The Power of Point of View

Uncharted “viewpoint” territories: a possible link between communicative purpose, viewpoint, and discourse temporality in New Testament narratives

DSC00841 (640x480) (2)by J. R. REBER   As a new resource for the study of viewpoint, it is useful to consider how communicative purpose generates a relative relationship between writer/speaker viewpoint and discourse temporality. In a New Testament narrative framework, the internal feature of writer/speaker purpose (or intention) can be operative in the text at multiple unit levels concurrently e.g., individual pericopae, a given episode, the entire work, etc. But, by directing attention to two specific levels, that of: 1) the purpose of a whole work (Luke 1: 1–4; John 20: 30–31), and 2) the purpose of a given episode (episode as a text block initiated topically or by geographical location etc.), the inner mechanics of this literary convention of NT Greek narrative discourse is apparent.

At the whole work level of text, the author of the Gospel of John references (20:30) many other signs that Jesus “did.” Yet he takes pains to declare that just these things have been written (ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται). The context clearly suggests that the author purposefully selected certain signs (σημεῖα) above others for inclusion in the Gospel. In fact, in 20:31 the author makes a two-part climatic proposition, consisting of one part: purpose, and a second part: intended result or goal. The purpose of the Gospel is for the reader/hearer to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The result is so that “by believing [s/he] may have life in his name.” Unmistakably, John’s narrative Gospel is composed selectively, in order to persuade the reader toward the author’s intended purpose and result.

At the level of episode in NT narratives, when a writer/speaker recounts the selected events observed in history (or treats figurative or metaphorical as if they were real observed ones), it is a commitment to the absolute past. That is, when a writer/speaker recounts a string or block of events it is, of necessity, a retelling of events from a writer/speaker’s past. More specifically, the events are from the absolute past of the recounting activity. Consequentially, it is the writer/speaker purpose—to pursuade— that generates a particular governing temporal axis of orientation. In the case of observed history, it is a relative viewpoint establishing an absolute past. For example, in John 1:15, when the Baptist μαρτυρεῖ περὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ κέκραγεν, these finite events (μαρτυρεῖ and κέκραγεν) occurred in the absolute past of the writer’s recounting activity. John the Baptist, relative to the writer, necessarily witness-ed and he necessarily cried out. Similarly understood are the events that follow in 1:19b (ἀπέστειλαν), 1:20 (ὡμολόγησεν, ἠρνήσατο, ὡμολόγησεν), 1:21 (ἠρώτησαν, λέγει, ἀπεκρίθη), and so on.

Now, persuasion involves more than the mere selection of historical events in a given narrative episode. A writer/speaker also engages his/her audience persuasively by teaching, expressing personal beliefs, exhorting, relaying information, etc. Two representative examples shall make the point. In John 1:20, the Baptist exclaims: ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ χριστός, in 1:21, he also answers with οὐκ εἰμί. The compelling feature of this subject matter is that it emanates relative to the writer/speaker’s present axis of orientation—the absolute present. From this relative viewpoint on the lips of the Baptist, he is not the Christ (1:20) and he is not Elijah (1:21). Similarly understood is 1:19, where it is the author that relays information: “and this is the witness of John” (καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ Ἰωάννου. The sole difference between 1:20, 21 and 19, is that 1:19 emanates from the relative viewpoint of the author, not the Baptist. Nevertheless, as in the prior instances, it is mode of persuasion connected to viewpoint that generates a relative relationship with discourse temporality.

This post is intended to demonstrate that authorial purpose generates a linguistic relationship between authorial purpose, viewpoint and discourse temporality in NT narratives. Moreover, the particular mode of persuasion employed by a writer/speaker governs discourse temporality relative to the viewpoint established, whether 1) the absolute past (recounting observed historical events), or 2) the absolute present (teaching, express personal beliefs, exhort, relaying information, etc.).

2 Responses »

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