Bog Standard Word Order

Paying careful attention to word/constituent order in Greek often proves useful for getting a clearer understanding of what the author is trying to say. Thus the works Levinsohn and Runge are exceedingly valuable to teach us about topic, focus etc.

But it occurred to me this week that sometime the absence of any specific “discourse features” can tell us things too.

I preached on Luke 7:1-17 this Sunday. I came to the conclusion that the miracle of the raising of the widow-from-Nain’s son and the response there was a negative contrast to that of the centurion in the first half of the passage. Whereas the centurion clearly puts his trust in Jesus – to the extent that Jesus is amazed by his faith; the significant absence in the Nain narrative is the lack of any mention of faith at all. No one in Nain puts their trust in Jesus. All they do is recognise that Jesus is a prophet being used by God.

Key to this understanding is the phrase in v16 “God has visited his people”. I don’t believe this to be a statement that Jesus is God – but rather a mere recognition that God is using Jesus powerfully. I came to this conclusion partly because the phrase “God has visited” or similar is used repeatedly in Luke and the OT to refer to God being at work, without any claim to divinity (for example the phrase is used for the end of the famine in Ruth 1:6).

But also, the word order of that clause in v16 is “bog standard”. Luke (and the speakers in Nain) don’t add any particular emphasis on any part of that clause. It is simple V-S-O. There is no topic/focus parts. There were mechanisms available to the speakers/writers to emphasis, if they had wanted to, that “God(!!) has visited is people” if they were coming to the conclusion that Jesus was God. But no such markers are present. Rather there is a simple statement, that God is at work for the benefit of his people.

(That is the BW9 Leedy diagram of the clause). It’s not clear from the diagram (but I put it in there anyway!), but the word order is not changed from the default/expected order at all. The verb comes first, followed by the subject, followed by the object.

Sometimes there is significance in the absence of anything significant.

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