Full Text for Looking at the Moral Vision of the New Testament with Richard Hays (Text)
Volume 703 January 2oof,
Table of Contents
The Faith of Christ: A Lutheran Appropriation of Richard Hays's
Arthur A. Just Jr ............................................................................ 3
Listening to Intertextual Relationships in Paul's Epistles with
Charles A. Gieschen .............................................................. 1 7
Looking at the Moral Vision of the New Testament with Richard
Dean 0. Mrenthe .......................................................................... 33
Walk This Way: A Theme from Proverbs Reflected and Extended
in Paul's Letters
Andrew E. Steinrnann and Michael Eschelbach .................... 43
With a View to the End: Christ in the Ancient Church's
Understanding of Scripture
Joel C. Elowsky. ................................................................... 63
A Curriculum from and for the Church
? john T. Pless .............. ........................ ........................................ 83
MTe apologize for publication delays in recent years. M'e assure you that all
overdue issues are in process and hill be mailed as each is printed. We plan to be
back on our normal quarterly publication schedule by January 2008. Thank you for
your patience! The Editors
CTQ 70 (2006): 3 3 1 2
Looking at the Moral Vision of the New
Testament with Richard Hays
Dean 0. Wenthe
77ze Moral Vision of the NQLC~ Tfitumtwt is a striking and persuasit-e
engagement of the issues involved in using the sacred Scriptures for ethical
and moral guidance, whose aim is to "reflect on how the church's life
should be shaped bv the New Testament witnesses."l This brief statement,
--hen placed in context, captures the richness and the xope of this work.
Unlike the university professor whose horizon is defined and limited by a
narrow- Wissenscl~uftlich or Religionsgeschic/zte approach, Havs forthrightly
writes as one interested in the life of the church. But more than that, he
seeks to bring the witness of the New Testament to bear in such a manner
as actually to shape the life of the church.
For undertaking such a task, and for doing it in such a thorough and
careful manner, I thank Richard Hars and also state that he has placed
many, including those from that corner of Lutheranism know-n as the
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, in his debt. This work is so rich and
magisterial that this essay will only be able to address a few- of its contents.
This expression of appreciation and response will consist of three parts.
First, a bit of contextual analysis will show- how this stud\- is timely and
needed. Second, a brief overview of its method and ;ontent w-ill be
provided. Lastlv, several questions will invite a response to topics integral
to the appropria-te use of the New Testament.
I. Contextual Observations
First, then, a word about the ecclesial and cultural context that The i%foraJ
Vision of the Sew Testament has entered. A colleague who teaches
systematic theolog- once challenged an exegete with this suggestive
statement: "You exegetes are evenwhere and no^-here at the same time,
namely, you how- and preen yourselves in ml-riad details but
1 Richard B. Ha!-s, 77w .\!oral I-'rs!on cf tl:r XKL? Testam-!it (Sew York:
Harper%&rancjsco, IS'%), 159.
Dean 0. LGntlze is Profissor of Exegetical Theology and Presidmt o f Concordin
Theological Seminary, Fort Miryne, Indiana.
34 Concordia T7reoIo@cul Quarterly 70 (2006)
simultaneousl\- resist any theological conclusions as though they were
deadly \- but
not exhibited in the lives and way of her people has little merit. The same
forces that have eroded the piety of mainline Protestants are potently
present in our circles. An analysis from a keen observer of the ecclesial
landscape suggests that the entire Christian community is facing subtle but
real erosion of central components of faith and especially of practice.
Malcolm L. \'Valford comments:
Our cWficulh,- as a church is that for most of our members the Christian
life is less a k t of practices than it is a range of feelings. Our images are
privatistic, indi\idualistic, and emotive. We asnrme that the vita& of
local congregations depends on our abihty to sustain good feelings and
to meet individual needs. The idea that there are practices of the
Christian life that shape our emotions and form our commitments is a
foreign understanding. The concept of faith as a discipline is not a
familiar image. In this sense, the local congregation is not so much a
tradition composed of practices as it is another form of entertainment
that satisfies the religious feelings of spectators who can hardly tell any
difference between the dynamics of the sports arena and the church on
the ~orner .~
RegreWv, this description fits so much of the church's life, including that
of the ~utheran community, like a finely tailored glove.
