Historical Present in Speech Margins in Matthew

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (c.s.bartholomew@worldnet.att.net)
Date: Mon Feb 14 2000 - 17:15:16 EST

Stephanie L. Black has an article* on the use of the historical present
in Matthew outside of speech margins. In her preliminary remarks she
paraphrases an axiom** of semantics:

"The more likely a form is to appear in a given context the less meaning
it tends to convey. Conversely, the less likely a form is to appear in a
given context, the more meaning it tends to convey in that context."

Ms. Black applies this principle to the use of the historical present in
Matthew in speech margins. She concludes based on her analysis of the
statistical data that Matthew's use of the historical present in speech
margins is something of a stereotyped idiom and not too much
significance should be attached to its use.

Ms. Black then proceeds with the main body of her study which is
Matthew's use of the historical present in contexts where it is

Ms. Black's application of this semantic axiom** is worth long and
serious pondering by those who do NT Greek exegesis. There seems IMHO
to be a notable tendency among those who have taken the trouble to learn
the biblical languages to try and make a big deal out of idioms which
are commonplace. Part of the motivation for this is to get some "pay
off" for all the hard hours one invests in learning the languages. I am
just suggesting that this semantic axiom** should be committed to

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

* Her comments quoted here appear on page 126 in: Porter, Stanley E. & Jeffrey T. Reed ̉Discourse Analysis and the New Testament, Sheffield Academic Press, 1999

**She cites J. Lyons, Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics, Cambridge 1968, p415. However I rather doubt that John Lyons invented this axiom. I suspect that it goes back at least to F. de Saussure perhaps earlier.

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