In his illuminating study Jesus the Priest, Nicholas Perrin argues for a priestly reading of Mark 2:23–28, the passage where “those who were with [Jesus]” (repeated twice in vv. 25 and 26) ate grain on Sabbath. In his commentary, Perrin argues for a deep typology between 1 Samuel and Mark’s Gospel.
That Mark intends a general comparison between David and Jesus is supported by at least a handful of typological comparisons, occurring, for example, in Mark’s account of the latter’s last week in Jerusalem which resembles the Jerusalem-based consolidation of kingship under the former. As he enters the Holy City in the style of Solomon (11.1—8), Jesus is hailed as the Son of David (11.9-10), only later to be identified with David (12.10 us 118.22—23)). Later still he is crucified as a Davidic ‘King of the Jews’ (15.26) Finally, in his expiring moments he utters his last prayer in words drawn from a Davidic psalm (15.34 (Ps. 22.1)). Through his shameful death on Roman cross, Mark insists, Jesus has become Israel’s king on the pattern of David.
Yet the Jesus-David analogy also extends to Mark’s sequencing of events as a comparison of their respective careers makes clear. One recalls that in 1 Samuel, David is anointed as king of Israel (1 Samuel 16), thrust into combat with Israel’s arch-enemy (Goliath) (1 Samuel 17) and shortly thereafter put to flight by the reigning pretender Saul (1 Samuel 18-20), with an excursion to Nob (1 Samuel 21) marking one of the first stops in his itinerant exile. The early action of the Gospel is parallel in its broad strokes.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is anointed the Davidic-messianic king (Mark 1.9-11), thrust into combat with Israel’s true arch-enemy (the Satan) (1.12—13) and shortly thereafter embroiled in a series of conflicts complete with its own Nob-like experience (2.23-28). Such structural similarities between the Gospel and the Davidic narrative are not unrelated to more far-reaching thematic comparisons. If David was anointed king but denied any immediate right to reign, so it was with Jesus. If David’s band was time and time again forced to go on the run, Jesus and his followers were no less a band on the run. Finally, if David’s exile eventually paved the way for the throne, the same goes for Jesus — even if in a curious, paradoxical way. Whatever scriptures and traditions shaped Mark’s Christology of suffer, the contribution of the Davidic narrative can hardly be denied.
Once Mark’s appropriation of the cycle from 1-2 Samuel is brought to bear on our interpretation of his grainfield incident, Jesus’ appeal to David (vv. 25-26) quickly comes into view as an effort to frame the controversy a recapitulation of a distinctively Davidic conflict. Mark 2.23-28’s position within a set of post-baptism conflicts stories, in grand analogy to David’s experience, points to nothing less. No sooner is David anointed king of Israel than he is ironically persecuted: no sooner is Jesus anointed king of Israel through baptism than he is, with equal irony, persecuted. Meanwhile, if the analogy between the two anointed-but-beleaguered kings effectively links the conflict dialogues of Mark to the travails of David, then Jesus’ self-comparison with David at Nob within the episode of 2:23-28 is the weld which seals that link. This is no arbitrary exercise in typology. By embedding Jesus’ sufferings within the context of David’s suffering, Mark hopes to justify the controverted quality of Jesus’ messiahship. (Jesus the Priest, 196-97)
Because of my passion for priesthood and typology, I love the way Perrin reads this passage. But more technically, I appreciate the way he shows how Mark wrote his Gospel on the basis of previous Scripture. I believe we can see this kind of typology all over the Gospels, and this is a great example. At the same time, Perrin’s observation about typology help us think more carefully about typology and how the inspired authors wrote Scripture.
One of the debates related to typology concerns whether typology is prospective or retrospective nature. While I believe typology, as it is providentially included in the Old Testament Scriptures, is written prospectively in preparation for Christ. Typology in the New Testament seems to be written retrospectively. In other words, authors like Mark employ the patterns of books—1 Samuel in this instance. This too is a kind of typology, but one that is retrospective, not prospective.
This sort of typology should not cancel out the prospective nature of the Old Testament typology. As I wrote yesterday about the pattern of the gospel in Genesis 24, I believe the Old Testament authors, beginning with Moses, wrote with an eye to the future. The New Testament says as much (see Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 1 Pet. 1:10–12), and we are on solid ground to see how persons, events, institutions, and covenants “pattern” later realties in redemptive history.
Still, to think carefully about biblical typology means we should read the Bible on its own terms and recognize different kinds of typology at work in different parts of the Bible. For that reason, I believe we have reason to speak of two kinds of typology—one type found most often in the promissory and prophetic words of the Old Testament, and another type found in the words of fulfillment in the New Testament. Together, these two approaches complement one another, even strengthening one another, but should not be confused with one another.
Even more, we can see how these two aspects are of a piece in the Old Testament, where passages like Hosea 11:1 are based on the patterns of previous revelation, but also are written with an eye to the future. Attention to the retrospective and prospective nature of typology in the Prophets confirms the forward looking typology of Moses, and the later retrospective reading of Matthew, even as Hosea works as a prophetic witness to the coming Son of God, who will be a greater Israel than Israel.
Micah 5:2 would be another example of this, as the Prophet “predicts” the birthplace of Jesus. However, he does so in part because of the pattern of salvation that sprang from Bethlehem in books like Judges, Ruth, and 1–2 Samuel. Accordingly, this prophetic witness is forward-looking, but also retrospective.
All in all, it seems best to speak of typology in terms of “typological structures.” Types do not exist in individually-wrapped packages. Rather, like fruit that grows on the vine, types take in their nourishment from previous revelation—which means there is an original pattern/type that often goes back to Eden. At the same time, the fruit contains within it seeds for the future. And as the fruit is eaten in its day (i.e., applied by the original audience), it also puts seeds in the soil of God’s Word, so that when the Lord ordains in the future, later and greater realities will fulfill the typological words spoken under the old covenant.
From this approach to typology, therefore, we might say that neither the prospective camp nor the retrospective camp presents the full picture of biblical typology. Rather, there is in Scripture prospective typology and there is retrospective patterning based on previous revelation. Unified by one Spirit, these various passages must be read together to see the full meaning of Scripture.
To that end, lets keep reading Scripture and watch how the old points to the new and the new picks up, applies, and fulfills the old.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds