In this blog I would like to discuss my adventures of writing a research paper for an Advanced Greek class. Although this will detail a particular study concerning New Testament Greek, the basic pattern presented here may be experienced while writing any style of research paper, especially those that study original languages.

Stage 1: The Topic

            Every good research paper begins with a solid topic. That sounds easy enough: find a good topic and all will go swimmingly. The issues arise when you find a compelling question but you have no idea whether there has been any dialogue concerning the question you have discovered. For Advanced Greek, I had the good fortune of discussing my topic with the professor ahead of time. I wanted to do a comparative study of Mark and Matthew and he suggested that I study the verbs, infinitives, and participles in Mark 8:27–10:52 and their corresponding sections in Matthew. Easy enough.

Stage 2: A Deeper Analysis of the Topic

There are 385 verbs, participles, and infinitives in this section of Mark. Did I really tell the professor that I would do this paper?

Stage 3: Gathering Data

            Research papers built around study of original languages generally require a great deal of personal study with the original text (as opposed to primarily gathering other people’s opinions about the topic). This particular paper required that I identify all of the verbs, participles, and infinitives in Mark 8:27–10:52 and then compare them to corresponding passages in Matthew. Some passages did not have any corresponding passage and others appeared to have more than one. I had to decide whether certain passages in Matthew mirrored Mark enough to suit the study. I placed my information in a spreadsheet, and after 15-20 hours of analysis and 479 lines comparing verbs, participles, and infinitives, I had culled the data necessary to proceed. In addition to this study of the primary source, I also researched articles and books with relevant information that could assist my analysis of Greek verbs, participles, and infinitives.

Stage 4: Reassessing the Data

As I pored over passages again and again, I found verbs, participles, or infinitives that I had missed. My OCD kicked in and I found myself feverishly working through the data to ensure I had an exact analysis. Each foray into the passages, however, revealed slightly different results. I could feel my hair turning grey. Regardless, I formulated calculations based on the data and recorded percentages of various categories.

Stage 5: Panic

In addition to the realization that I probably would not arrive at perfection concerning the data, I experienced the sudden dread that now that I had invested nearly 20 hours into this topic and had no idea if this study would reveal any exegetically relevant findings. At this stage I was beyond the point of return. There was not enough time to choose a new topic (that would require planning that surpasses my particular skills). And so I pressed on and attempted find something, anything that might pass as original and plausible. This is where we as students become extremely close to God. We pray fervently and diligently that He will enlighten us with profound insights that will amaze our professors.

Stage 6: Hope

As I stared desperately at the calculations I had compiled from the data, I began to see patterns emerge. My analysis was not in vain; I discovered insights that I did not previously know. Is it possible that these are original insights?

Stage 7: Inclusion of Secondary Sources

            After consulting secondary sources I discovered that many of my findings were indeed original, or at least little mentioned. Would the professor deem my findings compelling? Will he read the paper? Either way, I knew I at least had enough information to write an acceptable paper. All was well.

Stage 8: Coherence

            In addition to finding original and (to me) compelling information, I was able to ask a key question (and provide a corresponding answer) for each type of analysis of the data that had been suggested by the professor.

My questions were:

  1. Lexical Question: If Matthew is drawing directly from Mark’s text, why does the author deviate from Mark’s choice of words so frequently?

Simple Answer: The two had different rhetorical goals.

  1. Modal Question: Why would Matthew convert these aorist subjunctives to future indicatives?

Simple Answer: Matthew followed the LXX and Mark followed conventional uses of his day, choosing aorist subjunctives (over present imperatives) to emphasize the simple event.

  1. Aspectual Question: Why would Matthew favor the more external, static aorist tense over the internal, dynamic action inherent in the imperfect tense?

Simple Answer: Matthew chose the aorist tense over both the present and imperfect for its static portrayal of events. In contrast to Mark’s longer, dynamic narratives, Matthew moved quickly through narratives and instead favored long discourses.

  1. Time Question: Why would Matthew reverse his own pattern of converting the present tense to aorist by converting the aorist tense to present?

Simple Answer: Who knows for sure? But they function to disrupt the discourse, perhaps to emphasize a new character, scene, or signal a turn in the conversation.

These questions became the basis for the paper and allowed me to present the statistics from the many hours of work I had enacted.

Stage 9: Victory

With my own work and the assistance of helpful secondary sources, the paper came together well. The inclusion of a title paper, colorful charts, and a bibliography put the finishing touches on a successful paper. I knew that I may not receive the paper back, but I had accomplished what I had set out to do: I had asked compelling questions and found somewhat plausible answers. And sometimes in this field of study, that is enough.