Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

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Luke 4: Recitation

The Gospel of Luke

The first manner in which a text uses another text is recitation. Recitation is the presentation of speech or narrative or both, either from oral or written tradition, in exact or different words from which the person has received them. Recitation is the first exercise the rhetoricians recommended that students be taught when they composed a chreia (Hock and O'Neil 1986: 94-5; Robbins 1993b: 120). A quotation of exact words occurs in Luke 4.4: 'Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone''.'. Inside this chreia (a saying attributed to Jesus), is recitation of the same words that are present in Deuteronomy 8.3 in the Greek Septuagint. It is important to observe that one of the meaning effects of the recitation is that the words in their new context function like a maxim or proverb. Jesus appears to be presenting 'wisdom' that everyone should know.

Second, recitation may also occur with omission of some of the words. Luke 4.9-11 contains the following words:

And he [the devil] took him [Jesus] to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, '... for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you", and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone"'.

This chreia contains words from Psalm 91.11-12, but the wording in the first part of the recitation is slightly different from the Septuagint. The exact words in Ps. 91.11 are (with varying words italicized):

For he will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you in all your ways,
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

The chreia in Luke does not add words to the text of the Psalms, except for 'and' which it adds between the verses, making it appear that more than one context in Scripture supports the devil's argument. However, the chreia omits words: the conjunction 'for' and the phrase 'in all your ways'. The absence of these words helps the saying to function efficiently and directly in its new context, namely Jesus standing on the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus, conjunctions (and, for, but, etc.) and qualifying phrases (like 'in all your ways') may be removed or added when a verse from scripture is put on the lips of a speaker in New Testament narrative.


From: Vernon K. Robbins (1996) The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and Ideology, London: Routledge: 103-104.

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