How the Gospels Teach Us to Read the Old Testament (Hays)

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I’ve begun reading Richard Hays’ new book Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Witness and with all of Hays’ content it is provacative, engaging, and thought provoking. As you can probably gather from the title of the book, his thesis is, “the Gospels teach us how to read the OT, and—at the same time—the OT teaches us how to read the Gospels.”[1] This retrospective hermeneutic argues that we cannot fully understand the writings of the Old Testament without the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

In the first chapter, after explaining how the Old Testament teaches us how to read the Gospels, Hays examines how Luke 24 teaches us how to read the Old Testament. He concludes with three observations.[2]

  1. The Gospels teach us to read the OT for figuration. The literal historical sense of the OT is not denied or negated; rather, it becomes the vehicle for latent figural meanings unsuspected by the original author and readers. It points forward typologically to the gospel story. And, precisely because figural readings affirms the original historical reference of the text, it leaves open the possibility of respectful dialogue with other interpretations, other patterns of intertextual reception. This is a point of potentially greater significance for conversation between Jews and Christians about the interpretation of Israel’s Scripture.”

  2. “The story of Israel builds to a narrative climax in the story of Jesus.”

  3. “The figural disclosive reading that the Gospels teach occurs rightly in a community of discipleship and table fellowship.”


  1. Reading Backwards, p. 5  ↩

  2. Reading Backwards, p. 15–16  ↩