Four Branches – May 2021

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Exegetical Theology: Direct Speech, Indirect Speech and Reported Consequences

Linguistically speaking, the Gospels read a bit like a Hemingway novel, only with less wine consumed. Hemingway, in contrast to an author like Nathaniel Hawthorne, is recognized for his use of direct speech to convey information about the background, personality, and temperament of his subjects. Often for pages at a time Hemingway uses paragraph after paragraph of dialogue. He doesn’t tell us what to think about his characters. He lets them speak for themselves.

Isn’t that where we can observe a similarity to the gospels? The gospel writers don’t often tell us what to think about Jesus — or anyone else, for that matter. Through the extensive use of direct speech, the gospel writers let Jesus and others speak for themselves.

In language, interesting things happen when conversations are reported. First of all, an oral utterance differs from a written representation of that utterance. If we tried to approximate some of the actual sounds of an utterance, it might look something like this:

Mom: “Hey-a, Susie? Do you want um, ighscream, or-a, cake for dessert?”

Susie: “Scream.”

But if we wrote that down, or told someone else about it, we might write or say something like this:

“Susie, do you want ice cream or cake for dessert?” Mom asked.

“I want ice cream,” she replied.

Second, there are options for how we complete the adjacency pair in a conversation such as this. The previous example uses direct speech. Two other options are indirect speech and reported consequences:

“Susie, do you want ice cream or cake for dessert?” Mom asked.

Susie said that she wanted ice cream.

“Susie, do you want ice cream or cake for dessert?” Mom asked.

Susie went and got an ice cream cone from the pantry.

Since Greek doesn’t use quotation marks to indicate direct speech, how do we tell the difference between direct and indirect? The same way we do in oral conversation. We listen for indicators, the main one being a change in person: “He said, ‘I will go to the store’” vs. “He said he would go to the store.” (Note: While in English we also change the tense of the verb, Greek doesn’t usually do this.) We might also look for the word ὅτι, which is used recitatively to introduce direct speech. But then again, ὅτι can also be used to introduce indirect speech, and translated “that.” Sometimes especially Luke even switches from indirect to direct, or from direct to indirect, in the same sentence. See, for example, Luke 5:14.

Why choose one form of reported speech over another? Reported consequences might be for literary effect, as in Jonah, where the prophet’s actual thoughts are hidden until the final chapter. Indirect speech might cover over something disgraceful, as in the case of Peter’s denying Jesus with an oath that we never hear. But by and large, the gospel writers use direct speech. They aren’t simply humans telling us what to think about Jesus. They let Jesus speak for himself.

Prof. Nathan Ericson serves at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary as Library Director, Director of Educational Technology and Professor of Education.

For further reading:

Cadbury, Henry J. (1929). Lexical Notes on Luke – Acts IV: On direct quotation, with some uses of ὅτι and εἰ. Journal of Biblical Literature, 48(3), pp.412–425. Available at

Decker, Rodney J. (2011). “Direct and Indirect Discourse in Koine Greek.” Baptist Bible Seminary, 2011. Available at

Maier, Emar (2012). Switches between direct and indirect speech in ancient Greek. Journal of Greek Linguistics, 12(1), pp. 118-139. Available at

Maier, Emar (2015). Reported Speech in the Transition from Orality to Literacy. Glotta 91(1). pp. 152-170. Available at

Systematic Theology: What is the Supper?

What is the Supper?  Is it an ordinance, a ritual, a memorial feast, an expression of unity (and a chance to practice closed communion), a “foretaste of the heavenly banquet,” a requirement of faithful church membership?  I suppose one could make the case that the Lord’s Supper is all of those; and yet none of them captures the heart of what the Supper is.  The Lord’s Supper is gospel.

We all say it.  And yet, I think back over the last few months (and beyond), and it seems to me that many recent discussions about the Lord’s Supper (at least the ones I’ve been a part of) have been almost all about procedure, logistics, what is allowed and what isn’t, what is the right way and what might seem like the wrong way, and how it ought to play out both in and out of worship services.  Now, don’t get me wrong; they have been necessary discussions.  They have been meant to address legitimate concerns and reestablish good and godly habits in the face of significant obstacles.

One of the communion hymns in Christian Worship reminds me…”Though the wealth of earth were proffered, naught would buy the gifts here offered: Christ’s true body, for you riven, and his blood, for you once given…human reason, though it ponders, cannot fathom these great wonders, that Christ’s body must be boundless since the souls it feeds are countless…” (CW 311, st. 3, 5).

God’s people need to be reminded what a gift the Supper is, that it is in fact the gospel.  To be sure, some of the faithful who may have been forbidden by circumstances from receiving the sacrament have now been renewed in appreciation for what Christ offers and gives in his Supper.  Others might need a personal invitation to return, not so they can sign their names or check a box, but to dine at the King’s table.  “Though he reigns above most holy, deigns to dwell with you most lowly…hasten as a bride to meet him, and with loving rev’rence greet him, for with words of life immortal He is knocking at your portal.  Open wide the gates before him, saying, as you there adore him: Grant, Lord, that I now receive you, that I nevermore will leave you”  (st. 1, 2).

Now seems like the right time to highlight the beauty of the gospel in the sacrament (as if there were ever a wrong time…).  For some who have been finding excuses to continue worship from the comfort and convenience of home, a bit more care and patience may be needed.  In some cases, a few additional home visits might be helpful to reconnect in person.  In every case, our prayer is that the Church is rebuilt stronger than ever, where each member may or may not be well-versed in the particulars, but all agree on the value of the sacrament and eagerly desire it.  “At your feet I cry, my Maker: Let me be a fit partaker of this blessed food from heaven for our good, your glory, given” (st. 8).

Thank God for the sacrament…and the hymns…and wherever the gospel flows freely.

Rev. Eric Schroeder serves at St. John’s in Wauwatosa, WI.

Historical Theology: Luther’s Spring 1521  Part 3: Luther’s Patmos

With his safe conduct about to expire and the imperial edict looming, the plan to steal Luther away into seclusion and safety had gone remarkably well. The main goal was that Luther not be recognized.

The first order was to find a suitable disguise. In writing to George Spalatin only days after his “abduction” Luther said, “Here I was stripped of my own clothes and dressed in a knight’s cloak. I am letting my hair and beard grow, so that you would hardly know me; I can’t even recognize myself any longer.”[1] As Luther transformed into the knight “Junker Jeorg” the ruse was made complete.

Not that it was all that pleasant to Luther. In that same letter to Spalatin, Luther commented, “I am sitting here all day, drunk with leisure.”[2] Suddenly, being confined and excluded from the fray was a reality with which Luther had to contend.

In his “leisure,” however, Luther was anything but sedentary. His goal from the outset was to be as productive with his time as he could be, however long it might last. “I am reading the Bible in Greek and Hebrew. I shall write a German tract on the freedom of auricular confession. I shall also continue working on the Psalms and the Postil as soon as I have received the necessary things from Wittenberg—among which I also expect the unfinished Magnificat.”[3]

Each of these Luther would accomplish in the course of time. His time at the Wartburg allowed Luther to gain clarity on the subject of auricular confession.[4] As with many facets of ecclesiastical life, Rome had taken something good and comforting and turned it into cold formalism, devoid of the Gospel’s comfort. Luther sought to reverse that, placing the emphasis once again on God’s grace and true repentance in the heart of the sinner.

During the ten months Luther stayed at the Wartburg, he also responded to new issues which arose in his absence. The topic of monastic vows and clerical celibacy, earlier seen by Luther as of secondary importance, became pressing when Wittenberg’s Carlstadt proposed monastic reforms. It was also during this time that the University of Wittenberg held a formal disputation on the Mass, resulting in the first Evangelical Lord’s Supper, at which everyone received the sacrament in both kinds.[5]

The most significant work Luther accomplished during this time was his translation of the New Testament into German. Completed in just eleven weeks, the final product demonstrated Luther’s remarkable grasp of the Scriptures and proficiency in delivering a faithful translation of Scripture into the hands of common people. The impact of this on the German people and Christianity cannot be overestimated.

What began as a very uncertain trip to Worms just after Easter had resulted in a pivotal moment in the Reformation. The added blessing of perspective and production during his time of seclusion, his “Patmos” at the Wartburg, would shape the rest of the reformer’s life and ministry.

Rev. Matthew Kiecker serves at St. John’s in Lomira, WI.

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 48: Letters I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 48, p. 228). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

[2] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 48: Letters I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 48, p. 225). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

[3] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 48: Letters I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 48, p. 225). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

[4] The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) had made it a requirement that, in order to maintain good standing in the Roman Church, one had to make confession at least once a year.

Practical Theology: Greco-Roman Rhetoric for Preachers: Ethos

In his Rhetoric (1.b.3), Aristotle distinguishes three rhetorical proofs: logos, pathos, and ethos.  Ethos is the most difficult.  It refers to the relationship between the hearers and speaker, such that the hearers trust the speaker’s reliability and character.  Aristotle defines it as “the moral character of the speaker.”  He explains further that an orator persuades his hearers “by moral character when his speech is delivered in such a manner as to render him worthy of confidence,” and this, in fact, “constitutes the most effective means of proof” (1.b.4).  Once again, we’ll look at the biblical precedent in 1 Thessalonians and then note some applications.

Particularly Lutheran preachers, sensitive to how God’s Word is intrinsically efficacious, may object that any consideration of ethos places far too much consideration on the speaker, who remains a mere clay jar.  However, in 1 Thessalonians 2:4-10, Paul confidently asserts that he speaks “as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.”  He also publicly defends his character, “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed.” He asserts that “because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”   He then rather provocatively sets forth his own life in a way that would probably make us feel uncomfortable, “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.”  Consider the rhetorical function.  Paul’s appeal clearly intends to demonstrate why his hearers can trust him.  He recognizes that his actions could easily discredit his message, so he goes to such lengths to show how much he cares for his people.  Paul is willing to place his life out on the line for his hearers to examine.

Here are two applications as preachers today consider ethos:

  1. Why are you more willing to buy a product based on a personal recommendation compared to an advertisement?  This illustrates why ethos is even more important to Millennials or GenZ, who typically distrust institutions and can view theological messaging as little more than advertising.
  2. Consider two texts from CWS lectionary where ethos is on full display: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (Pentecost 20A) and Hebrews 13:7-21 (Pentecost 9B).  In the first, Paul defends himself that he has not withheld his open heart from the Corinthians – but they have – and so he challenges them to open their hearts as wide as his is.  In the second, the writer urges the Hebrews to imitate, obey, and pray for their spiritual leaders, because they live honorably.  If the hearers do not trust the speaker’s character to practice what he preaches, the whole argument falls apart.  If we attempt to model these appeals today, these sermons can be tremendously powerful – or potentially disastrous! – and it all hinges on the relationship between the pastor and congregation.  Here are recent examples of how I (carefully) challenged my congregation to imitate me – cf. highlights.

Resources: In my Summer 2020 WLQ article, I argued that there is no room for a preacher to hide in the pulpit.  Not only are his theology and academic abilities on full display, but so are his knowledge of the surrounding culture and his personal relationship to the congregation.  How exposed do you feel when this topic of ethos lays bare the preacher’s lifestyle?  Why?

Rev. Jacob Haag is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, MI, and a member of the Michigan District Commission on Worship.

[5] James M. Kittelson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986), 169.