Susanne Luther’s Discourse-Analytical Approach to Speech-Ethics in Matthew, James, and 1 Peter: A Reading Guide to an Impressive New Book

In today’s post I will look at a recent work by Dr. Susanne Luther (Eng) of the University of Mainz. I  have decided to provide a “reading guide” to her 2015 book Sprachethik im Neuen Testament (Google Books) simply because I think it is an impressive book that will be of interest not only to New Testament scholars specializing in speech-ethics, but also to three other groups of people, namely a) scholars with a special interest in cutting-edge methodological reflection in the field [see esp. my discussion of her Introduction], b) exegetes of all stripes whose research is focused on Matthew, James, or 1 Peter [see especially my discussion of chapter 8], and c) PhD students (and other scholars) who are looking for a well-developed, imitable methodological approach [see especially my discussion of chapters 2-7 and of her introduction]. In other words, my purpose is not to offer a full review but merely to direct my readers to particular topics and pages that might be of special relevance to their research.

Preface: Two points may be noted here: 1) The book is based on Luther’s PhD dissertation at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, which was supervised by Prof. Oda Wischmeyer (Eng). 2) Since 2009 Luther has held the position of Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin for the chair of Prof. Ruben Zimmermann (Eng) in Mainz.

1. Introduction: This 66 page introduction will be especially relevant to scholars interested in reflecting upon methodological developments in New Testament Studies. After (1) defining her topic and key terms and (2) providing a brief account of the status quaestionis, Luther (3) presents a valuable 23 page discussion of her chosen methodology, i.e. discourse analysis (23-47), as well as (4) further discussion of the importance of context for discourse analysis. In my judgment, section 3 is especially valuable. The strength of her discussion lies not simply in the fact that she provides a helpful discussion of Michel Foucault’s discourse theory and its appropriation and development in application oriented discourse theories (esp. in Achim Landwehr’s historical discourse analysis and Siegfried Jäger’s critical discourse analysis) but even more in the fact that she ably and concisely articulates her own view of the “heuristic added value the discourse-analytical method” (pp. 40-43) and, most importantly, sketches out in a very precise way how she will implement her “combination of methods of historical as well as critical discourse analysis, linguistic and literary text-analysis, and historical-critical exegesis” (43-47). In other words, unlike many studies, her theoretical reflections build to a very coherent and imitable approach that I think could be of value to other scholars who are seeking to find a methodological framework that could help them to approach and structure their research, especially if they, like Luther, wish to pursue a given topic that is developed in various New Testament books.

Chapters 2-7: In these chapters Luther organizes the material thematically, i.e. by topic and not by New Testament book. For example, in chapter 2 she discusses the topic of “speaking in anger.” Notably, each chapter basically proceeds in the same way. First, after a very brief chapter introduction, Luther discusses the discursive context. Here,  the focus is not on historical dependence but on material/thematic parallels to the topic in question. For example, in chapter 2 she discusses how the topic of speaking in anger is treated in Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Plutarch, Epictetus, Philo, the Old Testament, Wisdom Literature, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Second, she discusses the relevant New Testament texts (in this case Mt 5.21-26 and James 1.19-27). Third, she provides a more synthetic analysis of the topic.

Notably, her discussion of the texts always follows the same pattern: 1) Translation and 2) Exegetical Observations. The latter is then subdivided into the same categories: 2.1: Argumentative structures; 2.2: Intertextuality [understood very broadly] and discourse-strand overlaps, 2.2.3: Ideological Frameworks; 2.2.4 Speech-Ethical Aspects. In my judgment, it is this sort of structural consistency and precision that makes her approach particularly useful for comparing themes across the New Testament and potentially imitable. In other words, one could use this same format to discuss another theme, which would only require a revision of the focus of 2.2.4.

The topics of the chapters are as follows: 2) Anger: Speaking in Anger and the Intention of the Speaker, 3) The ‘Control of the Tongue’: Control of the Affects and Controlled Speaking, 4) Speaking Falsely: Inadequate Forms and Intentions of Speaking, 5) Taking Oaths: Speech-Acts and the Truth of Speaking, 6) The Divided Person: The Integrity of the Person and Speech, 7) From Judging to Reprimand: Speech in the Responsibility of a Person.

I have not yet read all of these chapters yet, but the material I have read is characterized by considerable exegetical insight and impressive theoretical and synthetic reflection.

Chapter 8: The Discourse Strand of Speech-Ethics in the New Testament.

Exegetes who are specializing in Matthew, James, or 1 Peter may wish to start with chapter 8. Here, Luther initially proceeds on a book-by-book basis, providing a concise synthesis of her analysis of speech-ethics in Matthew (407-414), James (414-422; cf. 441-453), and 1 Peter (422-428). Moreover, she then goes on to provide a Reconstruction of the New Testament Discourse Strand (430-437). Rather than merely offering atomistic observations on passages pertaining to speech-ethics, Luther’s synthetic analyses seek to work out the depth dimensions of these books as a whole in such a way that they will be relevant for any exegete who is interested in Matthew, James, and 1 Peter.

Appendix: The Law in James (pp. 441-453)

The book concludes with an appendix on the law in James, which gives special attention to the relationship between λόγος and νόμος. Here is a brief quotation from its conclusion to give you a sense of where she ends up:

English: In James there is not an identification of λόγος and νόμος but rather a coordination of the two terms to each other, which displays their complementing supplemental relation. The λόγος presents the presupposition and grounding of the νόμος.

German (p. 452): Im Jakobusbrief findet sich keine Identifikation von λόγος und νόμος, sondern eine Zuordnung der beiden Termini zueinander, die ihr sich komplematär ergänzendes Verhältnis anzeigt: Der λόγος stellt die Voraussetzung und Begründung des νόμος dar.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne