By Ardel Caneday–

The second installment in this series promised further development concerning types and foreshadows. Not at all unrelated to these are the issues addressed in the third and fourth installments. Nevertheless, for the sake of timeliness, the last two entries interrupted and suspended the continuation of Part 2 until now. Thus, for the sake of greater continuity it may advisable for readers to review that entry which this one now continues.

During the middle decades of the last century, how the New Testament fulfills the Old tended to dominate disagreements and discussions between Classical Dispensationalists and Covenant Theologians with arguments, counterarguments, rejoinders, and surrejoinders filling many pamphlets, journals, and books. As Vern Poythress skillfully points out, “nearly all the problems associated with the dispensationalist-nondispensationalist conflict are buried beneath the question of literal interpretation.”[i] Classical Dispensationalists tied their understanding of Scripture to the mistaken notion of “literal interpretation.” Unfortunately, many non-dispensationalists confounded the situation by committing the same mistake in the opposite direction by hitching their understanding of Scripture’s use of Scripture to what they called “typological interpretation” or “Christological interpretation.”[ii]

In various published pieces I have shown that to counter the problematic concept of “literal interpretation” by arguing for “figurative interpretation,” “typological interpretation,” “allegorical interpretation,” or even “Christological interpretation” is to slip into the same error at a different point, however much unintended. For to reject the adjective “literal” and then replace it with another adjective, such as “Christological” or “typological” or “figurative,” is to commit the same error of imposing one’s own interpretive grid or system upon the biblical text.[iii] For example, to characterize one’s beliefs concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testaments as “typological interpretation” is to overcorrect against the inapt designation “literal interpretation.” “Typological interpretation” no less than “literal interpretation” elevates the reader over the text. If “literal interpretation” tends to flatten the symbolic and figurative features of the biblical text and to suppress recognition of how features throughout the OT typologically foreshadow fulfillments in the New, “typological interpretation” inclines interpreters to forget that types are not the property of hermeneutics but of revelation. We ought to reject “typological interpretation” as descriptive of the relationship between the OT and the NT in favor of “typological revelation,” for types are imbued by revelation not forged by interpretation. Readers recognize types that are revealed in the text; they do not generate types. For this reason, “typological interpretation” bears at least two implications that misdirect and are problematic.

First, “typological interpretation” implies that what NT writers find concerning Christ in the OT Scriptures is rooted not in the OT itself but in the axiomatically transformed perspective those writers now share, a perspective brought about by the revelation of Christ to them. Such a designation positions one not far from that of others such as Barnabas Lindars who argues that the NT writers believed that the crucified and risen Jesus was the Messiah so they ransacked the OT to prove their new found belief, using OT proof texts without regard for context as they twisted them to serve their apologetic purpose.[iv]

Second, to counter “literal interpretation” with “typological interpretation” implies that types or foreshadows of Christ in the OT Scriptures are rendered foreshadows or types not by the OT text itself but by retrospect interpretation after Messiah has come, thus not adequately accounting for the fact that the foreshadows of Christ really are there to be seen in the events, persons, and institutions recorded within the OT, that they were given to function as shadows of heavenly things and of foreshadows of things to come for those to whom they were given, and they were written within the text of Scripture for the instruction of generations yet to come, albeit concealed in plain sight but capable of being recognized and understood if one’s eyes were opened. Contrary to this, some adopt the notion that OT types—persons, institutions, events—are discernible only retrospectively by observing patterns of “God’s activity in the history of his people.”[v] Accordingly, recognizing types is not concerned with elucidating the meaning of the OT text. According to this viewpoint, identifying types does not involve the work of doing exegesis of the biblical text but is simply a matter of historical retrospect, recognizing historical patterns recorded in the text, because biblical types are not revelatory foreshadows.[vi]

Indeed, the panoply of types embedded throughout the OT comes into clearer focus by way of retrospect from fulfillment in Christ. Yet, to explain OT types as shaped after the fact by the coming of Christ fails to account for the phenomena of types within Scripture, how they function, and what the NT writers actually say concerning OT types. The fact of the matter is that all the types really are there in the text of the OT Scriptures because types are revelatory both in their occurrence in history and in their being recorded in Scripture. Their having been written into the OT text itself as types, not rendered types by NT historical retrospect, endues events, persons, and institutions as biblical types that actually functioned for the faith of the ancient people as copies of heavenly things (Heb. 8:5) and as foreshadows concerning things to come for the faith of God’s last days people (Heb. 9:11; 10:1). Thus, when the writer to the Hebrews extensively quotes Jeremiah 31 to make his case that the new covenant promised to the houses of Israel and of Judah has come to fruition and fulfillment in the church of Jesus Christ that consists of Gentiles and Jews together in one covenant body, he is not pulling the OT passage out of context to prove his axiomatic conviction that Jesus is the Christ and that he has established a new covenant people. Furthermore, the writer to the Hebrews is not merely engaged in retrospectively identifying patterns of God’s working in history, having made a covenant with Israel long ago he now makes a covenant with a new people. Such a notion is entirely inadequate to account for (1) how the NT writers actually handle OT types and (2) what they believe concerning God’s providential supervision of the OT types.