In such a context, Havs's The Moral Vision qf the New Testament offers a
clear pathway to practices, to ethical choices, in keeping mlth the New
Testament. A singular contribution is the rigor with which he joins careful
exegesis (his command of the xholarlv literature is transparent) to
methodological daritv that results in clear guidance on specific issues. If
communities of faithvlsh to have their habits of life conform to the New
Testament, this book grounds those practices in specific texts.
Barbara G. Mtreeler, "Henry S I m C&in and Charles R Erdman and Our Search
for a Livable Piety," The i%ntrrfon %runny Bullettn 21 (Fall m): 24-25.
; XMcorn L. Warford, "Renewing the Practices of Ministry," Theolopcal Education 33
(Spmg 1977). 7425.
36 Concordia Theological Quarterly 70 (2006)
It is refreshing and beneficial for the church to hear the witness of the
New Testament at a time when, within the scholarly g d d , there is
significant confusion about whether such a witness can be framed. Not a
few scholars suggest that the voices within the New Testament are so
disparate and conflicting that one can only describe Paul's view or
Matthew's view or John's view but not claim them as the divine view on
In response to such a viewpoint, Hays supports, with careful
qualifications, the coherence of the New Testament's moral vision.
Anyone conversant with recent hermeneutical discussion will realize at
once how problematical such a recommendation is: we have learned to
suspect that all interpretation serves the power needs of the interpreter.
Nonetheless, the claim that texts do have their own voices (i.e., that they
do express meaning distinguishable from our whims and
predispositions, and that reasoned discussion can approximate
consensus about these meanings) is a necessary assumption for any
discourse that attributes authority to the Bible; it is also a necessary
assumption for living daily life in a world where there are laws, street
signs, and other 'texts' that are presumed to constrain our behavior."'
11. An Overview
The structure of Hays's volume will indicate how the case for The Moral
Vision of the N m Testunzenf is made and then expounded upon in such a
way as to lead to inferences and recommendations about practice.
Part One describes actual New Testament witnesses: "Paul: The
Koinonia of His Sufferings," "Developments of the Pauline Tradition,"
"The Gospel of Mark: Taking Up the Cross," "The Gospel of Matthew:
Training for the Kingdom of Heaven," "Luke-Acts: Liberation through the
Power of the Spirit," "The Gospel and Epistles of John: Loving One
Another," "An Excursus: The Role of 'the Historical Jesus' in New
Testament Ethics," and "Revelation: Resisting the Beast." Any one of these
sections wiU be a delight to the serious student of the New Testament.
Hays's ability to reflect faithfully these themes of these various witnesses
in a concise fashion is enviable.
Part Two describes the distinctive witness of the voices in the New
Testament and finds coherence in three focal images: "Community, Cross,
and New Creation."
Part Three illumines the "Hermeneutical Task," namely, how the New
Testament is used in Christian ethics. This section is particularly helpful
j Hays, The Moral Vision, 191, n. 1.
Wenthe: Moral Vision of the New Testament 37
because it overviews "Modes of Appeal to Scripture," "Other Sources of
Authority," "The Enactment of the Word," and provides a "Diagnostic
Checklist" These factors are then illustrated by "Five Representative
Hermeneutical Strategies," namely those of Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth,
John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and Elizabeth !khussler Fiormza.
In a section that sparkles with insight and exegetical clarity, Hays
addresses the fundamental question of "How Shall We use the Texts?"
His summary of proposed guidelines merits citation here. His
fundamental proposals are:
1. Serious exegesis is a basic requirement Texts used in ethical
arguments should be used as fully as possible in their historical
and literary context.
a. New Testament texts must be read with careful attention to their
Old Testament subtexts.
2 Ure must seek to listen to the full range of canonical witnesses.
3. Substantive tensions within the canon should be openly
4. Our synthetic reading of the New Testament canon must be kept in
balance bv the sustained use of duee focal images: community,
aoss, and new creation.
