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Context in Text
A Systemic Functional Analysis
of the Parable of the Sower
Philip L. Graber
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School
of Emory University in partial ful llment
of the requirement for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Department of New Testament
Graduate Division of Religion
2001c2001 by Philip L. Graber
All rights reserved.Abstract
The relationship between text and context is a fundamental issue in the inter-
pretation of the text of Matthew. The contention of this study is that certain
limited aspects of context are embedded in texts. Systemic functional grammar
(SFG) is a linguistic theory oriented toward describing how language functions
incontext. ThisstudyappliesSFGtotheParableoftheSower, theexplanation
forJesus’speakinginparablesandtheinterpretationoftheparableinMatthew
13:1–23 in order to clarify how language functions in these texts and how the
texts predict limited but important aspects of their own context as a contri-
bution to a better understanding of them. Analysis of the synoptic parallels
in Mark and Luke is included to test how di erences in context is re ected in
dierencesbetweenparalleltexts. SFGmakesexplicittherelationshipsbetween
three linguistically relevant variables of context of situation — eld, tenor and
mode — and the semantic functions that realize them — experiential, inter-
personal, and textual meanings. These kinds of meanings are in turn realized
by grammatical structures that are mapped onto one another in linear text.
The analysis of the portion of Matthew’s narrative points to context in which
the evangelist addresses readers to convey the story of Jesus’ words and deeds
with authority, from a social position of higher status relative to those being
addressedandarelativelylowdegreeofsocialcontact. Thelanguageofthetext
playsaconstitutingroleinthesocialactivityinwhichtheevangelistisengaged,
rather than an accompanying role relative to a social activity, with a degree of
formality corresponding to the authoritative status of the writer. The social
activity in the instantial situation is an explanation in which the evangelist,
through Jesus’ own authoritative words, accounts for dierences in the ways in
which two groups of people respond to him. Those who understand (who are
also being addressed) do so by the enabling actions of God and those who fail
to understand fail because of their own self-disabling actions.
iiiivAcknowledgements
IamgratefultotheNewTestamentfacultyofEmoryUniversityfornotonlyal-
lowingbutencouragingmetopursuemyinterestinalinguistictheorythatisnot
well represented in the United States. This pursuit has been made much easier
for me in this project by the careful reading and helpful comments of Michael
Gregory, Professor Emeritus at York University in Toronto, an institution in
which systemic linguistics is well represented. I owe special thanks for the en-
couragement and friendship given me by Hendrikus Boers, my adviser, and the
enthusiasm with which he helped me to shape an interdisciplinary project that
attempts to be thoroughly linguistic while not ceasing to be a New Testament
dissertation.
In addition, I owe special thanks to all the members of my committee for
theirsupportinthedi cultnalstagesoftheprocessofgraduation. Inextraor-
dinary circumstances, the faculty and administrators of the Graduate Division
of Religion gave me extraordinary support and help.
I am indebted to the Session and congregation of the Ronceverte Presbyte-
rian Church for their support and encouragement and for generously allowing
their pastor the necessary time and resources to write. I am also grateful to
Kathy and Bill Shirk, Mary Anna and Tom Brooks, and Judy and Mark Flynn
for providing me with quiet places to stay and write on those occasions.
I could not have completed this project, or even begun it, without the sup-
port of my wife, Ann. she encouraged me each step of the way and helped me
to maintain perspective, seeing her support for me as a part of her own calling.
Finally, IgivethankstoGod, bywhosegraceIlive. MydesiretohearGod’s
word and my calling to proclaim that word for others has been and continues
to be my motivation for studying the Bible. Thanks be to the One who speaks
the word of the kingdom and opens hearts to hear and understand it.
vviContents
Abstract iii
Acknowledgements v
1 Systemic Functional Grammar and New Testament Interpreta-
tion 1
1.1 Context and Interpretation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1.2 The Background to Systemic
Functional Grammar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
1.3 Meaning and Context in
Systemic Functional Grammar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
1.3.1 Context: Genre and Register . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
1.3.2 Text: Semantic Components of Language . . . . . . . . . 13
1.3.3 The Relationship between Semantics and Register . . . . 55
1.3.4 Overview of the Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
2 The Interpretation of Matthew 13:1–23 and Parallels 59
2.1 Kingsbury and Redaction-Criticism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
2.2 Sellin and Text-linguistics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
2.3 Du Plessis and Pragmatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
3 Ideational Meanings and Field of Discourse 75
3.1 Logical Meanings:
Relations Between Clauses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
3.2 ActivityandObjectFocus: Processes, Participants, andCircum-
stances . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
3.2.1 Activity and Object Focus of the Narrative Frame . . . . 80
3.2.2ty and Object Focus of the Parable . . . . . . . . . 84
3.2.3 Activity and Object Focus of the Parable Rationale . . . 88
3.2.4ty and Object Focus of the Parable Interpretation . 92
3.3 Summary and Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
viiviii
4 Interpersonal Meanings and Tenor of Discourse 103
4.1 Interpersonal Meanings: Limitations on the Analysis of Written
Texts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104
4.2 Status, Contact and A ect: Grammatical Realizations . . . . . . 105
4.2.1 Status, Contact and A ect in the Narrative Frame . . . . 107
4.2.2 S Contact and A ect in the Parable . . . . . . . . . 110
4.2.3 Status, Contact and A ect in the Parable Rationale . . . 114
4.2.4 S Contact and A ect in the Parable Interpretation . 120
4.3 Summary and Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
5 Textual Meanings and Mode of Discourse 131
5.1 Interaction and Role: Theme and Thematic Development . . . . 132
5.1.1 Interaction and Role in the Parable . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
5.1.2 In and Role in the Parable Rationale . . . . . . . 141
5.1.3 Interaction and Role in the Parable Interpretation . . . . 146
5.1.4 In and Role in the Narrative . . . . . . . . . . . 156
5.2 Summary and Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161
6 Conclusions: Context in the Text of Matthew 13:1–23 and Par-
allels 165
6.1 The Context of Situation within Mt 13:1–23 and Parallels . . . . 166
6.2 The Context of Situation of Mt 13:1–23 and Parallels. . . . . . . 168
6.3 Meanings and Issues of Interpretation in Mt 13:1–23 and Parallels171
6.4 Areas for Further Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174
A Clause Level Analysis of Experiential, Interpersonal and Tex-
tual Meanings in Mt 13:1–23 177
B Clause Level Analysis of Experiential, Interpersonal and Tex-
tual Meanings in Mk 4:1–20 197
C Clause Level Analysis of Experiential, Interpersonal and Tex-
tual Meanings in Lk 8:4–15 215