On the way home from work today, I was listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered.” In one piece they noted biblical allusions strewn throughout Huckabee’s speeches. Certainly references to biblical allusions are in no way “new” to the political scene. From Lincoln to MLK to Obama the Bible has been a seedbed of imagery to suit political agendas. The NPR slot noted, however, that Huckabee’s allusions were being lost on biblically illiterate ears. For instance, Huckabee stated in one address, “Sometimes, one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor.” This is a rather easy allusion to pick out for the few folks who may happen to read this blog. Clearly Huckabee is speaking in a code that his conservative Evangelical supporters can decipher without too much trouble. NPR interviewed several folks in DC about these statements and most did not have a clue as to what a “widow’s mite” was or the significance of “loaves and fishes.” Many of these folks were born into Christian homes and attended Sunday school, but they still could not recognize Huckabee’s allusions. I even had to think a little bit harder than usual to completely take in the allusion to the little boy named David. So, while Huckabee may be speaking in the “Bible code”, many folks – even those who have had a “Christian” upbringing are hearing gibberish. Is Huckabee intentionally alluding to Scripture? Or is he simply speaking the language of a Baptist minister- turned-public-servant without intentionally trying to send encoded messages to his Christian constituency?
This got me to thinking about the debates concerning the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, particularly the detection of allusions and echoes to Jewish Scripture. Why would Paul put allusions to Scripture in texts that were primarily written for a Gentile, and (some assume) “biblically illiterate” audience? Did Paul simply speak the language of a learned Jewish Christian? Did he always intentionally encode his message with the intent of the audience knowing what he was talking about? Is it possible that Paul meant his allusions to “shout out” to those who could understand, while leaving others confused in a fashion similar to Jesus’ parables? How intentional was Paul? Are biblical allusions only meaningful from the standpoint of the author’s (or speech writer’s) intent? Or, do allusions and echoes take on a valid meaningful life of their own in the mind of the audience?
Another thing struck me regarding this NPR piece. Ultimately, when Huckabee uses these veiled references to Scripture in a country where only a relative few “know the code”, he is in effect speaking gibberish. Preachers and teachers beware! We need not confound people with allusions they don’t understand – we don’t want their “biblical illiteracy” to get in the way of them hearing the Gospel. Of course, we are to teach people the content of Scripture – for their souls’ sake – but until they “learn the language” we just sound like the builders of Babel.
Read the NPR print version of the segment “Understanding the Gospel According to Huckabee,” by Barbara Bradley Hagerty.