Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

12 Jul 2013

Warrant for the Analogical Interpretation of Select Scriptures, Part II


In my previous post, I noted the existence of several examples of the use of the Old Testament in the New that don’t seem to make sense (Hos 11:1 with Matt 2:15; Jer 31:15 with Matt 2:16–18; Psalm 22:18 with John 19:24; Psalm 96:25 and 109:8 with Acts 1:16–20; Joel 2:28ff with Acts 2:16ff; and Psalm 22:1 with Matt 27:46, etc.). In all of these passages the NT writer seems fine with the idea that the NT passage is fulfilling the OT passage—in fact, in many of these passages the very word fulfill (πληρόω) is actually used. The obvious problem, though, is that with one exception (Joel 2:28ff), the OT passages cited above are not prophetic. They are either historical narratives or instances of poetic reflection on historical events, with no internal clues to identify them as forward-looking Scriptures.

The typologian has a solution to the problem, viz., that these historical events/reflections are typological of future realities. The OT people who were experiencing the historical events described here (the Exodus, David’s wilderness wanderings, the Babylonian exile) may not have known it, but they were prefiguring events in the life of Christ. They were types and Christ the anti-type.

But is typology the only possible alternative to fulfilled prophecy in these texts? I don’t think so. The very first seminary text that alerted me to other options was R. T. France’s little book Jesus and the Old Testament. Then there was Walter Kaiser and an extremely helpful little essay by Charles Dyer, “The Biblical Meaning of Fulfillment,” in the very-hard-to-find book Issues in Dispensationalism. Then there was a tight explanation of Peter’s use of Joel 2 in Acts 2 by Roy Beacham and more recently, a helpful six-part series on the topic by Mike Vlach. In reading these materials I became more and more keenly aware that typology was not the only option in my interpretive toolbox.

Specifically, I’d like to suggest that Jesus and the NT writers were quite fond of the analogical application of key texts, and that many of the problem texts above could be resolved quite simply by seeing them as in analogical relationship to one another. This happens all the time in the citation of the Bible and of various classical pieces—in a word, it’s “normal.” For instance:

  • When the songwriter says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer,” he is not suggesting that Samuel was prophesying the writing of a hymn in 1 Samuel 7:12. Nor is he suggesting that we adopt a typological view of Samuel in which the stone is a type and the hymn an antitype. Instead, the songwriter is saying that we should, just as the Israelites did in 1 Samuel 7:12, offer public testimony and thanks for God’s manifest help. IOW, our thanks to God today is analogous to their thanks to God back then.
  • When a believer says “Woe is me” in personal confession and prayer, he is not offering some novel reinterpretation of Isaiah 6 as a hidden prophecy or a type. Rather, he is simply saying that he has an analogous relationship with Isaiah that causes him to relate with his words.
  • Even Jesus, when crying out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” is not necessarily identifying Psalm 22 as a prophecy or typical foreshadowing of the crucifixion. Instead, it is quite possible that Jesus, being deeply immersed in the Scriptures, found a simple analogy between his own situation and that of the Psalmist, and quoted his words.

The advantages of seeing analogy in these texts are many, but let me list a few:

  • Analogical interpretation has the advantage of being a normal use of human language. Whether we are quoting Isaiah and David or Romeo and Mercutio, it is demonstrably very common to cite classical literature in an analogical way.
  • Analogical interpretation is the purview of the common man and is instructive about how we should use the Scriptures today. The common man can read the stories of both testaments and find in them examples of circumstances similar to his own and profit from these examples (1 Cor 10). There is no threat of being “overly imaginative” in the analogical reading of Scripture; in fact, one need not be “imaginative” at all. The Scriptures are allowed instead to mean precisely what they seem to mean, and we find similarities to the modern day that are instructive.
  • Analogical interpretation does not demand that the modern reader depreciate in any way the original meaning. We don’t need to forget David now that the greater David has arrived or gloss over the details in the OT and NT renderings that don’t quite match up.
  • Finally, I believe that raising the option of analogical interpretation allows the Scriptures to speak for themselves in all of their manifest detail. In short it gives us an alternative to treating all of the specific content of the OT as malleable prattle to be squeezed like putty into some particular version of biblical theology.

