Friday, 1 December 2006


Type and antitype. Israel and the church. The ark and the cross. The Holy of Holies and the very presence of God. Moses, Melchizedek and Jesus. Everything must be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Does that have anything to do with the nature of typology, a way of reading the Bible that rejoices in the links between its various parts, seeing earlier persons, events and activities as foreshadowing later ones? (and, more importantly and excitingly, seeing what comes after - some of which is still to come! - as fulfilling, clarifying and glorifying what comes before.)

Are the typological sinews, the very depth and richness of God's written revelation to us, establishing particular/given truths for us through the use of many witnesses?

While I was studying English Literature at Cambridge I was accosted by a lot of hermeneutical theories. Many writers were reacting against the approach that seeks the univocal authorial intention in a text (and against various associated straw men). I am very suspicious of ultra-critical methods of reading, but they have hit on something. Simply narrowing things down to the mind of the author can be rather flattening. And when it comes to the Bible, a lot is missed by mining texts for propositions, and by ignoring not just the historical context of the author but also the text's theological and canonical context.

Support for this kind of reading comes from teachers otherwise quite far apart on many theological spectra. My first witness is Peter Leithart, a postmillennial Presbyterian minister with an unusually 'high' ecclesiology and plenty of sympathy for public theology, the New Perspective on Paul and for non-evangelical Christian traditions. Very conservative, but no-one could accuse him of being 'fundamentalist'. Such is the breadth of his interests, it is quite tricky for a free-church evangelical such as myself to pin a label on him! But he is a big fan of typology. Just do a search on his website. Thoughts about typology in general can be found on his blog and in a short article in First Things. A couple of interesting posts are on typological relationships between David and the Omride dynasty in the Northern Kingdom, and on Christ-as-new-Moses in Matthew's Gospel. He is concerned to point out how rejecting typology is essentially the same as embracing Marcion, an early Christian who tried to excise the Old Testament from the faith of the church.

Matthew's famous 'Jewishness' (one feels that ought to be rather obvious, but anyway...) leads into my next witness for typology - James Jacob Prasch. Prasch is a Messianic Jew, a Charismatic, a staunch advocate of premillennialism, and a Baptist. He probably could be accused of being a 'fundamentalist'. His Moriel Ministries has a particular focus on exposing cults and false teachers on the fringes of evangelicalism - and there is much in his writings about the prophetic significance of Israel. I read his Grain for the Famine (St Matthew, 2000) last week, having been lent it by a friend. It's a collection of short essays derived from sermons. I don't agree with his understanding of church history (though I used to believe something similar), and aspects of his theology, but the book was thought-provoking and I could envisage contexts in which it could be very helpful. But, anyway, the first essay, 'Midrash' contains plenty that could have been taken out of Leithart's blog...

By reading the bible as literature and history, as the humanists did, you only see part of it. (11)

The apostles did not handle the scriptures according to protestant grammatical-historical methods. (12)

Midrash is like a quadratic equation or a very complex second order differential equation, a thirteen or fourteen step equation. Some people take the first step of grammatical-historical exegesis and think the question is solved. There is nothing wrong with what they do, but there is plenty wrong with what they don't do. (14)

To the ancient Jewish mind, it was not a question of something being predicted, then being fulfilled. That is a wrong view of biblical prophecy. Rather, prophecy was a pattern which is recapitulated; a prophecy having multiple fulfilments. And each cycle teaches something about the ultimate fulfilment. (12)

Prash's brief descriptions of 'Midrash' and 'prophecy' pretty much equate to what Leithart calls 'typology'. A rich insight into biblical intertextuality, I might say, with my literary-critical hat on. And if those two or three witnesses are in agreement who am I to differ!?

It's no coincidence that my love of the letter to the Hebrews has grown as I have begun to nibble at the edge of typology.