Many writers are Christians. But what makes for a “Christian writer”? Should there be direct citations of Scripture? Writers vary tremendously in this, partly because of the genre in which they’re writing, and partly because of the different audiences they hope to reach. And of course, the mere citation of biblical texts guarantees nothing. I’ve seen writers pander to a Christian audience by sprinkling Bible verses throughout their work, verses that are often ripped out of context and having only a superficial relationship to the subject at hand.
What I would hope instead is that a Christian writer’s words flow from an imagination steeped in Scripture, a way of looking at reality through biblical lenses. It’s from such an imagination that meaningful references to biblical texts flow organically.
This applies even to the biblical writers themselves. Scholars speak of the intertextuality of certain biblical passages, the way one text intentionally echoes another. I say “echoes” because these are not typically verbatim quotations of the older text. Indeed, even when an author purports, for example, to be quoting from the Old Testament, the quote may be rather loose, sometimes not much more than a paraphrase. Often, it’s assumed that the hearer or reader is already familiar with the passage being echoed anyway, and that this familiarity will inform how they understand what is being said now.
In previous posts, we’ve been looking at Paul’s words from Philippians 2. I have suggested that when Paul says that the exalted Jesus was given “the name above all names,” this is a reference not to the name “Jesus,” but to the holy name of God, which our English Old Testaments render as “LORD.”
Here again is the text:
Therefore God exalted him even more highly
and gave him the name
that is above every other name,
so that at the name given to Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11, NRSVUE)
What I didn’t mention is what appears to be some intertextuality between this passage and one from the prophet Isaiah:
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.” (Isa 45:23)
Do you hear it? And what would people familiar with that ancient prophecy have heard in Paul’s words about Jesus?
The immediate context of the verse from Isaiah uses the holy name of God twice, creating something of a frame. In verse 21, God declares: “Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is no one besides me.” Later, in verse 24, God says, “Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength.” And in verse 22, which immediately precedes the text above, we read, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”
Thus, through the prophet, the LORD speaks: “There is no other god besides me… there is no one besides me… For I am God, and there is no other.” Point taken. To use such a text to speak of Jesus, then, is either outright blasphemy or a declaration of his divinity.
Paul would vote the latter, as should we.