Typology and Typologies


Typology is typically considered as a unified whole, or at least, when discussing the subject, we speak of typology and not typologies. And with regards to hermeneutics and its application to systematic theology, this is appropriate. We must be able to synthesize our findings in Scripture and draw certain principles and conclusions (however, tentative) from the whole corpus of Scripture. Because the Bible is a unity (John 10:35), inspired by the one, triune God (2 Peter 1:19–21), we can and must seek to understand how typology works in the Bible.

At the same time, not all biblical authors do typology in the same way, and thus we need to take into consideration how each writer employs Scripture. Most recently, Richard Hays has made this point in this magisterial volume, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Working carefully through the four Gospels, Hays makes the conclusion that each Evangelist uses the Old Testament in different ways. After engaging the text of each book, he provides general conclusions about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and how typology, what he calls a figural reading, is employed by each.

Without denying the field of typology, i.e., the general study of types and anti-types, I think his observations are worth making careful consideration. Could it be that many disagreements about the nature of typology are due to the fact that various interpreters are beholden to different approaches in Scripture itself? Could it be that one reason typology is debated so frequently (not to mention vehemently) is that we do not appreciate Scripture’s own variety of typologies?

That is to say, if Matthew makes plain his typology (through fulfillment formulae), but Mark does not, and the interpreter of Scripture fails to recognize and appreciate the difference, what effect might that have on their stated methodologies? Under Matthew’s “discipleship”, might it cause them to demand more explicit typology than Mark gives? Thus, unintentionally pitting one Gospel writer against the other. Believing themselves to be defenders of orthodoxy, might they actually miss how Mark uses Old Testament categories and makes biblical allusions without footnoting them (like Matthew does)?

Or, if someone is shaped only by the quotations in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, might they overlook the way John employs images? While John quotes from the Old Testament, he is much more indebted to showing how Jesus is the light of the world, the shepherd of Israel, the vine, and the temple of God. If we judge John by Matthew’s typology, we may easily miss the way the former employs the Old Testament, because he paints Word pictures instead of writing with proof-texts. Again, failure to make this allowance actually detracts from a full and faithful reading of Scripture. Instead of hearing what each inspired author is saying, in the way he is saying it, it may force a Markan reading on John, or vice versa. (And this doesn’t even get at the problem of reading the Prophets like they were one of Paul’s didactic letters).

How many biblical types and allusions do we miss because we fail to recognize that under the banner of typology, there are many typologies (i.e., methods of incorporating the Old Testament into the New)? For this reason, I commend Hays book, if for no other reason than he makes us put our nose in the text and see what is there. What we find after marinating in the four Gospels is that there is more than one way the biblical authors do typology (i.e., make connections between Old Testament shadows and the substance of Jesus Christ).

Hays calls this “figural reading.” For reasons I’ll examine another day, I’m not comfortable with that term, but for now I think his observation about multiple typologies in Scripture is a needed corrective to overly-narrow conceptions of typology. If nothing else, he presses the conversation about intertextuality forward and challenges us to be more biblical in our approach to all the Bible—which in this case means more than recognizing typology; we must also see typologies.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds


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  1. Pingback: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: Reading Each Evangelist on Their Own Terms | Via Emmaus

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