Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Typology: A Summary of the Present Evangelical Discussion

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Typology: A Summary of the Present Evangelical Discussion

Article excerpt


The issue of what constitutes typology surfaces regularly in discussions of continuity and discontinuity and of the relationship between the OT and NT. It is also a major component in defining what we mean by literal hermeneutics. John Feinberg has stated that the debate between covenant theologians and dispensationalists over what constitutes literal hermeneutics stems from three fundamental and interrelated issues: "the relation of the progress of revelation to the priority of one Testament over the other, the understanding and implications of the NT use of the OT, and the understanding and implications of typology."1 Mark W. Karlberg concurs with Feinberg's analysis: "Resolution of lingering differences of interpretation among evangelicals depends, to a large extent, on a proper assessment of the nature and function of OT typology."2

Others are even more outspoken on the importance of typology for understanding Scripture. Leonhard Goppelt argues that "typology is the method of interpreting Scripture that is predominant in the NT and characteristic of it."3 S. Lewis Johnson says that "one of the happiest results of twentiethcentury scholarship has been the rediscovery of the importance of typology for the understanding of the Bible. I am hopeful that evangelicals, who so often follow rather than lead in biblical scholarship, will follow once again, for in this case surely modern scholarship is right."4

There are several reasons for the current revival of interest in typology by critical scholars. ( 1) Francis Foulkes suggests it is because of the renewed interest in Biblical theology.5 G. P. Hugenberger gives more specific reasons. He suggests that the revival of interest in typology has been caused by the need to account for this methodology in the NT's use of the OT. Goppelt, Ellis and France are key figures here. (2) The stimulus for typology has come from OT theologians, like von Rad, Eichrodt and Wolff, who desire to make OT theology more relevant for Gentile readers to whom the OT cult and ritual do not apply. (3) The impetus may come from a growing awareness of the OT's own use of typology as is seen in the works of Lampe, Fishbane, von Rad and Daube.6 It is important to note that for many the new typology does not presuppose God's sovereign control and ordering of the typological elements, or even the historicity of the type and antitype.

In more conservative evangelical circles a majority favor a "controlled typology (modeled on the sober typological method of the New Testament) as a part of the modern exegetical encyclopedia."7 But some lack confidence in it because of the apparent subjectivism of the approach,8 and some dispensationalists feel the use of typological principles in interpreting the OT is not consistent with grammatico-historical exegesis.9

The purpose of this paper is to survey four different views of typology in evangelicalism today: (1) the covenant view, (2) the revised dispensational view, (3) the progressive dispensational view, and (4) the view of Richard M. Davidson. 10 I will attempt to explain typology as it is understood by representatives of each of these views and then demonstrate how each view would (or would not) apply typology to explain the relationship between Israel and the Church.

Part of the problem in coming to a unified view on the subject of typology is the lack of a definition that is acceptable to all.ll There are several characteristics of typology, however, that are widely acknowledged, and it may be helpful to list them before proceeding with the discussion. Since Goppelt is generally recognized as a standard authority on this topic I will use his discussion as a basis for these characteristics. They can be limited to three.12

(1) There must be an identifiable Scriptural pattern or correspondence between the OT type and the NT antitype.l3 (2) The OT type and NT antitype must be based on historical facts-persons, actions, institutions," not hidden meanings found in the text. …

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