After a ridiculously long delay, I have started to finish off my series on the Parameters of Meaning beginning with this one on Typology. I believe these guidelines will help Bible students avoid many pitfalls in interpretation by setting limits on what constitutes legitimate hermeneutics. For those of you interested here are the previous installments:
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 7: Never draw theological conclusions that are based upon typology. Types are too uncertain and debatable for doctrines to be formulated with them.
The Bible is given, in large part for Theology. 2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us all that
All Scripture is God-breathed [out] and is profitable for doctrine (didaskalia), for reproof, the correction, for instruction in righteousness…
The Greek word didaskalia means “teaching” and is often, as in the above example, translated as “doctrine.” This word, “doctrine”, signifies the body of biblical teaching cast in the form of propositional truths and life principles. For doctrines, and, therefore, Theology to be really biblical, they must be clearly traceable to the text of Scripture, interpreted within its proper context. Our doctrinal formulations should be derived from clear statements of the truth which are accessible to all people.
As we have tried to show with the Rules of Affinity, every major doctrine of the Christian Faith can be ascertained either from direct statements taken from Bible passages (this is usual), or from inferences drawn from direct statements which lead to one inevitable conclusion. Hence, God has given mankind the essentials of Christianity on the surface, as it were, of His Word. This being so, it is scarcely necessary to dive into the murky waters of symbolism to uncover theological truth in Scripture.
The Tricky Business of Identification
But leaving that aside, we must ask what is needed for a type to even gain credence as a type. To begin with, nearly all the best writers on the subject say that typology is intra-testamental. This means that the type is in the Old Testament while the antitype, the fulfillment of the type, is in the New Testament. So too Leonard Goppelt, in his Typos (ch.1), saw it as his task to examine how the use of typology by NT authors and the church guided the interpretation of the OT.
A 1997 article, “Typology: A Summary of Present Evangelical Discussion,” by W. Edward Glenny (JETS 40.4), provides three competing evangelical views, while commending a fourth; that of Richard M. Davidson, as a way forward. Davidson himself surveys a host of contrasting theories of typology from both mainstream and evangelical sources, and concludes that they all fall short because “a solid semasiological and exegetical foundation for understanding the nature of typology is never laid.” – Typology in Scripture, 73. (“Semasiological” refers to the actual meaning of a word as it is used).
Recently, men like RWL Moberly have proposed a typology within the OT itself independent of the NT (at least for Jewish readers). However, Christian use of this approach will not permit fixity of types unless the NT is ushered in through the back door. In point of fact the soil out of which much typology has been built is the view that the NT reinterprets the OT.
as more revelation was given over time…we discover more of God’s plan and where that plan is going. It is for this reason that the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament becomes definitive in helping us understand the details of the Old Testament…In other words, we must carefully allow the New Testament to show us how the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in Christ. – Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 85-86
But it does not follow that later revelation will always work in this way. One thinks of the Creation account for instance, or the Fall. And before it can be asserted that the NT has definitive interpretative clout over the OT we must ascertain whether or not the NT is addressing the particular subject the OT text is addressing. But this brings to light the major problem, which is whether our interpretation(s) of the NT are infused with dogma. We find such a problem in the above quotation where the authors assume without proof that “the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in Christ”, by which they mean, the first coming of Christ. Such a massive presupposition will inevitable color their understanding of typology, since they will be searching for types of first advent “fulfillment.” This will unavoidably lead them into collision with the many OT texts which place the fulfillments at the second advent. In fact, the very existence of the collision calls forth their typology to handle it!
To illustrate this idea of frontloaded conclusions again, consider this by covenant theologian Mark L. Karlberg:
The dissolution of the temporal, earthly theocracy coincided with the new covenant’s reign of God in the hearts of his people through the Spirit. In the eschatological age of the Spirit the kingdom of God is a spiritual reality unencumbered by the shadowy, earthly forms (types) characteristic of the ancient theocracy. In the period between the advents of Christ the presence of the kingdom is in anticipation of the realization of the land-promise in the consummation. – ‘The Significance of Israel in Biblical Typology’, JETS 31:3 (September 1988), 268
But it ought to be obvious that such a typological approach can only be sanctioned if the NT is given interpretive priority over the New, which is actually only to say that the interpreter’s own theologically determined conclusions about the NT are read back into the OT! Typology trumps contextual exegesis whenever a theological commitment predisposes the reader to employ it. The present writer has tried to show that the new covenant insures the literal fulfillment of OT predictions, not hands them over to be “typologized”. (more…)