5. New Testament texts must be granted authority (or not) in the mode
in which the? speak (i.e., rule, principle, paradigm, symbolic world).
a. All four modes are valid and necessary.
b. Ure should not override the witness of the New Testament in
one mode by appealing to another mode.
6. The New Testament is fundamentally the story of W s redemptive
action; thus, the paradigmatic mode has theological primacy, and
narrative texts are fundamental resources for normative ethics.
7. Extrabiblical sources stand in a hermeneutical relation to the new
Testament; they are not independent, counterbalancing sources of
8. It is impossible to distinguish 'timeless truth' from 'culturally
conditioned elements' in the New Testament
9. The use of the New Testament in normative e h c s requires an
integrative act of the imagination; thus, whenever we appeal to the
authority of he New Testament, we are necesdy engaged in
38 Concordia Theological Quarterly 70 (2006)
10. Right reading of the Kew Testament occurs onlv where the Word is
So rich is the discussion that leads up to these guidelines that the only
adequate way to appreciate and to understand them adequately is to read
Part Four of The Moral Vision of the Nm Testament is e~peciitUy pertinent
here because Hays applies the witness of the New Testament with
hermeneutical claric to five distinct issues: "Violence in Defense of
Justice," "Divorce and Remarriage," "Homosexuality," "Anti-Judaism and
Ethnic Conflict," and "Ab~rtion."~ In a word, Hays finds warrants at the
center of the moral vision of the New Testament to support the sanctity of
marriage, the sanctity of life, and classic Christian convictions about
homosexuality. He does so with considerable pastoral sensitivity while
maintaining the authority of the relevant texts to shape the church's life
and practice. The treatment of "Violence in the Defense of Justice'' is a
very nuanced challenge to just-war theory.
Before ad~ancing a few questions about Hays's book, let me say that
every seminarian, professor, and interested layman will benefit from the
substance and analvtical clarity of this studv. The movement from the
descriptive, to the -thetic, to the hermeneutical, and to the practical is a
model of rigor and lucidity. Even where there may be questions or
resen7ations - in substance or in method - the reader's own position will
be enriched and refined by engaging the questions that are posed and then
addressed. You will never doubt that here is an author who gives the New
Testament texts foundational primacy in his exegetical and theological
IIL Additional Reflection
As one reflects on The Moral Vision of the New Testament, several
observations carry special interest.
First, Hays does littIe to engage what has historically been known as the
natural law tradition. In a very interesting comment, Luther expressed his
wish that the Germans would at least behave like godly Turks. Another
way of posing this inquiry is: To what extent can those who are in Christ
make appeals to those who are in Adam on the basis of the Torah, namelv,
that we share a common humanity that bears with it the capacity to reflect,
however imperfectly, the image of God? Can appeals be made not to steal
and not to kill on the basis of a human nature that shares an organic unit)-
if one takes the Torah's claims seriously?
"ys, The hloral Vision, 310.
- Hays, nrn Morn1 Vision, 317-461
Wenthe: Moral Vision of the New Testament 39
Succinctly, does the long and rich tradition usually associated with
Thomas Aquinas but used also within the Protestant tradition deserve a
respected place in the church's moral reflection?s Even more interesting is
the question of the extent to which 'natural law.' can be exegetically
grounded. A recent and sympathetic attempt to do so is advanced by
It is instructive to obsen-e some of the human sins described in Genesis
1-11. Adam and Ere are expelled for disobeying God's command of
216 and for wanting to be bee God (35) which could be seen as an act of
blasphemy. The Promethean serpent is cursed for deception (3:l-t). Cain
and Lamech murder a man and raise the question of retribution. (1)
God's reason for sending the flood is the violence (6:11,13) of humani?.
Ham is guilt). of exposing his father's uncovered nakedness (9:20-27). . . .
