15 Best Biblical Allusions

Allusion is one of the most valuable and functional devices in literature. Allusions are used to develop character and put forth the comparison so that reader can easily understand the depth of the story.  Allusions are the best tool to capture the reader’s attention and create an atmosphere of shared understanding and leave a path in the reader’s mind to approach the writer’s thoughts. A good allusion also triggers the memory of the reader. Writers draw them more keenly to design a mental image that can tie the story to the reader’s experience. Allusions do not need further explanation. With time allusions can be less effective with their familiarity—the allusions from the Bible age well because of their popularity and worldwide reading. The reader should keep an eye on the work and notice the passing allusions. It can be direct or indirect, real or imaginary, and it reinforces the theme.

Types of Allusions:

External Allusion

The external allusion is a reference that is outside of the story but that the reader is familiar with. It might be a play, historical event, book, or movie, or even a common proverb.

Internal Allusion

It is an earlier reference from the same story that the writer hopes the reader would notice. It is a little harder to catch.

Examples of Biblical Allusions

The Bible is the source of numerous allusions that readers worldwide use in their daily lives. Here are some examples.

Example #1

Good Samaritan – Luke 10:29-37

I didn’t have any bus fare, but fortunately some good Samaritan helped me out!

This allusion tells us that someone goes out of his way to help a stranger, even if they are from the enemy’s home or land. This allusion is from the story of a good Samaritan taken from the book Luke and a parable from Jesus to His disciples. Hence, the Good Samaritan is the one who helps others in their time of need, as narrated in the parable.

Example #2

Forty Days Forty Nights – Genesis 7:12

And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

The above example is a reference to the story of Noah and the ark. God tells Noah that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights that, flooded the land. Forty days also signifies a big transformation and change. Also, Jesus fasted for 40 days before starting His ministry and overcoming temptation from Satan. If anyone is struggling for a long period or specific days, it can be referred to as forty days.

Example #3

Forbidden Fruit – Genesis 2:17

You must not eat from any tree in the garden

This allusion took the reader to the garden of Eden when God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Then Eve handed the fruit to Adam, committing the first sin. This allusion refers to someone who is likely to break the rules or commit a serious action that is restricted or taboo in society.

Example #4

Mark of Cain – Genesis 4:15

Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.

This allusion is to point out man’s sinful and deviant nature. The reference is also from the book of Genesis. When Cane murdered Abel, God had put a mark on his forehead so that he could be easily recognized.

Example #5

Solomon – Chronicles 1:11-12

 And God said to Solomon: “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked riches or wealth or honour or the life of your enemies, nor have you asked long life; but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself, that you may judge My people over whom I have made you king

The allusion to Solomon refers to the story of King Solomon, the son of King David. He is also known as the wisest king, as per historical records. God gave great wisdom to him. Hence, Solomon stands for wisdom.

Example #6

Jonah – Jonah 1:17

Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah refers to the disobedient person. It is also used for the theme of forgiveness or second chances.

Example #7

Garden of Eden – Genesis 2:8

The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.

This allusion is used for the place that is perfect to live, and most people compare their homes or dream homes with the Garden of Eden, just as God has created a paradise for Adam and Eve, although nothing can be compared to that garden.

Example #8

Turn the other cheek – Matt 5: 38-48

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also

The allusion is taken from the Sermon on the Mount, spoken by Jesus. He teaches the readers or listeners not to take revenge on the person who has caused harm. Here, the example tells us not to retaliate and allow the law or fate to take care of their consequences.

Example #9

David and Goliath – Samuel 17:49

Then David reached into his bag, took out a stone, and slung it, striking the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown

The above allusion example refers to the story of David, who defeated the Philistine giant, Goliath, as he hit his head with a sling and a stone. It gives the message of how good can defeat evil, even if the circumstances look extremely difficult.

Example #10

Tower of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves

The above example refers to the story of Noah’s descendant, King Nimrod, who builds a tower to reach heaven, and then God divides them, creating new languages. This allusion stands for verbal perplexity or confusion.

Example #11

Dove and Olive Branch – Genesis 8:11

When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf.

The allusion tells us about the story of Noah when he sent a dove in search of the land after the floods stopped. The dove returned with an olive branch as a symbol of hope. This pair of dove and branch is an allusion to peace as well as new beginnings.

Example #12

Lot and His Wife – Genesis 19:26

But Lot’s wife looked back as she was following behind him, and she turned into a pillar of salt.

This allusion is taken from the story of Lot when God had ordered him to leave the city of Sodom and Gomorrah, also known as the city of evil. They were commanded never to look back until they crossed the city’s border. Lot’s wife looked back and transferred into the pillar of salt. The allusion tells us never to remember the past or look over one’s shoulder but move on.

Example #13

Abraham and Isaac – Genesis 22

Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. …Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain

This allusion highlights that a person, especially a father, has to sacrifice for their children and believes that is what God had demanded of them.

Example #14

Virgin Mary – Luke 1:45

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.

The allusion to the Virgin Mary, especially in Catholicism, is used to refer to the purity or motherly love and morality of heart and soul.

 Example #15

Judas Kiss – Luke 22:48

Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Jesus’s arrest follows immediately.

The final example is taken from the final chapters of Jesus’ story when Judas was paid 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus. This phrase, as an allusion, is for the people who are labeled to be well-wishers and loyal but working on a hidden agenda of deceit.

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