When you’re studying a letter you’re really listening in on one side of a conversation. The author refers to people and event that he and the recipients know, but that you and I don’t. However, there are times when you can study both sides of the conversation. And that’s in studying dialogue.
Dialogue shows up in history or linear writings, such as the gospels and Acts in the New Testament. It happens within a story and adds depth and credibility to the story – it help us to understand the focus and point of a passage, so let’s talk about how to handle dialogue.
The first thing is to continue using your colored pencils to keep track of who is talking to whom. Assign a color to each participant.
Next, you need to keep in mind that the pronouns are important in dialogue. If the speaker says “you,” it’s referring to the listener that he’s talking to. That’s pretty obvious, but it helps to hear that rule. Look at Mark 5: 30 where Jesus has several conversations going on at the same time: Jesus says, “Who touched my garment?” The disciples answer, so they assume that He’s talking to them. They then say, “You see the crowd pressing around you (Jesus), and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” The next thing Jesus says is to the woman who has touched his garment, “Daughter, your (woman) faith has made you (woman) well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Then later the servants say, “Your (Jairus) daughter is dead” In these few verses, the word “you” referred to Jesus, the woman with the issue of blood, and Jairus. It’s up to us to use context carefully to determine the owner of the pronoun.
The other thing to pay attention to are the eaves-droppers. Who is standing around listening to the conversation? The reason we pay attention to that is because they are still part of the story – their perspective should still be considered when interpreting the Bible passage. For instance, in these same verses, Jairus is standing there, wishing Jesus would hurry up and forget this woman – his daughter is home dying! But Jairus saw and heard it all – the recounting of a twelve year health battle, her story of her own bravery in touching Jesus’ garment, and the pronouncement by Jesus that she’s healed.
The importance of eaves-droppers in this story is that Jairus was a first-hand witness of the kind of miracle for which he’d sought Jesus. You have to feel his impatience first, then his hope, then his despair as his servants come and tell him that it’s too late and his daughter has died.
Look for other instances of dialogue in the gospels or in Acts. Color code the participants in the conversastion, pay attention to the owners of the pronouns, and look for the presence of eaves-droppers to consider their reaction and aquisition of knowledge. It’s fun!