Here’s a wonderful “little bibliography” on biblical theology. It provides suggestions for everything from ministry to little children to the reading and study for the intellectually curious adult. Some of you may even find in it a textbook for a small group or Sunday school class study.
I just came across an older bibliography of clickable links to resources. I created it for a biblical theology course I taught, so it focuses quite a bit on typology. Although it could stand some updating, I figure it still retains its original value for any of you who would like easy access to some wider reading on typological studies.
- Allison, Gregg R. “Theological Interpretation of Scripture: An Introduction and Preliminary Evaluation.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 14.2 (Summer 2010): 28–36.
- Baker, David. “Interpreting Texts in the Context of the Whole Bible.” Themelios 5.2 (1980): 21–25.
- Beale, Greg K. “Did Jesus and his Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?” Themelios 14.3 (April 1989): 89–96.
- _____. “The Right Doctrine, Wrong Texts: Can we follow the Apostles’ Doctrine but not their Hermeneutic?” Foundations 60 (Spring 2011): 39–46.
- _____. “The Old Testament Background of Paul’s Reference to ‘the Fruit of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5:22.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 15.1 (2005) 1–38.
- Berkouwer, G. C. “General and Special Divine Revelation.” In Carl F. H. Henry, ed. Revelation and the Bible, 13–24. Contemporary Evangelical Thought. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958.
- Bray, Gerald. “Scripture and Tradition in Reformation Thought.” Evangelical Review of Theology 19.2 (April 1995): 157–66.
- Bruce, F. F. “Primary Sense and Plenary Sense,” Peake Memorial Lecture. Epworth Review 4 (1977): 94–109.
- _____. “The Book of Zechariah and the Passion Narrative.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 43 (March 1961): 336–53.
- Carr, G. Lloyd “The Old Testament Love Songs and Their Use in the New Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24.2 (June 1981) 97–105.
- Donaldson, Terence L. “Parallels: Use, Misuse and Limitations.” Evangelical Quarterly 55.4 (Oct–Dec 1983): 193–210.
- Ellis, E. Earle. “How the New Testament Uses the Old.” In I. Howard Marshall, ed., New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods, 1977/ Carlisle: Paternoster Press, revised 1979.
- Evans, M. J. “The Old Testament as Christian Scripture.” Vox Evangelica 16 (1986): 25–32.
- Frame, John. “Doctrine of the Word of God: Lecture Outline.”
- Gaebelein, Frank E. “The Unity of the Bible.” In Carl F. H. Henry, ed., Revelation and the Bible, 389–401. Contemporary Evangelical Thought. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958.
- Glenny, W. Edward. “The Divine Meaning of Scripture: Explanations and Limitations.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38.4 (Dec 1995): 481–500.
- Goheen, Michael W. The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story in the 21st Century.
- Hughes, H. Dale. “Salvation-History as Hermeneutic.” Evangelical Quarterly 48.2 (April–June 1976): 79–89.
- Knight, George W., III, “The Scriptures Were Written for Our Instruction.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39.1 (March 1996) 3–13.
- Marcel, Pierre Ch. “Our Lord’s Use of Scripture.” In Carl F. H. Henry, ed., Revelation and the Bible, 121–34. Contemporary Evangelical Thought. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958.
- Packer, J. I. “Upholding the Unity of Scripture.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26.4 (Dec 1982): 409–14.
Jesus Christ is not the Alpha and an unknown x’; he’s the Alpha and the Omega.
The apostle John uses the title “Alpha and Omega” three times in the book of Revelation. He’s using the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet to talk of “the beginning and the end,” or the “first and the last” (Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). And that makes me think he must surely have had in mind the Old Testament background for this: “This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies: ‘I am the First and the Last; there is no other God’” (Isa 44:6 NLT). In other words, John the revelator’s Christology builds on this reference to God’s eternal and monotheistic uniqueness.
Revelation 1:4–8 (esp. v. 8)
In this first use of Alpha and Omega, John evokes the early Old Testament understanding of the divine name. When God commissioned Moses to go down into Egypt and set his people free…
Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they won’t believe me. They will ask, ‘Which god are you talking about? What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” God replied, “I Am The One Who Always Is. Just tell them, ‘I Am has sent me to you.'” (Exod 3:13–14)
Look at the language surrounding John’s use of Alpha and Omega:
4 This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne; 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the commander of all the rulers of the world. All praise to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. 6 He has made us his Kingdom and his priests who serve before God his Father. Give to him everlasting glory! He rules forever and ever! Amen! 7 Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him—even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the earth will weep because of him. Yes! Amen! 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the LORD God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come, the Almighty One.”
