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The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament

  • McMaster Divinity College


This article focuses on the biblical writers’ use of language for the purpose of social identity formation, which, as will be argued, involves linguistically positioning the readers to adopt the core values of the group. It is suggested that Appraisal Theory, a sociolinguistic model based on Systemic-Functional Linguistics, may be utilized to describe such linguistic positioning.
Filología Neotestamentaria - Vols. XXXIII - 2020, pp. 9-36
Facultad de Filosofía y Letras - Universidad de Córdoba (España)
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation
in the New Testament
This article focuses on the biblical writers’ use of language for the
purpose of social identity formation, which, as will be argued, involves
linguistically positioning the readers to adopt the core values of the group.
It is suggested that Appraisal Theory, a sociolinguistic model based on
Systemic-Functional Linguistics, may be utilized to describe such linguistic
Keywords: Social identity, Values, Systemic-functional linguistics,
Appraisal theory, Social-scientific criticism, Social identity theory, Self-
categorization theory.
The question of how the writers of the New Testament, functioning
as “entrepreneurs of identity,”1 attempted to form or reform their rea-
ders’ social identity through their texts begs for a principled answer. The
purpose of this article is to suggest a possible means for doing so. In
what follows, I argue that in the collectivistic, honor/shame cultural world
of the New Testament, personal identity or private self (what a person
believed or knew about themselves, typically in terms of self-schemata or
personal attributes) was predominately shaped by and, thus, secondary
to social identity (what a person believed or knew about themselves due
to what significant others in a shared group or groups have attributed
to them).2 In such a context, one’s private self tended to conform to and
match with the identity(ies) of the group(s) to which they belonged.3 As a
result, the biblical writers addressed matters of “being” and behaving not
primarily in terms of individual or personal values but in terms of group
values, and they expected their messages to “trickle down” through the
group’s leaders to the individuals comprising those groups. In this way,
individual identity is formed and persons become moral agents through
1 P.F. Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans (Minneapolis: Fortress), pp. 36–39 (p. 38).
2 B.J. Malina, “Who Are We? Who Are They? Who Am I? Who Are You (Sing.)?” Annali
Di Storia dell’Esegesi 24 (2007), pp. 103–109 (103–104).
3 Ibidem, pp. 107.
10 James D. Dvorak
the relationships, transactions, habits and reinforcements, and special
uses of language and gesture that constitute the life of the community.4
There are certain challenges inherent in a project of this sort, of which
anachronism and ethnocentrism are serious threats.5 The problem here
is evaluating all persons of all times and all places in the whole world—
including the persons who occupied the world of the Bible—in terms of
one’s own sociocultural location “on the presumption that, since ‘we’ are
by nature human…if anyone else is human then they should and must be
just as we are.”6 To safeguard against this dual threat interpreters often
utilize social-scientific models, but doing so introduces the potential to
commit the “sociological fallacy.” This happens when investigators utili-
ze social-scientific models “as though…they can be transposed across the
centuries without verification.”7 In essence, this fallacy results from the
uncritical use of social-scientific models.
As Craffert rightly points out, interpreters must never assume com-
mensurability between the social-scientific model(s) they want to utilize
and the social data being interpreted so as to disregard or to lose the
emic point of view.8 This means that prior to their use all social-scientific
models must be thoroughly tested for historical validity9 or “goodness
4 W.A. Meeks, The Origins of Christian Morality (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1995), pp. 8, 11.
5 A.D. Clarke and J.B. Tucker, “Social History and Social Theory in the Study of Social
Identity,” in J.B. Tucker and C.A. Baker (eds.), T&T Clark Handbook to Social Identity in
the New Testament (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), pp. 41–58. W.G. Sumner
(Folkways [Boston: Ginn, 1906], pp. 12–13): “Ethnocentrism is the technical name for this
view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are
scaled and rated with reference to it.”
6 B.J. Malina, Christian Origins and Cultural Anthropology (Louisville: John Knox
Press, 1986; repr. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010), p. 29. See also G. Hofstede, Culture’s
Consequences (2nd ed.; London: Sage, 2001), p. 17.
7 E.A. Judge, “Social Identity of the First Christians,” in D.M. Scholer (ed.), Social
Distinctives of the Christians in the First Century (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009),
pp. 117–35 (128). Compare to the “fallacy of idealism” in B. Holmberg, Paul and Power
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), pp. 201–203. See also P.F. Craffert, “More on Models and
Muddles in the Social-Scientific Interpretation of the New Testament: The ‘Sociological
Fallacy’ Reconsidered,” Neotestamentica 26 (1992), pp. 217–39 (227).
8 Craffert, “Models and Muddles,” p. 223; P.F. Craffert, “An Exercise in the Critical Use
of Models,” in J.J. Pilch (ed.) Social-Scientific Models for Interpreting the Bible (BibInt 53;
Atlanta: SBL, 2001), pp. 21–46 (23). C. Geertz, “From the Native’s Point of View,” Bulletin
of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 28 (1974), pp. 26–45 (26–30).
9 Judge, “Social Identity,” p. 130.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
of fit.”10 Such testing requires interpreters to describe carefully the
model(s) they plan to utilize.11 It is beyond the scope of this article to
address fully what shape this may take,12 but suffice it to say that such
a description should be a fairly robust “thick description”13 that, at the
very least, acknowledges and expresses the model’s key theoretical claims,
presuppositions, and assumptions. Additionally, the interpreter must
demonstrate that the model(s) they wish to put to service heuristically
elucidates the social world of the New Testament and the “stratified hie-
rarchy of meaningful structures” in terms of which every symbolic form14
would have been “produced, perceived, and interpreted and without
which…they would not in fact exist.”15 If the interpreter finds during this
process that the model reifies and ultimately reads back into the ancient
texts the worldview and values of the interpreter and their sociocultural
location, then the model would lack “goodness of fit” and either should be
abandoned or, at the very least, modified.
Having acknowledged these dangers, I will begin with a basic descrip-
tion of the theoretical foundation upon which I construct a definition
of “social identity,” which takes into account the first-century circum-
Mediterranean context of New Testament persons and groups. Then I
will describe the fundamental presuppositions of Systemic-Functional
Linguistics (SFL), which is foundational for the model of Appraisal that
I will use to describe how the biblical writers acted linguistically to (re-)
form the social identity their audiences.
Theoretical Presuppositions and Defining Key Terms
Social Identity in Ancient Circum-Mediterranean Perspective
Esler rightly claims that the term “identity” is something of a “plastic
word” that is “dangerously elastic,” so it must be defined.16 From the
10 T.F. Carney, The Shape of the Past (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1975), pp. 1–43.
Craffert, “Critical Use of Models,” 22–28.
11 J.H. Elliott, What is Social-Scientific Criticism? (Guides to Biblical Studies New
Testament Series; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), pp. 41–48; B.J. Malina, “The Social Sci-
ences and Biblical Interpretation,” Int 36 (1982), pp. 229–42; J.H. Elliott, “Social-Scientific
Criticism of the New Testament,” Semeia 35 (1986), pp. 1–33.
12 Malina, “Social Sciences,” pp. 229–42; Elliott, “Social-Scientific Criticism,” pp. 1–33;
Craffert, “Models and Muddles,” pp. 217–39; Craffert, “Critical Use of Models,” pp. 21–46.
13 C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), pp. 6–7.
14 Geertz (“Native’s Point of View,” p. 30) lists “words, images, institutions, behaviors…
in terms of which people actually represent themselves to themselves and to one another.”
15 Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures, p. 7.
16 Esler, Conflict and Identity, pp. 11, 19; R. Börschel, Die Konstruktion einer christli-
chen Identität (Bonner Biblische Beträge 128; Berlin: Philo, 2001), p. 12.
12 James D. Dvorak
standpoint of cultural anthropology and social psychology, the core ele-
ment of identity or personhood is the self-concept.17 Yet, by itself this
abstract notion remains ambiguous and insufficient, for the answer to
the question “Who am I?” is always conditioned and constrained by the
sociocultural context18 in which the one asking it is being or has been
socialized.19 Since the question at hand is concerned with social identity
formation in the New Testament, I will first describe the features of the
first century circum-Mediterranean social world that are most pertinent
for understanding social identity in that context.
Following cues from both cultural anthropology and social psycholo-
gy, it is apparent that at a minimum identity and personhood ought to
be defined in light of sociocultural features of the type that Douglas has
famously modeled as group and grid.20 Group speaks to “the degree of
social pressure exerted upon an individual or some subgroup to conform
to the demands of the larger [group or] society, to stay within the ‘we’
lines marking off group boundaries.”21 This is plotted on a horizontal
continuum running from weak to strong, and its placement depends on
whether or to what extent a culture is individualistic or collectivistic.22
Weak group (i.e., individualistic) cultures exert lower pressure on per-
sons to conform to group norms, while strong group (i.e., collectivistic)
cultures exert greater pressure to conform to group norms.23 Thus, in
17 Hofstede calls this “self-construal” (Culture’s Consequences, p. 210).
18 For definitions of “culture,” see Malina, Christian Origins, p. 9; Elliott, What is? p. 128.
19 P.L. Berger and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (New York: Anchor,
1967), pp. 128–83. R.L. Rohrbaugh, “Ethnocentrism and Historical Questions about Jesus,”
in W. Stegemann, B.J. Malina, and G. Theissen (eds.) The Social Setting of Jesus and The
Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), p. 28; Börschel, Konstruktion, p. 12.
20 M. Douglas, Natural Symbols (2nd ed.; Routledge Classics; London: Routledge, 2003),
pp. 57–71. Malina disambiguates “grid” and adapts Douglas’s model for describing the
world of the New Testament in Christian Origins. Rohrbaugh adopts Triandis’s language:
individualist and collectivist for weak group and strong group, respectively; vertical and
horizontal for high grid and low grid, respectively (“Ethnocentrism,” pp. 30–31).
21 Malina, Christian Origins, p. 13.
22 Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences, pp. 209–12; Malina, Christian Origins, p. 22;
Malina, “Who Are We?” pp. 103–109; B.J. Malina, “The Individual and the Communi-
ty—Personality in the Social World of Early Christianity,” BTB 9 (1979), pp. 126–38; B.J.
Malina and J.H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), pp.
153–69; C.A. Baker, “Social Identity Theory and Biblical Interpretation,” BTB 42 (2012),
pp. 129–38 (133).
23 Esler, Conflict in Romans, pp. 20–21. On “norms” see Malina, Christian Origins, p.
115; R. Hodge and G. Kress, Social Semiotics (Ithaca, NT: Cornell University Press, 1988),
pp. 2–5. For a definition of “social value,” see J.J. Pilch and B.J. Malina, “Introduction,”
in J.J. Pilch and B.J. Malina (eds.), Handbook of Biblical Social Values [3rd ed.; Matrix
10; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2016], pp. xix–xxxviii (xix); J.D. Dvorak, “To Incline Another’s
Heart: The Role of Attitude in Reader Positioning,” in L.K. Fuller Dow, C.A. Evans, and
A.W. Pitts (eds.), The Language and Literature of the New Testament (BibInt 150; Leiden:
Brill, 2017), p. 604.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
weak group cultures, persons are typically socialized to conceive of self
as a “bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive
universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment and action
organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other
such wholes and against its social and natural background.”24 By contrast,
in strong group cultures, persons are typically socialized to conceive of
self as “a distinctive whole set in relation to other wholes and set within
a given social and natural background; every individual is perceived as
embedded in some other, in a sequence of embeddedness.”25 Another way
to characterize this distinction is to say that a person’s self-concept in
weak group cultures tends to be more independent, while in more strong
group cultures it tends to be more interdependent.26
Grid in Douglas’s scheme has to do with worldview or ideology27 and
its effect on the order(liness) of a culture or group.28 It is “the degree
of socially constrained adherence that persons in a given group usually
give to the symbol system—i.e., the system of classifications, definitions,
and evaluations—through which the society enables its members to bring
order and intelligibility to their experiences.”29 It is plotted along a verti-
cal cline running from low to high. Persons who doubt or waver in their
adherence to a group’s shared conceptions about how things ought/ought
not be score lower on the grid scale, while persons who almost always
adhere to the group’s shared conceptions of how things ought/ought not
be score higher on the grid scale.30
Utilizing Douglas’s model, social-scientific critics31 have shown that
the vast majority of persons who lived in the world of the New Testa-
ment—but certainly not all32—are most appropriately plotted in the
strong group/low grid quadrant of her scheme.33 The most important con-
sequence of this as it relates to the discussion here is that the self-concept
24 Geertz, “Native’s Point of View,” p. 31. Also Malina, “Individual and Community,”
p. 127; Malina, “Who Are We?” p. 105; B.J. Malina and J.H. Neyrey, “First-Century Per-
sonality: Dyadic, Not Individual,” in J.H. Neyrey (ed.), The Social World of Luke-Acts
(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), pp. 67–96 (72).
25 Malina and Neyrey, “First-Century Personality,” p. 73; Malina, “Who Are We?”
p. 106.
26 Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences, p. 210.
27 For a definition of “ideology,” see Elliott, What is? p. 130.
28 Douglas, Natural Symbols, pp. 61–62.
29 Malina, Christian Origins, p. 13.
30 Malina, Christian Origins, p. 13.
31 E.g., Malina, Christian Origins; Malina and Neyrey, “First-Century Personality”; R.L.
Rohrbaugh, “What Did Jesus Know about Himself and When Did He Know It?” in The
New Testament in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Matrix; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2007), pp.
61–76; and works cited in these.
32 Rohrbaugh, “What Did Jesus Know,” pp. 70–72; Malina, Christian Origins, pp. 61–65.
33 Malina, Christian Origins, p. 37. Also Rohrbaugh, “Ethnocentrism,” pp. 30–33.
14 James D. Dvorak
of a person living in the New Testament world would likely have been
shaped primarily through their interactions with other members of their
groups,34 with the kin group being the most formative, followed by va-
rious other fictive kin groups.35 Each group’s core values would have been
enacted and reified in these interactions,36 thereby naturalizing them and
imbuing them with a character of “common sense.”37 This would create
the expectation that group members would “be” and behave in certain
ways, and, insofar as they met or did not meet that expectation, they
would be thought of as stronger or weaker members of the group. In this
sort of context “deference to group is evident in the reverence given to
‘tradition.’ The tradition handed down by former members of the group
is presumed valid and normative.”38 Thus, the apostle Paul presumes the
authority of tradition as he teaches about both the Eucharist (“For I re-
ceived from the Lord what I also handed on to you…” [1 Cor 11:23]) and
the resurrection (“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in
turn had received…” [1 Cor 15:3]).39 That he expected the Corinthian be-
lievers to bring their conduct into alignment with the tradition is evident
by the fact that he praises them when they do (1 Cor 11:2) but criticizes
them when they do not (1 Cor 3:18–23).40
However, the established values of groups were not always “verified
in [the] experience” of their members, which could result in a drop in
grid.41 In lower grid situations, boundaries around social bodies tend to
be perceived as porous, and the “sacredness” of the group is always under
attack by polluting invaders.42 There always seems to be “a proliferation
of competing groups, each attempting to be self-contained, to win out
over its competitors, to defend its gains, and to consolidate its holdings.”43
This typically resulted in, to greater or lesser extents, contested identities
both between groups and within groups.44 Here Social Identity Theory
34 Malina, Christian Origins, pp. 38–39.
35 D.A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity
Press, 2000), pp. 157–239; J.H. Neyrey, “Group-Orientation,” in Pilch and Malina (eds.),
Biblical Social Values, pp. 80–83.
36 J. Peoples and G. Bailey, Humanity (10th ed.; Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015),
p. 31. Malina, Christian Origins, p. 112.
37 N. Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change (Cambridge: Polity, 1992), p. 92.
38 Neyrey, “Group-orientation,” p. 80. Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul, p. 164.
39 Ibidem, p. 80.
40 Neyrey, “Group-Orientation,” p. 80. Also, J.D. Dvorak, “The Interpersonal Metafunc-
tion in 1 Corinthians 1–4” (Ph.D. diss. McMaster Divinity College, 2012), pp. 202–207.
41 Malina, Christian Origins, p. 38.
42 Ibidem, pp. 38–39.
43 Malina, Christian Origins, 38. J.D. Dvorak, “Prodding with Prosody: Persuasion and
Social Influence through the Lens of Appraisal Theory,” BAGL 4 (2015), pp. 85–120 (92).
44 deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, pp. 165–73.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
(SIT) and Self-Categorization Theory (SCT) are helpful models.45
Tajfel’s SIT addresses contested identities between groups, the basic
hypothesis being that “pressures to evaluate one’s own group[s] positively
through in-group/out-group comparisons lead social groups to attempt
to differentiate themselves from each other.”46
Perceived membership in a relevant social group makes people view con-
trasts between groups in terms of competition, readily favoring co-members
over others with the practice of ingroup favoritism (or ingroup bias) and sub-
sequent outgroup discrimination: a kind of preferential treatment towards
those who are seen as belonging to the same ingroup.47
Two common but socially significant behaviors in which in-group
favoritism and out-group discrimination are expressed are stereotyping
and social name calling, which are typically interwoven. Stereotypes
are “fixed or standard general mental pictures which various groups
mutually hold in common that represent their expectations, attitudes
and judgments of others.”48 Stereotyping is especially prevalent in strong
group/collectivist cultures where members tend to consider themselves
and others sociologically rather than psychologically, the latter being
more prevalent in weak group/individualist cultures.49 Stereotypes are
linguistically discernible from the negative or positive labels attached to a
given group and the behaviors typical of its members.50
Examples of stereotyping and name calling abound in the New Tes-
tament. The clearest expressions tend to be realized in “black and white”
statements, often in relational clauses51 such as, “The one doing sin is
of the devil,” but “everyone born of God does not do sin…” (ὁ ποιῶν
τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν…πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ
45 Baker, “Social Identity Theory,” pp. 129–38; J.B. Tucker, You Belong to Christ (Eu-
gene, OR: Pickwick, 2010), pp. 1–60.
