Twenty-Five Seedlings for your Dissertation

Even in the early stages of Ph.D. studies, students should consider areas of research for their dissertation. Many avenues are open to students who wish to invest years of their life researching and writing about the Scriptures. Stephen Neill’s summary of the commentary methodology of the Cambridge three, J.B. Lightfoot, B.F. Westcott, and F.J.A. Hort provides an enduring rubric for how students of the Scriptures should go about their work. Lightfoot, Westcott, and Hort served together at the University of Cambridge from 1860-1900 and countered German higher criticism as it marched westward to the British Isles. The Cambridge three chart a course that Evangelicals yet walk.

Neill notes that Lightfoot, Westcott, and Hort employed a five-fold process for their New Testament commentary work. For them, a New Testament commentary must be (1) critical: based upon the most accurate Greek text possible, (2) linguistic: based upon philology and analysis of sentences, (3) historical: grounded in the situation in which it appears to have been written, (4) exegetical: presenting the message as the first readers would have heard it, and (5) theological: guided by the rule of faith that has guided Christians from the early church to the present day (Neill and Wright: 93-94). Students would do well to see these five as points of entry for the dissertation in Biblical studies. The final product of the dissertation will advance one area while explaining how it contributes to the other four.

Corpus linguistics and discourse analysis contribute to (2). Lightfoot, Westcott, and Hort read the New Testament and the literature of its world to produce their commentaries. Modern students have the advantage of computer software that can gather linguistic data in seconds. But, as Matthew Brooke O’Donnell notes, “Large corpora and powerful retrieval programs are not a substitute for an intelligent linguist and a close reading of the text” (O’Donnell: 209). When the linguistically-minded interpreter identifies lexical and grammatical patterns in a text, Bible software provides a means of confirming or denying those patterns.

In what follows, I list twenty-five linguistic seedlings for dissertations in Biblical studies. In reading Scripture, I have noticed patterns in the following areas and confirmed them using Bible software. Linguistically-minded students, yet sensitive to the broader five-fold commentary process advocated by Lightfoot, Westcott, and Hort above, could grow these seedlings into a dissertation and contribute to the field of Biblical studies.

The Imperfect tense form in LXX Exodus 1-6

Imperatives, Future Indicatives, and Aorist Subjunctives in LXX Deuteronomy 20-26

Aorist Middle Indicatives in the Psalms

Datives in LXX Isaiah 40-66

Shepherd Imagery in LXX Zech 9-14 and Jer 25-32

ἐμοί (as a pronoun) in the New Testament

Imperatives in Matthew 5-10

ἀναγι(γ)νώσκω in the Gospels and Acts

The Imperfect in the Gospel of Mark      

Female Figures in Luke/Acts with reference to Verbs of Speech

ἔργον in Johannine Literature

ἐκ in John and Revelation

Subjunctives in the John 11-12, 15, 17, 19; 1 John 1; Revelation 18

Verbal Aspect of the Indicative Mood in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16)

μνεία and Verbal Combinations in the New Testament

Infinitives in Acts 23-27 and Hebrews 5-7              

Use of the Imperfect in Paul  

The Genitive Case in Romans 1-8

Terms of Cognition (Louw & Nida 28-30) in Romans 5-8

Analysis of Adverbs in Select Sections of Pauline Epistles (Rom 5-7; Phil 3-4; 1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 11-12; 1 Thes 2)

Conditional Statements in Galatians and James

Imperatives in 1-2 Timothy

Imperatives 1 Peter and James

Participles in 1 John

The Genitive Case in Revelation 1-5


Neill, Stephen, and N. T. Wright. The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

O’Donnell, Matthew Brook. Corpus Linguistics & the Greek of the New Testament. New Testament Monographs 6. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005.