Beale Reviews Hays’ Conversion of the Imagination

In the latest issue of JETS (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society; not available online to my knowledge), G.K. Beale reviews (190-94) Richard Hays book The Conversion of the Imagination. Hays’ book is in large part of a collection of several previously published essays collected in one volume, with the addition of an introductory chapter of reflecting on his own work. Beale focuses his review on the methodological and hermeneutical issues in the book, some of which I will breifly highlight here.

First, Beale wonders why Hays feels the necessity to use the term “metalepsis” to refer to Paul’s practice of citing or alluding to OT texts in such a way that he intends the original context of the OT citation/allusion to be accounted for as well. Beale notes that this claim goes back at least as far as C.H. Dodd.

Second, Beale questions the use of the term “imagination,” noting that Paul wanted the conversion of the entire mind, not merely the imagination. He acknowledges that Hays probably includes this “broad” sense of the imagination, but rightly worries that the term “imagination” could be misunderstood in the sense of a “fanciful creation of images that is more in the realm of artful possibilities than of absolute redemptive-historical realities that should shape people’s thinking” (191).

Third, Beale affirms Hays’ claim that although Paul appears to creatively develop an OT text, it retains essential conceptual links to the original intent of the passage. Such developments are made in light of fulfillment in Christ and the notion of progressive revelation.

Fourth, Beale expresses appreciation for Hays’ criteria for detecting scriptural allusions and echoes that have become somewhat of an “industry standard” in the study of the OT in the NT.

Fifth, Beale affirms Hays’ contention that Paul’s recipients were every bit as sophisticated readers of the Bible as contemporary ones (a claim disputed in NT studies). Beale goes on to qualify this by stating that one must at the same time acknowledge different levels of readers among the recipients; some would have caught the more subtle allusions and echoes on a first read that others may have missed. Beale also rightly recognizes that the repeated reading and teaching of the letters would have allowed even the least biblically literate to recognize the subtle appropriations of Scripture present in the letter.

Sixth, Beale affirms Hays’ conclusion that Paul’s exegetical practices are sufficiently distinct from his Jewish contemporaries to warrant special investigation. On this point they are in contrast to the conclusion of (among others) Richard Longenecker in his work Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period.

I agree with Beale that for those seeking to further understand how Paul interpreted the OT, Hays’ book is a helpful window into that discussion. Like both Beale and me, you may not agree with all of the interpretive decisions he reaches, but your thinking will be stimulated. Who knows, not only your imagination but even your entire way of thinking might be changed.

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