Four Branches May 2018

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Exegetical Theology: Direct Speech, Indirect Speech, and Reported Consequences

Linguistically speaking, the Gospels read a bit like a Hemingway novel, only with less wine consumed. Hemingway, in contrast to an author like Nathaniel Hawthorne, is recognized for his use of direct speech to convey information about the background, personality, and temperament of his subjects. Often for pages at a time Hemingway uses paragraph after paragraph of dialogue. He doesn’t tell us what to think about his characters. He lets them speak for themselves.

Isn’t that where we can observe a similarity to the gospels? The gospel writers don’t often tell us what to think about Jesus — or anyone else, for that matter. Through the extensive use of direct speech, the gospel writers let Jesus and others speak for themselves.

In language, interesting things happen when conversations are reported. First of all, an oral utterance differs from a written representation of that utterance. If we tried to approximate some of the actual sounds of an utterance, it might look something like this:

Mom: “Hey-a, Susie? Do you want um, ighscream, or-a, cake for dessert?”

Susie: “Scream.”

But if we wrote that down, or told someone else about it, we might write or say something like this:

“Susie, do you want ice cream or cake for dessert?” Mom asked.

“I want ice cream,” she replied.

Second, there are options for how we complete the adjacency pair (see last month’s article) in a conversation such as this. The previous example uses direct speech. Two other options are indirect speech and reported consequences:

“Susie, do you want ice cream or cake for dessert?” Mom asked.

Susie said that she wanted ice cream.

“Susie, do you want ice cream or cake for dessert?” Mom asked.

Susie went and got an ice cream cone from the pantry.

Since Greek doesn’t use quotation marks to indicate direct speech, how do we tell the difference between direct and indirect? The same way we do in oral conversation. We listen for indicators, the main one being a change in person: “He said, ‘I will go to the store’” vs. “He said he would go to the store.” (Note: While in English we also change the tense of the verb, Greek doesn’t usually do this.) We might also look for the word ὅτι, which is used recitatively to introduce direct speech. But then again, ὅτι can also be used to introduce indirect speech, and translated “that.” Sometimes especially Luke even switches from indirect to direct, or from direct to indirect, in the same sentence. See, for example, Luke 5:14.

Why choose one form of reported speech over another? Reported consequences might be for literary effect, as in Jonah, where the prophet’s actual thoughts are hidden until the final chapter. Indirect speech might cover over something disgraceful, as in the case of Peter’s denying Jesus with an oath that we never hear. But by and large, the gospels writers use direct speech. They aren’t simply humans telling us what to think about Jesus. They let Jesus speak for himself.

For further reading:

Cadbury, Henry J. (1929). Lexical Notes on Luke – Acts IV: On direct quotation, with some uses of ὅτι and εἰ. Journal of Biblical Literature, 48(3), pp.412–425.

Decker, Rodney J. (2011). “Direct and Indirect Discourse in Koine Greek.” Baptist Bible Seminary, 2011.

Maier, Emar (2012). Switches between Direct and Indirect Speech in Ancient Greek. Journal of Greek Linguistics, 12(1), pp. 118-139.

Maier, Emar (2015). Reported Speech in the Transition from Orality to Literacy. Glotta 91(1). pp. 152-170.

Rev. Nathan Ericson serves Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Oshkosh, WI, as the Special Ministries coordinator for the WELS Northern Wisconsin District.

Systematic Theology: What Does God Want Me to Do?

“Pastor, I know that this is what God would want me to do.”  Sometimes those words are spoken by a devout Christian earnestly striving to do God’s will.  At other times, by someone simply wanting to justify whatever they want to do.  When I served as a vicar in Tennessee, I was always amazed when a prospect would say something like, “The Lord laid it on my heart” or “I was having breakfast and God told me this is what I was supposed to do!”  I wanted to ask, “How do you know that wasn’t the pizza you ate last night?!”  Not to mention, what if it all goes wrong?  Who is to blame then if God’s will was for you to do this thing or that?

In matters that God has not specifically spoken to, dogmaticians distinguish between God’s Voluntas Arcana (i.e. hidden will) and God’s Voluntas Revelata (i.e. revealed will).  There is much about God’s management of our life and the world that remains hidden.  Isaiah 45:15 says, “Truly you are a God who hides himself.”  What God has revealed is found in the pages of the Bible.  God reveals his plan of salvation and principles for our lives of thanks.  He reveals his will when it comes to a decision between right and wrong.  However, he does not reveal a “one right answer” for every decision that involves a decision between right and right.  There he gives us reason.

Adam and Eve’s reason was perfect until the fall into sin.  Corrupted reason has plagued all people since.  It’s the reason why I never want to say “God wants me to do this or that” if God hasn’t revealed it in his Word.  Jeremiah 17:9 says it so clearly, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?” 

Isn’t it freeing to know that God does not require me to climb up into heaven to attempt to divine the Divine?  Isn’t it freeing to know that God has not foreordained my choices but instead knows the choices I will make and works it for my good?  Isn’t it freeing to know when I have a choice between good and good, it’s like God has given me two ripe apples and gives me the freedom to pick and blesses my choice?

