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Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis

Douglas Estes. Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis . Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2017. 400 pp. $49.99.

While there are almost 1,000 questions in the GNT (making up about 15% of the sentences), most students of the NT have never really thought about the questions, focusing instead on the statements. Questions are similarly neglected in commentaries, grammars, and other literature. Convinced that it is as much the questions in the NT as the statements that make such a great impact on readers (16), Douglas Estes has written Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament (hereafter Questions and Rhetoric) to help the exegete of the GNT understand and interpret the questions of the GNT, questions that not only influence the theology of the text but also the life of the reader. “[T]he purpose of this book is to help interpreters understand the logic of questions in the GNT so they can explain the rhetorical (persuasive) effect of these questions in their interpretation of the NT” (20, emphasis original).

Questions and Rhetoric examines the top thirty-six types of questions in the GNT, which are distributed among the four major syntactic formations for questions (variable questions, polar questions, alternative questions, and set questions, covered in chapter 3). Once the syntactical construction is identified, the interpreter must determine the degree to which the question is also driven by semantics (chapter 4). Estes covers twenty-three types of questions driven by semantics, including open questions (questions without a push toward a possible answer), deliberative questions (questions asked of oneself for reflection), indexical questions (questions that introduce uncertainty or ambiguity), phatic questions (questions oriented more toward social than informational or rhetorical purposes), inapposite questions (questions in which the asker knows the answer), and request questions (questions intended to elicit a corresponding action).

The last major chapter of the book addresses questions driven by pragmatics, the most rhetorically powerful yet most difficult to identify category.  This chapter examines pragmatic factors by looking at three main areas: turn, position, and repetition. Turn is related to which speaker asks the question (e.g. a first-turn question is asked by the first speaker in the first utterance of a dialogue, a second-turn question is asked by the second speaker in the second utterance of a dialogue, etc.), position has to do with where the question is within the turn, and repetition occurs when there is more than one question in a sequence. A total of nine question types within these three areas are addressed, such as governing questions (first-turn; asked to assert control over the direction of the dialogue), focus-shifting questions (second-turn; asked to move the dialogue away from the focus of the first-utterance turn), middle-position questions (position; asked in the middle of a turn), and multiple questions (repetition; three or more related questions in succession to amplify the rhetorical goal of the speaker).

Each of the question types in Questions and Rhetoric is covered in six sections: introduction, formation, rhetorical effects, case studies, further examples from the GNT, and key bibliography. While this brief overview of the book did not address rhetorical effects, I think these section are the heart of the book as they illuminate what interpreters have likely missed from NT texts due to not understanding questions and/or interpreting them with alethic logic (the thinking behind propositions). Questions and Rhetoric is a must-have resource for all who take interpreting the NT seriously and have at least intermediate knowledge of NT Greek. Seminary Greek students and instructors, pastors with a working knowledge of Koine, and NT scholars alike would do well to have this book on their shelf of tools for exegesis.

Many thanks to Zondervan Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon


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  1. Jennifer, thanks for sharing this review. I put my eyes on these book as soon as I saw it published in the catalog, and was wondering if I should get it.

    Liked by 1 person


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