Typology and "Literal Interpretation"?

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Unique Name

Puritan Board Freshman
Can typology be supported by those who advocate for so-called literal interpretation of the bible? For example, Isaac being brought to the alter for sacrifice and God subsequently providing the lamb in place of Isaac is not explicitly stated in the bible as having ante-typical fulfillment in Christ. (If I am wrong, consider the other many typologies that Christians take for granted). But most evangelicals interpret this historical event as being prophetic. But nowhere are we given explicit evidence that it is prophetical. So, again, is so-called literal interpretation "allowed" to interpret this event as anything other than a historical event? (Not the best example I'm sure so please be charitable).
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
John, I understand the question is wider than this so don't want to take away from that, but just re: Isaac we are explicitly told that there is a figurative element in that whole testing:

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. (Hebrews 11, NKJV)
 

Andrew Hall

Puritan Board Freshman
It depends, of course, on what is meant by "literal interpretation." R.C. Sproul rightly said that literal interpretation means reading a text in context, as the author intended it. And since the context of any given passage is now the whole canon of Scripture, with God as the ultimate author, it is truly legitimate to read texts typologically--especially when the Author himself steps into history and says all the Scriptures speak of him (e.g. John 5:39-40; Luke 24:44ff, etc.). Jesus repeatedly said that the whole OT--the Law and Prophets, even the Psalms--spoke of him and pointed to him. Many texts, even whole books (e.g. Psalms) have no direct prophecies of Christ per se, and must point to Christ typologically (e.g. use of Psalm 16 in Acts 2). To deny typology is to deny Christ's own interpretation of the OT. It does not treat his own words literally.

The OT history events and persons themselves are literally called types or examples (e.g. 1 Cor 10:6, 11; Rom 5:14;1 Pet 3:20-21 etc.). So to deny that Adam, the flood, Israel's exodus, etc. were not types but were strictly historical events within the horizon of the OT writers is to deny the literal text of Scripture!
 

Unique Name

Puritan Board Freshman
It depends, of course, on what is meant by "literal interpretation." R.C. Sproul rightly said that literal interpretation means reading a text in context, as the author intended it. And since the context of any given passage is now the whole canon of Scripture, with God as the ultimate author, it is truly legitimate to read texts typologically--especially when the Author himself steps into history and says all the Scriptures speak of him (e.g. John 5:39-40; Luke 24:44ff, etc.). Jesus repeatedly said that the whole OT--the Law and Prophets, even the Psalms--spoke of him and pointed to him. Many texts, even whole books (e.g. Psalms) have no direct prophecies of Christ per se, and must point to Christ typologically (e.g. use of Psalm 16 in Acts 2). To deny typology is to deny Christ's own interpretation of the OT. It does not treat his own words literally.

The OT history events and persons themselves are literally called types or examples (e.g. 1 Cor 10:6, 11; Rom 5:14;1 Pet 3:20-21 etc.). So to deny that Adam, the flood, Israel's exodus, etc. were not types but were strictly historical events within the horizon of the OT writers is to deny the literal text of Scripture!
Thank you, and I should clarify: I agree with R.C. Sproul's definition, but my concern is with those that hold to the "historical-grammatical" interpretation as evidence in favor of a future millennium, a dichotomy between Israel and the church, land promises to an ethnic tribe etc. It seems that on one hand they eat their cake by following suit with the NT authors typological reading of the OT, and they have their cake too by understanding most of the promises to Israel and having no typological fulfillment in the church or in the new heavens and new earth. I hope that clarifies. In short, it's my belief that the NT authors did not interpret the bible in a strictly literal fashion.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Can typology be supported by those who advocate for so-called literal interpretation of the bible? For example, Isaac being brought to the alter for sacrifice and God subsequently providing the lamb in place of Isaac is not explicitly stated in the bible as having ante-typical fulfillment in Christ. (If I am wrong, consider the other many typologies that Christians take for granted). But most evangelicals interpret this historical event as being prophetic. But nowhere are we given explicit evidence that it is prophetical. So, again, is so-called literal interpretation "allowed" to interpret this event as anything other than a historical event? (Not the best example I'm sure so please be charitable).
Typology is not the same thing as allegory. Paul uses the Gk word ἀλληγορέω (allegoreo), Gal.4:24, but not in the sense that the word took in later common interpretive method. Rather, he seems to mean what we generally regard as typology, as he extracts the Christological essence of the OT text to prove the NT fulfillment.

Why does he do this? I'd say he does it because that's how Jesus himself interpreted the OT and taught his disciples to do it. Jesus proves he is the Messiah not by pointing to his birthplace, pedigree, or other discrete "fulfillments," but rather by preaching the arrival of the New Covenant reality from the Scriptures as a thing tied to his Person. The people who encountered him began to recognize by his teaching that the OT was everywhere pointing to fulfillment, and that fulfillment coalesced around this Prophet.

Allegory is leaping fantastically from a text to flights of spiritualizing fancy. It is not truly anchored to the text, it is not "literal" at all. Ethical notions or heavenly concepts, thought to be true but who knows where they really come from, are assigned to elements of biblical text on nothing more than a pretext of plausibility. The limit is nothing but the imagination of the preacher.

Biblical typology is quite different. For one thing, it is prophetic by nature and exhibits a relentless focus on the coming kingdom and Christ. There isn't some typological interpretation of the OT that has in view events of interadvential world history, or a believer's life, or the progress of one church-denomination.

