In Pursuit of Something More than an Analogical Interpretation

There has been some talk within dispensational circles lately about “Biblical theology[1] without typology” (see “Warrant for the Analogical Interpretation of Select Scriptures, Part I” and “Part II” by Mark Snoeberger). The following is a response to Snoeberger’s position.

For those unfamiliar to these issues, we might provide the follow basic definitions of analogical and typological interpretation. Analogical interpretation occurs when a biblical writer draws an analogy between and compares (or maybe contrasts?) a reality from previous revelation to a current reality. Typological interpretation is the interpretation of historical events, institutions, persons, things (type) recorded in previous revelation in terms of their prophetic correspodence to later realites (antitype). So for example, the Old Testament sacrifices anticipated and served as a type which was ultimately fulfilled in Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, the antitype.

Attempting to pinpoint the issue of debate

In fairness to Snoeberger, I want to represent his articles’ purpose accurately. It would seem that Snoeberger’s goal in these articles is to demonstrate that typology is not the only viable basis for valid biblical theology.[2] And he attempts to do so by demonstrating the warrant for an analogical New Testament (NT) use of the Old Testament (OT).[3]

But the difficultly with this implied purpose is that all scholars (as far as I know) recognize that Biblical theology is not limited to typology; and again, all scholars (as far as I know) recognize an analogical NT use of the OT.[4] This is not a debate. Furthermore, Snoeberger does not reject typology altogethe.[5] So I ask, what’s the issue?

Snoeberger says he resists the “comprehensive practice of typological interpretation.” What he means by “comprehensive” is uncertain, because, as I noted, no one (as far as I can tell) understands the NT’s use of the OT solely in terms of typology; and (as far as I can tell) everyone accepts the analogical use. So, in my assessment of his articles, it seems fair to say that he resists typology because he finds it hermeneutically dangerous and sees its underlying theological presuppositions troublesome to his dispensationalism.[6] In order to preserve his own hermeneutical and theological presuppositions, he wants to kick the hermeneutical legs out from under the typical (no pun intended) evangelical understanding and use of typology. That’s my best assessment of his rather unclear purpose. And I think that’s fair.

My response

So, is typology “the only viable basis for a valid biblical theology?” (Snoeberger). Of course not! But is typology a legitimate and significant part of good Biblical theology? Absolutely!

I can’t conceive of a legitimate form of Biblical theology that excludes typology as a central feature, mainly because that’d be like Biblical theology without the NT –Good luck! You’ve shot yourself in the theological foot. Typology is fundamental to the unity and relationship between the OT and NT. Typology is a central way the NT writers use the OT to show the continuity of their message and Christ’s person and work with God’s previous revelation (i.e., the OT) and His redemptive purposes found therein. In my opinion, you have to be kidding yourself, letting your theological system entirely manipulate your hermeneutical boundaries, to avoid this conclusion from an inductive study of the text; you have to do interpretive gymnastics to get around its reality.

So, let’s just say I’m not buying into this whole discussion that’s poo-pooing on the importance of typology in regards to Biblical theology. And here’s my primary reason why[7]it harms the essential unity of scripture, the essential unity between the OT and the NT. Now let me come at this from different angles and make my point clear.

I don’t think analogy, correspondence, mere similarity provides a glue that brings the testaments together. When trying to show some level of continuity with the OT, what good is it to say that NT realities are like OT realities? And if the NT authors are not attempting to demonstrate continuity, then why are they citing the OT in the first place? For mere rhetoric?

Analogies don’t speak to the promise-fulfillment structure that is so foundational to the relationship between the testaments. For example, is Christ like what the OT anticipated; or is He its fulfillment? Fundamental to Christianity is the belief that Christ is the fulfillment of the OT. Fulfillment implies anticipation of some sort. The analogical interpretive method seeks to explain NT use of the OT in ways that do not require the OT to be predictive in any sense. But as Fred Zaspel points out concerning “the simple observation that certain OT events are said in the NT to be ‘fulfilled’,” (e.g., Hos. 11:1 / Mt. 2:15; Jer. 31:15 / Mt. 2:16-18), “that these events are later said to be ‘fulfilled’ … presupposes a prophetic or predictive intent of some kind.” I find explanations by analogy unsatisfactory in these incidences; and I think such explanations would carry an unsatisfactory apologetic value for the NT’s audience as well. Typology, on the other hand, provides satisfactory explanation for the NT’s “fulfillment use” of such OT texts where anticipation is not necessarily clearly present.