I have no angst against the idea of biblical theology as a means of discovering the unifying center of all God’s activity described in the Scriptures; indeed, I quite approve of it. But I’m not convinced that typology is the only way to get there.

10 Responses

  1. BE

    I may have missed it, but could you comment briefly on how the use of fulfill (πληρόω) is explained by the analogical interpretation?


  2. Mark Snoeberger

    Paul, fixed, thanks.

    Ben, the short answer is that πληρόω has a broader semantic range than strict prediction/completion. It can mean that, but it can also include in its range type/antitype and event/analogy. Chuck Dyer’s article gives the long answer.


  3. Larry

    Another option, probably related to analogy, is the use of borrowed language, or what Moo and Naselli call “Using Old Testament Language as a Vehicle of Expression.” They say, “The speech of a person raised on the classics is sprinkled with terms and idioms drawn from those texts. Similarly, the NT writers sometimes use OT language as a vehicle of expression without intending to provide a “correct” interpretation of the OT text they are quoting.”

    I suppose it would be analogous when the situations are similar (Jer 31:15/Matt 2), and borrowed language when the situations are dissimilar (such as Romans 10/Psa 19). I think Psalm 22 is likely borrowed language, Jesus’ using a common expression of grief (that people still use today in many cases, whether they know Psalm 22 or not).

    I am in a small minority here but I actually think this may explain Hos 11:1/Matt 2:15, that Matthew is using Hosea’s words without intending to provide a correct interpretation of the OT text, and he does so because Hosea refers to the same thing Matthew wants to appeal to–Israel in Egypt. So the referent is actually Exodus. Hosea’s words are used only because they point there; Matthew is not invoking Hosea’s context or meaning at all.

    And the broad semantic domain of pleroo shows how this is done. I think, at least as of now, too much weight is being placed in pleroo when the semantic domain shows other, IMO better, options.

  4. Troy

    Dr. Snoeberger,

    This might be a dumb question, but does a typological interpretation necessitate the cessation of the original type? For example, I just read the book “God’s Big Picture” by Vaughn Roberts (it was a good book by the way…he argued like you that the kingdom is the unifying center of Scripture albeit from an amillennial perspective). He concludes that Israel is no more (in fact he says that it would be wrong to go backward) since Jesus is the “true Israel.” Part of me doesn’t have a problem with him saying that Jesus is the “true Israel” because Jesus perfectly did all that Israel failed to do. So, I don’t have a problem with that sort of typological understanding because it exalts Christ. But I don’t agree that Israel is no more. Israel’s future seems too clear in Scripture to suggest otherwise (Rom. 9-11). Is it inconsistent or illogical to see some measure of a typological fulfillment without the destruction of the original type?

    Thanks for the help.


  5. Mark Snoeberger


    You’re getting to the heart of the issue with your question–a question that Joel Willitts asks at, viz., “Can we have a Biblical Theology without Typology?” In his post he cites a line from an article by Matthew Boulton (SJT 66/1:20): “Christian typology in general is often deemed to be, to greater or lesser degrees, fundamentally supersessionist in character, since in this unidirectional model of prophecy and fulfillment, the occurrence of the latter seems to render the former either obsolete, no longer necessary or, at best, still venerable but nevertheless subordinate.”

    IOW, the introduction of typological interpretation always introduces to a greater or lesser degree some level of supersessionism. Covenant Theology represents the greatest degree of supersessionism (i.e., the church displaces Israel); New Covenant Theology a somewhat lesser degree (Israel fades away in view of the arrival of greater Israel); and progressive dispensationalism still less (the church is a new and improved co-recipient of Israel’s promises). But all three exhibit some level of supersessionism in order to establish their respective visions of biblical theology.

    What I am suggesting is that traditional dispensational theology offers a way for biblical theology to exist without resorting to typological interpretation, and does so quite sensibly within a “normal” hermeneutic.

  6. overseas worker


    I realize you’re a rabid Dispensationalist. So, posting this comment as one committed to Covenant theology may not be wise or fruitful. But your two articles raised my blood pressure, and I do wish to do my less-than-two-cents to fight for keeping Christ at the blazing center of Scriptural interpretation.

