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Guest Blog: A review of Margaret G. Sim’s ‘A Relevant Way to Read’ by Zoe Hollinger

James Clarke & Co is proud to present a guest blog post from Zoe Hollinger, a PhD student studying the intertextuality and the use of the Old Testament in Hebrews from Belfast.

Review of Margaret G. Sim’s, A Relevant Way to Read: A New Approach to Exegesis and Communication. Cambridge: James Clark and Co., 2016; 136 pages; £17.50; ISBN: 9780227174425.

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A Relevant Way to Read: A New Apporach to Exegesis and Communication by Margaret G. Sim

In A Relevant Way to Read, Margaret G. Sim draws from her background as a linguist and Bible translator in order to provide a brief introduction to relevance theory and its application to biblical studies. Relevance theory originated as an attempt to explain how humans communicate, emphasising the importance of inferring information and optimising relevance. Although some of the insights gained from relevance theory have influenced how linguists translate Scripture, little work has been done on how the theory may benefit NT exegesis. Through her utilisation of relevance theory, the subject of her PhD, Sim intends to provide a new angle through which old interpretive problems can be examined (p117).

Sim’s study can be divided into two parts: the first section provides the theory behind her study (chapters 1-2), whilst the second demonstrates how one can apply this theory to particular areas of NT interpretation (chapters 3-7).

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to debates regarding the nature of communication and authorial intent. In contrast to deconstructionism, which denies that texts have meaning, Sim argues that relevance theory provides a more satisfying explanation for how humans communicate. This is because the very creation of a text implies that the author intends to communicate with her audience (p2). This reality coheres with the basic premise of relevance theory: “The speaker assumes that a hearer listens to what he has to say because she is interested in it: it has relevance for her” (p4).

In chapter 2, Sim begins with a short orientation to the topic of relevance theory, charting its origins in the work of Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber, before discussing the main points of the theory and providing a definition of key concepts used: underdeterminacy, inference, metarepresentation, and ostension.

Chapters 3-7 demonstrate the working out of relevance theory by applying it to a number of contentious issues in NT interpretation.

Chapter 3 deals with how the NT authors re-present their thoughts, and the thoughts of others, in their writings. As a result, Sim examines the understanding of NT metaphor and issues surrounding the use of the OT within the NT. She concludes that the expectation of exact resemblance in citations is a modern notion and should be abandoned, and that more weight should be given to the use of metaphor, echoes and allusions when attempting to gain insight into a NT author’s communicative intent (p51).

Sim redefines irony in chapter 4 as “echoing a thought, belief or utterance of another while maintaining a distancing attitude to such an utterance” (p70) and demonstrates the usefulness of such a definition through an analysis of 1 and 2 Corinthians.

In chapter 5, Greek particles are analysed to determine how they can guide interpretation. Sim is rightly critical of the idea that each particle has a fixed lexical meaning and shows, through the use of relevance theory, how these words signal to the reader what the author desires to communicate.

Chapter 6 examines the difficulty of understanding conditional sentences. Sim encourages a move away from traditional categories ‘factual’ and ‘counterfactual’ since the potentiality of a conditional sentence is decided on pragmatic terms. Instead, she focuses on the logical relationship between the two clauses of the conditional sentence in order to provide a clearer exegesis of NT passages.

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Chapter 7 concludes the book by providing a summary of Sim’s argument, as well as touching on issues relating to tense and time in Greek verbs. This is not a detailed discussion, however, since the chapter’s aim is to encourage scholars to employ the basic insights of relevance theory in their future research. Sim illustrates and provides support for her arguments with a wide variety of examples drawn from day-to-day interactions, NT passages, ancient Greek authors, and even classic works of literature. Each chapter ends with a summary of the key points dealt with in the chapter. Sim also provides a more substantial glossary at the back of the book as well as further reading for those interested in understanding relevance theory in more detail.

For non-specialists with no previous background in linguistics, A Relevant Way to Read provides a clear and concise introduction to relevance theory. The book is comprehensive in its summary of the main ideas associated with relevance theory, but does not overwhelm the reader with unnecessary information. Sim avoids the over-use of technical vocabulary and only provides enough linguistic theory to enable a biblical scholar to apply it to the text of the NT. Scholars more aware of the intricacies involved in the arguments surrounding relevance theory may protest that Sim has not covered everything that there is to be said about relevance theory, but that is not her purpose (p28), and, as with any short introduction, the book is necessarily selective.

