Friday, July 28, 2006

Hays' "Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul"

I was pretty disappointed in Richard B. Hays' book, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. Not that there weren't insights here and there, but I thought the two big points were, respectively, obvious and wrong (or at least pretty wrong).

The first big point Hays makes is the overall theme of the book -- that the Old Testament Scriptures formed the woof and weave of the sources upon which Paul drew. I guess this is a controversial proposition in some circles. Nonetheless, pick up commentaries or sermons from ancient times to modern, and we see authors turning to the Old Testament to understand Paul use of those Scriptures.

The second big argument Hays advances is that Paul's letters are "ecclesiocentric" rather than "Christocentric."

I think there's an important insight in that claim. But Hays takes it too far. He seems to want to run a dividing wall between the two concepts, essentially claiming that what is predicated of Christ cannot also be predicated of the church, and vice versa. So, he concludes, Paul just basically disagrees with the more Christocentric New-Testament authors.

I don't buy it. If one takes the idea that the church is the body of Christ as a central concept in Paul's letters -- and I do -- then ecclesiocentricity and Christocentricity cannot be pitted against one another. Paul's letters are "ecclesiocentric" because of the distinctive nature of his ministry expressed through these letters to these churches. But this hardly makes these letters any less Christocentric in principle. What is predicated of Christ can be predicated of his body, the church. (That's probably an overstatement, but it's true enough with regard to the elements of Hays' argument.)


Blogger Wayne said...

Good catch, Jim. Regarding the first point, I think Hays is still battling the ghost of Bultmann and the Germans who generally downplayed the OT in Paul in favor of Greek/Stoic philosophy. It still has traction in places like Yale and Duke University.

I generally liked the book when I read it about six years ago. I don't recall thinking much about the Christology/ecclesiology gap at the time. But I've learned that I can be a pretty careless reader at times too.

August 05, 2006 8:20 AM  
Blogger Rev. Mark J. Henninger said...

I appreciate your take here, Jim. I have not read the book, but I am baffled by any who seek to separate Christ from His church, (which, of course, cannot be done--organically, at least). Paul's letters--as I would argue all of Scripture--is "ecclesiocentric" in Luther's sense, that all the Bible speaks of Christ. And, what speaks of Christ, speaks, in applicatory benefit, of His bride.
Mark Henninger,

December 11, 2007 10:01 AM  

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