Reviews of

Richard Hays, “Torah Reconfigured: Reading Scripture with Matthew”

In Edinburgh, Gospels, Gunning Lectures, HB/OT, Hermeneutics, Intertextuality, Kerry Lee, Matthew, New Testament, NT Theology, Richard HAYS, Scripture, SEMINAR REPORTS, Septuagint on January 25, 2012 at 8:29 am

A report on a paper given by Richard Hays (Dean and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke University in Durham, NC), 19 January 2012. Professor Hays is delivering this year’s Gunning Lectures at New College, University of Edinburgh, on the topic “Israel’s Scripture Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers.”

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Professor Hays’ third lecture in the 2012 Gunning series focused on the Gospel of Matthew, whose use of the Old Testament has become a central feature of the scholarly characterisation of the New Testament’s overall appropriation of the Old Testament. Very often, the Gospel writers’ use of the Old Testament is understood as a series of proof-texts which show no concern for the meaning or context of the cited or alluded Old Testament reference. Professor Hays’ aim in these lectures, and especially in this one, is to challenge this view by closely reading the Gospels with special sensitivity to the unique narrative strategies of the individual writers.

The intertextual strategy of Matthew in many ways makes a striking contrast with that of Mark. Whereas Mark’s use of Old Testament allusion consistently puts Jesus in a role in stories which, in the story’s Old Testament counterpart, was played by God and God alone, Matthew tends to depict Jesus playing the role of Israel or of significant figures in Israel’s past, as if Jesus is, himself, recapitulating the entirety of Israel’s history. Mark’s and Matthew’s language and method of citation differ, as well. Mark is very restrained in speaking exaltingly of Jesus. Matthew shows no hesitation in this respect. Mark leaves questions unanswered and comparisons half-formed, whereas Matthew provides explicit explanations (e.g. Mark 13:14 versus Matthew 24:15 which adds “spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place”). Along these lines, Hays characterises Matthew’s purpose as more didactic than Mark’s.

One notable distinction of Matthew is his formula for direct citation, the repeated phrase “This happened so that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet saying” or some variation of this. Because the exact citation is very often clearly not originally a predictive text, this historically gave rise to a tendency in (post-apostolic) Christian interpretation to view the Old Testament as a reservoir of proof-texts, and this has in turn been inherited by modern biblical scholars as the hermeneutical strategy perceived to be intended by the writers of the New Testament. However, Hays argues that Matthew’s use of the Old Testament is far more sophisticated than that, including not simply citations but allusions, typology and what Hays called “shadow stories” (though I am unfamiliar with this term). Furthermore, Matthew’s use of citations is not simply a series of appeals to unrelated proof-texts presumed to be predictive. Instead, Matthew places Jesus, through these citations, within the larger historical narrative of Israel.

Hays’ series of examples begins with the genealogy of chapter one. Rather than understanding the genealogy as primarily establishing the legitimacy of Jesus’ claim to the throne of David (why bother with the genealogy if Joseph is not the biological father?), Hays sees the genealogy as situating Jesus in a meaningful manner and place within the larger history of Israel. The genealogy recalls Genesis in its strategy of epochs defined by artificially equal numbers of generations (three groups of 14 in Matthew 1, beginning with Abraham; two groups of 10 in Genesis 5 and 11 ending with Abraham). This comparison is very interesting, as well, in that Genesis subtly depicts the personalities framing the two genealogical lists of chapters five and ten and their stories as recapitulations of creation itself. The symbolic significance for Jesus, if this narrative strategy is carried over into Matthew’s genealogy, is exciting. While I do not recall Hays stating this “Jesus as new creation” part of the comparison explicitly, I do think it was at least strongly implied in his thought trajectory. But beyond this, the division of Israel’s history by Matthew into three “chapters” (with Jesus inaugurating a fourth) imposes a schema onto that history which would understand Jesus as heir to the promise, restorer of the kingdom, and ender of the exile. Lastly, the inclusion of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba but not Sarah, Rebekah or Leah is an intentional declaration of the openness of the gospel to Gentiles.