46 H. Tajfel and J.C. Turner, “Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior,” in W.G.
Austin and S. Worschel (eds.), Psychology of Intergroup Relation (2nd ed.; Monterey, CA:
Brooks and Cole, 1986), pp. 7–24 (16). P.F. Esler, “Outline of Social Identity Theory,” in
Tucker and Baker (eds.), Handbook to Social Identity, pp. 13–39 (19); H. Tajfel, “Social
Categorization, Social Identity, and Social Comparison,” in H. Tajfel (ed.), Differentiation
Between Social Groups (European Monographs in Social Psychology; London: Academic,
1978), pp. 61–76. Börschel, Konstruktion, p. 12: “Am Anfang steht de Differenz, welche
Identität konstituiert. Etwas ‘ist’ nur, indem es von anderem unterschieden ist.”
47 J.M. Hernández-Campoy, Sociolinguistic Styles (Language in Society; Malden, MA:
Wiley Blackwell, 2016), p. 99.
48 Malina, “Individual and Community,” p. 129.
49 B.J. Malina and J.H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul (Louisville: Westminster John Knox,
1996), pp. 169–70; Malina, “Individual and Community,” pp. 126–38 (129–31).
50 Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul, p. 170.
51 M.A.K. Halliday, An Introduction to Functional Grammar (2nd ed.; London: Arnold,
1994), pp. 119–38.
16 James D. Dvorak
ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ [1 John 3:8–9]); or “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts,
lazy gluttons” (Κρῆτες ἀεὶ ψεῦσται, κακὰ θηρία, γαστέρες ἀργαί [Tit.
1:12]). As it relates to in-group and out-group comparison, stereotyping
and name calling tend to be positive when the in-group is under consid-
eration and negative when an out-group is under consideration, but this
is not an absolute rule. Consider, for example, Jesus’ reaction and remark
regarding the Roman centurion: “But after hearing this, Jesus marveled
and he said to those who were following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have found
such great faith with no one in Israel” (ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐθαύμασεν
καὶ εἶπεν τοῖς ἀκολουθοῦσιν· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, παρ᾽ οὐδενὶ τοσαύτην
πίστιν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ εὗρον [Matt. 8:10]).
Turner’s SCT addresses the antecedent condition of how persons form
groups at all.52 First, it requires a person to self-categorize by aligning
themselves with others on the basis of a perceived “shared ingroup–out-
group categorization.”53 Doing this requires some level of depersonaliza-
tion, a kind of “self-stereotyping” in which a person perceives themselves
“more as the interchangeable exemplars of a social category than as
individual personalities defined by their individual differences from oth-
ers.”54 That is, self-categorization occurs when a person adopts, to some
extent, the core values or “norms”—in SIT/SCT lingo, “identity descrip-
tors”55—of a group, and depersonalization is the process of meshing one’s
private self to a certain degree with their in-group identity.56 And since
the extent of self-categorization and the degree of depersonalization will
vary among group members, some degree of intragroup identity conflict
is bound to occur. Clear examples of these processes (or failure thereof)
occur in the Johannine epistles. The writer of 1 John is quite concerned
with confirming (reestablishing?) group identity based on the core values
and tradition that Jesus is both Son of God and Messiah and that he
came in the flesh. Anyone not maintaining these central tenets do not
truly abide in the group. At 1 John 2:18–19, the writer stereotypes some
number of persons, essentially calling them antichrists, who had or were
in the process of splitting from the group:
Παιδία, ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν, καὶ καθὼς ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἀντίχριστος
ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἀντίχριστοι πολλοὶ γεγόνασιν, ὅθεν γινώσκομεν ὅτι
52 Esler, “Outline,” p. 24.
53 Ibidem, p. 24.
54 J.C. Turner, et. al., Rediscovering the Social Group (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1987),
p. 50; Esler, “Outline,” p. 25.
55 Malina, Christian Origins, pp. 112–16; Esler, Conflict and Identity, pp. 20–21, pp.
56 See now B.J. Malina, “Let Him Deny Himself (Mark 8:34 & PAR): A Social Psycho-
logical Model of Self-Denial,” BTB 24 (1993), pp. 106–19 (113–14); Rohrbaugh, “What Did
Jesus Know?” pp. 69–72.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν. ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθαν ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἦσαν ἐξ ἡμῶν, εἰ γὰρ ἐξ ἡμῶν
ἦσαν, μεμενήκεισαν ἂν μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν…
Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that an antichrist is
coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; consequently, we know
that this is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us, for
if they were of us, they would have remained with us….57
The language of v. 19 speaks to the lack of self-categorization and de-
personalization on the part of the secessionists, at least as John perceived
it. Their public selves did not appropriately match with in-group values,
so they were seen as hypocrites and outsiders.
In summary, given the strong group (collectivist) orientation opera-
tive in the world of the New Testament, one’s social identity was shaped
by and expected to match with their in-group identity. Socially, people
were known first and foremost in relation to the group(s) in which they
were embedded, and most importantly in relation to their kin group.58
Maintenance of group boundaries, particularly to maintain group honor,
was of utmost concern, and in doing so one maintained their social iden-
tity.59 SIT and SCT theories provide a principled means of describing the
creation and maintenance of group boundaries, in light of group norms
or values, which function as the key definers of who is in and who is out
as well as the degree of a person’s “in-ness” and “out-ness.”60
Language, Text, and Identity (Re-)Formation
Turning now to language and linguistics, how do the writers of the
New Testament use language to position their readers to “be” and behave
in ways that align with the core values of the ἐκκλησίαι τοῦ θεοῦ? The
perspective offered here is based on M.A.K. Halliday’s notion that lan-
guage is a semiotic system from which language users make selections
in order to create meanings that are then encoded into and expressed
through the exchangeable media of spoken and/or written texts.61 A core
57 My translation; italics for emphasis. See J.D. Dvorak, “Not Like Cain: Marking Moral
Boundaries through Vilification of the Other in 1 John 3:1–18,” Dialogismos 1 (2016), pp.
1–19 (3–6).
58 deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, pp. 157–239.
59 Ibidem, pp. 23–93.
60 Baker, “Social Identity Theory,” p. 131.
61 Dvorak, “Incline Another’s Heart,” p. 604. M.A.K. Halliday, Explorations in the
Functions of Language (Explorations in Language Study; London: Arnold, 1973), pp.
49–51; M.A.K. Halliday, “Language as Code and Language as Behaviour,” in R.P. Fawcett,
M.A.K. Halliday, S.M. Lamb, and A. Makkai (eds.), The Semiotics of Culture and Lan-
guage, Volume 1 (Open Linguistics Series; London: Frances Pinter, 1984), pp. 3–35 (9–11).
18 James D. Dvorak
presupposition of this viewpoint is that people produce texts for the
purpose of social interaction,62 i.e., what language users are able to do
with language as a means of acting socially.63 “Language,” as Halliday
describes it, “is the encoding of a ‘behavior potential’ into a ‘meaning po-
tential’; that is, as a means of expressing what the human organism ‘can
do,’ in interaction with other human organisms, by turning it into what
he ‘can mean.’”64 The linguistic system is itself the “realization of the be-
haviour potential; ‘can mean’ is ‘can do’ when translated into language.”65
It is through the selections that a language user makes from the linguistic
system (i.e., instantiation of the system) that they produce text, i.e., the
actualized or realized form of their desired social action or behavior in
relation to their intended addressees.66 In short, humans use language to
create texts in order that they may act upon their social worlds and the
others who may inhabit those worlds67 and, therefore, language may be
viewed as a social semiotic.68
Acting meaningfully with language upon one’s social world and its
inhabitants is a dialectical process69 that involves both construing one’s
experience of their world while at the same time re-construing it and
thereby potentially changing its constitution, including such things
as group values and norms.70 This dialectic is enacted through three
different kinds of contextually-constrained linguistic meanings, all of
which are made simultaneously when humans make texts.71 The first is
presentational meaning. This is the kind of meaning that humans use to
construct and present a reality. It is the language user’s expression of
how things are in the perceived natural and social worlds by explicitly
describing them as participants, processes, relations, and circumstances
62 M.A.K. Halliday, Language as Social Semiotic (Baltimore: University Park Press,
1978), p. 122; M.A.K. Halliday, “Language as Code,” pp. 11–16; S.E. Porter, “Systemic
Functional Linguistics and the Greek Language: The Need for Further Modeling,” in S.E.
