We’re coming to the end of our journey through Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament. (You can see my summaries and comments on each chapter here.)
Today, I’d like to backtrack to chapter 13 – “How Shall We Use the Texts?” This is where Hays’ method is laid out most clearly. He sums up his approach and then offers ten guidelines for grasping New Testament ethics.
Summary and Normative Reflections
The Descriptive and Synthetic Tasks
- Wrestling with sustained close reading of the New Testament texts is likely to produce more compelling and sophisticated results.
- Attending to the entire range of the canonical witnesses are on firmer theological ground.
- 3 focal images: community, cross, and new creation. An ethic of the New Testament must be kept in balance by a reading that gives sustained and serious attention to all three of these images.
The Hermeneutical Task
- New Testament texts must be granted authority (or not) in the mode in which they speak.
- We should guard against falling into a habit of reading NT ethical texts in one mode only.
- We must be wary of attempts to use one mode of appeal to Scripture to override the witness of the NT in another mode.
- Narrative texts in the New Testament are fundamental resources for normative ethics. Rules and principles must find their place within the story of God’s redemption.
- Extrabiblical sources stand in a hermeneutical relation to the NT; they are not independent, counterbalancing sources of authority. Scripture is privileged.
Moral Judgment as Metaphor-Making
- The use of the New Testament in normative ethics requires an integrative act of the imagination.
- Whenever we appeal to the authority of the New Testament, we are necessarily engaged in metaphor-making, placing our community’s life imaginatively within the world articulated by the texts.
- Our hermeneutic must value rather than denigrate the particularity of the NT texts.
The Church as Embodied Metaphor
- The transformed community reflects the glory of God and thus illuminates the meaning of the text.
- The text shapes the community, and the community embodies the meaning of the text.
- Right reading of the NT occurs only where the Word is embodied.
The Role of the Old Testament in New Testament Ethics
- The voice of the Old Testament in the New: the full canon is the necessary context of intelligibility for the NT’s treatment of any ethical topic.
- The Old Testament as grounding for community, cross, and new creation.
- The New Testament as lens for reading the Old.
10 Proposed Guidelines (Summary)
- Serious exegesis is a basic requirement.
- We must seek to listen to the full range of canonical witnesses.
- Substantive tensions within the canon should be openly acknowledged.
- Our synthetic reading of the New Testament canon must be kept in balance by the sustained use of three focal images: community, cross, and new creation.
- New Testament texts must be granted authority (or not) in the mode in which they speak (i.e., rule, principle, paradigm, symbolic world).
- The New Testament is fundamentally the story of God’s redemptive action; thus, the paradigmatic mode has theological primacy, and narrative texts are fundamental resources for normative ethics.
- Extrabiblical sources stand in a hermeneutical relation to the New Testament.
- It is impossible to distinguish “timeless truth” from “culturally conditioned elements” in the New Testament.
- The use of the New Testament in normative ethics requires an integrative act of the imagination. We are engaged in metaphor-making.
- Right reading of the New Testament occurs only where the Word is embodied.
Some Personal Considerations: Hays is strong in his emphasis on exegesis and the role of right application in helping us correctly understand the Scriptural witness. His preference for narrative as the mode of New Testament ethics is surprising (some may expect rules or principles to be favored), but understandable since rules find meaning within a symbolic world. Hays leaves the door cracked for human experience to counter and even overcome the New Testament witness (see top of page 298). Even with his caveats and hesitancy, this openness to overturning Scripture is troubling and runs counter to the rest of his book.