I recently received the following query from someone reading my NIV11 review.
On page 430, you write: “The current rage in some circles of christological exegesis of the OT … is too often (though not always) misleading.”
Would you be able to unpack what you mean here and/or guide me to resources where I can better understand this?
My hunch is that you are referring to the ‘new Reformed’ lingo of ‘finding Christ in all of Scripture’ (from guys like Keller [and] others …).
Why is this wrong and what do you see as the better way?
The typically busy end of a semester and Christmas activities probably means that this isn’t the best time to begin a discussion on the subject here, but I will summarize my thoughts on the matter. And OT prophecies of Messiah are certainly appropriate subject matter for Christmas!
Let me begin by saying that I most certainly do not object to valid, predictive prophecy of Messiah in the OT which was later fulfilled in and by Jesus. There certainly is quite a bit of prophecy (Messianic and otherwise) scattered throughout much of the OT. There is not only prophecy, but also a fair bit of typology. The prophecy should be identified by careful exegesis of the *OT* text in its context. (By contrast, the typology, which I’m not discussing in this paragraph, is *not* identified by OT exegesis, but by *NT* exegesis—more on that below.) Unless it can be demonstrated exegetically that a passage refers to Messiah, then I do not think it legitimate to claim such a text as Christological. To qualify as “exegetical” I do not allow the NT to be read “backwards” into the OT. To do so is not exegesis, but isogesis—even if it is later biblical revelation that is being used to “discover” new meaning in older texts. Just because the NT is the culmination of biblical revelation and most clearly reveals Jesus and his role as Messiah and Savior does not legitimate changing the grammatical, historical meaning of OT texts. I do not read the OT with “Christological glasses.”
What I object to is the current fad of claiming that “OT text x” refers to/means/prophecies concerning Jesus/Messiah when the OT author would never have suspected that to be the case. Nor do I consider some form of sensus plenior in which the Author had a hidden meaning to be legitimate. Any such approach becomes very subjective, limited only by the creativity of the interpreter with no textual basis. I do not consider “creativity” to be a commendable quality in exegesis. Exegesis is not tasked with creating meaning, but in discovering the textual meaning intended by the author. Oh, it may “preach” well; I’ve listened to some amazing sermons that find Jesus everywhere. Rhetorically (and even poetically!) they are quite impressive productions that will stir an audience. But are they legitimate? As a preacher I am tasked with proclaiming “thus says the Lord.” Unless a preacher can demonstrate from a text that it does refer to Jesus, then one had best not blame that interpretation of God!
Now there is another angle to consider, though it violates none of what I’ve summarized above. That is the matter of typology. This is a subject that has been horribly abused (and in both directions: excess and avoidance). I have no time for the vivid imagination of “interpreters” who can find in excess of 20,000 “types” in the OT tabernacle (I’m not making that up!). But neither do I want to so limit typology that I miss legitimate, intentional types, though I’m more inclined to err toward the second than be guilty of the first! (I think it less dangerous to miss a few bits of God’s revelation that to attribute to it matters never intended.) The fanciful approach to typology is nothing more than crass allegory. To classify something as a type I insist on some substantive NT textual basis to authorize it. And note that by textual basis I do not refer to the interpreter’s creativity in making a connection; the NT text itself must make the connection.
Let me extract a few paragraphs (not all contiguous) from my notes on the subject.
I would propose the following definitions of typology, type, and antitype. Typology is the study of divinely ordained, repeated patterns in God’s sovereign working in human history to accomplish his purposes. In the course of the progress of revelation, the earlier historical situation (person, event, institution) comes to be seen as a pattern (type) that closely corresponds to a later historical situation in the life and ministry of Jesus that repeats (fulfills) the pattern (antitype) in a clearly identifiable, escalated/intensified way. A type is thus the initial instance of a repeated pattern of God’s activity that he intends to use in later revelation as an illustration of his work. An antitype is the escalated repetition in the person and work of Jesus of an earlier pattern of activity which demonstrates God’s glory, filling that antecedent type with additional significance for the purpose of enabling God’s people to better understand his sovereign purposes in history.
