Typology, TIS, and Biblical Theology

On Saturday Jim Hamilton contrasted the Theological Interpretation of Scripture movement’s and biblical theology’s understanding of typology. The gist of Hamilton’s argument is that TIS focuses on the divine author’s intent in understanding typological patterns and readings, whereas BT (or Hamilton’s approach to it, anyway) focuses on the human author’s intent.

Patrick Schreiner responded this morning with a post of his own, pointing out three ways in which he believes the divine author’s perspective is emphasized over the human author – the NT use of the OT, paratexts, and the idea of biblical authors “speaking better than they knew.”

I’ll throw my hat in the ring here, but before I do I’ll say that I appreciate both of these men’s spirit and writing. They both do a great service to the church in their thinking, and I’d imagine they are a blessing to their local churches as well. I’ve benefited greatly from both of their writings, whether it’s Patrick’s blog or Jim’s books.

For me, though, I wonder if both of these posts are articulating a false dichotomy between the human author’s and divine author’s intent. While Hamilton wants to emphasize the human author, Schreiner wants to emphasize the divine, at least in some places. And yet, don’t the two work together? As Tyler Wittman put it in a comment on Hamilton’s post,

I think since Holy Scripture is at once something written 100% by God and 100% by human authors, we simply have to deal with the text as it stands. Asking whether or not the human author intended this or that type may be the wrong question of Scripture, as if understanding the literal sense must be either/or.

The problem is that such a question seems to presuppose a competitive relationship between the divine and human authors.

This is, for me, exactly right. On the one hand with Hamilton I want to say yes, we need to understand the human author. But on the other hand I want to say with Schreiner that yes, we need to understand the divine author. And in contrast (I think) to both, I’d say that the two must be understood together. It is not as if I am seeking one author’s intent to the exclusion or downplaying of the other in the text; rather, it is in the text that we see both authors’ intent at the same time. Further, intent is a primarily textual phenomenon; it originates with the author but is known predominately through the text. To distinguish between what the divine author was thinking and what the human author understood seems to me to be impossible.

I’d also say, contra Patrick, that the NT uses the OT far better and far more faithfully to the human authors’ intents than I think we sometimes give credit. Intertextuality, sometimes quite complicated intertextuality, helps explain many of the passages Patrick cites, as well as others. G. K. Beale and John Sailhamer have dealt extensively with Matthew 2 and Hosea 11, and I have attempted to provide a thorough textual explanation for Paul’s use of the Sarah and Hagar story. The other examples he mentioned can be solved, in my opinion, through discussion of context (e.g. Rachel and Ramah – the Jeremiah passage is in the middle of ch. 31, about the new covenant).

So with Hamilton, I want to affirm the human author’s typological abilities. But with Schreiner I want to affirm the importance of considering the divine author’s intent. Contra to both, though, I want to affirm that these two work in concert, not in contrast or even in focusing on one and downplaying the other.

21 thoughts on “Typology, TIS, and Biblical Theology

    • An interesting question Brad – I assume you’re asking how Christ’s incarnation parallels the text’s inspiration. I suppose I’d say that I’m not sure they are 100% parallel, and that to compare the Spirit’s inspiration of the human author to Christ’s incarnation might be comparing apples and oranges, or at least apples and pears. I haven’t worked through the issue, though, so I don’t want to come down too firmly on any position in that area.

      • Yeah, I am definitely not making a direct, 100% correlation. I would rather say that Christ’s incarnation should at least inform our understanding of scripture. I think the Tyler Wittman comment immediately triggered Christology thoughts in my mind.

        Also, I am currently working on a short theology paper. I want to argue something along the lines of Christ as the climax of special revelation and then work out the implications of that. Specifically referencing his view of scripture, his authorization of the OT and his promise of the Spirit to the Apostles as they compose the NT. I have to also situate my thesis among the views of at least two other theologians and was contemplating Barth (over emphasis on the human composition) and Carl Henry (not sure what to say about him yet). Obviously, it is still a rough idea in my head, haha.

    • Brad, for what it’s worth, I’d encourage:

      a) Be wary of locating the incarnation within a ‘genus’ of activity that we might call ‘incarnational’. The Incarnation of the Word is irreducibly singular, so any parallels between it and Scripture are very limited.

      b) Especially in a short theology paper, best to stay away from trying to do too much. For example, handling Barth’s doctrine of Scripture on its own responsibly within a small paper would be impossible. My encouragement: read one author and read them well, then try to explain one aspect of what they’re doing. Try Turretin, for example, whose short writing on the doctrine is packed full of insights related to the questions you’re asking.

      That’s just my two cents!

      Kind regards,

  1. Matt

    I agree with you, and I did overemphasize the divine author because it was a response.

