Paul’s Use of Allusion…

Recently I have found myself reading a blog commentary of the appropriate classification of Paul’s use of allusion. Why does Paul mention certain things, and leave others out? Is it a) Because the stories are so well-known they need not be mentioned, or b) Paul is just plain ignorant of them?

Now, coincidentally, I have been reading a book by N.T. Wright who actually touches on this subject called “Paul.” Essentially we have two camps of people, proponents of the “New Perspective” and those who are not. In this first camp, you will see renowned authors and scholars such as James Dunn and E.P. Sanders. According to Wright, “A good deal of attention has recently been given to the narrative dimensions of Paul’s thought, and I regard this as one of the key elements in what has come to be known as the ‘new perspective’ on Paul.” All this stems essentially from the doctoral dissertation of Richard B. Hays.

What Wright and others have tried to do is not disagree with the new perspective, but rather “re-articulate” it. Let’s start from the beginning and see if I can make sense of this.

Paul essentially finds himself speaking and writing from 4 worlds: Judaism, Hellenism, Roman Rule, and the Ekklesia. He is undoubtedly a part of all 4, therefore, through basic hermeneutic principles they will inevitably show through in one way or another. Everything he says and writes can be held against the backdrop of these 4 worlds.

With that said, any “allusion” Paul makes should be seen as a typology first. A small reference can produce an entire story line, thematic elements and all. Remember, Paul is continually pulling from his arsenal of worlds to address the topic at hand, so we must believe that he knows his audience well enough to say or not have to say certain things. Wright says this about Sanders: “Notoriously, he suggested that Paul quoted the Old Testament more or less at random, without regard for context, so that, for instance, he simply ran through a mental concordance in search of some scriptural proof for his theology of justification by faith, and came up with the two passages in which ‘righteousness’ and ‘faith’ were combined.”

I’ll end with this because if I say any more it becomes an essay. Paul’s “allusion” did not necessarily need to be historically accurate (whether we could verify it or not). His allusion served as a template with which all second-temple Jews could place upon the incident or situation at hand. The templates contained the

joys and sorrows, trials and triumphs, of everyday life…the main function of their stories was to remind them of earlier and (they hoped) characteristic moments within the single, larger story which stretched from the creation of the world and the call of Abraham right forwards to their own day, and (they hoped) into the future.

I might have to clean this post up later, it seems as though I threw up on the page, but it will serve its purpose for now.


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