Book Review: Paul’s Message and Ministry in Covenant Perspective (Hafemann)

Paul's Message and Ministry in Covenant Perspective (Hafemann)There has been no shortage of scholarship on Paul in the last 150 years, as theologians and biblical scholars alike have taken up writing about Paul en masse. Amid the voluminous tomes on the Apostle, certain voices ring out more clearly than the others, beckoning readers to take up Paul with fresh insight. Scott J. Hafemann’s Paul’s Message and Ministry in Covenant Perspective, collected essays on Paul’s ministry and message from the perspective of covenantal theology stands as such a work, providing theological and exegetical insight from across twenty-five years of research on the Apostle Paul and his letters to the church at Corinth.

This volume consists of thirteen thematically related exegetical essays which outline Hafemann’s arguments that Paul’s self-understanding shaped his entire theological program and that Paul’s eschatology and missiology were central to his theological thought. Although loosely connected and thematically diverse, these essays consistently emphasize the three-fold covenantal structure of prologue (God’s past promises to his people), stipulations (commands of the covenant), and blessings and curses (consummation and fulfillment of the covenant) that runs throughout Paul’s letters. Overall, these essays are less concerned with literary and historical questions surrounding Pauline Studies than with solid theological exegesis and application, especially the implications of the New Perspective on Paul.

Hafemann’s first essay considers Paul and his interpreters since F.C. Baur, a clear and relatively concise introduction to the contours of modern Pauline Studies. This contribution stands as one of the most impressive and illuminating in the collection, as Hafemann offers definitive guidance on the most important names, works, movements, and perspectives on Paul and his work. The rest of the essays in this first section focus more generally on Paul’s message of God’s covenant. After a response to Douglas Campbell’s treatment of Paul’s dikaio language, Hafemann offers three essays on 2 Corinthians. These consider Paul’s use of the Old Testament in 2 Corinthians, the centrality of comfort and power in the argument of 2 Corinthians 1-3, and Paul’s contextual exegesis of the veil of Moses in 2 Corinthian 3. Each of these essays reveals Hafemann’s exegetical consistency, theological precision, and emphasis on Paul’s covenantal paradigm.

In Part II of this volume, Hafemann considers the applications to Christian ministry—both ancient and contemporary—which arise from Paul’s epistles. In his eighth essay, Hafemann examines the Paul’s missiology and theology, arguing that these facets of his thought formed an inseparable unity and concluding that, “Paul was a theologically driven missionary and a missiologically driven theologian.” His next essay considers the centrality of pastoral suffering in Paul’s theology, particularly how suffering revealed God’s power and confirmed his apostleship. The final essay looks at Paul’s claims concerning the exclusivity of the Christian gospel in light of contemporary concerns with pluralism, where Hafemann argues that for Paul God’s covenantal faithfulness was to be affirmed despite Israel’s rejection of Jesus. The rest of this section’s essays consider a variety of topics, including the conflux of covenant and kerygma in Paul’s writing, his covenantal pneumatology, the reality of Christian suffering, and Paul’s conception of the unified church.

If there is a critique of this volume, it is that Hafemann did not provide any summative remarks or reflections on his journey through Pauline scholarship over the past twenty-five years. This, of course, constitutes only the slightest of complaints against an otherwise masterful and insightful collection. Paul’s Message and Ministry in Covenant Perspective comes highly recommended for scholars and graduate students working on Paul or the New Testament, especially those engaging the New Perspective or the Corinthians correspondences. Certain essays will also prove particularly beneficial for certain other audiences as well, particularly pastoral leaders and undergraduates. All-in-all, Hafemann’s essays are accessible and noteworthy contributions to ongoing discussions about Paul’s message and ministry.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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