Monday, January 18, 2010

If You Get the Chance...

One of the most brilliant and influential New Testament scholars of our time, Richard Hays, has a great essay in a volume he coedited with Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Seeking the Identity of Jesus, entitled "The Story of God's Son: The Identity of Jesus in the Letters of Paul". Hays does a masterful job of distilling an enormous amount of information in relatively short order (20 pages; 180-199).

First, as Hays astutely notes when referring to Paul's problems with the "superapostles"in Corinth (e.g. 2 Cor 11.3-4), that "...Paul's own preaching must have included his own very specific account of the identity of Jesus, his own particular way of telling the Jesus story (italics original; 180). Hays spends the rest of his essay identifying what that story looked like.

Two things regarding this essay in particular resonated with me. First, Hays rightly stresses that despite relatively little biographical data about Jesus in the letters of Paul (see synopsis on 181), "...on virtually every page of his letters, Paul talks about Jesus" (182). This point is followed by a quote that summarizes the point beautifully:

Thus, the distinction between 'the Jesus of history' and 'the Christ of faith' is misleading when applied to Paul's writings. For Paul, Jesus Christ is a single person whose identity is disclosed in a seamless narrative running from creation to the cross to the resurrection to the eschaton. The historical details of his earthly life, such as his death by crucifixion, are no more and no less a part of his identity than are his role in creation and his present lordship in the community of those who call upon his name (182).

This quote sounds very similar to something N.T. Wright might express and I think it hits the nail on the proverbial head.

Secondly, another point Hays helps brings to light is in his section titled "Eschatological Consummation" (197-199). Hays writes:

Paul's story about the identity of Jesus contains one last surprising twist. At that eschatological day, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, when his triumph over all things, including the power of death, is complete and all things are put under his feet in subjection- then, at that moment, he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father (e.g. 1 Cor 15.24-28)...Thus, the grand conclusion of the plot shows that the identity of Jesus is still consistent. In the day of eschatological consummation, he is still the same obedient, self-emptying Son on whose act of radical self-giving the salvation of the world depends. If the story had any other ending, he would indeed be 'another Jesus' (italics mine; 198).

So, if you get the chance (hence, the title of this post) be sure to check out this essay. Hays deftly covers all the major plotlines of Paul's story regarding Jesus and does it in a very lucid fashion.

BTW- It would be irresponsible of me to not mention the wonderful interview conducted by John Anderson on his blog Hesed we 'emet. I know many have already mentioned it as well as read it, but it by far one of the best blog interviews I have had the privilege of reading. Secondly, Andy Rowell continues to do excellent work and has rounded up all things Richard Hays (i.e. audio and video lectures, bibliography, etc.).

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