Porter, G.P. Fewster, and C.D. Land (eds.), Modeling Biblical Language (LBS 13; Leiden:
Brill, 2016), pp. 9–47 (20–32).
63 Halliday, Explorations, pp. 52–54. N. Fairclough prefers “acting, representing, and
being” (Analysing Discourse [London: Routledge, 2003], pp. 26–28).
64 Halliday, Social Semiotic, p. 21 (italics added).
65 Halliday, Explorations, p. 51.
66 Dvorak, “Incline Another’s Heart,” pp. 603–604; Halliday, Explorations, pp. 51–54.
67 Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change, p. 63.
68 Halliday, Social Semiotic, pp. 1–35.
69 Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change, p. 64; Fairclough, Analysing Discourse,
pp. 28–29.
70 Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change, p. 64.
71 Halliday, Social Semiotic, pp. 21–22; Halliday, Explorations, p. 99. I prefer Lemke’s
more generalized descriptions (J.L. Lemke, Textual Politics [Critical Perspectives on Litera-
cy and Education; Abingdon: Taylor and Francis, 1995], p. 41).
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
standing in particular semantic relations to one another.72 The second
kind of meaning is orientational meaning. This pertains to the construc-
tion of orientational or evaluative stances vis-à-vis present and potential
addressees and audiences, and towards the presentational content of
discourse, in respect of social relations and evaluations from a particular
viewpoint.73 The third kind of meaning that humans make with language
is organizational meaning. This has to do with the construction of rela-
tions between elements comprising the textual expressions themselves,
so that they are interpretable as having structure, texture, informational
organization and relative prominence.74
Let us bring this to bear on social identity (re-)formation. As suggested
above, social identity is formed in relation to group boundaries, yet as was
also noted, these boundaries may be contested with the result that the so-
cial identities they define are contested. It was noted that New Testament
persons lived in an agonistic, socially heteroglossic context.75 Each voice
vied for a person’s attention and adherence, with the result that to some
degree every person was involved in convincing themselves to maintain
the values of their group and/or persuading others to adopt their group
values.76 Convincing and persuading, both social actions, entail one or
more persons engaging in “creating, reinforcing, modifying, or extinguis-
hing beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, and/or behaviors” in any
given context of situation.77 In performing these actions, persons assert
or project their perceptions of how things are or are not (presentational
meaning); argue for how things ought or ought not be (orientational mea-
ning); and generate coherent, meaningful texts that engage and evaluate
social values through emphasis, deemphasis, comparison, contrast, and
so on (organizational meaning). This is a helpful theoretical perspective
on the connection between language and social action, but an additional
layer of modeling is needed to show more concretely how the biblical
writers formed and reformed readers’ social identity with text. For this I
turn to a model of Appraisal.
72 Lemke, Textual Politics, p. 41.
73 Ibidem, p. 41.
74 Ibidem, p. 41.
75 M.M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (ed. M. Holquist; trans. C. Emerson and M.
Holquist; Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 281.
76 Dvorak, “Prodding,” p. 92 (italics added).
77 R.H. Gass and J.S. Seiter, Persuasion, Social Influence, and Compliance Gaining
(2nd ed.; Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2003), p. 34; Dvorak, “Prodding,” p. 88.
20 James D. Dvorak
An Overview of Appraisal Theory
Appraisal Theory “presumes that the key purveyor of values, ideo-
logies, and their structures is evaluation,” where the evaluation “refers
to one’s attitude or stance towards, perspectives upon, or feelings about
entities, propositions, or basic subject matter under discussion.”78 The
model is grounded the theory of language just presented, yet, although it
accounts for presentational, orientational, and organizational functions,
it focuses primarily upon orientational meanings.79 Appraisal Theory
models the evaluative, stance-taking resources of language into a supe-
rordinate system, Appraisal, which is comprised of three subsystems,
Attitude, Engagement, and Graduation.80
The resources of Attitude provide language users the means of cons-
truing feelings.81 This subsystem includes three further subsystems, na-
mely Affect, Judgment and Appreciation. Affect organizes the linguistic
expressions of positive and negative feelings or emotions (both inscribed
and betokened)82 that serve the purpose of attitudinal positioning.83 By
acting out, describing, and/or talking about emotions, people invite hea-
rers/readers to empathize with them in the sense of feeling the same way
about someone or something.84 Feelings are typologically organized on
the basis of six criteria:85
78 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” 3; Dvorak, “Not Like Cain,” 6–8; S. Hunston
and G. Thompson, Evaluation in Text: Authorial Stance and Construction of Discourse
(Oxford Linguistics; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 5.
79 See Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction.” Also Dvorak, “Incline Another’s Heart,”
pp. 606–15; Dvorak, “Prodding,” pp. 93–107.
80 System and subsystem names are capitalized and italicized.
81 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” 52.
82 Inscribed evaluations are those that appear directly in a text; betokened evaluations
are implied in presentational meaning (P.R.R. White, “Evaluative Semantics and Ideolog-
ical Positioning in Journalistic Discourse: A New Framework for Analysis,” in I. Lassen,
J. Strunck, and T. Vestergaard (eds.), Mediating Ideology in Text and Image [Amsterdam:
John Benjamins, 2006], pp. 37–67 [39]).
83 J.R. Martin, “Beyond Exchange: Appraisal Systems in English,” in Hunston and
Thompson (eds.), Evaluation in Text, pp. 142–75 (147): “as Judgement, Affect is recontex-
tualized as an evaluation matrix for behavior, with a view to controlling what people do.
As Appreciation, Affect is recontextualized as an evaluation matrix for the products of
behavior (and wonders of nature), with a view to valuing what people achieve.”
84 Dvorak, “Incline Another’s Heart,” p. 609.
85 Ibidem, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” pp. 58–65.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
• whether they are positive (i.e., feelings that are enjoyable to expe-
rience) or negative (i.e., feelings that are best avoided), a categori-
zation that must consider constraints of context
• whether the feelings are depicted as a surge of emotion involving
some para- or extralinguistic expression (e.g., weeping, wailing)
or are an internally experienced emotive state or ongoing mental
process (e.g., fear, anguish)
whether the feelings are directed toward or reacting to some external
agent or are construed as general, ongoing moods or emotional states
the level of intensity of the feelings (this is related to the system of
Graduation, discussed below)
whether the feelings are based on intention in relation to a potential
stimulus or a reaction to some actual stimulus86
• whether the feeling expresses (un)happiness, (in)security, or (dis)
Judgment organizes the linguistic resources of praise and blame in
regards to the character or behavior of the person(s) being judged.87
Judgments are of two main types: (1) positive or negative social esteem or
(2) positive or negative social sanction. “Judgments of esteem have to do
with ‘normality’ (how unusual someone is), ‘capacity’ (how capable they
are), and ‘tenacity’ (how resolute they are); judgments of sanction have to
do with ‘veracity’ (how truthful someone is) and ‘propriety’ (how ethical
someone is).”88 Like expressions of Affect, expressions of Judgment may be
inscribed (direct) or implied/betokened (indirect). Also like expressions of
Affect, one must consider both context of culture and context of situation
very carefully when interpreting expressions of Judgment, for instances
do exist in which negative judgments from one perspective are to be con-
sidered as positive judgments from another perspective, as in Matt. 5:11:
“You are blessed when they slander you and persecute/pursue you and
speak every evil against you for my sake” (μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν
ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρὸν καθ᾽ ὑμῶν ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ).89
86 The third criterion classifies on the basis of whether the emotion is a surge of behavior
or a mental state; this criterion classifies on whether or not the emotion occurs in relation
to a realis or irrealis trigger.
87 Dvorak, “Incline Another’s Heart,” p. 610; Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,”
pp. 65–68.
88 J.R. Martin and P.R.R. White, The Language of Evaluation (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2005), p. 52.
89 “Honorable” (μακάριος) realizes positive esteem, while slandering (ὀνειδίσωσιν),
persecuting/pursuing (διώξωσιν), and speaking evil (εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρόν) betoken neg-
ative esteem; however, the latter have been redefined by the former.
