The following book review was published in Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 35.2 (2017), 219-21. It is posted here with permission of the editor. Further details about the issue of SBET can be found here.
Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. By Richard B. Hays.
Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-481-0491-7. xix + 504pp. £33.50.
Richard B. Hays’s book, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale UP, 1989), had a huge impact on the field of New Testament studies. The notion of ‘intertextual echoes’, along with Hays’s seven ‘tests’ for detecting them, have played a significant (though not uncontested) role in biblical interpretation ever since.
Now Hays has produced a much larger volume that self-consciously builds on the earlier work (seen clearly in the parallel title and the similar cover art), this time considering the four canonical Gospels.
Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels appeared soon after the publication of a shorter volume dealing with much the same theme, entitled Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014). As Hays explains in his preface to the larger book, the material for the 2013-14 Hulsean Lectures (Cambridge), published as Reading Backwards, was in fact drawn from the draft manuscript of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. So, if you have already read Reading Backwards, you will have been given a good taster of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. If you have not yet read Reading Backwards, then you can afford to skip it and simply read the more fully developed work.
The book follows a consistent pattern. Following an introductory chapter that lays out the principles adopted in the book, there are four lengthy chapters on the four canonical Gospels: ‘The Gospel of Mark: Herald of Mystery’, ‘The Gospel of Matthew: Torah Transfigured’, ‘The Gospel of Luke: The Liberation of Israel’, and ‘The Gospel of John: The Temple of His Body’.
Each chapter has five sections. These deal with the following issues (quoting Hays’s bullet points on page 9):
- The Evangelist as interpreter of Israel’s Scripture: overview
- How does the Evangelist invoke/evoke Scripture to re-narrate Israel’s story?
- How does the Evangelist invoke/evoke Scripture to narrate the identity of Jesus?
- How does the Evangelist invoke/evoke Scripture to narrate the church’s role in relation to the world?
- Summary conclusion: findings about the distinctive scriptural hermeneutics of the Evangelist.
Following the main chapters, Hays provides a brief conclusion. There are some seventy-four pages of end notes, some quite substantial, followed by a bibliography, an index of Scripture and other ancient texts, and an index of names. In the preface, Hays acknowledges significant help (particularly relating to the notes) from a number of academic colleagues as he worked to complete the manuscript during a period of serious illness.
In his introduction, Hays indicates his presupposition that ‘all four canonical Gospels are deeply embedded in a symbolic world shaped by the Old Testament’ (p. 10). In considering intertextual references, Hays employs the categories, familiar to many of his readers, of ‘quotation’, ‘allusion’, and ‘echo’. At the heart of Hays’s approach is the concept of ‘metalepsis’. Hays explains (p. 11),
Metalepsis is a literary technique of citing or echoing a small bit of a precursor text in such a way that the reader can grasp the significance of the echo only by recalling or recovering the original context from which the fragmentary echo came and then reading the two texts in dialogical juxtaposition. The figurative effect of such an intertextual linkage lies in the unstated or suppressed points of correspondence between the two texts.
In his conclusion, Hays states succinctly his notion of ‘figural interpretation’ (p. 359, italics are original):
In short, figural interpretation discerns a divinely crafted pattern of coherence within the events and characters of the biblical narratives.
Reading Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels was a pleasure. Hays writes clearly and elegantly. The book is a rich collection of short studies of passages from the Gospels. Hays recognises that some of the cases he makes are stronger than others, but even where the reader may not always be convinced by Hays’s argument, there is much to learn from his careful discussions of specific texts. Hebrew and Greek script is used both in the main text of the book and in the notes, but readers without Hebrew and Greek should still be able to make sense of the discussion without much difficulty.
Combined with the detailed analysis of possible verbal correspondences in various texts, Hays offers a richly theological reading of the Gospels that will be of great benefit to preachers. In particular, he emphasises the high Christology that his studies suggest. For example, with reference to Matthew’s Gospel, Hays writes (p. 175, italics are original),
Matthew highlights the worship of Jesus for one reason: he believes and proclaims that Jesus is the embodied presence of God and that to worship Jesus is to worship YHWH—not merely an agent or a facsimile or an intermediary. If we read the story within the hermeneutical matrix of Israel’s Scripture, we can draw no other conclusion.
Perhaps one of Hays’s most significant legacies will be a renewed emphasis within academic biblical studies on the coherence and interconnectedness of Scripture. In his conclusion he urges readers to become immersed in the texts of the Old Testament as the Evangelists were (p. 357, italics are original),
What would it mean to undertake the task of reading Scripture along with the Evangelists? First of all, it would mean cultivating a deep knowledge of the Old Testament texts, getting these texts into our blood and bones. It would mean learning the texts by heart in the fullest sense. The pervasive, complex, and multivalent uses of Scripture that we find in the Gospels could arrive only in and for a community immersed in scriptural language and imagery…. But, alas, many Christian communities have lost touch with the sort of deep primary knowledge of Scripture—especially Israel’s Scripture—that would enable them even to perceive the messages conveyed by the Evangelists’ biblical allusions and echoes, let alone to employ Scripture with comparable facility in their own preaching and renarration of the gospel story.
I hope many teachers, students and preachers will read this book, consider carefully its ideas, and so take up Hays’s challenge to enable themselves and others to engage with the Old Testament (and the Gospels) more fully and effectively.