Conversion of the Imagination: Paul’s Reading of Scripture (review)

Hays, Richard.  The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2005.

In this book Hays develops many of his thoughts from Echoes.  He addresses criticisms and expands upon previously vague thoughts and points.  This book is a collection of some of his more prominent essays.

Hays employs a key concept throughout his work: metalepsis.  Metalepsis is when one text alludes to another text and evokes resonances beyond those explicitly cited (2).[i] Hays then gives his criteria for employing and recognizing metalepsis, or “echoes.”   The text must have availability—it must have been extant to its original hearers and users (this is a fairly obvious point).  Volume is the second criterion—how loud is the echo?  This will vary from a faint allusion to an overt citation.  While this appears subjective, Hays gives several points on how to recognize loud echoes in Scripture.   Thirdly, is the echo recurring elsewhere in a writer’s corpus?

Hays’ first essay deals with eschatology in Corinth.  Hays asks whether the Corinthians should be seen as “performing Isaiah’s script.”  Through identification in Christ, the Corinthian Church (and by extension ourselves today) were to see Gentiles brought in (Isa. 49:23; 60:1-16).  Hays ties this in with Scripture by noting Scripture is a narrative in which the Corinthians sought identification.   They participated in Israel’s story (1 Corinthians 10: 1-13) and in doing so fulfilled Israel’s proper goal—to bring the Gentiles to the worship of God.

In his next essay, “How did Paul read Isaiah?”, Hays advances one of his more controversial claims: Paul’s reading of Isaiah is ecclesiocentric and not primarily Christocentric (26).  Paul did not primarily appeal to Isaiah to prove the deity of Christ (as many appeals to Isa. 53 assume).  Rather, his reading of Isaiah points to a final eschatological people of God in which the Gentiles are included[ii] (this is key to Hays’ next few arguments in other essays).

Hays hits gold in his next few essays dealing with “the righteousness of God.”  He builds upon Ernst Kasemann’s thesis that dikaiosune theou means “salvation-creating power,” though he rejects Kasemann’s apocalyptic overtones.  The heaviest use of the phrase dikaiosune theou occurs primarily in Romans 3.  Hays notes that Romans 3 is an extended discussion on Psalm 143.   God must be seen as faithful to the covenant despite human unfaithfulness.  When read in its entirety Psalm 143 is a psalm that anticipates a salvation effected by God’s own righteousness (e.g., his saving power).   In conclusion, Hays blunts any talk of construing “righteousness” as imputation, but sees it as salvation-creating power.

Hays then has an extended essay on Abraham and justification.  He says any discussion of Romans 4 must take the previous paragraphs into accounot (3:27-4:1).  Paul’s problem is not “how to find acceptance before a wrathful God,” but to work out the relation of Jew and Gentile in Christ (69).  This means God justifies the Gentiles in the same way as Jews.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE LAW, THEN?

Reformed theologians are partly correct in that the Law condemns, but that’s not the Law’s primary focus, nor does it condemn in the way they think it does.  Hays points out the Law serves to identify the people of God.   Hays follows Dunn’s reading of ergon tou theou as marking the identity of the people of God.  If this reading is correct, Paul’s argument in Romans 3 comes into focus.   While it is true that Paul would forbid boasting in our meritorious works, why then does he make the point, if the Reformed gloss is correct, using such out of the way arguments against circumcision and other identity markers (e.g., “receiving the oracles”, etc)?

True, the Law does pronounce condemnation, but here Paul “spins” the way we normally see it.  Paul’s quotes several Psalms in Romans 3 to that point, but where the Psalms speak of condemning Israel’s enemies—Paul uses them to condemn Israel!  On the other hand, Paul is not offering a systematic doctrine of the Law.  Rather, he is destabilizing an entrenched Jewish mindset.

Hays’ final point on the law warrants reflection.  Hays ties his discussion of the Law in with his earlier point about dikaiosune theou to make his conclusion:  if the Law speaks of dikaiosune theou, as all say it does, and if dikaiosune theou means “salvation-creating power,” as Hays has capably argued, then Torah announces that God’s saving power is for all the nations (95ff)!  Paul’s reading of the law has undergone a fundamental hermeneutical shift:  1) Torah is now seen as a narrative of promise; and 2) The promise expressed in Torah is primarily for the Church now.

Hays final essays show Christ as the paradigmatic figure in the Old Testament.   Hays examines how Christ prays the Psalms and how believers can find their identification in him.  Of some interest is Hays’ essay on Habbakuk 2:4 and ho dikaios, the Righteous One.   Hays surveys Old Testament texts speaking of ho dikaios and possible NT parallels in the non-Pauline corpus.

Hays then notes Paul’s use of the phrase.  Paul used Hab. 2:4 in Romans 1.  Given its context, we see a revelation of God’s faithfulness before the nations and a coming eschatological judgment.  This language echoes most of Isaiah where it is promised that when God acts to intervene on behalf of “Israel,” he will bring salvation to all the nations (137).  Obviously, this reading is superior and clearer than the usual post-Reformation gloss on Romans 1.  Paul is not saying that an inward human disposition (e.g., faith) is the new way in which God’s faithfulness is revealed (which would have been odd, since the Jews had “faith” in God).  Rather, it is a response to theodicy:  in both cases how can God be faithful to the covenant in the face of human wickedness?

CONCLUSION

Hays successfully stays with his thesis throughout the book, though not all chapters are equally strong.  I think his last chapter on Paul’s use of Scripture is weak.  He started out by saying that Paul did not view Scripture as a “didactic database from which to draw prooftexts.”  There is a truth to this point, and Hays starts out well, but it seems halfway through his essay he realized that Paul did indeed appeal to the Old Testament didactically (cf. 1 Cor. 9).

Elsewhere, I wished Hays would have expanded some of his thoughts on the Law.  I agree with his and Dunn’s reading of “works of the law” as ethnic identity markers, but it would have strengthened his case considerably had he spent a few extra paragraphs arguing and developing that point, rather than consigning it to a footnote.


[i] While Hays’ model is satisfactory and explains the evidence nicely, it is still only a model and it is doubtful whether it will be acceptable to conservative Evangelical scholars.

[ii] I don’t think Hays is as controversial as either he or his critics maintain.  Let’s go with Hays’ reading at the moment—nothing changes.   Is not the church the “body of Christ?”  And in participating in the church do we not also participate in Christ?  Therefore, to affirm the Church is to affirm Christ.

 

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One comment on “Conversion of the Imagination: Paul’s Reading of Scripture (review)

  1. Chris S says:

    Thanks for the review, Jacob.

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