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New Book: Richard B. Hays, Reading with the Grain of Scripture

New Book: Richard B. Hays, Reading with the Grain of Scripture October 28, 2020

Reading with the Grain of Scripture

I don’t tend to pay much attention to essay collections, but this latest published offering from Richard Hays is unique and worthy of interest for a number of reasons.

Unlike many other scholars, Hays’s essays and articles fit together pretty well. Some essay collections are disjointed, but even though Hays’s work covers the span of the NT canon and engages with hermeneutics and NT theology, there is a more natural flow here than in most books of this kind. (But keep in mind Hays did not update any of the essays in a substantial way; they are recorded here more or less in the form they first appeared.)

The book divides 21 chapters into four parts: Interpretation (chs. 1-4), Historical Jesus (chs. 5-8), Paul (chs. 9-15), and New Testament Theology (chs. 16-21). There are a few essays in here that I think every student of the Bible should read like: “Reading Scripture with Eyes of Faith” (ch. 2), “Story, History, and the Quest for Jesus” (ch. 6), and “A Hermeneutic of Trust” (Conclusion).

Diversity and Coherence

Hays did not write any new essays for this project, aside from the introduction and conclusion. (Though there is one previously unpublished paper he included, I think.) But I found it really insightful to read in the introduction how he was able to identify six themes that emerge again and again in his body of work.

(1) The importance of narrative as the “glue” that holds the Bible together.

(2) The retrospectively discerned figural coherence between the Old Testament and the New.

(3) The centrality of the resurrection of Jesus. [NKG: I am a bit surprised not to see the cross more prominently spotlighted here, since it was one of his key focal images in Moral Vision]

(4) The hope for new creation and God’s eschatological transformation of the world.

(5) The importance of standing in trusting humility before the text.

(6) The importance of reading Scripture within and for the community of faith: the ekklesia tou theou

A Dark Fruition

One of my favorite features of this book is the “Epilogue,” the transcript from Hays’s retirement lecture at Duke Divinity School (Sept, 2018). Hays reflects on a number of biblical passages that have been meaningful to him in the last several years, especially John 12:24-26, which talks about a grain of wheat falling and dying and bearing much fruit. He quotes a poignant sonnet on this text from the talented poet and priest Malcolm Guite. I will just quote a few lines:

Oh, let me fall as grain to the good earth

And die away from all dry separation,

Die to my sole self, and find new birth

Within that very death, a dark fruition […]

I will stop there, but you can read the whole sonnet here.

Reading with the Grain of Scripture is a wonderful resource, not just to dip into for research now and again, but to savor. Very few scholars could put together an essay collection that is worthy of reading cover to cover. But Hays is not an ordinary scholar.

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