Friday, August 19, 2016

What Is New Testament Theology?

This past semester I tried my hand at answering this question in just a few short pages (an impossible task). Before taking this class, I did not realize the vast issues involved in undertaking a NTT or TNT. I had read Bultmann's, Beale's, Dunn's, Goppelt's, and The New Testament and the People of God by Wright, but I had not realized the difficulty in describing the differences between these approaches and why each approach was necessary. Hopefully this paper will shed some light on the issue for some of you who, like me, did not know the issues surrounding NTT. You can find the paper here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Very Short Book Review of Hays' "Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels"



I read Hays' Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels earlier this summer. It is nothing short of magnificent and this review will not do it credit. Hays, in my perhaps uninformed opinion, is the greatest living New Testament scholar today. I say this for a number of reasons, but I'll list just a few here. He has written on every genre (Gospels, Paul/Epistles, Revelation) of the New Testament. Almost all his books have been seminal or watershed works in the field. His dissertation on Galatians and the pistis christou debate is still required reading for any engaging in the New Perspective discussions or any discussions of Pauline theology and justification. His book Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul projected him to a level of scholarly respect and recognition that few will ever acquire in their lifetimes because it is just that good. In it he basically develops a paradigm for how to hear the scriptures in the New Testament in a new yet still authoritative way. Then he wrote an extremely long book on New Testament ethics and theology, which (again) in my opinion is perhaps the best single volume work on New Testament ethics and which makes a genuine contribution to the field of New Testament theology at the same time. He has written/edited two books on how to read scripture, one with the now former dean of Duke Divinity Ellen Davis in the book The Art of Reading Scripture and another with Alkier and Huizenga titled Reading the Bible Intertextually. He has written commentaries, a book on the Apocalypse, an engagement with the work of N.T. Wright, a book on NT christology, and a book on the historical Jesus. This is not to mention the numerous articles and presentations he has delivered. The man is a monster. He's the primary reason I came to Duke. And he has capped off his whole career with this mammoth-sized book, his magnum opus. This book is also a monster, and it is a monster with which I will have to reckon the rest of my life. His ear for listening to the narrative and discerning the smallest hints of scriptural tradition is nothing short of intimidating. But this was the most fruitful book I read all summer in terms of allowing academic work to influence my spirituality.

He takes the same methodological approach that he takes in his famous Echoes in Paul (for short), which looks for "echoes" of scripture rather than direct allusions. Allusions are more difficult to determine because allusion carries with it the implication of intentionality. Authorial intent is not necessary to establish when one identifies an echo. This represents, at least in part, that Hays methodology is not strictly historical. Historical approaches attempt to determine what the author meant. If the author did not mean to allude to the scripture that is a possible allusion, then the original context of that alluded passage bears no interpretive weight on the passage at hand in which the allusion was made. Hays' method is not so concerned with history to reject that texts can have meaning beyond what the author intended. Indeed, this is a primary pillar on which Hays' argument rests. Hays identifies these echoes and determines that many of them do not fit their original contexts (e.g., when Matthew cites the passage about God mentioning that he called his "son" [i.e., Israel] out of Egypt and applies it to Jesus when his parents flee to Egypt from Herod). The biblical authors, however, engage in a practice of metaleptic interpretation, by which the OT text takes on a "figural meaning" that does "not annihilate the earlier pole of the figural correspondence; to the contrary, they affirm its reality and find in it a significance beyond that which anyone could previously have grasped" (Echoes in the Gospels, 14). (See my earlier post here about Hays' understanding of the figural reading.)

The difference between this book and his one on Paul becomes apparent when he discusses the hermeneutical strategies involved in the writing processes. The hermeneutical strategy of the Evangelists is different from that of Paul. Paul, Hays argues, has an ecclesio-centric hermeneutic wherein Paul figurally transforms the meaning of the scriptures of Israel to prefigure the Church in Christ. The Gospels, on the other hand, have a christo-centric hermeneutic, finding Christ, not the Church, prefigured in the scriptures of the OT. This work functions, then, primarily (though not exclusively) as a work in Gospel Christology. [A note of caution here: there is a lot of material from this book that's already in his smaller book on Gospel Christology, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. This book (Echoes), Hays notes, should not be read as an extension of that one (Reading Backwards), but instead Reading Backwards should be read as a kind of application of what he says in this book. There was a lot that I had already read, however. Probably a fourth to be more precise. So if you're expecting something brand new, then you'll be 3/4 happy, but you'll have already read about 100 pages of the present work. This isn't a problem, necessarily, but it is something of which readers should be aware.] Hays attempts to see how the story of Jesus is told with an ear toward the narrative and the other toward the Old Testament. Some of his conclusions are somewhat reaching. His section on Mark's account of the sea walking and calming stories comes to mind in particular. I fully agree with Hays and actually wrote a paper arguing the same thing that he argues (even though I hadn't come across him saying it at the time since the book had not yet been published). However, I understand why some would take issue with Hays here since the text does not explicitly echo or allude to any OT text. But Hays seems to want to move past simply seeing OT references/allusions/echoes; he wants to develop a way of reading scripture that is sensitive to the answers that the text may expect of a reader but not supply for her. This is an interesting first step into what will probably be a growing area of study in the next 10-20 years, I would imagine. (One of Hays' proteges, Ross Wagner, attempted to teach a group of us this last semester, so Hays legacy continues to live on at Duke even though he isn't teaching as much nowadays.)

This method of reading scripture is most explicitly at play in Hays' treatment of Mark, which happens also to be my favorite chapter of the book. Hays seems to show a preference toward the Gospel of Luke being the best Gospel. It is certainly the most eloquent and extremely theologically sophisticated, which is probably why Hays makes such judgments. He thinks Luke has the most delicate and intricate way of reading and then rereading Israel's story in light of Christ and finding Christ and his mission prefigured there. That, I think, is the second best chapter. The chapter on Matthew is valuable for its rehabilitation of Matthew's use of scripture, not merely as proof-texting but as genuine, legitimate metalepsis, which all the Gospels writers utilized. He does still seem to see Matthew's use of scripture as more clumsy than the other Gospels, though I think we all can agree that is fair. His chapter on John is superb, but too short. Hays remarks in the preface that he regrets that he could not spend more time with John, but publishing the book quickly was more important than seeing it done to perfection. I think it's still magisterial, but would have liked to see more. There is, however, nothing to complain about here, though. It is a matter worthy of praise and thanks to God that this book ever even made it to the press when one considers Hays' poor health at the time that he was writing this book. I'm so happy it made it to the presses as is, but I'm even more joyful that Hays has been recovering well from his treatments. (At least, this is what I have heard from my last update. I'm sure he and his family would appreciate continuing prayers for his health.)

All things considered, this is a book to which I will return throughout my life to wrestle with in order to learn to read scripture (the OT) in scripture (the NT). I cannot recommend this book more highly. The only genuine problem I have with this book, as I do with almost all of Hays' books, is the blasted endnotes. A demon gets its wings every time a publisher decides to go with endnotes. I don't know if Hays personally prefers them or if he just doesn't want to fight the publisher on them, but they are the worst. Any other book would lose some serious points on this issue, but not this book. Buy it. Read it. Apply it. Read it again. Apply it again. And again. And again.

Search This Blog