Not too long ago, I received the latest issue of the Bulletin for Biblical Research (BBR), the journal of the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), of which I am a fairly recent member. I appreciate IBR for its attention to scholarship within an evangelical framework and am excited to be a contributing member of this society.
In this issue, there is an article by Steven Runge and another by Benjamin Merkle, both addressing the issues of aspect and markedness, followed by an article by my co-blogger, Stanley Porter, as respondent to both. Runge and Merkle, then, each have about a page responding to Porter’s response.
Although I could respond to the more central issue of markedness and aspect, my attention was drawn to a curious statement made by Runge in his response to Porter. He states: “Neither Porter nor I are full-fledged linguists; we are interdisciplinarians” (BBR 26 : 82).
At the risk of seeming pedantic, this (seemingly cursory) statement betrays a deeper set of issues, and I have some thoughts on this (or a similar) sentiment, which Runge has hinted at elsewhere (notably in his “Contrastive Substitution” article in Novum Testamentum last year). Before I go on, however, I want to clarify that these thoughts are mine and mine alone, and I take full responsibility for them (although I have asked my co-bloggers and a few friends to read this over).
My first thought, or question, is this: what does Runge actually mean by “full-fledged linguist” (a fledging is basically a young bird that has begun to fly and often refers to an organization or person who is getting started in a new activity; so “full-fledged” must mean fully developed or mature)? I am not quite sure if this fits, however, since Porter is not “new” to linguistic study, as he “began” in the 1980s with his dissertation and has continued to be involved in (Greek) linguistic thought and development. I might have a guess as to what he means, but if he means what I think he means, then I think he is wrong. But for the sake of probing further, if I may relate this sort of language to other fields of study, is it proper, or even normal, to refer to someone as a “full-fledged theologian,” “full-fledged scientist,” “full-fledged mathematician,” or “full-fledged historian” in a similar way? What exactly qualifies someone to be “full-fledged” or perhaps “half-fledged, “mostly-fledged,” or “slightly-fledged,” if I continue the terminology? If one is not “full-fledged,” does that mean their assertions should not be taken seriously? (If true, then by self-admission Runge admits that his assertions should not be taken seriously.) Upon a little bit of reflection, this is a quizzical phrase that begs for further explanation, or perhaps a replacement word.
The reader should understand that this sort of detailed questioning is not for the sake of being (unnecessarily) meticulous or pedantic, but it reveals something about the way Runge (wrongly) thinks about linguistics and, more broadly, scholarship, which is unfortunate and frankly erroneous. Since “choice implies meaning,” it is curious to me that Runge chose the phrase “full-fledged” here, instead of other lexical/phrasal choices available to him.
Second, let’s say for the sake of argument that we understand what being “full-fledged” means; isn’t it possible to be a “full-fledged linguist” and an interdisciplinarian at the same time? Do they have to be mutually exclusive? In fact, are not all biblical scholars to some degree interdisciplinarians (incidentally, linguistics itself is interdisciplinary, with linguists often combining linguistic theory with knowledge of particular languages or with other contributing fields like sociology, psychology, and philosophy, among others)? I have mentioned in a previous blog post that biblical studies is a unique field of study in that the biblical scholar has to be competent not only in the Bible but also to some degree in history, theology, linguistics, archaeology, philosophy, pedagogy, etc. Biblical studies in essence is an interdisciplinary activity. But can’t one be an interdisciplinarian and a specialist at the same time? Runge’s statement seems to imply that they are mutually exclusive.
Third, Runge’s statement seems to overlook the fact that Porter has a PhD in two separate departments, biblical studies and linguistics. His doctoral examiners were two biblical scholars, John Rogerson and Anthony Thiselton, and one “full-fledged” linguist, Nigel Gotteri (retired from Sheffield last decade). A perusal of Porter’s PhD dissertation reveals that it is as rigorously linguistic as it is biblical. In fact, the irony of this discussion is that a major complaint against Porter is that his writings are too technical (mostly linguistically technical) and inaccessible to the general public. So Porter is too technical linguistically but not “full-fledged”? Additionally, Porter has presented at strictly linguistic conferences, among those Runge would probably identify as “full-fledged” linguists, presenting alongside such linguists as Robin Fawcett, Geoffrey Leech, Michael Gregory, Tim McEnery, and others, and has published several articles and chapters in linguistics (including in a Festschrift for Leech). If that does not qualify one to be “full-fledged,” what exactly are Runge’s criteria?
Runge’s seeming dichotomization of “full-fledged” versus “interdisciplinary” is a misconception and, frankly, invalid. One is a “linguist” who actively contributes (or has contributed) in developing the field of linguistics, just as one is a scientist who actively contributes to the field of science… just as one is a theologian who actively contributes to the field of theology… and so on and so forth. The key word is contributes. Of course, it is difficult to contribute in any field without the requisite training and education, but would anyone in their right mind seriously question James Barr or F.F. Bruce as “half-fledged” or even “mostly-fledged” biblical scholars, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with them on certain issues? (Neither of them attained an earned doctorate.) Although it may seem like I am making a mountain out of a molehill from a simple (and probably cursory and thoughtless) statement, it betrays Runge’s erroneous mindset behind his own work—his work is entirely derivative, he has not developed any linguistic theory, and he does not consider himself to be a real linguist (and that is, in fact, how I understand what “full-fledged” means in this context: real). And if am right in my interpretation (correct me if I’m wrong), I am curious to know by what standard Runge is justified, as a less-than-full-fledged linguist, in assessing another’s linguistic theory and methodology. If he by his own admission is not a “full-fledged linguist,” then on what basis does he legitimately critique Porter’s linguistic theory?
— David I. Yoon