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Hafemann’s Review of Beale’s NT Biblical Theology

Scott Hafemann reviewed G. K. Beale’s NT Biblical Theology at least year’s annual ETS conference. Beale has recorded some replies to Hafemann’s concerns. Here, I provide a summary of Hafemann’s critiques and Beale’s replies, as well as an evaluation of the discussion.

Hafemann first objects to Beale’s method of reading the OT in light of its “transformed” fulfillment in the NT, citing Beale’s agreement with Hays’ theory of creative transformation of meaning in light of Christ’s fulfillment. He also suggests an inherent circularity with reading the OT in light of its fulfillment, rather than reading the NT in light of the OT. Hafemann believes that, if one searches for elements of NT fulfillment in seed form in the OT, then one will find them (he calls this a “self-fulfilling methodological prophecy”). Beale responds that “unfolding” is a better word to describe the NT’s relation to the OT, rather than “transformation” of meaning. Using Vos’ organic flower analogy, he argues that if one saw only a seed and then later its fully blossomed state, one might believe they were two different entities. However, if one saw the flower develop daily from seed to flower, then one would know it was the same flower all along, developing organically. So also if one looks at the NT’s use of older OT texts, one might believe the NT fulfillment is untethered from the OT meaning. But if one traces the unfolding development of OT texts in later OT texts, then one can see how the NT fulfillment is not a new meaning, but a meaning unpacked in a mysterious temporal manner relatively unforeseen by the prophets. I think Hafemann desires more constraint on NT meaning by the OT text; that is, he wants to see less development in NT fulfillment than Beale does. However, Hafemann cannot ignore the clear development of OT themes (temple, land, Sabbath, sacrifice) from the Pentateuch through the Prophets and Writings. If there were no development of ideas, historical-critical scholars would find it far more difficult to posit sources that conflict with one another and writings of various “schools” within the OT.

Second, Hafemann criticizes Beale’s emphasis on inaugurated rather than consummated eschatology. He compares Beale to Scobie. Scobie sees the OT as the inauguration of the NT fulfillment, and the NT as the inauguration of the Parousia consummation. The NT therefore looks both backwards and forwards. “In contrast, Greg’s consistent, central, driving focus on the NT inauguration as transforming the OT realities leads him to speak of Christ’s second coming only secondarily.” Beale responds by noting his 70-page chapter on consummated eschatology and sections throughout where he discusses consummated fulfillments, such as his discussion of 1 Cor 15 and Adam, as well as the consummation of the end-time temple. He also says he discusses consummated eschatology in 19 or the 26 topics he addresses, although in a way subordinate to inaugurated eschatology. Beale does admit he focuses more on inaugurated eschatology because of the debated nature of future eschatology (tribulation, rapture, chronology of events). I suspect Beale also focuses more on inaugurated eschatology because of his amillennial position in combination with his focus on Revelation. The heavy saturation of Revelation with OT imagery and prophecy, combined with a millennial position that sees more inaugurated realities than others, would naturally lead to a heavy focus on inaugurated eschatology in a NT theology that seeks to trace the unfolding fulfillment of the OT. Whether this is positive or negative, I refrain from judging. However, Hafemann’s statistic that the “kingdom” is future eleven times in the epistles, while it is present five times in the epistles, is unhelpful. With Hafemann having studied under Ladd (which he notes in his review), I am surprised he chose the epistles, rather than the Gospels or the entire NT, to draw statistics about the kingdom. The statistic is also worthless because ideas are not restricted to words, as I am sure he knows. Beale’s focus on inaugurated eschatology also aligns with Ladd’s focus in The Presence of the Future, who devoted nine chapters to inauguration and, like Beale, only one chapter to consummation.

Hafemann’s third critique is the theological framework and various theological positions in Beale’s work. He points to the dedication and conclusion, which express Beale’s alignment with the Westminster Confession of Faith as interpreted by the Savoy Declaration, and set forth biblically by Kline and Hugenberger. Hafemann perhaps has in mind also the various Reformed positions (e.g., baptism replaces circumcision) that he notes throughout the work. However, Beale responds correctly that Hafemann’s criticism is unfair, since his major biblical-theological themes have nothing to do with the WCF (e.g., end-time tribulation, the temple in Acts 2, etc.). Hafemann continues to note several theological conclusions in Beale’s work, but these examples only serve to demonstrate Hafemann’s theology differs from Beale, not that Beale’s conclusions are derived deductively from his confessional faith rather than exegesis. Thus, this third critique seems rather tame and serves only to highlight Hafemann’s different theological tradition.

In conclusion, the main issues are the nature of NT fulfillment and Beale’s focus on inaugurated eschatology. Since Hafemann taught alongside Beale for more than a decade, it is difficult to say he misunderstands him, but his description of what Beale means by “transformation” attributes more influence to Hays than to Vos. It would be interesting to hear Hafemann’s views of Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission, which thoroughly traces the organic development of the temple from Eden to New Jerusalem. Certainly, if one saw only a garden paradise and then a heavenly city, one may believe they were distinct realities. But if one saw the development from Eden, through Canaan, through Jerusalem, through Jesus, through the Church, and then to the New Jerusalem, one could see the reality was not transformed into a completely new entity, but rather transformed from the seed to the flower.

Regarding eschatology, Hafemann states he still works with the “very traditional promise-fulfillment scheme under an inaugurated eschatology that points to the future as the focus of its fulfillment.” I wonder if one must choose to focus on inauguration or consummation. For example, the Day of the Lord warnings refer to an eschatological judgment, but also have historical, inaugurated fulfillment in Israel’s history. It would be difficult to decide whether one was more important than the other. One’s focus will likely be determined by one’s organizational method for biblical theology. (1) If one traces the redemptive historical timeline of Scripture, one will inevitably focus on inaugurated eschatology since the consummation will form the conclusion of the biblical history. Moreover, detailed descriptions of the end-times are few and far between, while detailed descriptions of inaugurated fulfillments are found repeatedly through history through development of theological realities. Even those that do explicitly speak of the end-times (e.g., Matt 24) are blended so thoroughly with prophecy of historical fulfillment that it is difficult to sort them apart. (2) On the other hand, if one organizes a biblical theology topically or chooses a center, one could much more easily focus on consummated eschatology by orienting each topic toward the goal of consummation. Just as each recapitulated section of Revelation ends with Christ’s Parousia, so also would discussion of each biblical-theological topic. This approach seems less faithful to the biblical presentation of redemptive history, and therefore less conducive for biblical theology. If this analysis is true, then one may properly attempt to focus on both inaugurated and consummated eschatology without favoring one over the other, but one will inevitably give much more space to inaugurated fulfillments as they span the entire biblical history.

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