To Type or Not To Type
Greg and Ken have written two excellent and more or less opposing posts on whether Joseph is a type of Christ. Ken ended his post by suggesting that I follow up the discussion on Joseph as a type by addressing this question: Is typology, however defined, an exercise in biblical theology or systematic theology? Some of both? And depending on the answer, to what degree should we be dogmatic about types?
TYPOLOGY: BIBLICAL OR SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY?
Personally I’m somewhat agnostic on the typological dimension of Joseph. Or rather, I’m ambivalent. Parallels between the character and life-experience of Joseph and Jesus seem plentiful and undeniable (even if you don’t agree with all 101 similarities that A. W. Pink includes in his commentary on Genesis). To that degree that we are dealing with multiple textual data, we are dealing with an issue of biblical theology.
But what we do with those parallels — how formally or informally we treat them, and how much theological authority we invest in them — ultimately comes down to the issue of definition: what is a “type” and what is not a “type.” As Ken suggested, different texts seem to use typological language somewhat differently — sometimes with fairly rigid parameters, sometimes more loosely. There is no definitive, single, scriptural definition of what a type is or how typology is “supposed” to operate . . . except for the definitions offered by theologians. And anytime you have different theologians defending different definitions based on different biblical data, you have clearly moved into the field of systematic theology.
So to what degree should we be dogmatic about types? Again, that forces us back to the issue of definition. As in any other systematic theological issue, the degree of dogmatism is determined by the level of devotion to one’s systematic theological deductions and definitions. If by “type” you mean a theologically-laden phenomenon expressly intended by the Holy Spirit, then there’s plenty of room for dogmatism for what, and only what, Scripture explicitly calls a “type.” A more minimalist definition based on broader (but still biblical) parameters encourages a little more more interpretive liberty with the text and perhaps less inclination to dogmatism. Probably the best solution, as Ken suggests, is to acknowledge both a general definition and a technical definition.
REVISITING HEBREWS 5-7
The issue of systematic theological conclusions brings me to one final point that both Greg and (more briefly) Ken commented
is implying that these believers should have already been teaching truths such as the fact that Jesus is a high priest like Melchizedek, when instead many of them have not matured beyond a basic understanding of apostolic teaching.
Others, have similarly argued that this passage does not present the Melchizedek-Christ connection as a matter of Spirit-revelation and inspiration but, rather, teaches that we are to be drawing these very kinds of systematic theological inferences ourselves; what stands in the way is only our own immaturity and ignorance of Scripture. In other words, any mature believer ought to have been able to come up with Hebrews 7 on his own. I disagree.
A careful reading of the actual wording of the passage shows that what the writer faults the readers for is not that they were failing to draw these systematic theological inferences for themselves, but that they were spiritually unprepared to receive what the author wanted to reveal about Christ and Melchizedek,
of whom we have many things to say and hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing (5:11).
Second, I don’t know how we can dichotomize between truth that is, in fact, conveyed through the process of inspiration (e.g., Hebrews 5-7) and how that truth was obtained in the first place. Does inspiration play no role here in terms of the authoritativeness of a theological reasoning process and its statement in Scripture? If the writer’s point is that the Christ-Melchizedek connection is so painfully obvious, why does its first mention come so late in the epistolary literature? Of course it’s obvious in revelational hindsight, but would we (should we) have come to all the conclusions of Hebrews 7 if we never had Hebrews 7? And more importantly, even if we had, wouldn’t we still be arguing over how justified and authoritative those conclusions were, without Hebrews 7?
Lastly, is Hebrews 7 really intended to be a paradigm of what any relatively mature believer should be able to deduce authoritatively on the basis of nothing more than a three-verse slice from a rather obscure historical narrative (Gen 14:18-20) and a single verse of prophetic poetry (Ps 110:4)? Mightn’t that open the field pretty broadly for concocting dogmatic assertions on slender bases? One writer argues that Melchizedek’s offer of “bread and wine” to Abraham typifies the NT communion observance. Maybe. But may one insist that such an inference is equally as intentional and authoritative as anything else Hebrews 7 says? After all, he could argue, he’s just following the paradigm of Hebrews 5-7for drawing systematic theological conclusions. On what basis could we argue against the alleged authority of such a conclusion, especially when it does not actually contradict any other truth?
Maybe I just opened the door to the next Theologyin3D blog discussion. We’ll see.