Review of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels by Richard B. Hays

November 14, 2017

Hays, Richard B.  Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2016, xix + 504 pp., $49.95. 


Richard Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, is well known to scholars and students alike as one of the world’s foremost experts on the use of the Old Testament in the New (as well as on Paul, NT ethics, and hermeneutics more generally).  This book was completed after Hays received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, with special research assistance and with Baylor’s fast-tracking publication of the manuscript.  Mercifully, as of this writing, that cancer is still in remission.

Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels mirrors the name of the author’s classic Echoes of Scripture in Paul, published in 1989.  Then Hays was eager to go beyond the obvious quotations and even allusions to the OT in Paul’s letters to the significant clauses, phrases, and even key words that seemed likely to show Paul’s deliberate use of OT phraseology.  In this work on the Gospels, Hays still identifies some echoes not regularly discussed elsewhere but is keener to survey the major quotations and allusions as well, especially when attention to their larger OT contexts discloses additional potential insights for the Evangelists’ deployment of them.  The overall thesis disclosed is that each of the four Gospels testifies “that Jesus was not only the Son of God but actually the embodiment of the divine presence in the world” (p. 9).  In each Gospel, the author makes his claim by “reading backwards” (the title of an earlier, shorter book that Hays penned to preview many of the ideas he would flesh out here).  By interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures figurally, the Evangelists create “a retrospective hermeneutical transformation of Israel’s sacred texts” (p. 14).

Even a detailed review could scarcely do justice to Hays’ treatment of even one of the four canonical Gospels.  His first example in his chapter on Mark demonstrates the rich fruit to be gleaned from his exegesis.  Most commentators note that the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism combines snippets of quotations from Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1 when it declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11 NRSV).  Fewer highlight that Mark’s distinctive language in the previous verse about “the heavens” being “torn apart” (v. 10) echoes Isaiah 64:1 where the prophet implores God to “tear open the heavens and come down” to bring deliverance to his people.  Fewer still observe that in the larger context of Isaiah 64:1, the prophet has just asked the Lord why he hardens his people’s hearts so that they do not fear him (63:17).  Yet Mark would have been aware of all these associations and most likely drew on them as he composed a narrative of Jesus’ ministry that stresses secrecy, disobedience, and the people’s and even the disciples’ hardened hearts, even as God is fulfilling his promises to deliver his people in Jesus.

Mark’s is thus a Gospel that contains both the harbinger of judgment and the new exodus.  Both of these themes come to a climax in the temple incident with its combined allusions to Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.  God intended for his temple to be a house of prayer for all nations but the Jewish leaders have turned it into a den of robbers.  Less obvious but no doubt relevant is the conceptual allusion to Zechariah 14:21 in which in the eschatological restoration “there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.”

Proceeding through Mark in this fashion fits a Gospel that repeatedly depicts hidden things that are being revealed (4:22).  That Mark highlights a Jesus who calls himself Son of man and whom others envision as Messiah and Son of God is well known but it is only rarely observed that “Mark actually depicts the man Jesus as the embodied presence of the God of Israel” (p. 46; italics his).  But the Lord of Mark 1:2-3 whose coming Jesus enacts is Yahweh, God of Israel.  He is the one who alone forgive sins (2:1-12), who makes wind and waves obey him (4:35-41), who is Israel’s shepherd (6:34), who walks on the sea (vv. 45-52), who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak (7:31-37).  Every one of these roles is a role of the Lord God in Scripture, not of a separate, albeit messianic individual.  The Passion Narrative draws repeatedly on Psalm 22 so that even in his cry of dereliction (Mark 15:34; Psa. 22:1), the context of the entire Psalm with its triumphal second half (vv. 19-31) must also be in view.  God will deliver his people, with their messiah, even if the original ending of Mark only reiterates that promise without explicitly narrating its fulfillment.

Matthew’s Gospel makes plain what often remains obscure in Mark.  Jesus’ entire ministry fulfills Torah (Matt. 5:17).  Both typologically and predictively, passage after passage of the Hebrew Scriptures finds its fullest meaning in details from Christ’s life.  Where Israel had failed, Jesus succeeds, nowhere more dramatically than in the temptations in the wilderness (4:1-11).  But he is not concerned “with literal performance of all of the law’s commandments” but with “a particular hermeneutical construal of Torah” (p. 122; italics his).  The Prophets take privilege over the legal material.  Jesus as “Emmanuel” (God with us) creates an inclusio around the Gospel (1:23; 28:20) and occupies a central role as well (18:20).  Jesus is a new Moses but he is greater than Moses.  He is a new Wisdom but he is greater than Wisdom.  More so than in the other Gospels, in Matthew people worship Jesus precisely because he is the embodiment of Israel’s God.  What begins with Jesus acting like a conventionally nationalistic Messiah (10:5-6; 15:24) culminates with him as the Messiah for all people groups (28:19), precisely because that is the eschatological vision of the Writing Prophets, especially in Isaiah 40-66.