22 James D. Dvorak
Appreciation organizes the linguistic resources of positive and nega-
tive appraisals of things, processes, states of affair, and the like in terms
of their impact, their composition, or their social value or significance.90
That is, people select from this system to express (1) positive or negative
appreciation of the impact of what is appraised (reactions); (2) positive
or negative appreciation of the execution of design of what is appraised
(composition); or (3) positive or negative appreciation of the relative
social significance of what is appraised (value/honor).91 One straightfor-
ward example from the New Testament is Paul’s positive appreciation
of the claim “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—it
is “reliable” and “worthy of full acceptance” (πιστὸς ὁ λόγος καὶ πάσης
ἀποδοχῆς ἄξιος, ὅτι Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς ἦλθεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἁμαρτωλοὺς
σῶσαι [1 Tim. 1:15]).
The second major subsystem of Appraisal organizes the linguistic
resources of Engagement. The first choice is whether or not to recognize
and engage alternative values and points of view (Heterogloss) or not to
acknowledge them at all (Monogloss).92 If Heterogloss is selected, then
the writer may further engage the alternative voice by opting to expand
dialogue with these voices by means of Consideration or Attribution.
Dialogic Expansion
Consideration93 names those dialogically expansive locutions by
which a writer indicates that his value position is merely one of a num-
ber of possible value positions, and by bringing alternative positions into
the colloquy the writer creates a degree of dialogic space in which those
alternative points of view are considered.94 Consideration is realized in
90 Dvorak, “Incline Another’s Heart,” pp. 610–11; Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunc-
tion,” pp. 68–69.
91 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 69.
92 Ibidem, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” pp. 76–77. Z.K. Dawson, “The Rules of ‘En-
gagement’: Assessing the Function of the Diatribe in James 2:14–26 Using Critical Dis-
course Analysis,” in J.D. Dvorak and Z.K. Dawson (eds.), The Epistle of James (Linguistic
Exegesis of the New Testament 1; Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2019), pp. 155–95 (173–80).
93 In Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” pp. 85–87, I called this option “Enter-
tain(ment)” following Martin and White, Language of Evaluation, pp. 104–11. I now use
94 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 85. Martin and White, Language of Eval-
uation, p. 104.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
Greek in a number of ways, each expressing modality, including but not
limited to the following:95
subjunctive and optative verbal moods
idealization particle (i.e., ἄν [“would”])96
modal adjuncts (e.g., τάχα [“perhaps”], ἴσως [“probably”], εἰ τύχοι
expository questions (i.e., questions that do not assume or expect a
particular answer)97
circumstances of the “in my opinion” type (e.g., κατὰ τὴν ἐμὴν
γνώμην at 1 Cor. 7:40)
evidence or appearance-based postulations (e.g., “For it seemed
[good]…” [ἔδοξεν γὰρ…], Acts 15:22, 25, 28)
certain mental verb/attribute projections (e.g., “I think it neces-
sary/right” [ἀναγκαῖον…ἡγησάμη], Phil. 2:25; [δίκαιον…ἡγοῦμαι],
2 Pet. 1:13)98
Attribution is a means by which a writer expands dialogic space by
bringing explicitly another’s value position or point of view into the
colloquy, often through direct quotations, while keeping their own voice
and the original voice distinct from one another. This is not to say that
writers do not use others’ voices for their own rhetorical purposes;99 in
fact, writers often utilize Attribution as a means of garnering support for
the value positions they wish others to adopt or to avoid. Common voices
drawn upon by the biblical writers include those of tradition, significant
persons, and God. For example, at Matt. 26:31, after Jesus asserted that
his disciples would be offended by him because of the treatment he would
receive, he drew upon the scriptures to support his assertion: “For it is
written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scat-
tered’” (γέγραπται γάρ· πατάξω τὸν ποιμένα, καὶ διασκορπισθήσονται
95 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 85; Martin and White, Language of Evalu-
ation, pp. 104–11.
96 S.E. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to
Tense and Mood (SBG 1; New York: Peter Lang, 1993), 166.
97 J.D. Dvorak, “Ask and Ye Shall Position the Readers: James’s Use of Questions to
(Re-) Align His Readers,” in Dvorak and Dawson (eds.), The Epistle of James, pp. 196–245
98 M.A.K. Halliday and C.M.I.M. Matthiessen, Halliday’s Introduction to Functional
Grammar (4th ed.; London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 686–89.
99 See C.D. Stanley, Arguing with Scripture (New York: T&T Clark, 2004), pp. 9–74;
D.L. Stamps, “Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament as a Rhetorical Device:
A Methodological Proposal,” in S.E. Porter (ed.), Hearing the New Testament in the Old
Testament (MNTS; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 9–37 (23–36); Dvorak, “Incline
Another’s Heart,” p. 613.
24 James D. Dvorak
τὰ πρόβατα τῆς ποίμνης). Thus, any riposte to Jesus’ assertion would be
tantamount to a riposte to the word of God.
Dialogic Contraction through Proclamation
Dialogic contraction is achieved through selections from the system of
Proclamation. Formulations from this semantic domain do not directly
reject or overrule contrary positions (see Disclaim below for these re-
sources); rather, they “act to limit the scope of dialogistic alternatives
in the…colloquy.”100 There are three subsystems in this domain: Concur-
rence, Endorsement, and Pronouncement.
Concurrence organizes the linguistic options for signaling that the
writer and his intended reader(s) are in agreement on a certain point of
view or at least share the same knowledge.101 Concurrence formulations
are dialogic because “they present the speaker/writer as ‘in dialogue’
with the text’s audience generally,” and they are contractive “in that they
represent the shared value or belief as universally, or at least as very
widely, held in the current communicative context.”102 Expressions from
this domain have a hegemonic, “common-sensing” effect, such that the
value position is portrayed as taken-for-granted, and to oppose it would
be considered foolish.103
Dialogic contractions are also expressed through selections from En-
dorsement. Like Atribution, locutions of Endorsement draw upon others’
value positions and points of view and are realized through direct quota-
tion or indirect speech. However, here the writer adds his own evaluative
voice. An unambiguous example occurs at Mark 7:6–7.104 The Pharisees
accused the disciples of being deviants because they had not followed the
tradition of the elders to wash their hands before eating. This honor chal-
lenge was aimed more at Jesus than at the disciples, which is confirmed by
the fact that the Pharisees asked Jesus about it.105 Jesus’ riposte includes
a quotation from Isaiah, which is clearly marked by (γέγραπται [it is
100 Martin and White, Language of Evaluation, p. 121.
101 Ibidem, p. 122.
102 Martin and White, Language of Evaluation, p. 124.
103 Dawson, “Rules” pp. 167–70.
104 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” pp. 80–81.
105 B.J. Malina (The New Testament World [3rd ed.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox,
2001], p. 40) calls this an ambiguous affront. Also J.H. Neyrey, “Questions, Chreiai, and
Challenges to Honor: The Interface of Rhetoric and Culture in Mark’s Gospel,” CBQ 60
(1998), pp. 657–81.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
written]). What makes it an expression of Endorsement is the addition
of his positive evaluation of Isaiah’s claim (καλῶς ἐπροφήτευσεν [rightly
prophesied]), as well as its application to the current situation:
Ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· καλῶς ἐπροφήτευσεν Ἠσαΐας περὶ ὑμῶν τῶν
ὑποκριτῶν, ὡς γέγραπται [ὅτι] οὗτος λαὸς τοῖς χείλεσίν με τιμᾷ, δὲ
καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ· μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με διδάσκοντες
διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων.
But he said to them, “Isaiah rightly prophesied about you hypocrites, as
it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far
from me; they worship me emptily by teaching human precepts as doctrine.’”
Thus, Mark presents Jesus as proclaiming via endorsement that
Isaiah’s point of view is both valid and applicable as a negative judgment
of the Pharisees in the immediate context of situation.
Not every endorsement is as straightforward as this. In fact, in some
expressions from this domain, the writer chooses to “co-opt” the endorsed
voice to make it their own.106 Expressions such as these are realized
through indirect speech, as well as so-called “allusions” and “echoes.”107
At 2 Pet. 2:1–10b, Peter seeks to legitimate108 the point that God will
eventually break into history and right the socioreligious situation by
enacting judgment upon and punishment of the false teachers who “se-
cretly bring in destructive opinions and deny the Master who bought
them” (οἵτινες παρεισάξουσιν αἱρέσεις ἀπωλείας καὶ τὸν ἀγοράσαντα
αὐτοὺς δεσπότην ἀρνούμενοι, 2 Pet. 2:1). In a rather bulky and, therefore,
prominent first-class conditional construction in vv. 4–10b, Peter alludes
to three watershed moments in the traditional story of Israel, namely the
“angels who sinned,” the flood narrative, and the Sodom and Gomorrah
narrative. In each case, he provides enough detail to make salient in the
readers’ collective memory the fact that in the past God has faithfully
judged and punished the wicked and has rescued the righteous faithful
who endured those agonistic situations. This sets the footings in place
upon which the point of view expressed in the apodosis is established:
“the Lord knows to rescue the godly from their trials, yet to keep the
unjust for being punished on the day of judgment” (οἶδεν κύριος εὐσεβεῖς
ἐκ πειρασμοῦ ῥύεσθαι, ἀδίκους δὲ εἰς ἡμέραν κρίσεως κολαζομένους
τηρεῖν, vv. 9–10b). What is important for the current discussion is Peter’s
106 Dvorak, “Incline Another’s Heart,” p. 613; Dvorak, “Prodding,” p. 100.
107 S.E. Porter, “Allusions and Echoes,” in S.E. Porter and C.D. Stanley (eds.), As It
Is Written (SBLSS 50; Atlanta: SBL, 2008), pp. 29–40. Also E.G. Cen, “The Metaphor of
Leaven in 1 Corinthians 5,” Dialogismos 3 (2019), pp. 1–26 (3 n. 5).