Biblical typology is never separated from a strong tie to the text itself, its actual terms and meaning, and the events which it narrates or speaks to in an historical connection for its own time. One of the early, damaging divides in the history of interpretation was a cleavage between the "literal meaning" and an applicational derivation, usually cast in terms of NT fulfillment or ethics. But, because many early-church teachers grew uncomfortable with what they saw as unethical or sub-Christian elements to the OT stories, they tended to minimize that part of preaching, and run off to find some a quick transition to a (or any) NT subject.

But what a study of apostolic preaching shows (in Acts or Hebrews for example) and teaching shows (in the Epistles) where the OT is used for support, is a very robust awareness of the OT text, in its context, in its OT setting, and exhibiting a tremendous familiarity with the intertextuality of the OT literature. Some modern writers have suggested that the apostles were uniquely gifted to repurpose OT texts away from their original intent, in order to make them useful for a spiritual NT age; but in this they only show how little they understand Jesus' own and his apostle's hermeneutic.

For many, their dispensationalist a priori conviction shines through, when they then say that a NT-age preacher today cannot imitate the apostles, because we do not have the requisite "inspiration." To quote one well-trod rebuttal of that idea, "We do not read Jesus into the OT; instead we refuse to read him out." The Scriptures testify of Jesus, Jn.5:39. "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself," Lk.24:27.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Thank you, and I should clarify: I agree with R.C. Sproul's definition, but my concern is with those that hold to the "historical-grammatical" interpretation as evidence in favor of a future millennium, a dichotomy between Israel and the church, land promises to an ethnic tribe etc. It seems that on one hand they eat their cake by following suit with the NT authors typological reading of the OT, and they have their cake too by understanding most of the promises to Israel and having no typological fulfillment in the church or in the new heavens and new earth. I hope that clarifies. In short, it's my belief that the NT authors did not interpret the bible in a strictly literal fashion.
I, as the other writer, did not clearly discern your intent by the original post.

I believe many of the "literalists" limit their typological reckoning to explicit NT examples, denying that other teachers post-apostlic should likewise interpret the OT in the same fashion. They allow for that repurposed application, suitable for the "parenthetical" church age; while teaching that the original application is still valid along with all the other OT passages that seem temporal and tied to an historic glory-expectation (before the End). As if they understood that original application.
 

Unique Name

Puritan Board Freshman
I, as the other writer, did not clearly discern your intent by the original post.

I believe many of the "literalists" limit their typological reckoning to explicit NT examples, denying that other teachers post-apostlic should likewise interpret the OT in the same fashion. They allow for that repurposed application, suitable for the "parenthetical" church age; while teaching that the original application is still valid along with all the other OT passages that seem temporal and tied to an historic glory-expectation (before the End). As if they understood that original application.
Thank you that is all very helpful. I'm currently engaged in dialogue with a MacArthur brand dispensationalist (except they do not believe the "rapture of the church") and I am trying to argue that verses like Mathew 2:15 which cite Hosea 11:1 ("and out of Egypt I call my son") is evidence against the principle of historical-grammatical interpretation. It's really just a hunch of mine; I'm really quite the layman. Any thoughts as to the approach or direction I ought to take? I would really appreciate the input.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
You would benefit from GK Beale, as he exegetes such OT texts as Hos.11. He argues that the NT authors exhibit uncanny dexterity in handling the OT text. Far from foisting an inventive interpretation on the Israelite preacher, the NT treatment keeps the original authorial intent in view. It isn't proper G-H interpretation that is the problem, but an unwillingness to shed the wooden literalism that is somehow regarded as the true "literal" meaning of every text.

Beale is a seminary prof, and an author. He can be prolix. But he is brilliant.. I don't know where to get this, but I saw one video of a series in which he is teaching what could be a Sunday School class at 10th Pres. in Philadelphia. (I was guest preaching at a congregation where this series was their adult Sunday School lessons for a few weeks.) It was very good, and his visuals (projector display of handouts) were helpful aids in following his presentation.

The dispensationalist claims to be just "sticking to the text," and having the superior claim to fulfilling the Reformation ideal of getting back to the Bible in its plain meaning. But they are not pristine and unaffected in their interpretation, any more than those who they claim are "spiritualizing" the text (their pejorative term). Flattening a text to remove its true depth is not correct application of G-H method.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
Thank you that is all very helpful. I'm currently engaged in dialogue with a MacArthur brand dispensationalist (except they do not believe the "rapture of the church") and I am trying to argue that verses like Mathew 2:15 which cite Hosea 11:1 ("and out of Egypt I call my son") is evidence against the principle of historical-grammatical interpretation.
It might not be helpful to argue against historical-grammatical interpretation. The problem does not lie in interpreting according to the natural grammar of a passage in its historical context: on the contrary, that's certainly essential. The problem arises when the interpretive methods of the NT authors are assumed to be in contradiction to this great and legitimate, when in fact they are consonant with it and built upon it, but bring a richer understanding of prophetic intention, as well as figure and symbol, than some more recent interpreters are able to grasp.
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
I think consideration of this topic should weigh Jesus’s rebuking of his disciples for thinking he was speaking about actual leaven (Matthew 16:11) and Paul’s muzzling the ox reference (1 Corinthians 9:10).
 
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