    But I also think you are speaking past the issue a little. The question concerns when texts are used in other contexts whether the meaning of the original original authors can extend. Not that they would contradict them but that new meanings arise from texts being persevered over time. One can attribute that to the divine author, as you said they are not in competition, but still it is an issue of the meaning changing or extending which is not only a human/divine author issue but an issue of language, philosophy, and history.

    • I see your point Patrick. I’d continue to say, though, that even when later texts draw out implications of earlier texts, those implications / furthered meanings are still at least implicit in the original text, and therefore in the original intent of the authors.

    • Patrick (and Matt and Jim),

      I suppose my original comment on Jim’s blog was intended to question some of the assumptions about what the issue really is. I’m struggling to locate theologically the questions about the ‘extension’ of the human author’s intent form one testament to another and so forth. I wasn’t as clear as I could’ve been, but a blog isn’t the place to lay out my whole argument. I’ve been writing something on this very issue for the past nine months in my spare time, so I’ll eventually have something concrete to contribute. The one question I’d leave you all (Patrick, Jim, Matt) with is this: how are our conceptions of ‘language, philosophy, and history’ or even the ‘NT’s use of the OT’ explicitly *theological*? How are these naturally issues given what Scripture *is* as the inspired Word of God? Better: what does it say about the implicit theological ontology of Scripture operative if our primary focus is on a rather ‘immanent’ account of human authors’ capacities, intentions, use of other human authors’ texts, and the historical and cultural distance between them [and us]?

      It’s not that I don’t believe these are serious issues, but I think how we address them and the place we give them says a lot about our doctrine of Scripture (and much more!). I’ll go ahead and allay a potential suspicion, given my context: I’m not trying to advocate a ‘Barthian’ doctrine of Scripture. If anything, I’m trying to advocate a very traditional view of Scripture and call for the consequent consistency in how we read Scripture and what we seek to find therein. I suspect we modern 20th-21st century evangelicals are *slightly* inconsistent in what we take Scripture to be and how we read it, myself included. I’m not sure how to iron all these issues out, but I am looking for explicitly theological justifications for what constitutes the objects and methods of theological inquiry – regardless of which so-called ‘discipline’ we’re talking about.

      I confess I can’t carry on an extended discussion online about these issues, but I’d love to continue the conversation sometime. For now, I’ll just leave you guys with these peddling thoughts of a systematic theologian in the hope that we all take one another’s questions seriously, even those that question the questions.

      Thanks for engaging my small contribution, Matt. I’m just trying to find my way like everyone else here.

      • Thanks Tyler

        I am still on a journey myself and trying to articulate my thoughts on the issue. I would love to talk about this issue more as it is fascinating and I agree with you that we are “slightly” inconsistent with what we take Scripture to be and how we read it.

        I would add (or maybe just reiterate) that we are slightly inconsistent with what we “do” with Scripture (say in preaching) and what we teach hermeneutically.

      • Patrick,

        Absolutely. We do need to resist collapsing commentary and text, but we also need to realize that application simply is exegesis. We’re on the same page there, I believe.

        If you guys will be at ETS, it’d be great to grab coffee or a bite.

  2. P.S. I also don’t think context answers all the questions, many of them yes, but we try so hard to make the contextual argument work and sometimes it just doesn’t. My opinion though πŸ™‚

  3. Seems to me that TIS seeks to hold both divine and human authorship up as important parts (unitary parts) of hermeneutics. However, The human author does not always appear to have the intratextual vision that the divine author has, since the latter is the canonical author. What I do not understand is this: why do many people think that God’s canonical vision could not be greater than our conceptions of human intent? I ask this because I have heard people (dispensationalists, for example) claim that a meaning of a passage can only be what the human author meant it to mean. This seems overly simplistic to me. Thoughts? Am I off on something here?

    • Thanks for the comment James. I hear you saying much of what Patrick said in his post, and I’ll just reiterate that I think many times the human authors had more intertextual vision and intent than we give them credit for. I also think, as Patrick rightly pointed out, that TIS is broad, and so to characterize that movement as having only one approach to understanding authorial intent is probably too flat.

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  6. Matt,

    I’m a bit late to the conversation, but this topic fascinates me and I hope I may get some clarification on this difficult topic.

    You said that you believed Patrick’s examples of human authors “speaking better than they know” could be shown to be intentional on their part after all. I agree with you regarding the examples you explained, but I am particularly interested in how you may understand David’s comments in the Psalms this way. Reading through the Psalms for the first time this summer and seeing the actual texts that the NT often quotes left me in a whirlwind of mystery and confusion in regards to this issue; I tentatively settled into Patrick’s understanding.

    My main question then is: How do you explain David’s intent in the two Patrick mentioned and others like them? Does the final chronicler’s hand play a part in understanding it? If so, how?

    In Christ,

    • Jonathan, I think your last question is key – the Psalms isn’t simply an anthology of disparate individual psalms, but a collected and ordered single book. It is messianically charged, and I’d say it’s ordered to be so. That authorial intention plays into the question of the meaning of each individual psalm.

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