“Typology is an interpretive method rooted in exegesis. Now why would I say such a crazy thing?”
I’m currently reading through Mitchell Chase’s 40 Questions about Typology and Allegory. Since I am doing some serious diving into the Song of Songs for my next book, I have invested interest in Chase’s topic.
I thought it would be fun to address the above quote from page 71. Why? Because, often I’ve found that when I start talking typology—and that really excites me—I notice my conversation partners, often faithful theologians, do not know what to do with it. I get the crickets. And then a change in topic. One time I got a response that typology isn’t reliable exegesis, it’s more like fun speculation. That kind of crushed me because my reading of Scripture, and even my own understanding as a woman, has been enhanced by typological exegesis.
So, to start, let me give Chase’s definition of typology:
A biblical type is a person, office, place, institution, event, or thing in salvation history that anticipates, shares correspondences with, escalates toward, and resolves in its antitype.p. 38
Chase explains how the apostles use typology as an interpretive method in teaching the Old Testament. Paul calls Adam a type of Christ (Rom. 5:41). Peter talks about the Noah’s family being safely brought through the water in the ark, as a type pointing to our own safe passage through water in baptism (1 Peter 3:21). Jesus himself uses typology, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Jonah, a real historical person, was a type pointing to Christ. Even manna is a type pointing to Christ: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is the flesh” (John 6:51). In reading the New Testament authors, we see that the Old Testament is saturated in typology.
We can accept these. But will we see typology in Scripture that wasn’t already taught to us in the New testament? Did the writers of the New Testament exhaust all typology, or were they also modeling a pattern to teach us how to read? Remember Jesus rebuking the disciples on the road to Emmaus because they didn’t understand the Scriptures? He then went on to show how all the Scriptures spoke of him! He was doing typological interpretation, teaching them how to interpret Scripture, giving the big picture and showing how glorious his word is in how it all points to his person, work, and achievements.
Now, we aren’t to play fast and loose with this method, as if, and as the Sunday school joke goes, a squirrel can’t just be squirrel. But if we believe in the divine authorship of Scripture, and we do, then there will be layers of meaning to texts. Sometimes, the human author doesn’t yet know of the richer divine intent that is brought to light in the passage after later revelation. Chase outlines some theological assumptions of typology, such as the providence of God, the unity of Scripture, the witness of the Spirit, the divine trajectory of all things, and the authoritative claims of Christ. These guardrails not only help guide us to a faithful typological reading where it can be found, but also testifies to its value and gives typology a firm place to stand.
“Biblical types are like John the Baptist—they prepare the way of the Lord!”p. 44
So back to that pesky question. Is typological reading fun speculation or a legit exegetical interpretive method? Chase points out that “typology is an attempt to interpret what is there in the text, not what is not there in the text” (71). Working alongside our other interpretive methods, “The recognition of types is the result of attention given to the grammar and history of words, concepts, patterns, and ultimately the whole storyline of Scripture itself” (72). Typological exegesis requires being a good student of all of Scripture—reading with the whole word of God in mind. In drawing out the prophetic meaning of the text that our divine author included, “typology is exegesis across the canon of Scripture.” And “canonical interpretation does not diminish, but enriches, a biblical passage” (73).
“A typological reading is an effort to reveal what was always in the text because of the unity of the testaments and the divine authorship of Scripture.”p. 75
I see typology as finding treasures buried in Scripture. It is fun, even imaginative, but not merely speculative. We aren’t the ones putting the treasures there, God did. To teach us. To show us beauty. To reveal his intimate, providential inner working and grace in giving us symbol after symbol, showing his glorious fingerprints all over the place. Typology is glorious. It leads us to praise our God. So look for the metaphors, narrative recapitulations, allusions, and echoes in God’s word. They’re all over the place. Because, if I can borrow from hip-hop language of the ‘90’s, typology is too legit to quit.