Unlawful sex of a different kind is perpetuated by the 'sons of God' in
chapter 6. God also establishes a covenant with Soah and his
descendants, with positive commands against bloodshed and the
consumption of blood from an animal (chapter 9: t6) . . . Genesis 11,
finallv, almost by way of inclu_cia, describes the urban cultural equivalent
of wr&ting to be God: "Come, let us build ourselves a ci?, and a tower
with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves" (11:4).
One might argue, then, that Genesis 1-11 already endorses a number c!fgmeral
moral precepk zvI~ich could be taken to aprly to Ittcnmnity as a i~~h~le . '
Bockmuehl finds support for this view in the so-called Noachide
Commandments of the Rabbinic tradition. His point im-ites reflection:
The dwkine of the Noachide Commandments is a rabbinic development
of the biblical laws about resident aliens. In its explicitl>- developed
form it does not predate the second century, but the underlying ideas are
clearly present in literar). sources of the Second Temple period. To be
sure, the Noachide Commandments are not the theologcal key to New-
Testament ethics: that should instead be sought in Christolog- and the
teaching and example of Jesus. But the cumulative argument here
presented shows that these legal constructs and their predecessors
provide an essential clue to the specific rntzunale and content of earl\-
" For a recent restatement of natural law &irkrig, see John Finnis, Sizturlrl h ; r 2nd
Sutural Rights (Word: Clarendon Press, 1980).
' !Liarkus Bockmuehl, Jfii1'rh Lax7 rn k h l e U ~ u r c k (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,
2000), 151; emphasis mine. A broader p i n t is made earlier in the stud\- a b u t the
relationship between nature and Torah: ".4nd while there is thus, sigruhcantl!-, no 'law
of nature' terminology as describing a reality distinct from the law of God, the Hehrelv
world view does operate on the assumption that all creation expresses God's law and
moral purpose, and all oi God's law is law according to nature" (89).
PO Concordia Theological Quarterly 70 (2006)
Christian ethics, as as its criteria of selection in the use of Old
Testament laws. During the transition from Jewish to Gentile
Christianity, the laws for resident ahens established the hermeneuticaI
parameters within which to appropriate the moral teaching and example
of Jesus for a worldwide c h u r h In practical and political terms, Jewish
concepts of a universal law for Gentiles proved to be indispensabIe for
the development of Christian ethics.'"
The opposite theological view has argued that no such exegetical basis
exists. Representative of this view- is the following:
First, advocates of narrative ethics reject any attempt to spec* moral
norms from the working of pure practical reason. The problem with so-
called 'Enlightenment' ethics, especially in Kantian form, is that it tries to
generate universal moral norms from self-relation in thinking and
willing. But we are social animals; accordingly, moral norms are rooted
in traditions and not in the immediacy of reason. Second, proponents of
narrative ethics jettison an assumption of traditional virtue theoq.
Classical \Vestern ethics explored human nature to specify the kinds of
lives we ought to live. Plato and Artistotle thought we naturally seek
happiness (eudaimonia); Augustine insisted that we seek after God; the
Stoics spoke of the 'logos' and moral choice (proairesis) as a distinctly
human good. Ancient thinkers examined the real to generate ideas of
possible lives. Ethics presented a theorv of human nature (emphasis
original) and not simpIy an account of moral formation."
Most interesting would be whether Hays's views of nature and narrative
are as an either-or or a both-and construction in the moral vision of the
New Testament as expounded especiallv by Bockrnuehl.
Another related question is whether the tensions perceived in the New
Testament are perhaps exaggerated by our particular hermeneutical
milieu. Have our lenses been grounded to perceive what is, in fact, a rich
and multifaceted coherence or as more than that? Two quotations from
different vantage points place this question in the foreground. Eric
Auerbach writes in Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in n'ester?~
Literature: "The world of Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to
be a historically true realie- it insists that it is the only real world, and is
destined to autocracy.. .the Scripture stories do not, like Homer's, court our
favor, thev do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us-they
l"Bockmueh1, jerrvsh Lax?, 172-173; emphasis original.
11 SVilliam Schweiker, "Images of Scripture and Contemporan Theological Ethics," in
Ularacter 2nd S~mpfure, ed. WiUiam P. Brown (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co., 2002), 41.
