Richard Hays and the Canonical Matrix of the Gospel of John

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In his essay, The Canonical Matrix of the Gospels”, Richard Hays explains that in order to read the Gospels rightly one must understand their original scriptural environment”, namely the story of Israel. By reading the story of Jesus through the lens of Israel’s story the Gospel authors are able to write distinctively in their own Gospel narrative. Each writer is able to pick up on themes, allusions, and events in different ways showing that Jesus is the culmination of Israel’s story. 

One of the focuses of John’s Gospel is the temple motif of Jesus’ body. After John explains for his readers what Jesus meant when he stated that the temple will be raised up after three days Hays gives three reasons that John’s explanation is important for readers today:

1. We are informed that right interpretation of scripture and of the traditions about Jesus could be done only retrospectively after the resurrection.
2. John instructs his readers to read figuratively
3. The link between the temple and Jesus’ body is made explicit, providing a key for much that follows.

He goes on to say,

In light of this sort of figurative hermeneutic, the entirety of the Old Testament becomes allegorically available to illumine the identify of Jesus. It is not a matter of locating a few proof-texts that predict events in Jesus’ life. Rather, John sees Israel’s scripture as allegorically transparent to the one who became incarnate in Jesus. For example, the manna in the wilderness prefigures Jesus, who is the true bread from heave’ (Jn 6:31-3). This reading strategy allows John to articulate his extraordinary (and polemical) claim that all of scripture actually bears witness to Jesus.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say? (Jn. 5:45–47, NIV)

Thus even more comprehensively than the other gospels, John understands the Old Testament as a vast matrix of symbols pointing to Jesus. In contrast to Luke’s reading of scripture as a plotted script showing the outworking of God’s promises in time, John understands scripture as a huge web of signifiers generated by the pretemporal eternal Logos as intimations of his truth and glory.

Richard Hays, The Canonical Matrix of the Gospels”, in The Cambridge Companion of the Gospels ed. Stephen Barton

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July 14, 2014