As I mentioned earlier I am going to post a series of gems that I stumble upon as I work my way through RIchard Hays’ The Conversion of the Imagination.
At the opening of the book Richard Hays does a superb job outlining few broad features that are characteristic of Paul’s approach to the reading of the Scriptures:
First, Hays highlights the pastoral context of Paul’s reading of Scripture. He writes, “His readings are not merely flights of imaginative virtuosity; rather, they seek to shape the identity and actions of a community called by God to be the bearers of grace. The conversion of the imagination that Paul seeks is not merely the spiritual enlightenment of individuals but rather the transformed consciousness of the community of the faithful.” [xv-xvi]
Second, Paul’s reading of Scripture has a poetic character to it. Hays writes, “He finds in Scripture a rich source of image and metaphor that enables him to declare with power what God is doing in the world in his own time. He reads the Bible neither as a historian nor as a systematic theologian but as a poetic preacher who discerns analogical correspondence between the scriptural story and the gospel that he proclaims.” [xvi]
Three, Hays points out the narrative mode of Paul’s engagement with the text. “It is not for him merely a repository of isolated proof texts; rather, it is a saga of God’s election, judgment, and redemption of a people through time. Paul sees the church that has come into being in his own day as the heir of that vast ancient story and the remarkable fulfillment of the promises made to Israel.” [xvi]
Four, Paul reads the scripture with an eschatological mindset. “The fulfillment of those promises has taken an entirely unexpected turn because of the world-shattering apocalyptic event of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus. When he rereads Israel’s Scripture retrospectively, Paul finds prefigurations of this revelatory event- which nevertheless came as a total surprise to Israel and continues to function as a stumbling block for those who do not believe. Once the Scripture are grasped in light of this hermeneutical key, their pervasively eschatological character comes into focus.” [xvi]
Fifth, Paul reads the Scripture with the hermeneutic of trust. “He believes that Scripture discloses a God who loves us and can be trusted, in his righteousness, to his promises and to save us. Thus, he always comes to the reading of Israel’s Scripture with the expectation that what he will find there is a word of deep grace.” [xvi]
Apostle Paul’s interpretation of the Old Testament has been a challenge for the modern readers of his letters. I remember one of my profs making an off-hand comment while we were working through the Greek text of Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Kids, don’t do this at home. You will not get an A for this kind of exegesis.” Richard Hays has been one of leading voices trying to make sense of Paul as interpreter of Israel’s Scripture. I recently came to his book The Conversion of the Imagination which seeks to “come to grips with one of the most brilliant and provocative readers of Scripture that Israel’s tradition has ever produced”, namely Apostle Paul. Hays’ conceptual framework can be summed up in this following quotation, “to link two dimensions of Paul’s thought that are often set in artificial antithesis to one another: narrative continuity with Israel’s story and radical apocalyptic transformation. In 1 Corinthians both elements are grounded in Paul’s reading of Israel’s Scripture. I contend that Paul’s pastoral strategy for reshaping the consciousness of his pagan converts was to narrate them into Israel’s story through metaphorical appropriation of Scripture- and precisely by so doing to teach them to think apocalyptically.” [xi] Everything in Pauline hermeneutics seems to flow from this overarching framework.
[Note: stay tuned for some more nuggets from Hays as I work my way through this book.]