In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Intertextuality in the New Testament

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks

Biblical Studies Intertextuality in the New Testament
Stefan Alkier
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0320


Concepts of intertextuality explore the variety of relationships among texts. Intertextual approaches ask analytically how these textual relations work and hermeneutically how they might enable new readings of the connected texts. Properly understood, one can only speak of intertextuality when the interpretation yields extensions, shifts, or the solidification of meaning that could not be generated without exploring the text-to-text relationships. Thus, approaches to the reading and writing of texts that are sensitive to intertextuality are concerned with the decentralization of meaning by exploring ways that meaning can extend beyond more traditional categories such as authorial intention, the text itself, or even historical context. In the theoretical debate in the field of New Testament studies, there is little agreement regarding the validity of intertextual interpretation, let alone if it should be done, and if so with which methods. Some scholars refer to intertextual methods that are based on different types of semiotics, literary criticism, postcolonialism, and other theories of texts, media, and culture. Other biblical scholars, often ones less interested in inter- and transdisciplinary discussions, appeal to intertextuality as a strategy for limiting text-to-text-relations to the production of manageable hypotheses about meaning for the original authors. Intertextual interpretation from this perspective is not a method, but rather a pragmatic strategy or sensitive practice of reading. Most of the literature that engages intertextuality focuses on production-oriented approaches. These perspectives correlate texts only with other texts that the author demonstrably knew or plausibly could have known, and most of them search for intentional allusions or even unconscious echoes of imagined pretexts. Reception-oriented intertextuality investigates textual relationships attested at particular times and in particular places that were in fact produced by actual readers, or that could have been produced by hypothetical readers. Generative intertextuality, however, asks what effects text-to-text-relations have on meaning when these relations are independent of the production- or reception-oriented concerns. The criterion for generative intertextuality is whether interesting effects of meaning are produced by the intertextual connections among any texts in which scholars might be interested, regardless of the historical plausibility of these connections. Many today use the word “intertextuality” without reference to any theory, method, or practice of intertextuality. Those works that are not interested in the hermeneutics or semiotics of the “inter” of text-to-text-relations usually work with a version of the traditional historical-critical approach of Einflussforschung (influence research) or source criticism. Such approaches not only fail to reflect upon the perspective of the “inter,” they also ignore text-theoretical concepts of textuality. In other words, they do not actually work with inter-textuality. They focus instead on the restricted “in.” That is to say, they still work within the older, historical paradigm of examining one text in another text. They continue the program of searching for the material that authors used in order to identify authorial intent. Their sometimes inspiring proposed findings of allusions or echoes can be used and discussed by intertextual approaches as possible “intertextual dispositions” (Holthuis 1993, cited under Theories of Intertextuality Referred to by New Testament Scholars), but these source-in-a-text approaches should not use the word “intertextuality.” They more or less continue the hermeneutics of traditional source criticism with its correlated text-archeological interest in redaction criticism. Those crypto-source-criticism-approaches will largely be ignored in the following bibliography, which focuses instead on books and articles that are more or less based on intertextual theories that have in view the hermeneutical effects of text-to-text-relations that can run in both directions. Such studies are sensitive to the phenomenon of the “inter,” thereby opening new space for uncontrolled and unanticipated meaning effects that cannot be generated apart from reading one text together with other texts. “Text” here is restricted to written texts. The study of relations among other media like pictures, coins, or architecture is called intermediality. Intermedial studies demand special theories, methods, and practices and are not explored here.


There are many different uses of the word “intertextuality,” many general theories of intertextuality, and some specific approaches to it in the fields of Old and New Testament studies. Anyone who wants to work competently in the field of intertextual studies has to know the most important general theories of intertextuality, the debates and controversies surrounding these theories, and the most important approaches being used in the field of biblical studies. The overviews that follow offer brief introductions to these matters.

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