[B-Greek] Newbie / Lurker question on Hebrews 11:1 DE as transitional conjunction

Steve Runge srunge at logos.com
Wed Aug 25 12:42:53 EDT 2010

Hi Kenneth,

Your question hits on one of the more significant mismatches between English and Greek. Here is the description I provide for the task that DE accomplishes. It just so happens that in English we tend to accomplish the same discourse task using temporal adverbs. 

Begin quote:

One very important discourse task that every language needs to accomplish is for speakers or writers to mark where to break the discourse into smaller chunks. There is a limit to how much information we can take in without breaking it down into smaller pieces. Think   p 43  about trying to listen to a run-on sentence, or trying to memorize a long list of items. You would probably have difficulty taking it all in. But if the run-on were properly formed into smaller clauses, and if the list of items were broken down into several smaller lists of several items each, the task of processing and retaining the information would become much easier.
Languages use various devices for this task of “chunking” or segmenting the discourse into smaller bits for easier processing. The most obvious one is thematic breaks or discontinuities in the discourse. Typically such breaks entail a change of time, location, participant/topic or kind of action. Such changes represent natural discontinuities based on the discourse content. We are most likely to segment texts at junctures like these. But what happens in contexts of relative continuity, where there are no natural breaks? How are decisions made about chunking there?

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines continuity as “a connection or line of development with no sharp breaks”. Think about what is meant by “line of development.” If you are explaining a process to someone or formulating an argument of some kind, there will most likely be steps or stages in that “line of development.” So too in stories, which are made up of a series of events or scenes. The events themselves are often composed of distinct actions or reactions. Linguists refer to these distinct stages or steps as developments. Languages use various markers to signal new developments, particularly in contexts of relative continuity. Development markers guide the reader in breaking the discourse into meaningful chunks, based upon how the writer conceived of the action or argument.

Returning to the other part of the BDAG definition, they note that δέ expresses “simple continuation.” Some of the English glosses they provide for this sense are now, then, and so. All three of these words are English adverbs, but at times they are used to accomplish the same kinds   p 44  of discourse tasks as Greek conjunctions, marking a new development in the discourse. Here is how Dooley and Levinsohn describe it:
Whereas connectives like "and" and some additives instruct the hearer to associate information together, some conjunctions convey the opposite and constrain the reader to move on to the next point. We will call these connectives “DEVELOPMENTAL MARKERS” because they indicate that the material so marked represents a new development in the story or argument, as far as the author’s purpose is concerned.
We frequently use temporal expressions like then or now to mark developments in English.(1) 

End quote

You are correct in thinking that drawing a specifically temporal inference from "now" in Heb 1:11 is wrong, but it is understandable if the person lacks access to Greek. The key thing to recognize is that English relies heavily on temporal adverbs for segmenting the discourse, for marking developments. They do this precisely because they are not semantically necessary. If they ARE semantically required, e.g. "NOW is when I want you to read my email, not LATER," then they are most likely not doing some other function. Temporal development markers will typically be very generic (e.g. next, after that, then), with very little semantic information conveyed. 

If you want to read more of this chapter, it is posted at my website on the publications page: www.ntdiscourse.org/publications. The mismatch between Greek and English regarding discourse segmentation explains why DE is sometimes left untranslated, or translated using a temporal adverb. 

Steven E. Runge, DLitt
Logos Bible Software
srunge at logos.com

(1) Steven E. Runge, A Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), 42-44.

-----Original Message-----
From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Kenneth Bent
Sent: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 8:25 AM
To: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: [B-Greek] Newbie / Lurker question on Hebrews 11:1 DE as transitional conjunction

Hebrews 11:1  εστιν δε πιστις ελπιζομενων υποστασις πραγματων ελεγχος ου βλεπομενων
1 ¶  Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (NIV)
DE is commonly translated “now”.  
I keep running across what seem to be well intentioned but misinformed preachers who, because of the word “now” in the translation make some application in this manner:
“Now faith is  - It means faith is always “NOW” – in the present.”
My understanding in reading Wallace is that “de” is a transitional conjunction.  I haven’t been able to find any reference to DE translated as ‘NOW’ as being time referent.
Of course, ESTIN is present active indicative, but that is not the basis on which they derive their application of the verse.
Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Kenneth Bent
ken at cotr.com
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