Types or Comparisons?

This post responds to Steve Hays’, The New Exodus.

Steve starts us off by quoting my Reason 37 from the “40 Reasons

I said: “With all due respect I think Steve is letting a presumed theological motif pass rudely over what the texts are really saying.  As I pointed out in Reason 37:

37. In reality what happens is that the theological presuppositions of the interpreter which are read into the NT text and then back into the OT.  There is a corresponding breakdown between what the biblical texts say and what they are assumed to mean.  Thus, it is the interpretation of the reader and not the wording of the biblical text which is often the authority for what the Bible is allowed to teach.

The truth is, something outside the texts he uses is making him see types that are not there.  Could that something be that he is “reinterpreting” the passages because of his commitment to letting his understanding of the NT dictate what the OT must say, and what God intended to say?  Perhaps not.  But in my experience and reading, that is what is going on.”

Then he responds:

I’d simply point out that this sort of accusation doesn’t facilitate a constructive dialogue. And that’s because the allegation is reversible.

He objects to Reason 37. 

But let it be kept in mind that it is #37!  There was a lot that came before it.  Additionally, it is a reason why one ought to be cautious about embracing the notion that the NT reinterprets the OT.  Dialogue need not be stopped because I think I see a problem.  I believe this exchange proves this assertion to have a foundation.  Steve Hays may wish to produce a similar sort of list addressing problems with the dispensational approach, broadly (though please not popularly) conceived.  He continues,

An amil or covenant theologian could level the same allegation against Dispensationalists, viz. the dispensationalist is imposing his theological precommitments on the text, is filtering the text through a dispensational grid.

He is right.  I am biased.  I do have presuppositions.  I write from them, although I try to be balanced and listen to criticisms.  What are my precommitments?  Although not a full list, these set out some of the main ones: 

1. God speaks in Scripture

2. God is the Author of language

3. Language is for the purpose of communication between God and His creature, and man’s communication to man about the things of God.

4. Our language is controlled by our independent sinful hearts

5. Hence, we must take heed to what God says

6. God means what He says, especially when He makes an oath

7. Oaths are pointless if they are ambiguous and variable in their possible outcomes

8. God makes covenants for sinful men so that they will know what He will do, but we must strive to let each passage speak in its own voice.

9. The covenants provide the teleology as well as the eschatology of revelation

10. Therefore, the rest of Scripture must comport with the plain-sense of the covenant language in Scripture

The basic task of biblical theology as I see it is to try to follow the covenants through both Testaments, tying the specific propositional content to those covenants to fill out the picture of the revelation which God has vouchsafed to men.  This revelation is “incomplete”, awaiting the blessedness of eternal communion between God and man in the eschaton.  I dub this approach “Biblical Covenantalism”

Then he quotes me:

“Hays then links to Jer. 16:14-15, which houses a promise of return amid denouncement for sin.  I think he is correct to see a connection with Isa. 11 & 35, but there is no typology and no alteration in the “land-motif.”  Better places to go would be Jer. 30:1-10; 31:1-14, 21-16; 32:37-41; 33:14-26.  These show again that there is no typology and “territorial referents” are constant.   Steve’s “typology” of recapitulation is not there.  He has brought it with him.  This shows why one should never formulate doctrine from supposed “types.”’

I stand by that assertion.  Hays again:

i) When the OT presents a new Eden or new Exodus motif, that, by definition, involves shifting territorial referents.

 Instead of real Eden, Eretz-Israel takes the place of Eden. Instead of real Egypt, Babylon takes the place of Egypt. So the original territorial referents change.

Yes, but motifs don’t equal types.  In the verses he cited Israel was said to be “like Eden.” (Isa. 51:3).  All that was being done was that a comparison was being made.  The same is true of Jer. 16.  The comparison with the Exodus is one of a greater (future) migration to the promised-land.  If we start seeing a “New Exodus” motif as a typological signal to deny the return of Israel to its land in fulfillment of its covenants, we are not doing it because Jeremiah instructs us to do so.  No, it is because the motif is a necessary hermeneutical vehicle to arrive at the desired theology.

I am sorry if that sounds divisive.  I need to be open to being persuaded by Steve’s reasoning.  My pre-commitments get in the way, but that is why I value the works of men who I disagree with.  Anyhow, the evidence seems to point that way.

ii) This is characteristic of a typical relation. In typology, one concrete thing symbolizes another concrete thing.  He is correct.

In the new Eden motif, Eden now stands for Eretz-Israel.  In the new Exodus motif, Egypt now stands for Babylon.

So says Steve.  But in the passages he quoted Eden stands for Eden in comparative illustration of the renewed land of Israel.  There isn’t any need to see types and shadows.  If I say that the smell of the American Northwest is like the smell of northern England, I don’t have anything like a type in mind.  Neither do I require others to create a typological grid in which to fit my words.  If an OT prophet recalls Eden or the Exodus to illustrate another work of God in the eschaton, we are not to jump to the conclusion that he is speaking typologically.  He may be, but just saying so doesn’t make it so.  We need a lot more evidence.   I say there’s no need to go down that road.

