Richard B. HAYS, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 213pp., 2005. ISBN 0-8028-12620-7.
Reviewed by Dennis HAMM, S.J., Creighton University, Omaha, NE 68178

This volume presents the second harvest of a project whose first harvest found expression in Hays’ ground-breaking studies gathered in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale, 1989). Pauline scholars may have encountered some of the ten studies that comprise the gist of this book as they appeared over the past two decades in various journals and Festschriften. Now they are conveniently gathered here between two covers, in up-dated and expanded form.

This is a boon for all serious students of Paul’s letters, for Hays has been busy with a sustained study of the Apostle’s reading of the Septuagint that is likely to transform our own understanding of the place of Israel’s Scripture in Paul’s thought. For Hays, Paul’s echoes and quotations of Scripture are not the atomistic and “decorative” references that they have sometimes taken to be in standard commentaries. On the contrary, Paul’s reading of Scripture is central to his thinking. The “conversion of imagination” in the title has a twofold meaning: (1) it refers to the Apostle’s own conversion of imagination as he came to understand Israel’s Scripture in a new way after coming to see Jesus of Nazareth as that Scripture’s fulfillment; and (2) the title also refers to the Christian church’s conversion of imagination to which Paul’s rereading of Israel’s Scripture invites us.

Key to Hays’ contribution is his ability to demonstrate that Paul’s allusions to the LXX often entail more of the context of the “target” text than the alluding word, or even the full quotation, immediately indicate. Indeed, as in the case of Psalm 143 in Romans 3, the Old Testament text often supplies the matrix that gives coherence to Paul’s argument.

In Hays’ reading, Paul does not use Scripture is a convenient thesaurus of texts to proclaim the saving power of the death and resurrection of Jesus in some supersessionist way. Rather, he finds a profound continuity in Paul’s rereading of Israel’s written tradition. The Christian experience of the risen Lord is about a continuation of Israel’s life with God; thus, Paul’s rereading of Israel’s Scripture is not simply christocentric but “ecclesiocentric.” For Paul, the church finds not only Jesus in those Scriptures; it finds itself there as well. For his converted imagination, Israel’s Scriptures prefigure the end-time community of the church, “Israel reconfigured around Christ.”

For Hays, Paul’s readings of Scripture are always a pastoral, community-forming activity. These readings are not the work of an historian or systematic theologian; rather, they are poetic, the product of a preacher using the language of Scripture to proclaim what God is doing in his own time. Finally, Paul’s use of Scripture is never a mere marshalling of proof-texts; always, he reads Scripture narratively, locating the church within the story of God’s election, judgment and redemption of his people.

This assessment of Paul’s relationship to Israel’s Scripture obviously challenges many received scholarly opinions. Consequently, Hays’ project has not gone unchallenged. Hayes is fully aware of his critics and takes pains to address their observations and objections in this fresh edition of his recent work. Especially welcome in this regard are his final two chapters. “On the Rebound: A Response to Critiques of Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul” provides in-depth clarifications and, where necessary, rebuttals to the critiques of some major Pauline scholars and makes for a satisfying résumé of his arguments. The final chapter, “A Hermeneutic of Trust” is a bold and refreshing response of the author’s own converted imagination to the recent season of the hermeneutics of suspicion.

Any serious student of Paul, or of the New Testament, for that matter, will profit from this book. Scholars will neglect it at their peril.

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