The Acts of God
by Francis Foulkes ©

III.  Typology As The Christological Interpretation Of History

Typological interpretation, strictly speaking, is not concerned with those parts of the Old Testament which have the form of Messianic prediction in the narrower sense. It is the interpretation of history. Predictive prophecy often, indeed, depends on the interpretation of a particular historical situation in the light of the revealed character of God; but the writing of history was itself prophecy in the broader sense of the understanding of Gods action in history. Old Testament history, as we have seen, is the record of the acts of God in judgment and mercy; it is history with a purpose and a goal. Manifestly incomplete, it is pointing forwards to a climax of the manifestation of God among men.

It is thus that the New Testament interprets the Old. It interprets not only its prediction but also its history, which is itself revelation because it describes the acts of God, in the light of the revelation of Him who is the Word Incarnate. It is only in Him that the partial revelation that is foreshadowing (and the confessed fact that it is partial), is able to be understood. Speaking of the use that the earliest Christians made of the Old Testament, Professor Tasker says it is the events recorded in the historical books, particularly the call of Abraham, the redemption from Egypt, the giving of the law on Sinai, and the triumphant establishment of the worship of the true God in the Holy Land in spite of much backsliding and many an attempt to compromise with paganism, which are represented as foreshadowing the final salvation wrought in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Apart from these concluding actions the previous incidents remain unexplained and have no abiding significance...135

We may look at this in two different ways. First, we may look at it from the point of view that history is itself prophetic. It is prophetic in the sense that all history, if understood sub specie aeternitatis, teaches us the principles on which God rules and will rule as Lord of history. Moreover the Old Testament record of history is prophetic in the particular sense that it describes a revelation and divine action

which are shown to be incomplete. A divine purpose of judgment and mercy is revealed in the history; but it is yet to be fulfilled or fully wrought out in history. Alternatively, we may look at it from the point of view of God preparing the world, granting partial revelation as preparatory to the incarnation of the Word Himself, instructing a people in His ways of dealing with men, working towards the fulness of time when He would send forth His Son to be the Saviour of the world and the One by whom He will judge all men.

We may interpret the Old Testament typologically from either point of view, and, of course, fundamentally the two are one. Revelation is wrought out in history, and to the eyes of faith history is revelation.

(a) Typology and allegory

Typological interpretation of the Old Testament, therefore, is not to be dismissed as allegory. It is essentially the theological interpretation of the Old Testament history. It is the interpretation of the divine action in history, in the same way as the Old Testament itself sought to show that divine action, but in the fuller light of Him in whom alone history has its full meaning, Jesus Christ.136 All the action of God in the Old Testament history foreshadows His unique action and revelation in Christ. We may say that a type is an event, a series of circumstances, or an aspect of the life of an individual or of the nation, which finds a parallel and a deeper realization in the incarnate life of our Lord, in His provision for the needs of men, or in His judgments and future reign.137 A type thus presents a pattern of the dealings of God with men that is followed in the antitype, when, in the coming of Jesus Christ and the setting up of His kingdom, those dealings of God are repeated, though with a fulness and finality that they did not exhibit before. Typology depends on the fact that The same God offers in the two Testaments the same salvation. Both Testaments record certain divine acts in history, different indeed in execution and import, but one in their basic aim, viz., to create a people of whom God can say, I am their God, they are my people ... The

salvation that is offered in both Testaments is the same - life with God through the forgiveness of sins.138 There is unity in principle and in purpose between the Old Testament type and the New Testament antitype. The difference lies in the incomplete and preparatory nature of the type compared with the completeness and finality of the antitype.

