Is Typology Part of Grammatical-Historical Exegesis?

Typology has come on hard times these days. It is often thought to be wild, subject to flights of fancy. This is probably because very few people have read Patrick Fairbairn’s book on the subject. For him, it is a completely valid part of the scientific theological enterprise, precisely because it is in itself biblical. Typology is not something invented by the early church. It is in the Bible itself. 1 Peter 3:20-21, wherein the flood in Noah’s time is connected to baptism as a type is to an antitype. For those who have not heard the terms before, a type is a person, place, thing, or idea in the Old Testament that has a larger, better version in the New Testament. Think of it as a repeated pattern that gets bigger the second time around. Or, in computer terms, version 1.0 is the type, and version 2.0 is the antitype.

Now, Dr. Dan McCartney has challenged the idea that typology has any part in grammatical-historical exegesis. This is a part of McCartney’s Christotelic hermeneutic. One reason he adduces is that distinguishing typology from allegory is only partially successful. And since allegory is not part of grammatical-historical exegesis, then neither is typology. McCartney accepts the validity of typological interpretation, incidentally. He is not rejecting typology. He just rejects the idea that typology is part of GHE. Furthermore, his position is that the New Testament authors were not engaging in grammatical-historical exegesis (hereafter GHE). As a result, GHE of the Old Testament will result in the “first read,” which really has nothing to do with the second Christotelic reading. McCartney thinks that we should read the OT the way that the NT writers do, but then accept that it is not the meaning of the OT itself, at least exegeted in a GHE way.

I would challenge this view of things on a number of levels. When Paul in Galatians 3:16 makes a special point about “seed” being singular, and not plural, is not Paul making a grammatical point, something very much within the purview of GHE? Yes, Paul goes on to make a typological point from that, but doesn’t that prove the point? GHE is not so easily separated from typology as McCartney would like to believe. Paul uses both in proximity. Similarly, many of the NT authors make specific points about Israel’s history. One thinks of Paul in Romans 9-11 as an example. Yes, there is typology involved there, too, but there is also GHE going on, in a somewhat broader sense that Paul was aware of and made use of the grammar and the history of the OT to make his points. Just read it through and see how many things that are simple history of the OT Paul points out precisely in order to make typological connections. This leads us to the core of the issue.

McCartney claims that the interpretive moves of allegory and typology are not so easily separable, but he misses a crucial point: everything about typology is tethered irrevocably to history. Allegory is not thus tied to history. Allegory can make a text stand for anything it wants to, whereas typology is firmly limited by history. The methodology is not the key point here. What matters is that nothing about typology is ahistorical. Two very real, very historical events are connected in typology. So, when one does GHE on the OT, one has half of the typological bridge already in place.

On a more basic level, let’s just ask the question this way: how can we get at the meaning of a text in a GHE manner without involving typology, if the text itself has typology built into it? In 1 Peter 3:20-21, the word and the concept of typology are both present. How can we possibly engage in GHE of that text without doing typological analysis to find out what the grammar and history of typology says in that passage? The problem here is that McCartney has sought to seal off typology from GHE, when the New Testament itself does not do that. Does that mean that there is no room for saying anything like, “Our culture of interpretation is different from the first century?” We can say things like that. But we also have to remember that separating interpretive moves like GHE and typology from each other is a distinctly modern phenomena. It would never have occurred to the ancients. Of course, they would never have thought in modern categories of GHE at all. They would probably have just called it “interpretation.”

By way of analogy (a VERY closely related analogy, indeed, one that is part of the same phenomenon), one can look at commentaries these days, and how reticent they are to make any kind of systematic theological statements. If I had a dollar for every time I read, in a commentary, something like “That’s a doctrinal or ST thing, and we can’t deal with that in an exegetical commentary,” I would be fabulously wealthy. The Reformers never took off the exegetical hat to do ST, and they didn’t take off their ST hats to do exegesis. It was all happily mixed up together. They included historical theology and practical theology in there as well. In fact, they tended to do all of them at once, all together. Our growing specialization and fragmentation is not a healthy trend at all. That trend came with the Enlightenment. I believe that a divorce of GHE from typology comes from the same impetus.

A Further Response to Dr. Evans

Rather amazingly, Dr. Evans has responded to my post here. I say “amazingly” because most of the time when I critique seminary professors, they do not reply.

Firstly, he says that he did not say what I said he did: “He goes on to intimate that I view the WTS critics of Dr. Green as saying that ‘the fullness of understanding that we have in the NT’ was ‘completely present in the OT writer’s minds,’ and he characterizes this as a ‘straw man.'” Let me remind him of what he said in his original post:

Green’s critics, however, contend that such thinking effaces the “organic connection” between the Old Testament and the New. They believe that grammatical-historical interpretation is the normative method of biblical interpretation, and that the meaning of the text resides in the human author’s intention. However, the grammatical-historical method is redefined and expanded to include divine influence on the human authors’ psychology as legitimate considerations for interpretation. Thus they conclude that the NT meanings (i.e., the OT Christological content referenced by the NT writers) must have been present in the minds of the OT writers. The OT is, as one of Green’s critics puts it, “christomorphic,” in that references to Christ are objectively present in the text of the Old Testament and were intended by the human author. (emphasis added)

If he was not saying what I said he did, then he was a bit confused in what he said. It does not seem to me to be a terrific leap to go from saying that Green’s critics hold that the meaning of the text resides in the human author’s intention, and that the NT meanings must have been present in the minds of the OT writers, to saying that the fullness of understanding that we have in the NT was completely present in the OT writers’ minds. Maybe Dr. Evans is objecting to the word “completely.” The fact of the matter is that what was in the minds of the OT writers is a red herring. It is not relevant to the point at issue. See Rick Phillips’s reply to Dr. Evans’s piece. So, that whole paragraph that I quoted is evidence that Dr. Evans is locating the debate in the wrong place.

The reason I did not address the “similarities” between Ferguson/Poythress and the TRV is that these are not the points at issue. Ferguson/Poythress cannot be read as arguing anything more than simply taking the literary and historical context into account when we read the OT. As Rick Phillips has pointed out (link above), this is not the issue. Neither Ferguson nor Poythress advocate a TRV that posits a grammatical-historical exegesis devoid of typology (like McCartney advocates), or a TRV that divorces divine and human meanings. Maybe Dr. Evans could call up Drs. Ferguson and Poythress and ask them if they are advocating a Christotelic interpretation by their words.

The last point I will address is Dr. Evans’s misunderstanding of my point about ST. He writes, “Keister suggests that this two-readings view results in the ‘scorn of systematic theology.'” This is not what I said at all. I said, “The TRV is inevitably connected with a scorn of systematic theology.” The problem here is Dr. Evans’s use of the words “results in.” That is not my point. My point is that the TRV is connected with a scorn of ST. If anything, the scorn of ST is a contributing factor resulting in the TRV, not the other way around. In Dr. Evans’s understandable attempt to set the record straight with regard to himself, he (inadvertently, no doubt) set my record crooked. By the way, I was not accusing Dr. Evans of holding to Christotelic interpretation. Nowhere did I suggest this. Dr. Evans is defending people who hold to it. That is different from holding to it oneself. Given the fact that Dr. Evans is not defending the particular point that is actually in debate, and that Rick and I have a problem with, I have seen no evidence as of yet that Dr. Evans holds to the TRV. So, Dr. Evans’s example of himself and ST is beside the point. My experience is with Longman, Enns, Green, and McCartney, all of whom have in class or in writings, expressed their disdain for ST having any kind of impact on their exegesis. The only kind of shackles they want for exegesis is Second Temple Judaism, or ANE parallels. That is their grid for exegesis, not ST. This is not a unified encyclopedia such as Vos would have practiced. So, the point is far from baloney.