Learning from Paul

(Guest Post by Ben. T)

This weekend I finally made my way through Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul by Richard Hays. As expected, the book was loaded with helpful insights from a seasoned Pauline scholar. Surprisingly, though, I found the book personally challenging on a number of practical levels.

Hays writes as both a scholar and a churchman, seeking to make accessible and practical his insights to the community of faith. He writes, “Paul’s readings characteristically treat Scripture as a living voice that speaks to the people of God. The Bible for Paul is not just a chronicle of revelation in the past; the words of Scripture sound from the page in the present moment and address the community of believers with authority.” [1]

The book ends with several points aimed at summarizing his proposal. His observations and trajectories are not new in the sense of being unique, but it is refreshing to read a scholar who is so candid regarding the functional role of Scripture in the formation and transformation of the church as God’s eschatological community.

He writes:

If we learned from Paul how to read Scripture, we would read it in the service of proclamation. Christian biblical interpretation has its original and proper Sitz im Leben in preaching or (as in Paul’s letters) in pastoral counsel–that is to say, in acts of reading that construe Scripture as a word of direct address to the community. When Bonhoeffer read in 2 Tim. 4:21, ‘Do your best to come before winter,’ and took it as God’s word to him, he was operating with hermeneutical assumptions faithful to Paul’s example. This may not be good exegesis, but it was never proposed as exegesis of the text; rather, it was a charismatic, prophetic transference of the text’s sense. Indeed, Paul’s way of using Scripture suggests that homiletical and prophetic readings can sometimes be more faithful than rigorously exegetical ones. Exegesis gives us critical distance from the text; preaching thrusts the text’s word directly into our faces. The word is near us, and it demands a response. This strategy of reading is risky, because it strips away critical controls, exposing us to the danger of arbitrary or manipulative interpretations. On the other hand, unless we learn from Paul to read Scripture as a word addressed directly to us, we will never proclaim the word of God with power. [2]

I am constantly wrestling with the divide that exists between the academy and the church. How do we go about bridging the chasm between the two while moving towards synthesis over mere supplementation? Is it even possible?

Whatever the case, Hays presents a vital starting point—we must (re)capture the kerygmatic function of Scripture. It is God’s living and active word to us.

See also:

Richard Hays on “Why we need Eschatology

Richard Hays on “Reading the Bible with Eyes of  Faith”

[1] Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 165.

[2] Hays, Echoes, 185.