John expands on Alpha and Omega, calling Jesus “the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come” (Rev 1:8). This isn’t just an expression of timeless eternity; John speaks also of “timeless sovereignty.”1 He’s saying, “I, the Almighty LORD of hosts, the unchangeable God, will accomplish all My will, fulfill all My word, and execute all My judgments.”2
He’s not just the source of everything, not the Alpha of a sequence that then runs its autonomous chaotic course. He’s not the initial Alpha followed by an unknown quantity x, y, or z. He’s not the Alpha and a chaotic particle in a materialistic universe. He’s the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent—and good—Alpha and Omega.
Revelation 21:1–8 (v. 6)
The second occurrence of the formula is in Revelation 21:6. Here is the context for that use of Alpha and Omega:
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” 5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life without charge! 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. 8 But cowards who turn away from me, and unbelievers, and the corrupt, and murderers, and the immoral, and those who practice witchcraft, and idol worshipers, and all liars—their doom is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This is the second death.”
Here the context is the consummation and the final contrast between eternal bliss in the new heavens and new earth versus eternal judgment, “the second death.” Jesus’s “It is finished!” here (vv. 5–6) reminds us of the final cry on the cross; only now he’s sitting upon a throne, and declaration “finished” is his shout over new creation. This indicates that he’s not only the initiator of creation, but he’s also the one who brings it to its telos as well. And in his hands lies the whole intermediary process, which he guides to its desired conclusion. So he’s not only the first point in time, but he’s the telos (“goal”) of creation, which is perfected in new creation. He’s certainly the preexistent architect of creation:
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. (John 1:1–3, see also Prov 8:21–31)
He’s also the architect of new creation: John reports that he is “making all things new” (Rev 21:5–6). And his purpose is not “well maybe,… on the other hand,… perhaps,… or ‘only time will tell.'” His word is sure, good as done, signed and sealed—and it will be delivered.
So whatever lies between the Alpha and the Omega, we can know that it’s part of his larger plan. It’s not just Henry Ford’s “one damn thing after another.” Rather, it’s one divinely foreordained thing after another. As Paul notes, “we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom 8:28).
Revelation 22:7, 10–17 (esp. v. 13)
The third occurrence is in Revelation 22:13, which is in the context of final judgment, final separation between the wicked and the blessed.
22:7 “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the prophecy written in this scroll.”… 10 Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words you have written, for the time is near. 11 Let the one who is doing wrong continue to do wrong; the one who is vile, continue to be vile; the one who is good, continue to do good; and the one who is holy, continue in holiness.” 12 “See, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay all according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” 14 blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. 15 Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie. 16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.” 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let each one who hears them say, “Come.” Let the thirsty ones come—anyone who wants to. Let them come and drink the water of life without charge.
Here Jesus speaks as judge of the whole world, claiming the title that the Lord God Almighty (see also Rev 1:8; 21:6). This implies that he’s not only the author, but also the finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). He’s not only the one who starts a good work, but one who completes it: Paul could tell the Philippian church, “I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again” (Phil 1:6).
Creation is not going to go wandering on without purpose or completion. There’s an Omega point, and his name is Jesus, the Christ, the Everlasting God Almighty. He’ll bring it to its finish. And when he does, he’ll hold up the finished product against his eternal purpose, judging everything according to that unchanging purpose. Of some he’ll say, “Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life” (v. 14). Others he’ll define as “outside” (v. 15).
That doesn’t imply that we who are his followers in these last days should begin our own feeble attempts to hold everyone accountable to our own mini-eschatological judicial forums. Now is not the time for judgment; it’s the time for invitation. And in following the mandate to invite, we follow a heavenly pattern just as solid as the heavenly promise of final judgment.
- Those issuing the invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let each one who hears them say, ‘Come'” (v. 17a). It’s a heavenly call issued throughout God’s earthly realm, sounded forth by the Spirit, but announced and incarnated by the church.
- Those who receive the invitation: “Let the thirsty ones come—anyone who wants to” (v. 17b). It’s a summons to the needy—and to the unworthy. So we don’t do a mini-judgment upon anyone before we determine whether to hand out a precious invitation card.
- The gift promised to those who respond to the call: “Let them come and drink the water of life without charge” (v. 17c).
The title ascribed to the Almighty Father God, belongs equally to the Son.
- It speaks not only of God’s eternal nature, but of his eternal purpose.