And yes, just because there are typological connections between the OT and NT does not necessarily mean that the foundational relationship between the testaments is typological. But likewise, just because one can demonstrate NT analogical interpretations of the OT doesn’t mean analogy is the foundation for the NT’s relation to the OT either (e.g., would this do justice to the fulfillment relationship?) Just because one can interpret an incident of the NT’s use of the OT analogically does not necessarily mean one should (cf. footnote 3). Analogy is often a common denominator between these OT and NT texts, e.g., typology requires analogical correspondence. So the presence of analogy does not mean the NT’s use of the OT is simply analogical.

To default to this “common denominator” approach does not appear to do justice to what the NT authors are trying to accomplish by citing (or alluding to) the OT. It successfully disconnects (in terms of anticipation-realization, promise-fulfillment) what is presently happening in the NT (e.g., the Church) from the OT. (This is why this analogical approach is readily advocated by dispensationalists.[8]) But, this result–a disconnection from the OT–is entirely counter-intuitive to a citation of the OT which seeks to provide validity for what is occurring in the NT (e.g., with Christ and His Church), and more so, calls such things “fulfillment.”

NT writers frequently cite and allude to the OT as the authority and validation for their claims of who Christ is and what His advent has accomplished in continuity with the OT’s message and anticipation. However, analogies don’t validate; at best they illustrate. In sum, an excessive retreat to the analogical use at the expense of typology harms the essential unity of scripture, the essential unity between the OT and the NT, and therefore, the basic truth claims of Christianity in contrast to Judaism.

In closing…

So, I’m in pursuit of something more than this unsatisfactory, forced, unnatural (may I even say “non-literal” in light of the NT’s voice) way of putting the Bible together. I’m in pursuit of something more than an analogical interpretation.

But as Snoeberger pointed out, typology can be abused (or more likely, hermeneutically irresponsible things can be done under the name of typology). So tomorrow, in a follow up to this article, I will share some findings from my pursuit of responsible typology and seek to demonstrate the validity of such an endeavor.


[1] “Biblical theology” refers to a specific discipline of Biblical studies. Contrary to what one might initially think, although Biblical theology of course seeks to be Biblical, “Biblical theology” as a disciple does not refer to theology that is Biblical as opposed to theology that is not. Biblical theology can be contrasted with systematic theology. Whereas systematic theology (which if done well is also Biblical) tends to “do” theology in terms of more abstract, atemporal categories, Biblical theology seeks to “do” theology on the Bible’s own terms and is deliberate to take the temporal sequence of redemptive-historical events into account.

[2] This assumption is taken from his words, “I was left wondering … whether typology is the only viable basis for a valid biblical theology, or whether there was another, less radical explanation for the textual anomalies … identified.”

[3] The problem with Snoeberger’s approach, which makes determining his purpose very difficult, is that demonstrating the warrant for one interpretive method (e.g., analogy) does not invalidate another interpretive method (e.g., typology). They are not mutually exclusive. This is seen by the fact that every scholar (as far as I know), including Snoeberger himself, understands typology and analogy as valid interpretive methods. If he merely desires to prove that an analogical use should be understood in a select number of texts (as his title implies), he would do better to exegete and interpret such texts, rather than attack typology in the abstract.

[4] For example, Reformed theologian G.K. Beale lists the analogical use as one of the most common NT uses of the OT. See pgs. 67-71 in Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.

[5] He says, “at least part of the answer {to the NT’s use of the OT} comes in an appeal to type. …The terms for type and antitype actually appear in Scripture, so it does no good to deny the idea entirely.”

[6] Cf. his four concerns of typological interpretation listed in his first article. If I may add, these concerns contain many oversimplifications, misrepresentations, false dilemmas, and logical fallacies.

[7] I say “primary” because I want to address Snoeberger’s argument in similar terms to how he addressed the issue—in the abstract, in almost a priori terms; not by an inductive study drawing hermeneutical principles from the various NT uses of the OT. However, I want to make clear that my position–arguing for a central role of typology in Biblical theology and the NT use of the OT–is built upon the inductive research of scholars handling every clear use of the OT in the NT (cf. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson). Ultimately, it is not philosophical, abstract arguments, but what is actually in the Biblical text that must have the final say. My question is whether the analogical NT use of the OT is able to bear this significant burden. And I do not believe it can.

[8] Whole articles have been written by dispensationalists on how “fulfillment” doesn’t actually mean “fulfillment.”

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