    1) Is not ‘analogical’ interpretation just as potentially dangerous and open-ended as typological? The Crusaders found some good analogical warrant in the conquest of the Promised Land, no? Liberation Theology is based partly on analogy, right? That typological interpretation may lead some into fanciful errors in no way mitigates equal possible errors wielded by those practicing analogy. That countless individuals choose to make a wax nose out of Scripture to glut their own desires neither proves nor disproves the legitimacy of typology as a method of rightly interpreting the Old Testament.

    2) How on earth do you analogically render (vs. typically) texts like Acts 15:15-17, 1 Corinthians 10:4, and Galatians 4:24,ff., just to list three?

    3) What about typology in the Old Testament itself? How can statements like those about ‘David’ found in Ezekiel 36:23-24 be anything other than typology?

    4) If you say that Isaiah 7:14 could be a mere analogy (?!), what do you do with Isaiah 53?

    5) How do you interpret Romans 5:14, if you hold that there is no intended system of interpretative typology in the Old Testament?

    You’re a pastor and a busy scholar. I don’t expect you to answer in any detail, but these (and many other) questions puzzle me greatly about your position.

    I’m no leader or scholar or celebrity in Reformed circles. But FWIW, I’m happy to identify with and own your profile of certain dastardly evangelicals (throughout church history, mind you), who have – in your own words: ‘already identified the center of their system (the antitypical Christ who is the effective fulfillment of all the Scripture’s promises, effectively canceling out all their plain specificity) and have commenced building a system of theology around that center.’ Only, I’m not sure how having Jesus at the center ipso facto negates the ‘plain specificity’ of any OT text. That’s puzzling.

    How do you acknowledge the preeminence of Christ in all things (Colossians 1:18) by intentionally de-throning Him from Old Testament interpretation and the hermeneutics process itself – going even to the extreme of promoting fancy ways of avoiding plain NT apostolic interpretations?

    That’s a mighty severe charge. I don’t lay it lightly. I appreciate your evident scholarship and zeal for the truth. But my deep concerns and real questions remain.



  7. Mark Snoeberger

    Dave, thanks for your interaction, and my apologies for elevating your blood pressure. I am, yes, a dispensationalist (though I’ve never thought of myself as rabid). Just like anyone else, I’m trying to figure out how the Bible fits together, and would like to think that this can be done without using a sui generis hermeneutic (i.e., a one-of-a-kind hermeneutic that is unique among human literature). I do, of course, recognize that the Bible has a one-of-a-kind authorship scheme, so I can see where one might argue that it has a one-of-a-kind interpretation scheme, but I’m not sure that this necessarily follows. In fact, this kind of argument has more than once in church history been used to lay an axe at the root of biblical authority.

    But to your questions:

    (1) Is not ‘analogical’ interpretation just as potentially dangerous and open-ended as typological? One surely can make bad analogies—it happens all the time. But when I make a bad analogy, it doesn’t diminish the original meaning. It’s just an isolated misuse of the text. With a typological interpretation system, the interpreter argues that great swaths of OT material have no meaning other than as a pointer (dare I say a hinweis?) to Christ and/or other spiritual realities. Once the antitype arrives, the details about land, law, sacrifice, rain, animals, etc., all disappear, being absorbed into the new spiritual meaning. This is what I mean when I say that typologians ‘effectively cancel out the plain specificity’ of OT texts.

    (2) How on earth do you analogically render (vs. typically) texts like Acts 15:15-17, 1 Corinthians 10:4, and Galatians 4:24,ff., just to list three? Note that I did not say that biblical types do not exist (in fact, I made it vary plain that they do exist in my first post). I objected instead to the wholesale adoption of a typological system. I’m very happy to see Galatians 4:24 as reflecting a type (the text says as much). The Acts 15 passage I see as a simple prophecy about the Davidide (of which Christ is a part), so I don’t see the need for typology here. The Corinthians is more difficult to interpret IMO. It could be a type, but it could be something of a theological statement about the Christological governance of providence. As a general rule, I hesitate to interpret typologically unless I have a clear statement from the NT author that I may do so—and that happens in surprisingly few instances.

