Saturday, August 2, 2008

Book, #2, Echoes of Scripture in Paul, Richard Hays

I often heard in my early days in ministry education, "you can't read texts like Paul does. You'd flunk this class if you read texts the way that he does." My profs were referring to Paul's creative, sometimes allegorical, readings of Old Testament texts. Because Paul was inspired, he could get away with those kinds of non-historical readings. But for us mere exegetical mortals, these kinds of readings were out of bounds.

Richard Hays convinced me otherwise. Hays' genius is his way of exposing all of the echoes and allusions that lie within and around texts. He reads Scripture intra-textually, noticing all of the ways that biblical authors appropriate prior texts. The text, in Hays' hands, is a thick environment, brimming with emergent meanings.

When it comes to Paul's reading of Scripture, Hays demonstrates that Paul is a very careful reader of Old Testament texts. His use of them, however, is not methodologically determined as much as it is theologically determined. He reads texts with a certain understanding of what God is up to in Jesus Christ. He reads texts with an ecclesio-centric hermeneutic, seeing the revelation of a new human family as the harbinger of a new age. He reads texts eschatologically, convinced that Jesus has inaugurated a new age, an age that allows for a privileged perspective on what God has been up to all along. Christians are those "upon whom the end of the ages has fallen."

These theological commitments produce a consistent interpretation of the text, even though Paul's method varies from occasion to occasion. And this theological perspective encourages, even requires, imagination and creativity. More, it requires a habitation, a deep dwelling with texts, that allows them to come alive in light of the inbreaking of a new and determinative age.

This book changed the way I read Scripture. That's huge. And in turn, it changed how I thought about preaching and ministry. That's huge. The biggest gain along these lines came from my commitment to let Scripture speak, as often as possible, in the present tense. The Bible isn't simply a historical record that we visit like we would a museum. It is a living voice, speaking in a very direct way to those of us upon whom the end of the ages has fallen.

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