Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

15 Feb 2012

Typology: Lessons from R. T. France

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We received word yesterday of the death of noted New Testament scholar R. T. France on February 10. Dr. France was well known for a number of important books, including commentaries on Matthew and Mark. You can see a list here. But today I want to call attention to what I think is one of his most important works: Jesus and the Old Testament. Chapter 3, “Typological Use of the Old Testment,” is a brilliant piece of work. Let me share some of France’s perceptive conclusions about typology:

The word τύπος invariably has the primary meaning of “model” or “pattern.” Typology will, therefore, be concerned with persons, events, etc. which are viewed as models or patterns for other persons, events, etc.

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.

Typology is thus to be distinguished from two other methods of applying the Old Testament: the appeal to prediction, and allegory.

A type is not a prediction; in itself it is simply a person, event, etc. recorded as historical fact, with no intrinsic reference to the future. Nor is an antitype the fulfillment of a prediction…. Typology, however, consists essentially in looking back and discerning previous examples of a pattern now reaching its culmination.

Typology may be described as “the theological interpretation of the Old Testament history.” Allegory, on the other hand, has little concern with the historical character of the Old Testament text. Words, names, events, etc, are used, with little regard for their context, and invested with a significance drawn more from the allegorist’s own ideas than from the intended sense of the Old Testament.

Typology…is essentially the recognition of a correspondence between New Testament and Old Testament events…. The idea of fulfillment inherent in New Testament typology derives not from a belief that the events so understood were explicitly predicted, but from the conviction that in the coming and work of Jesus the principles of God’s working, already imperfectly embodied in the Old Testament, were more perfectly re-embodied, and thus brought to completion.

The difference between typology and allegory uncovers one feature essential to true typology: that is a real correspondence between type and antitype. This correspondence must be both historical (i.e. a correspondence of situation and event) and theological (i.e. an embodiment of the same principle of God’s working). The lack of a real historical correspondence reduces typology to allegory, as when the scarlet thread hung in the window by Rahab is taken as a prefiguration of the blood of Christ.

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.

But while strict exegesis is a prerequisite of typology, it is not correct to describe typology itself as a method of exegesis. Exegesis is the establishment of the true meaning and intention of the original text…. If every type were originally intended explicitly to point forward toward 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; it is complete and intelligible in itself.

Chapter 3 is available online in Google Books.