Intertextuality and Romans

Intertextuality and Romans

As moderns we must be aware that as read scripture, scripture is reading along with us. What I mean is that scripture is carrying on a conversation with itself. For example, consider how the prophets recall the early history of Israel and the words of Moses in their poetic prophetic verses. The scripture writers contemplate, expound, and apply older scripture traditions to present situations and needs. This is the phenomenon known as intertextuality.

This phenomenon abounds in the New Testament which has been thought of as a commentary on the Old. For example, in Romans, Paul recalls biblical history from the perspective of the Christ event which is the climax of salvation history. He retells the stories of Adam (Rom 5:12–21; cf. Gen 1–3), the decline of the nations (Rom 1:18–32; cf. Gen 4–11), the faith of Abraham (Rom 4; cf. Gen 12, 15, 18), the Exodus/Baptism/Liberation from Slavery (Rom 6; cf. Exod 14), the giving of the Law (Rom 7; cf. Exod 19, 20), the conquest of the land and the granting of the inheritance (Rom 8) in their full import and significance and implications for the people of God now that Messiah has come. Paul does this while applying to the situation of the church the words of the prophets like Habakkuk and Isaiah understood according to his gospel—the coming of the son of David, the Just/Righteous One and True Israelite who obeys Yahweh to death on the cross (Rom 1:2-4). The stories of the past are reenacted vividly in the present situation of the churches. Paul stresses the continuity between what God has done and what he is doing now in the present (Rom 1:2–4). Such continuity, consistancy, and convental faithfulness on the part of Yahweh ensures that the temporary unbelief of the Jews that has resulted in the salvation of the gentiles will once again led to the restoration/return from exile of the Israel of God (Rom 9–11).

Recognizing the intertextuality of scripture is a part of the process of discerning patterns. As humans discerning shapes, boundaries, and contour help us to map the world and to determine what is in place and what is out of place. The stories of the past help us to map the events of the present so that we can be confident about the future. What God has done in the past serves to remind us of his righteousness—his impartiality as a judge and his faithfulness to keep his promises. Like Paul we will not be made ashame of trusting in Yahweh who has acted in the past in his son King Jesus Lord of the world. Yahweh is setting right what is out of place. We must be trust him in the present knowing that he is working out his plan and purposes through his people for the cosmos. Invite scripture to read along with you.

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