Robert Longacre's study of the structure of the book of 1 John is a model of how we should do discourse analysis.
We'll be doing a deep dive into his method in class today.
Here are the steps he uses:
1. Divide the letter into its structural paragraphs. This step is based solely on the surface structure of the text. Try to posit a "string of natural paragraphs."
2. Then determine the natural groupings of these paragraphs into larger units. Broadly speaking, in a letter there will be an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
3. Ask whether the letter has an overall expository cast or an overall hortatory cast. Keep in mind that hortatory components may be buried in expository language.
4. Identify the peaks of the letter, i.e., "points of cumulative development."
5. Finally, state the linguistic macrostructure of the letter. The macrostructure "is a summary of précis or abstract of a text which is stated so that it gives the central thrust of the whole work." This macrostructure "serves as a control on the content of the text." It also "controls what is developed in detail and what is simply referred to in passing." Look especially for "overt statements of the macrostructure."
Longacre concludes his study of 1 John with these words:
I believe, then, that the message of 1 John is very clear. it [sic] is overtly stated and is developed in a masterful way in the peaks of the introduction and especially in the peaks of the body of the work; and the whole book is brought to bear on it. The strongest command forms are found in the peaks, and the most extended development of the themes are [sic] found in the peaks. The message, then, is very clear for us. To be a follower of the Christian way requires doctrinal and ethical commitments.
So there you have it. Care to give it a try the next time you study a New Testament letter?
By the way, I tried out this method out several years in a study called The Discourse Structure of Philippians: A Study in Textlinguistics. For my power point, go here.
Note: Heartfelt thanks to my assistant Mr. Hayden Fleming for producing the power point for our class.