Definition: The study and interpretation of types and symbols, originally especially in the Bible.
Typology is a very important type of expository preaching which, throughout the entire history of the church, has been used profitably by many outstanding preacher/Bible students. Typology itself, especially in the form of the sacraments (the Word made visible) is an important part of the Christian ministry (leading to all kinds of disagreement as to who can administer them, etc.)
Just as doctrine is often formulated (and distorted) through songs, our theology is weak and even wrong on account of incorrect typology, especially the great doctrine of the “exchanged, new, fuller life” which is ignored and even denied because of misconceptions as to Canaan and the significance of the meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
First of all, the entire creation, God’s general revelation, his Word in the world, is typological. God built the physical, visible, world along spiritual, “invisible” (even redemptive) lines. (Plato believed this.) Even “numbers” figure in this revelation; Scripture makes a great deal of the symbolism to be found in numbers (but, again, beware of extreme applications); Numerology can become as bizarre as astrology (or palm-reading, which capitalizes on the scientific fact no two finger-prints in human history are identical), but in this area too it is worth observing the difference between Western and Eastern worlds in the very form of numbers, so that the regimented and structured Roman numerals is unusable for higher mathematics, while the fluid, artistic, Arabic “figures” of 1-0 can be used to infinity, have intrinsic attractiveness as to form, and yet are adaptable to modern digital use.
Secret of the Universe is an entire book about the Trinity in Creation. We practice the principle in this paragraph by using hearts to symbolize love, or flags to represent political entities and inspire patriotism. “Mere” color has much meaning and psycological significance, and is used accordingly in the Bible. Scripture, accordingly, makes a great deal of the “revelational” character of creation. (See Romans 1:18-23; 2:12-16; 10:18-21.)
The entire Bible is a typological book, whether you use the word parable, symbol, story, or what Paul calls an “allegory” in Galatians 4:21-ff; also called a “figure”. Entire volumes have been written about the types in Scripture alone. In a certain sense, the prophecies of Scripture are “typical”; certainly contain types. This is especially true in the Old Testament, which is God’s “primer”, picture-book of spiritual truth. Paul sums it: These things happened and were recorded for us. (I Cor 10:11; Also see Hebrews)
Ordinarily we think of the New Testament as being the fulfillment, the reality, of the truths for which the Old Testament is full of types, or pictures. But the New Testament, in turn, is crammed full of types, some of present reality, others for the future and/or of eternal significance. Think of the so-called sacraments (an unfortunate term), over which there is so much disagreement as to meaning. Think of the “I Am’s” of Christ, plus the literally countless other figures – Lamb of God, serpent in wilderness, and the Rock of Matthew 16:18 (often applied wrongly to Peter and who not). The Church is symbolized by marriage, a house (forgotten by those who persist in calling a building “God’s house”, as though He and it were some kind of idols), a human body, salt, light, etc. Miracles are acted-out sermons, and parables, of course, are earthly pictures of spiritual truths. The Sermon on the Mount is almost nothing but a series of metaphors, analogies, illustrations.
So, true preaching (following the example of Jesus) is basically “typological”, by taking “abstract” truth “visible”, understandable, convincing, and motivating, by means of parallels, “morals”, and illustrations between Scripture and the preaching situation.
There are three basic methods of approaching the Bible, all of which can be “expository” of sort, and all of which, of course, are subject to the pleasures of their users, including “heretics” as well as the orthodox.
- There is the “Bible as literature” approach, often used at the Sunday School level, in which the stories of Scripture (and the Bible is undeniably one continuous story, from creation to eternity) are learned, apart from whether they are true and really happened (e..g. Jonah, Job, even Adam), and various lessons are drawn from them as to our temporal and eternal welfare.
- An opposite extreme is the systematic theology treatment, in which all the material in Scripture is neatly and logically organized under different doctrines, whether it be Providence (as shown in the lives of Biblical characters) or God (which runs the danger of reading back into the Old Testament what is really revealed only in the New), or Salvation (which often overlooks the fact that Old Testament “saints” were not regenerated and did not go to heaven when they died).
- Biblical-theology preaching studies the Sacred record exactly according to the way and the purposes in which it was written, namely, a progressive unfolding of God’s revelation as to himself, man, salvation, etc. It is, naturally, Christological at heart (in the fashion that all of human history is dated B.C. or A.D.). It stresses the basic unity of Scripture (as to theme and contents), while still pointing out the drastic differences between the two Testaments. (Unger sums it nicely: Old Testament is preparation for the Redeemer; Gospels record his manifestation; Acts the propagation of the gospel; Epistles contain the explanation, and Revelation summarizes the consummation of the ineffable plan.) This does not mean that the only system or sequence by which the Bible can profitably be studied (or read) is from cover to cover (as in the case of other books), but it does mean that every part of all 66 books must be studied in terms of the whole. Identical words in David’s mouth mean something radically different from Paul saying them (And, of course, it makes a difference whether the same words are in a psalm, an epistle, a prophecy, or historical book.)