Read my notes on Chapter Two: Intertextual Echo in Romans here.

Ecclesiocentric Hermeneutics

Hays is adamant that rather than a christocentric interpretation of the OT, Paul primarily sees the church as “the goal of God’s redemptive action” (p.84). “What Paul finds in Scripture, above all else, is a prefiguration of the church as the people of God” (p.85).

In line with this, there are two important questions to consider:

  1. What does Paul’s use of the scriptural texts suggest about his understanding of the relation between the church and Israel?
  2. What is the relation of Paul’s ecclesiocentric hermeneutical practice to his christological beliefs?

Israel in the Wilderness

Hays examines 2 Cor. 8:15, which echoes Exod. 16 and Deut. 8, as Paul draws out the conclusion that the Corinthians should depend on God and not hoard their abundance. This reading is subtle and metaleptic: the reader “must draw out the sap” of Paul’s apparently simple quotation (p.90).

The Israel/Church Typology

The second text he studies is 1 Cor. 10:1-13, where Paul strangely quotes Exodus 32:6 “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” What he argues is that Paul applies the story of Israel’s sin as a warning directly to his Gentile audience by linking church and Israel in 1 Cor. 10. Hays says this works if “the imaginative device of reading Israel’s story [is] not just as an instructive example but as a prefiguration of the Christian church with its sacraments” (p.95).

Does this linking replace Israel with the church? No, from 1 Cor. 5:13 and 10:1-22, “the relation between Israel and the church is one of positive correspondence, not antithesis” (p.97). Thus, we must see “Israel and church as pilgrim people who stand in different times, difference chapters of the same story, but in identical relation to the same gracious and righteous God” (p.99). In other words, the church is the true fulfilment of Israel’s scriptures.

At the same time, this fulfilment is astonishing and “unpredictable on the basis of the story’s plot development” (p.100). Nobody could have predicted that Jesus would fulfil the OT promises through his death and resurrection. Thus, although we must look through the Christ event to reread the OT, it is not novel. Instead, we find Christ and his church prefigured in the OT.

But it’s important to note once again that Paul’s hermeneutic is ecclesiocentric rather than christocentric, “he makes the biblical text pass through the filter of his expericen of God’s action of forming the church. The full meaning of God’s eschatological redemptive purpose is now definitely enacted in the Christian community” (p.102, cf. p.104).

Scripture Prefigures the Blessing of Gentiles

Hays looks at Gal. 3:8 and concludes that the gospel “message preproclaimed to Abraham is a gospel about God’s poeple rather than about a Messiah” (p.106). His second conclusions is that “the agent that does the preproclaiming to Abraham is Scripture, quasi-personified” (p.106). Thirdly, the meaning of this “preproclamation must be understood retrospectively in light of its fulfilment in the church” (p.107). Later, he writes, “the fulfilment precedes the promise, hermeneutically speaking: only because he sees in the Christian community the fulfilment of the promised blessing does Paul venture a retrospective interpretation of its latent sense” (p.109). This sounds like the idea that Paul’s theology moves from solution to plight (cf. Stephen Westerholm?).

Paul’s allegory of Abraham’s two sons in Gal. 4:21-31 is puzzling, and Hays teases out Paul’s “counterreading” to make Genesis 21 say what he wants to say. One of the most important feature here is that the “Hagar-Ishmael-slavery” symbol is associated not with Gentiles, “but with Sinai and the Law” (p.114)!