In our usual ways of speaking, allegory involves something different from this, and it is best to define it in such a way as to distinguish it from typology as a method of interpretation. We may call that method of interpretation allegorical which is concerned, not with the interpretation of history, but simply of words that are believed to be inspired symbols. It may completely ignore the context and the principles of Gods dealings with man that are revealed in a passage. Allegory is an exegetical139 or philological method rather than an interpretation of events and of principles of divine action.140 Allegory is based on the conviction of the inspiration of the words of the narrative or passage of Scripture in question; but its danger is that it does not proceed from the understanding of the context, and it may easily be guided by the interpreters own whims and fancies. The danger of tracing a symbol through Scripture is seen most clearly in the early Fathers to whom water, wherever it occurred in the Old Testament, might be taken to speak of baptism,141 and references to wood or a tree to the cross.142 The result of such interpretation may be the complete negation of the true theological understanding of a passage in its context. This is not the case with typological interpretation as we have defined it. Typology always depends on the context, and on the natural and historical sense of the context.

We say, therefore, that typology is not to be dismissed as allegory, like the foregoing. When St. Paul used the word llhgorw (in the one place in which it is used in the New Testament), he meant something different from what we commonly mean by allegorizing. He said of

Abrahams two sons of the bondwoman and the free, tin stin llhgoro�ena,143 and he meant that he was speaking, or interpreting, with a meaning other than the literal, but neither to deny the reality of the literal (as was often the case with Greek allegories), nor to reject the principles of the context. St. Paul is taking the principles behind the differences between the children of Hagar and Sarah and applying them to another (lloj) setting, that of the children of promise under the gospel and those who do not possess the promise but remain in bondage. This can rightly be classed as typological interpretation, because the theological principles involved in the old narratives are simply taken up and shown to find a new, and a deeper, meaning in Christ.144

Of allegorical interpretation, as we have defined it, we find very little in the New Testament. We cannot say that it is completely absent from the New Testament, but it is doubtful if it ever exists except as an elaboration of genuine typology. That is to say, there is first an interpretation of the theological principles of the Old Testament narrative, and then elaboration based on the symbolism of words. This is probably the case with the interpretation of Melchizedek in Hebrews vii. The basis of this interpretation seems clearly to be that Melchizedek stands out from the pages of the Old Testament as one who was priest and king, and the combination of these functions was perfectly fulfilled in Christ, of whom therefore Melchizedek may be called a type. Yet in the interpretation of his name king of Salem, we have the use and interpretation of words and symbols rather than the interpretation of the work and functions of the Old Testament character. So also when the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of him as without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God145 he does so apparently because he believes that these facts about Melchizedek, through the inspiration of the Spirit of God, have been left out of the sacred narrative in order that the picture of Christ as Priest-King, and as the Son of God, might be made more perfect.146 This is a dependence on

words, or lack of words, rather than the principles of the context; but it is to be noted that the interpretation begins with typology. There are one or two other cases of the use of the Old Testament in the New where the same appears to be true, but it is not possible to deal with them in detail here. What matters is that regularly we have the Old Testament interpreted by the interpretation of its history and of the principles of its institutions in the purpose of God, and not simply by using its words as inspired symbols in the way the Fathers so often did.

This is not to say that the words do not matter, or to deny the operation of the Holy Spirit in guiding and inspiring the writer of the history. Revelation in the Old Testament can never depend simply on the events, but on the prophetic interpretation of the events. It is not only the acts of God that matter, but the record of the acts, if we are to understand their meaning. So the history is rightly given the title of the former prophets; men with prophetic insight and understanding of the ways of God wrote the history. So St. Paul, speaking of the Old Testament revelation, says, Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning.147 None the less it is necessary to distinguish typology from that allegorizing which has no concern with the revelation of the acts of God given in the particular passage of Scripture which it is treating. To take a word as symbolic of some spiritual truth without regard for the context in which it is found is always perilous as a method of interpretation.

