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.