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.