Wenthe: Moral Vision of the New Testament 41
seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected, we are rebels."" This
capacity on the part of a noted literary scholar to view the ScripturaI
stories as an integrated tapes@-, a w-orld as it were, may be a needed
corrective to the deconstructi\-e atmosphere of current hermeneuticaI
models. Or, as Hays himself has succinctly written:
I propose that one reason we have lost our grip on reading the Bible is
that we have forfeited our understanding of it as a single coherent
ston--a story in which OT and XT together bear complementaq
witness to the saving action of the one God, a true story into x~hich w-e
find ourselves taken up. In order to recover a wnse of Scripture's
coherence-in order to live into this story and perceive its claims on our
li\-es-it is necessan- to affirm the mutualh- interpretive relation of the
two Testaments. \%%en we lose this sense of the coherence of Scripture,
the Bible becomes somebody else's story. . . . the Gospels teach us how- to
read the OT, and-at the same time-the OT teaches us how to read the
Our particular exegetical nook in the Christian family has too frequently
flattened out the richness and varietv of the scriptural texts. Ho\\- ooften
have you heard the Apostle Paul speaking from the pulpit even though the
text tvas from Sfatthew-, or Luke, or John? At the same time, when the
varieh- and diversity is recognized, something the church has been aware
of fro& the beginning, is there not a legitimate coherence that again needs
to be recaptured in the use of the Scriptures for the moral formation of the
church? Eiegetical balance takes effort to maintain, particular1~- in a
setting so captire to deconstructionist categories. My question for Hays is:
Should not biblical exegetes sin at least somewhat boldly in making the
case for coherence?
If we were to sin boldlv in the direction of coherence, we might find
ourselx-es in some noble company, namely, that of the church through the
centuries. The recent revivaI of interest in the patristic use of the
Eiic Auerbach A l i m . ~ i ~ : The Repre-smtdtion o f Reality in hrihn~ Litrrattire (Princeton:
Princeton cni\-ersit)-, 1953), 1115.
3 Richard B. Ha!s, "Can the Gospels Teach L's How to Read the Old Testament?" Pro
E < i l ~ _ i i ~ I1 (Fall 2002): 301-U35. Earlier in the article, Hays pro\-ides this anal>-sis: "in
postmodem culture the Bible has lost its place, and citizens in a pfuraktic secular
culture have trouble knowing what to make of it. If they pay any attention to it at all,
the!- treat it as a consumer product, one more therapeutic option for rootless selves
enL-,@ in an endless quest to in\-ent and improl-e themwlve. So t surprisingl!, this
approach d m not yield a yen- satisfactory reading of the Bible, for the Bibfe is not
about 'wLi help'. but about &d's action to rescue a lost and broken world" (107;
42 Concordia Theological Quarterly 70 (2006)
Scriptures might assist in retrieving the New Testament for the formation
of the church's life. Christopher Hall summarizes this well:
The fathers insist that the narrative of the BibIe is a continuous, deeply
connected stom from Genesis through Revelation. The Old Testament is
not discontinubus with the Kew. Rather, the themes presented in the
Old Testament find their W m e n t in the narrative structure of the
New Testament. Continuity and fulfillment characterize the entire story.
Most irnportantlv, the fathers insist that the biblical narrative reaches its
culmination, its thematic climax, with the incarnation, crucifixion, and
resurrection of the Son of God. Indeed, the incarnational, soteriological
and eschatological f a 5 of the New Testament further c l a d y and deepen
the Old Testament witness itself. \Ve will read the Bible ineffectively
and incorrectly, the fathers warn, if we fail to read its individual portions
in Light of its overarching, unifying message.14
I would be curious as to whether Havs believes this interest in a holistic
reading of the Bible to be a healthy der-elopment or one attended by such
exegetical license as to render it unhelpful in facing the church's present
situation. Based upon my reading of Hays, I think he would emphasize its
Ir Christopher A. Hall Reading Scripture ur'& the Church Fathers @owners Grove, IL:
Intervarsity Press, I998), 191.