OPTAT Volume 1 No. 3–4

A Discourse Analysis of Hebrews

Occasional Papers in Translation and Textlinguistics, Vol. 1 No. 3–4 (Sept. 1987): 1–146

Linda Lloyd Neeley

Linda Lloyd Neeley has an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Arlington, and a B.A. from the University of Mississippi. Linda joined the Summer Institute of Linguistics in 1975 and has worked in linguistics and translation among the Gichode of Ghana.


This paper presents a discourse analysis of the New Testament book of Hebrews, using a linguistic approach developed by Robert E. Longacre. Four major systems of information organization in discourse are considered: (1) the combining of sentences into larger discourse units—paragraphs, embedded discourses, (2) functions of discourse units, that is, constituent structure, (3) distinction between ‘backbone’ and support information, and (4) semantic organization. The role of summary as a tool for understanding the underlying structure of discourse is also discussed, and summary formation principles are posited and applied to Hebrews.

Chaps. 1–3 give criteria used in understanding how the systems of information organization work in Hebrews. In chaps. 4–7 the analysis of Hebrews according to these criteria is presented. Chapter 1 features a comparison of this analysis with that of other commentators.

The Greek text is quoted from Novum Testamentum Graece by Kurt Aland and Erwin Nestle with permission of the United Bible Society


0.1 Systems of information organization in Hebrews

Intuitively a speaker uses certain principles to organize his information–principles without which his speech would be merely a string of unconnected sentences, making little sense. He structures his speech into a coherent unit or discourse using these principles. To express it another way, each discourse has an underlying structure which enables the listener to recall and summarize, and to condense or elaborate its main ideas. It also enables the listener to distinguish between important and supportive material, between climax and the points that build up to it, and between topics and material which support and illustrate the topics. Failure to understand intuitively the underlying structure of a discourse may mean failure to distinguish these vital categories and, therefore, failure to understand the text.

The native speaker of a language internalizes automatically the principles of organization his language uses to structure a discourse. The linguistic study of non-Indo-European languages in this century has uncovered principles of organization which can be quite different from those that Indo-European languages use, and even the study of Koine Greek discourse is yielding unexpected insights into that language’s discourse structure that could not have been appreciated intuitively by an English speaker. Since we do not perceive intuitively the principles of discourse organization in another language in which we are not bilingual, explicit ...

Content not shown in limited preview…

About Occasional Papers in Translation and Textlinguistics Volume 1 No. 3-4

(Unfinished resource) Occasional Papers in Translation and Textlinguistics Volume 1 No. 3-4, from files prepared by the SIL International Translation Department.

Support Info


Table of Contents