Review of ‘Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels’ by Richard Hays

Review of Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels,* Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017, 524 pages, paperback.

Richard B. Hays has established himself as one of the foremost NT scholars in the world, based on enduring works like The Moral Vision of the New Testament and Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. He has been at the forefront of the study of such seemingly obtuse but telling elements of the study of the NT as “metalepsis” and “figural interpretation.”

Metalepsis in biblical studies is the incorporation and use of the OT in the New, particularly by way of partial allusion, employed in a new context that draws attention to aspects of the larger previous context.

“Figural interpretation” or “figuration” here is where a NT author draws comparisons between something in the OT and the life and work of Jesus Christ. The “echo” of the OT passage is seen as transformed in Christ by the Evangelists’ reading back into the OT text (essentially as presented in the LXX) truths which they have located in Jesus. Figuration differs from prediction in that “correspondence can be discerned only after the second event has occurred and imparted a new pattern of significance to the first.” (3). Or, as he says in his conclusion, “the discernment of unexpected patterns of correspondence between earlier and later events or persons within a continuous temporal stream” (347). As the two poles of the figural reading are understood, the sense of continuity within the Scriptures is deepened (3).

Hays is known for his thoroughgoing analysis of the biblical text and his creative insights in biblical intertextuality. Though teaching at Duke Divinity School, his approach can certainly be called broadly evangelical as well as Christ exalting.

This 500 page book is the much anticipated follow up to the aforementioned Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul; a book that is surely one of the most significant works of hermeneutics of the last fifty years. Not that I am either a convinced adherent of Hays’s approach nor an ardent supporter of his conclusions, but I am an appreciative reader. Not only is he an articulate writer, he is a high-level exponent of how to read Scripture. Even when finding plenty of objections to Hays’s exegesis, I was grateful to him for the way he gets one to rethink these familiar texts.

Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels attempts the herculean task of examining each of the four Gospels individually, tracing how each writer employs the OT. Hays achieves this by way of a patient analysis of each pericope or verse he interacts with. He listens carefully to the setting of a passage and tracks down the often subtle backlighting of the subject that is provided by the author’s use of the OT. Early on I was not convinced that Hays was not overstating his case. Examples include asserting that the phrase “I will make you fishers of men” in Mark 1:17 as meaning fishers for judgment (24), and his claim that Mark primes his readers to see a new exodus and the setting up of God’s reign (30). But later on I saw that he did make many good connections.

The book is divided into four main large chapters devoted to each of the Gospels. Hays also has a well written candid Introduction and a Conclusion. There are eighty pages of endnotes, a bibliography, and indices. In this review I will be mainly offering a critique of the book, not because the book isn’t full of good things, but because this form of interpretation has become very influential in evangelicalism, and Hays is a vitally important mentor for many who pursue this line.

As with most published believing scholars today, the author holds to what I call a “first coming hermeneutic.” That is to say, fulfillment of the OT, no matter what it describes, must be located in the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the Church in Him (5, 19, 52, 143, 194, 289, 335). Through figural interpretation the OT witness is transformed (10, 14, 32, 82, 122, 143, 148, etc.). This is most welcome for the amillennialist and postmillennialist, but rather dubious for the premillennialist.

From this stance Hays teaches that the Kingdom is now (e.g. 18, 56, 59), that the “new exodus” motif lends a hand in seeing this properly (e.g. 23), and even how this leans toward a form of supercessionism (though Hays is careful about this at times) (95).

Make no mistake about it, this book is about the reinterpretation of Scripture by the writers of the canonical Gospels. Hays uses that very term unabashedly many times. It locates the locus of reinterpretation in the figure of Jesus Christ in His first coming, as for example, with his insistence that Mark is retelling Israel’s story which reaches its climax in Jesus (19 cf. 33). He speaks about “subterranean exegetical undercurrents” (135) and “hermeneutical reshaping” (232) which the attentive reader needs to see. Hays is canny enough to know that “our discourse is inherently intertextual and allusive” (12), still one wonders if Mark (and Matthew and Luke) really thinks of Israel as still in exile—a la N. T. Wright (16, 109f., 120, 175, 195)? I do not think either Wright or Hays has proven this controversial assertion. At times the focus on reading retrogressively appears to dominate the plain reading of the passage. As another example, Hays seems to view Christ’s sacrifice as a redefinition and reconfiguration of the Sinai covenant, not as an altogether separate “New” covenant (36). One wonders whether an assumption is getting in the way here. In fact, there are cases where Hays’s exegesis on the basis of reading backwards looks like guesswork (27, 43). Does Mark 4:29 really echo Joel 3:13-14? (25). Does Mark 4:30-31 transparently echo Ezekiel 17:23-24? (31).

As another example, at several points in handling the Synoptics Hays employs the understanding of the “Son of Man” figure in Daniel 7:13-14 as a corporate entity, not an individual. To me at least, one huge problem with this is is the confusion that would have arisen when Jesus used this very title as the favorite way of referring to Himself!

Unsurprisingly for a scholar out of Duke, Hays betrays some of his critical colors along the way (73, 106, 108, 117, 129, 143-144, 151, 161, 239, 352, 382 n. 84). He employs ANE parallelism when discussing the Chaoskampf of early Genesis (67). His embracing of Q; his seeing Mark as sharing the apocalyptic outlook (36), and even his acceptance of Markan priority also color his work at times (e.g. his repeated view that Luke follows Mark).

Hays agrees with much scholarship on the third Gospel. In this he does not pay enough attention to the Kingdom of God motif in Luke – Acts, reading it more in terms of ecclesiology (192, 264f.); a position that has become increasingly common in our day. He also offers scant attention to the role of covenant, although there is some recognition of it here and there (e.g. 111, 119-120).

Other criticisms could be made, but I want to return to a note of appreciation for this work. It really is a book of brilliant scholarship which will become quite as influential within conservative circles as its precursor on Paul has been. Throughout, the deity of Christ and the cruciality of His resurrection is insisted upon. In fact, the use that “figuration” and “metalepsis” are put to by Hays in service of these two doctrines will doubtless be a major cause of its becoming considered a “classic” in the years ahead.

With that said, I do not think works of this kind teach us how to read the OT, but they do teach us how many 21st century evangelicals read it, and it calls us to deeper scrutiny of the biblical texts.

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There are 3 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

Hays' book, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, was very helpful to me in writing my book, The Amazing Doctrines of Paul as Midrash.   I wish this first book was around when I wrote, The Midrash Key (which deals with the Gospels).

I am certainly conservative, but I appreciate Hayes ability to bring out passages where, to my way of thinking, New Testaments authors engage in midrash of a mother text (Old Testament text).  Of course, when you start suggesting historical events in the Gospels are fabrications, that presents a problem. But when you hold a high view of Scripture and view them as types, they can be valuable.

So, like you, Paul, I find him very useful, for those of us who will use the rubric of God's Word and the funamentals of the faith to screen and, I would argue, better interpret the information.  I was not aware that this book was out.  Thanks for the heads up.

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

I bought the book and have thumbed through it and read a few preview portions.  Looks like it will be helpful in my quest for New Testament  Midrash of the Old!

Thanks, again Paul.  I am behind the iimes and had not idea that this was out.

"The Midrash Detective"

Paul Henebury's picture

I'm glad you thought the book worth buying.  I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who did not have a decent grasp of the Bible and Theology.  As you know, I am not as taken with the idea of midrash as you are, but I think you are likely to get quite a lot from it. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

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