I think we should follow France at this point, who argues that, “a type is not a prediction; in itself it is simply a person, event, etc. recorded as a historical fact, with no intrinsic reference to the future…. There is no indication in a type, as such, of any forward reference; it is complete and intelligible in itself” (Jesus and the Old Testament, 39–40, 42). This is the key difference between prophecy and type: prophecy is known, understood, and intended as prophetic by the human writer; typology is a NT perspective that is not known by the OT writer. The NT does not change the meaning of the OT text (since typology is not intended as an exegetical treatment of the OT text). The parallel of the type/antitype is always in harmony with the meaning of the OT text and never denies the historical nature of it. France is emphatic on this point:
Typology may, indeed must, go beyond mere exegesis. But it may never introduce into the Old Testament text a principle which was not already present and intelligible to its Old Testament readers. Sound exegesis, and a respect for the sense of the Old Testament text thus discovered, will prevent typology from degenerating into allegory…
Thus the decision on whether a given use of the Old Testament in the New is typological or an appeal to prediction will reduce itself to a question of Old Testament exegesis. If a forward reference was intended in the Old Testament…, we are not concerned with typology, but with the appeal to prediction.
(Jesus and the Old Testament, 41–42 [I would prefer to replace the first sentence cited from France with a simple statement that “typology is not OT exegesis,” omitting any idea of “going beyond mere exegesis”] ).
Some recoil from such a suggestion, assuming that the alternative is eisegesis. The response is that the exegesis comes at the NT level, not at the level of OT text. Apart from the NT, the OT type could not be identified on the basis of OT exegesis.
“If every type were originally intended [by the human author] explicitly to point forward to an antitype, it might be correct to class typology as a style of exegesis. But this is not the case. There is no indication in a type, as such, of any forward reference.” In other words, “the fact that the NT sees an OT event as a type does not throw light on its interpretation in its OT context” (Jesus and the Old Testament, 41–42).
The Author, of course, knew and intended that the OT text would one day be used typologically, but neither the author or his subsequent readers would have any way to know that this was the case until the fulfillment in Jesus and the NT text makes the identification explicit because none of the typical significance is grammaticalized in the text. There can be no such thing as a type without an antitype. This is a point at which the aAuthors’ knowledge regarding the written text diverge. Although leaving open the question as to the possibility that a type may have been recognized before its fulfillment, Carson clearly agrees that God intended the type.
That means that when Paul (or, for that matter, some other New Testament writer) claims that something or other connected with the gospel is the (typological) fulfillment of some old covenant pattern, he may not necessarily be claiming that everyone connected with the old covenant type understood the pattern to be pointing forward, but he is certainly claiming that God himself designed it to be pointing forward. In other words, when the type was discovered to be a type (at some point along the trajectory of its repeated pattern? only after its culmination?)—i.e. when it was discovered to be a pattern that pointed to the future—is not determinative for its classification as a type (“Mystery and Fulfillment,” 406).
Typology is actually a specialized form of what Hirsch/Kaiser call implication. Typology is not an OT exegetical tool used to determine the meaning of the OT text. When the NT “creates” the type by depicting its relationship to the fulfilling antitype, this does not change the meaning of the OT text—though a new implication of that text emerges in the progress of revelation. It is the NT author, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, who draws an explicit connection between an OT situation and a NT one that parallels it in a unique, escalated way. It is, indeed, a form of analogy or illustration, yet one that is more formalized than these categories. The escalated relationship is such that the NT authors could describe it in terms of fulfillment (πληρόω). An OT situation is “filled up” in the NT situation as Jesus or some aspect of his work is seen to follow the same pattern, but due to the character of the person involved (Jesus) or the magnitude of his work which is described—both of which go far beyond the OT referents—is said to fulfill what is now called the type.
Now to return to my original subject, if the current fad of “Christological exegesis” were concerned with the sort of typology that I have just described, I’d have no objection, but that is not the way it’s presented. It is portrayed as a means of interpreting the OT text, and that, I am persuaded, it most emphatically is not. Nor do many such proposals limit themselves to instances which are textually warranted by the NT text. The identification proffered is grounded only in the creativity of the interpreter/preacher.
BTW, I’ve commented on this briefly before: http://ntresources.com/blog/?p=1078
There’s also a post
on Marc Snoeberger’s blog on the subject.