The downplaying of the genealogy as establishing Jesus’ royal credentials does not mean that Jesus as Davidic King is not a significant theme for Matthew. On the contrary, as just one example of Matthew’s use of David as a type for Jesus, the answer to question of where the Messiah was to be born in Matthew 2:5-6 makes primary reference to Micah 5:1, but its last phrase “who will govern my people Israel” Hays understands as a reference to the LXX of 2 Samuel 5:2, the context of which is the choice of David as king over the house of Saul. In this way, Hays argues, the writer of Matthew uses David versus Saul typology to enhance the declaration of Jesus as the rightful king rather than Herod. This is also an excellent example of a hermeneutical tendency Hays has observed in Matthew: in his allusions and citations, Matthew often fuses two different texts, perhaps from very different contexts, both of which are significant for the allusion.

Not only does Jesus recapitulate the roles of individual figures from Israelite history, at times he recapitulates the nation as a whole. For example, take the significance of Hosea 11 for Matthew’s story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ escape into and return from Egypt. In its original context, Hosea 11:1 is not a prediction of a coming Messiah, let alone of said Messiah’s sojourn in Egypt. Rather, it is a poem reflecting on Israel’s past, God’s faithfulness and Israel’s lack thereof, and its theme is exile and return (11:5 – “They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king”; 11:11b – “‘I will return them to their homes,’ says the LORD”). Much of Matthew 2 echoes the story of the Exodus without citing the book of Exodus itself. Rather, texts quoted are from the Prophets. Beside Hosea 11, Matthew 2:18 cites Jeremiah 31:15, where the subject is the taking into captivity of Judeans and Yahweh’s promise to return them (see Jer31:16 – “‘They shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future,’ says the LORD”). In this way, the story in Matthew 1) portrays Jesus as recapitulating the story of the Exodus in the role of Israel; 2) portrays Herod in the role of Pharaoh, King Saul, and possibly the rulers of Babylon; 3) reflects the prophetic appropriation of Israel’s ancient history, including the Exodus story, as types for the Exile and the return from it. One wonders if one can go even farther and suggest that the use of Jeremiah 31:15 also hints at a future resurrection for the boys slaughtered at Bethlehem (death = Exile?).

Hays next transitioned into a discussion of Matthew’s hermeneutic of mercy. Not only does Matthew narrate the life of Jesus using Old Testament stories as an interpretive lens, but Matthew also appeals to the Old Testament in his theology. Matthew’s Jesus is insistent that he does not come to destroy the Torah but to fulfil it. Torah obedience is an important theme for Matthew, but it is balanced and animated by mercy and forgiveness. Matthew twice embeds Hosea 6:6 (“I desire mercy and not sacrifice”) into Jesus’ answers to Pharisaic objections to Jesus’ actions or those of his disciples. Hosea 6:6, then, becomes a lens through which the entire Torah is to be understood and prioritised. Hays points out that Matthew is here not far from emergent Rabbinism of the time in that changing circumstances required both to reread the Torah. For Matthew, Jesus’ authority was the basis for the rereading.

Hays briefly discussed Matthew’s emphasis on the inclusion of the Gentiles, mentioning the Magi from chapter 2 and the quotation of Isaiah 42:1-4 in Matthew 12:18-21. Hays drew attention to the fact that Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 echo some of the things attributed to Daniel’s “son of man,” especially in the emphasis on the ends of the earth. In this way, baptism and discipleship are depicted as the manner in which the nations are “conquered” and placed under the feet of Jesus.

Hays had a great deal more to say about Matthew than he had time, but he summarised his findings in Matthew under four points answering the question “What kind of shape is given Israel’s scripture by Matthew’s interpretations?” First, scripture is narrative, a story, not chiefly a set of rules or prophetic proof-texts. Second, scripture is a summons to a transformed heart. The Torah is not set aside, but rather Matthew’s Jesus calls disciples to radical obedience to its spirit. Third, scripture is read as a message of mercy, seen especially in the prominence of Hosea 6:6. Matthew gives no systematic reconciliation of inevitable tensions between law and mercy, but he highlights mercy as deepest obedience to Torah. Fourth, scripture is a mandate for mission to the Gentiles. This, in fact, is the reason for radical Torah obedience. By that obedience all the world will be brought, through baptism and discipleship, under the feet of Jesus, the son of man.

Kerry Lee
University of Edinburgh

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  1. […] Hays delivers lectures on “Torah Reconfigured: Reading Scripture with Matthew” and “The One Who Redeems Israel: Reading Scripture with Luke” (HT: Kerry […]

  2. […] the first half of Hays’ lecture, let me refer the reader to the reports already posted on Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. However, there were a few comments in this half of the lecture which were new and […]

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