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.
|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|
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).