It’s why I shy away from the phrase when deciding on a call, “The Lord has led me to…”  It can be understood correctly, but it can give people the impression that Option A is God’s will – and Option B would have been wrong.  Certainly those decisions can be “according to God’s will” in that they are not contrary to Scripture, but to say that a decision between “right and right” is God’s will would make the other a sin.  Rather, I say, “I have chosen to…” and ask God to bless that decision as I know he promises to do.  Just as he has graciously revealed in his Word.

For further reading, give Professor Deutschlander’s paper a read: “The Will of God and the Will of Man: What Do They Have to Do with One Another?” 

Rev. David Scharf serves as a professor of theology at Martin Luther College and on the Commission on Congregational Counseling.


Historical Theology: Practical Advice on Paradise

Practical advice—who doesn’t love that?  In American society especially, that which is practical grabs people’s attention.  How much more so in the realm of theology where so much seems to be abstract and theoretical.  So what practical advice does C. F. W. Walther have to offer pastors in their call to serve God’s people?

These words from Walther are the introduction to the first lecture that deals with his tenth thesis.  In many ways, they serve as a transition between Thesis 9, which Walther calls “the central thesis in this entire series,”[1] and those that follow.  The editors label the section “Practical Advice.”  In these words, Walther speaks to pastors and those who are about to enter into ministry about the place where the Lord calls them to serve.

Here are the opening words:

When a Lutheran candidate of theology is assigned to a parish where he is to discharge the office of a Lutheran preacher, for him that place ought to be the dearest, most beautiful, and most precious spot on earth.  He should be unwilling to exchange it for a kingdom.  Whether it is in a metropolis or in a small town, on a bleak prairie or in a clearing in the forest, in a flourishing settlement or in a desert—for him that place should be a miniature paradise.[2]

Walther says to the pastor, “The closest thing to heaven on earth for you should be the place the Lord Jesus has called you to serve.”  That is a beautiful thought and a noble sentiment, but why does he offer this practical advice?  And do pastors really need reminders like this?

Look at how Walther continues through these pages, and the pastor will find his answer!  He lists a number of challenges a pastor might find in a congregation and among the people he is called to serve.  How easily discouragement comes!  How quickly the temptation comes to despair!  But Walther offers practical advice and pastoral counsel in how to apply God’s powerful Word in each of these challenges.

However, Walther also speaks about the pleasant surprises that greet a pastor in the congregation he serves.  For the pastor who is privileged to serve many mature Christians or who is blessed with tangible successes, Walther warns against arrogance and laziness.  He encourages ongoing faithfulness and even increased diligence in study to make sure those well-grounded souls receive the steady diet of spiritual meat they need.

Walther brings this brief section to a close by reminding those who serve as pastors that so much of this advice can be summarized with this thought: properly distinguish Law and Gospel.  That is an encouragement pastors should never grow weary of hearing no matter where they serve!

Consider reading what Walther has to say in Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, pp. 225-227.

[1] C. F. W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, trans. Christian C. Tiews (St. Louis: CPH, 2010), p. 197.

[2] Ibid., p. 225.

Rev. Jason Oakland serves Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Neenah, WI.

Practical Theology: Planning Your Day

Planning your day is really about consistency, avoiding useless time-sinks and utilizing energy on what is actually important to you. Giving advice on how to plan your day is tricky since I think most people work best at different times during the day. I am most productive early in the day, so I try to work on my hardest creative projects early (see Pomodoro Technique below). After 2:00 pm is a time for me to run errands or jump on a call that doesn’t require too much brain power.  That all said, if I have a big project, you will still find me in sweatpants for two or even three whole days until it is done.

Where to start?

  • Plan a day ahead. If you can, the last thing you do before leaving the office is to plan your next day (remember theming your days from last article? You can refresh here). Also, I have been experimenting with a week planner and have been using this one lately on 11 x 17 paper.
  • Have Morning Routine/Ritual. It is really helpful to intentionalize your morning routine. Proponents say that the question is not whether or not you have a routine, but instead, is your routine intentional to your goals (e.g. working out vs. cat videos, reading the Bible vs. reading the news or checking Facebook).
  • Work in Two Hour Blocks…sort of. There is a pretty effective technique called the “Pomodoro Technique.” The system gives planned breaks and a sense of urgency to your work. The gist is that you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. After 4 of these “Pomodoros” you take a longer 15-30 minute break. I shoot to fit three 2-hour blocks in a day.
  • Treat email like a real mailbox. For me, this is not the easiest, but on my best days, I check email three times. For a while I tried just checking and responding to email at 12 pm & 4 pm because I read The 4-Hour Workweek. It worked great, but now I have switched to at least checking it in the morning to see if there is anything urgent (Although, I don’t usually respond in morning).
  • Empty Your email inbox every day. There is some controversy about this idea, but when there are items just sitting in your inbox, you end up rereading the title every time you read email (kind of a waste of time).
  • Use something like Spark or a Gmail Account that allows you to have emails be resent to you at a specific time. For example, send you your medical forms the afternoon before your appointment.
  • Create a nighttime Routine/Ritual (especially if you have trouble sleeping). This is directly connected with morning routine. The idea that you get into a pattern of “shutting down” your day. If you have trouble sleeping, this is a pretty big deal (avoiding the screen time, cooling your bed, avoiding alcohol, etc.).

Rev. Jared Oldenburg serves Eternal Rock Lutheran Church in Castle Rock, Colorado, and is the author of the e-book “Who Is Jesus?”