On these matters Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 is greatly instructive concerning biblical types. Because English translations opt to feature the applicatory use Paul makes of Israel’s experiences they tend to obscure his uses of the noun “types” (τύποι, v. 6) and the adverb “typologically” (τυπικῶς, v. 11) by translating the words respectively “as examples” and “as an example” (e.g., KJV; ESV; NRSV; NIV). What translations obscure exposition and preaching needs to clarify.

So, after identifying several specific historical events that Israel experienced, the apostle indicates that these events “occurred as types for us that we might not desire evil as they did” (10:6) and “these things happened typologically, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come” (10:11). Though Paul distinguishes the events themselves from their being written down, it is manifest that he believes both the historical events and their being written down are divine revelatory acts. Israel’s experiences under the cloud, passage through the sea, eating food the Lord miraculously provided in the wilderness, and drinking water from the rock took place as types for us. Likewise, Israel’s numerous acts of unfaithfulness took place typologically and were written down for us as admonitions (vv. 7-10; cf. Ex. 32:6; Num. 25:9; 21:5, 6; 14:2, 29-37). Typological significance is embedded in the occurrence of the events and preserved prophetically in Scripture for posterity. Thus, it is evident that integral to Paul’s appeal to the Scriptures in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 that he believes God providentially directed Israel’s historical experiences and suffused them with figurative significances to have disciplinary and instructive significance not only for the Israelites who were alive to experience those events long ago but also “for us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”[vii] As such, it is apparent that Paul believes that when God brought about those historical events and imbued them as earthly symbolic shadows or copies of heavenly things God also purposed that the events should function prophetically as foreshadows concerning the advent of those heavenly things in conjunction with Messiah who would come in latter days to bring redemption promised long ago, even from the beginning in semi-veiled ways (cf. Gen. 1:3; John 1:5; 2 Cor. 4:6; also Gen. 3:15). But, of course, not only did God design OT events to occur with suffused symbolic significance, he also made sure that these things were written down in order that by reading the Scriptures, Messiah’s last days people would be instructed not to follow the Israelites’ unfaithfulness that leads to perishing but instead to take heed not to fall and perish.

Short of such an understanding of the biblical types that fill the pages of the OT from beginning to end, it seems difficult to have anything resembling an adequate grasp of the OT Scriptures’ expansive richness and depth as described by Luke when he tells of Jesus’ instruction of two of his disciples when he appears to them incognito on the road to Emmaus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Luke reinforces the significance of this point concerning Scriptures’ rich and full foreshadowing of the Christ as he recounts how Jesus instructs his disciples when he shows himself resurrected to them: “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44-47).

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[i] Vern S. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, second ed. 1994, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 78. Emphasis added. The book is available on-line here.

[ii] See, e.g., Hans K. LaRondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy: Principles of Prophetic Interpretation, 35-80.

[iii] See my “Covenant Lineage Allegorically Prefigured: ‘Which Things Are Written Allegorically’ (Galatians 4:21-31),” SBJT 14.3 (2010), 66.

[iv] Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of the Old Testament Quotations (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961).

[v] See, e.g., David L. Baker, Two Testaments One Bible, third ed. 2010 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1976), 185, 179-181; idem, “Typology and the Christian Use of the Old Testament,” SJT 229 (1976): 152-153.

[vi]  Idem, Two Testaments One Bible, 184-187.

[vii] Of course, the same must be said concerning Paul’s explicit identification of “Adam who is a type of the one to come,” namely Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:14). To be clear, this means that the apostle believes that when the Creator formed Adam from the ground and breathed the breath of life into him that he not only endowed Adam to be the head of the human race but he also imbued Adam with figurative or typological significance, for the Creator made the earthly son of God “in the image and likeness of God” as the earthly shadow of the heavenly Son of God “who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4; cf. Col. 1:15; Phil. 2:6; Heb. 1:3). This is the correspondence between earthly shadow and heavenly substance that warrants Paul’s understanding that “Adam is a type of the one to come.”

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Ardel Caneday (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Studies at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has served churches in various pastoral roles, including senior pastor. He has authored numerous journal articles, many essays in books, and has co-authored with Thomas Schreiner the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.

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