An Introduction to Biblical Narrative Analysis (Part 6b: Allusions and Quotes)

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An Introduction to Biblical Narrative Analysis (Part 6b: Allusions and Quotes)

Allusions and quotes are a common indicator of intertextuality in Scripture, and finding the connecting passage helps bring out the depth of the message. A quote is a clear indication that both the text including it and the text quoted, need to be understood in relation to each other.

 

This does not mean that without exploring the quote in its primary context, we cannot understand the passage at all, but this exploration will bring out the meaning in much greater depth.

 

Allusions usually consist of phrases or keywords that make reference to events, places, or people, indicating a connection with another passage in Scripture where that phrase or keyword is used. They are less clear connectors than quotes, yet they also provide a good avenue for a better understanding of a passage.

 

As an example, we will look at the dialogue between God and Satan in Matthew 4:1-11–a unique narrative with a high concentration of biblical quotes and allusions.

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”(ESV, emphases mine)

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

The quotations make up almost a third of the narrative. Four times the words “it is written” introduces Old Testament Scripture verses. Both Jesus and Satan quote the Scripture: Jesus answers each temptation with a Bible verse, while Satan formulates one temptation by using two OT texts.

Thus, the passage gives the impression of a duel of Scripture verses. The analysis of these verses both in Matthew 4, as well as in the original context from which they are taken, not only helps us understand the passage, but provide an illustration of the proper and improper use of Scripture.

 

All the Scriptural quotations Jesus uses are from Deuteronomy 6-8, where Moses recorded his speech for the Israelites, just prior to their entry into the promised land. In this speech, he reminded them of the forty years spent in the wilderness and the lessons learned during that long detour: 1) to worship God alone,[1] 2) to not test God,[2] and 3) to depend on God’s word more than on bread.[3]

 

The quotes from Deuteronomy, in turn, point to Scriptural passages recorded in Exodus, which describe the experience of Israel that Moses refers to in his address in Deuteronomy. Thus, the elucidation of Jesus’ quotes in Matthew 4:1-11, need to take into account both Deuteronomy 6-8 and Exodus 16, 17, and 32.

 

The following chart illustrates the parallelism between Matthew and Deuteronomy, and the context of Israel’s experience in Exodus alluded to in Deuteronomy:

 

 

Jesus’ Responses: OT Quotations Israel’s Experience OT Quotation Refer to:
Jesus’ Response to the First Temptation:

 

“Man shall not live on bread along, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

“You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”

Exodus 16

 

Manna

Jesus’ Response to the Second Temptation:

 

“On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:6.

Deuteronomy 6:16

“You shall not pur the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.”

Exodus 17

 

Water

Jesus’ Response to the Third Temptation:

 

“Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Matthew 4:10.

Deuteronomy 6:13

“You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”

Exodus 32

 

Golden Calf

 

An Obedience Stronger than Stones

The devil begins his conversation with Jesus by picking up on the words Christ’s Father spoke at his baptism:

This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. (Matthew 3:17).

Satan, however, puts a different spin on God’s affirmation by adding the word if. At a time when Jesus is in distress and afflicted with hunger, Satan lets him know that it doesn’t have to be so. He reminds Jesus that being the Son of God comes with unlimited power, and challenges him to make use of His prerogatives.

Through his words, Satan subtly alludes to Israel’s story of being miraculously fed with manna, and suggests to Jesus that He too, could benefit from miracle-bread, as he should not needlessly suffer from hunger.

Jesus understands what lies at the core of Satan’s temptation and withstands it, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3:

Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.

The immediate context of this verse helps understand His response. Addressing the people of Israel just before their entrance into Canaan, Moses reminds them of their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, from slavery to freedom, from not knowing God to belonging to the Almighty Creator:

You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

Well acquainted with the story of Israel, Jesus demonstrates a good understanding of God’s work with His people and of His purposes and methods. He knows that the hunger Israel experienced was meant to teach them a lesson and that God provided them with food when the time was right.

Satan alluded to a biblical story in order to make Jesus fall into temptation and use his powers to his own advantage. Yet Jesus’ response shows that the devil not only put a twist of God’s filial proclamation at Jesus’ baptism, but he also proved to have–or at least expressed–a distorted understanding of the biblical story recorded in Exodus 16 and recalled in Deuteronomy 8:2-3.

At its core, this temptation addresses a question of priority. Will Jesus choose to use His power to satisfy His need, or will He wait for God to provide, as He provided for Israel? Jesus proves that for Him, obedience to God is more important than even the most basic need.

An Incorruptible Trust

Next, Satan brings Jesus to the temple, the place where daily sacrifices demonstrated tangibly what the path of sacrifice unto death meant. Here he tempts Him to throw Himself down, for God’s angels will save Him. Satan subtly suggests that Jesus’ attempt to die is sufficient, for God will save Him. He need not actually die, but only demonstrate His willingness to do so and trust in God’s deliverance.

Furthermore, Satan challenges Jesus to prove the veracity and validity of the quote with which He withstood the first temptation. Thus, while in the first temptation Satan picked up on the words of the Father, the devil now picks up on the very words of the Son–who quotes Scripture–the Word of God.

