Typology

Southern Seminary recently came out with their latest issue of their journal, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology and for this issue all of the essays are centred around typology. I think one of the strengths of SBJT is that the essays typically have a particular focus or a uniting theme. It is a bonus to see my friend Matt Emerson as one of the co-contributors in his and Peter Link’s essay “Searching for the Second Adam: Typological Connections between Adam, Joseph, Mordecai, and Daniel.” With five girls, I don’t know how he does it.

With an issue like typology, there is much disagreement. Stephen Wellum’s opening editorial essay helpfully notes that Christians do read the Scriptures typologically, but that they disagree about how it should be done. Not every essay in the journal approaches a typological reading in the same way, but Wellum tries to describe the broad contours in which the contributors work.

First, Wellum defines typology as “the study of the relationship between Old Testament revealed truths of persons, events, institutions which God has specifically designed to correspond to, and predictively prefigure their intensified ‘anti-typical’ fulfilment in Christ and his people” (p. 6). And second, he argues that typology is rooted in history and text, prophetic and predictive, escalates, and progresses covenantally.

Wellum’s description raises a question for me on whether there is a difference between the typological reading that Wellum proposes and what I call narrative patterning, where an author or authors pattern narrative plots and characters after previous plots and characters as a way to provide implicit commentary. Because they seem very similar. For example, Adonijah’s attempt at assuming the throne during David’s waning years is explicitly shaped after Absalom’s attempt at taking the throne from David (cf. 1 Kgs 1:5–6, 9 with 2 Sam 14:25; 15:1; 17:17). It is difficult to imagine this as being prophetic or escalating. It seems to be a way to implicitly comment on Adonijah’s actions.

So is typology then an explicitly Christological reading? And therefore, a kind of a narrative patterning that is Christological in focus but also must be understood as prophetic and predictive, escalate, and progress covenantally?

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4 thoughts on “Typology

  1. Thanks for pointing this out… The distinction is fuzzy in my own brain, but now that I’m cognizant of it I can try to refine my own understanding. To your final questions I believe that I answer “Yes.” ‘Typology’ is a term reserved for Christological antitype. I.E. The Temple is a narrative pattern (covenantally developed and escalated from garden and tabernacle); the antitype is Jesus incarnate. But a further question comes when there are ‘other’ final fulfillments: i.e. the world, the land, Jerusalem… the New Earth & the New City Jerusalem. Jesus isn’t the antitype to this pattern, the church is. So what word do we have to designate “final fulfillments” which climax a narrative pattern in something other than Christ?

    • Thanks, for the comment Emmanuel. I’m not sure what the answer is. I do think it is important to make some distinctions because it is clear that patterning is a literary technique that gets used in ways that don’t necessarily match up with the common definition.

  2. Thanks for this intriguing post. To clarify: are you suggesting that narrative patterning can or can’t be prophetic/predictive? Your second-to-last paragraph seems to put these in tension, but then in your final paragraph you ask if they go together. I am wondering if typology is prophetic/predictive and thus prospective, while narrative patterning is not prophetic/predictive but is retrospective. Adonijah points backwards to Absalom; Absalom does not point forward to Adonijah. On the other hand, I think I would want to say that Christ points backwards to David, *and* David points forward to Christ. Could this prospective/anticipatory vs. retrospective/reflective get at the difference between narrative patterning and typology?

    • Thanks for the reply, Clay. I’m not sure of the answer. It seems to me that narrative patterning is a prevalent literary technique that provides implicit commentary, but isn’t intended to be read in a prophetic or predictive way. Typological readings seem to be similar in technique, but are read prophetically. I’m wondering how one distinguishes between the two. It’s something I need to think more about.

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