns it into a date with the purpose of relationship and connection.

Tannen is also very quick to point out that you have to consider other social factors as well, as people are not just men and women, but men and women from various social and economic classes, ethnicities, regions, etc. She spoke to a woman who was angry with her husband, because he kept on interrupting her. Tannen then asks the woman, “Does you husband come from the east coast?” She looked like she had seen a ghost, and replied, “Yes, how did you know?” She replied that people on the east coast have a discourse ritual of interrupting, but it is not to be rude. It is to come alongside the other person, and to finish their sentences, and add things to show that they support the other person. Hence, far from being rude, he was helping and supporting her. Lisa spoke of a similar situation to the above scenario except that the man didn’t pick up any of the tab, and wanted her to pay for the whole thing. I would be interested to know the economic situation of that man at that time. If he were struggling economically, that would change everything. Now, if she is the one who asks him, it would be taken as an offer to help him by buying him a meal. If he asks her, it would now become a request for help, and, perhaps, not a direct request, because of the humiliation of having to directly refer to the fact that he has fallen on hard times. Such a direct statement would, again, affect his social positioning and stratification. Yet, again, because Lisa is thinking in terms of closeness or distance in relationship, she misses this.

Even though all these things can be explained sociolinguistically, nevertheless, Boundless talked about men just wanting to be “buddies,” and, in fact, started their whole “Define the Relationship” campaign. Suzanne Hadley Gosselin wrote an article which really became the flagship artticle of this entire campaign entitled Not Your Buddy. Her article offers more data that the delay of marriage problem is, at least partially, a problem of communication. Look at the following dialogue, and see if you can see how what Tannen has said can be used to explain what is going on here:

“Do you think it’s wrong for a guy to initiate one-on-one time with a woman when he has no intentions with her?” I asked.

My friend paused, savoring the question. “I think,” he said, “if a woman wants something to be there, she’s going to see something there.

“His buddies smirked knowingly.

“But don’t you think seeking her out and spending time with her encourages it?” I prodded.

“She’s the one who’s choosing to view that as special treatment,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s her interpretation.””Can you tell when a girl’s interested in you?”


“Then why would you lead her on like that?”

“She’s free to say no anytime. Until then, I’ll assume she’s OK with it.

“By “OK,” I guessed he meant the girl could handle it emotionally.

His buddies slapped him on the back.

“That’s right,” one of them piped up. “Women are always going to read into something. If you catered to it, you’d have to give up female friends completely.”

Part of the difficulty in analyzing reported discourse like this is the way in which people who have been hurt by a situation will distort what happened in the situation. The use of terms like “prodded,” and the inclusion of the guy’s friends patting him on the back paint this picture of the brilliant woman “prodding” the stupid guy’s excuses, and the only thing his buddies have in defense is misogynistic cheering. All of this may come from the misunderstanding on the part of Suzanne as to what is going on here, but Tannen’s findings are preserved clear as a bell even with all the possible distortions. Again, men think of friendship differently than women. A comeradery where simply being together is most important is critical to understanding male friendships. However, the woman is interpreting that “being together” through the lens of a closeness vs distance framework. What Suzanne can’t see is, because of the focus on comeradery and stratification, they think that the interpretation of such behavior as indicating romantic interest is as absurd as a schizophrenic interpreting the moving of someone’s arm in a particular way as an attempt to mirror them. It is a highly irrational conclusion to them, precisely because they are ruling out virtually any framework or concern for closeness vs distance. Hence, because of the different concerns of the male and female conversational rituals, the two of them talk past one another. I agree that the man needs to learn that, because of her language rituals, a woman could interpret such interaction as romantic interest. However, women also need to understand why a man does not consider such behavior as romantic at all. This will allow men to watch out for the possibility that a woman is misunderstanding, and for a woman to recognize that she needs more from a man than simply spending time with her in order to know that he is interested in her. Often time, this dual understanding, essential to the Biblical concept of love, is missing from these discussions.