- This purpose is to make all things holy and full of life.
- The divine invitation goes out now, inviting “anyone who wants to,” to “Come.”
- The promise is “without charge” and gives “the water of life.”
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25, ESV).
This continues a discussion of the classes of types:
- Old Testament Institutions
- Historical Types
- God’s Word in Creation
- Prophetical Types
The previous blog covered the first three on the list. This and a couple other blogs will now cover the fourth class on that list.
Fairbairn notes that because type and prophecy both look forward, the line between them isn’t always sharply drawn. To distinguish them, he says prophecy looks forward with words and typology does so with images.1 But all of Scripture speaks through words, not the least, prophecy with its frequent “Thus saith.…” and canonical written form. And every part of Scripture makes free use of theologically rich imagery, not the least, prophecy with all of its evocative imagery of multi-hued horses, women in flying baskets, chariots of fire, locust armies, and plumb lines. So I’m not sure Fairbairn’s given us a very helpful distinction between prophecy and typology under with that rubric.
Fairbairn subdivides prophetical types under four wordy subheadings, which I’ve generally found difficult to translate into contemporary idiomatic English subheads. I tend to settle for “Possibility 1,” “Possibility 2,” and so forth; then I just quote his long nineteenth-century head sentences just in case my readers can make more sense of them than I can. But fear not: I don’t think you’ll find it difficult to understand the dynamic in play with examples as you see them, it’s just that the language he uses in his headings seems obscure.
A typical action might, in some portion of the prophetic word, be historically mentioned; and hence, the mention of a prophetic circumstance or event would come to possess a prophetic character. (1.108, see 108–11)
Here he’s talking about human experience, both the common experience of all humanity in any time and everywhere and what was specific to Israel’s redemptive-historical experience. Often these experiences are, in their original Old Testament setting, pretty ordinary. So in these cases, it’s the New Testament use of the human experience that alerts us to typological potential.
General Historical Experiences
Sometimes the New Testament looks back at general human experiences but sees typological truth manifested in them. For example, after Jesus cleared the temple of the money changers, “The disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: ‘Passion for God’s house will consume me’” (John 2:17; quoting Ps 69:9), which gave the psalmist’s rationale for his hope of deliverance from persecution:
I endure insults for your sake; humiliation is written all over my face. Even my own brothers pretend they don’t know me; they treat me like a stranger. Passion for your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. (Ps 69:7–9)
Perhaps the Septuagint gives us a hint that interpreters were taking this to have a forward-looking sense well before the New Testament used it as a reference to the suffering Messiah. The Hebrew reads, כִּֽי־קִנְאַ֣ת בֵּיתְךָ֣ אֲכָלָ֑תְנִי, which English Bibles translate, “For zeal for your house has consumed me” (e.g., ESV). The critical text of the LXX also sees this as a past tense, using an aorist: ὅτι ὁ ζῆλος τοῦ οἴκου σου κατέφαγέν με. But it’s interesting to note that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (68:10 LXX) use a future (“will consume me”), perhaps interpreting the Hebrew as a so-called prophetic perfect: ὅτι ὁ ζῆλος τοῦ οἴκου σου καταφάγεταί με. Maybe the New Testament is drawing on this understanding.
Another example: When Jesus predicted Judas Iscariot’s forthcoming betrayal, he said, “This fulfills the Scripture that says, ‘The one who eats my food has turned against me’” (John 13:18; quoting Ps 41:9), which was language from the psalmist’s plea for healing—not something Jesus was seeking at the time:
All who hate me whisper about me, imagining the worst. “He has some fatal disease,” they say. “He will never get out of that bed!” Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me. Lord, have mercy on me. Make me well again, so I can pay them back!” (Ps 41:7–1)
This certainly wasn’t a prophecy in the Psalter, and it even envisioned paybacks. It probably reflected a fairly common problem of backstabbing treachery, nothing so specific as to serve even as predictive symbolism—except it was the Davidic king’s complaint, and he not the occasion in and of itself is the type of Jesus’s experience.
Another example: Jesus described the tendency of the world to hate him and his disciples, saying “This fulfills what is written in their Scriptures: ‘They hated me without cause’” (John 15:25; quoting Ps 69:4), which was the psalmist’s prayer for deliverance from unfair persecution.
Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck.… My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me. Those who hate me without cause outnumber the hairs on my head. Many enemies try to destroy me with lies, demanding that I give back what I didn’t steal. (Ps 69:1–5)
Again, this would have been a fairly common human experience, and these are even the words of an admitted sinner: “O God, you know how foolish I am; my sins cannot be hidden from you” (Ps 69:11). The typology here rests on the note that this is recounted by the head of the Davidic dynasty, who is the type of the Christ.
