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Q213 : The Proper Place of Typology in Interpretation

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Q213 : The Proper Place of Typology in Interpretation

Dear Paul.

Thank you for your wonderful articles. Although I can't follow all you've written I'm glad with most of it.

But I also have a question. I was wondering what the meaning of all the laws, the priesthood, the offerings, the tabernacle and the temple is when you throw away a typological meaning.

I realize by myself that since I read your articles I've lost a lot of pleasure in reading the books of Exodus to Deuteronomium. It has become a rather useless piece of the OT except for some morals and for those "types" (wondering if I'm still allowed to use the word at all) that are literally called as being types (the snake at the pole, pesach-offering, etc.) In one of your articles or responses you wrote that we are not allowed to use the same kind of exposition the apostles did. We only can use the literal method for the clear prophecies of the prophets. Although I agree with that (for the greatest part) I'm still wondering what's the use of a lot of stories and most of the law except as a method of teaching moralities.

What, for instance is the meaning of "Of these things we cannot now speak in detail/particulary" in Hebrews? This gives me the idea that there is a lot to say about them but this is forever lost because he (as an apostle(?) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) choose not to do this.

Before I enjoyed the readings (not all of it) of Pink, Coates, Anderson, Habershon, Gaebelein, Ironside, etc. After reading your work I got the feeling that you need the rejection of typology as a weapon against Reformed theology. But aren't you throwing the baby with the bathwater away?

When I sometimes see the struggle of certain Dispensational theologians with the application of certain (a lot!!) of OT texts in the new testament I only can agree with the CT's [covenant theologians] that there is more than only a literal application of them to Israel (I know they don't believe in a literal fulfillment). When I see how Paul uses verses from the Tenach and applies them to the church I am only wondering why I am not allowed to do that. It feels like there is no prescribed exegesis behind these applications because they are only promptings of the Holy Spirit. Can that be???

In your list of books to read about dispensationalism you also mentioned The Dawn of World Redemptiona of Erich Sauer. He says in this book:

In this sense prophecy concerning the Israelitish kingdom is frequently at the same time a prediction relating to the period of the church. Only this fact puts into our hand the key as to why the New Testament applies spiritually to the present church age certain Old Testament prophecies which, in the meaning of the Old Testament prophets, unquestionably refer to Israel and the future End times (e.g. Rom. 15:12 with Isa. 11:10; 1Pet. 2:10; Rom. 9:25,26 with Hos. 1:1O; Acts 2:16-21 with Joel 2:28-32; 1Pet. 2:9 with Exod. 19:6), of course without intending to deny their future literal application (Rom.11:29). From God's side these prophecies meant more than the Old Testament prophets were themselves aware (1Pet. 1:11,12).

Mere spiritualizing is therefore indeed false, for it takes away from Israel its God-given promises; but mere explanation as having only literal future significance is likewise one-sided, for it does not do justice to the manner of the New Testament citations. "Spiritualizing" is to a great extent the method of the New Testament. This one should do and not leave the other undone.

Thus, then, Old Testament prophecy has a fourfold interpretation in the history of salvation:

1. As contemporaneous history: with reference to the Old Testament circumstances of the prophets themselves;

2. Spiritually and typically: with reference to the church;

3. Literally as regards the End days: with reference to Israel and the nations of the world in the coming kingdom of God on the old earth;

4. In the light of eternity: with reference to the new heaven and the new earth.

On the way to the consummation each stage in turn serves only as a porch. The Old Testament is the vestibule to the church age; the church age is the vestibule to the visible earthly kingdom of God. But even that visible earthly kingdom of God is not the final goal, but likewise only a vestibule. Only in eternity, in the new heaven and on the new earth, is the royal palace of perfection opened.

Can you agree with that? Or, if not, why not?

I’ m still wondering which exegetical rules I have to use to explain types. And which book would you advise as good reading on this method? And also, if you don’t approve of some of the Brethren, which then will do? Which writers make good use of typology without fancy?


A213 : by Paul Henebury

Thank you for your questions. Unfortunately I do not have the leisure right now to offer a full response to them. It is easier to ask a question than to answer one!

I do want to correct what I believe is a misunderstanding in your reading of me. I do not cast out typology! What I cast out is using types to PROVE doctrine. Such an exercise is question-begging and a subtle way of imposing human reason into interpretation. Types exist and there are plenty of them in the books you speak of: e.g. the sacrifices. But we must be wary of not reading too much into the types so as to make them determine the direction of our thinking on particular matters. For example, the notion of sacrifice is itself a controverted subject. I believe sacrifice should be viewed as a enactment of the creature (man) over the animals, and also a way of bringing God into the camp so to speak.

Anyway, I hope I have put your fears to rest on that score and that your reading of Exodus, Deuteronomy, etc. is not spoiled. I would only caution you on not going overboard on types like the Brethren (Soltau, Ridout, Coates, etc) have sometimes done.

As far as Sauer is concerned, while I greatly appreciate and recommend his work, I do not subscribe to the views you reproduced from him. I do not believe the NT spiritualizes the OT, although OT themes may illustrate NT ones. This is where I would have to say much much more and I simply cannot do that right now.

In my view typology is irretrievably associated with ones theology. This means that the types one allows will all too often reflect ones theological predilections. If I am right, i hope you will see that exegetical considerations are not very pertinent to the discussion. All the standard works on typology teach that it is based upon interpreting the OT type with the NT antitype, which is often a perilous pursuit since it can easily get subjective. for that very reason I cannot recommend any treatment of typology wholeheartedly. I do recommend you study the ones clearly seen in Scripture and proceed carefully based on your study.

If your reading of the Pentateuch is spoiled by not seeing types hither and thither, may I humbly suggest that your reading paradigm is wrong. Perhaps, if your English is good, you could study John Sailhamer's The Meaning of the Pentateucha and go from there (I reviewed the bookb at my blog). You might want to read these posts in this respect:


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