Jesus had said that “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,”[4] and now Satan tempts Jesus to prove that He can live through the words of God. He asks Jesus to demonstrate this by jumping down from the temple pinnacle because the word of God said that,

‘He will command His angles concerning you’; and ‘On their hands they will bear you so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ (Matthew 4:6).

In his reply, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16:

On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’

The fact that Jesus introduces His response with “On the other hand,” indicates that His verse is meant to contradict the meaning of the texts Satan cited. Deuteronomy 6:16 points further back to Exodus 17:1-17, where the Israelites’ thirst in the wilderness drove them to demand a miraculous provision of water, provoking Moses to respond, ‘Why do you test the Lord?’

The Israelites had quarreled among each other regarding God’s presence with them (‘Is the Lord among us, or not?’). It was doubt that made the Israelites test God, and a similar provocation on the part of Jesus would imply the same defiance. As Ellen White writes,

Faith is in no sense allied to presumption… [f]or presumption is Satan’s counterfeit of faith. Faith claims God’s promises, and brings forth fruit in obedience. Presumption also claims the promises, but uses them as Satan did, to excuse transgression.[5]

In the first temptation, Satan made an allusion to a biblical event in order to trap Jesus. Now he quotes directly from the Scripture, with the same purpose. Just as in His response to the first temptation, however, Jesus proves that the context of a story or verse is critical to understanding the message. He responds with another quote that simply states, “‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”[6]

Jesus quotes Scripture “against” Scripture not in order to contradict the message of Psalm 91:11-12, but in order to oppose Satan’s misuse of it. He shows that merely quoting the Bible does not automatically imply a proper understanding of the text in its context and within the overall message of Scripture.

An Everlasting Devotion

Lastly, Satan takes Jesus on a high mountain and says:

All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me. (Matthew 4:9).

Jesus’ declining response is as straightforward as Satan’s request.

Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ (Matthew 4:10).

Yet again Jesus quotes Scripture. He cites from Deuteronomy 6:13, which states that “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.” The context of this text is that of Moses instructing Israel, to “watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,”[7] when they arrive into the Promised Land–a place of abundance where there are “great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant.”[8]

In times of prosperity, Israel was to recognize that all blessings come from God and to continue to worship Him and give Him glory. Aside from this instruction, the passage also includes a warning of what would happen should Israel neglect to do so and turn away from God to worship other gods:

You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth. God, who is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 6:14-15).

This warning is very serious—the consequence of forsaking God is death. What the context of the passage, that Jesus quotes brings to our interpretation of Matthew 4:11, is the reality that all things belong to God. All blessings come from Him, all riches are His, and even though He chooses to share them with us, forgetting that we are not the source, can put us in the dangerous stance where we neglect to glorify God and enthrone ourselves on the place He alone deserves.

Refusing to recognize that God is the source of everything will eventually lead us to remove Him from the throne He alone deserves and deny Him the worship only He is worthy of. This attitude leads to death.

With a presumptuous attitude, Satan, who had already dethroned God from his heart and refused to give Him glory and worship, tries to make Jesus follow suit. What he leaves out is that, although he does have some power and dominion over the earth, God is still above him and the ultimate dominion, power, and worship belong to God.

The context of Deuteronomy 6:13 emphasizes the radical consequence of turning away from God and worshiping someone else—death. Thus, Satan’s request is a death trap for Jesus. Jesus’ response is brief, categorical, and conclusive of the conversation:

Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ (Matthew 4:11).

As the Bible makes clear, Satan, who fell and persisted in own trap of thinking he can usurp God, will eventually suffer the consequence of eternal death.

From this analysis of the three temptations, it is clear that the passage points to a connection between Jesus and Israel. Not only were Jesus and Israel both in the wilderness and both tested, but all the quotes Jesus uses in his responses to the devil are from Deuteronomy 6-8, where, just before entering Canaan, Moses reminds them of the forty years of wilderness which Jesus’ forty days fast evokes.

The issue at stake in Matthew 4:1-11 is: Will Jesus fulfill His mission? In the Old Testament, Israel had been God’s method of showing His character to the world. They had been called to fulfill God’s purpose of making manifest His character. Israel failed, but Jesus had come down on earth to live among us and show us the love of God, even at the cost of death, and in doing so fulfill his preordained task.

Let’s Practice!

  1. Can you find any keywords or phrases in Genesis 27:12-36 that allude to other passages, whether adjacent to the narrative, or in other parts of the Bible? How do they emphasize the main ideas in the story?
  2. Does Genesis 27:12-36 include any quotes from Scripture? If yes, how do they help bring out the depth of the message?

Genesis 37:12-36 (ESV):

12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

18 They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

25 Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.

Click here to read the rest of Adelina’s series on the Biblical narrative analysis

______

Notes.

[1] Deuteronomy 6:13.

[2] Deuteronomy 6:16.

[3] Deuteronomy 8:3.

[4] Matthew 4:4.

[5] Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1898), p. 126.

[6] Matthew 4:7.

[7] Deuteronomy 6:12.

[8] Deuteronomy 6: 10-11.

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About the author

Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.