One final example: Matthew explains why Jesus spoke in parables, “This fulfilled what God has spoken through the prophet: ‘I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world’” (Matt 13:35; quoting Ps 78:2), which were words from the psalmist’s reflection on Israel’s rebellious history—and rebellion wasn’t part of Jesus’s contribution to Israel’s history.
O my people, listen to my instructions. Open your ears to what I am saying, for I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders. (Ps 78:1–4)
Once again, it’s the voice of David that the New Testament picks up and uses typologically, but it’s not a prediction that the Messiah will teach through parables.
All of these are said to have found fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and sometimes even said to have been written by a prophet; however, when they were written, they were historical statements rather than predictions. More than that, they were typical of situations that “could scarcely fail to be often recurring in the history of God’s Church and people” (1.108). They narrated general human experiences, but those that found their highest realization in Jesus Christ, who was made like us in all manner, except for sin (Heb 2:17; 5:2). And the Davidic examples have the additional typological force in the whole Davidic-Messianic typology. It’s by this means that the New Testament authors attribute a prophetic element to these statements.
Specific Historical Experiences
Sometimes the New Testament focuses on specific circumstances from Israel’s past, which later came to be regarded as prophetically indicative of something similar under the gospel (1.109). For example, Matthew says the holy family’s escape to Egypt to await Herod’s death “fulfilled what the Lord had spoken though the prophet: ‘I called my Son out of Egypt’” (Matt 2:15; quoting Hos 11:1), which was Hosea’s historical recollection of the exodus that had occurred hundreds of years before his own time—and also comments on Israel’s idolatry:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt. But the more I called to him, the farther he moved from me, offering sacrifices to the images of Baal and burning incense to idols. (Hosea 11:1–2)
Fairbairn is spot on when he says the connection “arose from the typical connection between Christ and Israel” (1.110). Matthew certainly saw this, but I’m less inclined to think Hosea, let alone Pentateuch’s earliest readers, would have considered this typological linkage.2
Hosea was commenting on an ungrateful nation that had been delivered, and it’s a bigger stretch to see ancient Israel supposing their experience would be echoed in a future Messiah’s own experience.
Another example: John explains that Jesus died quickly enough that no one had to break his legs to hasten death and noted that a soldier speared his side to verify death. On the omission of bone breaking, John explains, “These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’” (John 19:36), which may reflect the stipulation that the Passover lamb should not have broken bones (Exod 12:46; Num 9:12), or perhaps the psalmist’s assurance in the face of deep trouble.
The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time. For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken! Calamity will surely destroy the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be punished. But the Lord will redeem those who serve him. No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned. (Ps 34:19–22)
I think it likely that John would have had in mind both matters, since Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God and also the ultimate righteous man.
And on the spear thrust, John said, “another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced’” (John 19:37 NET); quoting Zech 12:10). Zechariah doesn’t make it clear who the pierced one is; perhaps it’s as Calvin says, “Now, God speaks there after the manner of men, declaring that He is wounded by the sins of his people … in the same manner as a mortal man receives a deadly wound, when his heart is pierced.”3 In the New Testament context, the pierced one is Jesus. Just the language about piercing is enough to tie this into the circumstances of Jesus’s death. And the broader context in Zechariah is richly evocative:
On that day the Lord will defend the people of Jerusalem; the weakest among them will be as mighty as King David! And the royal descendants will be like God, like the angel of the Lord who goes before them! For on that day I will begin to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died. The sorrow and mourning in Jerusalem on that day will be like the great mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the valley of Megiddo. “All Israel will mourn, each clan by itself, and with the husbands separate from their wives. The clan of David will mourn alone, as will the clan of Nathan, the clan of Levi, and the clan of Shimei. Each of the surviving clans from Judah will mourn separately, and with the husbands separate from their wives. “On that day a fountain will be opened for the dynasty of David and for the people of Jerusalem, a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and impurity.” (Zech 12:8–13:1)
Reading the text in its own context will wave off a straightforward idea of prediction: The Lord didn’t use the time of Jesus’s death to destroy the nations that dared come against Jerusalem. Jerusalem didn’t weep much over Jesus’s death, and certainly “all Israel” didn’t mourn clan by clan. What probably makes this work as typology is implied linkage with the Suffering Servant (Isa 52:13–53:12).
