09 April 2002

I just finished reading Richard Hays's The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1 - 4:11 (2nd Edition; Eerdmans, 2002). The new edition includes a very helpful introduction and a couple of appendices.

I don't agree with all of Hays's exegetical conclusions (e.g., with regard to Paul's citation of Leviticus in Galatians 3), but his overall approach is interesting and helpful. His main argument is that Galatians (and many other of Paul's letters) are not best understood simply by attempting to trace the logic of his arguments taken on their own. Rather, Paul's mode of argumentation presupposes a basic underlying narrative in which God, Israel, Christ, the law, believers, and so on, each have an important role to play and this narrative formed the core of Paul's earlier preaching to the Galatians about Christ.

This narrative substructure comes fairly clearly to the surface of the text in a compressed form at a couple of points (e.g., Galatians 3:13-14; 4:4-5), but for the most part is simply presupposed. Thus, much of the logic of Paul's argument is not so much a rigorous formal logic found in what he explicitly says, but a narrative logic located in the story he assumes his audience to already know and share. Hays's way of uncovering the narrative substructure of the text provides a powerful tool for exegesis of particular passages, especially ones that are open to a variety of exegetical options (e.g., the much contested "pistis Christou" -- the "faith of Christ").

Since Hays's book is also his doctoral dissertation, it sometimes reads like one, going into greater detail and interaction with various sources than is really helpful for the average reader. Nonetheless, it is a very good book which, along with his Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, has done much good in getting biblical scholars to step back and get the big picture of Paul's theology, the story of Jesus he wants to tell, and his way of handling the Old Testament.