(b) Typological interpretation and the literal sense

In one way it is true to say that typological interpretation involves a reading into the text of a meaning extrinsic to it. It takes more than the literal sense of a passage. The New Testament does this when it sees Christ as the theme and fulfilment of all the Old Testament, without limiting this to what is explicitly Messianic prophecy. It sees the antitype foreshadowed by the types, and interprets the types accordingly. It sees in the Old Testament by divers portions and in divers manners148 what is revealed uniquely in the Word Incarnate, in whom all the fragments of the past revelation are brought together. Typological interpretation shows that the partial and fragmentary

revelation in the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ. It interprets the types by referring them to the Antitype, and by showing that their meaning can be understood fully only in relation to Him and in the light of the knowledge of Him.149 Typology reads into Scripture a meaning which is not there in that it reads in the light of the fulfilment of the history. This is not exegesis, drawing out from a passage what the human author understood and intended as he wrote. Nevertheless it does not read a new principle into the context; it interprets the dealings of God with men from the literal context, and then points to the way in which God has so dealt with men in Christ. It does not necessarily say that the writer was conscious of presenting a type or foreshadowing of the Christ, although we have seen that there was sometimes in the Old Testament the consciousness that the acts of God in the past pointed forward to similar but much more glorious acts in the future. We, therefore, do not necessarily read the Old Testament, and say as Origen was prone to say, that the Old Testament writers spoke consciously of Christ. Nor do we read in such a way as to lift the Old Testament to the level of the New as the Fathers of the mid-second century were in danger of doing. But we read, recognizing the incompleteness of the Old Testament, and the true relationship of type and antitype. Then it is right to see the Old in the light of the revelation that we have in Christ, to see it as partial, a foreshadowing of what is revealed in Christ.150

Thus, also, it is not true to say that typological interpretation is a static method of interpretation which views the Old Testament simply as a closed corpus of inspired writings, and disregards the living faith of Israel and the experience of the prophets, and the way in which those of old time were led to the knowledge of God that was given to them. Allegory, then it takes up words as symbols, and disregards the context is always in this danger. True typology, on the other hand, involves the study of the living faith and growing apprehension of Israel, and the prophetic experience of God in order to understand more intimately the knowledge of God and of His ways that the prophets had, and which they were given in order to teach to men. It takes the history of Israel, wrought out in the trials and failures and triumphs that they as a nation experienced in the grime of battle and

in the enticements of heathen cults around them; and it follows the Old Testament historians in seeing the hand of God in all of these, revealing itself in judgment and in mercy. It sees the Old Testament as a progressive and as an incomplete revelation. But because God was then revealing in part what He revealed uniquely in Christ, it finds in that history, as recorded, foreshadowings of the Christ.

This, in fact, is the way in which we as Christians must read the Old Testament, following the precedent of the New Testament interpretation of the Old, and supremely the use that our Lord Himself made of the Old Testament. We should not look back to this part of the Bible just for the history of the Jewish religion, nor just for moral examples, nor just for its Messianic prophecy, nor to see the excellence of the faith of Israel in contrast to the religious faith and understanding of other nations of antiquity. In actual fact Israel was often faithless, and it is God seeking to show Himself to man, rather than man searching after God, that we need most to see. We look to the Old Testament to see God in His grace revealing Himself in the history of Israel in preparation for the sending of His Son, the Incarnate Word and the Saviour of the world.

If we understand typology in this way, it does not mean that we are limited to following the particular cases of theological interpretation that the New Testament gives to us. We have there a method of interpretation for which we have the background in the Old Testament itself. It is a method of interpretation of history. Its basis is in the Old Testament understanding of the unchanging nature of God and His unchanging covenant and principles of dealing with men; but for us that unchanging nature of God is made more clear in Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, yea and for ever.151 Its basis is also in the Old Testament hope that the acts of God in the past would be repeated in yet greater glory ; but for us - although we still wait for its final manifestation and the summing up of all history in Christ - that great glory has been revealed. Therefore we study the Old Testament typologically, for we study it to gain a theological understanding of history; and that theological understanding is Christological understanding, for it is only in Christ that the history of Israel, or of any nation or individual, past or present, is able to find its meaning.