26 September 2009


intertextual(I made a few revisions to this post after ruminating on it after I posted it. Hopefully the line of thought is a bit clearer as a result.)

In my studies in the Book of Acts lately I’ve been thinking about the issue of intertextuality. The term is a school of thought that attempts to investigate the interconnectedness between texts. A good way to describe it is to think of a bricoleur (handyman or craftsman) who creates improvised structures by appropriating pre-existing materials which are ready-to-hand. The bricoleur constructs new arrangements by the practice of bricolage through several key transformations: addition, deletion, substitution and transposition.

Of course, one always needs a good academic quote to explain things:

The term “intertextuality” is of rather recent coinage in both Jewish and Christian circles. It denotes not just relationships among texts, but also relationships between texts and their cultures.”

Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic period, pg. xx

The phenomena of intertextuality – the imbedding of fragments of an earlier text within a latter one – has always played a major role in the cultural traditions that are heir to Israel’s Scripture: the voice of Scripture, regarded as authoritative in one way or another, continues to speak in and through latter texts that both depend on and transform the earlier.”

Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, pg. 14

I think the key concept here is that intertextuality “denotes not just relationships among texts, but also relationships between texts and their cultures.” In scripture, it is the enculturation of a concept from one culture to another, i.e., from ancient Hebrew culture to the Greek-Jewish culture of the New Testament.

One good example on intertextuality that recurs throughout the Jewish scriptures is God’s Passover the five books of Moses (Ex. 23:10-19; Lev. 23:4-8), with synoptic views in Ex. 12:1-13 and Deut. 16:1-8, and echoed in Ezk 45:21-24 and Ezra 6:19-22. It is picked up again in the New Testament as the writers wrestled with the idea of a New Passover taking place in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 5:7):

7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast- as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

Paul is the master of intertextuality,one need only to look at Romans and his understanding of Abraham (in Gen. 15) and what God wants to do for Israel.

There are obvious examples of this in the New Testament, such as the use of the texts in the Gospel of Matthew related to the coming of messiah. For example, Matt. 1:20ff:

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us).

What I see here is that there is more involved than seeing this passage as a prophecy; for me it resonates with how this fits into God’s plan for his people.

Often prophecy is used for apologetic purposes, more to support the idea how it is mathematically improbable for one person to fulfill all these prophecies of Messiah, yet here is Jesus, who fits the bill exactly. Put this prophecy on the pile with other scriptures that will rationally and intellectually prove beyond a doubt that the bible is true and God is real.

This is the same as someone describing a movie to us, giving us the bits they enjoyed, but missing the plot of the story completely.

By doing this, I think we miss the benefit of seeing what God is doing through out the ages to bring his plan to fruition, if we only see OT scripture as a proof text. To quote N. T. Wright:

God had a single plan all along through which he intended to rescue the world and the human race, and that this single plan was centered upon the call of Israel, a call which Paul saw coming to fruition in Israel’s representative, the Messiah (Justification, p 35).

Wright also states that failure to read scripture this way is like trying to figure out a puzzle with half the pieces missing.

So the key is to maintain the unity of the text without ignoring the bits that help us to understand what God is doing in the world.

As one writer states, it is the “absorption et transformation de l’autre text” (the absorption and transformation of another text.) It is the idea of a dialogue taking place between the writer and another text or dialogue.

I share this because as I look over the writings of the new testament and how it is related to event of the Old Testament, it leads me to rethink the role of what we commonly call prophecy. It is not that I don’t believe in prophecy, but I do believe that we should not lift stories and events about how God worked (and is working)among his people and set them up as kind of a proof text, independent of context and connection to the rest of God’s work. Kind of misses the point, I think.

(image credit here)




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