One can further see these different concerns of gender specific language rituals in terms of who is going to initiate the relationship. I am well aware of the fact that some have argued that the Bible teaches that it is the man who must initiate the relationship. The arguments are entirely unconvincing and very weak. For example, the idea that men are leaders, and that “leader” presupposes the idea of initiation. However, that would make the statement, “I am the leader of a company I did not found” an inherently incoherent statement when it is something that is true most of the time. More than that, it would make it wrong for two people to found a buisness, and seek a well known buisness figure to lead them. He can’t be the leader, be cause he did not initiate the relationship. Even worse are uses of passages like “He who finds a wife finds what is good” to say that men are to be out “finding” a wife, and you can’t find what you are not looking for. However, that is simply not true. If I am out in a field flying a kite, trip over a branch, and fall down, and then see a gold coin, it is entirely appropriate for me to return home, and tell my family that I “found” a gold coin.

However, why all this misuse of scripture over something so seemingly insignificant as who asks who? I think, again, this framework Tannen has set down explains why. Each of the sexes don’t feel comfortable asking for a romantic relationship, but for different reasons. The crucial adjacency pair is as follows:

1. Will you be my boyfriend/girlfriend

2. No.

Adjacency pairs such as this have both a preferred response and a dispreferred response. Now, let’s assume that person 1 is a woman. Notice how the dispreferred response puts distance between the man and the woman. Furthermore, the woman is not in control of whether that distance is put between them, which thus violates the equality women hold so dear. If person 1 is a man however, one can immediately hear an onlooker say, “Oooh sisss (making the sound of cold water hitting a oven hot pan). Because of the nature of the  first part of the adjacency pair as requiring a preferred or dispreferred response, it puts the man at the mercy of the woman. Remember what Tannen said, men use language to negotiate their position in a group and to avoid precisely this kind of domination. Hence, men will not initiate because of the fact that the possibility of such an adjacency pair violates their conversational ritual.

So, why then did men used to initiate relationships quite freely before the modern time? I think the answer is that there was very little stigma associated with asking a girl out. Women and men cooperated with one another. Communities were often smaller, and, if a guy liked a girl, it was likely that his parents knew her parents. Furthermore, I dare say there was less rejection, because both sides did not have unrealistic desires like they do today: men in terms of looks, and women in terms of personality and interests. You could get turned down, but it was usually due to lack of mutual attraction or some very serious character flaw. Hence, because there was no feminist movement, the standards were reasonable, and the community was closer, rejection was rare and not stigmatized. I would also add that it is likely that men and women understood one another better, or, at least, bore with one another in patience much better than they do today. This allowed intimate relationships to develop, so that both sides could read one another better. This took most of the stigma out of the situation.

Tannen’s views explain more than this though. They also explain the feminine nature of the delay of marriage movement. I mean, you constantly hear about how men refuse to grow up, and even Christian movies paint them as immature. We saw that interpretation of the male discourse Suzanne reports above. Also, due to this importance of using language to connect, women who are deprived of that ultimate best friend would seem to be hurt more by the delay of marriage. This would also explain why pastors tend to operate from female assumptions and concerns on this issue. If women are hurt by this *and* have not taken the time to understand men, they will go to their pastor with these concerns, and, because men do not understand at times that there is even a problem, the pastor views single men in largely the same light as the woman who has already radically misunderstood the man.

Now, you may be thinking at this point that it seems that Tannen’s research explains a whole lot in the whole delay of marriage issue. Still, you haven’t offered us any solutions to this problem. In fact, the problem is complicated by the fact that not a whole lot is known about the differences between the male and female brain, and how much of this is nature vs nurture. I think a few things can be said. First, negatively, there is no sin of delay of marriage. To say a man is sinning by not getting married early is, not only to misuse scripture, but to further polarize men and women which is the heart of the problem in the first place. Making marriage a sine quo non of adulthood doesn’t help either, as that further polarizes men and women by painting men as the immature ones, women elevated above men as mature, and, again, breaks the ninth commandment against God himself. Such only exacerbates the problem.

