Richard Hays: Historical Study and Theological Exegesis

One of the questions I am trying to answer for my thesis is how historical-critical methods and historical-grammatical methods might interact with theological exegesis. Today I was rereading an article by Hays–on how we need to read with eyes of faith–and the question is briefly addressed in his description of the practice of theological exegesis (point 3 of 12):

…historical study is internal to the practice of theological exegesis. The reasons why this is so are themselves fundamentally theological: God has created the material world, and God has acted for the redemption of that world through the incarnation of the Son in the historical person Jesus of Nazareth. History therefore cannot be either inimical or irrelevant to theology’s affirmations of truth. The more accurately we understand the historical setting of 1st-century Palestine, the more precise and faithful will be our understanding of what the incarnate Word taught, did, and suffered. The more we know about the Mediterranean world of Greco-Roman antiquity, the more nuanced will be our understanding of the ways in which the NT’s epistles summoned their readers to a conversion of the imagination.”

– Richard B. Hays, “Reading the Bible with Eyes of Faith” in Journal of Theological Interpretation I.I (2007), p.12

This is one of my favorite articles by Hays–I think it should be required reading for any class on the Bible or theology. You can read a slightly different version here.

Frauen Friday: Beverly Roberts Gaventa

Happy Frauen Friday, everyone!  This week’s featured scholar is Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa.  She is one of the top Pauline scholars around and currently holds the position of Distinguished Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.  Just a reminder, Dr. Gaventa is one of the keynote speakers for HBU’s ‘Paul and Judaism’ conference happening next week.  You don’t want to miss out so register soon and get on down to Houston, Texas!

“Beverly Roberts Gaventa joined the Baylor faculty in 2013. She previously taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, Columbia Seminary, and Colgate Rochester Divinity School. She has been active in a number of professional societies, including Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the American Theological Association. She has served on a number of editorial boards and lectured widely in the United States, Canada, Europe, South Africa, and Australia.” (from her faculty page at baylor.edu)

I am currently reading Our Mother Saint Paul in which Gaventa considers the significance of maternal imagery used by Paul throughout his New Testament epistles… I hope to share more about this book as I work my way through it.  She has also written commentaries on Acts and 1 & 2 Thessalonians, a number of other books, and 70+ articles and essays.

While I am still getting acquainted with the works of Dr. Gaventa, I highly recommend her article “Is Galatians Just a ‘Guy Thing’?” (2000), a theological reading of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and how its message might speak to the experience of women today.

The inquiry I propose is neither ahistorical nor anti-historical. It simply urges the importance of asking other questions in addition to the conventional questions about the attitude of the historical Paul to women and their leadership in the Christian community. Those conventional questions inevitably become questions of permission and prohibition: What does Paul’s interpretation of the gospel permit women to do and what does the gospel prohibit women from doing? That way of putting things has the effect of truncating our reflection and, more important, it bears little resemblance to the dynamic character of Paul’s letters, letters that over and over again speak about vocation rather than about per- mission. These letters, instead, call for the question: What is God doing in the gospel of Jesus Christ and what does that gospel mean for the lives of women?” (269)

She concludes:

“Perhaps as Paul dictated this passionate letter, he saw in his mind’s eye the faces of women in the Galatian congregations and cast about for language that would persuade them of the impossibility of the Teachers’ version of the gospel. Or perhaps he gave the women not even a passing thought. As engaging as those and other scenarios may be, neither one constitutes an answer to the question of what Galatians may contribute theologically to women in the present. If, instead of asking only about the relationship between Paul and the historical audience of this letter, or about Paul’s attitudes toward women, we ask about the letter’s fundamental theological dynamics, then Galatians emerges as a powerful voice articulating God’s new creation, a creation that liberates both women and men from their worlds of achievement and identity.” (278)

Books to read by Gaventa:

Check out these articles:

  • “Is Galatians Just a ‘Guy Thing’? A Theological Reflection.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 54, no. 3 (2000): 267-78.
  • “Pentecost and Trinity.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 66, no. 1 (2012): 5-15
  • “The Cosmic Power of Sin in Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Toward a Widescreen Edition.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 58, no. 3 (2004): 229-240.
  • “Reading for the Subject: The Paradox of Power in Romans 14:1-15:6.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 5, no. 1 (2011): 1-12.

Videos of Gaventa teaching: