Lens #6: Allusions

The Bible is full of allusions — moments when what we are reading looks an awful lot like something we’ve read before. The writers of the Bible do this intentionally. Alluding to earlier tradition lends legitimacy to their own writings. They do this by quoting directly from that tradition and by setting up their narrative so it reminds the reader of that earlier tradition. Catching the allusions in the Bible is difficult in our modern era when Biblical fluency is quite uncommon. But we can train ourselves as we study to notice allusions, thereby helping us see how the library of the Bible converses with itself.

Prompts for Discussion

Use the comments box below (under “Leave a Reply”) to discuss some of these prompts. You can post more than one comment and respond to other people’s comments The first time you do it, you many need to provide some basic info like name and email.

1) Open up your Bible to a random page of the Gospel (whichever account you’d like) and count the number of quotations on the page from the Hebrew Scriptures. Then flip back to those places and read the quotations in their context. Does anything jump out at you?

(Many study Bibles will point you to the quoted verses; if not, you can just type a few words of the verse into Google and it should come right up.)

2) Open your Bible to the first chapter of the Gospel According to John. Read the first three words, and see if you can figure out to what in the Hebrew Scriptures John is alluding. Why, do you think, does he make such an allusion?

3) Type-scenes are not the only “types” in the Bible. Sometimes, writers will also use people as types. In a couple of places, Paul compares Adam from the book of Genesis with Jesus. Check out Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.

4) See if you can find another type-scene in the Gospel. To what is the scene alluding? How does the earlier tradition open up the meaning of the Gospel narrative?

If you’re having trouble, I’ll give you a hint: Check out the first few chapters of the Gospel According to Matthew, especially the bits about King Herod and Jesus’ family.

5) Read Acts 8:26-40 and focus especially on the quotation from the scroll that the eunuch is reading. This is one of the most famous quotations in the entire Bible (You may have heard it in Handel’s Messiah). Go back and read the passage from Isaiah in its entirety (Isaiah 52-53) and reflect on how Christians have interpreted this passage to be a prophecy about Jesus Christ.

< Lens #5: Parallels transparent transparent transparent Lens #7: Context >

2 responses to “Lens #6: Allusions

  1. Kent Wittrup

    I find I’ve been teaching allusions in reverse–on the too-rare occasions when TeenText assigns the liturgical Old Testament lesson, I’ve told my students “Look, this anticipates” something from the Gospels more than once by now. Meanwhile Oxford Emeritus Professor Richard Gombrich is making this exact point about the Vedic Upanishads and subsequent Buddhist Pali Canon in the current issue of Tricycle, the Buddhist Quarterly–really fascinating article. Many thanks again, K


  2. Gordon Stevenson

    Adam, I’ve always loved the way that “master of allusions”, “Professor” Matthew does his very best to “tie togather” the New Testament with the “Old” via “allusions”. You mention that you are not talking about “illusions” (and I thought for a moment that you were going to add: “delusions”). I too concur in Kent’s observations! GMS


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