The Gospel of Luke characterizes its contents in its opening verse as “the things that have been brought to fulfillment (πεπληροφορημένων) among us” (p. 192, italics his).  The entire Gospel unfolds as the completion of the story the OT left incomplete.  Older Lukan redaction criticism often missed the liberationist strands of this work, largely because they failed to see the programmatic significance of the birth narratives (Luke 1-2) for Luke’s theology.  The end of the Gospel signals the reader that the story has just begun as repentance and forgiveness must be proclaimed in Jesus’ name to all the nations starting in Jerusalem (24:46-47).  Then, what Anna foresaw about the redemption of Jerusalem (2:36-38), itself based on Isaiah 52:9, will incorporate what the next verse of Isaiah likewise foretold: “and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (v. 10).  One is not surprised, then, to go back and read Luke 4:16-30 and see Jesus simultaneously announcing the “fulfillment of the Isaianic hope of national restoration” and a challenge to the “conventional conceptions of national privilege” (p. 230).  Many of the categories of Jesus that permeate the other Gospels reappear in Luke—Jesus as Messiah, Son of David, Son of God, Lord, prophet like Moses—but a distinctive emphasis on the prophet both like and unlike Elijah and Elisha gets added to the mix.  Less often observed is how Jesus’ divine identity is likewise highlighted in Luke.  For example in 13:34a, he depicts Jesus as wanting to shelter Jerusalem under his wings like a mother hen does her chicks (cf. God’s care for Israel in Deut. 32:10-12 likened to a mother eagle caring for her young and covering them with her wings).  In each case, too, only rebellion ensued (Deut. 32:15-18; Luke 13:34b-35).

As Luke progresses into Acts, the theme of God’s people confronting empire comes more to the fore, though there are hints already in Luke.  Indeed, Acts needs to be taken into account for all of Luke’s themes but that goes beyond Hays’ purview, except for glimpses here and there.  Overall, Hays discerns seven themes of the intertextual narratives in Luke’s two volumes:  continuity with the story of Israel, God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises and his grace in his liberating power, the realistic recognition of the need for suffering for God’s people, God’s concern for the helpless and poor, his extension of the good news to all the peoples of the earth, and the countercultural position God’s people find themselves in with respect to earthly powers.  Finally, Luke’s readers gradually but increasingly perceive “the unity of identity” between “the Lord” as Yahweh, God of Israel and “the Lord” as Jesus.

John’s is the Gospel that most directly confronts readers with Jesus’ divine claims.  It also does not have direct quotations of Scripture quite as frequently as the other Gospels do.  As a result, readers do not always realize how permeated it is by the OT.  John 5:39-40 and 45-47 nevertheless call to mind Luke 24:27 with its Christological hermeneutic for interpreting the sacred texts.  Mark has his mysteries, Matthew his explicit fulfillments, and Luke his more subtle allusions, but John is the master of the luminous image.  Nowhere is this clearer than in his portrayal of Jesus as the fulfillment of each of the major festivals of Judaism.  His comments to the woman at the well in Samaria prefigure this emphasis (John 4:21).  Soon it will not matter where one worship because Jesus is the locus of God’s revelation and the object of one’s worship.  At the same time, John is no supersessionist.  Even his sweeping statements about “the Jews” should each be understood contextually.  Never does he indict the entire nation because all of Jesus’ first followers were also Jews.  Many times hoi Ioudaioi is shorthand for the Judean religious leaders who represented Israel and most opposed Jesus.  The story of Jesus’ crucifixion is simultaneously “a glorious exaltation to power (Dan 7) and a painful vicarious suffering for the sins of others (Num 21:4-9 + Isa 52:13 – 53:12)” (p. 335).

In his conclusion Hays’ summarizes the approach of each Gospel. Mark figures the mystery of God’s kingdom, Matthew presents Torah transfigured, Luke offers Israel’s redemption story and John refigures Israel’s worship and temple.  But how is this legitimate? Only if “the God to whom the Gospels bear witness, the God incarnate in Jesus, is the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  If that is true, “then the figural literary unity of Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament together, is nothing other than the climactic fruition of that one God’s self-revelation” (p. 365).

With so many alleged echoes of OT texts, every reader is bound to demur at some point.  Is Jesus calling his first disciples to be fishers of people a deliberate reversal of God’s judgment of the wealthy women in Amos 4:2 being carried off with fishhooks?  Do the Synoptics really not allude to the Suffering Servant text of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 to add that portrait to their mosaic of Christological images?  Isn’t the primary point of Matthew’s inclusion of five women in his genealogy their suspicion of sexual impropriety rather than the (probable) Gentile background of only four of them?  No matter how distinctive, can the attitude of Matthew’s Jesus to Torah really be referred to just as halakah?  Did Matthew really have fewer OT allusions in his passion narrative simply because he wants readers to figure out connections for themselves?  For that matter, does he really have that many fewer allusions?  Is Luke quite so anti-empire as Hays thinks, when it is Rome who consistently rescues the first Christians when various Jewish leaders would destroy them throughout the book of Acts?  Must John 19:36 “certainly” (p. 317) allude to not breaking the bones of the Passover lamb when it is already adequately accounted for by the more obvious quotation of Psalm 34:19-20?  Don’t weak arguments “strain” credibility rather than “credulity” (p. 299), since credulity means gullibility?

These questions, however, arise only rarely, compared with page after page of treasures of exegetical insight into the use of the OT in the NT.  Hays promises the reader an examination of the Evangelists’ hermeneutics and delivers so much more—the veritable foundation, outline and central details for a biblical theology of the Gospels.  We are so grateful that Hays lived to complete this project, and we pray that he may still have many years for fruitful scholarship and ministry.

Craig L. Blomberg

Denver Seminary

Wrap Up