The New Testament speaks of scriptures like these being fulfilled in the sense of fulfilling the typical character embedded in the historical note cited.
Previous posts on this blog introduced the history and method of typology, arguing against allowing it to collapse into allegorizing. For the historical survey, we drew on Patrick Fairbairn’s work,1 and for methodology, we drew on E. P. Clowney’s useful “triangle” and “rectangle” as a starting point for developing a typological methodology that stays anchored in grammatical-historical exegesis.2
As point of entry for the diverse types in Scripture, we’ll draw on Fairbairn’s classification of types:
- Old Testament Institutions
- Historical Types
- God’s Word in Creation
- Prophetical Types
This blog post will cover the first three of those classes, and we’ll cover the Prophetical Types in another two or three postings.
Old Testament Institutions
Fairbairn divides the institutional symbols into two classes: (1) Shadows of better things to come, earthly in nature, though portraying a spiritual reality (1.55–56), and (2) rudiments, or elementary principles of true religion (1.56–58).
He says Old Testament institutions were “prophetic symbols of better things to come” (1.52). For example, the book of Hebrews treats the features of the Old Testament cultus as shadows. We must note that even the shadows could create an appropriate desire for the better things to come and not lead Old Testament saints into “mistaken and prejudiced notes of the reality” (1.52). So we treat the Old Testament institutions as useful and accurate symbols, but not the full reality of the truth they expressed. And we ask, “What per se, was the native import of of each symbol?” (1.53).
That didn’t mean the Old Testament saints would have understood all that we understand by these institutions after their purpose has come to fulfillment in Christ. Fairbairn remarks,
For the Jewish worshipper to do both his own and the Christian part—both read the meaning of the symbol as expressive of what was already laid upon open to his view, and to descry its concealed references to the yet undiscovered realities of a better dispensation—would have required a reader of discernment and strength far beyond what is now needed in the Christian.
In many ways, New Testament believers understand the theology of the Old Testament better than the Old Testament believers were able too, because we have the light of fulfillment shining brightly in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And of course, we have Jesus’s own teachings, the Gospels, and the Epistles—especially the book of Hebrews—expanding upon the implications of how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament institutions. And what shall we say of the light the book of Revelation would shed on this for us if we were to read it as the grand announcement of how Israel’s kingom and cult is coming to its climactic fulfillment through the person and work of Christ?
Fairbairn mentions the following examples as historical types: Noah and the flood relating to Christian baptism, Sarah and Hagar relating to spirituality and carnality, and Israel’s wilderness wanderings relating to the prospects of the church on its way to heaven (1.64–65).
The Old Testament, rightly understood, is one great prophecy of the New.Augustine
These Old Testament historical types had the same defects that Old Testament institutional types had; however, they were necessary preparatory types, just as the institutional types were. Indeed, since the whole of the Old Testament was preparatory, the whole of Israel’s history must be typical (1.71). Fairbairn noted Augustine’s words, “The Old Testament, rightly understood, is one great prophecy of the New.”3 Just as prophecy lay dimly revealed in the symbolic rites of the Old Testament cultus, so too it lay foreshadowed in the historical occasions that accompanied those rites and the people who participated in that cultus.
The Old Testament itself indicates that much of its message pertains to a higher ideal. The prophets used historical characters and events to justify their anticipations of a nobler hope (1.86–87). For example, Moses pointed forward to a prophet who was to come (Deut 18:18), David announced a king-priest who was to come (Ps 110:4), Malachi spoke of an “Elijah” who was to come (Mal 3:1; 4:5), and the prophets spoke of a “David” who was to come (Jer 30:9; Hos 3:5).
God’s Word in Creation
God’s own handiwork is, by design, well-suited to his self-revelation.
Gnostics have always denied it, but we must insist that God’s own handiwork is, by design, well-suited to his self-revelation. And creation is God’s handwork and self-revelation, not the disgusting product of some meddling demiurge. So the garden was quite suitable for foreshadowing the tabernacle and temple, the church as God’s temple, and the final paradise (1.86–87). Most importantly, the incarnation, which embedded the eternal Son deep into creation, actually could reveal God’s eternal nature, not just his temporary servanthood and self-identity with sinful man.
We must remember that humanity was created in the image and likeness of God. And that meant Jesus didn’t need to discard his humanity after the resurrection and ascension to remain fully God and fully holy (1.88–93). Fairbairn insists, “The work of God in creation is to be regarded as the adequate reflection of His infinite wisdom and goodness, adapted in all respects to the purposes for which it was designed” (1.97).
Think about it: If creation really can’t display the nature of God, then God’s creating-redeeming work must have been out of keeping with his eternal unchanging character, and revealing himself as Creator would have been a dangerous misrepresentation rather than a helpful revelation of himself. Now, someone might object that the creation-wide effects of mankind’s fall into sin have now obliterated the power of creation to convey revelation from God. But Paul says even “sinful, wicked people … know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom 1:18–20). It’s even useless speculation to define the nature of God’s self-revelation via the incarnation without reference to sin, since it was into a sinful world and even in the likeness of sinful flesh that God became flesh (Rom 8:3). We conclude that even though sin marred creation from top to bottom, God’s remedial process of sustaining and redeeming it carries with it the assurance that he sustains his self-revelation through it and is restoring and moving creation ever onward toward his ideal (1.99–103).
A Forward Look
The next two or three posts will treat Fairbairn’s fourth class of types, which he calls “Prophetical Types.”
Some of you who have checked out this blog might wonder, “Who is Dale Brueggemann, and what does he bring to the table in any discussion of typology?” So let me give you a bit of modern bios.
I was born in the first half of the last century, right after the end of World War II, and I grew up in a Christian home. After a couple years of college, I dropped out, joined the US Army, and did my bit in the Vietnam war. After returning home, I became a small-town pastor, first in Horseshoe Bend, Idaho (a logging and lumber town) and then in Wilder, Idaho (a farm town).
While I was in Wilder, I made the decision to return to school and finish my BA while I still had the GI Bill to contribute to expenses. I went to Northwest Nazarene College in Nampa, Idaho (now University) and finished in the Pre-Seminary program, which emphasized biblical studies and philosophy. After that I headed off to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where I did an MA in Religion, then a PhD in Hermeneutics (Old Testament). At Westminster, I had the privilege of studying under some wonderful profs. I think of Richard Gaffin, Vern Poythress, Ray Dillard, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Moises Silva, Tremper Longman, and Bruce Waltke. During that same period, I became a Fellow at the Center for Computer Analysis of Texts (CCAT) at University of Pennsylvania. At that time, we were producing a morphologically tagged version of the LXX. While at there, I had the privilege of studying and working with Robert Kraft and Emanuel Tov. I especially remember “Tanakh Text Criticism” with Tov, which he taught while writing the Hebrew edition of his monograph on text criticism, and “Scrolls,” in which we doctoral students helped edit a new edition of the Nahal Hever Minor Prophets scroll.
As I was completing my PhD, the Soviet Union was imploding, and opportunities for missionary-educators popped up. I took a foreign missions appointment and became the Assemblies of God (USA) missionary appointed as Executive Director for their Eurasia Education Office. Shortly thereafter, I was also appointed as the Executive Director of the Eurasia Theological Association. In those capacities, I worked with my international colleagues to establish ministerial training schools, to develop curriculum at the various levels, and to guide schools toward relevant accreditation and/or validation.
Research and writing pretty much took a backseat to writing constitutions and bylaws, accreditation manuals, and curriculums. But alongside all the school visits for consultation, I did get to do a lot of teaching in schools, from diploma and BA level courses to MDiv and PhD level seminars. Every chance I got, I would teach Old Testament Theology or Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics, or even diploma level “How to Study the Bible” courses. And a significant part of any course like that focused on typology and on the use of the Old Testament in the New. I drew heavily from Patrick Fairbairn’s Typology of Scripture and Leonhard Goppelt’s Typos. Of course, I wrote syllabi for those courses, at their various levels. And now I draw heavily from those as I begin these biblical theology blogs on Theologizer.
After retiring from overseas missions work, I took a position with Logos Mobile Ed as Contributing Editor. The end of April 2018, I retired from that, though I continue in that as a contractor, working about twenty hours a week. I’m hoping retirement gives me space in my life for more research, reflection, and writing. Since I took that missions appointment immediately after finishing my PhD, my research and writing has been limited, but here it is:
- Worked as translator in Numbers on both editions of the New Living Translation.
- Brueggemann, Dale A. “Brevard Childs’ Canon Criticism: An Example of Post-Critical Naiveté.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32, no. 3 (1989): 311–26.
- _____. “The Use of the Psalter in John’s Apocalypse.” Ph.D. diss. Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1995.
- Flokstra, Gerard, and Dale A Brueggemann. Classified Core Library Listings: Suggested Core Libraries for 2-Year, 3-Year, and 4-Year Bible Schools. Springfield, MO: Missionary Book Supply, 1996.
- Brueggemann, Dale A. Singers and Sages: Old Testament Poets and Wisdom Literature. An MDiv level self-study course. SABC Extension Education Curriculum. Cambridge, U.K.: Lulu.com, 2002.
- _____. “Israel Acquires Empire.” In They Spoke from God: A Survey of the Old Testament, edited by William C. Williams, 457–510. Springfield, MO: Logion, 2003.
- _____. “Sweet Singers and Sages: Israel’s Poetry and Wisdom.” In They Spoke from God: A Survey of the Old Testament, edited by William C. Williams, 511–54. Springfield, MO: Logion, 2003.
- _____. “Early Chiliasm: Background and Development of Millenarian Thought.” Paper presented at ETS. Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Valley Forge, PA, 2005.
- _____. “The Evangelists and the Psalms.” In Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches, edited by Philip S. Johnston and David G. Firth, 263–78. Leicester, England: Apollos/Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005.
- _____. “Notes on Job.” In New Living Translation Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008.
- _____. “Psalms: Titles.” In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, edited by Tremper Longman, III and Peter Ens, 613–21. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008.
- _____. “Protection Imagery.” In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, edited by Tremper Longman, III and Peter Ens, 525–28. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008.
- _____. “Numbers.” In Leviticus-Deuteronomy, Philip W. Comfort, gen. ed. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 215–444. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House, 2008.
In addition to these, I’ve written a host of syllabi, informally published study guides and workbooks, and read papers at various events.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoy following along in this blog. And I hope you pitch in with comments wherever that where I hit a nerve, prompt a question, or mention something you want to highlight, question, or support.
We tend to contrast “biblical theology” with unbiblical theology, with bad doctrine and even heretical thought. But in our case, we’re talking about biblical theology as a distinct discipline; for example, we talk of exegesis, systematic theology, historical theology, and biblical theology.
This is theology done in its smallest pieces, reflecting on the meaning at the following levels:
- Linguistic: The simplest version of this is looking up an English word that you don’t quite know; and the next step up from that is doing any kind of word studies of the original biblical languages.
- Grammatical and Syntactical: Here we study the form and logic of phrases, clauses, and sentences. If your English teacher ever had you diagramming sentences, you were doing a syntactical analysis.
- Discourse: Here we get to passage study, where we examine several verses or even of a few chapters of the Bible for flow of thought, emphasis, plot, and so forth.
This is where we all start, even if we’re just reading the Bible in our own mother tongue. But none of us reads in a holy vacuum; therefore, we tend to be doing a little bit of the other kinds of theology as soon as we start. Even if you’re reading “In the beginning God created…” rather than “…בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים” (Gen 1:1), you would likely start wondering about time and God’s eternality, about which “god” this is, and what the word בָּרָא/ bārāʾ (“created”) means. And what if you start at the first page of the Gospel according to John? “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him” (John 1:1–3, NLT)
You would begin theologizing at the words “beginning” and “the Word,” and what if you into account both Genesis 1:1–3 and Proverbs 8?
The LORD formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else. I was appointed in ages past, at the very first, before the earth began. I was born before the oceans were created, before the springs bubbled forth their waters. Before the mountains were formed, before the hills, I was born— before he had made the earth and fields and the first handfuls of soil. I was there when he established the heavens, when he drew the horizon on the oceans. I was there when he set the clouds above, when he established springs deep in the earth. I was there when he set the limits of the seas, so they would not spread beyond their boundaries. And when he marked off the earth’s foundations, I was the architect at his side. I was his constant delight, rejoicing always in his presence. And how happy I was with the world he created; how I rejoiced with the human family! (Prov 8:22–31, NLT)
You couldn’t avoid doing a little bit of biblical theology and some systematic theology. And since you’re located in history yourself and probably share in some theological tradition, you would even be doing some unconscious historical theology.
Systematic theology organizes the material around topical foci and tries to take into account everything that Scripture teaches that would clarify our thought on what constitutes a “biblical” view of God, the nature of man, the doctrine of the Trinity, the incarnation, sin, and so forth. And this isn’t just a work of cataloguing biblical truths; the exercise itself involves interpretation. Indeed, this is where the old adage comes into play:
Interpret the difficult passages in the light of the clear passages.
