I’ll be honest and say that when it comes to Bible study I have generally avoided the area of Typology. But recently I have been studying, teaching, and encountering this system of Bible interpretation more than before. I had a few thoughts that I wanted to share on the subject.
Lewis Sperry Chafer defines it well in his Systematic Theology (Vol. III, p. 116-117):
A type is a divinely purposed anticipation which illustrates its antitype. These two parts of one theme are related to each other by the fact that the same truth or principle is embodied in each. It is not the prerogative of the type to establish the truth of a doctrine; it rather enhances the force of the truth as set forth in the antitype. On the other hand, the antitype serves to lift its type out of the commonplace into that which is inexhaustible and to invest it with riches and treasures hitherto unrevealed.
For example, so many wonderful types are found in the Tabernacle and its services that point to Christ. Indeed, this is almost certainly the primary application of Typology that you will find today. We could go on to speak endlessly on how the Passover lamb pictured Christ’s sacrifice. The books of Romans and Hebrews are full of types that use Old Testament references to highlight New Testament truths. Typology is a cornerstone of New Testament theology and Biblical interpretation.
But it is not without its limits or problems. This system of study has been greatly abused over the millennia. Quoting Chafer again (Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 116):
Typology, like prophecy, has often suffered more from its friends than its foes. The fact that extremists have failed to distinguish between that which is typical and that which is merely allegorical, analogous, parallel, happy illustration, or resemblance may have driven conservative theologians from the field. When truth is tortured by faddists and extremists, an added obligation is thereby imposed upon conservative scholarship to declare it in its right proportions. It is obvious that to neglect truth is a greater error than to overemphasize it or to misstate it; and typology, though abused by some, is, nevertheless, conspicuous by its absence from works Systematic Theology. That typology is neglected is evident from the fact that of upwards of twenty works of Systematic Theology examined, but one lists this subject in its index and this author has made but one slight reference to it in a footnote.
The safest interpretation of types and antitypes is to only claim as Old Testament types that which is explicitly states to have an antitype in the New Testament. For instance, Paul uses the first man Adam as a type of Christ (I Corinthians 15:21-22 and Romans 15:14-17). Another is Melchizedek (Genesis 14) who in Hebrews 7 is used as a type to reinforce Christ’s priestly role.
Yet, there are New Testament verses that apply typology very broadly. In Hebrews 9:8-12, we find that entire system of Tabernacle worship with its systems of sacrifices and varied ordinances points to the antitype of Christ’s redemptive work. The details are not given of how this applies to every aspect of the Tabernacle’s construction or the multitude of commandments in the Mosaic Law. It is clear that the Paschal lamb represents Christ, but what about the shewbread or the regulations concerning the differing types of sacrifices? We certainly know that the Bible is HIS story (Psalm 40:7, Hebrews 10:7). So then we are evidently left to discern these ourselves by the guidance of the Spirit.
But not every allusion to the Old Testament in the New Testament refers to a type. There are also illustrations, allegories, and analogies, to name a few. We must carefully discern among these.
So, let us develop of working theory of Typology.
- First, it must be a connection of type and antitype, generally found in the Old and New Testaments respectively.
- Second, the foundation for interpreting the relations of type and antitype must come from an emphasis on the antitype. We do not judge any truth about Adam on his typological parallels to Christ, but we do perform the opposite reaction.
- Third, any supposition or hypothesis regarding the interpretation of a type and antitype must harmonize with the preponderance of clear Scriptural teaching. Just because a connection can be logically construed between two subjects does not give it the power to trump doctrine that is definitively and inarguably taught in Scripture.
Which brings me finally to the reason for this post. There are an error I encountered in the application of Typology that I wanted to mention. I doubt that I will be able to conclusively disprove it here, perhaps at a future time I will further develop my arguments to that level.
I encountered this problem while reading A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship by Lester Ruth and Lim Swee Hong. While discussing the development of Praise & Worship music in the Latter Rain movement, the authors highlight that one of the theological bases was Typology, specifically concerning Tabernacle.
- “The linchpin of theological development within the Latter Rian movement of this period was a liturgical theology based on a typology.” (p. 46)
- “Because the theology behind Praise & Worship was a typologically based theology, the identification of the key Scriptures and their interpretation as types was critical.” (p. 46)
The basis for their worship theology was a typological interpretation of the “tabernacle of David”. This not the Tabernacle of Moses, but the temporary dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant from its arrival in Jerusalem in II Samuel 6 and the construction of the Temple by Solomon. There are verses that speak of the “tabernacle of David” being restored in Amos 9:11-12 and the quotation of Amos by James in Acts 15:15-17. How was this justified? Another quote (p. 47-48)
The result was a more highly developed theology featuring praise as the key to God’s presence in the church. or example, an instructor at Bible Temple’s Portland Bible College, Kevin Conner, wrote an influential textbook, The Tabernacle of David, that provided the most detailed hermeneutic to this theology. The core tabernacle of David passages mentioned above – both Old Testament and New Testament – along with a handful of other passages led to an emphasis on divine presence at the place of worship. The identification of this place as Zion reinforced the connection to praise and liturgical activity through a range of scriptural associations. The centerpiece of the original tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, was likewise central in the interpretation by being a type of Jesus Christ himself, who is present among his people, especially in their praise. The lack of reference to bloody animal sacrifices in the liturgical activity of the tabernacle of David, apart from the initial arrival of the ark, highlighted the centrality of perpetual praise as sacrifice, especially by an arrangement of priests whose work was now musical. The connection of the tabernacle and its way of worship to David reinforced the propriety of fully engaged, physically expressive, and musically offered Praise & Worship. In other words, a theology based on the restoration of the tabernacle of David took the earlier emphasis on the sacrifice of praise as the key to experiencing God’s presence and raised it to the level of a highly developed liturgical ecclesiology in which the church is a corporate priesthood that is praise-oriented and fulfills its priestly ministry in a musical manner.
There are, of course, problems with the system of Typology they are using, including.
- There is no antitype, violating the primary rule of Typology. All emphasis is on examining the type but here is no clear antitype in the New Testament.
- It assumes the “tabernacle of David” refers to the place the Ark was kept. In context, I believe (and so do most commentaries I have referenced) that this instead refers to the house or kingdom of David.
- It assumes that restoration was occurring through them. This is part and parcel with their Restorationism, that is their belief that God was bring back true Christianity that had been lost for since the days of the Apostles through special revelation through their movement.
- It conjectures that the worship at the “tabernacle of David” was all about praise and not about sacrifice or rituals. We simply do not have sound information on the approximately 40 years the Ark dwelt there until placed in the Temple. Much of details we see of David organizing the priesthood during this time was likely preparing for the construction of the Temple.
Similar errors are made in this same movement using Typology and the Tabernacle of Moses as a basis for a worship theology. They are not the only ones to do so. I have encountered in my recent studies on the Tabernacle many differing takes on the Typology of the Tabernacle, not all being soundly based with its antitype, Christ.
I close by echoing the words of Chafer quoted above. Typology can be a field of study that bears rich harvests to the believer today. But we must be careful and consistent it its application, and above all not let its abuse cause us to neglect its study. I certainly have been guilty of doing so.