108 Fairclough, Analysing Discourse, pp. 98–100.
26 James D. Dvorak
endorsement of tradition to legitimate a particular point of view on the
faithfulness and activity of God.
The final semantic subsystem of Proclaim is Pronouncement. Pronou-
ncements are formulations that involve “authorial emphases or explicit
interventions or interpolations.”109 Pronouncements assume at least some
level of resistance or contrary position (i.e., doubt, challenge) against
which the authorial voice asserts itself.110 The resources in this domain
provide the means for a writer to “raise their voice” in an attempt to be
heard over other voices (i.e., value positions).111 An excellent example is
found at Gal. 5:2–3:
Ἴδε ἐγὼ Παῦλος λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν περιτέμνησθε, Χριστὸς ὑμᾶς οὐδὲν
ὠφελήσει. μαρτύρομαι δὲ πάλιν παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ περιτεμνομένῳ ὅτι
ὀφειλέτης ἐστὶν ὅλον τὸν νόμον ποιῆσαι.
Behold, I Paul tell you that if you would be circumcised, the Messiah
will accomplish nothing for you. Now, I insist112 again to every circumcised
person that they are obligated to do the whole law.
Paul clearly “speaks up” to interject his apostolic perspective on
circumcision. Note the use of ἴδε (“pay attention”) and the “redundant”
use of the first person personal pronoun ἐγώ (“I”) combined with Paul’s
explicit naming of himself (Παῦλος) in the first clause. These are clearly
marked and linguistically prominent. Further, it must not be missed that
both of these clause nexuses are presented as projections of speech (“α I
Paul tell you β that…” and “α I insist… β that…”). Structuring meanings
in this way adds linguistic bulk and complexity and forces the reader
to slow down, thereby creating prominence—and adding clarity—to the
point that Paul wishes to make. Any alternate view on circumcision is
forced to the side as a result of Paul thrusting his perspective into the
Dialogic Contraction through Disclamation
In addition to selections from Proclaim, a language user may contract
dialogic space in the colloquy through selections from the system of
Disclamation. Disclamations are formulations in which some alternative
109 Martin and White, Language of Evaluation, p. 127; Dvorak, “Interpersonal Meta-
function,” p. 81.
110 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 81.
111 Ibidem, p. 81.
112 J.P. Louw and E.A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domains (vol.
2; New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), p. 425.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
voice or value position is brought into the colloquy in order to be rejected
or supplanted.113 This system has Denial and Counter as subsystems. De-
nial organizes the resources for the explicit rejection of a value or point
of view,114 and, of course, negative polarity plays a key role. Colossians 1:9
provides an example: “For this reason…we, too, have not ceased praying
and asking on your behalf…” (διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς…οὐ παυόμεθα ὑπὲρ
ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι καὶ αἰτούμενοι…). With οὐ παυόμεθα (“we have
not ceased”) Paul manifestly denies the alternative position that he and his
colleagues had ceased praying on the Colossians’ behalf. Word negation
can also play a role in denial, as at 1 Tim. 6:7a: “For we carried nothing
into the world…” (οὐδὲν γὰρ εἰσηνέγκαμεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον). Here, the
negative pronoun οὐδέν, serving at the object of the verb, expresses a
denial of the view that “we” brought anything into the world. Care must
be taken when considering word negation, for in some cases the negator
could be negating an elided verb and, thus, the main clause rather than a
word or word group is negated.115
Language users who wish to subvert or supplant a value position or
point of view that has previously been brought into the text may do so
with selections from Counter.116 Counters “project on to the addressee
particular beliefs or expectations or…particular axiological paradigms,”117
but then supplant them with another that the writer wants the readers
to adopt.118 The most obvious form of countering occurs in concession/
counter pairs; these may be realized in the lexicogrammar through fea-
tures such as the concessive use of participles and certain conjunctions/
particles like εἰ καί (“even though”). At Rom. 1:22 Paul introduces a
concession with a participle, which he then immediately counters with an
aorist passive indicative verb: “Although claiming to be wise, they were
made foolish” (φάσκοντες εἶναι σοφοὶ ἐμωράνθησαν). At 2 Cor. 12:11,
the concession follows the point of view Paul wants his readers to take
up: “For I lack nothing in comparison to the ‘super-apostles,’ even though
I am nothing” (οὐδὲν γὰρ ὑστέρησα τῶν ὑπερλίαν ἀποστόλων εἰ καὶ
οὐδέν εἰμι).
113 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 82; Martin and White, Language of Evalu-
ation, p. 118.
114 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 127.
115 E.g., Col. 3:2 where μή negates an elided imperative. S.E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek
New Testament (2nd ed.; Biblical Languages: Greek 2; London: Continuum, 1994), p. 283.
116 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” pp. 83–84; Dvorak, “Incline Another’s
Heart,” pp. 611–14.
117 Martin and White, Language of Evaluation, p. 121.
118 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 84.
28 James D. Dvorak
Finally, Appraisal Theory models the linguistic resources for increa-
sing or decreasing the intensity of attitudes or engagement strategies as
a system called Graduation. These impact orientational meaning in that
they express the language user’s “assessments of meaning by degree rather
than categorical distinctions” that would be associated with presentatio-
nal meaning.119 Such assessments are realized through selections from
two subsystems of scalability, namely Force or Focus.120 Each of these is
quite delicate; however, due to space constraints, the description offered
here is necessarily brief, but should still communicate the significance
of this domain for making meaning.121 The semantics of Graduation,
although modeled as a separate semantic domain, function across both
Attitude and Engagement. It impacts Attitude because a defining feature
of the semantics of Affect, Judgment and Appreciation is the scalability
of meanings.122 Scalability is also a general property of Engagement in
relation to a writer’s intensity or degree of investment in a particular
value position or point of view.123
Force is the system language users draw upon in order to up-scale
or down-scale intensity or amount. Rhetorically, selections made from
this domain increase or decrease the “volume” of a given attitudinal ex-
pression or to express the relative strength one has in regards to a point
of view and/or their attempt to position others to a point of view. These
kinds of meanings are realized lexicogrammatically in fairly common
ways, including at least the following:
modification of adjectives (including adjectival participles), e.g.,
“exceedingly wealthy” (πλούσιος σφόδρα, Luke 18:23)
modification of adverbs (including adverbial participles), e.g.,
“more abundantly” (μᾶλλον περισσότερον, Mark 7:36)
up/down-scaling of processes: “they cried out excessively”
(περισσῶς ἔκραζον, Matt. 27:23)
comparative and superlative adjectives (for localized or relative
scaling): “most gladly” (ἥδιστα, 2 Cor. 12:15)
119 S. Hood and J.R. Martin, “Invoking Attitude: The Play of Graduation in Appraising
Discourse,” in R. Hasan, C. Matthiessen, and J. Webster (eds.), Continuing Discourse on
Language (vol. 2; London: Equinox, 2007), pp. 739–64 (743).
120 Dvorak, “Incline Another’s Heart,” p. 615.
121 For fuller discussion, see Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” pp. 93–103.
122 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 94.
123 Ibidem, p. 94.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
Force may also be realized lexically. The following attitudinal lexis
appear to be scaled along clines from lesser to greater intensity:124
εὔσπλαγχνος (compassionate) < πολύσπλαγχνος (very compas-
λύπη (sad) < περίλυπος (very sad) < ἀγωνία (intense sorrow) < τὴν
ψυχὴν διέρχεται ῥομφαία (to feel intense sorrow)
ἀγαλλιάω (to be very happy) < σκιρτάω (to be extremely happy or
μόλις (rarely/scarcely) < πυκνότερον (more often) < πυκνός (of-
Another common means of intensifying force is repetition, which
may be realized through lexical repetition or some broader semantic
repetition such as synonymy, antonymy, meronomy. Examples include
the Trisagion (“Holy, holy, holy” [ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος], Rev. 4:8) and vice
and virtue lists, where lists of semantically related terms serve to portray
what types of behavior or character to enact or to avoid.125
Finally, one may scale up or down force by means of quantification.
