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Steve Runge: Stanley Porter’s Argument is Invalid

Steve Runge: Stanley Porter’s Argument is Invalid

A few years ago I discussed some work by Steve Runge that challenges the foundation of Stanley Porter’s argument that the Greek verb does not grammaticalize time but only aspect–the heart of debates in Greek linguistic studies within the field of NT studies over the past 2 1/2 decades (emphasis on within the field of NT studies!). Runge’s critique has been accepted for publication in a major journal in the field of biblical studies, but it will not appear until next year. He has made available a draft version which you can find here.

For most people in NT studies, the verbal aspect debate is one observed from a distance. The NT scholars who work in this area are often viewed as the “go to” authorities rather than the linguists on whom their research depends, or as Runge puts it, the work of these NT scholars is treated as primary instead of secondary literature. Admittedly, when I began studying the issues in depth in 2009, I relied heavily (and still do) on what these NT scholars were saying. Porter in particular has beat the drum of linguistics hard and loud for more than twenty years, rebuking–often uncharitably in my view–NT scholars for ignoring the field of linguistics and calling for them to get on the (esp. his) linguistic bandwagon. (I do agree that an introduction to linguistics is helpful).

But Runge offers an important caution to such interdisciplinary study (and by no means discourages it):

I saw and read Porter chiding scholars for lacking what he considers to be sufficient linguistic training for undertaking interdisciplinary research. The latest example of this is found on the pages of JETS 56 (1): 94-95 in Porter’s response to Wallace’s response to Porter’s book review.

Stan is correct to point out that interdisciplinary work bridging from biblical studies into linguistics always carries with it the risk that one’s background in the secondary field is insufficient to support the level of research undertaken, but that cuts both ways. He and I are also interdisciplinary scholars, susceptible to the same kinds of problems stemming from overreaching our background.

And, in fact, Runge argues that the foundation of Porter’s argument reflects problems that undermine the whole thesis:

…The nature of the problems suggested a failure to adequately engage the linguistics literature. Significant counter arguments were ignored, as were warnings which should have led him to reach opposite conclusions about the presence of temporal reference in the Greek indicative tense-forms. …These problems were not just in his dissertation, but also in his recent writings on the prominence of the Greek tense-forms.

Runge has been (understandably) reluctant to publish a formal challenge to Porter, not least out of respect to his former teacher to whom he feels indebted. He explains:

Stan taught me second year Greek while I served as a TA for his first year Greek class at TWU. He was one of the folks who got me interested in linguistics in the first place, and he published my first article on Greek in one of his journals. I owe him a lot.

…Print is a rather permanent medium, hence my reluctance to write a critical review. My hope had been that a way forward could be found that would allow Porter to retain his prestige as the promoter of verbal aspect in NT studies, but which would also allow needed corrections to be made. We ended things in 2011 with me facing the challenge of getting a paper published. For various reasons I did not pursue the issue any further.

My hope is that Runge’s challenge not only serves to propel linguistic studies in the NT guild forward, but also to encourage the ever changing interdisciplinary methods to be examined and critiqued in light of primary literature, not only secondary.

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