Narrative Structure of Luke 1:5-38

As I’m taking Luke in fairly big chunks, my first big chunk is 1:5-38 – the narrative of the promised births of John the Baptist (JtB) and Jesus. Having started working on this passage in the last week or so, I’ve noticed a useful device that Luke uses to structure the narrative. (Time, and more work, will tell if he uses this method throughout the rest of his gospel?).

The overall passage divides simply in half (vv5-25 and 26-38) focussing on the predicted births of JtB and Jesus respectively. Luke seems to use δέ to mark new segments, and και as the default conjunction within segments. The initial ἐγενετο is understandable given the Semitic influence on much of Luke’s early chapters, as recognized by most commentators.

5 Ἐγενετο Introduce discourse/section
6-7 Δε Zechariah and Elizabeth’s blamelessness and childlessness
8-10 Δε Zechariah’s lot in the temple
11-12 Δε Appearance of Gabriel
13-21 Δε Conversation inside the temple
22-23 Δε Zechariah leaving the temple and going home
24-25 Δε Elizabeth’s conception and response
26-28 Δε Gabriel’s appearance to Mary
29-33 Δε Mary’s response and Gabriel’s announcement
34-37 Δε Mary’s question and Gabriel’s answer
38 Δε Mary’s response.

This raises an important lesson that I was taught in Greek class: conjunctions have a pragmatic function which is often more significant that their semantic meaning. In other words, it is not necessary to translate δέ as “but” and καί as “and” in each of these occurrences. What is more significant is how these conjunctions are functioning. Δέ is being used to mark discontinuity with what has gone before, where as καί is marking continuity (see Runge’s chapters 1 and 2, esp. pp15-25).

3 thoughts on “Narrative Structure of Luke 1:5-38

  1. This raises an important lesson that I was taught in Greek class: conjunctions have a pragmatic function which is often more significant that their semantic meaning.

    Yes, but there’s more to it than that: pragmatic “function” is often indistinguishable than semantic “meaning.” δε means “but” no more than και means “and.” All we have is there discourse function and that function is inherently tied to their semantics. That’s the bigger point Runge is making.

  2. Pingback: Awkwardness of Luke 7:29-30 « Greek and Hebrew

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