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Tuesday
Aug032010

Theological Term of the Week

typology
A method of biblical interpretation that arises from the concept that in God’s plan, elements found in the Old Testament (laws, institutions, and historical people or events) prefigure the things God purposed to accomplish in later times, especially in the work of Christ.

  • From scripture:

    Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:14 ESV)
    By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). (Hebrews 9:8-9 ESV)
  • From the London Baptist Confession, 1689, Chapter 8, Of Christ the Mediator:
    6._____ Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever.
  • From ESV Study Bible, Interpreting the Bible:

    The earliest followers of Christ interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures (the OT) as Jesus taught them—as a book of anticipations pointing to Christ himself. He was the long-promised Messiah, the Redeemer who would reverse the effects of the primal fall and restore the world to pristine holiness. Jesus taught that the OT spoke of him. To his critics he said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). The Gospel accounts suggest that Jesus understood the OT from a Christocentric, typological perspective; he is repeatedly cast as the fulfillment of the Scriptures. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it clear that his views did not contradict Moses, but he had come to invest the Law and the Prophets with their proper and full meaning (Matt. 5:17). Two themes run through Jesus’ teaching: (1) the Law was the perfect revelation of God to humanity, and (2) Jesus came to fulfill the Law by meeting its exacting demands for a righteous standing before God.

    This approach to the OT is how the earliest writers of the Christian Scriptures (the NT) approached their own writings. They spoke of the OT in the same way that Jesus had: as a book not merely telling the pre-Christian history of Israel but telling that history in a way that had present and future significance for Christians. The OT was the original sacred book of the church, giving assurance that Jesus was the promised and anointed one predicted by the prophets.

  • From 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer:

    In a famous lecture (and subsequently published article), New Testament  scholar Richard Longenecker asked, “Can we reproduce the exegesis of the New Testament?” Longenecker was asking whether we, as modern interpreters, can apply typological interpretive methods to passages not so cited by New Testament authors. Bible-believing Christians have reached a variety of conclusions on the matter. In my opinion, it is necessary to ask how any part of Scripture points to Christ. We must be cautious, however, in proposing any typological correspondences that are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture. In other words, we should keep the surface-level meaning of the text the primary focus of our exposition and give appropriate interpretive caveats when suggesting a Christological application not found explicitly in the Bible. Obscure symbolic interpretations of Old Testament laws should be avoided. It is probably wise to ask a friend who is more experienced in biblical interpretation to critique any newly proposed Christological typology before publicly proclaiming it.

Learn more:

  1. GotQuestions.org: What is Biblical typology?
  2. Theopedia: Biblical typology
  3. Tim Challies: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
  4. Fred Zaspel: The Warrant for Typological Interpretation of Scripture
  5. David Murray: Typology: A Step-by-Step Guide (pdf)
  6. Wayne Jackson: A Study of Biblical Typology
  7. Charles T. Fritsch: Biblical Typology
  8. Bible Research: List of resources on typology

Related terms:

Filed under Scripture

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it.

I’m also interested in any suggestions you have for tweaking my definitions or for additional (or better) articles or sermons/lectures for linking. I’ll give you credit and a link back to your blog if I use your suggestion.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms organized in alphabetical order or by topic.

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Reader Comments (2)

There's a good discussion of typology in Benjamin Keach's Tropologia, especially in Book II. Keach's work, which is partly original and partly a translation of Solomon Glassius's Philologia Sacra, was widely used (especially by Baptist preachers) in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

August 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon

Thanks so much for the tip. I'll look at that.

August 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

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