Sim’s book is to be commended for its originality. It sets a precedent for further research into biblical texts, since relevance theory has not garnered the attention it deserves in biblical studies. Nonetheless, the novelty of this theory may mean that some of Sim’s conclusions are open to further questioning or refinement, but the benefit of this is that it invites scholars to interact with how relevance theory applies to specific problems in NT interpretation.

Sim’s attention to the original NT Greek text will appeal to students with a background in Biblical languages, but the provision of her own English translation of each text means that students with little or no grasp of the original Greek are still able to understand the force of her arguments.

Overall, Sim has written an incredibly accessible orientation to relevance theory and its application to NT exegesis, one which will appeal to senior biblical scholars and graduate students alike.  It is sure to influence a number of future studies as scholars seek out new and original methods to apply to NT texts.

Zoe Hollinger is currently undertaking a PhD on intertextuality and the use of the Old Testament in Hebrews, under the supervision of W. Gordon Campbell at Union Theological College, Belfast.

If you would like to get involved in writing a guest blog post for either our James Clarke site or Lutterworth Press, we would be delighted to hear from you!

Please send your name, degree title and university to sales@lutterworth.com, along with the topic that you wish to cover.

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#Review: Shalom and the Ethics of Belief

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 Check out the latest review of academic theology title: Shalom and the Ethics of Belief By Nathan D. Shannon (Cambridge, UK; James Clarke & Company Ltd; October 2015; 216 pages; £15.25; Paperback ISBN 9780227175514) published on the website of Reading Religion found here.

“Shannon has done a great service to scholars in unifying the thoughts of Wolterstorff as well as making his work readily accessible.” Gregory Parker, Jr.

If you are in a theological reviewing mood Beware the Evil Eye –Volume 2 Greece and Rome; Forbidden Texts on the Western Frontier and Reading Scripture to Hear God, all part of the extensive theological catalogue from James Clarke & Co Ltd, are up for reviews on the website of Reading Religion.

 

 

 

 

September: Monthly Special Offers

A new month is upon us, and that means its time for our monthly special offers! A number of choice titles are available from our website at a discounted price.

September’s 10% discounted titles are:

Postsecularism: The Hidden Challenge to Extremism
By Mike King
An innovative look at how spiritual and secular thought collide and combine in today’s world, charting a new way forward that combines the best of both worldviews.
Paperback was £27.00, now £24.30

And another title by Mr King:

Secularism: The Hidden Origins of Disbelief
By Mike King
A timely and fascinating examination of the decline in religious faith and rise of secular thought in western intellectual society.
Paperback was £27.00, now £24.30!

Quietism, Dynamic Passivity, and the Void
By Trevor Boiling
Drawing on a new translation of the Spiritual Guide of Miguel de Molinos, this is a highly original and wide-ranging discussion of Quietism and its central concepts of spiritual peace, power and passivity.
Paperback was £33.25, now 29.93!

And finally, September’s Book of the Month (with a 15% discount) is:

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Subversive Spirituality: Transforming Mission through the Collapse of Space and Time
By L. Paul Jensen
An original and enlightening discussion of the relationship between spirituality and mission in a world where the spatial and temporal aspects of contemporary living have become increasingly constricted.
Paperback was £27.00, now £22.95!

Are there any titles you’d like to see on offer from James Clarke & Co soon? Let us know in the comments.

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‘Mong’s is an authentic voice and merits great attention’: reviews of ‘Accommodation and Acceptance: An Exploration of Interfaith Relations.’

Accommodation and Acceptance shows us a ‘gentle way’ for dialogue, mutual respect and even the ‘holy envy’ of admiration which should be ours in the interreligious encounter of the twenty-first century. Mong’s is an authentic voice and merits great attention.”

