Typology and Political Discourse

People notice patterns. We interpret the world in light of archetypes, repetitions, and symbols. The biblical authors made massive use of typological interpretation as they interpreted earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they were either narrating (in the Gospels, for instance) or addressing (in the letters, for example).

Have you noticed how often this happens in political discourse? Just this morning Victor Davis Hanson blogged on “Our New Cold War.” He’s comparing the War on Terror to the Cold War between the United States and Russia.

It happens all the time. Those who like President Obama might regard him as the “new FDR,” while those who don’t like him might refer to him as the “new Jimmy Carter.”

Have you heard anyone refer to a current war as a “new Vietnam quagmire”?

Consider the “Tea-Party” movement. These people are identifying with early Americans who protested against what they thought was tyranny. Do you see the implications of their claims? They’re claiming to be on the side of freedom and American patriotism, and they’re identifying their political opponents with tyrants who practice taxation without representation.

My point here is not to engage these political issues.

The point I’m trying to make is that typological thinking is not some far-fetched, outlandish, bizarre activity that is foreign to the way people think today.

Why do I say that?

Because in biblical interpretation some people avoid typology as though it’s a gateway to allegory. Typology and allegory are not the same thing. People use allegory today, too, but for it to work the allegorical connections have to be understood.

Anyway, listen to the way people talk and you’ll hear typology all the time, though they might not use that word to describe what they’re doing.

If we want to understand the Bible, we have to understand typology.

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  1. Jim,

    I’ve long been interested in typology and how it’s used across cultures and religions. Can you elaborate on your thoughts about our need to understand typological use in scripture? What’s got you thinking about this phenomenon this morning?

    Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about how typology and mimesis impact our faith. Have you read any of Rene Girrard’s work?

    Blessings, my freind,


    1. Thanks for your note, RD, elaborating on the need to understand typology would take a long, long time! It’s everywhere!

      Search “typology” on this blog and you’ll find a number of posts. I think about it a lot, largely b/c I’m regularly trying to figure out what the Bible is saying. . .

      I haven’t read Girrard. Should I?


  2. Dr. Hamilton,

    It is always good to think about typology and how we must understand the typological connections to fully understand the plot line of Scripture. I am particularly encouraged that you separate typology and allegory especially in view of the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS) movement and their stress on “figural reading” where they combine the two.

    With that said, I do think a bit of confusion could be fostered with comparing biblical typology with the what we observe in the political discourse and the correspondences we produce. From my studies, I have come to the conclusion that biblical typology involves a prospective aspect as types are divinely intended and serve a prophetic/predictive role. Furthermore, typology involves an a fortiori quality (lesser to greater), a heightening or intensification (escalation) as one moves from the type to the greater eschatological realities with the arrival of the antitype (Christ is almost always the antitype). Finally, typology moves along the pattern of promise-fulfillment as typological patterns are detected through the intertextual development along redemptive history (Melchizedek [Gen 14] is identified as a type in Psalm 110 and then explicitly linked to Christ in Heb 5-7). In this sense one must be able to trace the textual warrants for a typological relationship along the storyline of Scripture (this does not mean that a type has to be explicitly identified as such in the NT). If these above points are correct, then there is a significant difference between biblical typology and the mere analogies or parallels or correspondences that we may draw or manufacture when thinking of current and past political figures or any other subject matter in our day. Biblical typology involves comparisons/repetitions/parallels but is much more than that.

    I recognize that this is not the main point as I see you are counteracting the view that typological thinking is outlandish and far-fetched (a good point indeed, I’m with you). We do draw analogies and comparisons with persons and events in our day, but I think I would just call it that – analogies and parallels or recapitulations – while safeguarding the term “typology” and leaving that to the specific study of types in the biblical canon as I have described above. The only other point I may draw attention to is the usage of the phrase, “typological interpretation” which seems to put the accent on the reader’s interpretation. But as AB Caneday has pointed out, interpreters of the Bible do not cast biblical types, rather, God who reveals himself and his deeds in Scripture casts the biblical types and so our act of interpreting the Bible means rightly recognizing the biblical types already divinely invested with foreshadowing significance. (See his forum piece in SBJT 10.2, 2006, p. 96-98). Thanks again for drawing attention to typology and its importance for understanding the Bible.

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