The trouble with this way of speaking is that it ends up converting eschatological Israel into non-Israel, denying them the promised-land; the Jerusalem temple morphs into the church; Zadokites into Christians; the throne of David is another name for the throne of God, etc., all because types must be produced for certain theological views to be sustained.  It is question-begging.

iii) This is more than just Edenic or Exodus imagery. Rather, you have the same plotline.

In the Edenic plotline, you have expulsion and restoration. In the Exodus plotline, you have captivity and deliverance.

If the basic plotline wasn’t similar there could not be a comparison made.

iv) This, in turn, involves a type/token relationship, where the general type remains the same, but different tokens exemplify the same type. In this case, the type is the master plotline while the token is one particular way the same type can be exemplified in time and space. One time or place can substitute for another time or place.

A type is repeatable or multiply-instantiable. Specific instances of the same kind. In addition, each token represents the same type, like variations on the same plotline.


This is precisely why one ought never let a type in until one knows what any passage is saying, and so whether any type has warrant.  There is no such warrant in Steve’s passages from the Prophets.  Types are tethered to theologies, and are therefore apt to promote Eisegesis.  If one is not careful, every stubborn covenant promise will be made to bend because it has been burdened with the label “type”, ready to perform in the way described above.

v) The fact that the OT has a new Eden or new Exodus motif tells us how the OT views the theological function of land in the first place.

Steve will strongly disagree with me, but what I see is a “theological function” borne by the motif, being read into the OT.  The “theological function” is wrought from the particular interpretation of NT passages.  There is no need for it.  The passages make clear sense without the help of types.  True enough, when Israel is compared to Eden then the “theological function” changes.  Since Israel does not yet bear a comparison to Eden we must look for a future fulfillment.  When the numerous passages are brought together the picture becomes quite detailed.  But the predispositions of, say, amillennialism will not allow this picture in their theological gallery!

vi) I’d also point out that a theological motif is open to further development.

And it can so easily become a wax nose.

2 thoughts on “Types or Comparisons?”

  1. @Paul, I don’t feel like what I write is going to be of a high quality cailbre, more like a primary school pupil interjecting something ignorant in a room full of PhD students and post-docs debating on advanced theology. But we have to ask a very basic question: does the Jewish people read as types? Yes, I’m aware there have been various Jewish schools in hermenumatics in the history, the question is, how do we know that “all these are typological” talk isn’t us injecting Greek philosophy into a foreign (Jewish) text?

    Secondly, if this were exclusively read as types, then why aren’t the messianic prophecies types as well? Even the New Testament writers take historical events/records and prophecies already fulfilled before Jesus’ time as types, with Matthew 2:17-18 is an example – but it doesn’t mean the historical events didn’t happen in the first place. This is not a new theological question, as Arnold Fruchtenbaum raised this in his book Israelology mre than 30 years ago, and from what I read none of the newer more nunanced works have made any attempts to respond to such question.

    Most importantly, none of the Church Fathers can be greater than the original Apostles who wrote the inspired New Testament after all, who in turn were taught by Jesus Himself. If the typological interpretation were true, the Apostles wouldn’t have raised the question of the timing of Israel’s restoration in Acts 1:6. Before someone throws in the argument that theological revelation comes in progressively and the Book of Acts was still early on in terms of doctrinal development etc, none of the interpretations that speculates Israel will not be restored by God nationally can produce any positive “beyond reasonable doubt” statement in any parts of the New Testament, Their argument such as Ephesians 2, Galatians 3, 2 Peter 3 can also fit in a dispensational framework without issues.

    Finally and very critically, Jesus does strongly suggest prophecies will have a literal fulfillment (not merely a typological) in His Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. I don’t see Him saying Daniel won’t be fulfilled literally from what He wrote in verses 15 to 16.

    Of course, this boils down to us ignorant dispensationalists’ kindergarten-grade objection to typological intrepretation is that all in all, what stops us from believing the unfulfilled prophecies on Jesus’ Second Coming will not be fulfilled literally but exclusively typologically as well (saying the Apostles Creed serves as the answer for why not is not satuisfactory). The CT guys will see this question as kindergarten naviete, but they can’t avoid the question.

    1. Joel,

      I can’t comment on all of what you’ve written, but I should say that typology (as Hays himself noted) does not deny the historicity of typical events. It relies on their historicity.

      Matt 2:16-17 is not used typologically; but comparatively. In that instance one might make the case for recapitulation, but not typology. Also, there is no reinterpretation since it is a comparison or analogy.

      Typology is tied to theology. This means different theologies produce different typologies.

      Jewish Midrash & Pesher did reinterpret past events in light of contemporary events and persons, but I do not buy into NT midrash and pesher, so…

      God bless


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s