Rev James F. Loughran, SA, Director of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, New York

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Accommodation and Acceptance: An Exploration in Interfaith Relations  by Ambrose Mong
 
‘Mong masterfully shows how Christian faith needs to be reconceptualized in its encounter with Asian religions, from Christology to ecclesiology to Trinitarian theology. This book is a must-read not only for Asian Christians but also, and one may argue especially, for Western Christians.’
Professor Peter C. Phan, Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Social Thought, Georgetown University
Accommodation and Acceptance: An Exploration in Interfaith Relations is available to purchase now! For more reviews, extracts and to get your copy, go to: http://tinyurl.com/zlq9o36

August: Monthly Special Offers!

This August we bring your more of our monthly special offers. Each month we offer three titles at 10% off and one title for 15% off on our website:
www.jamesclarke.co

For August the special offers are:

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Communion in the Messiah: Studies in the Relationship between Judaism and Christianity
By Lev Gillet
This challenging book develops two main themes: the substitution of dialogue for the one-sided ‘mission to the Jews’, and the communion of Jews and Christians in the one Messiah.
Paperback was £21.75 now £19.58

In the End, God… : A Study of the Christian Doctrine of the Last Things
By John A.T. Robinson
An important and challenging reinterpretation of the traditional themes of Christian eschatology, locating their true theological significance in the lives and experience of the faithful.
Paperback was £21.25 now £19.13

Miracles and Revelation
By John Lawton
A study of the role of miracles in the Bible and of the way in which changing concepts of faith and of revelation have altered the understanding of the miraculous.
Paperback was £27.00 now £24.30
And June’s monthly 15% offer is for:

The New Testament Concept of Atonement: The Gospel of the Calvary Event
By H.D. McDonald

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A detailed study of the New Testament concentrating on the Christian doctrine of salvation and atonement, examining the importance of Christ’s atoning act for man’s redemption.

 

Paperback was £21.25 now £17.21

Are there any titles you’d like to see on offer from James Clarke & Co soon? Let us know in the comments.

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‘It is original, beautifully written, and compelling…’ Dr Young’s ‘Inferior Office? A History of Deacons in the Church of England.’

In spite of the centrality of the threefold orders of bishop, priest and deacon to Anglicanism, deacons have been virtually invisible in the contemporary Church of England. Inferior Office? is the first complete history of this neglected portion of the clergy, tracing the church’s changing theology of the diaconate from the Ordinal of 1550 to the present day.

Francis Young skilfully overturns the widely held belief that before the twentieth century, the diaconate was merely a brief and nominal period of probation for priests, revealing how it became an integral part of the Elizabethan defence of conformity and exploring the diverse range of ministries assumed by lifelong deacons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lifelong deacons often belonged to a marginalised ‘lower class’ of the clergy that has since been forgotten, an oversight of considerable importance to the wider social history of the clergy that is corrected in this volume.

Inferior Office? tells the story of persistent calls for the revival of a distinctive diaconate within the Victorian Church of England and situates the institution of deaconesses and later revival of the distinctive diaconate for women, as well as subsequent developments, within their wider historical context.

Set against this backdrop, Young presents a balanced case both for and against the further development of a distinctive diaconate today, offering much for further discussion and debate amongst clergy of the Church of England and all those with an interest in the rich tapestry of its history.

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“Francis Young’s book is a welcome antidote to the generally impoverished view of the diaconate that has prevailed in the Church of England in recent years. It is a timely and significant contribution to the Church of England’s understanding of the order of deacons within her threefold ministry, and will be a valuable and informative tool for those charged with the restructuring of the allocation of church resources in the 21st century.”
Dr Serenhedd James, Hon Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford

“Young’s scholarship adds much to our understanding of the diaconate within the threefold ministry in the Church of England.”
Stephen Platten, in Theology, Vol 119 (2)

“This erudite book makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the history of the diaconate in the Church of England from the Reformation to the present day.”
Gloria Cadman, in The Reader, Vol 115, No 2

Dr Young’s book is available to purchase here now!

Make sure you get your copy to unlock the secrets of the often most overlooked section of the Anglican clergy. Follow Dr Young’s journey in tracing the role of the diaconate from the Reformation through to the present day; clarifying the debate about its future.

Tweet: @SuffolkRecusant

Blog: francisyoung.wordpress.com

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