How Paul Read and Interpreted Isaiah (Hays)

Richard Hays’ book, The Conversation of the Imagination, is a helpful resource for insight into how the apostle Paul viewed the Old Testament Scriptures. This book is a collection of essays that Hays wrote and published elsewhere; it’s nice to have it in one volume. There are ten chapters that cover topics like the role of (OT) Scripture in Paul’s ethics, the Law in Romans 3-4, (OT) Scripture and eschatology in 1 Corinthians, and so on. Although I don’t agree with every part of of these chapters, they are thought provoking and helpful in various ways. In chapter two Hays explains Paul’s understanding of Isaiah. It’s a very insightful chapter to say the least. My favorite part of the chapter is where Hays categorizes Paul’s direct quotes of Isaiah. Here’s that section (slightly edited for length):

Paul reads Isaiah as having narrated beforehand the events that have at last been set in motion in Paul’s generation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. These events may be summarized in the following way.

  1. Israel has fallen into hard-hearted disobedience; their iniquities have separated them from God. Their disloyalty to the covenant brings discredit to God’s name among the nations. Despite God’s long-suffering fidelity to the covenant, Israel is a ‘disobedient and contrary people.’ Is. 59:7-8 = Rom. 3:15-17; Is. 52:5 = Rom. 2:24, etc.
  2. Even so, God has not abandoned Israel. He has preserved a remnant of those who remain faithful. Is. 1:9 = Rom. 9:29; Is. 10:22 = Rom 9.27.
  3. God has now acted to bring the promise of eschatological salvation into fulfillment in the present time. But he has done so in a way that calls for trust (in Christ), causing the majority of Israel to stumble. Those who trust in him will not be put to shame. Is. 49.8 = 2 Cor. 6:2; Is. 8:14 = Rom 9:32-33, etc.
  4. This is the message that Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, has been called to announce to the nations. Contrary to all expectation, the Gentiles are receiving this good news gladly. The Gentile mission is bearing fruit. Is. 52:7 = Rom 10:15; Is. 11:10 = Rom. 15:12; Is 45:14 = 1 Cor. 14:25, etc.
  5. But not all believe, because the message is an affront to human wisdom. In the present time both Israel and the Gentile world are full of people who consider themselves wise, though actually they are blind and foolish. God will bring judgment upon them…. Is. 53:1 = Rom. 10:16; Is. 22:13 = 1 Cor. 15:23; Is. 28:11 = 1 Cor. 14:21, etc.
  6. Nonetheless, in the end God will redeem Israel, forgive their sin, and establish sovereignty over the whole world, so that every knee will bow and every tongue give praise to God. This divine eschatological triumph will include God’s overcoming the power of death. Is. 27:9 = Rom. 11:27; Is. 59.20 = Rom. 11:26, etc.
  7. God’s mercy is finally overwhelming and incomprehensible. Is. 40.13 = Rom 11.34; Is. 64.4? = 1 Cor. 2:9.

All of this Paul finds foretold in Isaiah….

There’s more to Hays’ argument, for sure. This is just a summary. I encourage you to get the book and check out this chapter for more helpful information.

The above quote is found in Richard B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination, ch. 2.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015