Quantifications include scales of amount (e.g., size, weight, strength,
number) and extent (e.g., how recent, how near, how distant).126 These
measures range from more concrete (ἰχθύων μεγάλων [“large fish”], John
21:11) to more abstract (χαρᾶς μεγάλης [“great joy”], Luke 24:52). They
may be imprecise (e.g., ὀλίγος [“few”]) or precise (πολύς [“many”]).127
Many of the realizations in the New Testament involve the adjectives
πᾶς or πολύς. At Phlm. 1:8, Paul writes “…although having much asser-
tiveness in Christ… (πολλὴν ἐν Χριστῷ παρρησίαν ἔχων), where the
imprecise adjective πολλήν does more than just ramp up the extent of
Paul’s παρρησίαν (an expression of presentational meaning) but also,
interpersonally, boosts Paul’s “social capital” such that it positions him
as equal in status with Philemon, if not signaling slightly greater status.
The subsystem of Focus provides the means of scaling in regards
to prototypicality those categories that are “clearly bounded, either-or
categories which operate in experiential taxonomies where category
membership is more or less precisely determine by some combination of
124 These clines, based on entries in Louw and Nida, Lexicon, are tentative. Dvorak,
“Interpersonal Metafunction,” pp. 99–102.
125 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 102.
126 Ibidem, p. 102.
127 Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 103.
sufficient and necessary conditions.”128 An example of sharpening focus
occurs at 1 Tim. 5:3, where Paul writes χήρας τίμα τὰς ὄντως χήρας
(“Honor widows who are real widows”).129 Blurring focus occurs at Rom.
1:11, where Paul selects the indefinite pronoun τι for a softening effect:
ἐπιποθῶ γὰρ ἰδεῖν ὑμᾶς, ἵνα τι μεταδῶ χάρισμα ὑμῖν πνευματικὸν…
(“For I long to see you, so that I might share some sort of spiritual gift
with you…”). As illustrated in each of these cases, making selections from
Focus provides a way for language users to reconstrue presentational
categories (χήρα and χάρισμα) to an orientational semantic with the re-
sult that belonging to a presentational category is no longer an either-or
proposition (X is or is not of this or that category) but a matter of degree
(X is more or less exemplary or prototypical of this or that category).
These sorts of expressions are perspectival and orientational, and they
function to position readers to agree or not agree with the assessment or
value position.
Social Identity (Re-)Formation: Acts 13:12 as a Test Case
In order to demonstrate how selections from the system of Appraisal
factor into social identity (re-)formation in the New Testament, I offer an
interpretation of the interaction between Saul/Paul (hereafter, Paul) and
Bar-Jesus/Elymas (hereafter, Elymas) recorded in Acts 13:1–12. This
text is laden with instances of both inscribed and betokened Attitude,
much if not most of which is negative, with the result that the entire
stretch of text has a negative tinge to it. While the bulk of this text is
monoglossic, I will mention one particular strategy that Paul selects from
Engagement and demonstrate how it contracts the dialogue. Expressions
of Graduation will be noted as well.
The entire textual unit runs from 13:1–12, and it contains eight the-
matic subunits, which are determined on the basis of thematic actors:130
1. v. 1 — thematic actors: prophets and teachers (προφῆται καὶ
2. vv. 2–3 — thematic actor: Holy Spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον)
128 Martin and White, Language of Evaluation, p. 173. It is possible to scale up or down
an attitudinal term in regards to prototypicality (e.g., γνησίως…μεριμνήσει [“genuinely
concerned,” Phil. 2:20]) (Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 96 n. 173).
129 Here ὄντως functions as a definer of the second instance of χήρα in this clause,
not as an adverb modifying τίμα (see Also “real” is not set in opposition
to “false” or “phony”; rather, as 1 Tim. 5:4–5 makes clear, it is opposed to “ordinary” or
“typical” (Dvorak, “Interpersonal Metafunction,” p. 96 n. 174).
130 J.D. Dvorak and R.W. Walton, “Clause as Message: Theme, Topic, and Information
Flow in Mark 2:1–12 and Jude,” BAGL 3 (2014), pp. 31–85 (45–51).
James D. Dvorak
3. v. 4–7a thematic actors: they (αὐτοὶ) (i.e., Barnabas and Saul/Paul)
4. v. 7b thematic actor: this [person] (οὗτος) (i.e., the proconsul
Sergius Paulus)
5. v. 8 — thematic actor: Elymas (Ἐλύμας)
6. vv. 9–11a — thematic actor: Saul/Paul (Σαῦλος…ὁ καὶ Παῦλος)
7. v. 11b — thematic actors: mist and darkness (ἀχλὺς καὶ σκότος)
8. v. 12 — thematic actor: the proconsul (ἀνθύπατος)
The first three thematic subunits (vv. 1–7b) describe the setting,
construe the motivating circumstances, and introduce the players in
the scene. The remaining thematic subunits construe the story’s rising
action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. I will focus my attention
on the interaction between Paul and Elymas, but the first three the-
matic subunits contain a number of appraisals that are significant for
both the presentational and orientational meanings of this text. First,
the social roles of prophet and teacher are viewed positively in the early
Jesus groups as being gifts from God for the purpose of interpreting
the word of God in order to mature the believers (see 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph.
2:20; 4:11–16); thus, those that are named in v. 1 as filling these roles
are, by implication, viewed positively, and that five people are named
also shines a positive light on the ekklēsia in Antioch (i.e., a token of
positive appreciation regarding social value). Further, that they were
“serving the Lord and fasting” (λειτουργούντων δὲ αὐτῶν τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ
νηστευόντων, v. 2a) betokens a positive judgment of propriety, and that
those named received a word from the Holy Spirit betokens of positive
judgment of normality. That is, as a result of their appropriate behavior,
they were esteemed as “special.” Second, that the Holy Spirit specifically
commanded that Barnabas and Paul be set apart for the work to which
he called them (ἀφορίσατε δή μοι τὸν Βαρναβᾶν καὶ Σαῦλον εἰς τὸ
ἔργον ὃ προσκέκλημαι αὐτούς, v. 2) betokens either a positive judgment
of normality (if the Spirit’s choice was made on the basis of their prior
behavior), or a positive appreciation in regards to their worthiness for
the calling they received (if their prior behavior is not in view). Finally,
that Barnabas and Paul heed the call and proclaim the word of God in the
synagogues of the Judeans, betokens a positive judgment of tenacity (i.e.,
they are esteemed as faithful, reliable prophets on God’s behalf), which
is intensified by the extent of their travel itinerary (vv. 4–6a). From an
orientational perspective, Luke’s stance toward the Antioch church and
Barnabas and Paul is very positive. As he sees it, everything is as it should
be, and he positions his readers to see it this way, too. This construes an
appropriate background for interpreting Paul’s rather intense interaction
with Elymas as described in vv. 9–11.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
Within this narrower frame, the main interactants are Elymas and
Paul, as well as the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, who plays a supporting
role.131 The least appraised of these is Sergius Paulus; nevertheless, he is es-
teemed in this text: once explicitly, being called an “intelligent/wise man”
(a positive judgment of capacity); and twice indirectly, once by the fact
that he sought to hear the word of the Lord (a token of positive judgment
of propriety) (v. 7), and once by the fact that he correctly interpreted the
outcome of the situation and “believed” (also a token of positive judgment
of capacity) (v. 12). Paul, too, is appraised positively and highly esteemed:
(1) that he (with Barnabas) is summoned by the proconsul to speak the
word of the Lord (v. 7) implies a positive judgment of capacity; (2) that
he is said to have been “filled with the Holy Spirit” before he addresses
Elymas implies a positive judgment of capacity (the Holy Spirit gives him
competence to speak to Elymas in the situation);132 and (3) that what he
prophesies actually comes to pass implies a positive judgment of veracity.
