Monday, March 27, 2017

Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Book Review

Title: Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels
Publisher: Baylor University Press, 2016
Price: $59.95 (amz)
Binding: Hardcover
Pages: 504
In Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale University Press, 1989), Richard Hays sought to examine the creative ways that Paul appropriated the Hebrew Scriptures in his letters. In this volume, Hays applies his intertextual approach to a sustained study of the Gospels in order to “open up fruitful lines of inquiry” about these texts (xiii).

As in his other works, Hays here seeks to account for both direct citations of Scripture in the Gospels and also the more subtle ways the Gospel authors associate and link their books to the texts, themes, and images of the Hebrew Bible. Hays contends that “only if we embrace figural interpretation” can we make sense of the Gospel writers’ claim that “the Scriptures bear witness to Jesus Christ” (2). By figural interpretation, Hays means “a reading that grasps patterns of correspondence between temporally distinct events, so that these events freshly illuminate each other” (358).

Accordingly, the four major chapters of the book examine evidence of this figural christological interpretation in Mark (chapter one), Matthew (chapter two), Luke (chapter three), and finally John (chapter four). Overall, Hays seeks to demonstrate that each of the Gospel writers employ this shared strategy but do so in unique and distinct ways. Because “figural interpretation” involves both prospective and retrospective elements (reading forward and backwards), Hays maintains that this reading strategy “creates deep theological coherence within the biblical narrative” and “stands at the heart of the New Testament’s message” (3).

For Hays, then, the intertextual strategy of the Gospel writers is perceptive rather than poorly executed or perfunctory, figural rather than finicky or formulaic, and surprising rather than spurious. 

In a candid preface, Hays details his unexpected battle with pancreatic cancer and also the expedited process that allowed this volume to appear so quickly. Though the final production of the book was abbreviated, the development of his approach and study of the Gospels has been many years in the making. The result is an enriched and thoroughgoing treatment of intertextuality in the four Gospels.

Many will disagree with the overall approach or certain aspects of Hays’ study. Some might point out the possible pitfalls, for instance, of articulating the “possible pitfalls of Matthew’s hermeneutic” (352). Some will also want to root the nature of figural interpretation more firmly in an author’s intention rather than a reader’s perception. However, all should be thankful that Hays was able to gift the scholarly community with this culmination of his careful reflection on the Gospels and the Hebrew Scriptures.

Hays insists that “the thing that matters in the end is the actual reading and interpretation of the primary texts” (xvi). This volume provides a host of careful observations that will aid readers of the Gospels in this ever-important task.
Also in SWJT, forthcoming.

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