    (3) What about typology in the Old Testament itself? How can statements like those about ‘David’ found in Ezekiel 36:23-24 be anything other than typology? I take this passage to be a straightforward prophecy. That’s how dispensationalists have always taken OT references to a future national Israel—as bona fide prediction of the restoration of ethnic Israel.

    (4) If you say that Isaiah 7:14 could be a mere analogy (?!), what do you do with Isaiah 53? Isaiah 53 is clearly set within a Messianic prophecy—all the internal markers point to this reality. Isaiah 7:14, on the other hand, seems at first blush to point to a near fulfillment (i.e., a prophecy to be fulfilled in Ahaz’s lifetime), making the application in Luke 2 a bit odd. If you follow the link I gave to Bruce Compton’s article, he offers basically four options: (1) Isa 7:14 is a Messianic prophecy made to the whole house of David, (2) Isa 7:14 has a double fulfillment (one historical the other Messianic), (3) Luke’s use of Isa 7:14 is analogical, or (4) Isa 7:14 is typical. I cautiously accept option (1), but the contextual difficulties leave me granting grace to those who don’t.

    (5) How do you interpret Romans 5:14, if you hold that there is no intended system of interpretative typology in the Old Testament? I fully accept Adam as a type of Christ. Indeed, of all the proposed types that appear in Scripture, none is clearer than this one. But to me it does not logically follow therefrom that there is an “intended system of interpretative typology in the Old Testament” that must be applied to its whole. IOW, it’s the wholesale and systemic appeal to types that give me pause.

    As to your last charges, that I “intentionally de-throne Christ from Old Testament interpretation” and “go to the extreme of promoting fancy ways of avoiding plain NT apostolic interpretations” I would suggest humbly that I’m not doing this. In fact, from the dispensational perspective, the charges you make could legitimately be reversed. In rendering the old covenant people of God (Israel) a mere type of the Christian community, there is a sense in which the Reformed community wrests Christ from his rightful place as the king of ethnic Israel by using fancy ways of erasing the plain meaning of the OT. That would indeed be a severe charge, so I won’t make it. And that is because, Dave, I believe we are both earnestly committed to the preeminence of Christ and are committed to reading the Scriptures in a way that most fully exalts Christ. One of us is surely wrong in the hermeneutical approach he is using to accomplish that end, but I’m still happy to acknowledge your commitment to the preeminence of Christ.

  8. overseas worker


    Please accept my apology. Please forgive me for calling your commitment to Christ’s supremacy into question. That was foolish and wrong and unwarranted. Seriously, please forgive me and my biting/judging remarks. I foolishly gave wind to thoughts not calmly or carefully formulated. Forgive me, brother.

    I’m glad to bow out of the conversation, especially as being one not fit for such a debate with a person of your caliber, academically, etc. If you haven’t already, though, I would gladly commend the full reading of Jonathan Edwards’ little book – Types of the Messiah. I would also love to see you interact with (perhaps you already have?) more modern proponents of a Christological-typological reading of the Old Testament…like James Hamilton or G.K. Beale or Vern Poythress (to only mention my favorites). Though not in the guild (but no less erudite), I would also commend various articles and books by Nathan Pitchford, especially his series ‘Images of the Savior’ (available for free online at

    Thanks for the opportunity to interact on this site, even though it can attract fools (moan). Seriously, I ask your forgiveness for questioning your exaltation of our great Christ, even though I still do deem your brand & practice of Dispensationalism as particularly destructive. I remain unconvinced of much of your exegesis (e.g., the ‘fulfill’ motif/range), and especially your hermeneutical presuppositions. Any approach to reading the Scriptures that does not intentionally place Christ at the center strikes me as sub-Christian, and on the basis of Jesus’ words Himself, and those of the NT authors, would seem to turn (even the OT) Scriptures on their head. For any way in which I have misread or misunderstood you, please forgive/clarify. By God’s grace, I will be more charitable in my disposition.

    Blessings in Christ,