So, what then is the solution? I would say there is no one single solution, but understanding the differences between male and female discourse is the first step. Also, getting rid of an attitude of suspicion is critical. As Tannen says, neither of these language rituals are right or wrong. They are just different. This goes back to the Biblical command to love one another. I had a pastor friend of mine give me a great quote from Napoleon Bonaparte one time. “Never ascribe to malace that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.” If men and women really do have ingnorace of each other’s discourse rituals, then we should not attribute to malace that which can be adequately explained by such incompetence. Also, I think it would be good for men and women to have discussions of metacommunication-that is, to talk about our communication. When there is a misunderstanding, we need to go back, and explain what we meant by what we said, and discuss how the misunderstanding occurred. I would not even be opposed, given the basis in scripture of loving one another, to going through Deborah Tannen’s popular level book on male and female conversation with a young adult singles Sunday School class. Getting men and women involved in a conversation about communication is critical to helping each of them be able to understand how the opposite sex is using their language. Beyond that, it will take time and hard work. As Tannen herself says, there is no twelve step plan. However, if we work in this direction, we will start seeing fruit.

For more information on these issues, I would recommend this hour long interview with Deborah Tannen where you can here more stories illustrating these principles we have already discussed:

Update 7/29/2015 In this post I had wondered if the guy who went out to eat with Lisa Anderson and made her pay for everything was hitting on hard times financially. As I write this post, Anderson has a book due out on Saturday 8/1/2015, and it gives more details of the story, which is, again, a case of misunderstanding, but not necessarily in regard to gender issues. This is from the preview on Amazon:

As I got to know him, I learned a few things about him. He loved routine. He ran the same route every morning, ate one of two things for breakfast every day, played basketball with the same guys in the same gym, frequented the same takeout joints, and kept the same schedule as best he could. He was stable, as far as I could tell.

But all that stability started to irk me. Not because I thought he should be some kind of wreckless madman, but because in everything he did, he took the safe road. He was good at his job. But when I asked him about a promotion that was available and I thought he could easily get, he demurred. He said he liked his current position, and didn’t want any more responsibility. When he shated a dream of seeing new places, I asked him about a move. No, he didn’t want to uproot. He liked his small apartment, and didn’t want to lose it.

Shockingly, this guy eventually traveled to Colorado to meet me. For all his laid-back coolness, spending time together revealed a few more things. Like, he didn’t want to pay for a hotel room, so I asked one of my pastors if he and his wife would open up their spare room. They did. He stayed for about four days, and (I’m still ashamed every time I say this), with the exception of a couple of Starbucks runs, I pretty much paid for everything we did. Sure, I’m at fault for letting it happen. But c’mon. After building this guy up in my head, I was stunned to see the way things played out. I couldn’t believe it, quite frankly. One night, we decided to go out for dinner. I asked him what he was in the mood for, and he responded, “I don’t know. Do you have a gift card for anyplace?”

Folks, I am not making this up. The sad thing is, I did have a gift card to a local restaurant, and after dinner, I presented it. You think that’s bad? Well, I also payed the difference-the remainder of the bill, tip and all. I was so embarrassed and confused. I didn’tknow what else to do.

Needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out, but in reflecting on it, other red flags abounded, flags I had previously ignored-like this dude’s pride in his fifty-seven-inch TV, despite his cheapskate tendencies elsewhere. Or his three boxes of Count Chocula. Oh, and maybe that he could actually tell the difference between Count Chocula, Cocoa Krispies, and Cocoa Puffs. Or the fact that he dropped $120 on jeans for the trip to see me and made a point of telling me. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t afford dinner or a hotel room.

Some people need to grow up. (The Dating Manifesto, pgs.72-73)

Now, if you have ever studied autism before, you are shaking your head very hard. This entire description of this guy fits like a glove into the DSM V description of autism. A few examples:

-The focus on routines (which can affect money issues)
-Odd and specific knowledge (Knowing the difference between Count Chocula, Cocoa Krispies, and Cocoa Puffs)
-Difficulty in reading social cues and social knowledge (in regards to Anderson having to pay for everything making her mad).
-Interest in electronics and technology (not true of every autistic person, but autistic people do tend to like technology)
-Projecting himself and his own feelings onto others (assuming that, because he would appreciate seeing his girlfriend in a new outfit, so his girlfriend would appreciate seeing him in a new outfit).

I agree that it can be frustrating to love an autistic person. I guess what frustrates me in reading this whole account as a person with a mild form of autism (Asperger’s Syndrome), is that Lisa didn’t even try to understand the issues. This is what I mean when I say that a large amount of the problem with the delay of marriage has to do with an inability to form close relationships due to problems in communication. It may be more understandable in this case, as autism is a somewhat unique situation, but it does show that we are too quick to condemn rather than understand the opposite sex.

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