Elymas is the most appraised character in the story, and it is all neg-
ative. First, Luke introduces him into the story as a μάγος (“magician”)
and ψευδοπροφήτην Ἰουδαῖον (“Judean false prophet”) (v. 6). Both ste-
reotypes express the narrator’s negative judgment either in regards to te-
nacity, since these roles suggest untrustworthiness, or possibly in regards
to propriety since these roles could also suggest immoral behavior.133 Sec-
ond, Elymas is portrayed by Luke as resisting Paul and Barnabas by seek-
ing to turn the proconsul away from [the] faith (v. 8). Resisting these men
who were specially chosen by the Holy Spirit clearly betokens a negative
judgment of propriety on the part of Elymas. Third, in a veritable tidal
wave of negativity, Paul—or perhaps the Holy Spirit through Paul—ad-
dresses Elymas with a burst of negative attitude expressed through social
name calling. In fact, Paul addresses Elymas with three negative forms
of address,134 and this sort of “piling up” has an intensifying effect (i.e.,
scales up Force) and clearly communicates that Paul is utterly opposed to
Elymas’s stance toward the faith and the word of God. Paul first address-
es Elymas as “one who is full of all treachery and all unscrupulousness”
(πλήρης παντὸς δόλου καὶ πάσης ῥᾳδιουργίας). Treachery (δόλος) and
131 Barnabas, the devil, and a guide are “extras” in the scene.
132 It is possible to analyze this as a token of positive Judgment of God/Holy Spirit, if
one takes God to be responsible for what was spoken with Paul as mouthpiece.
133 L.T. Johnson notes that for Luke, “magic is consistently associated with demonic
powers” (Acts of the Apostles [Sacra Pagina 5; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992], p.
147). Also, “Judean false prophet” (ψευδοπροφήτην Ἰουδαῖον) clearly stands in negative
contrast to the “prophets and teachers” who were part of the Antioch church.
134 On the interpersonal effects of the vocative, see B.B. Hunt, “Brothers, Sisters—Adul-
teresses! Establishing and Maintaining Tenor Relations in James,” in Dvorak and Dawson
(eds.), The Epistle of James, pp. 246–77.
James D. Dvorak
unscrupulousness (ῥᾳδιουργία) refer to moral qualities or behaviors135
that are incommensurate with the values of the ekklēsia, with particular
regard in this context to the proclamation of God’s word. Elymas’s de-
sire to turn the proconsul away from the faith (ζητῶν διαστρέψαι τὸν
ἀνθύπατον ἀπὸ τῆς πίστεως, v. 8) is, thus, judged negatively in regards
to propriety. Moreover, this negative judgment is scaled up. Both πλήρης
(“full”) and both forms of πᾶς (“all/every”) that are used are expressions
of graduation, each adding force to Paul’s negative judgment of Elymas.
That these lexical items collocate with each other expresses Paul’s strong
feelings of judgment of Elymas.
A second label with which Paul addresses Elymas is “son of the devil”
(υἱὲ διαβόλου). Here Paul draws upon negative kinship stereotyping in
his appraisal of Elymas. Kinship stereotyping was based on the notion
that children mimicked their parents in both mind and form, and this
likeness “was held to extend beyond physical appearance to emotions,
predispositions and moral character.”136 Additionally, “an important ele-
ment of this likeness was the children’s adoption of the parents’ traditions,
especially their religious observances.”137 Because Elymas sought to turn
the proconsul away from the faith, he was, in Paul’s estimation, acting in
a manner expected of the devil in terms of being a deceiver who is op-
posed to God’s divine purposes (cf. John 8:44; 1 John 3:8, 10; Rev. 20:10).
Thus, addressing Elymas as “son of the devil” is a token of negative judg-
ment in regards to propriety, because he has acted just like his “father.”
Paul also addresses Elymas as one who is an “enemy of all justice/
righteousness” (ἐχθρὲ πάσης δικαιοσύνης, v. 10). Perhaps it goes without
saying that the label “enemy” rather straightforwardly expresses negative
judgment, but to be clear, an enemy is one who stands opposed to a par-
ticular person or group and their core values. Here, Elymas is portrayed
as opposed to the value of “justice.” In the world of the New Testament,
the value of justice was rooted in patronage and generalized reciprocity,
and this was overlaid with a fictive-kin framework.138 For Jesus followers,
God was the Patron par excellence who freely chose for himself a people
and who outfitted them with what they needed to do good deeds that
would bring him honor. Paul understood his ministry as just this sort of
gift, so he fulfilled it to the honor of God (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10; 15:10).139 In the
135 Both appear in Louw and Nida domain 88, “Moral and Ethical Qualities and Related
136 deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, p. 187.
137 Ibidem, p. 187.
138 B.J. Malina, “Patronage,” in Pilch and Malina (eds.), Biblical Social Values, pp.
131–34 (131).
139 See deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, pp. 141–48 on appropriate responses
to the Benefactor for his great benefaction.
The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
current context, the justice that Paul was trying to enact came through
the proclamation of the word of the Lord. Thus, for Elymas to be ad-
dressed as one who is opposed to all justice is to say that he was opposed
to the proclamation of the word of the Lord and the benefactive results of
that message. Elymas was, thus, disloyal to the Benefactor God—clearly a
negative judgment of propriety.140 Also, with the intensifier πᾶς (“all”/“ev-
ery”) Paul, in expected stereotypical fashion, broadens his judgment of
Elymas to include not only this incident involving the proconsul but any
and all attempts to spread the word of God. After all, this is what would
have been expected of anyone who is a “son of the devil.”
In the final stretch of v. 10, Paul levels a serious accusation against
Elymas in the form of a question: “You will not cease making crooked the
straight paths of the Lord, will you?” (οὐ παύσῃ διαστρέφων τὰς ὁδοὺς
[τοῦ] κυρίου τὰς εὐθείας).141 Note that the question is a closed, leading
question. In terms of engagement, although Paul assumes that another
point of view exists (and that Elymas likely holds that view), the ques-
tion contracts dialogic space so that Paul’s perspective is presented as the
only viable one.142 This is accomplished through the use of the negator οὐ
(“not”) in the question, which positions Elymas to respond in agreement
(Concurrence) with Paul: “You’re correct, Paul, I will not cease making
crooked the straight paths of the Lord.”143 Given that making crooked
the ways of the Lord is “naturally” negative for those in the ekklēsía, and
that this question collocates with the negative address formulae, it is clear
that the judgment inherent in Paul’s question is negative. Bluntly, it is a
negative judgment that blames and shames Elymas for opposing God’s
beneficent efforts.
As Paul’s engagement with Elymas winds down in v. 11, things
do not improve for Elymas. Paul prophesies that the hand of the Lord
would be against Elymas, that he would be struck blind, and that a mist
and darkness would befall him. Luke reports that these things, indeed,
happened to Elymas, and did so “immediately” (παραχρῆμα) after Paul
had foretold of them. All of this together betokens even greater negative
judgment of Elymas in regards to propriety: he did something wrong and
is punished for it.144
140 Recall that judgments have to do with behavior/actions. Here the judgment that
Elymas is an enemy is based on his action to thwart the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in
sharing the word of God with Sergius Paulus.
141 Dvorak, “Ask,” pp. 196–245 (218–19); and Neyrey, “Questions,” pp. 657–81.
142 Dvorak, “Ask,” pp. 212, 218–19.
143 Ibidem, pp. 211–19.
144 That these things happened after Paul had prophesied them also betokens positive
judgment of Paul (+ Judgment: normality or possibly + Judgment: capacity).
James D. Dvorak
Summary and Conclusion
This sort of analysis helps us to see that, in telling this story, Luke de-
fends—albeit negatively—the value position that it is God’s will that the
word of the Lord should be proclaimed throughout the known world—even
to outsiders. In terms of identity (re-)formation, the story functions as an
exemplum that sets side by side two basic social identities that operate on
the basis of the stereotypical axiom “like Patron/parent, like client/child.”
On the one hand are Barnabas and Paul, who, along with others from
Antioch, serve the Lord and fast and pray and, by all counts seek to honor
God the Patron. They receive a call from the Holy Spirit, himself, and
they are sent out to proclaim the word of God. They accept the call from
the Patron and are willing to travel extensively to fulfill their mission.
This is a social identity that is grounded in the Father/Patron such that
their loyalty to him is expressed in every deed they do. On the other hand
is Elymas. He is introduced into the colloquy as a questionable character.
He is Judean, but he is called a false prophet and a magos (v. 6) (do not
miss the fact that he is an antitype of Barnabas and Paul). As Luke tells
it, Elymas goes on to prove by his deeds that he is not only disloyal to
God the Patron, but is actually an enemy of God who tries to thwart the
spreading of God’s word. He has not identified with God or with the Jesus
group and, therefore, does not live by and enact the values that are core to
the ekklēsia. Thus, he exemplifies a social identity that followers of Jesus
are not to adopt. In fact, as the analysis above demonstrates, any group
or person who does not identify with, accept, and adhere to the values
and norms of the Jesus group, could end up having the hand of the Lord
against them and could end up being shunned by the group, just like
Elymas. Texts like these are usually told not for their entertainment value
or merely to pass on information about people, places, things, and ideas,
but to help those who may be struggling with contested social identity to
move away from the fringes of the group’s boundaries toward the center,
so as to identify with and live by the group’s core values.
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The Linguistics of Social Identity Formation in the New Testament
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