Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

Religious Sites in Atlanta

Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion



Reference or allusion (Luke 1:68-69 and Acts 14:11-12)

Socio-Rhetorical Examples

Definition of reference and allusion.

Good examples of cultural reference and cultural allusion occur in Luke 1:68-69. Both "a horn of salvation" and "the house of his servant David" are references in these verses that evoke cultural intextexture. What do they mean? Only people who have been raised in Jewish culture or have been educated in it as an "other" culture will know their meanings. The phrase "a horn of salvation" appears in 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 18:2 and Psalm 132:17, alluding to a Davidic ruler who will have power. These texts do not, however, also refer to "the house of David." Rather, 2 Samuel 7:1-17 contains an oracle by Nathan to David that refers twice to David as "servant" (2 Sam 7:5, 9) and presents the word of the Lord as saying: "the Lord will make you a house ..." and "Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever ..." (2 Sam 7:11, 16). All of these texts exhibit the existence of a cultural tradition to which Luke 1:68-69 makes reference. In addition, 2 Samuel 7:12 says: "I will raise up your offspring after you." The presence of "he has raised up a horn of salvation" in Luke 1:69 makes this an "allusion" to Nathan's oracle which is the story of the "initial promise" that God would establish the "throne" of the royal dynasty of David "forever."

Another instance of cultural reference occurs in Acts 14:11-12 when the people of Lystra, speaking in Lycaonian, refer to Barnabas and Paul as Zeus and Hermes who have "come down to us in the likeness of men." A person only knows the meaning of Zeus and Hermes if they have Greek cultural knowledge. There is, however, more than a "reference" to these two Greek gods in this text. Acts 14:11 refers to their coming down to earth in the likeness of men. Is there an allusion here to one or more stories that recount a time when one or both of these gods came down to earth? Interpreters regularly raise the possibility that the verse in Acts alludes to the story of the visit of the gods Zeus and Hermes to the elderly couple Baucis and Philemon in Ovid Metamorphoses 8:611-724 (Conzelmann 1987: 110; Johnson 1992: 248). Recently, Amy Wordelman has presented evidence that a reader only understands the dynamics of the Lukan episode if they have knowledge of the tradition of Zeus's visit to King Lycaon (cf. Ovid, Metamorphosis 1.226-261; Apollodorus, Library 3.8.1; Wordelman 1993: 226-231). If this is true, Acts 14:11-12 contains cultural allusion to a particular episode in addition to cultural reference to these two Greek gods.


From V. K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts, (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996), p. 59. For other examples from Luke, click here, and from Acts of the Apostles, click here. Back to intertexture index

Back to Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation Homepage