Reviews of

Reading with the Grain of Scripture

In Eerdmans, Gospels, Intertextuality, Nathan Charles Ridlehoover, Paul, Richard HAYS, Scripture, theological Interpretation of Scripture on February 19, 2021 at 3:00 pm

2021.2.6 | Richard B. Hays. Reading with the Grain of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020. ISBN: 978-0-8028-7845-8.

Review by Charles Nathan Ridlehoover, Columbia Biblical Seminary.

Students and scholars of the New Testament hardly need an introduction to Richard Hays. Hays has written ground-breaking scholarship on the letters of Paul and New Testament ethics, and his latest full-length study examines intertextual echoes in the Gospels and their Christological significance (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels). Just before his retirement in 2018, Hays assumed the mantle of dean of Duke Divinity School while maintaining his role as the George Washington Ivey Professor Emeritus of New Testament.

Reading with the Grain of Scripture brings together some major themes found throughout Hays’ work on Paul and Jesus, particularly of the last 25 years. As many will recognize, this volume is not the first collection of Hays’ scholarship (The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture), but it does offer something distinctive. The collection is a reflection of Hays’ personal desires to “carry out scholarly work as an aspect of discipleship—as a process of faith seeking exegetical clarity” (p. 2). Hays notes six themes that he hopes the reader will identify throughout the essays:

  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.
  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.

These major themes bring unity to what otherwise might be perceived as a random collection of essays. The perceived randomness is partially attributable to the origins of the writing. These essays started as public lectures, journal articles, book reviews, and chapters in edited volumes. One small touch in the editing process is the assignment of new titles to help with coherence among the topics. To those ends, the essays are split into four major sections: “Interpretation” (Part 1), “Historical Jesus” (Part 2), “Paul” (Part 3), and “New Testament Theology” (Part 4). Each section has essays that will be familiar to those who have kept up with Hays’ career. Therein, one will find entries on narrative interpretation, figural readings of the OT, responses to the historical exegesis of the Jesus Seminar and N. T. Wright, Paul’s take on various theological categories, as well as synthetic work captured in theological reflections. The book formally concludes with an apologetic for a hermeneutic of trust grounded in Paul’s view of faith and Hays’ retirement lecture to his Duke Divinity colleagues (“Dark Fruition—Waiting in Hope”).

In the preface of the book, Hays explains that he was cleaning out his office and rediscovered some work he had written some time ago. This discovery coupled with the moment of retirement sent Hays into a reflective posture—thinking about the beginning of his career in light of the end. In many ways, this explanation by Hays is not simply a personal note, but perhaps the proper way to read Reading with the Grain of Scripture. Start with the retirement lecture that forms the epilogue to the book on page 403. These twelve pages set the tone for the entire book. Sure, the introduction gives the reader direction, but it does not have the fullness of the epilogue. In this final essay, Hays describes his scholarly pursuits in the midst of his disorienting diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the humiliation of realizing that pride had given him much of his drive and success, and the general admission that he had written about community for years without truly understanding it. It is inspiring and will certainly send the reader into introspection. What would I do if I were in similar circumstances? Why do I read and write the way that I do? Do I truly love people and appreciate their investment in my life? I found myself asking all these questions and more. The pastoral tone of the essay is palpable and a fitting lecture for a man wanting to marry scholarship and discipleship. The essay also points the reader to the hope of New Creation. Reading in this fashion gives the preceding essays a “conclusion” of sorts and deeper understanding of Hays’ metanarrative plan.In addition to this pastoral (and farewell) aspect of the book, the essays give the reader access to the ground floor of some of what has become the more exciting developments in Biblical studies. I am specifically referring to intertextual echoes and the interplay between history and narrative. Specific essays that address these issues are found in Part 1 and “Story, History, and the Quest for Jesus” in Part 2. One small drawback of the essays in the Historical Jesus section (section 2) is the dated material. Although the section has no work from the last 10 years, this problem can easily be remedied with a reading of Hays’ last full-length book—Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. In conclusion, I can heartily recommend this book to those wanting a model of beautiful writing, precision in scholarship, inspiration for reexamining familiar texts, and maybe a gentle nudge to “go clean out their garage.”

Charles Nathan Ridlehoover
Columbia Biblical Seminary
nathan.ridlehoover [at]

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