So, what if you were reflecting on what the Bible teaches about creation? If you were reading in Genesis 1:1–3 and knew about John 1:1–3, you would recognize that John’s “in the beginning” harkens back to the creation account. You would notice that the active agent in Genesis is “God” (אֱלֹהִים/ʾĕlōhîm), but for the same story, John has the λόγος/logos (“word”) as the agent, whom he then calls “God” (θεός/theos). And if we pulled Proverbs 8 into the discussion, we would see that “wisdom” (חָכְמָה/ḥokmâ) is the active agent. That will necessarily lead you to do some systematizing to clarify just exactly who did create the heavens and the earth, the eternality of the Logos, and even how you can relate the story about Lady Wisdom (Prov 8:22–31) to Jesus Christ as the power and wisdom of God (Luke 11:49; 1 Cor 1:24, 30; Col 1:15; 2:3).
In one way, historical theology is a subset of systematic theology; in another way, it’s a subset of church history. It follows the topical arrangement of systematic theology, but layered on top of that is the historical development of Christian systematic theology. Throughout church history, theologians have refined how the church talks about biblical matters. Often the hot refiner’s fire was stoked by controversies and battles against those who come to be recognized as heretics, for example, the Trinitarian and Christological controversies. Sometimes the refinement came as a corrective to a lack of focus on essential aspects of biblical teaching. We see that pattern in the Reformation’s emphasize on the solas: Sola scriptura, Sola fide, Sola gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo gloria.
This work is not a linear work moving from crude to refined, from imperfect to nearly perfect; rather it generally responds to facts on the ground in the church world and to apologetic concerns. So the work is never done. Hence, the saying, “Reformed and being reformed.” Hence the recent return to forceful discussion Trinitarian theology.
Now we get to the focus of these blogs, biblical theology. Whereas systematic theology organizes theology along the lines of topical foci, and historical theology organizes it along the lines of historical development in church history, biblical theology tries to reflect the dynamic of progressive revelation within the biblical canon. By “progressive revelation,” we refer to the very thing the author of Hebrews mentions: “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe” (Heb 1:1–2). The book of Hebrews moves on from this notice to describe the various ways God revealed himself in the Old Testament, pointing out how all of this was fulfilled in a “better” way in Jesus Christ: better revelation, priest, sacrifice, and tabernacle.
And that leads us to typology, a significant element in any methodical approach to how we relate Old Testament revelation to fulfillment in the New Testament. And that’s going to be our business for the next several posts. Throughout these blogs, I will be doing biblical theology that builds upon a typological foundation. And my own foundations are in the work of men like Patrick Fairbairn, Gerhardus Vos, Leonhard Goppelt, E. Earle Ellis, and Edmund Clowney. I think I’ll leave the bibliography entries for those as we actually treat their contributions in future blogs.
Questions & Reflections
- When you think of the expression “biblical theology,” what do you think of?
- How does this blog distinguish biblical theology from systematic and historical theology?
Thanks for joining me as we check our road map and begin our journey through the grand narrative of the Bible.
I started this blog to share my thoughts on biblical theology. I’ll talk of Old Testament, New Testament and whole-Bible theology. I hope my academic peers will begin to discover this blog and want to comment and contribute to the discussion of biblical theological exposition of Scripture. But I also want this to benefit the industrious lay Bible reader. So when I use technical terms or theological jargon, I’ll try to define and discuss my usage—call me out on this if you catch me slacking on that promise.
A significant driving thought in how I teach and think about biblical theology is the role of typology. For now, I’ll just define “biblical typology” as divinely intended forward-looking symbolism. For example, some symbolic aspect of the Old Testament’s contribution to the grand narrative of Scripture finds its fulfillment in the New Testament, generally in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
I suppose when I mentioned “typology” readers had one of three possible reactions, and I’ll address each of those briefly:
- Typology? Oh, I love typology!—If that was your response, there’s a good chance that we’re not yet on the same wavelength. You’re probably loving how people find specific New Testament truth in the tiniest little details of the Old Testament. I don’t think of that as typology at all. I call that “allegorization,” because people doing that are imposing an allegorical reading upon something that was never written as an allegory.
- Typology? Most of that just disgusts me!—If that was your response, you’re probably having a justifiable allergic reaction to allegorizers who are trying to operate under the cover of “typology.” So we’ll do a lot to distinguish solid biblical typology from this allegorizing business.
- Typology? I’m not sure what that is.—If that was your response, you’ve come to the right place. The earliest blogs will be all about how to understand what it is and isn’t.
So let’s get going.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Questions and Reflections
- Would you like to learn how to read the whole Bible as Christian Scripture and not just think of it as finding some mottoes and memory verses?
- What part of the Bible do you find especially hard to access as Christian Scripture, even though you know “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Tim 3:16)?